Table of Contents for the "Hole" Story

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3
Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6
Chapter 7

Here is where more text or an image goes.

Keep Me Whole Until Morning

Chapter 9 -- It Happened a Long, Long Time AgoEdit

I had my story ready to go, and I could tell my audience was a bit bored which suited me fine. The less they remembered of this utterly suckie tale the better. "The summer after I finished middle school," I began my tale. "My mother ran away. My parents had been fighting a lot. It seemed they fought every few weeks after Dad drank too much wine. Drinking made my dad ugly and antisocial. After the fight, which was always about nothing, he would go to the den and sleep it off on the couch. Mom would get in the car and drive. She would be gone a couple of hours, and then she would return.

"On the night she ran away, my parents had a fight like any other fight. My dad went to the den to sleep off his antisocial drunk and my mom went for her ride, only she didn't come back. At first no one knew what to do. Dad had to go to work. We kids were left to ourselves. I started learning to cook. My brother hung out with his friends a lot. I think he blamed me for the fight, but I could not have started the fight. The fight had nothing to do with either of us kids.

"One week turned into two. I remember buying groceries for the first time except for grabbing a soda and stuff like that. I did my own laundry and realized you did not have to measure soap. Later I learned you just did everything in cold water, but I did not learn that until ninth grade.

"I did not miss my mom. My dad was not home much. I did not miss either of my parents whom I considered too stupid for words and totally irresponsible." I paused to take a breath. Kerry was looking right at me and so was Ranier. Minah avoided looking at me completely and studied her knuckles. "Go on..." Ranier pleaded. My story, like a bad joke, did not have much of a punch line and it also has a big fat spoiler in it.

"After eighteen days, Eben, my brother, signed for a registered letter. There were also several unregistered letters from a lawyer's office in Tulsa. Mom's lawyer had gotten in touch with us. Mom was in Tulsa. She asked us to contact her through her lawyer only. She was going to sue Dad for divorce." And that was the end of the story as far as I was concerned that night and with that audience.

"So what happened?" asked Kerry.

"My parents got divorced," I said with a smile. Kerry sighed.

"It was the right thing to do. Those fights were disgusting. They should have done it sooner."

"But your mom..." Kerry pleaded.

"She and Dad weren't getting along. It was the right thing for her to get away."

"You forgive her..." asked Ranier.

"She was looking out for herself in the best way she knew how," I responded. No, I don't forgive her for being an asshole. I don't forgive my Dad for being one either, but they're the only parents I have, and that probably means

I'm not much of a prize either for having both their genes in me, but that is as they say, another story.

The professor came in and asked us to summarize what we had learned about eachother. I learned Minah had fought to keep her virtue, but not physically. Kerry had learned that God was a god of justice which I kind of liked. Ranier had had to endure teasing and humiliation but had survived it, and I know how to tell only part of a story.

We wandered off our separate ways after the breakouts. I put my orientation materials in my backpack and drifted toward the gym where there indeed was a live band playing covers of recent hits, mouldie and decripit oldies, and some dance music for folks who wanted to move their feet. I liked dance music. I still like it.

The walk of a few blocks gave me space to think. You know I did not tell the whole story about the ending of my parents' marriage in Cate Thursday night. I did not tell about how we had sold the house in Greenwood Lake, New York. It had been our vacation house. Yes, my family made money. My father invested wisely in real estate and in himself and had the talents and instincts of a lion in the court room. My mother taught school, adult education, tutored, and kept her hand in as they say. In the summer, she even found work in Dutchess County where Greenwood Lake is located.

I think that may have been the cause of one of many fights. I hated Greenwood Lakes. I did not like the local kids and they disliked me. There were often no girls my own age. I was bored, and lonely, and my parents did not let us bring our bicycles to the "lake house." I was even more bored and unhappy than usual the summer after eighth grade. I was so thoroughly steeped in my own misery that I did not notice my parents were equally unhappy. One night after a trip to a restaurant where my parents split a bottle of red wine, my father insisted on driving home. We got pulled over. My mother took the wheel, and she and Dad talked the police into letting them go.

When they got home, they had a fight of epic and earth shattering proportions. The fight lasted more than one night. At the end of the fight, Mom and Dad agreed to sell the Lake House. You see why Eben blames me but no one cared how unhappy I had been for four or five summers, so if I had been to blame, they would have sold the "Lake House" a long time ago. In fact, they would have torched the place and let me dance through and pee on the ashes but hey, this fight was my parents' problem, like all their fights.

I was glad to get rid of the Lake House. I started taking Bee Line buses by myself. I'd sneak out of the house, down to the village of Ardsley and catch the Numbers Five, Six, and One bus and ride them wherever they took me. I was much less bored and a lot happier. Of course, I wished my parents would stop their fighting, but maybe you get into a fighting rut. A rut is like a grave and if my parents wanted to bury themselves, well it was fine with me.

The gym was next to the pool. The pool had a round roof painted Sooner Red that looked black and menacing in the night. I found bright lights in the parking lot and walked past knots of kids not used to having this much freedom in so large a space that belonged to them. I smiled at them and thought of the one week I'd spent at Cornell Adult University the summer I was sixteen. Mom had insisted on this sort of a vacation with Zeke who was the life of the party in a way my Dad had never been. I remember Zeke introducing me to all his new friends with whom he still stayed in touch by e-mail. He kept hoping to have enough money to go on one of the University's European tours, but he had expenses, his two boys from a previous marriage, and Zeke was a good man as far as taking care of his kids went and he was good to Mom too. I just wish they'd had a really big wedding, but Mom says you can only wear white once.

I was at home on a big campus. University of Oklahoma like Cornell is big. Maybe it was better that I was here instead of in Ithaca. I entered the well lit gym and stood around the half filled room. Later I found a spot for my backpack and ended up on the dance floor. It was mostly girls dancing; for the boys were too shy. The dance ended way too soon. It was barely midnight, and I was in no mood for sleep. I was sweaty and tired with a head full of thoughts that leaped and chased each other as if it was the greatest sport in the world.

I walked back the way I had come, past the pool with its huge, dark roof and then down toward Asp Ave. to walk South. The street was lined with clumps of first year students trickling back to the Towers. I was by myself which was fine. I wanted to sort out all those thoughts, when a boy pulled abreast of me. He walked with a cane and an obvious limp. He also could have stood to wear some deoderant. "Just what I need," I thought. "A stinker. What's next?"

Chapter 10 -- The Boy Outside the PoolEdit

"Good evening ma'am," drawled stinker. I wondered how I could lose this smelly boy. At the same time, I was a bit flattered by attention coming out of nowhere. No, he was not as smooth as Ranier, but face it, most boys were a lttle rough about the edges. "I couldn't help notice you were visiting Shasta Godwin tonight."

I blinked. This boy could NOT be stalking me because he didn't know me from a hole in the wall. "Yes so..." I told him. "Shasta probably has lots of friends."

"Not that many," the boy answered. "There's just five of us here from Boisie City, and Shasta's only friend in the world here is Ranier Ciari."

"OK, but I just got here today from Tulsa. How am I supposed to know any of this...Look what do you want?"

"I want to warn you about Ranier," the boy said. "Can we go somewhere and talk?"

I suggested Memorial Union which was a bit out of our way but open twenty-four seven. We pushed the glass doors open, and entered a world of artificial light and piped in soft rock muzak. The smelly boy from Boisie City asked if I wanted a cold drink and bought us both Cherry Cokes with his meal plan card. We found a bankette.

Now that we were both out of the dark, I could see that the smelly boy was not just ugly. He had probably never been particularly good looking, but he was disfigured. One eye was swollen shut or maybe gone altogether. The other refused to focus. There were scars on his face and one of his arms was in a sling. He had an unsteady gate when he walked. I guessed him might not be able to drive, but lots of people who are damaged drive. I who on the other hand look very whole am damaged in exactly the right place to prevent driving. I looked at the smelly boy and thought: "I'm sorry," because I was. I also tried not to think of how he had gotten disfigured. Perhaps it was a disease, but my guts said something else. In fact, they screamed it. My rational brain told them stories of auto or industrial accidents or even war injuries. The stories kept my gut instinct busy and distracted.

