Scars of Our Civil Wars (II)

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Anna cursed. She didn’t know how to write anything now. She couldn’t.

Oh, she had had good schooling at home. Before the Yankees came.

So it wasn’t that she could not spell. It’s just that tonight there were no words to spell. 

There ought to be, she thought and bit the tip of her pen, looking out the tiny cabin window. The night outside was pitch black, and the wind was her only company. 

There ought to be, she mused again. 

She had already written a lot before she came to Telluride to seek out Limerick again. There were so many things she still had told no one—not even him. But right now it was only inside her, like an old snakebite. Still injecting venom.

She had been 12 years old, and one night life was still life.

The next it was all dark. The night that lasts a lifetime.

And here she was now, and her candlelight was close to going out, and she hadn’t written a single damn sentence. 

The mountains outside were still. If Limerick was out there, she thought she’d be able to hear him for sure. But he wasn’t. The cabin had been empty when she arrived. Just like his promises. 

He took all the money.

Everything they had scraped together and then some. And the proceeds from the mine.

The letter was a mystery, though. It had said that Limerick was ill and that Anna should come quick. So was it all a lie? Was he so ill that he could barely ride back and forth to the post office down in that sick little town, but did it anyway? Did he go back here to lie down with this Winchester and hope bears were the only thing he had to worry about when he finally had to go to sleep?

Anne threw away the pen. It made no bloody sense. 

He loved me.

But he was just the same, wasn’t he? Like every other man. 

Unless something happened? Why write the letter?

She stood up and took another sip of whisky from the bottle. She knew deep inside that she would never know what had happened to him. A thin line between hope and hate.

She should write that down. In the book. Why Limerick was a no-good son-of-a-bitch. But she was too angry tonight. And she was still not sure it was fair. 

What if something did happen? she thought again. 

What if someone had come and knocked him down and taken the money and dumped him in a ravine somewhere? Someone like Baldy and his friends?

But everything had looked so neat and clean in the cabin when she finally made it up here. Cleaner than it ever was. Much cleaner than the first winters they had spent here. Especially on their good nights. It was so goddamn cold outside, but they had a great fire going inside.

Now the fire was gone. 

I should go and light up the fireplace, she thought. See if there is still something that can burn. I should go get the wood. I should do a lot of things.

But tonight she felt like freezing.

And she didn’t write a single line. 

Good thing the book was soon finished, anyway.

I wonder who will read it, though.

It was the best and worst idea she had ever had. She wasn’t even sure why. As with so many things she had done since fleeing the other flames that clawed at the Southern night.

Except … it came down to one thing, didn’t it? She had shown the world that she could survive. She learned to ride and shoot and talk fast and steal and kill even faster—and all those other things she needed to learn.

But it was never what she wanted. 

She had always wanted to do something else. Only she couldn’t remember what. That dream had died, and now she only wanted one thing.

I want someone to know.

To know me.

*

I try to draw but fail again and again. It’s late here at the cheapest of cheap in Telluride. For a ski resort, the selection isn’t that big. Good thing I came out of season.

What hurts isn’t that I can’t figure out what to draw or that it looks like shit every time I get the smallest idea that inspires me for like 2 seconds.

It’s that I feel with icy certainty this isn’t temporary. Or it should have passed when I stopped pricking holes in my arm and started, ever so carefully, using my pencil again to sketch—back at the boarding home. But I didn’t get much further than sketches.

What hurts is that, like law school, drawing was another investment I threw out the window. A longer, more heartfelt investment. An entirely different ballgame. But important in ways university and prestige and purpose could never be. 

I have done it since I was a little girl. Ever since I drew X-Men for my big bro back in Scotland. At least before he settled permanently with his mother on the mainland.

I tried calling dad from the post office. I hadn’t thought about time zones until after the call, but he was up. He always is. 

We had a talk which was longer than I bargained for, even though I accepted that he called me back so I didn’t have to pay for it. Or maybe he was still his old self and wanted it exactly like that. Well, two can play that game. 

Anyway, I told him where I was, how it was going, and blabla. Nothing much had changed. He asked if I was still clean if I had a job, a place to stay, those things. And I told the truth, mostly. Then we talked about mum and me kind of skidded over that I had passed on her in L.A.

Then we got to the why—why Telluride? Why the Rockies?

And I had no answer. Nothing that made any sense, that is.

“There is this cabin up in the mountains. It’s probably been abandoned for over a hundred years, but that’s where the guy who put the script up for auction found it.” 

Yeah, and miraculously intact. Like time had not passed at all.

“Okay … ” he said while I slipped out of the conversation and couldn’t help imagine what it had been like, breaking open that door and seeing … the cabin. Probably untouched since the 1890s. That’s how well hidden it was. It must have been.

“Okay,” he repeated, “and you want to go up there?”

And I had to admit it. I had already said too much. I hadn’t planned on telling him. Or anyone. 

But he didn’t try to keep me from it. Instead, he just said:

“Carrie, I’ve been a ranger for almost 40 years, and if this log cabin is as high in the mountains as you believe from the information you have, then you will have to get a guide. Do you have the money for that?”

I didn’t. And you know how it ended.

Dad wired me some money. And I searched for a guide. The guilt of barely speaking to your daughter for almost 10 years until her estranged half-brother steps on a mine in Afghanistan—that kind of guilt is worth a lot.

10 years ago, when I went back to the US with mum, I didn’t choose her because I loved dad less. Even despite all the drinking. I chose mum because I had to make a choice. There was no malice in it. I swear.

Is there now? I mean, I use his guilt like the ghost I am. I use it and I think no more of it. I do what I have to.

It’s like this: When you already feel like shit, there is less stopping you from doing more shitty things. Odd, huh? You’d kind of think it was best to do better.

I have thought about it a lot. Maybe I can’t forgive myself that I never pursued my passion for drawing. I think of when I closed the door to the room with Lin’s lifeless body and saw somebody else call 911—someone who looked like, but wasn’t. My body moved. My mind, my soul had stopped moving. That’s when time stopped, too. I ditched college two weeks later, got out of the condo, sold most of my stuff, never looked back. 

But law school wasn’t that important in retrospect. It was only a superficial way of numbing the pain—do something destructive. The real destruction came from giving up drawing—and my few remaining friends. And my family.

Maybe the answer is that damn simple. 

And you know, the more I think about it the more sense it makes because drawing wasn’t just drawing. I was meant to draw a story for Lin. She was an up-and-coming writer, and I was illustrating one of her books and we had oh so many, many more projects. Together.

We would be somebody. Together.

Instead, Lin became a dead body because of a depression that she had had since childhood. And I did everything I could to destroy my body after that.

And so I throw away the pad and the pencil and go to bed.

I threw away all my chances of doing something with all my talents, all my skills, and now this last part of me has been eaten by the ghost. 

Despite everything I survived until now, every step I’ve taken back into the world of normal, it doesn’t matter.

I. Don’t. Deserve. A. Second. Chance.

I am weak. I threw too much away. 

I spend the rest of the evening looking at the old photos of Anna. I read the last entries in her diary repeatedly. I try to decide what happened to her. And I do a good job on that whiskey I got from the store around the corner.

So now my mind can focus on the important things again. But what little research I’ve been able to pull off in some Internet cafe or other—that has yielded less than nothing about Anna.

It is like Anna Lee Shepherd, who survived being orphaned and raped and almost killed during a Civil War … she just went away.

But I will find her. If it’s the last thing I do.

*

 

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