Scars of Our Civil Wars

CARRIE – April 2004


Guilt, if that’s what it is, has to have consequences.

I bear them all as beneath the sleeves of my blouse. 

I used to have another life. In that one, I left college after my best friend killed herself. There just didn’t seem to be a point anymore. And so I drifted for years, often in dubious company. 

The most recent place I ended up in was this boarding home outside San Francisco, run by a guy who collected military paraphernalia—Civil War stuff. He was a nice guy. Like badgers can be nice if they are well-fed and the temperature is right, I reckon.

Anyway, I got a job—my first.

I helped him transcribe old letters for a book he had been working on like forever. Stories from the war. Ordinary soldiers’ stories. 

History never really was my thing, but it helped pay the rent. His wife baked me pie and got me a glass of orange juice every Sunday when I was sitting in their attic listening to the heartbeat of the Pacific, straining to decipher curls and loops that made out 140-year-old memories.

Yeah, I can do shit like that when I want to. I always crushed languages in all my schools (and got crushed by math in return). 

But the badger was smiling for the first time in weeks.

Not in the least because he could save a lot of money. 

I didn’t care. I also loved strutting my stuff, for a change. Oh, and I can draw, too.

I am someone. Not no one.

Not the one who always catches up with me. Not my ghost half. 

Less than a year before moving into the boarding home, I had ditched my last boyfriend (the guy was into bruising). I had gone cold turkey right after that and I had kept ‘clean’ by drinking whiskey instead. 

Now, Tom Conway—that’s our Civil War author’s name—he didn’t take kindly to drinking. In fact, everyone who stayed at his “Home”, as he called it—had no choice but to keep clean. No smoking. No drinking. No nothing.

But of course, I did just that.

And with some new guy, I picked up at a bus stop in Oakland no less.

And yes, you guessed it. No men were allowed in the women’s rooms either.

The breakup wasn’t good. They never are. 

But his wife wasn’t angry. She gave me a farewell present. 

I got a copy of all the letters I had translated. Just those, she said.

But I was grateful since it made me feel worth something, even if it had been an obscure gig. 

And I would have more than enough time to read it all on the bus to L.A. with less than 100 dollars in my pocket and the knowledge that I had to beg my mother for cash again and try to pretend I was finally coming back to life when I’m anything but.

I couldn’t do it.

We hadn’t seen each other for years and only talked on the phone and whenever I passed an Internet café.

What could I tell her?

I was a prize student. I knew I had my future in my hands. I threw it all away because of one terrible thing that I should have gotten over. I made a ghost of my life and now I have become a ghost.

Dad also tried to call. I told him less. 

It’s always the same.

And I couldn’t even open the damn envelope because I was busy staring out the window and feeling sorry for myself.

Except when I was bored out of my mind at the transit station. Then I finally looked in that mother of an envelope, and my jaw dropped.

There was nothing in it.

I mean, there weren’t any of the printouts I had expected—of the letters I had transcribed. 

Only old letters.

Letters I had never seen before.

Mrs. Conway must’ve gotten it wrong in all the hurry, and I’m sure she didn’t have the badger’s blessing to give me originals!

Yes, she gave me a bunch of genuine letters from the 19th century. 

On second thought, maybe that wasn’t a mistake. Maybe that was her rebellion. I mean, they were talking about divorce all the time and didn’t care if anyone heard.

For a moment, I considered calling and delivering it all back to Mr. Conway. Then I started reading because I couldn’t figure out why the hell Mrs. Conway wanted me to have more letters 

That’s when I discovered that the papers weren’t letters at all.

They were a diary.


Anna Lee Shepherd exited the only store in the mining town somebody had thought to name Telluride. That was when she saw the three men waiting for her.

She recognized them all from the saloon from last night. They had not seemed better company yesterday than now. 

“You leaving town already, girl?” 

The first man had a gruff voice. He was at least 6 feet tall, sported a big black mustache, and was bald as an egg.

“We thought we recognized a dame getting a room last night.” 

The second man’s beard was as gray as the dust from the mines. He was also missing most of his teeth and wore an old Confederate slouch hat. He had played cards with Baldy last night. 

“Rarely we see a dame around here. Shame to leave so soon. “

The third was built like an armored train and had an odd accent. He had been sitting silently at the table next to Baldy and Graybeard. 

“I’m not a dame.” Anna slowly let go of the bag of provisions she had just purchased.

Both hands free. That was best.

“Sure look like one.” Baldy spat something out, black as tar.