"You need to know about Ranier," smelly boy told me.

"I need to know who you are first," I answered.

"I'm Moses Wolfe," the boy introduced himself. "I lived in the same town with the Ciaris and graduated from high school with Ranier and Shasta. The Ciaris are like small town royalty. Everyone worships them except my family."

"Well I don't worship Ranier," I told Moses.

"Good..." Moses all but purred. "Keep it up girl. First Ranier's mother, Earla, slept with my pa and then pushed him out like so many cow pats in the barn. Earla's kind of lovin' clouded Pa's brain, and he didn't pay attention to business though he said that the price of feed went up and the price of cattle and milk went down and well, we've sold most of the farm. Pa and Ma found a job in town and the youngin's are all crammed into a two bedroom in our one apartment complexes that Pa manages on the side.

"Then there was what happened with Shasta. I was dating her. I was much better looking then. I was the star football player. The Ciaris don't bother with stuff like football. Well, Ranier got jealous. I told him that Shasta was mine, and no he didn't beat me up in a fair fight or anything like that. First he made Shasta go to court and tell the judge I'd been beating on her. I swear by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I don't beat up girl friends. Well, the judge didn't beleive me and Shasta had an order of protection.

"Well I don't let something like a stupid paper from a judge stop me, and Ranier didn't bother to call the police. He said he was going to either kill me or make me wish I was dead. I didn't think I'd finish high school, but I had a tutor in the hospital and the rehab. I spent half the summer here in rehab. I couldn't walk for weeks and I'm almost blind. This arm," he shook the one in the sling, "is more or less useless. I had a spine broken in two places, six cracked ribs, a concussion worse than anything I could have got on the football field.

"What Ranier doesn't know is I had two cousins going to U of O and they brought me here in their truck. There's this thing Congress passed called the ADA so I can get large print and magnifiers and I can still go to college. I won't ever be able to ranch, but a handicapped man is not a dead man. I'm not cognitively injured in any way as the doctors say, and I'm smarter than Ranier Ciari thinks."

I tried not to look at Moses' face. My throat was dry, and I could barely choke down my soda. My rational brain had my guts in a strangle hold, but guts can scream. "You don't know about the Ciaris," Moses continued. "My Dad hired a lawyer who knew a journalist and he found out all kinds of things about them, how they make their money, how they really make it. They don't do it in Boisie city because people there love them. People always love rich, successful, pretty people, you know that."

"I'm sorry Moses." Those were the only words of which I could think. "You're at the University of Oklahoma now. There's kids from all over the place here. It's not Boisie City. You can put this whole ugly business behind you."

"Don't you believe in justice?" Moses asked me.

"Did any one see Ranier beat you up?" I asked.

"The Ciaris own the local judge and the local police," sighed Moses. "That's why my Pa hired a lawyer and a journalist. Look can I ask a favor of you..."

"The name is Rimona," I introduced myself. "Rimona Hektor."

"Can I ask you a favor Rimona, if you believe in justice?"

"Depends what it is," I said.

"Can you tell me what is going on with Shasta and Ranier? You're not under an order of protection. I still am."

"You're also still scaird that Ranier will kill you too," I said. I knew this. I didn't have to be told.

"Yeah...that too," Moses said sheepishly. "Let's meet again Wednesday night...same place. It's real quiet here."

"I'm not sure how much of Shasta I am going to see," I protested. "This is a big school and we are in one big lecture and we might eat together every now and again... I just ran into her in the dining hall at lunch today. That's all."

"Then Ranier won't suspect that you know me."

"I really don't know you."

"That can change. I know half the girls won't look at me, but I can feel something different about you."

"You flatter me," I laughed and took another sip of soda. "I'll do what I can," I told Moses and I meant it not that I could do much. I wasn't going out of my way to go near Shasta or Ranier. First, Shasta was taken, and somehow Ranier who was more of a putz than he or Moses would ever believe, was doing everything to make Shasta jealous. I did not want to be party to that kind of drama. Second, everything else I said in the booth in the union was true. I was just not going to have much to do with Shasta once classes started. After this weekend, I was sure she and Ranier would both pretty much disappear.

Chapter 11 -- Servitude to ServicesEdit

Friday morning I learned that my roommate, Kerry, was both an early riser and a compulsive exerciser. She had to go out running. Running required special shorts, a water bottle, an i-pod loaded with her favorite oldies or Christian Rock or country tunes. I did not fully know Kerry's taste in music yet. I also rose early, but in my case, I wanted breakfast and that meant a trip to Couch.

I washed up down the hall, got my backpack, threw on some clothes and was glad to be out and about. Going out for breakfast makes getting up worthwhile. I was not sure how it would ever get old fast. Couch, the big central dining hall (Unlike a certain university in Ithaca, New York, U of Oklahoma does not have seven good size dining halls scattered all over the campus), is as big at breakfast as it is for any other meal. It even did cereal in a big way. The more popular varieties like Apple Jacks and Fruit Loops had their home in gravity flow, transparent, plastic dispensers while the less popular ones sat in regular boxes atop a shelf. There was quite a selection. I extracted a Shredded Wheat biscuit (much better than spoon size) from its yellow box and unwrapped it. I wanted raisins and honey or else chocolate milk for it. Couch offered all of the above.

I found the raisins and honey out near one of the hot bars and was digging around in a raisin bowl when I heard a familiar voice call out: "Rimona, Rimona!" and yes he got my name right. I looked up to see Ranier come barreling through, all smiles and glad to be out to breakfast too. "Why don't you come eat at our table?"

"Why don't I indeed," I thought. "Don't Shasta and you want some privacy for your meals?" I felt like asking. Instead, I liked the idea of company at breakfast enough to ask Ranier where he was parked. "Under the blue and white banner next to the ficus in the blue ceramic pot," he remarked getting his landmarks perfectly straight. I decided that Ranier, like me, must have had lots of meetings at poop put benches in malls and supermarkets as a kid. That is how you get organized about meeting people.

I threw the raisins on top of my shredded wheat biscuit and ladeled on some honey with a honey server, and then headed for the beverage bar for a cranberry juice cocktail and some skim milk for my shredded wheat, and yes, I also got an apple from the fruit bowl. I carried everything to the appointed table. I should have just disappeared, but I didn't have to. There with Ranier were four other boys. I recognized none of them. Ranier handled the introductions. We were all honor freshpeople. "Welcome to high school," I thought.

Ranier had a perfectly made, sunny side up, egg on toast which he demolished and made into a gooey, yolk filled sandwich. Other boys had full plates of hot food. One drank coffee only. We discussed our class schedules, our perspective majors, our careers. It felt strange to have a whole conversation in the future tense.

It also felt strange that Shasta Godwin was entirely absent. Of course there was probably good reason for that. None of the other boys had a pretty girlfriend from high school with them. Maybe not all of them had girlfriends. The boy who had just coffee needed to use some deoderant. A boy eating biscuits and gravy said we'd be in the same chemistry lecture. We checked schedules and found ourselves in the same lab. Biscuit boy, whose name was Andrew, was a pre-med. I told him I wasn't pre anything. I wasn't even declared, but I'd liked chemistry in high school. "My parents don't want me cutting off all my options," I told Andrew. He blinked. This is a foreign idea to a lot of people. I just smiled.

Ranier asked me what I had planned for the day. "I need to get an on-campus job," I told him. I needed the job for spending money. My trust fund that my dad had set up paid for my room and board. The university was footing most of my tuition and fees. Dad would pay for books. I needed spending money for transportation and other expenses, mainly my cell phone bill.

"Shasta has to work too," Ranier said as the meal broke up. I shrugged. "I need to see my uncle Ruel off at the airport. Can you walk with her to Memorial Union so she can find the employment office?"

"Am I Shasta Godwin's fucking baby sitter?" I thought. Then I told myself to get over it. I'd lose Shasta in the line when I got there. There was no harm in going to Walker and fetching Shasta.

Shasta of course was not even dressed. I sat around and twiddled my stinking thumbs while she showered and blew dry her hair. A girl like Shasta does not go out without attending to her toilette as the French used to say in their translated novels.

