Standing at the urinal, I read the first graffiti to mar the freshly scrubbed wall of the school bathroom: Viet Nam sucks and Kristi Casey is a stone fox. In the fall of 1971, I was a senior new to Ole Bull High, and while I had formed judgments as to the former (I agreed, the war did suck), I had no idea who Kristi Casey was and whether or not she was a fox, stone or not. When I met her it only took a nanosecond to realize: Man, is she ever.
From my perch on the top row of the football bleachers, I used to watch her and the other cheerleaders, their short pleated skirts fanning out as they sprang into the air, screaming at the Bulls to “go, fight, win!” as if the continuation of human civilization depended on their victory. The late sixties still bled its influence into the early seventies, and many of us considered ourselves too hip in a mellow make-love-not-war way to look at those bouncing, pom-pom- punching, red-faced girls without thinking, Man, are they pathetic. Except, of course, for Kristi. Every time she tossed her dark blond hair, cut in a shag like Jane Fonda’s in Klute, every time she bent down to pull up a flagging crew sock, every time she offered up a sly dimpled smile, it was as if she’d handed us our own personal box of Cracker Jack, with a special surprise inside. She was the kind of girl who could do uncool things like act as secretary for the Future Farmers of America after-school club or solicit funds for Unicef during lunch hour (she told me having a wide range of interests looked good on college applications) and the consensus would still be: Wow.
Darva Pratt was not part of the consensus and, in fact, loathed Kristi Casey and all that she stood for.
“Look at her,” said Darva, as if I needed prodding. It was during halftime, and as the marching band played the theme song to Hawaii Five-O, Kristi kept time on a bass drum she had strapped over her shoulders. “God forbid the band steal some of her spotlight.”
After they played the bridge, the band quieted, playing two notes over and over as Kristi began a rhythmic duel with the band’s official bass drummer. She pounded out an uncomplicated beat, which the bass drummer answered. The crowd cheered, and then it was the drummer’s turn. His was a more complicated rhythm, which Kristi echoed, no problem. The crowd cheered again. This went on, the fans growing wilder as each drummer’s challenge increased in speed and difficulty. Finally Kristi beat out a tempo so intricate, so tricky, that after a few beats her challenger threw down his mallets and bowed deeply, his long furry hat practically sweeping the ground. Flashing her bright, white smile, Kristi held up her arms in victory as the crowd exploded, the drum major signaled, and the band played the last measures of the song at full volume.
“Wow,” I said after we had all sat down. “That girl can drum.”
“Of course she can,” said Darva. “She’s our golden girl.”
I laughed. “Jealous?”
Now it was Darva’s turn to laugh. “Yes. It’s my lifelong desire to be the wet dream of hundreds of high school boys.”
“Language, Darva,” I said, putting a little gasp of shock in my voice. “Language.”
The third quarter began, and we sat in the bleachers, warmed by the mild autumn sun, watching the game. Under a great bowlful of blue sky, the trees themselves cheered us on, waving their maroon and gold leaves in the breeze and dislodging a squad of crows who cawed their cheers; it was as if all of nature was throwing a pep rally for a bunch of high school kids. I shut my eyes and raised my face to that solar warmth, but my respite lasted only a moment before Darva’s sharp elbow found purchase in my lower ribs.
“Look at what your girlfriend’s doing now.”
Some schools are named after presidents or astronauts. Ours honored a nineteenth-century Norwegian violinist and our mascot was a furry bull. I opened my eyes to see Kristi, chasing it along the sidelines.
Darva made a tsking sound. “When it comes to high school girls, I thought the bar was set pretty low, but man, she knocks it over.”
“You’re a high school girl.”
“A status that will be changed tomorrow, when I hop a train to Sandusky, Ohio.”
“What’s in Sandusky?”
Darva’s eyes squinted behind her lavender-tinted glasses. “Oh, sand. Some dusk.”