The single town road behind him seemed empty suddenly. There was only whispering of the mountain wind between the handful of shed-like houses.

“And she talks like one.” Graybeard grinned, but his eyes were dark pits.

She had seen such eyes before.

“Okay, so I’m a woman. What’s it to you?” Anna’s hand wasn’t close enough to touch the cold steel hammer of the army colt very visible on her hip. But she knew exactly how close it was.

Less than a second close.

“Please … ” The mousy form of Mr. Simmons emerged from the shop. “Please, no shooting here.”

“Shut up!” The Train waved him back and Mr. Simmons retreated as quickly as he had come. 

The wind was now almost still.

“There are few women here.” Graybeard smiled so Anna could see what remained of his teeth, which was not much. “And the ones that are, wear proper skirts.”

“Then maybe I am not a proper woman.” Anna’s voice was even.

This wasn’t so different from escaping Union soldiers who had raped her at age 12. 

Or shooting a man in Reno years later when he had tried the same.

This wasn’t any more different from knowing that her parents were inside the burning mansion back in Georgia and would never get out in time.

Or Mammy who had fed her and played with her when she was a little girl, but who preferred the woods and freedom. Not helping that little girl, just a few years later … when the whole plantation was torched by Sherman’s men.

No. No different at all.

At first, it is. But then it becomes strangely normal. A small part of you—a deeper part—still feels the terror. But it recedes. The part of you that is the eagle—that part soars above it all and flies away and survives. 

So the eagle part is different and speaks in a different voice. It’s the part that learns to be still and wait for the moment.

And so there is no need to raise your voice.

“I don’t want to kill you.”

She looked down upon the entire scene now. From high above. 

Marking exactly where the three men stood on the deserted street.

“Kill us?!” The men heehawed. 

Then Baldy spat again, but slower, all the time looking at Anna. And at her gun. “There’ll be no need for killin’. We just wondered if you were up for a good time?” 

He eyed her carefully. “It’s been very long since there were any good times in Telluride.”

“I hear that,” Anna said. “Simmons back there tells me the mines are almost empty.”

“There’ll be new ones.” Graybeard’s gaze flickered from Baldy to The Train and then also back to Anna’s very visible colt. “There always has been.”

“All things must end,” Anna said.

A few heads peeked out windows further down the street. It was as if the sudden delay to disaster acted as a magnet. As if the wind whispered impatiently and called people out to see.

Anna had hoped to make a discreet getaway into the mountains after getting her provisions.

She had hoped her story from last night about her ‘husband’ waiting for her just outside town, because of some vaguely defined accident, would hold up and that there wouldn’t be too many questions. 

But she felt she didn’t have time to change her clothes again as soon as she had gotten provisions. Or maybe that was the excuse. Maybe the single dress she owned reeked of too many bad memories. 

She was already behind her schedule.

And perhaps Limerick was really dead—up there.

She eyed the mountains that dominated all horizons in Telluride.

Then she eyed the men again. Wolves.

And she knew the dress would have made it worse. Also, it would not have let her do what she now did.

The shot silenced the wind immediately.

It cleaved the air like a whiplash of thunder and smoke.

One second the colt was at Anna’s hip, the next it was in her hand.

The slouch hat flew off Graybeard and landed in a puddle on the muddy street they all tried to dominate.

But the battle had been fought and won before the men had even decided to participate.

Nobody should be that fast. Least of all a woman. 

But whatever their own dark thoughts about what ought to be, the men kept all of that to themselves. They were busy staring dumbfounded at the hat and then at her gun.

After a few more moments of hesitation, they backed off.

Anna knew that time was not on her side, though. Not just regarding Limerick and whether he was dead up there. No, these men would be back soon. They did not like to lose. They did not like tables turning and suddenly becoming the weaker part they had hoped to prey upon.

She knew all that. She knew men well by now. In her 38 years, she had known quite a few. Some were good, most were bad, and quite a few were dead.

Time waited for no man or woman. 

They must have been desperate, she mused and picked up her bag. This old gal is not worth that much attention anymore.

She was about to get her horse when something stopped her. She looked down at the slouch hat in the mud.

Had one of these once. It served me well. 

She picked it up and looked at the small scar in the left brim where the bullet had grazed it, exactly as she had wanted it to.

But that was a long time ago … Now I’m at the end of my ride.


Money is not a problem … if you are willing to put a part of yourself to sleep for a few hours.

That’s how I always deal with it. 

I look down at the man beside me in the bed.

He is sleeping for real. And snoring, if anyone was in doubt.