I had nothing to say to Shasta as we walked up Asp Avenue. Quite frankly I was pissed off at her for making me wait, and pissed off at Ranier for letting him recruit me to be Shasta's babysitter. "Hot isn't it?" Shasta began the conversation. "I like it warm," I told Shasta. "What kind of a job do you want?" I lobbed another conversational ball. I was sure Shasta and I had about zero in common. I was not angry with her or jealous of her. I just knew there would never be anything between us. "I'd like to work in the library, maybe," she stammered. I told her I wanted something clerical since I believed I had some office skills.

At the employment office, I insisted that both Shasta and I look over the offerings advertised on computer terminals before getting in the long line to have our paperwork massaged. Shasta felt nervous. Like most native Oklahomans, a line just screams "WAIT ON ME!" to her. She felt relieved to take her place in line.

"If you want one of those office jobs," drawled a nice lady looking over my paperwork, "you have to take a typing test."

"How do I do that?" I asked.

"Over in Room 222. Talk to Charlotte."

I could have kissed Charlotte. Shasta was now on her own! Charlotte sat me down at a computer keyboard instead of a typewriter and gave me a keyboarding test that left her moderately impressed. She had me write a business letter and put in page numbers and make a title page in Word 2007. Then she asked me if I knew spread sheets. She gave me a test on those and a test on Access which I think I flunked. One can't be good in everything.

Suffice it to say, I had my pick of most jobs in the clerical folder, and I chose a "data entry" job in the department of sociology. I went looking for Shasta before I made my exit to "deliver my recommendation" to Ramon daSilva who would be my work supervisor. I felt proud of myself and could afford to be a little worried about the lost and lonely but beautiful girl from Boisie City.

I found Shasta filling out paperwork and looking tired even at midmorning. "Do you need a coffee or a Coke?" I offered her. Shasta looked up. "I'm OK," she murmured.

"Ranier will be back soon," I consoled her. She smiled. "How's it going?" she asked. I was sure Shasta was a decent person at heart just then, but she was decent as long as I did not think about her performances as drama queen. I tried not to think about Moses Wolfe who was handicapped for life due to fighting over her.

"I have a job. I have to go see my supervisor and finish the paperwork."

"Where are you working?"

"Department of Sociology College of Arts and Sciences," I rattled it off. I'm going over there now. You want to meet for lunch?"

"OK, see you at Couch at noon."

"Let's make it twelve thirty. I've got to see Dr. daSilva, and it may take a while."

"OK," answered a tired and distracted Shasta. I was free until I had to eat again. I passed out of Memorial Union trekking by the Crossroads. My Dad was right to be worried. There were no decent fruits or vegetables on the weekends. Friday lunch would be my last "wholesome meal," as my dad would say. My dad lives in my head in case you haven't figured it out. My whole family does half the time. I'm kind of used to it.

I had no trouble finding Ramon daSilva's office which he shared with three other graduate students. No he did not yet have his PhD. Yes, he looked very old for a graduate student. I was tickled pink to be working for a student even if he was much older. He tested me on the computer and put me through what he called simulated work. Then he signed my paperwork and I filled out "insurance forms," and I had a job. It was a bit after twelve, so I had my timing right. Ranier Ciari is not the only one with great executive skills.

I found Shasta digging around in the salad bar. I told her I wanted a hot vegetable today since they had something called garlic string beans, and I was in no mood for a heavy dinner. I wanted to swim after lunch and then...well let's say I would be doing an activity that would interest neither Shasta, nor Ranier, nor even my roommate though it might interest her now that I came to think of it.

I headed for the hot line and found myself with a soup bowl of string beans I liked that they didn't just give me three beans like you got if you had meat. I guess the serving ladies knew about people like me. I got two pieces of whole wheat bread from the deli bar and found the peanut butter bucket and the honey jar and made P and H. You can't have cheese sandwiches every day, and egg salad does not exist in Oklahoma.

I had our table picked out and Shasta found it on the second try. We sat down to our food with nothing to say. Shasta had made herself a chicken wrap and nibbled at it tiredly. Finally, she pushed it aside and got a mud slide pie slice from the Sooner Sweet Shop. "That place is my downfall," she said. Then she saw the pear on my tray. We all enjoy different sorts of sweet foods.

"Ranier's Uncle from California and his older sister are coming in this weekend," Shasta told me. I shrugged. "That means you don't get to go home, does it?" I inquired. University of Oklahoma was as suitcase campus, but I had explicit instructions NOT to go home for weekends. My parents did not think it productive. It was not the way either of them had gone to college either.

"I'm going to services tonight," I replied. "That's religous services. I'm Jewish."

"I'm not much of anything," Shasta answered. "I guess I'm more spiritual than religious."

"I find I need to be both," I told Ranier's girlfriend. "Religion is the social side of spirituality. It helps you feel connected in a good way."

"Yes, but think of all the bad that's been done in the name of religion."

"The Spanish Inquisition was out of business four hundred years before I was born and most of the killing in the twentieth century has been for political ideology."

"I guess," sighed Shasta. "Maybe Ranier can arrange for you to go out with us," Shasta answered. "He's really a sweet boy. Too bad people don't understand him or his family."

I thought of Moses. I did not want to understand. "Most people outside of Boisie City don't even know the Ciaris exists."

"People in the right circles do," Shasta insisted. I let it go at that. I wanted a swim. I went back to Cate and got my bathing suit.


I climbed out of the pool and returned to Cate to check my web site. I hadn't thought of much in the solitude except how to get through the weekend. No one had invited me anywhere, but then again, I did not expect much of an invitation. The kids from Eastern, my high school back in Tulsa, or from Midlands where I took some courses, the ones who were here, were not the ones to whom I had been particularly close. That was life. Kerry, probably had Christian connections since bornagains could be clannish. Besides, she probably did not fully trust me.

Anyway, I had somewhere to go. I was going to Hilel for services. There was no Chabad in Norman. I'd checked. I used to go to Chabad in Tulsa. I had started with Chabad during ninth grade when my math teacher, Mr. Grazielle, encouraged me to go. He said I needed some sort of religious education to match what was a yawning chasm of longing. He was right.

Now I thought of dinners at the Chabad house, sevices in the makeshift schul with the women on one side and the men on the other. If you have separate sesating, you mean BUSINESS as far as I'm concerned and a religious institution that means BUSINESS is what I like. I remembered the Shabbos dinners. They were heavy and a bit more meaty than I liked. I was glad that the rebbitzen in White Plains brought the boiled vegetales from the chicken soup to the table for those who would fall upon big chunks of cooked bell pepper like ravenous beasts. I never got enough peppers when in ninth grade. Now I can have all the peppers I want, but there is no Chabad.

Hilel would be strictly from hunger. A lot of the native Jewish kids in this part of the world have a lot of parental support and have been to Jewish camps and programs "up north." I was the only one with a DIY high school only approach and one of the few who did not even pretend to read Hebrew.

Hilel was on the top floor of Dale Tower where they taught philosophy. A couple of classrooms with a divider, just like they had at Midlands Prep, made a makeshift schul. We sat in a circle, males and females together. What could I expect in Norman? The service was all responsive readings. I didn't mind that much. I liked that we had an ice breaker over grape juice and almond windmill cookies after the liturgy. Several of the kids talked about a summer spent on Birthright tours to Israel. I thought of trying to get either of my parents to agree to let me go to Israel. The thought made me laugh, but the laugh I felt inside me would have come out a cry.


Services broke up, and I was alone. I drifted back toward Cate. I was not sure if I wanted to find any one with whom to share a fast food supper at the Cross Roads. I really preferred to make the two mile trek to Pizza Shuttle where you can sit and eat pizza or custom subs. I phoned pizza shuttle as I walked through the grass between Dale and Cate, and learned that they would give accept a meal exchange for up to seven dollars worth of merchandise. A personal pizza or a sandwich and a soda was how the lady on the phone explained it. I climbed the stairs to the to the fourth floor and found Kerry in our bedroom reading her Bible. Reading the Bible is not praying. "Have you had dinner?" I asked her.

She looked up at me and blinked. "Are you hungry?" I asked her. I was as much restless and bored as hungry.

