October 9th
The Center of Things
by sarah rainone

I was in my hometown and super bored because I forgot to get my license renewed so I was stuck relying on my dad for rides or taking Lyft and no way was I doing that. As far as I can tell there's only 2 Lyft drivers in town and I went to the junior prom with one of them (his, not mine) and the other one is this guy who has a MAGA sign on his yard. I kicked it over when I was at my dad's shortly before the election and realized it was good that I left my hometown when I did cause I def would be in jail or worse had I stayed.

The next day the sign was back up with a chain around it. 

The day before I was supposed to head back this girl I knew from Brownies facebooked me if I wanted to get coffee and I said sure and we drove around to all these places that have always been here I guess but which I took for granted cause I was always looking to get out of town when I was here. Casey lived in Portland for a while (Maine not Oregon) and she did that thing where she learned how to farm (there's a weird name for it but I'm forgetting) and so she came back home and started her own farm.

After we got coffee she was like, "you wanna see the farm?" and I was like "yeah, cool," and she showed me all the rows and rows of corn and beans and stuff and it was the kind of life I used to fantasize about having til I guess I made peace with just being a Brooklynite who goes to the farmers market and like has her own canvas bags and uses bars of soap for shampoo and has figured out the right combo of two natural deodorants that almost work as well together as one aluminum death stick does on its own.

"I'm having folks over tonight for some beers if you wanna stick around," she said and I said sure. I don't drink anymore but I'm at the point where I don't even notice if people drink or if they don't.

People started coming over and they were cool and they were talking about how much Providence has changed, like there's a real good vegan pizza place now, they have like the state of the art in fake cheese. And I wondered as I often did if I could move back and if it would be good for my writing cause I could really dig into a multigenerational saga that weaves in the mob and the death of manufacturing in America and HP Lovecraft's racism, the kind of book you just need to be in Rhode Island to write, you know?

I was doing character sketches in my head and wondering if I could turn my dad's basement into a study and like airbnb my place in Brooklyn and I could see it, you know, then I got this real scared feeling like I had drifted too far from the center of things. It's a feeling I don't ever have in New York cause New York has a way of making you feel central even if you're not doing anything of real import.

I got this real scared feeling like time could pass real fast here and I might never notice until it was gone and as I was thinking this, I noticed this dead snake on a pile of bricks and some flies had laid eggs in its dead head cause it was squiggly with maggots.

I was just staring at that when someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around and there was a guy there and he introduced himself as Joe and I said "wait aren't you Andrea Cataldo's cousin?" and he said yes and I said, "she used to always talk about you. You got high with Method Man once, right?"

He laughed. "It was Ghostface, actually, but yes. When they came to Lupo's."

"That's crazy," I said. "What are you doing home?"

"My gramma died," he said.

"Oh jeez," I said. "I'm so sorry."

"No, it's cool. I'm processing it," he said, lifting his beer.

"I get it," I said, "my mom died three days before my birthday and my friends made me do a pub crawl."

One good thing about being a recovering alcoholic is I have no shortage of stories about being wasted that are perfect for any occasion. 

It's weirdly easier to tell people stories about how I puked all over myself on a bus once than it is to tell them how much I love my life now, how nice it is that I no longer want to die, how I'm getting to do my childhood over the way I would have done it the first time: teaching people that all that really matters is honesty and love.

These days, I get on best with people who've experienced their own great losses and who are doing their childhoods over, too. I'm like that girl in the Harry Potter books who can see ghost horses cause her mom died or whatever. I can't see ghost horses but I can see when a person has been to hell and back, and these are the people I'm most interested in TBH. Which is just as well because these are the people who are most interested in me.

Before I know it, me and Joe Cataldo are making out in the woods behind Casey Trotter's house and there's something about kissing a guy in the suburbs that is so much sweeter than kissing a guy in a city where I like moved for work. Once I kissed a guy on the escalator in the Lincoln Center Mall and that was almost as good but most guys just kiss you at your apartment and what's the fun in that? I am a suburban girl at heart and I get turned on by suburban things. Like making out in the backseat of a car parked down by the reservoir or dry-humping on the old tire swing down by the old train tracks. 

