new blog

i emerge from my dark secret life of blogging (how can this be? bloging is in a public space? i know, i know. that's why this is a new blog)
i plan to be much more self centered in my blog, invite more people, and become facinatingly witty so that readers far and wide clog the server to hear of my everyday exploits.

today i went to work.
i came home, gabrielle came over, we ate leftovers, then she waxed my hair while i read her anne lamott's traveling mercies.

hmmm. still working on this.ÿ


the end?

so out of the habit. amy, have you given up? does anyone read this anymore? i don't think i'm going to write anymore.
1. too dangerous. someone will notice.
2. g has returned. she came over tonight. we drank tea. i feel like something is sated. (though all over again it's this huge struggle not to lust. i'm out of practice)
3. too many other, bigger worries. mairee's leaving. mom's wedding. (have i let you all know how much i hate her husband?)
i would say, see, i haven't mentioned any of my trip or the marty stuff, so it's obviously not about my life and what's important and what i'm thinking about. but then, i think amy's the only person who reads this, and she's gotten all the rant multiple times already.
anyway. unless i get an email from a reader, i'm going to trash this all at the end of the week. i think it's served its purpose.


100 things- unglaubliche history

1. i was born in reading, pennsylvania 24 september 1980
2. i could read before i started kindergarten
3. this is when (and why) my little sister (z.) and i started hating each other
4. my mother learned to knit when i was about 7, and taught both her daughters. we didn’t make anything.
5. i have always had the smallest feet of anyone i know
6. i have always felt like i didn't belong in my hometown
7. my mother taught me how to sew, and i created many inventive projects and injured many of our dolls.
8. my parents divorced when i was in the 6th grade
9. mom moved to the suburb south of the river, dad eventually moved to the suburb north of the mountain
10. i had no friends at my old school, and made few new ones at my new school
11. the bullies weren't as mean at the new school
12. i went to chuch camp every summer, where i first committed my life to jesus
13. i met amy (a.) in my 7th grade math class, where i complemented her jesus shirt
14. i was in the middle school color guard, then joined up in high school for 2 years of service on the football field.
15. as a freshman, i had a crush on a sophmore named jeff
16. a. and i stopped being friends over him
17. he was nice to me but didn't like me back
18. he was gay, and i was his cover, cause he was friends with our school's token lesbian couple, and they got SHIT and it was much easier for him to hang out with a girl. as far as i know he still hasn't come out.
19. my sophmore year, meike, a german exchange student, came to live with us
20. she imediately became a blood relative and made life worth living in shillington, pennslvania
21. after attending the philadelphia folk festival a number of years, i decided to wear fest clothes all year round. (i didn't have many at the start, so i had to do every other day for awhile.)
22. i did alot of thrift store shopping, mending of gauze skirts, and eventually gave up pants
23. i was very unhappy, hated my life, wanted to escape, and wrote tortured notes to a. and occasionally meike.
24. sometime in here, i stopped eating meat.
25. my mother gave me the teenage liberation handbook: how to quit school and get a real life and education by grace llewelyn from the library. it changed my life.
26. we had an awesome summer, where among other things we went to creation, a christian music festival, where we met jon.
27. jon lived in lititz, but we often talked long distance and wrote love letters to each other for my entire junior year. for christmas i knit him fair isle gloves in 6 different colors.
28. he dumped me via letter before going off to a christian college, where he would subsequently meet the chick he married last year.
29. but anyway, i “rose out” of school my junior year, had myself declared a homeschooler, and unschooled myself my last 2 years of school. part of my curriculum was teaching myself to draw. another was learning to bake bread.
30. this made my father furious, and he wanted to sue mom, the school district, anybody, but the superintendent and my guidance councellor (who i kept, along with the indoor color guard program, the choir director and the math teacher) convinced him otherwise
31. the summers after my junior and senior years i worked as a craftee at my much beloved church camp. i met a hip and wild xian named beth.
32. before my senior year, i saved up my money and flew to oregon for grace llewellyn’s “not back to school camp.” i met lots of cool unschoolers, but rosie’s the only one who still writes me.
33. i decided i wanted to be a fashion designer, but no programs were calling to me. we visited schools. all ended in tears.
34. a. rented the mission for us to watch one night. it changed my life.
35. after much prayer and contemplation i decided to join the brethren volunteer service (bvs) whose program i’d heard about through the place nbtsc was.
36. october 1999 i went to orientation. my mother sat in the parking lot and cryed, realizing i’d never come home again. i didn’t realize it until that evening. i met ruth from germany, carrie, and bethany, among others. i learned that there are some absolutes in the world. peace. non-violence.
37. i chose my project, su casa catholic worker house in chicago, a faith community providing transitional housing for homeless latino families. it changed my life.
38. ruth also chose su casa. i met other friendly people there, renee, maria capitelli, claudia, matt. all of them said it was a fucked up community. none of them were happy there. renee left before her term of service was up.