"They don't really have dinner on Friday," she told me.

"They have Crossroads and you can also use your meal card to eat off campus. Want to go to Subway or Pizza Shuttle?"

"It's almost nine o'clock."

"It's Friday night and everything's open late."

"You know how to find the places off campus?" asked Kerry. She rested a pale elbow on a white twill clad knee. Her light blue eyes sized me up from behind gold, wire rimmed glasses.

"Yes," I answered. Norman is a small town and I had piles of Mapquest maps.

"Let's see if we can get some pizza," I suggested.

"You think they'll stay open."

"This is Norman not Boisie City."

"I'm from Paris. Ranier, that tall boy is from Boisie City," commented Kerry who carefully placed her Bible on her shelf and then as if on impulse, she stuffed her good book in her purse. I thought about asking her for her favorite book in the Bible but I was afraid she'd say it was Revelations. That was often a stock answer among bornagains. My favorite book was the Song of Songs.

"Let's see who else we can find who needs dinner," Kerry suggested.

"Good idea," I told her, though it would surprise me if there was any one else as bereft by the suitcase campus blues as Kerry and I.

Chapter 12 -- Satan Walks the Honors DormEdit

Kerry and I began knocking on floors, up and down the female and male sides of the fourth floor and then down to the third floor. We found five kids who were on their own and who had not eaten. One was Minah who had been reading and forgotten about dinner. The anonymity of dining hall eating dismayed her, so she was glad to go with a group. Another was Andrew, aka Biscuit Boy, who was busy programming something into his i-phone and thought he had missed dinner. The three others were: LaShanda, a boy named Jose, and Adrienne, one of our few out of state students. I was the unofficial leader since I knew where Pizza Shuttle was located.

I also knew that my charges were about to take a one and a half mile walk. In car country, this requires a paradigm switch. I looked over my charges in the lobby and made sure none of the women were wearing high heels. Minah had on flip flops, but a lot of people can walk very far in them, but that's people our age, not old people. "OK, Pizza Shuttle is a mile and a half from here and it's individual items only so we can't share a pizza. Everyone's got to get their own thing," I explained. "A mile and a half takes between thirty and forty minutes to walk. If there's no sidewalk we walk on the left side of the road into oncoming traffic, got that?" I smiled. My dorm mates looked at eachother.

Biscuit boy whistled. Jose and he exchanged looks, and Andrew pointed out the window. "Some car," commented Jose who had seen a very fancy red two seater sports car cruise slowly through the parking lot, almost stopping and turning back out on to Cate Center Drive. I felt my throat tighten. I wondered if Ranier would try to offer us all rides. I pictured us crammed into the back of his sports car while he had the wheel. I waited several seconds for the inevitable, but Ranier was gone.

I pushed open the door. Kerry complained about the heat. Adrienne started talking about global warming and continental climates. "A lot of what you're feeling is normal for this part of the country," Minah told her. Adrienne came from Massachussetts. which surprised me. She said she had lived all over the US and Canada. Jose had family in Texas and California and also in Mexico. Andrew said that a lot of the talk about global warming was bullshit. Adrienne began to argue with him. Kerry and LaShanda shook their heads. Minah asked if the street was safe. We walked on a narrow strip of grass at the shoulder of the road because native Oklahomans don't know how to walk into traffic and won't assert their rights as pedestrians. I learned this in Tulsa. There is nothing one can do about it.

At least no one complained. Kerry asked me how I had found out about Pizza Shuttle. I told her I used the internet and made phone calls. "My parents are afraid I'll starve," I explained. No one responded. I know that my family is not like other families. I have gotten used to it.

We entered the pizzaria en masse and began the quiet menu perusal. The waitress pushed a small and large table together to make room for the six of us. She asked if we were ready to order the minute we sat down. Two of the boys ordered. I demanded more time. Minah shook her head. The menu was confusing. I liked all the choices. I proceeded to put together a personal Sicilian pizza with kalamata olives, some what of a treat and order a tall Dr. Pepper to go with it. I guess I really was hungry.

While we waited for the food, the usual small talk began. Kerry had been to a Navigators' meeting Friday night. Navigators is a social and religious organization for Bornagain Christian students. She talked about authentic Christianity versus what passes for Christianity among college studnets. "Who decides whether someone believes authentic Christianity?" asked Minah. "It's true to what Scripture says," answered a confident Kerry.

Andrew threw Jose a skeptical and critical look. "They'd probably say the Pope was less than authentic,"

"Look this is serious!" Kerry protested. "Satan walks the OU campus!"

"Oh really," Andrew suppressed a laugh. Adrienne pretended to look away as if there were shit on the floor.

"Tell us abut it," Andrew goaded Kerry onwaard.

"First there are Wiccan groups and then there's a Satanist or vampire family whose son is here on campus. I'm not supposed to tell all of you this, but the boy is an honor student."

"Satan walks among us..." Andrew teased. "At least do us the courtesy of telling us who the Devil in carnate is."

"They didn't give me his name. He's from Boisie City though..."

"That narrows it down to five students," I replied.

"At least he's in the Honors' program," Andrew reminded us all.

"Satan is superficially clever," Kerry reminded Andrew.

"Satan likes it when we get involved in family feuds," I spoke up, "and Ranier Ciari was involved in something ugly back in Boisie City."

"How do you know?" asked Minah.

"I can't say, but I met some other kids from Boisie City and they told me some gossip. Anyway, it's just a lot of drama, but someone in Navigators must have a grudge against the Ciaris. It's very possible."

"There's a rational explanation for everything!" sing-songed Andrew.

"Yes, but there's more," Kerry told us.

"Like what?" I asked.

"Well suppose someobody in Boisie City or any small town, sold their soul to the Devil what would you expect?"

"I'd expct they'd be wealthy and long lived and good looking, and everyone would be jealous of them."

"You got it, Rimona," Kerry pronounced my name right this time. Just then the waitress brought the food which stopped the talk about Satan in the honors' dorm dead in its tracks.

Chapter 13 -- Ranier and EbenEdit

Saturday morning, I arose while Kerry still slept. I was careful not to play music, and hoped and prayed she would not awaken. I did not want to hear any one disrespect Ranier. He had his hands full with what felt like baggage from high school in a way that was deeply painful to observe. I did not want to be around when or if he outgrew Shasta. As for Moses Wolfe, if the boy wasn't lying...

I slumped down on the bed. I always think of the Grazielles at times like these. I lived with them during most of ninth grade. They were not just nice. They were a bottomless well of sweetness to a teenager in desperate need of succor. Dad was not home much. Mom was in Oklahoma. My parents' favorite sport at the time was fighting over the separation agreement on which the judge signed off at the end of May. I was largely on my own. I stayed with the Grazielle's one additional month so I could finish up the school year in Ardsley, New York and then went to live with my mother in a double wide trailer I named Pandemonium Central.

And no, Satan doesn't walk Tulsa any more than he walks up and down the whole of the earth. I named the trailer Pandemonium Central because Mom never missed the suburbs or trips to the city or the fact that Dad had kept her in a style to which she had become accustomed. This style included trips to the New York City Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera, and restaurant dinners including several varieties of Italian octopi and sea urchin roe.

Mom had taken off for Oklahoma. Mom had fallen from grace, but as Milton's Lucifer says when he builds Pandemonium, the capital of Hell, "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven." That is my mom in Tulsa.

I dressed largely in the bathroom down the hall so as not to awaken the roommate. I bounced down the stairs and crossed Lindsey. I walked up toward the Union. I hoped that Ranier was not out eating breakfast in the Crossroads. He wasn't. The Crossroads menu did not enthuse me. I got a bagel with peanut butter (AND DON'T YOU DARE TOAST IT!) and a big Cherry Coke to go and hauled my food out of Memorial Union over to Kaufman where my swipe card opened the door. There was no reason not to eat breakfast in the department lounge and then get a jump on my work quota for this week.

The fourth floor of Kaufman was secluded, and locked up and safe. I was not going to run across Ranier and I wanted to be as far away from him as I could so I could sort out my thoughts about him, and also so I could forget. I preferred forgetting. It was easier at least as long as I had spread sheet set up and data entry to keep me busy. Around one pm, my stomach started to rage with hunger.