I’m not. I’m sitting in the other half of the bed, legs drawn up and the sweaty sheet only tentatively covering me.

I look at the stars outside the motel window and the curtains we had forgotten to close completely because he was so hungry.

But it was all right. With whatever his name was. And it isn’t like I am doing this full-time. And even if I was, does it matter?

He was nice. He had the money for the next ticket to my next destination. And more. 

I have decided not to see Mom in L.A.

I wrote a message to her about soon coming home and that I was all right and other reassuring things I hardly believe anymore.

Maybe Mom doesn’t either, but it was a little game that was easier to play the more you played it.

You have a confederation of lies you nurture. And the more you do that, the more it feels like reality.

The reality of wishes and intentions.

I pull out the envelope again and the thick bunch of old papers, which I carefully unwrap from their protective plastic sheets.

At first, I thought they were just letters. But my God—this is a little script. An attempt at writing a book. Or a diary that was to become a book. It is not entirely clear. 

5 April 1889 is the last date on the last page.

There is no ending after that.

The author—Anna Lee Shepherd—had just stopped.

Perhaps that was why Mr. Conway had cared so little for this stack of old paper, which he had probably got from one of the many Civil War auctions he constantly bragged about winning.

He had not even mentioned this script to me in the 4 months I was at his ‘Home’. Or perhaps he believed it was just fiction and not an actual diary. And hey, it was all written by a woman and not a soldier, anyway. 

So there.

And maybe Mr. Conway would spare his wife because she put this little treasure in my bag when I was booted out of the boarding home (along with a lunchbox with enough pie for 3 days).

Maybe not. There were thunderclouds in the air every time I saw them in the kitchen together. But whatever sainthood the Pope is planning to announce next, Mrs. Conway is on my shortlist.

I can’t help smiling at the memory of that sneaky, elderly woman while I continue leafing through the old pages slowly and carefully.

It feels strange, though, to do this—sitting here in a bed with a stranger I fucked so I could get money for the next three days. 

It is strange to be here and feel somewhat like flypaper but also feel that real old paper under my fingertips.

Can’t explain why, but that last part almost feels holy. Unlike the feeling in the rest of my body which I have had enough practice in burying. 

Yeah, my ghost self takes care of quite a few burials.

My other self—the one I like—hasn’t decided what to do with this script yet.

I have been in my own exile for four years.

Drifted over most of the Americas, working as … everything. And often not working. Just drifting.

I have not been used to planning anything more than a few days ahead.

I once was. I quit law school, of all things. And family. People. Even my drawing, which had once been the most important thing in my life.

It had all faded like the old photographs that were glued to two pieces of cardboard at the end of all Anna’s diary pages.

But the principal person in those photos had only faded because of time, not because she had lost her spirit. She had not quit like me. 

She had lost so much more …

… during the Civil War and after.

But she had not quit. She had moved on. She had survived and lived. Scout. Miner. Even a stint at selling cowhides in Nebraska.

I had lost one person. Maybe Lin had committed suicide after a long depression. And maybe I feel like she should have done more to make it.

And maybe there are always good reasons you shouldn’t hate yourself for feeling like that.

Rational therapeutic reasons.

But still. It was one person. Not an entire family, or home, or way of living.

No, the rest of those things I had thrown away.

And for what? Getting high?

And a man who beat me, but whom I stayed with for too long because he gave me that high for free? If I can be that stupid then something must have been very, very wrong with me way before Lin died.

And I roamed around with no purpose—always moving. And moving. Meeting new people in Bolivia, Peru, Argentina—and then north again—all the way to Cape Cod. But always leaving them. Never staying.

Doing nothing to change.

My hands are shaking. I turn the last page of the cardboard with the old photographs. 

Here’s the very last photograph.

Again Anna Lee Shepherd. Her name scribbled on the lower part of the photo. And in a dress for a change. Cute.

Okay, I have seen drawings of myself that were more mirror-like, but something in her eyes shines with life that goes beyond simple physical resemblance.

No, no—Anna doesn’t look much like me. That’s not what I mean. 

She just has the eyes I want. 

Eyes that have seen it all and moved on.

That’s what she wrote about in the diary. 

Still, there is the missing ending. Her diary stops in that mining town in the Rockies, Telluride. There all traces of Anna Lee Shepherd disappear.

So what to do with that? 

I look for the last time at the nameless man in the bed beside me. 

I make a decision and feel like a thief now more than ever. And, you know, he had promised to pay for another night.

But I pack my bag and put on my clothes silently. Then I leave the room without waking him.

