Chasing Atalanta (Chapter 3)

Eventually, Mom had to cancel her dinner invitation because I just reached Muskegon at 7.30 pm, and there was still approximately an hour before I arrived in Rosefield. She sounded so peeved when I called her, but it absolutely wasn’t my mistake. Whose idea was it to invite strangers like that to a dinner when I, the most important and humiliated person on dinner, hadn’t even been there yet?  

The sun still shone, beaming its cadmium orange light when I drove in M-120, a Michigan road leading to Rosefield. There was always a stupid question that people asked every time I told them I came from Rosefield.

“Yeah, I’m from Rosefield.”

“Rosefield? It sounds really pretty. Is there any rose field there?”

“No,” I said briefly.

Rosefield’s folks, who apparently were also sick of hearing the same stupid question, finally decided to revamp Rosefield’s welcome sign. It said WELCOME TO ROSEFIELD—WHERE THERE’S NO ROSE FIELD HERE now.

There was no remote place in Michigan, but Rosefield was something you could be considered as “remote”. It was located on the edge of Manistee Forest, but I always wondered why many people came to this town—or city, officially, but I had been in New York for too long. Some of them were absolutely lost when they tried to reach a lodge or a famous tourist trap in Manistee, but some intentionally visited Rosefield. It made Rosefield a kind of bustling town. Not a big town, though, because a town was deemed big when it had Starbucks outlet built on it or something. Rosefield had none. There was only a coffee shop, if it could be deemed one. It was called Nancy’s, and it had better coffee than Starbucks, one of few things that I enjoyed from Rosefield. But with a population of 1,932, this town felt so crowded. Not as crowded as New York, of course, but it was because people in small town like Rosefield usually knew each other well. And consequently, we had to deal with nosy neighbors who minded other people’s business.

Another thing that I loved from Rosefield was its scenery. It was insanely breathtaking with evergreen forest surrounded the town and a lake—its water was crystal blue—blanketed some part of the town. It was so picturesque that I would not be surprised if Rosefield was used as a background for a silly and bullshit Tumblr quotes. You know, something like “Life isn’t easy for a those who dream” or “People cry, not because they’re weak. It’s because they’ve been strong for too long”. Those bullshits. The lake was called, surprise, Lake Rosefield, which was located at the border of the town and our house was built facing the lake. Small stream flowed from the lake and it connected to Manistee River, ending in Lake Michigan. A park with promenade was made on the side of the lake. I still remembered I often spent my evening there to read books for my English class. My English teacher, Mr. Bradbury, jokingly threatened us, “If you don’t read these books that I’ve asked you to read, I will come to your house and burn it down.” Only few barked a laugh, proving only a handful of students had read Fahrenheit 451. I laughed back then, even if I had to admit that was really not funny. I wondered if he was still teaching in Rosefield High.

When a row of maple trees and coniferous evergreen ran from the outside of windows, I lowered my window down, letting the summer redolence slap my nose. It smelled so sweet and fresh. These rows of trees were also a sign that I would arrive in Rosefield soon.

I bit the last piece of my polluted doughnut and turned up the volume of my CD player which now screamed Ty Segall’s rendition of “Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart”. I sang loudly with doughnut in my mouth, fully aware of my off-key singing, but I didn’t care. It was a nice summer day, and Strummer reflected the warm sunlight, looking glistened and happy—if a car were having any feeling. At the time, I didn’t care what Rosefield had in store for me.

* * *

The welcome sign of Rosefield stood firmly on the right side of the road. It was made of steel; the words were light green. An intricate picture of rose was painted circling its border, by a realism artist from Rosefield—who already had his fifteen minutes of fame for a few warhols back in Great Depression era in 1930s—an artist, named Michael Tripps, who didn’t even have his own Wikipedia page. His paintings could be worth thousand dollars back then, but I was unsure if anyone would want to buy it for a hundred dollars. He died when I was two.