I let myself out of the silent sociology building and walked back toward Lindsey. My meal exchange would work at Subway and the lunch was huge, a vegi patty sub with everything but jalapinos and chipotle dressing and Cool Ranch Doritos and a big, I mean huge Dr. Pepper. I pocked the chips and nursed the soda as I cruised across campus toward Boyd. Instinctively, I stayed away from the roads but kept them in sight as I crossed lawns and paths heading north. There was no sign of the red sports car. I felt relieved.

"If what Moses Wolfe said is true, Thursday night then," I began and I tried not to think of what came next. I have a younger brother. His name is Eben. He is a bit less than three years my junior. He has been larger than I am since I was in fifth grade. After Mom ran off to Tulsa, Eben and I were home together a lot alone. We were home a lot alone because Dad worked long hours.

Eben was angry about Mom running off. He needed someone on whom to blame the collapse of my parents' marriage and for some reason he couldn't blame the obvious parties, even Mom at that point. Since I treated my parents breakup as just so much dumb adult behavior, and did not appear hurt, and really wasn't that hurt now that I knew that Mom was still alive, you can guess the rest...

Well, maybe you can. No, you probably can't. There are places we don't like to go and 13 Wildwood Place, Ardsley, New York late at night is probably one of those places. First, Eben is my younger brother. Second, you don't back down from a younger brother if you have any self respect.

Eben and I fought over the television, the computer, and finally the kitchen. He'd order me to clean up. I was usually doing my homework and told my brother I'd do it later. "You'll do it now!" Eben snarled. "I'm studying." You're always studying." "Who the F*** died and left you king?" Then it came to blows. Usually we wrestled. Once we broke a chair that I hid in the crawl space, the chair that is. Wrestling left me sore all over but left no marks or bruises.

One night in early October, Eben threw me into the coffee table. I got a big shiner and an incredibly fat lip. Eben accused me of injuring myself or doing something to make the injuries worse. He asked me not to tell Dad and said: "If you do, Rimona, I'll kill you and say it was self defense."

I went to school the next day. I sit in the front row so I can see the board better. Mr. Grazielle was not only my math teacher, but also my homeroom teacher. He asked about the black eye and fat lip which hadn't gone down very much. I told him: "My brother and I were fighting. It's kind of stupid because we're too old for physical fighting."

"It looks like he got the better of it," Mr. Grazielle declared.

"It doesn't matter. It's what I have to do to keep him from bossing me around." I did get to finish my homework and do some reading before I even touched the kitchen. "If I knuckle under..."

Mr. Grazielle cut me off: "You have to see the nurse, Rimona. Come on, I'll walk you down." I realized everyone was staring at me. They were also staring at Mr. Grazielle. I asked him why I couldn't just have a pass to the nurse' office.

"I wanted to speak to you in private," Mr. Grazielle responded. "You know you are a victim of domestic violence," Mr. Grazielle continued.

I wanted to laugh. "Kids fight, Mr. Grazielle. That's all it was."

"Do you think a bigger boy can beat up on a smaller girl and call it a fair fight?" Mr. Grazielle countered. I did not answer. I knew what would happen next. I knew I would have to lie if I did not want Social Services, Child Protective, or even the Police interfering with the family, but part of me did not want to lie. Part of me remembered last night's fight and Eben's words: "Don't tell Dad. I'll kill you and say it was self defense." A fight near concrete steps or at the top of the stairs might mean a concussion next time or worse. Put another way, things at 13 Wildwood were really out of control.

Put a third way, Mom was in Oklahoma. Dad was at work. My parents were both gone and in the long term, I could stand up to Eben but could not win against him in a physical fight. The losers in physical fights get hurt. They can even die. My parents weren't going to protect me either because neither of them were around and they were both busy with other things. They just wanted to minimize their own embarassment. Well, if they couldn't protect me, I'd do what I could to protect myself.

I agreed to speak to social services. When the woman from child protective showed up and the nurse showed her my face under a bright light, she called the police. I talked to the female officer. I told the same story four times. That afternoon, a policeman took me home from school. I still remember the look on Eben's face when an office escorted me inside.

I insisted on packing a suitcase and taking my money box and my important papers. I wasn't sure when I'd get in the house again. I wish now I had taken some of my stuffed animals and wall decorations and knicknacks. Dad destroyed all that stuff when he sold the house and I never got a chance to reclaim any of it. Except for one or two tense times sitting in the living room, I would never set foot in 13 Wildwood again, and the night after the big fight was the last time I ever slept there.

Mr. Grazielle said I could stay with him and his wife. He had gown children who lived one on Long Island and another in Massachusetts. I had a spare bedroom that felt like a guest room. Ms. Grazielle let me cook and bought foods I liked. She was shocked at how little my mother had taught me. I did not tell her that Mom had owned the kitchen and both my parents were terrible neat freaks.

You know there is more to the story. Eben ended up in juvenile court. Actually, both Eben and I ended up there. Dad by then had a lawyer for both himself and Eben. Mom had told me over the phone to cooperate with the two attorneys. All I had was a guardian ad litem (what they call a law guardian in New York State.)

Mom and Dad despite the impending divorce were now a united front. Mom was the one, however, who dropped the threat. She said if I "continued to insist that Eben had abused me," I could be a ward of the state. If I wanted to stay part of the family, "I had to act like it." I had to "learn a way to get along" with my brother. Siblings fought in every family, but they got along. This was a "social skills issue."

Both my parents were in court on the day of what was technically a custody hearing. I still remember the domestic court room in the basement of the new courthouse in White Plains. It was windowless, and airless. The judge sat at a low desk rather than on a platform. We all sat on squeaky plastic chairs at cheap, fake wood tables. The judge asked me if I would rather speak to her in chambers.

"What was the point of that?" I wondered. The truth if I told it was going to get out, then all hell would break loose. The way I saw it, I had a choice. I could lie for Eben and go home and we'd probably fight again. I was not going to back down. It was not in me. Call me weak. Call me stupid. Not everyone is strong and smart. Call me lacking in emotional intelligence. Maybe it is true, but retarded people deserve protection and if my parents did not let me, let the county of Westchester and the state of New York do the job.

I told the judge, I'd tell my tale in open court and I told them about the fights and the death threat as well. Dad's lawyer cross examined me. I explained to him that siblings were not parent and child. We were equals and if anything, I as the older sibling was superior. I could not back down. I could not walk on eggs. I finally turned to the court and said. "I am not strong enough to fight my brother. I am not willing to back down. I am not emotionally smart enough to dodge and placate him. I need protection."

No one said anything for a good minute and a half that felt like the proverbial hour. The judge took my parents in chambers. When they came out, no one looked happy. Then she chewed both my parents a new orifice on the backside. She said that they had been deaf to my cries for help and blind to an abusive situation that had gone on under their roof. "Now it's my job to protect Rimona and I'm going to do it." With that, the judge instituted an order of protection against my brother, Eben.

What this meant was that we could not live under the same roof. "Your honor," my father was unshaken. "Don't you see the havoc this wrecks with our custody plans."

"Mr. Hektor," she responded. "I don't care. One of you will take one child and one will take the other."

"What about vacations and visitation?" my mother asked.

"Take your visits somewhere other than home and keep the siblings separated. For vacations, bring the child with you, stay in a motel and handle it as you would visitation. Any questions?"

The order of protection against Eben stands to this day. Eben for his part never fulfilled the anger management and therapy that the court mandated. My parents did not disown me though they did not speak to me until April of ninth grade. I lived at the Grazielle's. The judge gave them temporary custody. I was never broke. My guardian-ad-litem got in touch with both the judge and Dad's lawyer to make sure I received an allowance each month. After the first month, Dad and his law firm set up a trust fund so "Mr. Grazielle can't have any of this money." It is the same trust fund that pays for my room and board at the University of Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, I know something about physical fighting. A young man even if he is smaller and less agile, can not back down from a rival for his girlfriend any more than a big sister can back down from her younger brother's physical threats. Moses Wolfe had to fight, and a fight with Ranier had nearly cost him his life and had left him disfigured and permanently handicapped. Moses was who I would have been had Mr. Grazielle not asked about my black eye and fat lip or if I had not sat in the front row in homeroom and Math A/B.

