Monday, September 30, 2013

the chipmunk and the field mouse

Illustration by Denise Gallagher for
Find more of Denise's work at

The chipmunk and the field mouse already had a history, but they were both in places where they were ready to try dating each other again.

"I know it's only been a year," the chipmunk said to his best friend, the hedgehog. "But he's grown up a lot since then, and I'd like to see where this goes." The hedgehog chewed on a pine needle and pressed the rewind button on the remote. "You made me miss what Walt said to Skyler about the car wash," he muttered. "So you don't care at all if I date the field mouse again?" asked the chipmunk. The hedgehog huffed so that his quills stood up, and he pressed pause. “Why would I get invested in a story when I already know the ending?" he said. And then he pressed play and they watched the rest of the episode in silence.

The field mouse was tiny with a square smile and dreams of one day becoming a foot surgeon. The chipmunk was older than the field mouse and had a reputation among the other woodland creatures for being impulsive and sometimes reckless. But he cared about the field mouse, and he wanted to make a good first impression the second time around. "Would you like to go to a football game with me?” he asked the field mouse one day. “The bears are playing the falcons this weekend, and we could go together. If you want." The field mouse grinned and bit his little fingers. “That sounds like fun,” he said. “Would you, um. Would you like to sleep over the night before and maybe we can order pizza and watch a movie?” The chipmunk breathed a hopeful sigh of relief and said, “That sounds wonderful. I’ll be over around seven.”

Since they’d dated before, they were already quite familiar with one another. They called each other “baby,” and avoided pushing sensitive buttons. Deep down, the field mouse was afraid the chipmunk would break up with him again, and the chipmunk had his reservations about the field mouse’s maturity. Still, they weighed the advantages of being in a relationship and vowed to be cautiously optimistic about the future. And for both of them, Friday night could not come soon enough.

The chipmunk arrived at the field mouse’s burrow just after twilight, but the field mouse was not there. He’d left a note saying he’d run out to the store and that the chipmunk should let himself in. The chipmunk tried the doorknob, but the door was lock. He puffed out his cheeks and sauntered over to the windowsill where he propped himself up with both hands. A few minutes later, the field mouse ran up to the door, clutching large, plastic cups in each hand. “Hey,” he said, kissing the chipmunk on the cheek. “I’m so sorry. I thought I’d make it back before you got here. I got margaritas!” The chipmunk grabbed the field mouse around the hips and kissed him on the mouth, slowly. “I’m just happy to be here,” he said quietly.

They sat together on the moss-stuffed sofa where they ate pizza and watched the Evil Dead remake starring that girl from Suburgatory. When the movie got especially gruesome, the field mouse would scurry up the back of the sofa and burry his nose into the chipmunk’s neck. The chipmunk kept his arm around the field mouse and tried, with difficulty, not to laugh at him. When the movie was over, the field mouse picked up the empty boxes and cups, and wordlessly led the chipmunk by the hand to the bedroom.

In the morning, they had breakfast and discussed breezy topics like family and mutual friends. The atmosphere only became mildly heated when the conversation turned to dogs. “I just love dogs,” said the field mouse. “If I were big enough, I’d like to care for one of my own.” The chipmunk grimaced and slurped his orange juice. “I’m allergic to dogs,” he said. “But even if I wasn’t allergic, I’d still hate them.” The field mouse looked indignant. “And why is that?” he asked. “Because they’re fucking terrifying,” said the chipmunk. “They’re like giant, stupid murder machines. The fact that they make me sniffle is nature’s way of keeping me far away from them.” The field mouse pushed his omelet fragments around the plate with his fork. “Pomeranians are beautiful,” he said under his breath. The chipmunk reached under the table and grabbed the field mouse’s hand. “You’re all the beauty I need,” said the chipmunk, and then he kissed the field mouse, even though his cheeks were puffed up with hash browns.