The streets were empty when I passed the downtown area. The stores had closed already although the sun was still shining dimly. The neon streetlights had been turned on; their lights hit the sidewalk made of glinty flagstones, looking gleamy. Rosefield’s commercial district was all located in Ducher Street—all streets in Rosefield were named after varieties of roses. It stretched only two miles or so. Nancy’s was situated at the end of the street, on the corner between Ducher Street and Hermosa Street. From far, I could see its flashy neon sign, hurting my eyes. It was too eye-catching for something grim as this town. When I passed it by, its parking lot was jam-packed with vintage cars. In Rosefield, it was easier to find Impala 1967 than 2000s version of it, and that must say something, especially since Rosefield was in a same state with Detroit, where millions of newer Impala were produced each year. Rosefield’s nuance overall was like in 1960s, but without racism—I guess—and with more Wi-Fi signal covering the town like Black Death. On the opposite of Nancy’s was Joe Savory, my favorite diner where my football teammates and I used to celebrate our winning. One thing caught my attention. A new coffee shop—a real one, I mean, because Nancy’s technically was more like a diner as well—stood next to Joe Savory. It wasn’t there when I came last Christmas. If I recalled correctly, there was a candy shop beside Joe Savory, but now it was transformed into a hipster and pretentious coffee shop called Rosehill. So much for creativity. But, yeah, I’m in. I made a mental promise to myself to visit it when I had spare time; I had plenty of it, apparently.

I turned left to Hermosa Street where a row of similar single-family houses were built along the street. A group of boisterous teenagers sang the current number-one hit on Billboard Hot 100 with their guitar from my left side when I stopped at a stop sign. They lived “Young, Wild, and Free”, I quoted from Tumblr. Some of my friends used to live on this street, but I was extremely sure that none of them came back to Rosefield to work for their mother. I still kept in touch with my teammates, and no one was more pathetic than me even though it was only I and my giant linebacker, Ted Copeland, who got the sports scholarship. Ted, himself, was now a successful sports agent in Dallas.

It didn’t mean that I regretted my decision not to take the scholarship, but I swore to God playing football was fucking exhausting. And I didn’t want to spend my four years of college to get squashed by other men who had more pounds than me. I had thought of quitting football over and over, but after seeing Dad with his starry-eyed expression, feeling so proud of me, every time I scored a touchdown, I couldn’t do it. That’s the least that I could do to make him happy. But in the end, I quit football after high school. When I didn’t take the sports scholarship and ran away to New York, I felt like I had disappointed him, although I was fully aware that he was the one who supported me the most. On my junior year, Dad got a stroke. Until now, I lived in guilty because I felt I took part in Dad’s condition.

Hermosa Street led to two different places in Rosefield. If I turned left, I would reach a forest which was used as a running track for Rosefield High’s cross country athletes and sometimes our running track as well when Dad felt chaotic evil and commanded us to run across the forest. It was also a place where my soon-to-be Rosefield High students made love. If I turned right, I would reach Lake Rosefield, my home sweet home.

Lake Rosefield looked purplish as the sun began to set. Few people promenaded along the park, enjoying the lakeside view in the start of summer. A red-haired girl, sitting in her wheelchair, wheeled along the edge of the road; a woman who was probably her mother walked not too far behind. I looked away to the right side of my car where colonial houses were built facing the lake, some of them looked like they have stood since Salem Witch Trials era. This part of the town was one of the fanciest parts of the town, just because it faced the lake. Honestly I also wondered why Mom and Dad were able to purchase a house here, but as far as I could remember I had never moved from the house. Phil, four years older than me, also said the same thing, which meant that we had lived in the same house since a long time ago. However, as Mom once told us that her great grandfather took part in Klondike Gold Rush and migrated there, I was not surprised if Mom kept sacks of gold under her bed.

The front porch lights shone brightly when I parked Strummer behind Mom and Dad’s Highlander, when Dad was still able to drive. Mom suddenly appeared from the front door when I was rubbing my nasal bridge in the car, feeling tired and dizzy suddenly.

“Patrick!” I could hear Mom yelling from the outside, and after sucking tons of air, I opened the door.

She walked to me with her arms wide open, expecting my hug as if I had just come home after summer camp. I gave her a brief hug and she started to sniff me.

“Your aftershave smells really good,” she said and stopped hugging me because she now just started to squeeze a pinch of my nape hair. “But your hair can use some cut. You can’t teach with messy hair like that. Tired, Pat? I’ve made tuna casserole. Eat first before unloading your stuffs.”

I rolled my eyes like a teenage girl, but I obeyed my bossy mother and followed her when she dragged me to the house. I always loved how my Rosefield house smelled. It was a combination of wood floor and firewood stacking near the fireplace in living room, fresh pine from backyard, and old-people smell that bizarrely was pleasant. Mom’s laptop lay on couch. Ostensibly she was working on something when she heard a sound of car engine parking on the driveway.

“I want to see Dad first,” I muttered, leaving Mom alone in dining table. I slipped through the corridor leading to Mom and Dad’s room which was located in the back of the house, facing directly our backyard and small swimming pool.

