To Leave You All Behind
I was a child they said I was crazy. They cited the fact that my paternal grandmother had been schizophrenic, had spent most
of my dad’s childhood in a psychiatric institution. They pointed out the fact that I walked a bit oddly, that I had
no friends, that I always seemed to remember things that nobody else could recall having happened. That I did not listen to
my mother. That I often emptied my bottles of Elmer’s School Glue onto the sleek fake wooden surface of my school desk,
and then let it dry, for the sole purpose of scraping it off later with the edge of my scissors. That when we were learning
math, I took a book into the classroom bathroom and hid there, sitting on the toilet with my pants down, oblivious to the
idea that anyone might notice me missing. That in art class when we had made pictures by coloring salt with chalk and then
gluing it onto construction paper, I had gotten sick from eating all the chalky salt.
this is why Reese loves me. He is crazy too. Not vague, wanders-away-if-you-don’t-watch-him crazy, like I’m supposed
to be, but crazy crazy. He is said to have stabbed a boy once when he was young. He went to juvey for it. He says he didn’t
do it, it was someone else, but he still went to juvey for it, and when he got out he went to jail for other things too, real
things, things he also swears he never did.
has a plan. He will be my savior, he says, and I will be his.
have been riding for hours in Paul Gladd’s beat-up car, Paul driving and Reese in shotgun, and me lying across the back
seat, my feet up against the door, underneath the window where the wind blows
in fiercely because there is no glass, Paul punched the glass out three days ago when he locked his keys in the car. I am
happy to be riding, with the stereo blasting, hip-hop or oldies or country or heavy metal depending on Reese’s mood
because he’s appointed himself in charge of the music.
My new favorite song is “Instant Repeater 99”, I heard it on the jukebox where Paul
lives, and I liked it so much that Reese stole it for me from Tower Records just three days ago, . but I’m not supposed
to say that part. Reese likes it too, so I don’t even have to beg him to play it for me, he’ll put it on any time.
Reese says an instant repeater is a kind of gun, and the song is about shooting yourself. He says, “Listen, listen to
this part, ‘I’m ready to blow my mind, I’m ready to leave you all behind,’ that means the guy shot
I don’t think the song is about that. I don’t think that at all. But if I argue with
Reese, he might say he doesn’t like that song anymore, so I just pretend to believe him.
I am happy to be riding, with the music blasting, but still, Woodstock is a long way from Chicago,
and I am glad when we get there and Reese says to get out. We tumble out of the car. It is a hot day, boiling hot, dawg days
of summer, but Reese’s grandparents’ house is surrounded by woods, cool and shady. The house is wooden, cherry
colored. It’s meant to look like a rustic cabin, but it is fifty times bigger than the real cabins we used to spend
one week in each summer up in Wisconsin when I was small. It is the kind of house rich people have built especially for them.
against the car and watch while Reese and Paul contemplate on how to get into the house.
If someone came along and saw us, they might think we are here to do some work around the place.
Or they might think we belong to a club, a secret club, because we all sort of look alike. We are all wearing T-shirts, and
jeans that are too big. We are all always having to yank our pants back up or they slide down over our butts. My hair is shaggy,
shorter than shoulder length, actually about twelve different lengths because I cut it myself, yesterday, in the bathroom
mirror. Reese’s head is bald, Paul’s covered by a baseball hat that says Bekins, which is a moving company he
sometimes tells people he used to work there, but he never worked there, he found that hat in the Free Box at the Salvation
is twenty and Paul is twenty-six, and I enjoy being in their company. I am eighteen but being crazy makes me younger, really,
ask my mother and she will tell you that I am supposed to be supervised, but she trusts Reese to supervise me for some reason.
No matter that he once stabbed a boy, that is okay with her, because once when I was younger I ran away except she says that
I just got lost, and Reese was the one who found me, so that makes her think he is trustworthy, and I am not going to argue
with her because Reese gets me out of the house and lets me ride in the back seat of Paul’s car, with music on, like
a regular kid.
takes off his Bekins hat and twists it in his hands. He does this a lot. I do not know much about Paul. Except that he is
from Berwyn. Or Bolingbrook. One of those towns that starts with B. Now he lives in that house, that house for people who
don’t drink anymore. That house with the club in the basement, like a bar but they don’t serve alcohol. Just juice
and pop. I like it because of the jukebox. Paul lives there. He is Reese’s friend and now he is mine. That is all I
They look at me. They look and look, until their eyes burn my skin.