39. i discovered emotional and physical safety are very important to me. i learned i was very white and very young. i learned i adore german language and culture, and don’t really like hispanic. i learned i am not a self starter, and i do best with very clear job duties, and i work better having work and life separate. i learned i love cheese. and toilet paper.
40. i read a lot of novels, ate a lot of chocolate, bitched a lot to ruth, wrote a million letters, rode trains everywhere everytime i could afford it, took free violin lessons a million miles away, and tried to get involved in my new church community, the hyde park vineyard. renee gave me house keys and i often escaped to her apartment.
41. ruth helped me start to teach myself german. i planned a european tour after my term of service was up. my dad bought my ticket for my birthday.
42. ruth and i greyhounded it to california to visit bethany, maria capatelli and rosie. then we flew to separate cities in germany.
43. i spent a week with meike in kibo, hosteled around köln, hamburg, lübeck and leipzig, spent a week with Fabian (from su casa) in berlin, spent a week with ruth and her family in neumarkt, spent thanksgiving with carrie on her project, a farm in northern ireland, stayed with my pastor’s friend’s mother’s housegroup leader in london, spent a long weekend in paris with an austrian acquaintance, and went back to ruth’s and meike’s for another week each.
44. i was very depressed over my trip, trying to run away from my experiences at su casa. i was angry at myself for not experiencing europe fully. i was too ashamed of my grammar to ever even try to speak german. i felt very foriegn and alone.
45. I’d had my hair in nappy braids trying to grow dreadlocks, and to say goodbye to ruth our last days together she buzzed them off.
46. i flew back to chicago 22 dec 2000, intent on leaving the next day out of chicago’s other airport to go to pa for xmas. air canada had lost my luggage. i took the wrong el stop and it took me 3 hours to get to su casa. there was 2 feet of snow. both me and my luggage did eventually get to reading before xmas.
47. i returned to chicago 8 jan. renee said i could stay with her rent free until i found a job and a place of my own. she was living on the northside in a 2 ½ bedroom with sandra and her 3 kids. i gave myself a month deadline. in less time than that, my relationships with everyone in the house had deteriorated through miscommunications from all parties.
48. i join the women’s small group through my church, where janine, mairee, tammy and anne pray for my job and apartment, and listen to my whining.
49. i find a job as a telemarketer the last week of january. unfortunately, they can’t train me till next week. next week. next week. in desperation, i start filling out applications for temp jobs. i apply at a flower shop.
50. The manager charles (ch) trains me to take orders for valentines day. i love it, and everyone there. i try to be the best employee possible. i tell ch i’m working so hard cause i want him to keep me after the holiday. he says, that can be arranged. i call the telemarketers and tell them to suck it.
51. i start apartment hunting. i want to be in hyde park cause i like the southside, and so i’m near my church. i find an awesome studio. i want to see other places. they give it to someone else.
52. i spend weeks trying to find a place, and calling the dream building asking for vacancies. eventually there is one, on the southside of the building, 8th floor, for $50 less a month. i move in april 1st.
53. my maternal grandma comes and visits and decides i need a real bed, not an air mattress. i get a bunch of furniture from ikea with her birthday check.
54. i start to get tired of working 9-5 Monday-Friday. My coworker cory gives me all sorts of advice for getting more sleep. Insomnia persists.
55. i decide i need to go to college. i apply to the art institute of Chicago which rejects me on my portfolio, and Columbia, who will take anyone.
56. On my 21st birthday, meike is visiting Chicago for the first time from germany, and i have my first day of college classes.
57. It’s a long day that ends in tears, but then the women’s group come over and we have a birthday party and all is well.
58. i go to a prayer meeting in the church studio. Gabrielle (g) is there. i take one look at her hair and her rings and decide i want to be friends.
59. ch buys the flowershop in the sears tower. he and i bond even more.
60. i finally manage to have g over for dinner in the spring. it is a disaster, but she is gracious.
61. i go to my first gay bar, the gentry on state, where cory’s friends are doing drag cabaret. i don’t know what to order, but cory helps me and i have fun.
62. For g’s birthday, i take her to see amelie at doc films, and we go to the florian for desert afterwards. i tell her about ruth’s banana phosphate. it’s no longer on the menu, and i don’t think she believes me.
63. a. comes to visit the last day of g’s term. The three of us eat popcorn, drink tea, and watch ghostworld on my little computer. We walk g home and i say goodbye, wondering if it’s forever.
64. That night after the lights are out, i say to a, “i think I'm falling in love with that girl.”
65. August 2002 i travel to germany again. i hang out with meike and ruth, and travel around to castle rheinstein, würtzburg, Rothenberg, and legoland. Also explore the cities they’re going to school in: mainz and nürnberg.
66. i’m so very happy deep in my soul. i spent 2 months before studying pimsleur tapes. i speak to everyone’s parents in German. i have a wonderful marvelous time. Christie and jon from church do a lovely job housesitting and welcoming me back.