At the football game, the chipmunk got very drunk. The field mouse watched him stumble around and pose for pictures with his friends. The chipmunk flirted with a handsome badger, and the field mouse stood by and whispered to his friend, the raccoon, about what an asshole the chipmunk was being. Then, it began to rain and they all got wet. It rained so much that the field mouse had to take the chipmunk back to his burrow where they dried off in front of a fire. “I knew this was a bad idea,” the field mouse finally said. “You’re always going to be an obnoxious drunk, and you’re never going to take anything seriously. Especially me!” Still plastered, the chipmunk rolled his eyes at the field mouse and said, “You’ve been looking for a reason to break this off since we started again. I’m just sorry I gave you one. You always act like such a little bitch. And for the record, I don’t buy your whole ‘timid field mouse’ routine. You gave it up on our first date, remember that?” Outside the burrow, the rain was falling harder and harder and thunder gurgled in the meadow. “I want you to leave,” said the field mouse. “But since it’s raining, you can stay here again tonight. I’ll take the sofa.” The field mouse got up and the chipmunk reached for him and missed, sending his arm swatting through the air. “Look, I’m sorry,” said the chipmunk, running both hands through the fur on his head. “I shouldn’t have said that. But you need to relax. You can’t bury me in blame like a pile of acorns and then walk away. Can this really be over before it begins?” The field mouse began to cry. “There were a few moments last night when I felt like this could work,” he said, gripping his long tail and curling it between his hands. The rain outside crashed against the ground in dull thuds. “But this was a mistake.” The chipmunk tried to plead his case, but since he was still drunk, he failed continuously to prove a convincing argument. So the field mouse left him there in front of the fire where he finally fell asleep to the sounds of inclement weather.

In the morning, the chipmunk sat on the edge of the moss-stuffed sofa where the field mouse was sleeping. The field mouse awoke and rubbed his eyes, gazing up at the chipmunk, who looked disheveled and sad. The field mouse stayed quiet, waiting for the chipmunk to say something. Finally, the chipmunk took a deep breath, his furry tummy rising in a big heap, and said, “I messed this up again. And I’m truly sorry.” The field mouse did not say anything because they had reached the point in their dialogue where anything further would be conversational debris.

So, the chipmunk left the burrow and climbed up the nearby tree that would take him home. From a jutting limb, he took one last look at the field mouse’s burrow, which was surrounded by a trench of standing rainwater. He thought about going back to tell the field mouse he wanted to try one more time, but then decided that all the water would make it too difficult.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Not Tonight. I Am Good.

The crowd at Blue Moon Saloon is exactly the crowd you would expect at a bar called Blue Moon Saloon. And I don’t see anyone I would screw until I see the one person I would screw.

He is stocky and blond with wide shoulders and an underbite. He is wearing dark denim jeans, high-top sneakers, and a tight, white t-shirt with blue stars running down the left side of his torso and red stripes down the right. Based on his ensemble and his frequent head-nods, I can tell he’s not from around here. “A European,” I say to myself. It’s easy to make this assumption because the Blue Moon Saloon also serves as a guesthouse. Foreign transients passing through Lafayette spend the night here, and the locals come for the live music and the multi-cultural stimulation. I’m here because I was dragged by my friend, Sonny, who says she wants to fuck the trumpet player because “his beard gives [her] a wide-on,” which I think is gross, but not because I'm a misogynist, which I'm not.

I approach him because if I waited my whole life for someone to approach me, I’d still be a virgin. He’s by himself, so I don’t have to fight for his attention. I say “Hey,” and he says “Ello.” I ask him what’s up, and he says, “I am hanging out with the band.” Again, he is alone and the band is still performing. I ask him where he’s from. “France,” he says. “Paris?” I ask. “Not Paris,” he says. “In the west more.” “Like Brest or Nantes?” I ask. “No,” he says. “Erm. No. Not those places.” Normally, right here is where I’d say "Nice meeting you," and run off, but I like his accent and I would like to see what he looks like without a shirt.