I yell, what!
They tell me I’m going to be the one to get us inside the house, because I am the smallest
. I will crawl in through the wood box.
I tell them, I am scared.
nothing to be afraid of, Reese says, he did it all the time when he was a kid and used to live here.
He and Paul lift logs out of the wood box and set them on the ground. Then Reese lifts me into
the wood box.
afraid of spiders and I beg them, don’t shut it, don’t shut it, don’t shut the lid until I am in.
We won’t, says Paul.
But it is okay, because once I am in, once I crawl down into the wood box, I look up and right
away see the hole that is above me, waiting. I pop my head up through the hole and I am in someone’s house.
never been in a dead people’s house before. I had thought it would be dark, empty, echoey, or maybe all of the furniture
would be covered with sheets. But it looks like a normal house. Except the furniture is much nicer, much newer, than the furniture
at my mom’s house. It’s still a dead people’s house and I am scared. I run for the back door. I am scared
I won’t be able to get the door unlocked and I will be trapped in here, alone. But the door opens and I am saved.
job, you did it, good work, Paul and Reese tell me. Paul ruffles my hair. They walk past me into the house.
dead people have a record player. Reese puts on a Beatles record, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club. He turns it
up loud, the way I like it. Paul and Reese sit on the couch and smoke a joint. I do not smoke so I roam the house, peeking
into closets and peering into bedrooms. Reese used to live here, once, for a while. He is lucky. I try to imagine what it
would be like to live with your rich grandparents in a huge cabin in the woods. The refrigerator is empty, but there is a
case of Pepsi in the pantry. I take it. It is not stealing because it is food, not something valuable like jewelry, that could
be passed down in the family. I love Pepsi.
week we went to see a movie, me and Reese and not Paul because Paul was at work. We took the bus to the theatre.
Another time when we went to the movie theatre without Paul we saw King Kull, and it was a funny
movie, and we lay down on the floor underneath the screen and looked up at it and yelled at all the yelling parts, and when
the people in the movie yelled, Long live the king! we yelled it too, pumping our fists into the air. After the movie was
over Reese said he was going to tell the whole world he loved me. I told him go ahead then and he yelled out, I love Maddie
Jackson! All the people in the audience laughed and I laughed too.
But last week, last week we went to see a movie and it was not that good, it was boring, so boring
I don’t even remember what movie it was. And we did not lay down under the screen, we sat in seats like normal people.
Reese had his arm around me. He had his arm around me so tight, it was making my neck hurt. I tried to move, tried to move
around to get more comfortable, but Reese was holding me too tight. When I tried to sit up, he pulled me back in the seat,
and then his other hand, his free hand, slid itself right down the front of my jeans. Which was easy to do because my jeans
are always too big, they’re always falling down, and my mom says why don’t I just get a belt, bur I never did
get around to getting one. Reese’s hand slipped into my jeans, and into my underwear.
Reese! Real loud, yelled it right out, and then Reese’s hand jumped out of my pants and went back in his lap,
and his arm let go of me. I stood up and walked right out of the theater, through the lobby, and outside where it was cool
followed me and lit up a cigarette and asked me what was wrong. I told him nothing, nothing. He stared at me and shook his
head, and he grabbed me by the shoulders and said Maddie tell me what’s wrong right now.
So I told him he ought to at least ask a person before he starts sticking his hands down their
Reese said What are you talking about, and he got really mad. He said he hadn’t done anything
like that, he was just happily watching the movie when I started hollering in the middle of the theatre. He said, Maddie,
you’re imagining things. He said, Maddie, are you okay, have you been taking your medicine? I hate when people say that,
I hate it and he knows it, so I kicked him and punched him a million times, until he caught my arms and twisted them around
so I couldn’t reach him anymore. Then he said Maddie it’s okay but maybe we should tell your mom that you’re
had a hallucination in my life, you can ask anyone, you can look at my medical records. But I was still scared because that’s
what my grandma had, hallucinations, which caused her to spend most of her time in the looney bin. She had schizophrenic,
which is not what I have, I have something different, even though it has the word schizo right in it, its different. But still,
I got scared when he said that. I said No, no, don’t tell my mom, don’t tell her, please.