Unlike Eben, I have no order of protection against Ranier. I see way too much of Ranier. I want no part of Ranier, and I did not feel one bit sorry for Shasta. She was a damn fool even if all her emotional intelligence kept her from being hurt.

Chapter 14 -- Campus TourEdit

I avoided Jenkins St. and chose Santa Fe instead to head north from Boyd. This, I reasoned would decrease my chance of being seen as I emerged on to Main Street. There were no red sports cars anywhere and I crossed and headed a block west and into the Native Roots Market. I needed fresh fruit and there was none available unless I bought it. I wanted an apple now, and one with dinner and one with breakfast or lunch tomorrow. I bought five apples because having an extra would not hurt. I'd have to remember to come back Thursday and Friday every week to stock up. These were empress apples by the way. They also had cameos. In a store this fancy, one can avoid red delicious apples that often don't live up to their name.

I emerged into the bright, Saturday afternoon sunlight and noticed an SUV idling in the parking lot. It was not really parked which aroused my suspicion. I gave it as wide a birth as I could without giving up my ability to give it a once over. The stupid driver was honking his horn. How dare he or she disturb my peace. Yes, I'm a pedestrian. Yes, we really exist. That SUV had out of state plates. They were Connecticut plates.

"Hey Rimona!" Ranier got my name right.

"This is not your car," I told Ranier.

"It's my sister, Harmony's car!" Ranier yelled back. "Hey get in with us!"

"Where's Shasta?" I asked. I am not very good at lying and couldn't think up a convenient excuse for having to be somewhere else. I was all ready somewhere else, and had Ranier and his sister been following me?

"I'm in the back," Shasta said. I climbed in. I was curious. Ranier's uncle who had greying blonde hair and his sister who had frosted black hair and who was nearly as tall as her brother sat up front. Ranier, Shasta, and I shared the back seat. Neatly packed boxes and suitcases shared the rear compartment leaving room to spare. The SUV was very clean.

Harmony and Uncle Channaniah introduce themselves. Then Harmony asked to drive and turned the SUV eastward down Main Street. Norman is on a grid and the sun hung low enough in the sky that I could get compass directions.

Harmony and Uncle Channaniah talked about cars, with Uncle Channaniah reminiscing about how easy they once were to fix and understand and how now they were basically built to fail. He talked about manual transmission engines that would power a two ton vehicle. We pulled into what looked like a bar and grille restaurant's parking lot. "I can't believe all the parking lots here," sighed Uncle Channaniah. "It's like no one ever walks anywhere. I know I'd like to see the campus on foot. How about it?"

"Sounds like a good idea," Harmony replied. Shasta blinked in the late afternoon sun. She said something I could not hear to Ranier who put an arm around here. "Ranier can you show us around?" Uncle Channaniah asked. Ranier looked up from nosing Shasta's hair and glanced at me. "Rimona can do a much better job of it than I can," he announced without missing a beat.

I gasped. I hardly knew the names of any of the buildings. Yes, I had ben to Kaufman to work and to Dale for a Hilel meeting. I knew where my English class would meet Monday morning and my chemistry lab was Monday afternon. Tuesday were psychology and calculus. I knew where those also meet. I could find the dining hall, the gym, the pool, and the post office and of course the union. That wasn't going to be much of a tour.

Oh well, when the time came, I pictured myself running away. I held that fantasy in my mind of myself bolting across grass and darting between buildings. Car people have a hard time pursuing without their vehicles. I fantasized about finding Kaufman, swiping myself in, and locking the doors behind me and...

I of course did not run. I instead showed Harmony, Uncle Channaniah, Ranier, and Shasta, the noteworthy sights and landmarks that made the University of Oklahoma campus a pretty and interesting place as long as you stayed out of the parking lots. There were yellow canna. There was a statue of a dairy cow. There was interesting brick work over a door. There were fountains that had been left running and some that were switched off. There were birth trees and a weeping cherry or two. I had even seen blackberries, but they were growing down on Lindsey and technically off campus. I led my tour group all the way to Cate center and took them by a different route, this one over the roads mainly back toward where they were parked.

Shasta groaned with exhaustion and discomfort. Walking this way was clearly not for her. "That tour was quite impressive," remarked Uncle Channaniah. He turned to Ranier. "How long has Rimona" (He got my name right!) "been on campus?"

"Two days as far as I know," Ranier answered.

"Three and a half days," I replied. "I was here for a day long orientation in July, and I learned some of my way around then."

"That is still impressive," commented Harmony. "Tell me, Rimona, have you ever been lost?"

I blinked. No one had ever asked me that question. Truthfully, I hadn't traveled very much. Getting lost happens relatively rarely so no, I had never been lost. My father seldom if ever gets lost and for that matter, my mother almost never gets lost though she worries about it when she is driving in a strange city. Zeke on the other hand does get lost. This makes Mom angry so he lets either my Mom or me navigate since "you guys are just so good at it."

According to Mom, Dad is an even more flawless navigator, but the truth is Mom is pretty much as good. Dad just has no fear. Of course one should be able to get from there to here, and if one can read a map, use dead reckoning, tell direction by the sun, remember landmarks, one does not get lost. This is something I thought everybody knew except for Zeke who neglected his basic wayfinding skills.

I thought of all this as we climbed back in the SUV for the ride east down Boyd toward 12th Street where I had bought school supplies at the Wal-Mart. Ranier told of how I had simply walked down here on my first day in Norman. "Where were her parents?" asked Harmony. I wished she and Uncle Channaniah would stop discussing me in the third person.

"Parents are divorced. Her mother either sent her here by bus or just dropped her during the drop off time and left her on her own." Ranier explained. I felt my face flush with ten kinds of embarassment.

"Mom and Zeke had the boys with them, and they were getting restless. Zeke wanted to take them out," I explained. I also explained that the boys were Zeke's sons by his first wife. They had visitation most weekens. I liked the boys. The youngest one was an especially sweet kid. I was glad they were not close to me in age though. I guess Eben lives inside me where he shouldn't.

"Last night," Ranier continued. "Rimona took several of my dorm mates to eat dinner at a pizzaria on the west side of town about a mile and a half from campus."

"Did any one notice she did not have a car?" Uncle Channaniah asked.

"Excuse me," I spoke up. "Lot's of students don't have cars."

"Yes, but lots of students are physically able to drive," commented Harmony. "You can't drive, Rimona."

"How do you know all this about me?" I all but screamed. I looked to see if the handles on the door were intact and if I could let myself out, not that I could do much. We were in a moving car that had just turned on to 12th Street.

"Good observational skills and publicly available information," answered Harmony. "Ranier is well trained in observation. He saw your eyes don't work together. As for the rest, I ran a background and legal check on you."

"Why?" I asked.

"We are a very protective family," explained Uncle Channanaiah. "We need to make sure you aren't going to harm any of us and that you don't pose any threat."

"I just met Ranier two days ago. How can I hurt him?" I asked.

"Right now you have no motive so you won't hurt him," answered Harmony. "But what if that changes?"

"If it changed and I tried anything, I'd end up in jail!" I spat back. Shasta laughed. We pulled into a shopping mall that I hadn't seen on 12th Street. I hadn't been this far north on 12th Street before. I hadn't looked to see where I was going. I was not sure how I could get back on foot except by finding 12th Street and walking and walking.

I edged toward my door and unlocked it. I climbed down on to the hot pavement. "Rain, you can't just leave her here!" it was Shasta who spoke up on my behalf. I adjusted my backpack into which I had put my apples. I would walk down the road eating my apples. I would be a sitting duck for the SUV with out of state plates. I started walking. Ranier walked after me. He was faster. I glanced at him as he pulled abreast. "I'm sorry for Harmony and Uncle Channaniah's rude behavior. You have every right to be angry," he told me. "Good cop bad cop?" I wondered as I followed Ranier back to the car where Uncle Channaniah and Harmony apologized profusely for frightening me. They did not apologize for looking up public information and Ranier did not apologize for noticing that my eyes sometimes wobble and don't really focus well. When you think about it, you can't really apologize for just looking at somebody.