Putting myself to sleep in that room, with that man, while my body worked—that had netted me another 300 dollars. Enough.

It had been a long night, but it was what I needed.

To get to where I knew I had to go.

I dash through the warm night towards the Bakersfield bus station. Once there, I curl up on a plastic bench until the ticket sales open at 7 AM. 

Then I buy a one-way ticket to Grand Junction, Colorado. 

From there, it is only a brief trip with a local bus to Telluride.


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 two 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.

I told the truth, mostly.

Then we talked about Mom 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 but 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 30 years, and if this log cabin is as high in the mountains as ye believe from the information ye have, then ye will have to get a guide. Do ye 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 Mom, I didn’t choose her because I loved Dad less. Even despite all the drinking.

I chose Mom 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 her, 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, and 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 spent 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—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.


She had not spoken to a soul since spring. This morning would be the same.

Anna went outside as usual and did her round. The wind had gotten colder, just like the sting in her side.

She knew it probably wouldn’t go away if she kept it up with those bottles that Limerick—the prick—had left.

The only thing he had left.  But it was hard not to.

She thought about her book again. It was rare that she did these days. She hadn’t written a single entry in it since April.

It was a stupid idea that she could write a book.

About herself …

Papa would have said it was not something a girl should do. But she was not his little girl anymore. Who cared who she was?

… Who cares?

Those words stayed with Anna as she walked along the edge of the small stream that ran a few hundred yards from the cabin.

There were no other sounds here, aside from the ever-present whisper of the wind and the faint gurgling of the flowing water. Anna liked that.

What should she do?

She had come a long way since escaping into the wilderness those 25 years ago and escaping a fate worse than death, or so she thought. But sometimes she wasn’t sure. What was worse?

Would it really have been worse if that roving detachment of drunk Yankee soldiers had raped her again and then cut her throat and been done with it?

Then she would not have had to remember her parents’ screams as they died in the fire or think of what happened to her little sister, or Mama’s loving eyes suddenly looking at her with fear and disgust—for every day of those 25 years.

Then she wouldn’t have had to let others do even more unspeakable things to her than those Yankees ever did— just to get by after she emerged from the woods and stumbled into the scorched streets of Atlanta.

Or later, when she learned to ride and shoot and became somebody and thought she could leave it all behind once more …

… only to realize that it didn’t work that way. 

Like her friend, Jane, she had been one of the few women who could scout and who knew that land in Dakota better than most.

Anna had even had a lover from one of the tribes they were about to wipe out. 

Oh, he had been a scout, too. For the army, like her. Then he had gone back when the tribes got their own land.

But that arrangement wasn’t to last if General Custer and the Great White Father in Washington had anything to say about it.

And she had needed the money, and hey—he had left her without explanation. Had it been love or some fantasy about escape? Or an idea that since all White Men had darkened souls, then perhaps Red Men had the pure opposite? 

The fantasy only lasted until he abandoned her, too. 

So was that why she went up there with a damn Yankee General or was it the money? Again?

Money definitely wasn’t enough to forget what butchered women and children looked like. And she knew that whatever revenge she had felt like doling out wasn’t going to be like this.

So Anna had bolted from the army, and at just the right time, too, before the Yankee General got himself scalped at Little Bighorn. 

They had sent a warrant out for her, but nothing ever came of it. Anna disappeared into the vastness of the South-West. 

Anna sat down and watched the stream as it went down the mountain, vanishing between golden bushes. She knew where it ended, though. She knew every inch of this mountain.

No, not all men were wicked. Limerick hadn’t been. Until he had.

Anna looked down and saw shadows swirl in the stream. She hated herself. Now more fiercely than ever.

Despite everything she had learned and done and survived one enemy she had not conquered.

… Who cares?


I spent Dad’s money on some food, a fresh pair of boots, and a guide named Robert, who I immediately disliked.

But he was the cheapest. So there.

Robert J. Miller: 23, glasses from the last World War, short-cropped hair and beard, and a nervous look in his eyes. A history student doing fieldwork for his thesis on mining here and a native of Grand Junction. 

So impeccable references; if only I didn’t hate them all.

I mean, he is going somewhere with his life.

But never mind. We prepared, and then when the weather was good enough, we waded into the endless sea of fir and pine. And its islands of boulders and rocks. 

It seemed like there wasn’t anything else beyond the last ski-equipment shop, and I can tell you, in my condition, you don’t want to do this for adventure even if it looks like a postcard from above.