And then Reese said, Okay but only if you never mention anything like that again.
So I swore to him I’d never mention it.
But I know. I know. I know.
a foster mother once when I was younger, I had a foster mother who lived down south, in Murphysboro. I had a foster mother
because my parents got a divorce, and my dad said he couldn’t look after me because he had to work, and my mom said
she was under a lot of pressure and couldn’t look after me either, so they asked the social service lady to find someone
else to watch me, and the social service lady gave me to a foster mother.
Her name was Beverly and she was black and she had five kids, not including me, because I was
a foster kid, but she called me her daughter and said I could stay as long as I wanted.
But I did not stay as long as I wanted because they sent me back to my mom, she said she
would give it a try again and they sent me back to her. They said I could always call Beverly if I wanted, but in real life
I could not because my mom, my real mom, said no, I could not.
I was going to go there this summer. Because I am eighteen now. I was going to go to Murphysboro
to visit, maybe to live there. Beverly called me Baby Girl and never yelled at me, never said I was crazy, never looked at
me the way my mom does..
Reese said if I went, he would kill himself. He said
he would get a knife and cut his wrists, and he knew how to do it the right way because he had a friend once in juvey who
did it the right way and died. He said he would kill himself if I went to Murphysboro, because he’d never see me again.
But Murphysboro is only six hours away, I told him,
and I would be back to visit.
He said I wouldn’t, he knew I wouldn’t be back.
Still he let me send her a postcard. I used Reese’s address as a return address, so Beverly
could write back to me, because if she wrote to me at my mom’s house my mom would be mad. I sent her a postcard and
said, I turned eighteen, I am doing good, can I come visit?
A couple weeks later though Reese brought me the post card, the very same one. It had RETURN
TO SENDER stamped all across it in red letters, and NO LONGER AT THIS ADDRESS.
So Reese didn’t have to kill himself. But if I could have seen Beverly, I could have told
her all about Reese, and she would have believed me, she would have believed me.
house is quiet, the Beatles record is off, and when I tiptoe back into the living room, Reese is crying. They were the only
people who ever cared about me, he says, they were the only ones who ever wanted m,. I just want to kill myself, I want to
die so I can be with them.
Reese no I say. I care about you, I want you, don’t die.
`` I know he will do it, I know he will
do it, it is my job to make him stay.
says, Lets just go outside and get some fresh air how about.
go outside and I bring the case of Pepsi with us. There is a saw leaning against the wood box, a long saw like the kind that
it takes two people to use, and Paul and Reese grab it and start sawing down a tree. They saw fast, hard, with raw anger that
I do not understand.
sad for the tree because they are cutting it, cutting the tree and making it die. I do not watch. I crouch and trace my name
in the dirt, with my finger, Maddie Jackson was here, Maddie Jackson Maddie Jackson Maddie Jackson Maddie.
him sometimes, I see the boy, the boy who got stabbed. Because he lived. He didn’t die. He lived, and he is one year
younger than me, which means he’s a senior in high school this year, and he works at K-Marts. Before I knew Reese I
saw the boy all the time, and I never knew he got stabbed. Now when I see him all I can think about are his scars, the scars
he is hiding under his shirt, while he works as a cashier at K-marts like he is a regular person and not The Boy Who Got Stabbed.
egged his car once, Reese and Paul and me. We went to his house where he lives with his mom and his dad and we egged his car,
and I helped, I threw four eggs, and I poured milk on the windows too. It was Reese’s idea to egg his car, to egg the
boy’s car because he told the police Reese stabbed him and Reese said it was someone else. We egged his car to get back
at him, for what he told the police years ago, ten or eleven years ago.
we drove away fast in Paul’s car, and then Reese went into the Seven-Eleven to get some more smokes, and I stayed in
the car with Paul. Paul smoked the last cigarette. I told him, Reese did stab that boy, he did do it, right?
Paul smoked his cigarette and said nothing for a while, and then he said, Yes, he did.