67. Janine leaves Chicago to be a missionary. The women’s group disbands officially, although the members who are left still party together occasionally.
68. i change my major from fashion design to costume design. i am much happier as a theater student than an art & design student.
69. g does in fact return to Chicago and we remain friends. i deal with my lust, refusing to admit it to myself. I go to her house weekly to sketch.
70. my dad flys me to philly to see cirque du soleil for my birthday. i am unexcited and ultimately unimpressed, but am so glad to see my paternal grandma before her sudden death before Christmas.
71. i go back to pa but return to Chicago before the funeral. z. gets super mad at me. i deserve it.
72. Meike’s friend michi comes to visit me. i am nervous having a boy i don’t know stay with me. but he’s awesome, and we have a great time. he comes out to me. i tell him about g.
73. I have a small dinner party to introduce g, ch, christie and mairee to each other. It is successful.
74. cory and his partner tom make a short film called fairies. They ask me to help with costumes. i'm the costumer on set every day of filming, and end up sharing the costume design credit with the designer. i have an awesome time and decide i want to get paid for this in the future. at the party i get really drunk for the first time in my life.
75. my mom’s parents have their 50th wedding anniversary and i am required to go. It’s awful and painful.
76. i meet mom’s new boyfriend marty and am not really impressed, but he takes us for a day trip to new york city. it’s my first visit.
77. The girl i slept with (tgisw) comes to visit me. we fool around. it’s weird and wrong. i get really depressed and it persists throughout the summer.
78. g stays with me for about a week until the dorms open, and housesits for me while i’m traveling (see #81). there are wonderful moments when we’re creating together, but also awful times.
79. g and joe start dating. mom finally becomes aware of my depression and sends me through various hoops which involve horrible reations to antidepressants, panic attacks, severe insomnia, and lots of waiting, doctors and tears. i finally refuse to play anymore and have my trip to nyc ruined.
80. On the worst day, g can’t reach me. she and i walk to the lake and she finally gets a reaction from me. we plan an awesome day the next day. we go all the way north to andy’s fruit ranch, make cactus juice cocktails and cauliflower cheese pie for dinner, ch comes over and the three of us go to hear over the rhine at schubas.
81. i return east in September 2003 to visit cory and tom who have moved to nyc and a. in Philadelphia. i also go to my stepsister’s wedding. z. thinks I'm using dad, don’t care at all about vicky’s wedding. we fight and stop speaking.
82. i have a gourmet dinner party for anne’s birthday. it was a success. Women’s group is amazed by my cooking skills.
83. Mairee starts dating dave. i miss her as a single friend and have another bout of depression. i shave my legs.
84. At christmas I'm depressed again, i buy my first christmas tree and g and i decorate it. I feel better. new years, g twists my hair into dreadlock-seeds. i give up on jesus helping me out emotionally, and decide I'm not a beliver anymore.
85. I have a big Indian dinner party so my friends can meet each other’s boyfriends. It is successful.
86. At 3am Feb. 1, 2004, i awake to the smell of smoke. There is a fire in the apartment next to mine. i escape and wait in the lobby with the rest of the 8th floor. i am cold, wet, tired and terrified.
87. after i see the firefighters come, i go to g’s dorm and wake her up. i end living on her floor the rest of the week.
88. i don’t have insurance. my mother comes, i invite everyone i know to come clean. I move all my stuff to a temporary place down one floor until they replace the windows and carpet in my place. It takes them until april.
89. i am appaled to learn i have PTSD from the fire. i smell smoke and panic all the time. i start going to the therapist at Columbia. I find talking to her to be no help, but she does recommend herbal remedies that help me: melatonin for my insomnia, which is amazing, and bach’s flower essences for the mental things, which also seem successful.
90. i do my 4th valentine’s day and costume my first directing project from the 7th floor. i take photo and darkroom, and marty gives me his camera to use.
91. i repaint my mouldings fun colors, move my stuff back in, and throw a housecooling party that only 3 guests come to.
92. Marty takes my mother to Europe. They get engaged. She asks me to design her wedding dress.
93. I start my first blog. It’s called crawling out and it’s all about g. i am terrified someone i know will find it.
94. Tammy and anne graduate and leave for internships in st. louis and san Francisco respectively.
95. I visit beth (remember her? From christan camp?) in st. paul. We have a good time, and i learn she has live journal, too.
96. i vist pa as my mother is moving in with marty. I discover i am much fonder of her house than i had previously supposed.
97. Marty manages to insult me, amy, and ch in less than 24 hours. Many tears are shed and many drops of remedies are taken.
98. I go to the beach with my dad’s side of the family and discover i like them much more than i had previously supposed. a, my vegan anarchist second cousin once removed (kristy) and i get pretty smashed at a leather bar on rehoboth ave.
99. z. and i meet again and are very sisterly. we give each other a second chance and become rather close.
100. I decide that i can’t keep up crawling out anymore and delete it. I start a new blog that is about me rather than g. my goal of keeping it g free fails. Anything else you can read in my archives!

