Don’t Cry For Me, I’m Going Away
In the spring, if my dad wasn’t too drunk, farmers would give him a couple of dollars to sit on the corner of a field with a shotgun and keep pests off the new seed. Sometimes I’d sit with him. He’d tell me stories he heard in bars; I’d sing Townes songs. I especially liked to go at sunset, when the starlings gathered.
My father always stopped talking when he saw them. They could strip a field in minutes.
The starlings looked like they were having the best time on earth, rolling through the air together, each one a tiny part of a racing cloud, furiously flying around the few yards of air and ground and tree, eternal moments in temporary boundaries.
I never understood why they flew so close together when they had the whole sky. I wondered if each starling even knew the other starlings were around.
When they got close enough, my dad loosed both barrels at them. He was patient, and knew when their cloud would condense. I never saw him hit less than three birds.
In November, I was skating down Center Street and I saw a HELP WANTED sign in the window of a restaurant.
A manager hired me. He told me to come back that same night, wearing black pants and a white shirt with a collar.
I had to borrow money off of my dad to buy the clothes. He liked giving me money when he could afford it.
When I got to the restaurant, it was five o’clock. There were a few clouds in the sky, but hardly any wind. I didn’t go inside until the first pink seeped over the horizon.
The kitchen had fluorescent lights and a loud radio was blaring music that I was pretty sure no one was listening to. A fat cook with a big beard yelled at me to get out of his way. Everyone looked angry.
In the dining room the tables were set, but everyone was running around as though they weren’t. No one paid attention to me except to order me around. Because I wore a white shirt, everyone knew what jobs to tell me to do without asking my name. I stood still when I’d finished a job and waited for the next one.
The night passed quickly. I barely noticed the customers before they were gone and we were breaking down the tables. Josh, the manager, sat up front, counting the money and joking with the bartender who was cleaning pour spouts. One of the servers told me to follow her, and we gathered up all the trash bags and lugged them out back. The stars were bright and the air was fresh. Rats scurried out of the dumpsters as we threw in the heavy bags.
I turned to go back inside, but she didn’t follow, so I stopped. She took out two cigarettes, lit them, and gave me one.
“My name’s Amy,” she said. “But everyone gets called something else here. So call me Diana. What’s your name?”
I told her and she nodded.
“I’m gonna call you ‘Carus,” she said. She pronounced it “Cares.” She had thick black hair, buckteeth, and big dark eyes that never changed color. She was originally from Texas, like Townes and my mom.
Halfway through her cigarette, she snuffed it out and took a small roach from her apron. She lit it, took a drag, and handed it to me. I snuffed my cigarette the way she did, and took the joint. I’d been sweating all night, and it tasted great.
One of the cooks came out of the kitchen and smoked with us. He took two hits and then went back inside without saying much. We finished the roach and stood for a moment. “For the smell,” Diana said, as she relit the last half of her cigarette.
The manager handed me some cash and told me to come in earlier the next night. “It’ll be busy,” he said, as though tonight the restaurant had been empty, as though nobody had eaten at the tables.
Diana and I took out the trash most nights. Sometimes, after the cash was counted and the restaurant was closed, we would sit on the hood of her car and smoke for a while. “This fucking job,” Diana would say, shaking her head. I would nod, but I didn’t agree. I loved the work.
The busy nights were the best. Occasionally one of the cooks would sell me crank in the walk-in fridge. We’d take the pills looking into each others’ eyes, and wait for the exact moment our pupils dilated. Then we’d burst out into the kitchen like bats at dusk.
After I got used to the demands of the customers and the waitstaff, I knew what needed to be done before anyone asked. I floated above the customers, bending around the servers with my arms full of bus tubs and water pitchers.
Every moment in the restaurant lasted ages, and I rode changes in the atmosphere like a hang glider. I ran back and forth through the swinging doors, carrying dirty plates into the clanging steam of the kitchen and clean plates out into the roar of the dining room. If I made eye contact with a customer, they always looked away. Sometimes the manager would congratulate me on my work, and the servers would tip me extra.