A faint sound of TV was heard from the back of the door, and when I opened it, I found Dad sitting in his wheelchair. His gaze locked to the TV screen which showed a rerun of 60 Minutes played from DVR.

“Hi, Dad!”

He tried really hard to look at me and I could see his faint smile from his crooked lips. I knew he must want to run to me and punch me in the head and scream, “Hello, you son of a bitch”, but he would say it with his teary eyes, showing how much he missed me and how much I missed him. He didn’t have any knack for saying lovely things, but I knew he loved every one of us, but especially me. One thing that I could rub in Phil’s face was that I was Dad’s favorite son.

I sat beside him and held his hands.

“So, you know I will be back here to teach in Mom’s school.” His eyes looked at the face of Lara Logan, which was really attractive I had to admit, on the screen. I knew he must have huge crush on her.

He slightly nodded, trying his best to move his muscles that were still connected to his working nerve cells.

Dad stopped talking when he realized that he would only be able to produce gibberish sound out of his mouth. He only wanted to nod since then, and we could only communicate with using yes or no question. Dad must be feeling lonely, not being able to involve in two-way communication. He spent most of his time laying on the bed. Mom wheeled him along the side of the lake every evening. Every time I, or Phil, or Patricia came home, we took turn to accompany Dad to wheeling around Rosefield. Sometimes Mom took Dad to watch the football match if Rosefield High hosted it. One of few things that could entertain him.

Before it all happened, Dad was a handsome and austere coach. He was 200 lbs, all muscles, his voice was thunderous. We all used to be terrified of him, especially since he caught us smuggling booze inside the school bus when we had a match in Twin Lake in my sophomore year. He was furious, and we all had never seen the worse nightmare than his fury that night.

But it all changed seven years ago when Dad suddenly fell in his office in Rosefield High. One thing that I could remember since, there was no more austere man. His weight dwindled, I was not sure he weighed more than 100 lbs now. His brown hair used to be cut short, but now it all was gray. His wrinkles multiplied, like bacteria. His spirit dimmed.

“Had dinner yet, Dad?”

He just nodded.

“Well, then,” I said as I rose from my chair and rubbed Dad’s shoulders gently, “I wanna eat my dinner before Mom screams loudly from the dining table and I’m sure we both don’t want that happens.”

I left Dad and closed the door behind my back, before finally joining Mom in the dining table. She had prepared tuna casserole and chicken salad on a plate, all was ready to eat. I was sure that she had prepared all of this before she had to cancel the dinner invitation. I sat beside her and started to dig it.

“How’s the drive?” asked Mom, trying to kill the silence which was only filled with the clink of my fork and knife.

“Yeah, you know, really exhausting,” I answered. One of the few qualities that I liked from Mom was that she was a real virtuoso in kitchen. I hated to admit that sometimes I missed my mother’s dish.

“So, we’ll have dinner with Jessica Trayton tomorrow.”

“Who?” I asked.

“Jessica, our Drama teacher who must move to Florida. Have I told you before?”

“Probably, but I can’t remember.”

Mom sighed before continuing, “Yeah, I’ve invited her. And a junior student who takes Drama every year since freshman. She’s Jessica’s favorite, and I think it will be better if she meets you first. You know, to get acquainted or something.”

“Okay,” I replied, feeling unsure of what I should respond. I couldn’t wait to get acquainted with a teenager who was presumably obsessed with Drama. Yeah, sure.

“Great. I’ll get back to work then,” Mom got up from chair and walked back to the living room.

I shrugged and continued to finish my dinner while scrolling through Time news website, texting  Josh whom I still owed some money. From the deep of my heart, I expected some messages from Jennifer, but zilch. She never talked to me since she broke me up as if I had never been a part of her life.

When I finished my dinner and put the dish on the dishwasher, the tiring long journey finally took its toll on me. All of my fatigues suddenly came out of nowhere and I felt extremely tired. I yelled at Mom that I wanted to go sleep first.

My room was upstairs, and it all hadn’t changed since I left it last Christmas. It was all still messy with books and magazines dotting the bed and floor. Mom was reluctant to tidy my room up. Coat of dust blanketed my window trim and my desk and my Nirvana poster that I put on the wall when I was still in high school, back when being grunge was something cool. I still didn’t have a time to put it down.

After throwing some books from the bed, I lay down. It felt like heaven on earth before I let out a groan. I remembered that I must unload my stuffs from the car. Damn it. Screw it then, I would unload it tomorrow morning, but tonight I just wanted to hit the hay. Before I went into a deep slumber, I could hear my snore already. 
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