I ask him a few more questions and find out that he's my age, he's an occupational therapist, and he’s been traveling the world for ten months. He tells me India is colorful but also a lot of browns. He says Bali is like paradise, but while he was there, an ATM ate his credit card, so it was “very difficult to manage.” His favorite place is Australia, where he lived for six months and delivered pizzas on a working visa. He says all the people are in good shape and there are free outdoor grills for public use everywhere. From Brisbane, he flew to Maui and then to Los Angeles. He rented a car in Flagstaff and purchased a phone in Tucson. Then, he skipped Austin and stayed a few nights in Houston before traveling to New Orleans. Now, he is spending the night in Lafayette because he wants to try Cajun food and to see a real swamp before heading to Chicago. And even though I rephrase the question several times, I can’t get an answer for how he’s funding the expedition.

A profound language gap separates us, but hand gestures and repeating the same words over and over again help us get the messages across. I find him funny in the way everyone finds foreigners funny. He makes off-color, offensive comments without understanding the cultural implications of them. I’m laughing my ass off, and I want to share this experience with my friends later, so I begin recording the conversation with his consent. He tells me he stopped for lunch in Morgan City, a small town on Highway 90 halfway between New Orleans and Lafayette. He says, “Morgan City is very offshore with its population. And many Afro-Americans.”

“Oh,” I say. “As many as in New Orleans?”

“Yes. Many,” he says. “I’ve heard there are lots of Afro-Americans here because of chicken fast food.”

“That is definitely a racist thing to say," I tell him.

“No, no,” he says. “Some people tell me that they like chicken because it’s from where they’re from. It was in Africa. They used to eat that and then they just brought it here.”

“I guess,” I say. "I'm not sure."

He says, “They are also — all of them — relations of some guy who was a slave one day and they stayed here, yes?”

“I never thought of it that way,” I say.

“Yes. And before you and the Afro-American people came, it was just some Native Americans here in Louisiana,” he tells me. “It’s weird because. Erm. I was hearing about the Native Americans, but people only care about the Cajuns here and no one cares about the Native American history.”

“They're doing alright," I say. "They own big casinos now."

He looks at me for a minute, then he says, “That is definitely a racist thing to say.”

If this were a romantic comedy, then we would be right on-script. Our European opposite American dialogue feels like it's been run-through by a million other people before us. We alternate buying rounds of beer, and after several rotations, I'm feeling brave enough to ask him something. "Do you want to see a Louisiana swamp?" I ask. "Like right now?" He looks suspiciously at me, but then he says, "Okay, then. I can go." We get in my car and I drive a few blocks to the University of Louisiana. We park near the Student Union and I walk with him to Cypress Lake, a living swamp in the middle of campus. Once we're there, I launch into an oral presentation of Cypress Lake that I perfected over hundreds of campus tours as an Enrollment Services Tour Guide for the University. "Cypress Lake began as a prehistoric buffalo wallow. Then, the University sprung up around it in the early 1900s and then became a pigpen, then a space for open-air theatre productions, then it was flooded during WWII as a reservoir to fight potential bomb fires. Today, it's home to alligators and other indigenous swamp life," I finish and smile, showing all my teeth. He stares me. Crickets. And then he says, “This is not real swamp. People made it to fight war. I will see real swamp tomorrow.”

We drive back to Blue Moon Saloon in mostly silence because I can’t make it feel un-weird. We come to a stop and I ask him if he’d like to spend the night at my place so that he doesn’t have to go back to his crappy motel on the Northside. He opens the door and says, “Not tonight. I am good.” Then he closes the door, gets into his car, and drives away. I hang out for a while and smoke a cigarette. I haven’t smoked all night because I thought smoking might gross him out, even though he’s French, which was pretty considerate of me. The least he could’ve done was sex.

In the morning, I drive to Baton Rouge for the LSU game. There, I check Grindr and see he is less than a mile away from me. I guess he woke up and heard Baton Rouge calling, too. I wonder if he saw a real swamp this morning. And if he’s alone right now — wandering around the tailgating chaos and looking for something new and exciting before moving on the next place, and then the next.

That, I understand.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Dawn And The Day

This is a reflection on an experience described in a post from November 5, 2012 entitled The Other Side Of The World - Part II.

I remember you in pieces, now.