Chapter 15 -- Ask a Stupid QuestionEdit

We visited the Belk's Mall in a way so that Uncle Channaniah and Harmony Ciari could give Ranier and Shasta a chance to walk and talk by themselves while he fulfilled his family obligations. That meant I got to keep Harmony and Uncle Channaniah company. "So what do you do?" I began my own interrogation of Harmony.

"I'm an attorney," Harmony replied. Her blue t-shirt said "Yale University" on it. It was hard not to notice that.

"What are you doing in Norman?" This was easy.

"I'm one my way to Boisie City," Harmony smiled. Ask a stupid question and you get a stupid answer.

"Are you going to help out in the artisinal goat cheese business?" I remembered Ranier's story from Thursday night.

"No," Harmony replied. "Our family is facing some ugly litigation. I'm going to help out for a while with that."

"I can see why you talk about harm," I spoke up.

"Getting sued is not fun," Harmony smiled. "So how did you end up at the University of Oklahoma?" Harmony flipped the interrogatory ball into my court.

"I got accepted into the honors program and I have a university scholarship. You can't beat the price or winning an award."

"I guess you can't," answered Uncle Channaniah.

"Where did you go to college?" This felt easy which meant it wouldn't be.

"Cornell Arts and Sciences," Harmony rattled it off.

"My mom went there. My dad was ILR."

"That makes you a double legacy. Aren't your parents disappointed?"

"Better to get into Oklahoma University with honors than be just another face at Cornell. You get out what you put in."

"Do you really believe that?" Uncle Channaniah cornered me. What was I supposed to answer.

"Sometimes it's better not to follow so closely in a parent's footsteps and to try something new. This state has been very good to me for high school. I like going to college closer to my mother and besides, I really think I can make something of myself here."

Channaniah and Harmony looked at one another. "You never got bored in Tulsa?" Uncle Channaniah took over the interrogation.

"No, I was too busy with high school." I turned to Harmony. "Did you get bored growing up in Boisie City?"

"Yes, I certainly did," she smiled, but this time the smile was wider. "I was glad to get to Ithaca."

"How did you like it there?" I remembered my one week at Cornell Adult University and the road trip my parents made after seventh grade, just one year before my family more or less disintegrated.

"It reminded me of Montreal and Syracuse. You can get Montreal style pizza at the Nine's." I'd never heard of the Nine's. "The dormitories were on the house model similar to Yale and Harvard but it was new and no one new what to expect. I liked it. I needed people to look after me and I liked the way we had a professor living there as a scholar in residence. Many of the kids looked at him as a parent figure to be evaded and they sometimes even laughed at him behind his back. To me, Dr. Donovan was a mentor even though I was a psychology major and prelaw and Dr. Donovan taught philosophy. I always made time for faculty dinners and tried to get a seat at the faculty table on Wednesday nights."

"I think there are faculty connected with our dorm here. It's called Cate," I said.

"Then you should make an effort to get to know them."

"There's also the faculty advisor for Hillel and I work for a graduate student."

"All of that is going to help you and make you stronger."

"Thanks for the advice," I stammered.

We walked toward the middle of the mall where a white, frothy fountain bubbled in a hexagon of blue tile. "Ranier's probably off buying clothes for Shasta," sighed Uncle Channaniah.

"At least it's not jewelry," quipped Harmony.

"Costume jewelry's not that expensive," I responded.

"My little brother wouldn't buy costume jewelry for a girl he loved," Harmony cut me short, "and Ranier loves Shasta."

I tried to stare at the tile pattern on the fountain. I was glad Shasta was not around. "Shall we go into Belk's and try to catch up with Ranier?" Uncle Channaniah asked.

"He's probably not in Belk's," Harmony replied. "Let's try Abercrombie and Fitch."

Abercrombie and Fitch had the piece of half undressed male eye candy beckoning customers from a large, black and white photo, and all black lattice work to promise something that needed to be stuck in a brown paper wrapper in bygone days. In reality, it had pricey, dull clothes that were too casual for the cost. Ranier was toward the back of the store, sitting comfortably on a leather bench near the women's fitting room. His pose, which was surprisingly comfortable, reminded me of my father who sometimes waited for me when I went to try on clothes. I also waited for him when he went to buy things and try them on. My family, though, is unusual in this way.

Shasta emerged from the dressing room in black skinny jeans with whiskers and stress marks in neat lines perpendicular to her thin but curvy thighs. She modeled her jeans self consciously turning and strutting with practice that made me want to slap her. A shy girl like her should run from stares but she knew the moves way too well. "Gorgeous," said Ranier. "Do you want them?"

"They're not on sale," sighed Shasta.

"They fit quite well," commented Harmony.

Needless to say, Ranier, bought Shasta a new pair of pants. We wandered the mall some more after that, but Shasta was tired. We deposited Shasta and Ranier on a bench and watched Vietnamese women making big bouquets in a florist. This was my idea. I asked to watch and Harmony and Channaniah went along with my request. We watched for a good half hour and then retrieved, Shasta and Ranier.

"I guess we should think about dinner," Uncle Channaniah began as we walked out of the mall into the early evening.

My first thought was: "There's plenty of place to eat inside the mall. There's a food court. They won't take my meal exchange, but I can either pay or someone can treat me."

My seond thought was: "This is the end of the afternoon. They're going to drop me home, and home meant Cate." I wasn't sure why I was not relieved instead of feeling like I was about to be dumped.

My third thought was: "I know the song and dance. I can follow it perfectly."

"What does everyone here like to eat?" Uncle Channaniah opened the deliberations with a question. Of course in my family the question was: "Rimona, what do you feel like eating?" Actually, they were a prelude to the choice of restaurant being made by Dad most of the time, but I knew the routine of deliberate choice.

"I'd like some really good steak or roast beef," said Ranier.

"I'd like some really rare beef myself," Harmony agreed with her brother.

"What does Rimona like to eat?" Uncle Channaniah

I was going to be the odd person out if I asked for pizza or vegetarian fare. Ranier spoke on my behalf: "Rimona likes helthy food and eats all sorts of fruits and vegetables. She may be a vegetarian."

"Let's go to Golden Corral then. It's not too far. You can throw a stone across Norman and see it land can't you?" Uncle Channaniah asked.

With that, we piled into the SUV. Only when we were moving, did I realize that no one had inquired what Shasta liked to eat. I mentioned this. Uncle Channaniah cut me off. "Shasta doesn't eat what she says she wants so she doesn't get a voice."

In the shadows of the back seat Shasta blinked. She made no noise of protest. "I like the Golden Corral," she explained to all of us. I thought to myself: "If I were in Shasta's place, I'd kick Ranier to the curb because family treated me like a second class citizen at best and a nonentity at worst. If they thought me insignificant, I'd be gone. There were other boys who were handsome and plenty smart enough whose families would treat me with respect." Needless to say, I kept my thoughts to myself.

Chapter 16 -- The Inside of a Cue BallEdit

I can't sleep late much any more, and the Sunday before the first day of classes was no exception. I awoke at the same time that Kerry groggily dragged herself out of bed. We both headed down to the bathroom together and found the hallway and bathroom alive with sleepy women getting an early start on the day. From the showers, came an animated conversation about whether Christians should go dancing. I listened from my stall and realized that nearly every female on my floor was probably going to church.

I did not feel particularly left out. I had been to services at Hillel on Friday so I was just ahead of the pack. I listened as one woman sang gospel as she toweled off in the dressing area. I threw on some clothes. I may as well start my day, I reasoned. I knew there was no decent food until dinner Sunday night, but I did have apples in my room. I rubbed one against my shirt tail and sat on my bed while Kerry, my roommate primped in the mirror and gathered her Bible in its white, zippered, leather case from its sacred place on the shelf. Kerry adjusted her glasses on her nose and glanced at me. "Are you sure you don't want to come to church?" she asked.

"Do I look like I'm dressed for services?" I asked her.

"You can always change." Kerry, at least was honest.

"I went to servies Friday night," I reminded my roommate. "Hillel, Jewish services."

