Breece D’J Pancake (pictured right ->) was an up-and-coming young writer 30 years ago who killed himself with a shotgun at age 26. What he left behind was The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, published posthumously in 1983. Today I stumbled upon The Honored Dead, a short story from Pancake that I’d recommend for your Sunday reading.
I also wanted to mention an essay by Kevin Keck that I came across a few weekends ago. I found it via a Largehearted Boy feature on Keck’s book Oedipus Wrecked, an apparently quite-dirty chronicle of the author’s sexual misadventures. One of the chapters is titled “Cherry Picker” and Keck wrote an essay for LHB about some of the backstory and context (follow all that?). I haven’t even read the chapter (or book) this is based on but I thought the essay was really great and was quite affected when I first read it. With permission from LHB and the author himself, I present for you a slightly-NSFW-but-really-good-untitled-essay by Kevin Keck:
“Where are my women now, with their sweet wet words and ways…?” This is my poor echo of Denis Johnson’s lament in Jesus’ Son, but confined specifically to virginity. It’s a mystery with which I’ve become disconnected. I regard it the way I regard a cross, with a sense of emptiness and an elusive nostalgia. That first taste of real intercourse is a threshold – well, all sex is a gateway, but this is the first breathless leap – and you truly are in a foreign land afterwards and forever. At some point it becomes home, but that first day your senses are immaculate; you’ve tasted birth. Now you’ve looked God in the face. Maybe you wish the lights had been out.
I am interested in those occasions when we become aware of doors opening, of possibility overtaking us, but it is an equal curiosity to watch the final door swing heavily upon its hinges, dousing our little patch of desire, steel bolts sliding shut.
After I’d shed my cap and gown I spent the better part of two hours procuring seven cases of Busch Light and two fifths of George Dickel Old No. 8 and then drove with my friend Tracy southward along Highway 9 all the way to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
We had beachfront rooms waiting for us at the Paradise Inn. Since the summer of 1991 it has become a standard policy of mine to refuse lodgings at a place that advertises itself as Eden-like. Our room resembled the type of cell in which political prisoners are executed with a small caliber weapon. But with a mini-fridge. And it didn’t even hold a twelve-pack.
I stayed there a single night, woke to a cold, brown shower in the morning, and then took my share of the Busch to the Hampton Inn. It was a block off the beach, but they offered a continental breakfast and a heated pool. Also, it was the only hotel with a vacant room that week.
Several friends with whom I’d graduated were also staying at the hotel, though only two of them – Joel and Brent – were people I’d actually consider friends. (In fact I was a groomsman in Brent’s wedding just a few years ago, which I suppose proves the fact that my instincts were right about his friendship; I don’t doubt Joel’s friendship, but our lives intertwined in very peculiar ways and I’m not at all sentimental about the fact that we’ve picked up different threads.) Everyone else was what I might describe as first cousin friends – people who were glad to see you at a party, but they didn’t necessarily think to call and tell you it was happening.
We were all out on the beach Monday afternoon, indiscreetly drinking beer that was sweating in a Styrofoam cooler. These were the movers and shakers of my class – Megan, Elizabeth, Cathy, John, Kim W. and Kim L., and Gwen (who had actually graduated the year before but who wasn’t one to shy away from a good week of partying). You probably know the same names, the same types – kids who inherited beauty and wealth and the knowledge of proper forks, or at least a little class of some sort. Why was I with them? I was the son of people who didn’t have indoor plumbing until well into their teens – I was a few steps from being on the right side of the tracks yet. As proof, that afternoon on the beach Megan looked at me and said:
“Kevin, why are you wearing jeans on the beach.”
Everyone within earshot paused and looked in my direction; even in the sun’s glare I could tell it was a question that had been on their tanned minds – most of these kids lived on the lake; my house was built in a field that had been a cow pasture for the previous century. But I was nonplussed. I said:
“Hey, don’t you watch Magnum, P.I.?” I was a huge Magnum fan, and for some reason I thought it was cool how he sometimes wore jeans on the beach, as if to say, I don’t dress special for geography; I dress how I feel.
No one said anything, and then I began to laugh, and then everyone laughed, and someone said, “Keck, come on. We need another player for volleyball.” I leapt up and dusted the sand off my jeans. I was at least blessed with the gift of self-deprecation, and pitiful as it sometimes is, it has endeared me to plenty of people in crucial situations.