Like when you pulled up to the valet and you were wearing a blue shirt. Or maybe it was white. Or coral.

And you were wearing a backpack, and I thought that was weird and a little premature for a first meeting.

You were built like me. Only leaner. Which made me insecure about my stomach and my arms.

I didn't feel pressured to impress you, which I noticed. You seemed nervous, which we both noticed.

On the beach, we sat at the water's edge, and your hip touched my hip first.

You looked down and smiled when you said I was sexy, and the gesture didn't appear affected to me.

Maybe your shirt was maroon. Or teal. Or maybe some kind of pale yellow.

Your car was red and it had a sunroof, but I can't remember anything else about it.

When we stopped for gas, I took a picture of you when you weren't looking. I remember it was fuzzy because you were moving. That was with my old phone, so I don't have the picture anymore. I'm sorry about that.

There were lots of stars. The most I've ever seen in the sky. And through the open sunroof, we stared at them and turned to one another to wordlessly ask, "Can you believe this?"

I remember wondering if you did this with every vacationer from the mainland.

We kissed a lot that night, but I can only remember the first time. I'm sorry about that, too.

We saw each other again the next night. This time, I met you at your hotel in Lahaina. I wandered the lobby and the pool area until you found me.

We went back to your place, which was messy and boyish.

We had sex for the first time, and it was good.

You put on The Hunger Games and I fell asleep before the reaping.

The next night, I was having dinner with my dad on your side of the island and you happened to be in the bar next door.

My dad went back to Wailea and I stayed with you.

We went to Mic Fleetwood's bar and we got in a fight about something serious. I remember being very angry with you. We each closed our tabs and we left. I asked you to take me back to my hotel.

In front of the valet, you asked if I would let you show me one last thing. I said yes. And then you pulled away and down a dark pathway into the woods.

The water was black and the moon made it look like shiny leather. There were more stars here, too. We climbed into the back seat and we kissed. I remember this. And then we had sex again. I don't remember if there was music or not, but it sounded like there was. You told me you loved me. I said I loved you, too.

I held your face in my hands when I kissed you goodbye. You told me you'd see me again in the morning. I remember thinking that this was the last time I would ever see you. And I was right.

I waited until my plane was boarding before I called to tell you that I was leaving the island a day early. A hurricane in the Gulf. I waited because I knew you'd try to stop me. And I remember crying. And I remember lying to you to make you feel better. You heard my voice crack, so you told me that there was lube in your backpack the first night we met and I started laughing my ass off. We said goodbye and I texted you when I landed in Atlanta and then when I landed in New Orleans.

I remember the first time we Skyped. I remember the second time we Skyped. I remember the last time we Skyped. But those are the only ones I remember. I'm sorry about that.

I remember staying up late and writing you letters. And I remember when I got your postcard in the mail. And I remember pressing it again my chest because that's what you do with postcards, right?

It's been a year since we met. And I still remember your face often and the way it felt in my hands. I recall these memories from time to time, and when one unravels in my head, the others come undone, too, and suddenly, I'm reviewing our entire history in fragments and shards. The timeline is broken up and I can't storyboard the events in chronological order. But I really, really want to because that's all we have. We can't make new memories. We've only got this small window in time that's been shattered across 368 days.

I remember taking the elevator up to my room after you dropped me off that first night. I remember pulling my phone out of my pocket on the breezeway. I remember calling John and saying, "I just met the person I'm going to marry." And I remember hearing how crazy that sounded. And I remember not caring.

It's 11:25PM where you are right now, which makes it 4:25AM here.

We just told one another goodnight. But before that, you helped me remember some very special memories I'd forgotten. And we celebrated one year by saying sentimental things and also the word "fuck" a lot.

The sun will be up soon, but even if I stayed awake to watch it, I probably wouldn't remember it because sunrises are forgettable. They happen every 24 hours. The dawn and the day that follows it are reminders of night's finiteness. Sunshine bleaches out the stars again and it all feels routine and militarized.

Besides, if the sun isn't rising in your company, then why should I pay it any attention?