L’Épée de Damocles (Vehicular Manslaughter)

By Roxane Gay. Posted in Creative Nonfiction and Issue One. Bookmark the permalink.
"Conversation Between Bird and Moon," by Lucy Merriman.

"Conversation Between Bird and Moon," by Lucy Merriman.

A bit more than a year ago, due to a chain of events that began with him, I looked up someone from my past, wanted to know what had become of him. He does not have an uncommon name but his name isn’t John Smith either so I had a chance. I wondered if I would recognize him. I shouldn’t have. There are some faces you don’t forget. I looked and looked and looked. It became a minor obsession. Every day I scrolled through the hundreds of hits that came up when I searched his name on Google. I tried combinations of his name and the state where I knew him but he no longer lives there. I tried to guess what he had become when he grew up—my first two guesses were politician or lawyer so you can probably guess the kind of person he is. I found him. He is neither a politician nor a lawyer, but I wasn’t far off. People don’t change. He looks exactly the same. Exactly. He looks older, but not by much. His hair is darker. I know how long it has been since I last saw him in years, months and days. It has been more than twenty years but fewer than thirty. I would recognize him anywhere. He wears his hair in the same style it always was, feathered on top, sort of set to the side, real glossy catalog preppy. He has a wide face. His cheeks are red like maybe he drinks too much. He’s an executive at a major company. He has a fancy title. He lives in my favorite city on the West Coast, so he gets to enjoy 80 degrees weather in the winter and seeing movie stars in sweat pants and Uggs at Target. He has the same smug facial expression, that sort of “the world is mine,” cockiness innate to some people, people like him. Ever since I found him, I Google him every few days or so like I’m trying to make sure he doesn’t go missing. I need to know where he is. I need to understand, at all times, the distance between him and me, just in case. I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Or I do. I Googled him tonight. I don’t know why. Or I do. I’ve been sitting here for hours, staring at his picture on his web page on his company’s website. It makes me nauseous. I can smell him. This is what the future brings. Sometimes I think about tracking him down the next time I’m in his city. It’s a place I will definitely visit within the next year or two, while visiting my friend. If I told her what I was doing, she would try to stop me so I would wait and keep my plans to myself, commit a sin of omission. I am good at waiting. I could make the time to find him. He wouldn’t recognize me. I was skinny when he knew me and much shorter. I was very small and cute and smart but not smart. I am not that girl anymore. I could find him and hide in plain sight. I saw to that. He wouldn’t see me. He would look right through me. I know where he works and his e-mail address and his phone number and fax number. I don’t have these things written down but I know. I have them bookmarked and maybe committed to memory. I know what the street outside his office building looks like because of Google Maps Street View. There are palm trees. He has a nice view. This is the future. I don’t have anything to say to him, or rather, anything I would say to him. Or I do. Maybe I have everything to say to him. I don’t know. I wonder where he lives. If I went to his workplace and waited outside the parking lot and followed him home, I could find out where he lives, how he lives. I could see where and how he sleeps at night. I wonder if he’s married, if he has children, if he’s happy. Is he a good husband and father? I wonder if he keeps in touch with the guys he used to run with. I wonder if they ever talk about the good old days, if they talk about me. I wonder if he could tell me their names because I didn’t really know them, I just knew of them and then I did know them but never their names. I wonder if he has become a good person. I wonder if he remembers me. This one time, we were making out in the woods and my younger brother caught us. My brother blackmailed me for weeks. I had to do what he said or he would tell on me, which meant doing all his stupid chores and worrying, constantly that he would tell my parents I was a bad Catholic girl. Siblings are strangely corrupt. My younger brother also told me, then, that he didn’t like this guy and I should stay away. I told him he was being silly, immature. I had a secret romance with a golden boy. That’s all that mattered. I told him he was jealous someone liked me. I told my brother he was just a kid, he couldn’t understand. I should have listened to my brother. I was a kid too. I wonder how this man from my past takes his coffee because there is a Starbucks right across from his office. Google showed me that too. I wonder if he eats red meat and if he still likes to look at Playboys and if he has any hobbies and if he’s still mean to fat kids because back then, he was. In his picture, you can sort of still see his dimple. I love dimples. I used to trace his dimples while we were lying in his brother’s bed doing things I was too young to be doing. I was crazy for him. I probably would have done anything if he had bothered to ask. Do people still like him as much as they used to? What kind of car does he drive? Is he close to his parents? Do they live in the same brick colonial? I have called his office and asked for him. I have done this more than once. Mostly I hang up immediately. His secretary put me through once after I made up a story about why I needed to speak to him. It was a good story. When I heard his voice I dropped the phone. His voice hasn’t changed. When I picked up the phone again, he kept saying hello, hello, hello. This went on for a long time. He wouldn’t stop saying hello. It was like he knew it was me, like he had been waiting too and then after a long time he stopped saying hello and we sat there in silence and I kept waiting for him to hang up but he didn’t and neither did I so we just listened to each other breathing. I was paralyzed. I wonder if he thinks of me, of what I gave him before he took what I did not. I wonder if he thinks of me when he makes love to his wife. Is he disgusted with himself? Does he get turned on when he thinks of what he did? Do I disgust him? I wonder if he knows I think of him every day. I say I don’t but I do. He’s always with me. Always. There is no peace. I wonder if he knows I seek out men who will do to me what he did or they find me because they know I am looking. I wonder if he knows how I find them and how I push away every good thing. Does he know I can’t stop what he started? I wonder what he would think if he knew that unless I think of him I feel nothing at all, I go through the motions, I am very convincing, and that when I do think of him the pleasure is so intense it is breathtaking. I wonder if he is familiar with the Sword of Damocles. He is always with me, every night, no matter whom I’m with, always. If I were to track him down, I could pretend to be a client looking for what he deals in. I know how to move in his circles. I could make an appointment to have him show me things. I can afford to be in the same room as him even though I doubt he would have ever imagined that. I have a fancy title too. I could sit across from him in what must be a corner office with a view. I have no doubt his desk is huge and imposing and compensating for something. I wonder how long we would have to sit there before he remembered me. My eyes haven’t changed. My lips haven’t changed. If he remembered me, would he admit it or would he pretend he didn’t to try to feel me out, figure out my endgame? I wonder how long I would sit there. I wonder how long I could sit there. I wonder if I would tell him what I became, what I made of myself, what I made of myself despite him. I wonder if he would care, if it would matter. If I were in the same city as this man, following him in a car with dark, tinted windows, I wonder what I would do. I tend to drive with a heavy foot.