Down on the ground, you wear out your untrained feet after the first 5 miles hiking up, up, and a little more down, and then further bloody up.

And you find out you bought a pair of boots that fit nicely in the shop, but not so nicely after 5 miles of rocky trekking.

But Robert knew the cabin well enough.

He even knew the man, Briggs, who had found the place in 1974 and the script and all the other stuff that either went into the garbage dump of history or on auction for eccentrics like Tom Conway.

Briggs died a few years ago but was a friend of Robert’s father, who owns a hotel back in Grand Junction.

I only told you that last part because I want to emphasize that’s all I care to know about Robert’s family.

I want him just to help me get up there, not entertain me with stories about his straight-and-planned life and the resourceful people around him.

My dad was a Highland Ranger until he retired because of alcoholism and a knee that was shot to pieces in the Falklands and never really put back together again. 

I was, well … you know the story.

So credentials only matter if you aren’t hit by the bus of life, right?

I wonder, as I brush the 10,000th pine branch away from my face, what Anna thought of her life before she was chased away from it.

From the burning home where she grew up? Mom and Dad now reduced to cinders? Nanny dumping her like so much excess baggage?

Did she think she would become an important person?

Someone famous? She sure seemed to have it made, belonging to one of the richest of the old families in Georgia. And then one day—all over.

The last photo of her in the back of the script—the only one where she wears a dress—I see that constantly in my mind’s eye as we approach the cabin. The end of all of those dreams. Of fancy dresses and well-bred gentlemen.

The photo itself is odd. Like she looks uncomfortable in the dress. She must have been about my age when it was taken. 25-26-27-ish.

There is no year in the photo, though—no context. So I don’t know.

And why did she have that kind of photo taken in the first place?

I mean, all the other photos are like regular Calamity Jane poses with her guns and horses and riding boots? 

Why did she keep it if she only wanted to remember her life after Georgia as her scout life, as her life as a would-be miner—her life as anything else than just a woman? She never wrote anything about dresses.  

And yes, she hardly mentions her childhood, either. So she must have wanted to forget all that and only focus on what happened afterward. What she achieved after God had cut her down, as the song goes.

And then, before I can imagine my answer to this new question— we are there.


“There is nothing here?!” 

It’s a ruin. 

No, not even a ruin. This is a forest and an echo of something that once was a log cabin. 

And then to top it all off, there is my bespectacled, soft-spoken young friend here whom I have paid my last dollars to guide me up here and kill my feet in the process. Good grief.

“A wooden cabin is not really that easy to preserve if left unattended for over a hundred years.” He says it like he is reading from some kind of manual. 

And still soft-spoken, like a pro-manual-reader. That I have to give him.

As if he is explaining some problem in his up-and-coming thesis about people who had lived, slaved, and died in the mines here—a world he will never know.

“Jesus Christ—why didn’t you say so before we trekked all the bloody way up here?!” I feel like killing, but all I manage is yelling.

I also feel myself slump down on a rock and the rucksack slumps down beside me.

Like that verbal slap was enough to sap the last of my strength. I pull off one boot and massage my sore feet, all the while making sure he can hear my curses.

Robert hesitates. Then he skids past me and over to the naked spot between the ever-watchful pines where I had expected to see … something.

“Here.” He holds up a brick-like ‘rock’ like it is the key to everything. “This was part of the fireplace.  And see those logs over there?—They are from one wall. The place was used by trappers and other passers-by for some time and partially rebuilt as needed. But after Briggs came here in 1974, nobody used it, and wind and weather did their thing.”


Only the wind and the emptiness.

Like what I feel inside.

“I’m sorry if this is not what you expected.” He eyes me cryptically, his aloof master-student calm, a red cloth I can no longer stand.

You are sorry?! Fuck you! I gave you my last hundred dollars to take me up here, and I expected to find … to find … ” 

I was about to get up from my rock, feeling more or less like rushing the few yards over to the carcass of the cabin and strangling him.

But I can only gawk at what is left—or rather, what is not left. It is a pile of bricks, heavily hidden by bushes and dirt. And then there is a skeleton of walls of uneven height like the wind had torn the logs away, like the roof. 

And all of it is partially obscured behind new walls of trees. It looks as if the forest is digesting the rest of the building. Bringing it back to where it came from. Like dust to dust.

And that sight is enough to stop me from going anywhere.

So I slump again. 

Then something happens that makes me want to kill someone else more fiercely than Robert—namely myself. 

Not now! Not in front of him.

I hide my face in my hands, but the gesture can’t hide shit.

