Chapter One. Milo.
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Throughout time, they had always spoken of a hole in the world.
The ancient Indians believed that somewhere in Death Valley, California there was a hole in the desert that led down into the center of the earth, down into the darkness. There, in that pit where magical rivers ran with milk and honey, they believed that the Chosen people could hide while the rest of the world imploded into chaos.
Eventually, a certain man and his cult of worshippers heard of this hole, and were fascinated with the offer of sanctuary in the rising disorder and pandemonium of modern-day humanity. Though not an Indian himself, the leader of the cult believed so completely in the theory that he transferred his entire practice to the deserts of Death Valley to pursue discovery of the Hole. That man’s name was Charles Manson.
To this day, there is no proof of whether the “Hole” truly exists. But there is no proof that it does not. And so countless believers continue searching, searching for a hole in the world of disorder, looking for the eye in the hurricane where those chosen can sleep in safety while the earth crumbles and dies…
I’m not sure why anyone else would come searching for that Hole… unless they were afraid of dying.
You see… We’re all still searching for that haven-hole within ourselves, because however strong we build up our fortresses and protect our possessions one thing remains the same. No matter who you are, no matter whom you become, no matter where you go, you will always be with yourself. And that is one Hole nobody can help but fall into time and time again.
There was no Hole in a boarding school in Arizona other than the ones inside our minds, but there was the desert: the endless, rolling red desert, stretching from one desolate mesa to the other and enshrouding the cramped, crumbling campus in an endless sea of dust and shale. It was hard to explain that place out across the gravel quad, past the cactus gardens blooming in the demonic sun, far to the scattered outer dormitories, and further than beyond that, because freedom waited there. Freedom was under the wheeling hawks and the parched shade of the bristly thorn-trees, with a pottery jar of cigarette butts between your knees and another butt between your lips.
I used to come out there all the time, you know. I carved my initials into the rocks with my pocketknife time and time again, refreshing the marks whenever they try to fade. It’s not that I was proud to admit of my visits; instead I felt they were the only tallies of my high school years worth keeping. I’d skip class and take my smokes and hike up deep into those scorched hills just to sit, and think about things, because God knows a teenage boy has enough to think about. Other people visited certain places out there too, well-known crevices with titles like Eleven O’ Clock and Eureka and Avalanche, but I never took anyone else with me when I went to find my Hole.
After so much time at this school I’ve made progress, but if you’d asked me back in the beginning what my inspiration was, I wouldn’t share with you the secrets of prickly cactuses and a full package of Marlboro Reds. Shallow teenage boy with his head full of dreams was finding something else out there.
What was our inspiration, the college applications ask us all.
Now, I don’t even know if there was any to speak of. The whole reason I stayed at Verde Valley School was because my mother and her teaching position were there. But if you’d asked, in the beginning I would have probably told you drugs, alcohol, and especially the porn made it all worthwhile.
Anthony had really great porn.
Lots of really great porn. Try, thirteen different three-year subscriptions-worth of it.
Each one featured naked women in different dishonorable positions, with other women, with very lucky men, and with themselves. Beautiful women… black women, white women, and in-between women; women from all over the world on full-color, fold out pages. For the unimpressionable, there was the lesbian porn. For the gothic types, there were piercings, black leather, and candles. For the really kinky, there was porn that included horses and dogs and sheep, and one issue even displayed a woman with a chimp. There were movies, and magazines, and tape recordings of phone conversations. All this and more belonged to Anthony. Anthony was a god.
“Welcome to my library,” he once said to me. “Visit any time you’d like.” He never had to ask me twice.
I met Anthony my second year, sophomore year, the year everything was seriously fucked up and crazy as I tried to deal with the year-old aftermath of my dad leaving my mom, and it’s possible to say that I wasn’t exactly myself. But Anthony seemed to understand well enough to sling one heavy arm around my shoulders and say, “There’s something in my room I need to show you…”
Yes, it’s easily said that I spent a lot of time in Anthony’s dormitory, because in addition to his own contributions it was also known that several other residents were equal admirers of fine female flesh. North dormitory wasn’t called the “porn dorm” for nothing.
But though pornography was my original intention for doing little camping out in North, I ended up becoming an honorary resident for an entirely different reason. And for the few times in my entire life, that reason was a man.
“Milo, I want you to meet Bowman.”
This is what Anthony said to me one day during a private get-together in his room, over the newest edition of Penthouse and a bottle of Old Gordon’s. There had been a timid knock on the door, and some guy with a comb-over hairstyle entered, carrying a laptop computer. He blinked his eyes and looked meekly at the floor, after flashing the fingertips in hello.
It had been him that Anthony had been talking about. Now, I’d had only some of what was in the bottle and not enough to be smashed, but I was feeling enthusiastic and welcoming—which is normally not like me, so I suppose I was a little drunk. “Welcome!” I declared, and turned the page in the magazine without looking at it. “Care to join us?”
But Bowman, if that really was his name, kept his eyes to the floor. He was mild and soft-spoken. I’d seen him before of course, but we’d never talked. Now I knew why. “Anthony…” he said, “you wanted to borrow my laptop…”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Anthony, and shut the door. “Have a seat, will you?” He’d said it to be an invitation, but Bowman sank down heavily beside me on the bed like it was a command. The computer seemed to be protecting his groin.
An old limerick started unwinding through my head… There once was a man from Namboo… “I’m Milo,” I said, and would have offered my hand, but at that moment it didn’t seem like the best of ideas.
(There once was a man from Namboo)
(who fell asleep in his canoe)
“Hello,” said Bowman to his laptop. I got the impression that he was embarrassed, though I couldn’t see why.