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Roxane Gay's writing appears or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Mid-American Review, Cream City Review, Annalemma, McSweeney's (online), and others. She is the co-editor of PANK, an assistant professor of English at Eastern Illinois University, and can be found at roxanegay.com. Her first collection, Ayiti, will be released in 2011.

Lucy Merriman is a recent graduate of Theodore Roosevelt High School and will be attending Kent State University in the fall. She plans to major in Unmitigated Awesome, or, in lieu of that, Art Education, which is close enough. She loves expressionist paintings, poetry slams, and science fiction novels. This is her first publication and she’s very proud of it. At any given moment she’s probably at Scribbles Coffee Shop sipping a mocha chai and having too much fun with the crayons.

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6 Responses to “L’Épée de Damocles (Vehicular Manslaughter)”

  1. Pingback: I Have Become Accustomed To Rejection / Eventually the Bleeding Stops

  2. Elissa says:

    This piece is just so powerful. I feel it in the marrow of my bones. I love this narrator and I’m completely caught up in her obsession. There’s so much here that’s human and true and heartbreaking and provocative. I wish it went on longer; I wish it were a novel.

  3. Denise says:

    Amazing artwork!!!!

  4. Amy says:


  5. STAN says:

    This makes me wonder who truly has something over the other’s head. Well done.

  6. Pingback: Eventually the Bleeding Stops | I Have Become Accustomed To Rejection

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