So I cry and I shake, and all the while the quiet mining history student with the old-fashioned glasses is sitting over there on his log and regarding me with a mixture of fear and awe like I was a fucking zoo animal seen for the first time in ‘his’ mountains.

“I-I’m sorry,” is all he can repeat, dumbfounded.

I don’t hear it. I just struggle to get a hold of myself. 

Control! I know how to control myself. It’s what I’m best at … It is. It is!

“Should I take you back?” Robert finally asks, his voice sufficiently subdued to give me a pang of guilt for my attack before. 

I shake my head. Wipe my face with my dirty sleeve.

Robert fiddles intensely with the straps of his own rucksack. 

“I’m the one who is sorry,” I just say and look away. “I should have had a plan.”

“What kind of plan?” 

“For what I would do now that I’ve come here.”

“What did you want to do?”

I look around and feel a sudden, deep sting in my side. It is not physical, but almost.

There is a deep loneliness to this place that I have seldom experienced.

Not even in my childhood when I sometimes strayed off in wilder parts of Skye on my way home from the school in Portree and my dad and god knows who else would have to go look for me.

Robert means well, but this is as far as he can go with me.

“I have to find Anna,” I tell him. “But I don’t know … how.”

“But she’s dead,” he replies, still without comprehension. “She might have been dead for over a hundred years.”



It has begun raining. But the tent is up.

So I take little notice. I have put it right here in the middle of the cabin where the main floor once was. 

Inside, I have my flashlight. I watch the shadows its light is throwing on the walls of the tent. 

Like ghosts … 

Robert had insisted that I came back with him but I won the argument by staying put.

But I don’t have much to stay on. I have some biscuits and chocolate and about half a gallon of water, and that is it.

I also have my drawing pad.

Well, since this is the craziest shit I’ve ever done, I might as well continue. 

I think I finally know what to draw—not just sketch. After 4 years. After Lin … 

It’s so obvious. But I didn’t get it until I was alone. 


I have to draw Anna’s story.

Nobody knew what happened to her. But what if I imagine what happened? 

There was this other life, in high school, in Ohio. And a bit at the State University. There was Lin and me. And she wanted to write the next Virginia Woolf and I had to draw it—illustrate.

I also experimented with comics.

We were proud of being both pretty, clever, and nerdy all at the same time. We had the future.

Until the future went away. And left us without.

There was no amount of pills and electroshocks that could cure Lin’s dead father and psycho mom. And in the end, she cleansed herself with the only thing that can truly make you white inside—pure.

When I took it—it was different. It wasn’t to get high. It was at first perverse revenge.

You see, Lin was weak. She quit.

And she left me. I was angry.

I had to show her how weak she was.

I see that now. Even if I hate myself for it. But that’s how it was. I was so angry.

But it quickly became something else. A way to show that nothing could ever hurt me. That I did not care.

I found the last words Anna wrote. They were scribbled on the back of that single photo of her in a dress:

‘Who cares?’

I care, Anna. 

I have hated myself for a million reasons and I have hated others. And the latest reason was that I wasn’t as strong as you.

And I threw away a life that could have been for losing Lin, and perhaps others—but mostly Lin.

I wasn’t as strong as you. You didn’t really get any more chances. I had all the chances, and I threw them away.

I can understand how you feel. And I will make up for my own life by telling everybody what happened to yours.

I will write a new story.

Something Lin could have been proud of. And I will draw it. Something she would have loved.

I will go back. Talk to Mom. Get another job—something. Doesn’t matter if it’s just flipping burgers. 

I will stay clean.

And all the way through, I will have this grand project. Maybe it is my way of being strong—finally?

You know, I can’t help crying more now, even if it’s piss cold and I can hardly see where I put my pen and the forest is full of ominous rustling and I don’t know how the hell I will get home, now that I decide I have a home to get to.

I think I cry because I have found something I was meant to do.

What was it that guy said in the TV series, Tim and I watched whenever he was on loan from his mother in Edinburgh?

Nothing is forgotten, and nothing shall ever be forgotten.

So many people don’t get second chances and just disappear—forgotten. But one of them, I will remember—for everyone.

It’s so crazy, isn’t it?

My ‘plan’.

But it’s what will save me, bring me down from this mountain alive. And out of this darkness.

And it will make me able to bear my scars.


Cover image by unknown.

The diary – photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Snow massif – photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

Telluride – photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

Model for Lin – photo by Kirill Balobanov on Unsplash

Majestic – by photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash


Last edited 7 Oct 2023


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