Gina DiPonio

In the Lake – in Word Riot

Let me tell you about the time Samantha came up from the lake. We didn’t know where she was. It was long past midnight and our fire had dwindled to coals that burned orange in the wind. But it was hot summer time, August, and the fire was for a place to gather more than warmth, for something to huddle around, something to do, but we’d found other things to do by then. So had Samantha.

Some people just did shit like that. Took off. Had midnight backwoods vision quests. Figured it was Sam’s turn. No one was watching her. Surely not me. Not Mike. We were lying on the dirt looking up at the stars rapping about aliens and life and feeling the life in us like the heat of liquor going down your throat, but more, everywhere. Each cell lit up, hot, alive. We were like aliens that might find another planet someday, that some other consciousness might be imagining from their own terra firma, and we were aliens to the whole ordeal and undertaking of making a life for yourself. Such pressure in every decision. The future was ours to imagine, but we didn’t want to plan and imagine and fucking decide. We wanted to be. That book Be. Here. Now. made it all seem so simple. It wasn’t simple for us. It wasn’t probably feeling so fucking simple for Sam.

The lake was close enough that we could feel its coolness, its soft spray, on the breeze rolling over us. You could see the moon reflected on the surface too, illuminating it like a dark mirror. I thought of the moonlight beaming unto everything beneath it. The lake, Mike’s van—like my second home that summer—the coals of the fire, silvered by the moon’s glow—and us, the two of us lying there, creating as much surface for the glow as we could, just lighting up like the aliens we were, and Sam, also in the wide span of that late summer moon beam.

I didn’t think about it that night, not while we were lying there and not as we got up and started calling out Sam’s name as we traipsed beside the lake along the beach. Not as we stopped, stock still at the farthest end of the lake, still as statues, and listened to the woods beyond. Only small sounds came to us then. Small creature and wind and gravity sounds.

Leave this place. The thought came to me like I’d walked into a wall of it. Leave. “Mike?” I tugged at his hand and took a step back toward our fire pit and his van. “We gotta go, dude.”

“What? Why?”

“Dammit, Mike. I got this feeling. Something’s off.”

“It’s okay. We’re fine.”

“You know how I feel about the woods. And I just feel more that way now than I ever have. Something is out there.”

“No, it’s someone, and we know her. We just need to see what she’s up to, make sure she’s okay. She probably smoked herself stupid and started walking in the wrong direction.”

I tugged at Mike’s arm as he dug his feet into the sand.

Forget Sam. Those words boomed inside my head. Forget. Sam.

“We’re going in,” Mike said, and he marched forward into the woods. What could I do but go.

We made what we thought of as a sweep of the woods. We tried to be systematic as we dodged branches and climbed over fallen trunks. We made sure to call out in all directions. We joined voices and screamed loud enough to sail even beyond the moonbeam, we thought.

It was later, after the lake, after going back to where we’d started and seeing her then, seeing her so close to where we were, seeing that she hadn’t been on a vision quest at all, that it occurred to me. She’d had that nickname when we were little. Moonflower. Back when we used to pick our futures so easily. Ballerina. Explorer. Writer. There’s no worse time than being 18. It’s all in front of you, but you don’t know what it is. You have reached adulthood, and yet you aren’t anything yet. You’ve spent all that time envisioning and dreaming, and now the reality is this immense vacant lot.

“Mike, pick up her feet.”

He hopped into the lake and was in up to his chest in a second, walking in all that leach-infested muck, and he was at her feet, fingers wrapping beneath her calves, swinging her over to the shore. I rested her head against my chest as I hoisted her back to meet my torso. “God, Sam. What the fuck? Mike? What the hell is this?”

I know what death feels like. It’s heavy. The body is unresponsive. Consciousness makes you light, almost like you can fly or float. When you lose that, you are a stone.

The sand stuck to her all over as we laid her on the beach. I’m sure it would have been itchy if she could have felt anything. But it just covered her, and when I tried to brush it away, it only made her look dirty.

I’ve never liked the woods. You go there for the wilderness, to get back to nature. You want to tell society and civilization and rules and plans and structure to fuck off. Then you’re stuck at 3 am with the dead body of your oldest friend and you want civilization to sweep in and make things nice again. You want her cleaned up, carried off, reactivated. Not another lifeless alien.

Writing Triumph – in Bleed

The year my dad died, I was taking writing classes at University of Chicago. I was twenty-two and I wanted to be a writer. But let me clarify. I didn’t want to write. Writing was hard. Writing meant sitting alone in my apartment, something I already did more than I wanted to. But being a writer — being responsible for the pages clasped in the hand of readers as they run off to catch the bus or to find a quiet nook where they can thumb through the pages and pick back up on listening to this new intimate, this writer, this voice in their heads. I wanted someone to take in my words with the same longing and satisfaction that I felt when I read Hemingway or Austen or Tim O’Brien. I wanted to be one of them, only I wanted to do as little as possible of the actual writing. Every time I wrote something in those beginning years, it felt like the most dramatic triumph. Up to that point, not writing was what I knew. I didn’t know anything else.

