That Was Lana

by William Nesbitt

So Lana was born in the year of the red dragon, and I was born in the year of the green tiger.  The ancient texts say that whenever the dragon and the tiger meet, there is sure to be conflict.  I knew her in high school in Thomasville, Georgia in the early ’90s, though we never spoke to one another.  We both ended up at the same small college (also in Thomasville) and then we started hanging out around fall of 1995.

She didn’t have a car so if we drove anywhere, I’d pick her up at her place.  First, she lived in a dorm at Pear Tree Park downtown, which was a combination dorm/retirement home (we used to joke about how she’d never have to move).  Later, she lived into a former dentist’s office. 

We’d write poems together, like two old poets.  A line, an image, or a question as a trigger, and then we’d work from there, writing from a “first thought, best thought” state of mind in the truth of the moment.  Each anxious to see what the other has written and to respond, or passing the page and suddenly thinking of something to say, hand sweaty and ready for the page.  Or forgetting and then coming up with something better, or suddenly remembering ten minutes later and working it in down the page.  This could go on for hours. 

We wrote many.  She almost always kept the originals and said she would make copies of them for me but never did.  Even years later after talking with her on the phone and via e-mail, after finding her through her brother on Facebook, she gave me lame excuses about why she couldn’t make copies of them and finally told me she lost them.  It is written that the dragon loves pearls so much, it tries to capture the moon.  

I have two of them.

The writing then doesn’t always hold up now, so it’s more the sentimental aspect that makes them significant.  Still, I loved writing them, am proud of them as proof of the time and for what they were then, and they are all that remain of us.  Holy scripture, sacred text for an extinct mystery religion of two.  The first one was, for a long time, the only one I thought I had, but I discovered another one in the same binder.  Lana always wrote her parts in all upper-case.

I made a copy of one for her, which she read at the Epitome (a coffeehouse in Tallahassee, Florida that we often drove to) with someone else.  She did it, told me about it, and then asked me if I minded.  I said no.  But this was a lie.  Had I known she would do that, I wouldn’t have given her a copy.  We should have read it together or not at all.  It felt like a betrayal.  My own jealousy and pride in our coffee poems.  But those are my words, too, and something we made together.  No matter how they read/sound to anyone else.  Any kindness from the muse, no matter how slight is a gift. 

From Dr. Haydel and, later, Dr. Clough (both taught English at Thomas College) I found out about a book of Chinese divination around 3,000 years old, and after I secured a copy (in Atlanta at a Barnes & Noble on Peachtree) finally, I often brought it with me (I still have stamp cards from the Epitome stuck in there).  One of the great Eastern classics.  I showed Lana how to use it and made an easy reference chart for each of us (I think she may have scored a cheap/free copy of the I Ching at the library where she worked).  A year or two later, I performed a reading for Lana right before her marriage to Stacy (I wrote their vows).  It—the reading, not the marriage as it would end up in a breakup—was filled with fecund imagery.  Hexagram of plants and freshness (the present).  The positive aspect of Generation.  There was an undertone, a slight suggestion of separation in the second hexagram (the future).  I kept that to myself.  I didn’t understand it then.  I do now.  That was Lana.

I’ve never come across either of those hexagrams again.

And this, our friendship, was one of her phases, I sometimes think.  When we first really started being friends in college, she wore creased jeans and a blazer with some politically conservative button/pin on it, short haircut, and leather dress shoes, button down the front shirts tucked in, preppy conservative.  During the peak of our friendship, she grew her hair out past her shoulders, wore old t-shirts, faded jeans with holes, a wallet chain, and read, wrote, talked, and lived more poetry and less conservative politics.  This was when she talked about getting into English (what Lourena, her girlfriend, and I were studying) as opposed to becoming a lawyer.  But in the next phase, she had dropped out of college one course short of an Associates, and her life became country music, beer drinking in parking lots, and no coffee or walks on the edge of the city limits.  The philosophy has passed.  The poetry was over.  I didn’t know who she was in this phase. 

Almost ten years would go by before I had any contact with her again.  When I tracked her down years later in 2009, she had adopted a Louisiana accent, gotten into cars, and the politics got even more conservative.  Over the phone, she got into long, bitter, racist rants, so I started limiting communication to sporadic emails.  Maybe that’s who she always was.  I don’t know.       

The last time Lana and I spoke face-to-face was in the Epitome, early December 1999, after I’d been in Tallahassee about five months or so.  She just happened to walk in one afternoon.  She had driven up from Thomasville in Stacy’s truck.  “My truck,” she called it now. 

That day things were nasty from the start.  I came in with my girlfriend Marilyn, ran into Lana, and she was just rude to us for reasons I have never known (I suspect, my then-recent ex said, something to poison the relationship).  But obviously there was a problem.  I didn’t want to get nasty in return.  Not in that place in that time.  I respected our friendship more than that.  I took the high ground, cut it short, politely excused us, and we left.  I never saw her again.  

Two lines she wrote from one of the writings I saved sum it up:

GOOD OR BAD,
EITHER WAY, I LIVE IN A DREAM, YOU WAKE, I DISAPPEAR.

A couple of years later, to try to come to terms with it, figure out where we were, where we had been, I tried to write a final summary partially based on a get together in late March of 1999 in Thomasville for Stacy’s birthday.     