“Vodka?” I offered. It wasn’t actually my vodka, but what the hell. The guy looked like he was in dire need of a drink, and Anthony didn’t argue. Actually, Anthony didn’t say anything at all. He just sat in the other corner like a psychotic Buddha with dreads, sipping on his glass, and watched us with his cracked-ice eyes. When Bowman shook his head and put up his hands like he was resisting rape instead of just some liquor, I couldn’t help but persist.
(on the way to Botswana)
“No thank you,” he said, his words quite pronounced and careful though I continued to offer, “no… thank you. I don’t do that stuff.”
(he dreamed of his mama)
The bottle dropped. My eyes went from his embarrassed face, to his trembling hands, to his perfectly combed hairstyle, and I knew I was staring, but I was drunk and who cared, because he seemed to be too busy avoiding my eyes to take offense.
(and awoke with a handful of goo.)
“You some sort of pussy, or something?” I demanded of him then, and it seemed to me afterwards in the silence that followed that my voice had been unnaturally loud.
But Bowman didn’t reply. He just sat on the bed and looked sad until Anthony spoke up—making me jump, because I had forgotten he was there. He said, “Thanks for the laptop, Bowman. I’ll return it to you later tonight.”
I watched as the guy mumbled a response and beat a hasty retreat back the way he’d come, leaving the computer on the bed.
(There once was a man…)
Guiltily, I held the vodka bottle to my lips, remembered, and then poured more into my glass. The whole time I completely expected Anthony to say something, to comment on my behavior towards his unlikely guest, but he just sat there and sipped his drink and studied me with those eyes.
On the doorframe there was a handwritten quote in Sharpie. It said, “Wise men learn more from fools than fools from the wise”. It was in perfect view from the bed, where I always sat to get drunk or read porn; also, it was in Anthony’s handwriting, but my friend refused to explain what it meant.
Looking at the mantra over the door, I felt like I should apologize to the pathetic little comb-over nerd that had just run out from under it. But Anthony was still watching me, and so I went back to page 24 and Miss Guatemala with nipple rings, and presently my old self returned. I had a bottle of vodka and nobody was scolding me. The door was safely closed, and I was on the right side of it. There was no hurry to chase down the comb-over. However, with fading moral standards I did decide to confront Bowman at a later (and more convenient) time, and, so decided, turned the page.
I saw Bowman occasionally over the next couple days following our lukewarm introduction, but never got the chance to speak to him and maybe make amends; due first to a splitting hangover, and later, a girl. But he was there. Sometimes I’d catch that damned comb-over in a crowd, and when I looked again, he’d be gone. When I learned he played guitar I would hear music and then, too, turn to find the source, but sound carries well in the desert, and never was the composer in sight. It was like trying to catch the evasive butterfly, and I am a man of little patience. I soon lost resolution and never did apologize to him. Though he and I later became friends and by then my introductory rudeness was forgotten, I always regret not seeking him out, setting him down, and saying for one of those rare times that I do, “I’m sorry.”
My father used to say that you should rarely ever say the word Sorry in order to preserve its meaning, because forgiveness is a precious thing. For a person such as Bowman, it would have been simple exception that would have gone a long way. And I regret it often that I did not. It is one of the few qualms I have. For who knows what might have been prevented, had all of us been kinder to the sweet, lonely freshman with the green eyes and acoustic guitar that matched?
I said earlier that one of the reasons I hadn’t continued pursuing Bowman was because of a girl. I hadn’t been joking. If there’s anything that can put me off track it’s a female presence. Don’t ask me why, I guess I’m just a walking hormone. But girls sure do seem to lead me astray.
This one in particular really wasn’t doing anything especially exciting, like running topless across the campus drenched in honey and feathers… no, nothing like that. She was just standing there, actually. But that was plenty.
I swear to god that your dick works just like one of those water-seeking forked sticks, sort of. Well, okay… Maybe not.
(Nice simile, Milo.)
“Hello,” I had said.
She had turned around and studied me, and I saw she had huge blue eyes. Eyes like the Atlantic ocean in a paper cup. Now I personally have a thing for dark eyes,
and foreign women, but all the same… She was a new girl, which was a bonus, and then she smiled at me, and all the lights went off in the casino. Score! Score!
“Hello,” she said, and I wondered if I had her. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the best looking of guys, but every so often I hook up with the beauties every dude dreams about… And in the first week back to school, could it be true?
“I’ve heard about you,” she said to me, and I couldn’t help but smile, feeling wiggly inside. But then she deflated my rapidly-expanding ego by adding, “you’re one of the faculty brats, aren’t you? The math teacher’s kid?”
“Yeah, that’s me,” I replied, and was disheartened. Not too much though, because it’s true; my mom did teach the mathematics, and instead of a dorm I bunked up in our house over on the south side of campus, which could be nice. But did she have to go and mention it…?
“You’re the new girl,” I said, not sure how to proceed.
“Not that new. I got here a month ago.”
“Still,” I said quickly. “I haven’t seen you around, ah, much. I don’t think we’ve ever really met.”
“Nice to meet you,” she said, and frolicked away.
I pulled my hair off my forehead in exasperation, smoothing the wrinkles there, and blew out a sigh. No use in asking her to sleep with me in exchange for a fixed A in Geometry, was there?
(Yeah, right! Let her go.)
I let her go.
Yeah, so that was the girl that detained me, and she was pretty… pretty pointless.
(So where was I?)
Ah yes. Bowman.
(Where was that little bastard at, anyhow…?)