My dad wasn’t much of a reader. A year before he died, I bought him The Fight by Norman Mailer — a story about the rumble in the jungle between George Foreman and Mohammed Ali that was so beautifully, honestly, captivatingly done that it even made writing look fun. I mean, here was Mailer, one of the first literary journalists, running alongside Mohammed Ali, tape recorder in hand, living the moment that he would write about and letting the world into not just the mind and life of this amazing athlete, but the reality of that pocked jungle road and the muddy water that splashed each of their shins as they ran.

Maybe I loved the book all the more because it was about a sport (not usually my interest) and it made me feel connected to my dad, a man who watched sports near constantly. Bookies needed to know the scores, and this was at a time before Google or cell phones. Dad didn’t watch games as much as watch scores, except when it came to boxing. We would sit together on the narrow blue couch in front of the TV, both of our feet up on the marble coffee table, and watch as the announcer reached up for the hanging microphone.

“Ladies and Gentleman,” he said into the chrome mic head. Behind him was an antsy Vegas crowd, standing up, swiveling their heads to check all four entrances, waiting for one of the doors to open. The announcer’s voice rung out over those done up and hardened faces to slowly shout it out, letting each syllable build to the next, “Myyyyyykkkkkeee Tyyyyyysohhhhhn!”

Dad would nudge me and I looked over at him, but we didn’t need to say anything. We just smiled at each other excitedly, as if to say, This is it. This is the big moment. This is the best boxer in the world!

I dreamt of going to Vegas with Dad someday and seeing a fight in person, seeing the beads of sweat and blood jump up off the opponent’s cheek and hang in the air as he fell backward, Tyson’s glove print still on his chin. Several times a month, elaborate casino invitations arrived in the mail for Dad. They promised limos and free hotel rooms and free tickets to Tyson fights.

“Can I go? Please!” I’d say.

“When you’re older, I’ll take you,” he’d say. “It’s not a place for kids.”

But as I grew older, I wanted to go less. I understood that the invitations weren’t a gift. They were the result of how much money Dad lost in Vegas every time he went. And Vegas wasn’t a place for families, and Dad wasn’t a family man. It was his place to bet, to count cards, to dream of beating the system, and to lose again and again.

By the time Dad died, no one could deny his drinking problem. Fifty-two-year-olds don’t die of liver failure for no reason. And by that time, we’d sat across from each other in the family room of a rehab facility more than once, and I’d begged him to listen when the doctors warned that if he didn’t change his life, he wouldn’t have a life to ruin anymore. I told him that I needed him. I told him he could change. But I was wrong. He couldn’t.

“I don’t know anything else,” he said. I held his hand across a table and told him how scared I was. His liver hadn’t failed yet. His skin hadn’t turned sickly yellow. He was still more alive than dead.

“I don’t know anything else.”

I knew then more than ever that asking him to quit drinking meant asking him to lead an entirely different life, to be an entirely different man.

After Dad died, I wrote a story about him in one of my writing classes. In it, a man drives himself deep into a secluded forest. He then pushes his truck down a gulley so that he is stranded. He has no food, no way to communicate and, most importantly, no alcohol. He sits up against a tree trunk and watches the autumn leaves float to the ground beside the first snow of winter and waits for the death of either his addiction or his body, content to accept either. He has decided never to drink again, one way or another.

Being in grad school at U of C, I felt let loose on the world for the first time. I was determined to be a writer and to face the daunting effort that writing required. But above all else, I think I wanted to be a writer right then so I could change Dad’s story. So I wrote a man who found his will power, whatever it took. A man who would do anything to beat his addiction. I wrote this man that had done what Dad couldn’t do. And even though they both died, Dad and the character, in my story at least, I had made it into a triumph.

Punk Shows Are Like That – in Hypertext

Punk shows are like that. The guys that you know just well enough to fear are all in the crowd. They’re the hookups, the ones with the weed and the acid. They rage just a few feet away, circle jerking, moshing, shoving strangers, elbowing dudes in the face. You are in awe of them. You couldn’t get in there and do that. Here’s where your women’s lib stuff breaks down. Here’s where you feel the raw strength of men, and you feel, even though you are wearing baggy jeans, a loose T shirt and not one fucking speck of makeup, here’s where you feel that, yes, they are more powerful than you. Yes, you’re a pussy, and there’s no getting around it. . . .

Read the rest at Hypertext.

Clouds in the Street – in Contrary Magazine

This medina, maybe it’s not so special, but it’s mine. I’ve seen the dust rise from my brother’s running kicks and the broom-swept clouds of my mother’s strength gather in the street’s breeze and settle in a slow, thin sheath over the pathways and the courtyards of this village. I know this place like the soul of a friend. I know the fire-colored mountains from which these rocks were taken—the rocks that built the streets, the walls, the gates. I know the lava-like settling of the mortar between the stones, and these fingers have run across its rises and dips each twenty years of my life. Hundreds of stones I know. . . .

Read the rest at Contrary Magazine.

Then There Were Three – in Hair Trigger 33

Who knew that a three-acre property with a stream in the back and a spacious two-story home with a slate fireplace and all could squinch up into hardly an inch of space and be sucked up and back into the galaxy as if it never existed in the first place? The climbing tree in front of the house folds and twists until it’s a speck of flashing phosphorescence like the inside of a firefly. The tulips along the driveway splinter into butterfly wings and retreat in a fury of flutters. Whoowit! All of it sucked away. . . .

Read the rest here.