I think I'll always like making out in places where you might be seen or caught or killed.

I moved to the city to become a writer but more and more New York is just filled with rich people who want to bring suburban values to the city, who want to have 2- 3 babies and then have their nannies push them around in fancy aerodynamic strollers and that is not what I signed up for, and lately I've been thinking that if I want to write stories that no one has heard before, strange stories, beautiful stories, spooky stories, then I need to move somewhere smaller, quieter, weirder.

Maybe not back home exactly but someplace like it.

It will mean moving away from the center of things and nothing is scarier to me than that but I guess the question is do I want to be a real writer or do I just want to do what all the suburban kids are doing, living out their utopian-capitalist fantasies in Brooklyn and pretending they're not pushing up the rent for everyone else?

Suddenly we heard a rustling.

"Did you hear that?"

"Yeah," said Joe. "I think it's a bird or something?"

We walked through the brush and then came up on it. 

Turkeys, a cage of about 15 big white turkeys with neon heads that I guess Casey was keeping. I looked in their faces and saw that of course of course they came from dinosaurs.

"Oh so that's where they are," said Joe. "Casey promised me one for Thanksgiving."

"You're coming back for Thanksgiving?" I said, hopeful. It would be fun to have someone to hang with while I was here.

"No, I'm staying here til at least then," he said. 

It was June.

"What are you gonna do?" I said.

"I don't know," he said. "Substitute teach? Get a job at one of the colleges? Maybe even stay here? What's stopping me from starting my own production company here, you know? Or like doing a podcast about the mob or the death of manufacturing in America or HP Lovecraft’s racism or whatever. People love Rhode Island stories."

I nodded, then looked at the turkeys. I noticed that whenever once of them made a noise, they all made the same exact noise, and I realized they were hardwired to do exactly what every other turkey does. 

I wonder what they were thinking about me and I thought about what life would be like if I were in that cage.

I said something about feeling bad for them to Joe and he asked me if it was hard for me to see them. Already I got the sense that he cared about how I felt, which is not something I see in enough people. Which is a shame because it's a beautiful quality.

"No," I said, "it's okay."

Then I turned to the turkeys and said, "You could eat me, too, one day if you wanted. I mean, not now. But when I go. I'd be fine with being food and like continuing the circle of life or whatever."

Then I looked at Joe and remembered his dead grandmother and I wondered if I'd been totally insensitive talking about being dead in front of him but I decided it would be worse to apologize in case he hadn't made the connection so I just went up to him and pulled him close and kissed him again.

Then I got this real scared feeling cause even just kissing Joe here in my hometown made the fact that I was here real. But then, it didn't matter where we lived. The town would always want us, want us to give it what it wanted.

The town wanted us to fall in love down by the old rope swing and make babies in the back seats of our Oldsmobile Cutlass Sierras and then when we did that we wouldn't be necessary to the town anymore because we'd have given it what it wanted, which was more of itself. 

In that way, we weren't so different from the turkeys. Our lives were a little bit longer and they were full of more stuff but if you weren't careful you just might end up living your life the way someone else wanted you too. 

As food. 

It doesn't matter whether you live where you were born or you move to the city. The town stays hungry. It will pull you away from the center of things, drag you from the places where the lights stay on all night so you can see clearly that all that matters is honesty and love, it will herd you off to the periphery and make you care about aerodynamic strollers made of plastic and gold and it will keep you there forever and ever.

"So what do you want to do now," said Joe.

I looked at him and wondered if he was game for something bigger. Earlier I had told him I just didn’t want to waste my life and he said he could really respect that and while I didn't know what he wanted exactly I knew I could give him something better than the town ever could.

I could teach him how to make ourselves the center of the universe. I could teach him how to be more than just food in a cage.

I looked in his eyes which looked a lot like my eyes and I took his hand in mine.

"Run," I said. "We run."

Back to Oct. 8 | Back to Main Page | On to Oct. 10