At the end of one Tuesday night shift, I was smoking a cigarette out back, when one of the chefs came outside and bummed one. He lit it and sat down on the seat of his motorcycle, put one thigh up on the gas tank. I could tell he loved his bike; it was covered with stickers and spray paint, and he’d glued plastic bull’s horns just over the front light.
He passed me his flask, and I took a drink. He said, “Did I ever tell you how long it took me to save up for this claptrap?”
I shook my head. He said, “That first ride out, that was the best. I had money left over, the guy cut me a deal, and I bought myself a needle. I cruised around Route Seventy for hours . . . you know Route Seventy?”
“My dad’s trailer’s just off Seventy. Down by Landry’s?”
He nodded. “When I started to come down, do you know what I did then?”
Again I shook my head.
“I drove it straight into some trash cans. In an alley down behind the hardware store.”
“Did you get hurt?”
He shrugged, and patted the seat behind him. “Want me to give you a lift home?”
I thought for a moment. “Could I take my board, too?”
The streets looked different from the back of a motorcycle.
If the first seating at the restaurant was really slammed, Diana would yell for me to wipe the sleep from my eyes, and I’d get serious and move even faster. I liked to go as fast as I could without any of the customers knowing I was in a rush. I kept a grin on my face so long it ached.
Around noon, one Tuesday when the restaurant was closed, I was eating cereal, and I heard tires on the dirt outside our trailer. Dad had left hours ago to go to work at the grocery. When I looked out the window, it was Diana in her Ford truck. Townes was singing, “It’s plain to see/the sun won’t shine today,” so I turned off the tape, pulled on my jacket, and went outside.
“Well hey there.” She handed me a cigarette and we smoked in silence. We got into the Ford, and drove off towards the mountains. It was warm enough that we kept the windows down.
She turned down a dirt road, and we bumped along for about five miles. She pulled over at a break in the trees, and we crawled into the back of her truck where she had a mattress and a lot of blankets. We ate some mushrooms and drank some Mexican beer she’d bought. Looking out the back of her truck into the valley where we lived, it was like we were traveling backwards, looking the wrong way.
She said, “I used to be an actress. Now, I’ve got my clay. You’ve seen my busts? I’ll give you one, free, if you promise not to carry it on your skateboard. Clay busts.”
She fell asleep. She had a smile on her face, and I wanted to hold her. But I was nervous and didn’t want to wake her. Instead, I hummed “Nothin’” for a while and then sang the words aloud. When I started singing “To Live is to Fly,” Diana woke up. She looked down at the valley under us. Lines creased the corners of her dark eyes. And she said, “Let’s go.”
She drove home without saying a word. As she let me out, she handed me the bag with the empty beer cans.
My dad was waiting for me inside, seated at the table two feet from the door. He had a bottle by him, but when I looked closer it was just Sunny D. I smiled, and then I followed his stare to the empty cans in my arms. He cleared his throat.
“I lost my job,” he said. “I have enough saved up to send you to your mother. Not sure where I’ll find work, or when, the way things are in town.”
I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving. I didn’t even tell my manager Josh. One day, I just wasn’t at the restaurant any more.
The plane was the first time I was ever off the ground, but it wasn’t what I’d expected. I didn’t have a window seat, and I could only tell we were in the air by announcements over the loudspeakers. I felt like I was being shaken like a bean in a can. After forty-five minutes, I stumbled to the bathroom and threw up. I thought the whole plane was coming apart as we got close to landing.
I’m still not sure if the plane crash-landed. Either way, I waited in the airport for six hours and my mom never came.
I had her address. An airport worker gave me directions, pointed me to a city bus. The bus was well-lit, and houses separated by narrow, grassless yard slid by one after the other. I thought of Diana, smoking near the trash by herself, or with a cook.
The bus driver told me where to get off. I saw my mom smiling at me as I hauled by bag out onto the pavement. The sun was setting as I walked down an empty road, my mom’s empty road, and I saw my dad sitting in the corner of a field, telling stories to no one.
It was a one-story house with a basement, five steps up to the front door. The mailbox was stuffed full of coupon magazines.
No one answered my knocking, and no lights were on in the house. I put my bag and my skateboard on the stoop and sat down to wait.