Every day Darva made plans to escape to “anywhere but here,” sometimes to great and faraway cities and other times to Podunk and its many counterparts. She claimed every hour spent in high school caused the death of a million innocent brain cells and that she could no longer be a participant in their slaughter.
“Write me when you get there, okay?” I said, nudging her shoulder with my own, and we watched as the Washburn Millers trounced the Bulls 37–6.
A transfer student, I was grateful that Darva had befriended me the first day of school.
“What have you got?” she asked, sliding her lunch tray onto the table as she sat across from me. “An infectious disease?”
Looking around the empty table, I scratched my head. “Yeah, malaria. I picked it up on leave in Da Nang.”
The girl laughed. “I personally like boys who’ve seen war before they’ve graduated high school. Gives them a certain maturity.”
She pressed the edges of her milk carton apart and then forward, opening up a little spout.
“By the way, malaria’s not contagious.”
“What are you, Albert Schweitzer?”
“Darva Pratt,” she said, holding up her milk carton.
“Joe Andreson,” I said, and clinked her carton with my own, toasting my first friend at Ole Bull High.
It was a friendship that would have consequences.
“What’re you hanging around with that freak for?” asked Todd Randolph, whose locker was next to mine.
I spun the dial of my combination lock. “What freak?”
“That freak,” said Todd, gesturing at Darva, who, with her dangly earrings and ropes of love beads and bracelets, fairly jingled as she continued walking down the hallway to her own locker. “That hippie chick. She doesn’t even wear a bra, man.”
I didn’t say anything but looked pointedly at the chubby-girl breasts revealed underneath his snagged Ban Lon shirt.
Todd Randolph flushed. “Fuck you.”
“Todd, buddy,” I said, clapping him on the back, “I’m flattered, but really --- no thanks.”
Like any other high school, Ole Bull High had a tightly controlled clique system, but I just couldn’t be bothered with it. This is not to say I was above all that crap; not only had I had a fair amount of prestige at my old school, I’d enjoyed it. I was not the king, like Steve Alquist, whose letter jacket sleeves barely had room for all his award insignias, but I was at least in the court, and I took pleasure in all its privileges. I was a part of everything that mattered --- but everything that mattered was now two hundred miles away.
“No,” I said when my mother told me we were moving. “No, I’m not going. No way. Forget about it.”
“Joe,” said my mother, her eyes tearing up, which never failed to make me cave in just to stop them. “Joe, I know all your friends are here, and your team… but I need you. I can’t make it here anymore, and I can’t make it in Minneapolis without you.”
She wouldn’t have had to “make it” anywhere had my father not gone off and gotten himself killed in the stupid Cessna of stupid Miles Milnar, who was Granite Creek’s big-shot developer (“We’re going to turn this hick town into a resort haven!”) and my dad’s best friend. Their last view of anything was probably the soybean field they were about to crash into; Miles Milnar never got to see Granite Creek become “the next Aspen” (the jerk --- didn’t he consider our lack of mountains a slight disadvantage?), and my dad never got to see me graduate from the eighth grade. I suppose it’s lousy to lose your dad at any age, but to lose him at fourteen seemed especially cruel; here I was on the cusp of manhood (my voice cracking like spring ice, the rogue hair sprouting on my chin) with no man to pull me up, clap me on the back, and welcome me into the club. For a while there, I really thought I was going to die from the pain of it. Or the anger.
Things never got back to the way they had been, but eventually my mom stopped crying all the time, I stopped thinking I was going to explode, and a new normalcy crept into the house I’d grown up in. And now she was willing to throw away that normalcy we’d worked so hard to cobble together.
“Just tell her you’re not going!” said Steve Alquist at the kegger that was my going-away party.
“Yeah, you could stay at my house,” said Gary Conroy, who’d played D with me since we were pee wees. “She can’t break up the team like that!”
“You could come to my house for supper,” said Jamie Jensen, my might- be girlfriend. (“Might-be” because she’d just broken up with Dan Powers and we’d been hovering around each other, waiting for someone to make a move.) “I’ve got to cook two dinners a week for my 4-H project… and my lasagna’s pretty good.”
