In high school, I loved a boy who shaved his head with a hunting blade. We drove around our river village in his jeep, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and listening to metal or folk music, depending on his mood. Sometimes, he kissed me at every stop sign; sometimes, he clenched his face in fierce concentration, the focus of which I never knew. If I asked, he grunted or said, “Fuck off,” and was the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen.
After school we made-out in the woods near the water, not because our parents were home, but because Jake wanted to spend time in the wild. “When the world ends,” he said, “and it will— soon— where do you think we’re gonna be?” He called this the third prophecy, and took classes at The Apache Scout Survival School, which required expensive gear and camping trips. It surprised me that his father, who called him a savage, let him go. “It’ll start with fire in the sky, massive explosions,” Jake said once and dragged his knife along his scalp, wiped the stubble on his jeans. As a date, we went hiking deep in the forest, and he identified the plants you could eat or crush into a salve, the tracks of deer or foxes, and how long ago they’d been made. When it got warm, he took off his T-shirt and tucked it into his waistband. Walking behind him, I watched the muscles roll beneath his moist skin and thought he had the body of a man. Later, he told me he never once lifted a dumbbell, that the Creator had designed him for his purpose.
Sometimes Jake stayed at his mom’s house and slept on a thin mat on the floor— the way he liked. But he wasn’t, technically, allowed to stay there. At his father’s his mattress was a California King, a perfect square he had to sleep on with the door open. Once, his mom went cycling through Nova Scotia for three weeks without telling anyone. Once, she let us drink gin and tonic with her, and said “If your husband’s secretary gives him cufflinks for Christmas, that means he’s fucking her.” Once, his father called me Lynn, the name of Jake’s last girlfriend, and said it was tough to tell Jake’s whores apart. Jake balled his hands into fists. Big ones, but his father’s were bigger. Weekdays his father wore a diamond tiepin to his law firm; weekends he rode his Harley. Once, I fingered the indent on Jake’s temple, the size of a pinkie ring, and he swatted at my hand. Once, Jake pulled over on the highway to weep at the sunset and all I could do was pick my chipped nails.
After Jake became a Shadow Scout, he drove us to the Pine Barrens, taking his hand from my knee only to shift gear. He’d heard infants had been abandoned there, and were now children who lived like wolves and grunted their language. He would find them and teach them the Apache way. He scorched the end of a stick and rubbed its ashes on our clothes and skin. He told me not to show my teeth. I tried to step lightly, as he instructed. I didn’t know what would happen to him if I snapped a twig. He built a primitive shelter strewn with Smoke-grass and said they’d smell it. For the first time, I didn’t believe him; still, I pulled the fronds up by their roots. His shoulders bulged beneath his flannel shirt, and I longed to go home. He drove us back without blinking, and glared at me for the last time.
Have you ever tripped in public, and felt relieved from embarrassment because somehow no one saw you? Then went and told the first person you talked to that you fell? I’ve talked about Jake, how he cut his hands through the air, saying, “If you ask the Earth kindly, she’ll let you conduct the wind.” Or how he sliced himself sharpening a knife and wrote a love letter with his blood. Or how he hacked his guitar to pieces when his father mocked his playing and saved the wood in his pack, for fire when the time came. How he wanted the time to come. Sometimes, I talked like someone laughs at herself for falling, but that isn’t how I felt. The letter turned rosy brown and stank, but not for too long.