I had a dream of you some nights ago, of that spring night caught in the open boat of the sky.  I remember that evening.  We got drunk on the usual Jägermeister.  Its chilled black bitterness, taken in precise, timed shots at your house, where we talked in the kitchen.  Rich, moist air coming through the open windows.  How we talked with a beginning, swirling buzz about all the sacred things.  We talked in splashes, roots, sails, all the lines connecting about light raining, twisting down under the trees at Millpond, flashes of tumbling I Ching copper coins—a flashing school of koi.  Our favorite coffeehouse, books, the local magazine, The Underground, Dead Can Dance, tenth-grade French class.  The rushing tide of twilight.  The deepening pulse, the humming fragments.

Then, we stumbled outside to the front porch.  In the glorious haze, the porch lights made a jade halo around your head.  The lights filled the porch like water; our mouths made ripples when they moved.  What it was we treaded in that deepening pond I can only now call love or something like it.

When you went back to the surface to answer another voice, I knew we were drowning. 

I could not trace it then—my eyes splitting the stars in two (it is in these spaces that I am writing)—but I knew something had changed and I was just realizing it.

So I sat anchored on the deck of your porch, enjoying one of the best drunks of my life,

watching swaying pines beating loose time and hickory trees working their fingers through the wind, moon and great clouds, drifting reefs white as the bellies of trout, washing through rolling alleys of wasted indigo sky. 

My fingers stretching across the gray, flaking paint of the porch as I sat on stone steps listening to still pink azaleas swelled and dripping with fresh, cool rain, hundreds of tiny bulbs that shine like white wine, and magnolia petals, freshly-fallen shards of polished moon, sprinkling the glowing ground.

That was years ago. 

Last night, I passed slowly by the closed Epitome, its dry stone eye winking at me, came

home through blank and empty streets, clean as oblivion, and drank down the smooth edges of a liquid night, pinned down beneath the whispering burn of silver-blue stars, thinking of you with the lights turned off, new moon swimming in the sky.  No rain.  It is hard to breathe out of water.

I woke up this morning and found a singed feather shipwrecked against my pillow, my door closed, the faint taste of dried liquor hooked on my lips.

——

William Nesbitt has published articles, reviews, creative work, and interviews in various scholarly journals, newspapers, and websites.  His books include Forsaken: The Making and Aftermath of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four.

Some good things happened, too: On Being Generation X and Writing about It

A few weeks ago, I put out a widespread call for submissions to this new project level:deepsouth— for Generation X. The response was healthy, people were sharing the posts on Facebook, Twitter, and other online media, and the site’s submissions page got hundreds of hits. (I know that the standard of excellence on social media is thousandsof hits, but I’m satisfied with this inauspicious start.) Several encouraging comments also came back, remarks about the project being a cool idea or about how it’s time for such a thing. 

Then it went mostly quiet, though some submissions did trickle in. My wife reminded me that I need to give people time to write, and she’s got a point, but I also know about something else that’s stalling or delaying some submissions: the emotional gut-punch that comes when a writer mulls over the idea, perhaps even a first draft, and says to himself or herself, “I can’t publish this.” Other related sentiments are: “My parents/friends/etc. would be hurt by it,” and “This would hurt my career,” and “I don’t want to admit to having done things that were illegal.” (To that last one, fair enough.)

It’s a common thing for a writer to be driven into the arms of a difficult subject. Writing is an excellent way to explore a troublesome situation or event, to lay it on paper or the screen, to step back, and to look at it from a distance. In fact, some therapists even suggest journaling as part of the regimen. But that doesn’t mean that that’s all writing can be used for. Writing can also be used to record or share what we’re proud of, pleased with, or glad to remember.  

I’ve already had a few emails, even one that contained a submission, saying, “Here’s an idea that would work, but I’ll never write/publish it.” Okay, then just like the old Chaka Khan and Rufus song, I say, “Tell me something good.” Generation X has this stigma attached to it that we’re the ones who got the shit end of the stick. We’re angry and surly because our hearts were broken, we were unloved and unsupervised, and nobody cared what we felt. That may be the stereotype, but one point of creating level:deepsouth was to show that that’s not the whole story. In addition to divorced parents, hard-ass teachers, unassailed bullying, and rampant cynicism, we also had some great music (from Thriller to Nevermind), some of the best movies ever made (not just Spielberg and Lucas), some icons that were full of wonder, and above all, the tremendous freedom to roam and discover and invent. Not all of our experiences were harsh, lonely, mean-spirited, or painful. A lot of them were fun, exhilarating, educational, creative, or downright weird. I hope that many, many people will write about those.

For those writers who may be considering a submission to level:deepsouth but who are finding themselves nervous about possible reactions to an essay about a painful episode, write about something else! Consider writing about a favorite album for watch & listen or about a book that a teacher assigned for in print. Consider writing a short, anecdotal piece about a good memory for golden days. I’ll tell anyone what I tell my high-school writing students: don’t assume that, to seem smart or deep, you have to write a gloomy text on a dark subject. If you’re not a Holden Caulfield type, please don’t try to be. If you don’t want to write and publish an essay that would make you unwelcome at Thanksgiving, then don’t— but don’t let that stop you from writing at all. Write about something else that your friends (or even your parents) would be glad to see published. Because, let’s be honest, some good things happened, too.