“I’ll bet it is,” I said, and because I was a little drunk, I reacted to the internal voice that hollered, It’s now or never, stupid! by leaning over and kissing her. That she kissed me back almost made me feel worse than I already did.
But as bummed out as I was about leaving Granite Creek, I couldn’t not go. It was a close call, but I figured in the scheme of things, my mother needed me to go with her more than I needed to stay.
“You owe me big-time,” I said as we loaded up the rental truck a week after school got out.
“I know I do, Joe. And I’ll figure out a way to make it up to you; I promise I will.”
“You don’t have to make anything up to me,” I said, the gruffness in my voice a fence holding back my emotions.
She sniffed. “I love you, Joey.”
It seems there’s been a shift in the family hierarchy; nowadays parents do everything for their kids. If junior’s an athlete, his parents enroll him in expensive clinics and traveling teams and easily transfer him to a different school to give him a better playing opportunity. Hell, when we played, lots of parents didn’t even come to regular games, saving their appearances for tournaments or playoffs. Not that we minded --- our parents weren’t on us the way parents are on kids now. But conversely, it was understood that in the family’s decision making, the adults were the captains and the kids were second string, if they were even allowed on the team.
But all I knew as we drove through our shady neighborhood was: My life as I know it is ending!
My mother must have picked up my telepathically transmitted howl, because when she spoke again, her voice was bright and cheery. It was that sort of bright and cheery that reeks of fakeness, but when it came to my mom, I’d take fakeness over tears any day.
“You’ll see, Joey --- it’s going to be great living in a city! It’ll be one adventure after another!”
“Sure it will, Ma,” I said, and just as we turned off Main Street toward the freeway, I looked at the marquis of the Paramount movie theater. Play Misty for Me was showing, and I could imagine the crowd --- my crowd --- that would see it that night; could imagine the insults they’d yell at the screen if the dialogue was lame; could imagine the perturbed “shh!” they’d get from other patrons as they passed Hot Tamales and jujubes down the row, rattling the boxes like maracas; could imagine how I might kiss Jamie Jensen and how she would taste like buttered popcorn.
It wasn’t until we were on the freeway, heading south, that I realized how much my jaw hurt, how I was clenching my teeth so hard that I thought they might crumble in their sockets. How could “one adventure after another” even compare to Play Misty for Me showing at the Paramount?
My aunt Beth lived in a house by Lake Nokomis, and my bedroom had a window the morning sun blared into, slapping me in the face and shouting, Wake up!
“Well, honey, just pull the shade,” advised my mother when I told her how I couldn’t sleep past dawn in that room.
“As long as you’re getting up so early, why don’t you go down to Haugland’s?” said my aunt Beth, refilling my coffee cup. (She had assumed without asking that I liked coffee, and to my surprise, I found I did.) “I know they’re hiring down there.”
“Maybe I will,” I said, heaping a spoonful of jam on my toast. My aunt had a pantry full of fancy stuff she ordered from specialty catalogs --- cylinders of German cookies, imported tins of fish, French pâtés, Swedish candies, and jars of fancy English curds and jams that emptied a lot faster now that we were living with her. But that was the cool thing --- well, one of the cool things --- about my aunt Beth: she never made me or my mother feel like we were slumming. To her we were guests she couldn’t believe it was her good fortune to host. I knew she wanted me to work so I’d get out of the house --- but in a good way.
“It’s the best way to meet people,” she said. “Haugland’s is right by the lake, and it’s swarming with kids in the summer.”
Excerpted from THE VIEW FROM MOUNT JOY © Copyright 2011 by Lorna Landvik. Reprinted with permission by Ballantine Books. All rights reserved.
The View From Mount Joy
- Genres: Fiction
- paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Ballantine Books
- ISBN-10: 0345468384
- ISBN-13: 9780345468383