Sadness is an emotion you can trust. It is stronger than all of the other emotions. It makes happiness look fickle and untrustworthy. It pervades, lasts longer, and replaces the good feelings with such an eloquent ease you don’t even feel the shift until you are suddenly wrapped in its chains. How hard we strive for happiness, and once we finally have the elusive feeling in our grasp, we hold it briefly, like water as it trickles through our fingers. I don’t want to hold water. I want to hold something heavy and solid. Something I can understand. I understand sadness, and so I trust it. We are meant to feel sadness, if only to protect us from the brief spiels of happiness. Darkness is all I’ll ever know; maybe the key is to make poetry out of it.
I find myself in the woods, touching the knotty bark of the trees and rubbing a leaf between my fingers. I think about Lyndee Anthony, Nevaeh’s mother. I’ve seen her a few times standing on her porch, looking out at the street, her eyes darting to and fro, mimicking the movement of her brain. She is a thin woman, her dark hair cropped close to her scalp. She’d look almost childlike, except her features are sensual and full. Sometimes, when I used to see them together in town, I’d think that Nevaeh looked more like the adult than her mother. Nevaeh, with her all-seeing, soulful eyes. The steady movements of her body. Lyndee’s eyes were hollow and bored. They reminded me of puppy eyes.
Ever since Nevaeh went missing, Lyndee’s face has been on the front page of the Harbor Bone, drawn and sad. I started collecting the articles, the varying shades of Lyndee’s sadness spread out on the covers with headlines such as: ‘Mother pleads for information about her missing daughter;’ ‘Mother gives police new leads about missing girl.’ Nevaeh’s father never showed during the first weeks of the search. It was rumored that when Lyndee called to tell him what had happened to their daughter, he asked for a paternity test. When the local news stations picked up the story, he changed his tune and began doing a series of teary-eyed interviews, claiming that Lyndee never let him see his daughter, and that would change as soon as they found her. I never for a second bought into his damp-eyed pandering for attention. And when the case died down a few months later, so did his act.
I walk out of the woods and approach the eating house from behind. The weeds tickle my calves as I trudge through the overgrowth of the yard. The line my mother once hung our wet clothes on has snapped free of its pole. I pick up the loose end and examine it. I look up to see my mother’s drapes parted, her face staring down at me. We catch eyes for a moment before I look away first. When I look down at my hand I realize I’ve rubbed a hole in my leaf.
AUGUST IN THE BONE is summer’s hot breath, mixed with the cinnamon sweet smell of the nootka roses. The claustrophobia gets to you. It makes you feel like you can’t breathe, and then you do something loony like Velda Baumgard over on Thames Street, who skinned the family dog and fed it to her family because she was tired of his barking.
I cross the street and walk under the cover of the trees, which are bright shades of lime green and deep hunter. Weeds press themselves through cracks in the street and sidewalks, flowers bloom where they shouldn’t—a cluster of daffodils from the side of the Bone Harbor Bank, begonias hanging from the overpass on Twelfth and Laurel almost touching the roofs of the cars. There is even a small field of lilacs next to Wal-Mart, where you can often see people standing, admiring the wildness of it. In the summer, everything is lush and plump with life—even the people. They stop complaining about how Harpersfield, a town ten miles away, has a Safeway and a QFC and a little shopping area with cobbled streets where you can drink designer lattes and see a movie at the Eight.
They forget, and they grill hot dogs and graying beef patties in their yards, inviting their friends over to drink lukewarm beer and gossip. In the summer, they forget that their jobs pay minimum wage, and that their cars need new brakes, and that the rain will soon come to wash away their smiles. In summer, the people of the Bone hum and laugh and let the sun melt their worries. But Nevaeh has ruined the summer this year. People are searching the woods instead of grilling. Looking around wearily instead of turning their faces toward the sun. We all feel it.
I forgo the bus and walk the five miles to work most days. It’s not so bad. I eat a granola bar as I walk, a ritual I’ve come to enjoy—my hard steps and the oats and raisins rolling around in my mouth. It feels very organic to be walking through the Bone in the summer, eating granola. Evenings, when I leave the Rag, I grab a coffee from the food truck and walk my way back to the eating house. Within a few weeks, my normally pasty skin has acquired that deep tan that Judah once mentioned, and my pants hang around my hips like loose skin. My hope is renewed by the brief, three-month respite from the rain. But there is a dampness to it as well, a rotting guilt. A little girl is missing, her mother is suffering, her grandmother so distraught she no longer leaves her little house on Cambridge Ave. I want to go to her, offer my services in some way—anything to ease her suffering. But, in the end, I am just a stranger, and the most I do is whisper a prayer when I walk past her house. My words blow away as quickly as they leave my lips. There is no comfort for the broken.
Nevaeh was the younger version of me, except she had a grandmother who loved her. That one difference could have centered everything in her life. When I was Nevaeh’s age, I spent hours fantasizing about a father who never knew I existed, but would want me as soon as he knew I did. He’d take me from the eating house, from the Bone, and he’d demand to know me. He’d spend hours accumulating information about my person with the rapt attention of a man in love. I imagine that being wanted is the greatest feeling. A feeling that solidifies your stay in this life, justifies it.
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