- Everyone Carries
He tucks me into bed again. "Just remember that none of it is real."—Julie Marie Wade, "Still Life with Guns"
I am six going on seven when my family drives across the country in our brown Volkswagen Vanagon. For a few weeks, home is the van that I share with my father, my mother, my older brother and sister, and our dog. We go as far north as South Dakota, as far west as Wyoming, as far south as Alabama, and then we come back home again to Washington, DC. We camp or stay with friends and family along the way. One stop is with my parents' high school friends in Oklahoma. They live in a house they built into the side of a hill. The wife and daughters all wear long hair and long dresses, unless they are riding their horses—then they wear culottes. They homeschool. They are a different kind of Christian than we are.
As we are approaching their property, Mom tells us not to sing the songs that go with our hand games: Behind the 'frigerator, there was a piece of glass / Miss Lucy sat upon it and broke her big fat / Ask me no more questions, please tell me no more lies. "These girls are very sheltered," she tells us. I ask her what that means, "to be sheltered," picturing a home tucked safely in the side of earth. I wonder if I might like that, too.
Their house is fancier than I expected. It has a room full of animals that the father shot: beaver, elk, moose, white tailed deer, fox, rabbit, otter, raccoon. These are mounted to look real, like the elephant in the Natural History Museum downtown. He calls it his trophy room. It scares me to see them all dead and looking so alive, to know that he killed them all himself. [End Page 67]
Every few hundred miles, Dad stops at a phone booth and starts to cough, "Yes, I'm still sick." He hates his D.C. government job, but it's where he ended up. He packs a few extra vacation days in by calling in sick. They cram in the miles, taking turns driving all night sometimes. When Dad gets sleepy, he sings, When John Henry was a little baby / sitting on his pappy's knee / he picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel / said the hammer's gonna be the death of me Lord, Lord! / The hammer's gonna be the death of me. I wake up in Washington, DC, as we are winding through Rock Creek Park at dawn. I notice a red fox running into the woods. It's the very first time I see a fox, alive.
Kristen and her mother weren't shot, but they are the first people I know to be murdered. Her dad and brother were in Tennessee, getting things ready for their move. She and her mother stayed at their house to finish packing. A June thunderstorm swept through and knocked out power throughout the city. Their movers snuck in early the next morning to rob the house. They panicked when they found people inside, so they killed them both with their bare hands. She was in second grade. Her brother, Jamie, was in fifth grade like me. I overhear my teacher say to another teacher that she wishes they would chop off the murderers' heads. Goddamn crackheads. We don't have the death penalty in Washington, DC. Jamie and his dad move to Tennessee that summer, just the two of them. In sixth grade, I run for student council president and say that we need to have a memorial for Kristen and her mom. I don't really make it happen, the adults do. They plant a garden and put in a plaque. It's still there. In case you had already made a picture in your head, the victims, the murderers, my teachers, my classmates, the parents that made the garden, nearly all of us are black.
We are in Barnesville, Ohio, visiting my mother's people. I soak up the star-spangled...