Sunday, November 2, 2008


Yesterday Megan dropped me off at the Wily Republican's house because he was going to drive me the rest of the way up to the airport so I could get on a plane bound for Maine. This wasn't exactly how it was supposed to be. We'd planned to have more time together than the twenty minute ride from his house to the airport, but, as usual, things went awry.

The night before was Halloween, and I'd had an awful lot of vodka-tonics, and those vodka-tonics made me giggly and unreasonable, and I tried calling the WR several times, even though I knew he was working that awful overnight shift on a holiday that makes people lose all their common sense and decency. I figured he'd be putting a whole bunch of costumed people in handcuffs. I could imagine him driving back to the station with a backseat full of zombies and vampires and girls dressed as any number of slutty things.

I called anyway. I called because I needed his professional opinion on things. After all, crimes were being committed. While we were at the strip club, Matt's costume was stolen, possibly by a gangly man who insisted on standing in front of Katy when she was just trying to mind her business and watch that one stripper do back-bends off the pole. When the guy blocked her view, Katy suggested--as politely as possible--that he should sit the hell down so people behind him could enjoy the spectacle, too. The man didn't think much of Katy's suggestion, and minutes later we noticed that Matt's Nintendo costume, which he'd taken off so he wouldn't be obstructed when he tried to reach for his beer, was gone--along with the gangly man.

I got on the phone and called Wily. "Wily!" I said, talking in what I thought was a very serious, very grave tone, but would later to come to find out--when the WR replayed the message for me on the way to the airport--was a tone closer to "giggly" and "shrieky."

"Wily!" I said. "There's been a crime! A very serious crime! Crimes are being committed in Mankato! It was a theft! A THEFT OF A HALLOWEEN COSTUME! WHO STEALS SOMEONE'S HALLOWEEN COSTUME?! We need your help!"

Later, somewhere around 3:30 AM, I would place another call to the Wily Republican because Katy, Megan, Matt, and I had become concerned that we, too, were committing some crimes when, after ingesting a massive amount of cheese bread and Hawaiian pizza, Bill passed out on the couch and we decided to pose him with a number of filthy things. In my favorite pose, Bill is holding a banana and has a Playboy stretched out across his chest. There are wadded up tissues and a bottle of lotion resting around the magazine.

Again, I decided to consult the Wily Republican. "So," I said in the message, "if we were to put a passed-out boy in various filthy poses, would that be wrong? Is that considered wrong?"

"Is it libel?" Katy chirped in the background. "Ask him if it's libel."

"Is it libel, Wily?" I asked. "Is it defamation? Are we going to get sued? Call me back. I need to know."

The next day, after a familiar are-we-or-aren't-we-going-to-see-each-other dance, things aligned so that we were going to see each other, even if it was for twenty small minutes. And when I stood on his front stoop and rang his doorbell, the Wily Republican opened the door and said hey as casually as he might've had we been back in Mankato, had I just driven over to his house and knocked until he opened the door and let me inside, into his room, where the cardboard cut-out of George W. Bush gazed over his bed.

But it wasn't that. It wasn't like we were in Mankato anymore, and it wasn't like things were the same. I was looking at a boy who looked both exactly the same and completely different than the boy I used to know back in graduate school. He was bigger and softer-looking, but he was still so tall and square. He looked like someone who had found his niche in life, found exactly where he wanted to be.

"Can I see your kitten?" I asked--one of the first things I said after hello. The Wily Republican had driven to the shelter with his fiancee not long after I'd gotten Abbey. The two of them--the WR and his fiancee--picked out a tiny tiger-striped kitten with white paws. He was cute--ridiculously so--but I'd spent several months asserting that my kitten was cuter. I just needed to make sure of it in person.

The WR disappeared inside for a second and then came back to the door, a cat dangling from one of his palms. "Here you go," he said and deposited the cat in my arms. Had I tried this move with Abbey, she would've looked up at the unfamiliar person and--if this person hadn't immediately given her treats or canned food--assumed that this was some giant new toy I had gotten her, and she would've started playing with vigor. This tiger kitten, though, just looked up at me with its big eyes and then twitched its nose before reclining in my arms. It didn't even mind when I pressed a few kisses into its head because I am a sucker for that warm spot between a kitten's ears.

The kitten smelled good. The kitten smelled very good. The kitten smelled like boy, like the Wily, like whatever cologne the Wily wears. Everything about that cat was very, very sweet and very, very cute.

"Here's your cat," I said. I passed the cat back to the WR. "He smells like you."

"He was napping with me," the Wily said.

"Aha," I said. "Well, my kitten is cuter."

"Doubtful," the WR said.

And then we left. We got in his car and started back up the long road to the airport. I looked out the window and watched southern Minnesota flash by: brown field after brown field after brown field. You could look out across those fields and see forever. There was so much emptiness there, and it was only occasionally interrupted by a water tower, a gas station with old-fashioned pumps, a restaurant that advertised a T-bone dinner for $15.99. Except for those things, there was nothing except long stretches of churned-up farm land.

I've always been fascinated by the landscape of Minnesota. When I moved there for grad school I could feel a difference in me--a difference turned over by my surroundings, by the sun sinking into soybean fields, by the flatness, by the smooth patchwork that unfolded underneath me when I saw the state from the air. I was an East Coast girl who was used to hills and valleys, to views that rose and fell instead of just stretched. There was comfort in that kind of topography. There was comfort in things that changed and moved, things that had shape.

And even though I got used to the Minnesotan landscape, and even though I even grew fond of the way I could watch the sun sink and sink and sink so far away on the flatness, I was always still a little suspicious of that much wide open. It was disconcerting to be able to see what was coming at you from such a long way away.

I was thinking about all of these things as the Wily drove me farther away from the town where we met, as he drove me toward the airport where I would board a plane and fly back to the coast, to the rocky shoreline, to the rise and fall of a place whose landscape breathes, rolls, sings wild songs.

The Wily and I were doing what we do so well together--our usual snarky routine--and I realized that my feelings about Minnesota's landscape were the same as my feelings about the WR. Both were things that I'd had reservations about. Both were things that were different and new, things that set me on edge. I'd loved the Wily for the same reasons I found a certain level of love for those wide open fields: there was so much space, so much room to run and scream and act up. It seemed like that could go on like that forever, and even if you saw what was coming at you, and even if it wasn't good--even if what was headed your way was heartbreak and ruin--you still had a good long ways before it caught up with you, before you and it were anywhere near each other, so why not keep running?

But later--after the Wily Republican had dropped me at the curb and hugged me in one of those half-committal ways, a way that implied here was a boy who was engaged, a boy who had a new life, a boy who couldn't be seen hugging some strange girl with red hair as she clutched her carry-on and stood on her tip-toes to reach him--there was a strange swell of relief inside me as the plane lifted off the Minneapolis runway and turned itself East. Soon, things would start to look more familiar, more rolling, more unpredictable. Soon, I would be back in a place that smelled of sea and sun, a place where you couldn't quite see all the beautiful things that might be coming at you over the crest of the next hill--and that, that surprise, was exactly what I was craving.

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