I wondered then why did we egg his car, egg the boy’s car, when he did not lie to the police
Paul told me, because sometimes you do that, you pretend,
you let people pretend things are different. You just do.
drops the saw and bellows, hollers his agony into the woods. I stand up and run to him. I hug him but he does not hug me back.
promise me you’ll take care of Maddie when I’m dead, says Reese.
don’t promise him, I shout at Paul.
takes off his hat and squeezes it.
went to AA once because they made him when he was in jail, the real jail and not juvey. When I got lost and he found me, when
he decided he could save me, he tried to teach me all the AA stuff. He taught me the Serenity Prayer and he taught me the
Lord’s Prayer, which starts with Whose father? Our father! Roaming around the city, on foot and on the
busses and El trains, he made me memorize these prayers, made me repeat them little by little until I could say them on my
own. He made me do the steps, the AA steps. You have to believe in a higher power and you have to turn your life over to the
higher power, and then something else I forget what, and then we did the fourth step, which he said was to make a list of
all the people who had hurt you in your life. He made me write it, and I made a list of all the people who had teased me in
school, all the people who had called me crazy, all the doctors who had never listened to me, and my mom for obvious reasons.
He made me put his name on there too, Reese, cause he said he had hurt me, but I had already promised him I’d never
say it again, never never never.
saying the Lord’s Prayer now, in my head, Whose father our father whose father our father whose father our father and
the other one I like, the one about the shadow of the valley of death.
pushes me away, pushes me out of his way, and walks towards the back of the house, towards the woods behind the house.
after him, Where are you going, Reese?
a walk, he says, and keeps going, disappearing into the trees.
Paul, Is he coming back?
says he doesn’t know. He sits on the hood of his car and I sit next to him and we look at the woods where Reese disappeared.
Paul is our friend but we haven’t known him long, we met him a few months ago, when we
were walking and it was raining and he gave us a ride, he stopped and asked us if we needed a ride and we said yes because
we were getting all wet, and Reese was carrying his boom box because we’d
been listening to it as we walked, and it was getting all wet too. Usually people don’t just stop and offer you a ride,
even if it’s raining. Especially not in Chicago, and especially not for someone carrying a large radio and looking angry.
But Paul offered us a ride, and when we got in he said he used to have to walk all the time because
he didn’t have a car, and now that he lived in the house for people who don’t drink anymore, he had a job and
he could afford to have a car, and he thought he should help out other people the way the people at that house had helped
Then Reese told him about us, told him that Reese had a real hard time just staying out of jail,
and that he was supposed to be in charge of me now, and that I was crazy, and that mostly we just roamed around the city all
day long because there wasn’t much else to do. So Paul decided we needed way more help than just a ride home, and he’s
been helping us out ever since. Paul’s not sticking around long, though, he says, he’s saving up money and then
he’s going to drive far, far, away, as far as he can get, which I think would be California.
about this, as I sit next to Paul Gladd on the hood of his car, drinking a luke-warm Pepsi. I think how I’m going to
be sad when Paul goes, because even though I haven’t known him long, he’s always been nice to me, and there’s
never been many people standing in line to be nice to me. Beverly was one, and then Reese, and now Paul.
Paul, maybe me and Reese could go to California with you.
says, who said anything about California?
as far away as you can get, I explain to him, because if you drive past California you will fall into the ocean.
laughs and I ask him again, so can we go with you?
doesn’t answer and doesn’t answer and doesn’t answer.
just me, I say, if Reese kills himself.
ain’t gonna kill himself, says Paul. But he doesn’t sound sure, and we both look back towards the woods, again,
comes back, out of the woods, and then he tells me, Come for a walk with me Maddie, just you, just you and me.
I say, I’m scared.
be with you, Reese reminds me.
off the hood of the car and my knees are locked, locked tight. I tell Reese, but you might run off and leave me, and I won’t
be able to find my way back.
not gonna run off and leave you, Reese says, and he puts his arm around me and pulls me into the woods.
of the Boy Who Got Stabbed. I think of Beverly and wonder what ever happened to her. I think of my mom, and wonder if she
even knows where I am.
back at Paul. He is staring at me, his eyes dark, just staring at me, like he is watching me get hauled off to my execution,
like he wants to save me but he can’t.
make our way through the woods and the tall, tall grass. The grass is higher than my head, but a trail has been blazed, a
narrow trail just wide enough for people to walk on in single-file. I follow Reese. There might be snakes in this grass, you
know, but I am not afraid of snakes, not at all, and in fact if I saw a snake I might pick it up and keep it as a pet, cause
I never had a pet before. I would name him, Slimey.
keep walking until we come to a pond, a small pond, and we sit down on the bank. The pond is noisy with the sound of mosquitoes
and dragon flies hovering over it.
tells me, my grandpa used to bring me here all the time, just to talk, he’d bring me here sometimes when I was bad in
school, and he never yelled at me, we would just sit.
sounds nice, I say, I wish I knew him.
he knew you, says Reese, if he was alive our lives would be a lot different right now.
he’s watching us, I say, him and your grandma, in Heaven.
shakes his head and says, I don’t believe in that shit.
him, but you’re the one who taught me, remember, the Lord’s Prayer, remember? Whose father, our father?
taught you that so you’d have something to believe in, he says.
