Written April, 2010 for University writing class.
I stood on the 12th Avenue Southeast Bridge watching the Cedar River. It was running gently below. It was one of my favorite places to visit. My wife didn’t like it so much. Even as I looked down at the water I could hear her voice. I don’t know why you like that river, Patrick. It’s dirty, and it smells. She was right of course, it did smell. The entire city of Cedar Rapids smells. The smell is metallic and rusty near the industrial zones, and the air is thick with the scent of Captain Crunch cereal near the Quaker Oats factory. Cedar Rapids claims the slogan, The City of Five Seasons. My wife likes to call it, The City of Five Smells. She was waiting for me in a Chevy Malibu, a rental car, parked at the side of the road near the end of the bridge. We were about to leave on a road trip to New York City.
It was my first time leaving the Midwest. I’d never really wanted to leave, I guess. My wife had been pushing for us to take a vacation to the East or West Coast for some time, and, admittedly, I’d avoided the thought. As fate would have it, however, my younger brother, Russell, who had left Iowa to attend NYU, sent me an invitation to his graduation ceremony. My wife hadn’t hesitated at the opportunity, she said I had to go, and I knew how badly she wanted to see the big city, so I didn’t make much of a protest. She also thought it would be a fun to take a road trip there, that way we could see the more of the country. So, there I was, about to leave.
Like I said, the Cedar was running peacefully below, but sometimes it runs rapid, and when it does, it reminds me of when my brother and I were teenagers, and, oddly enough, makes me think of Bigfoot.
When I was fifteen, my girlfriend Melinda and I had gone out on a bike ride. It was usual for us to meet up at the Westdale Mall, and that day was no different. I had begged some money out of my dad so that I could take her out for hotdogs at the Flying Wienie, but, as is so common in Iowa, a rainstorm had emerged, and we found ourselves waiting it out on a desolate stretch of grass below the I-380 overpass, a few blocks to the west of the river. We were soaked by the time we had a chance to seek shelter, and Melinda was not hesitant to make fun out of the situation. She grabbed me by the wrist, and swung me around. I slipped in the mud and, since she was still holding on to me, we both fell down. We quickly found ourselves covered in mud. Thunder boomed, and we shuddered. Then Melinda was laughing. I didn’t hesitate to join in the laughter, but the muddy grass wasn’t very comfortable so we stood up. The lightning was picking up to the east, and we stood together watching it.
A lighting storm in Iowa is an impressive thing to see. Gray clouds are lit up across the horizon, often in quick succession, one strike after another, forming a violent halo of light that dances in the sky. Some storms are completely silent, the sound absorbed into the air. At other times they are loud, and the sound rips through the landscape. This one was loud, and though the first thunder clap had brought a sudden scare to me and Melinda, the later ones were adrenaline filled and exciting. Melinda took me by the hand as we watched the sky light up like a battlefield. I suppose it would have been romantic, except I was fifteen, and wouldn’t have admitted it.
Eventually the rain died down, but the lighting was still loud and bright overhead. We were both muddy, I was beginning to shiver a little, and Melinda’s hair was a messy weave over her shoulders. “I bet we can beat the next shower if we leave now,” I said.
“Okay,” she replied.
I had never taken her to my house before, and I thought that it might be a good opportunity to show her off in front of my brother, Russell. “We could probably get cleaned up at my house,” I said. “I mean, we’ve got a garden hose and you could probably at least rinse your shoes off at my house.”
“I’d like that,”she said.
So we picked up our bikes, and headed towards my neighborhood. Our tires were spraying water in all directions as we pedaled. When we crossed the Cedar River it was running rapid below. Even at that age I would have liked to have stopped, to watch it for a few minutes, but I suppose, in some ways, I didn’t want to look sentimental in front of Melinda. It was a three mile ride to my neighborhood which was off of 34th Street Southeast. As we rode I was trying to think of the best way to show her off in front of Russell, and maybe even make him jealous of me. By the time we got to my house the rain was beginning to pick up again.
My house had been built in the 1920s. It was an old two story building, with the bedrooms upstairs, and the kitchen, dining room, and living room on the ground floor, a small place, but enough for a family of four. On the ride there I had worked out a plan to give Melinda the full tour. I was going to show her my room and how tidy I kept it. Then I’d show her Russell’s room, and comment on how messy it was. I’d take her down to the cellar as well, and maybe tug on the support poles to scare her into thinking the whole house would collapse on top of us. Of course, behind this plan was my hope that Russell would be watching us the whole time, and I was going to flaunt the fact that I had a girlfriend.
However, my plan didn’t work out the way I had envisioned. As soon as Melinda and I approached the house, Russell stepped out of the front door onto the porch. He noticed right away how dirty I was. “What do we have here?” he said. “Looks like a monster is coming to tear the place apart.” He turned towards the house. “Mom,” he shouted, “Bigfoot is here.” Then he turned back to me.
“Shut up, Russell,”I replied.
Melinda was setting her bike down behind me. I was still holding mine. That’s when Russell first saw her. “And who’s this?” he said. “I don’t remember Bigfoot having any friends.”
“I’m Melinda. And Bigfoot does have friends. Don’t you know that Sasquatch come in packs?” I didn’t really like the idea of Melinda playing along with my brother’s insults, and I certainly didn’t want the two of them being friendly with each other.