"Jesus was a Jew." Kerry probably remembered this from Sunday school, and it was absolutely true. In fact, Jesus was a rabbi.

"Yes, but the religion built in his name is not Judaism," I explained. Kerry folded her arms defensively. She glanced at the old Campari clown above my bed. "See you at supper," Kerry said as her way of goodbye. I wished my roommate a good time at church. Religion is very social. Humans are social animals. Religion is spiritual as well. The two are not by any means exclusive.

I found my purse and keys and gathering up my apple as well, I headed downstairs and into the Main Lounge which much to my surprise was not empty. An upper classman, a skinny ghost of a boy with a beard that reached to his upper cheeks and a few zits on his pale skin and thick glasses, held forth.

"Women," he lectured Biscuit Boy, and Aaron from my French 4 and AP French Literature classes at Midlands Prep, "are the keepers of security. If you don't believe me I can point out several psychological studies to that effect. Females are naturally risk averse. It goes with their role of mothers. What this means is that they prefer order and are conservative at heart. This makes religion attractive to them no matter what they believe." Ghost paused and looked at me. He hadn't expected a female to wander into his domain even though it was the public lounge.

For their part, Ghost's audience looked bored. Aaaron sat on the edge of a chair trying to figure out how to balance his butt most comfortably against a seat cushion. Aaron had a soft beard the same color as ghost's but fuller and only where a beard should grow. It was supposed to make him look older by hiding his baby face with its bushy brows. Biscuit Boy, aka Andrew, had a blond crew cut and a sunburn. He was chunky probably from too much down home cooking. Andrew was checking the repositories in the base of the pool table for balls and carefully arranging his finds in order in a plastic triangle. Soft, wan sunglight washed through the lounge's big, glass windows.

I thought about Hillel and Chabad. That my spiritual hunger was a hunger for order was not too far fetched, except I really needed a more emotionally cool way to pray, a way to be strong for the long run, one might say and to get some detatchment so I could sort out my life. By winter of ninth grade my life needed a lot of sorting out. It still needed sorting out even after I arrived in Oklahoma the short summer between ninth and tenth grade. Schools in New York State end the third week of June and schools in Oklahoma start the second week of August. This made the summer between ninth and tenth grade short. Mom had all ready purchased Pandemonium Central. I was reading Paradise Lost to "keep my hand in," things academic. There are lots of ways to maintain a cool head and order besides religion.

And yes, Mom was all ready living with Zeke. Zeke left the kitchen a mess. We'd struggle to clean it to Mom's satisfaction. Zeke couldn't cook and had no idea what went into a good meal. I taught myself to cook by trial and error. Mom taught us all to clean and sent me on errands. I read a lot.

If it sounds like Mom and I got along we did. We got along fantastically. If it sounds like that should not have happened given that I had testified against my brother, Eben, in court for beating on me in the fall of ninth grade, you don't know the whole story. Mom and I never forgave each other. Forgiveness, implies that you have done something wrong. I was just protecting myself and Mom....well let's just say her running away from home was not spontaneous. The trip she made to Tulsa, Oklahoma the fateful night in July after eighth grade ended was NOT her first joruney there. For one thing, she arrived in Tulsa job in hand. That meant she traveled there at least once to interview and again to find housing. I could remember at least one early morning fight with my Dad and another time when Mom was gone all night and did not return until close to noon the next day. Mom had been planning her escape for over a year, though she says her final departure was spontaneous. "It's hard for a mother to leave her children," she told me. "Yeah sure..."

Mom does not have to be sorry, any more than I do. Mom was just looking out for hereslf. Dad is not that different from Eben and I can understand how she couldn't stand him. No, he never hit her, but yes he called her ugly names and the marriage probably was utterly loveless near the end. A loveless marriage has got to be a special kind of Hell.

Mom and I both agreed that we had each done what was best for us individually and let it go at that. Also, Mom was much happier with Zeke than she had been with Dad. That was why she could live with Zeke messing up the kitchen. His getting lost though irritated her. "Have Rimona read the map for you," she would say slipping me into Zeke's truck which was clean because Mom would chew on her new husband: "Zeke this truck looks like a shit box!" We had regular motorcades to the washing stalls in town where all vehicles were throughly clensed every couple of weeks.

"So there's not much you can do about women and religion," Ghost concluded the lecture. "If you have a girlfirend, she is sooner or later going to want to take you to church or when she brings you home, she has to take you to church. It's part of showing you are on the right side."

"I'm not Christian," Aaron explained.

"The girl may not be either, though usually they are also believers," Ghost paused.

"I'm not Christian," it was my turn.

Ghost regarded me blood shot, brown eyes. "Are you escaping from church?" he asked.

"No, I went to Hillel on Friday and I used to go to Chabad back in Tulsa," I told Ghost.

"OK...but my theory still stands. All the more so since there are other faiths."

"Any one want to play pool?" drawled Biscuit Boy.

I didn't know how to play so I agreed to watch. Aaron agreed to play, and since neither Biscuit Boy nor Aaron really knew how to play the game either, Ghost agreed to teach them both. This meant the cue ball went everywhere and balls occasionally landed on the floor. Ghost shook his ringlet covered head in exasperation.

"So you have to go along with girls and religion," Ghost's lecture never ended. "The problem is when faith infects their thoughts and deprives them of the ability to think creatively. That makes them piss poor colleagues even if you find women attractive for sex."

Biscuit Boy nearly scraped the green felt off the pool table with his queue. The cue ball leaped up in the air bounced once, made its way over the bumper and landed with a thud on the floor. "Oh shee-ut," sighed Biscut Boy, picking up two cracked halves of a strangely hollow and very hard cue ball. "Hey let me see that," called out Ghost. The cue ball while all white on the outside and shiney, was painted mat black on the inside of its hollow interior. "Cool," I commented. "I guess that's what they all look like on the inside," I said.

"Want to smash another one open?" Ghost asked.

"I'd love to, but we'd probably get in trouble," I answered. "I think there's a spare cue ball at the other table."

Biscuit Boy fetched the second cue ball. The game could go on, and he did not apologize. The boys played pool until close to noon. "I'm hungry," sighed Aaron polishing his cue. "Want to go over to the Union and see if we can get lunch?"

"The food at the Crossroads sucks and it's the only thing open or we can get crumby tacos here," I suggested. They had nothing meatless here and taco meat or low grade chicken is not my idea of a good feed.

"So what do you suggest?" asked Aaron. "We're not at home in Tulsa any more," he added.

"Pizza Shuttle. They open at noon and by the time we walk over there, they'll be ready for us. The food is very good."

"You don't have to have pizza there either," Biscuit Boy spoke up.

Biscuit Boy took the broken cue ball upstairs. He lived on the fourth floor down a few doors from me. His roommate had gone home to Oklahoma City. "You don't mind climbing those stairs all the way up here do you?" Biscuit Boy gave me a hard once over. He knew that I had found Pizza Shuttle for him and I didn't go to church and wasn't Christian and I came from Tulsa. That is not a lot to know about a person. Did Biscuit Boy have Ranier's powers of observation?

"Not really," I told him. "My mom thought it was cute that I got a room on the top floor."

"Some mom," sighed Biscuit as if my mom had betrayed a trust. "Hey Rimona," Biscuit changed subject "How would you like to be my lab partner in chemistry this semester?"

I hadn't expected this. "Why me?" I asked. I was way too good at interrogations.

"Because I think you've got something upstairs and you won't try to convert me or sabotage my work or any one else'. Some of these premeds are just passing through and who knows what they'll do. You're an undecided who who likes chemistry."

I could live with that. It's not every day someone praises you for your ethics. "You got a deal," I told Biscuit Boy. He seemed like a good natured, hard working type so why not.

We walked back to the front lobby and met Ghost whose real name was Timothy and Aaron who had his books even though we had nothing to study. Aaron said he wanted to get a jump on his Chinese. "Every one is thinking one day ahead," I thought as I became the tour guide leading everyone up the road toward what was becoming my favorite weekend hang out. Oh well, they had pizza with several vegetable toppings, some interesting sauces, and three (yes count 'em) three kinds of olives. Who could complain.

The story continues...

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