Palouse by vwl
From the Past – February 1995
Five Months Later
There is no end of it, the voiceless wailing,
No end to the withering of withered flowers,
To the movement of pain that is painless and motionless,
To the drift of the sea and the drifting wreckage,
The bone’s prayer to Death its God
T.S. Eliot - The Dry Salvages
Maybe it was a portent of things to come, or maybe it was just bad coincidence, but when Micah arrived back in his dorm room, the phone was blinking, indicating that a message was waiting. He pushed the button. “This is a message for Micah Kingman. This is the Today Show. We are in a town called Colfax, and we’re doing a follow-up story on child prodigies that we featured six years ago and where they are today. Please call me anytime at…” and the person furnished a telephone number.
“Shit,” Micah said but picked up the phone and dialed the number. An overly cheery voice answered. The television crew had been to Endicott, and they’d been to the Idanha school, and now they wanted to interview the Guarneri Brave himself.
“I have a test tomorrow, and I really don’t have anything to say. I’m following my life as best I can. But thank you for your interest.”
Micah hung up and was barely able to concentrate for his test. He slept fitfully; the phone call from the Today Show had been deeply disturbing. It seemed to be such an intrusion on his privacy – on a part of his life that he didn’t want to revisit. He thought he had set those tough memories behind him.
But the Today Show call was nothing in comparison with what was about to happen: the second blow.
* * * * *
The boy turned his head and recognized Micah, who was on the sidewalk behind him. “Micah?” Micah nodded and then watched Casey’s demeanor wilt. “I called your home, and they said you were in Walla Walla, but I didn’t know how to find you here. But you found me.”
Casey’s dark-blond hair was uncombed, dirty and greasy and clinging to a lean, starvation-stricken face. His clothes looked as if they had been purchased at Goodwill a long time past. They were ill-fitting, missing buttons and were stained in a number of places. He was unshaven, and his scraggly-bearded face was gaunt and probably hadn’t been washed in a week.
“You look…,” Micah hesitated.
“…awful, yes, but it’s great to see you.”
really mean that?”
“Of course, why wouldn’t I?
Casey was silent for a few minutes, then said quietly: “Because you don’t know what’s happened to me.”
“What has happened to you, Casey?”
“It’s okay.” Casey looked away. “I’m getting by.”
“Why are you in Walla Walla, for God’s sake?”
“Just passing through. I hitched a ride from Portland. I was going to Spokane, but my ride was going through Walla Walla, so I decided to stay here; I knew you were here. The guy who brought me here told me he would drive me to Spokane next week. He must have liked how I rewarded him for his ride.” The last observation was ruefully stated with a forced smile on Casey’s face.
Micah stared Casey in the eyes until Casey turned away. “What’s wrong, Casey?”
“Everything. My life, my future, my present, my past.”
“Can I buy you a cup of coffee, and maybe we can talk about it?” Micah guided Casey into Merchant’s, found a seat in a corner in the back of the balcony, got Casey’s order and went to the counter. He paid for the coffees, added a couple of pastries, waited a few minutes and was on his way back to Casey.
Casey wasn’t there. There was no trace of him.
“Shit.” Micah looked around, unsure of what to do next. Two minutes later, Casey emerged from the direction of the men’s room, his face clean, his clothes showing wet spots where he had tried to sponge-clean some of the dirt off. Micah sighed in relief; he had sensed that something was terribly amiss with Casey and felt that his worrying over him was justified, so he had been afraid Casey had run off.
Casey sat down, and Micah put a mocha latte and pastry in front of him. The pastry disappeared in an instant. Micah set the other pastry in front of Casey, with the same result.
“Are you still hungry, Casey? How about a bagel and cream cheese?”
Tears rose in Casey’s eyes as he nodded his head. Micah excused himself and went back to the counter and placed the order and added a replacement pastry for himself. The barista said she would bring the orders up to their table.
Micah sat down across from Casey and looked at him closely until Casey averted his eyes. “Spill it,” Micah ordered. “Tell me what’s happened since the Idanha School. Did you finish and graduate?” It had been a year and a half since they had gone their separate ways at the end of the school year.
Casey hesitated, his hands crumpling and twisting a paper napkin. “I went home feeling pretty good about myself. My dad kicked me out of the house after two weeks. I wasn’t meeting his expectations.”
“What does that mean: ‘meeting his expectations’?”
“He guessed that the Idanha School hadn’t changed the fact that I was gay, and he didn’t want to have anything more to do with me. Mom didn’t say anything, so I found my belongings on the porch, myself on the street with no money, no job, no diploma, nothing.”
“How did he know you were still gay?