“So, you are Bigfoot’s girlfriend,” Russell said, lifting his chin up as an intellectual person might. “Are you guys gonna have babies?” Then he shouted, “Mom, there’s gonna be baby Bigfoots too. Should we get the shotgun to stop them from taking over the city?”
That comment had really pissed me off. Sure, he had acknowledged that I had a girlfriend, but his reaction wasn’t even close to what I had hoped for.
“I think you got your monsters mixed up,” Melinda chimed in. “Sasquatch are from the Pacific Northwest.” Again, I wasn’t happy that Melinda was playing along with Russell, and I was trying as hard as I could to figure out how to turn the situation around, and make myself look like a winner. I was too tense, though, to come up with a smart comeback of my own. The best I figured is that I could ignore him, and still give Melinda the tour. I laid my bike down and headed for the front door.
“Where’d you think you’re going?” Russell said, as I walked towards him. “We don’t want your kind here.” Russell stood in front of the door with his arms spread out.
“Just let us in, Russell.”
He ignored my request. “Bigfoot’s got a girlfriend,” he chanted, “Bigfoot’s gonna have a baby.”
I began to push him aside, but he was resisting.
“Hey!” Russell said. “I said we don’t want your kind here.” He pushed me back.
That was it for me. I completely gave up on my plan. Without putting much thought into it, I swung my fist towards Russell. It smacked straight into his left eye. Russell rubbed it for a second, and then, in a moment of rage, he used all his might to ram into me. We both tumbled off the porch and into the grass. I rolled on top of Russell and straddled him over the chest, pinning his arms down with my legs. I scraped up a wad of grass from the lawn, and smashed it against his mouth.
“Stop it, I’m sorry Patrick,” my brother said, spitting the grass away from his lips. He was struggling to get his arms out from under me. I lifted myself up just a little, and then let my full weight fall on top of his chest. He gasped for air.
“Patrick!” Melinda said with shock and a hint of disgust in her voice.
As soon as I had heard her voice I remembered she was there. I dismounted my brother, and without even looking at Melinda I said to her, “Just go.” I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t see the point of her being there anymore. I hadn’t been able to parade her around the way I wanted to. I headed into the house, leaving my brother on the wet lawn.
As soon as I got to my room I started taking off my dirty clothes, and by the time I was down to my underwear Russell walked into the room. He had put some ice in a Ziploc bag and was holding it against his eye. “Can’t you take a joke?” he said. “I was just playing around.” This only upset me more, because I realized he was right. I couldn’t take a joke.
“Get out of my room,” I replied.
My mom hadn’t even been home while the fight occurred, and Russell never told our parents what had happened. When they asked about the black eye he had casually told them he wrecked on his bike while out with his friends.
The city’s reflection bounced around in the river below. I would have liked to stay there a little longer, but my wife was waiting for me, and we had a long drive ahead of us. I wanted to get to the first hotel we’d be staying at before dark. I turned and walked back to where the rental was parked.
“You were standing there a long time,” my wife said as I sat down in the driver seat.
“I know,” I said. “I hope that didn’t bother you too much.”
“Just a little.” She laughed. I couldn’t say I appreciated the joke, I wasn’t feeling that playful. “You’re kind of nervous about seeing your brother, aren’t you?”
“I guess so,” I said. “I don’t even know why. I guess it’s because I haven’t seen him for so long. I don’t even know what he’s like anymore or what we’re going to talk about.”
“You’re brothers,” she said, “I’m sure you’ll talk about old times.”
“I have been thinking about when we were kids,” I confessed. “Did I ever tell you about my first girlfriend?”
“It wasn’t me?” She laughed again. A stern, but obviously playful, look of jealousy was on her face. “What about her?”
“Oh nothing much, maybe I’ll tell you about her sometime. I was just thinking about this time with her and Russell, and how Bigfoot lives in the Pacific Northwest.”
“Bigfoot!” she said quizzically and raised her head. “She was tall?”
“No,” I said quickly, “not really. I mean, it was just a funny experience I had with her and Russell. Well I didn’t really think it was that funny then, but now…”
“Well, you’ve got to tell me something, now that you brought her up, what was her name?”
“Okay,” I said slowly. “Her name was Melinda, or is Melinda. Hell, she probably still lives in town. I mean, you shouldn’t worry about her. You’re a lot prettier than her anyway.”
I wasn’t sure if my wife wanted to hit me or kiss me at that point, but she laughed at my awkwardness and smiled. “But you’re still disappointed that you ended up with me.” She frowned and waited for me to respond.
I realized she was teasing me, of course, so I shook my head. “If it will make you feel better, I wasn’t thinking about her so much as I was thinking about Russell. She just happened to be there.”
“Now you’re making excuses and you’re digging yourself into a pit.” Her smile was devious, and, unexpectedly, a little sexual.
Seeing her look at me like that made me feel a little playful myself. “I know what I’d like to dig myself into,” I said slyly with a half-smile on my face.
“Melinda’s vagina?” she asked.
I raised my brow and laughed out of my nose. “Shit no. I get it now. I may have dug myself into a pit, but you’re burying me.
She laughed loudly. I joined her laughter.
“Maybe, we should just start driving,” I suggested. “That way we can get to the hotel sooner, and you know…”
“Fuck and forgive,” she said.
We both laughed. Then she said, “Should we stop by Melinda’s house, see if she wants to join the party?”
“You’re killing me,” I said. I wasn’t so nervous about seeing Russell.