My second night at the Hampton Inn, Brent and I went down to the vending machine. I’ve forgotten our exact purpose in descending to the first floor vending area, but whatever it was it led to some sort of debate about the selection I’d made. We were standing there going back and forth when two girls walked past, and then stopped and stood there staring at us. Brent I looked back at them:
“Hey,” one of them said.
“Hey,” I said. Or Brent may have said it. It doesn’t matter because the girls said:
“What floor you on?”
“We’re right around the corner.”
“We’ll remember that.”
And that was it.
When Brent I returned to the room the lights were out and there was a lot of giggling and laughter, and then the lights would turn on suddenly, girls would scream, and the lights would go back out. There were only two girls in the room: Cathy and Gwen. Cathy was a hard looking girl who’d been the captain of the softball team. She was trying to work it with every guy in there (except for me; I’d already spurned her on the back of a bus during a church youth trip) and no one was having it. When the lights were out she was thrusting guy’s hands onto her shirt; I couldn’t see but occasionally I’d hear John or Brent go, “Cathy, stop making me touch your titty!”
At one point the lights went on and there on the floor was Gwen with Joel’s prick out, a can of beer poised over it. Then everyone screamed, the lights were out again, and amongst the giggles and laughter were the distinct sounds of slurping.
The next night I would hook up with one of the girl’s from the vending area, a sweet dirty blond named Elizabeth who was nineteen and from Buffalo, New York. She had a younger sister who had just gotten a pet turtle, and she worried again and again about reptiles and salmonella. She was only the third girl with whom I’d ever had sex, and the first to make me have an orgasm. And also the first to talk like the girls in the pornos I’d watched. Oh, the things she said to me those two glorious nights where our bodies were the lathes upon which the moon’s bright edges were sharpened, filling the heavens with our sparks!
Well, not quite. It was really a clumsy mess. She had a clue, I didn’t, but that time with her is as clear in my mind as waking beside her yesterday, and so where is she now, with those wet words, and whom does she welcome with them?
The first time with her was in the shower. We were going to use the bed in my room, but Joel and Gwen were already romping upon it, and so we diverted to the shower. But in that sliver of light from the hall that raced across the bed I saw Gwen’s tennis-perfect legs spread beautifully, and I would never see her again.
I know how it ended for her. It happened just a few miles from where I’m sitting now, at an intersection I pass though at least a dozen times a week. It’s a common enough ending: she didn’t look because she had the protected left turn, but her stereo was on and thus she didn’t hear the sirens of the ambulance carrying the heart-attack victim to the hospital. He was 79; she was 20, and she died right there, and his story amazingly kept on going for a while. But here’s the uncommon aspect, the twist no writer can invent: the ambulance driver was the father of Christy Hamilton, the girl to whom Joel had lost his virginity while Van Morrison’s Moondance played through on cassette, flipping over several times as Joel would later point out. But Gwen could not have known that, could not have been surprised at the collision of events and metal that marked her end, and what is similarly strange is the handful of people who know that peculiar quirk to her story. I doubt too many of them reflect on it with any regularity, or possibly they don’t remember, but I do, and I am unable to fully explain why I must witness to this and other eccentricities of fate. I doubt there are Gods that worry over human affairs, but this death that momentarily unites the threads of various narratives – including my own – so that some design seems to briefly materialize for me (that old affair of the spider and moth) is the best evidence I have of such divinity. Whenever I hear any song from Moondance I am flooded with remembrances, only one of which is real: Christy on her knees in her house, which is mostly wood-paneled walls because it was built at time in the 70s when that look was en vogue, alone with Joel and taking his prideful member in her already well practiced mouth, the bare moon glowing through the sliding glass doors that frame their silhouettes; there is the image of the light flashing on momentarily as Gwen pours beer over Joel’s erect cock on the hotel floor, her cry of surprise mixed with laughter and hoots from the spectators on the beds; then there is the surreal scene of an ambulance smashing mercilessly into a small foreign car of indeterminate origins, fragile as the hollow bones of birds. That last image is another gateway – if you’ve been in a serious accident or witnessed one you know what I’m talking about: the strangely palpable normalcy of the moments before and the violent jolt into the afterwards.