If It Hasn't Already

Jamey Genna

My friend Laurie never told me until two months after it happened, that she and her husband Reese had had a major argument and that he’d slept in the coaches’ office for three days at the private high school where he taught history and coached the J.V. basketball team to championship every year.  She apologized for not telling me by saying that she was sorry but “some things are between a husband and a wife.”  I wondered then whether there was a time limit for telling.  And I was thinking, too, about the personal things that she had maneuvered out of me about my first husband and me fighting while we were still married—stuff about his near suicidal temper, where he worried me telling me he drove his motorcycle around a curve a hundred miles an hour or so.  I sent her a Christmas card from up here in northern California where I moved with my husband that I’m married to now, and the card came back that they had moved, too.  I guessed right when I figured out the friendship was all imbalanced and meant something more to me than her, but I still love her.  I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that when I got married again I had a baby and she didn’t.  Or maybe everything really is all about proximity.

I heard on the radio where the vets who have the highest incidence of suicide after returning from the war are guys who enlisted in the National Guard before the war started, and then got sent over.  My guess is because they weren’t expecting to have to kill anybody when they joined up. 

One time Sandra and Ana gave me a hard time at the beach because I didn’t want to lie on the sand close to the garbage cans.  The cans smelled rotten like a dead seagull. I had introduced the two of them, Sandra and Ana, to each other and had given them a ride to the beach, too, in my white Honda Civic, because neither of them had a car.  The beach was down in Capistrano and it was the first warm day of spring going into summer, but they ganged up on me and sat down on the blanket by the stink.  I got up and went for a walk by myself.  But later, I found out I was pregnant, so if I was being cranky that is probably why.  Ana was from Panama and Sandra was an Italian girl with a big nose, but they were both ten years younger than me.  Somehow I am almost always finding friends who are ten years younger than me or ten years older. 

My youngest brother died of SIDS.

I heard on the news the other morning that younger and younger children are blowing themselves up as suicide bombers, and I think about that. 

My friend Amanda from college calls me from Casper, Wyoming, which is a town that has the highest winter suicide rate in the country, a fact I once heard on the radio.  Amanda is always wasted, much like my oldest sister, who calls me from Texas when she is drunk.  I want to say to both of them, “Quit calling me unless you are going to quit drinking,” but I know that self-medication is better than suicide.  Amanda has a husband who raped her anally after six years of marriage and she took the panties down to a rape station where they were kept as evidence.  But she didn’t leave him and the two of them have been together now, as she says, “twenty-fucking years.” 

“Commitment” is her answer when I ask her why she stays.  I met her husband before he raped her, and I didn’t like him then either.  We were playing the board game WAR, and he was so intent on winning that it was no fun.  But I don’t guess I’d like that game anyway, no matter who was playing it.

I try to tell my friend Amanda there may be no afterlife and to convince her that she is pretty and smart and will find someone new or that maybe, just maybe, she could be happier on her own and that this may be the only life she’ll ever have.  But they have a timeshare down in New Orleans and she says she told him they are going down there one more time to hear the jazz that flows out of the doorways and to eat the food that’s so wonderful.

And “anyway” is her favorite word.

I can’t get my head around the different countries and the different sects in the Middle East—it’s a memory thing.  I only know my daughter’s friend Sean was deployed there and he’s just a boy fresh out of high school who couldn’t find a job.  He liked to go over to church in Martinez every Sunday by himself when he was in high school and he was always kind of quiet when he came over to our house, and sweet and helpful.  I thought he was going to be a minister or that maybe he was gay, but my daughter says no.  I can imagine him in a uniform and I can imagine him taking orders in boot camp where they try to break you, but I can’t imagine him defending himself against a child with a backpack coming around a corner.

My daughter says she was affected by 9-11 and that’s when she started cutting, and I don’t understand why middle school teachers would show that clip over and over again to kids in sixth and seventh grade.  It makes me mad, but I know I am always looking for somebody to blame outside of myself.  And I can’t get my head around how that event could affect her so personally.  The other day my daughter told me that she was going to have a drink again when she had her graduation party, and I said, “Not in my house.”

I made sure to hang up the picture on the wall at the foot of her bed that she herself painted of the broken bottle, the raccoon, and the rock she hid behind, the time she got drunk at homecoming her freshmen year and ran away from the principal when he said, “Come here!”  She was suspended for three days from the new school she transferred to after trying to escape going to high school with me where I taught and where I could’ve kept an eye on her.  But she says, that’s just high school, and I wonder how many high school parents had to sit at the foot of a hospital bed on two separate occasions while doctors decided whether you were a good parent and whether or not to commit your kid on a 51-50. 

I saw a picture in the paper the other day of a young black kid from Oakland who came back from the war and his face had been burned off, so that there were patches of pinkish-white all over his black skin, on his cheeks and the bridge of his nose, and he was getting a medal for his bravery from the mayor.  And he looked confused.

I am trying to find some new friends here because all the ones I have live elsewhere now or are, like my family, peppered across the United States.  Or else I’m not the same person.  The wars are still going on, but my daughter, at least, is going to graduate.  I think she’ll make it.  But I don’t want the number on the public radio to go over five thousand, when they say, “And now here in silence, are four more.”  If it hasn’t already.   

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