It was the winter of Hale-Bopp.
Cults of men were cutting off their penises and killing themselves believing that, if done well, it was their ticket for catching a 2,000 year ride to the other end of the universe.
I was living with a girl I’d met on tour in the dying months of summer. She was the sister of a guy that played in a band we had toured with briefly. She manned the cd/t-shirt table and she liked to drink. And that was really the whole basis of our relationship – we were highly compatible alcoholicly.
We never got around to knowing much about each other. Nobody ever believes my story anyway so I just made shit up. I told her my parents were gazillionares from Rhode Island whose money I refused because they were hypocrites. She said she was abused by her father and had tried to kill herself a couple of times when she was younger. She could have been bullshitting as much me. Maybe.
She said, “Come to Matoaca and stay with me for the winter. We’ll kill a White-tail and when the meat runs out we can slit our wrists and catch a ride on Hale-Bopp – you and me.” After several Schlitz and Tanquerays that sounded like the most romantic thing I had ever heard.
She lived in a rented shack at the far end of a corn field, half a mile off the highway, down a rutted road so narrow that dead stalks beat the crap out of your car the whole way. There was a tiny backyard that butted up to the fence of a cow pasture. The cows were so close they could watch you cook. The cornfield attracted deer like kids to a candy jar and all you had to do for a couple of months supply of meat was open a window, point the gun, and pull the trigger.
It snowed early that year and it snowed often. I chopped a lot of wood for the stove and we ate all different styles of venison – venison steaks, venison stew, venison bar-b-que, venison hash, venison nachos, venison pot pie, jerked venison, venison croquettes, cream chipped venison on toast, and we’d always be drinking something – usually something gut-rot since we didn’t have any money. At night we’d stagger out front, wrapped in blankets, and sit in wobbly wicker chairs, not talking, just staring at the sky. Hale-Bopp never seemed to move – it was always there – hovering.
But it was moving – imperceptibly – just as surely as Winter was moving towards Spring. And about the time the venison was running out, Hale-Bopp was fading in the western sky. One night she broke our normal silence and said, “You know we don’t have much time. If we don’t hurry, we’re gonna miss our ride.”
I left a couple of days later. The thought that she was serious, chilled me to my bones.
In a life filled with doing dickish things, leaving her there alone was one of the most dickish I’ve ever done. Eventhough I am ashamed to admit it, I feel that I must – I can’t even remember her name now.
But if you live long enough, all of your ghosts come back to collect their due. Occasionally, of late, I am haunted by an image in a dream. I can see the corn field and the shack – it’s a crystal clear, pitch-black night – two wobbly wicker chairs are outside – one’s empty – she’s in the other – a blanket is falling from her lap – she’s slumped over like in that painting by Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat – blood, viscous from the cold, is dripping from her arm onto the snow – the cows are standing at the fence, staring – and there’s a comet in the sky – silent – motionless – like it’s going to be there until the end of time.