“I told him.”
Micah closed his eyes then opened them slowly and looked Casey in the eye. “You told him? You didn’t keep that quiet.”
“I figured he’d find out in time, so I just shortened the timeline.”
“Go on. What happened next?”
“I hitched to Portland and did, um, odd jobs to get along.” Micah looked at Casey until Casey was forced to break the silence. “I sold myself on the streets.”
Micah was dumbfounded and deeply saddened. Here was a boy he had befriended many months prior and who he felt was ready to handle his life, only to find him 17 months later in total disarray.
“I was foolish. I took chances.” Then he said in a bare whisper: “I have AIDS.”
“Oh, God. I am so, so sorry.” Micah took Casey’s hand and drew it to his lips. “Oh, God, God, God.” Micah was distraught that such a beautiful boy – and Micah was surprised to think that he thought Casey beautiful – would come to such a disastrous state.
A silence fell between them. Micah was thinking how to react. Casey feared rejection.
“Come back to my dorm. We’ll figure out something.” Micah said.
“Could you just take me to Spokane?” Casey’s eyes were pleading.
“I have a class at 11, but after that, sure. I’ll take you if that’s what you really want. Meantime, come to my dorm and get cleaned up.”
Micah telephoned David to tell him that something had come up and they couldn’t get together that evening.
* * * * *
The three-hour drive to Spokane took them along U.S. 12, through Waitsburg and Colfax and up U.S. 195 through the eastern side of the Palouse. Micah considered driving through Endicott and stopping at his home on the way back if he had time. Casey slept most of the way and was silent much of the remainder of the time even as Micah tried to draw him out as the miles sped by quickly. Micah wanted to restore the camaraderie that they had had at Idanha, but something seemed to be missing – or broken – with Casey.
“Where shall I take you?” Micah asked as they neared Spokane.
“Downtown. Anywhere. I’ll call my, uh, uncle to come and get me.”
“I’ll take you to where you want to go. I’ll take you to your uncle’s,” Micah offered.
“Just downtown is fine. My uncle can come get me.”
Micah took the exit to Third Avenue. “Where now?”
“Just pull over.” Micah pulled his pickup to the curb. Casey opened the door quickly as if to escape without a word, then thought better of it and turned to Micah. “Thanks, Micah. I wish things were different.” He took Micah’s hand and kissed it, turned and left the pickup, his pack hitched to his back with one strap.
“Wait,” Micah yelled. “Let me give you my phone number.” He found a piece of paper in the glove box and wrote his dorm number on it. “Call me if you need me. Please.” Micah also handed Casey a $50 bill with the phone number.
“I can’t take that,” Casey said, trying to hand the money back.
“Take it. You might need a taxi to get you to your uncle’s. You can return it to me some day when you get settled.”
“Thanks.” Casey slipped the paper into his shirt pocket and put the $50 bill in his wallet. He looked at Micah with tears built up over the years pouring down his face. Then, embarrassed, Casey turned quickly away.
Micah sat at the wheel and stared as Casey dropped down onto Third and turned right. It was the last time he would see Casey alive.
Breakdown – February 1995
A Few Days Later
Things fall apart. The center cannot hold…
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
– William Butler Yeats
The phone was ringing. David looked at the red letters on his clock radio. It was just past 3 a.m. His roommate was sound asleep. David, though, felt the usual uncertainty, apprehension and fear when any phone rings at 3 a.m. He flipped his blankets back and walked across the room, hurrying, not knowing how long it had been ringing. “Hello,” he said, the sleep still in his voice.
“Come hold me.”
“Micah! What’s happening?” Alarm and worry drove David to full alertness.
“I’m lost, David. I’m lost.” The anguish in Micah’s voice came from uncomfortably deep within the soul.
“I’ll be right there,” David said. “You’re at your dorm?”
“Yes, David. Come quickly.”
David slipped on some clothes, grabbed his coat and the keys from the hook where he kept them, ran down the stairs to the door and was in his Civic seconds later. He turned the key and put his car quickly in reverse, not caring if anyone was coming down the road. He drove as fast as he could, through several red lights when he saw no one was coming and arrived at Micah’s dorm ten minutes later.
The outside door was locked. “Damn it,” David cried as he began pounding on the glass. He was about to find a rock to throw through the glass when someone came out of a room. David pounded on the door again and was heard. A sleepy-eyed young man in pajamas came and unlatched the door without saying a word, as if David was just another student who had locked himself out. David ran past him, down the hall and up the stairs to the third floor, taking two and three steps at a time. He ran to Micah’s room, tried the doorknob and was relieved that it turned. Inside, Micah was sitting on the floor, slumped in the corner, with five jars of pills arrayed in front of him. Even though the only light came from a dim bedside lamp, David could see that Micah’s eyes were red and swollen. David ran to Micah’s side, sat and put his arm around Micah’s shoulder.