Reese on my sixteenth birthday. My mom says that I got lost, that I just got up one day to go to school and forgot what I
was supposed to be doing, but that’s not true at all, the truth is I stuffed a change of clothes in my school bag and
ran away, because I was tired of people looking at me that way, the way she did,
and the way people at school did. When I met ReeseI was sitting on the bike rack outside the bowling alley, spanging for something
to eat. Spanging is when you ask people for spare change, it is something homeless people do, and it was something I did very
well. By the time I met Reese I had fourteen dollars in my right pocket, and forty-two cents in my left. I had been gone five
asked me what I was doing, and when I explained spanging to him, he laughed and said he already knew all about it, what he
was really wondering was what was I doing spanging, and he called me a little kid. He sat on the bike rack and talked
to me, and it was fun to have someone to talk to, even though once he was around people stopped giving me their spare change.
It started raining and he said why don’t we go inside, and we sat at the snack bar and Reese bought me a cheeseburger
and a Pepsi, and then we went bowling, like ordinary people. By the end of the night, Reese had convinced me to go home. He
promised me that if I let him bring he home, he would make sure things would be better, he would let me hang out with him
and I’d never have to be lonely, and he wouldn’t look at me like I was crazy, and everything would be okay.
I let him, I let Reese bring me back home, and I guess by then I was a little lost because I’d taken El trains all the
way to the other side of the city, I’d just kept transferring and transferring, getting as far away from my mom’s
house as I could. It was weird to ride the El trains with Reese, but I felt important. People stared at us but not like I
was crazy, they stared at us differently now.
when we got to my mom’s house, my mom cried and told Reese thank you for bringing me back. She said, Maddie is very sick, very sick, she’s a very sick little girl.
I am not sick!
she just kept saying it, Maddie is very sick, you must understand, she is very sick, and it can be very hard to handle her.
said he understood, but when my mom looked away, he looked at me and winked, and I felt better, not crazy at all.
get back into Paul’s car, me in back again, with the Pepsi this time. The saw is left stuck in the tree, with a big
jagged slash in it’s trunk. Would it hurt the tree more to take the saw out or to leave it there? It’s too late
now. I drink Pepsi and try not to think about it.
puts my song, :”Instant Repeater 99”, on again, and it makes me feel better as I listen to the songs, listen to
the words, Its not a way to draw the line, it’s just a way to say goodbye.
drive to the cemetery, Reese wants to go there because he says it will help to talk to them, to talk to them at their grave
sites. We find the grave and we get out of the car, once more.
is hot here, sunny, no trees. The grass is thick and bright green, and the sun gleams off the white marble of the two headstones.
I read them, Bill Finn Beloved Grandpa 7-10-36 to 6-12-04. Joanne Finn Beloved Granny 4-18-38 to 6-12-04.
stares at the headstones. He asks, What happened, and there is something in his voice, like panic, like fear.
was a car accident, I say. The car rolled over and caught on fire and they both died.
is standing, staring at the sky. It would be better if it were raining, but it is not, there is nothing but sun sun sun.
We sit down, me and Paul, in the thick grass a few yards away from Reese. Paul twists his hat and twists it and twists
it and twists it. I’ve listened to “Instant Repeater 99” eleven times today and now it’s running through
my head, like I have my own personal tape player in my ears, here’s a way to let it roll and it’s a way to lose
control it’s not a way to draw the line its just a way to say goodbye instant repeater 99 we’re all rewinding
to get high… I pick dandelions, I tie them together by their stems, and make a necklace, and hang it around my neck.
We might never move from this spot, we might just stay here forever, we might let it get dark and still never leave, or we
might get in the car and drive and drive and drive, I would be happy to do that, because I never want to go back, I never
want to go back, I hope we go somewhere because we cannot go back.