“Did you take any of these?” David asked.
Micah shook his head no, almost too imperceptibly for David to see. David pulled Micah to him, and Micah laid his head on David’s shoulder.
“I feel so alone.”
“Not now. I’m here, and I’ll stay as long as you want.” David’s arm squeezed Micah’s shoulder in emphasis.
“Thank you,” Micah whispered.
David held Micah for half an hour in silence. The sky began to lighten. He finally asked: “Micah – so talk to me.”
Micah took a few minutes composing himself. “You know, the boy I told you about – from Idanha and again last month when he turned up in Walla Walla. Last night, I got a call from the Spokane police saying the only thing they found on a man they found on the street was a phone number: mine. There was no wallet, no other identification except a piece of jewelry. They said he had been beaten and died, but maybe after a drug overdose. He had no wallet; they figured it had been stolen. They were hoping I could identify him. They described the man they found, and I was afraid at once that it was Casey. And when they described the necklace I gave him with the stone I found in the Salmon River, I knew it was Casey.
“I loved him, David, like a brother. We became so close.”
David couldn’t relate to Casey, but he could relate to the anguish in Micah.
Micah stood and started pacing, his voice rising almost to a scream. “Casey wasn’t a man, David. He was just a lost, screwed-up boy. I tried to help him when I found him here, but he refused. All he wanted was for me to drive him to Spokane, and I did. I dropped him off on the street. He said he was going to call his ‘uncle,’ but I know there’s no uncle. I gave him $50. I guess I sensed that something was terribly wrong. I let him down.”
“If he wanted your help, he would have let you help him.”
“The cops want me to come and identify him. I told them I would if I had to, but they should contact his parents in Prineville. Let them have the sad duty of identifying him. If they refuse, I told the cops, I can come, but I don’t want to.
“I asked them if they would send me his ashes if his parents didn’t want them, and I asked for the necklace back – to remember him by. The cop said he would send me the necklace for sure, even though he thought it was probably against regulations. I’m going to scatter the ashes around the hot-springs pool at Idanha – Casey was happy there – and I’ll return the stone from the necklace into the Salmon River where it came from. Maybe the river will remember his happiness when it gets that stone back.”
“Let me go with you when you go down to Idaho,” David offered.
“You don’t have to. You didn’t know Casey.”
“But I know you, and I know you bonded with Casey and grew to love him, so I know I would have loved him, too.”
Micah was overwhelmingly pleased at David’s offer as he sat next to him on the bed again. “I guess what is so scary is that it could have been me who became so lost. I could have fallen as far as he did if my parents hadn’t made me go to that wilderness trek and the Idaho school – and they were there if I had really needed them. In a way, Casey saved me because he needed me so badly in Idaho, and I stopped feeling sorry for myself; he was in so much worse shape than I was. By helping him, I started to get better. We both started to get better.” Micah sobbed.
“On top of this, the day before yesterday the Today show called because they were doing a series about child prodigies who had not gone on to fame; they wanted to show where and what they were today. I told them I wouldn’t talk to them, because it would be too painful. But I’m going to call them tomorrow. I need to face what I am now, have them see what I am now.” Micah dropped his head in dejection.
“Hold me, David. Everything is just going wrong.” David put his arm around Micah and drew him to his shoulder and just held him. After a while, the terrible sobs stopped, and Micah quieted, and then he fell asleep in David’s arms, his cheeks streaked with dried and fresh tears.
The two were huddled in the corner of Micah’s bed, one a refugee from the darker, sadder side of life. David finally extricated himself from Micah, leaving him lying back on the bed. He covered Micah up with a blanket as he watched him sleep. David was then able to inspect the bottles arrayed at Micah’s side. Sleeping pills, aspirin, a bottle of Vicodin and a few others prescribed, so the label said, for Micah’s roommate the past year. There was probably enough there to do some serious damage, David decided. He picked the bottles up and set them away from Micah, then lay on the bed beside him and fell asleep.
The bright light from outside began to flow into the room, which woke Micah, who took a few seconds to orient himself. He felt David’s comforting arm around him. David stirred; his eyes fluttered open.
“Thank you for coming last night,” Micah said softly.
“You’re welcome. I’m a friend; I’ll come any time you need me – just to hold you or to talk to you if that’s what you want.”
They sat for a few minutes, letting the sleep fade from their eyes.