in the woods

at amy's community in pennsylvania. so odd to be able to type my blog from outside of my own home. but amy's a reader of it, so i should be free to type it on her computer, nu? will be going for the beach tomorrow, however, so this will probably be the end of me for 10 days. but amy is the only faithful reader i know of, so if anyone else responded, i might just post for you.
its terribly thunderstormy in pa right now. i think it will follow us to deleware tomorrow. gabrielle's at the beach this weekend, i hope it's not raining in mexico. she misses me anyway, she says, so i don't need to wish her spite with being wet and cold, too.
wish i had an umbrella, though!

farm girl story

Caitlin Leah Keeler
Fiction Writing 2
Chris Rice
30 January 2006
Farm Girl
Nancy’s bus ride home from school takes 45 minutes. In movies, the cool kids always sit in the back of the bus, but it doesn’t make any sense for her, since all her friends get off way before she does. When she sits in the front, she can use the time to read her library book. When she was in first grade and first starting to read she saw how important the skill was going to be for her, so she trained herself not to get sick from reading on the bumpy bus.
Nancy puts her book back in her knapsack once the bus turns off Charleston Rd. She gives herself the last 10 minutes to watch out the window and transition from the fantasy world of her book to real life: forest, the Riddles’ house, the Riddles’ barn, cornfield, soybeans, corn, shooting range, forest, corn, alfalfa, grandma’s house, pasture, home. The bus drops her off at the bottom of the driveway. She looks up at the house and sees her mother gesturing from the kitchen window, so she crosses the road and gets the mail from the mailbox before walking up the driveway to the back porch, and into the house.
She walks from the front door through what is still called “the new room,” even though her parents built it 10 years ago. It’s full of deer heads and file cabinets, as both her parents use the space as an office. Everyone else, including Nancy, walk right through to the kitchen, the room where the life of the house is centered. She drops the mail on the huge pocked maple table her great-grandfather made her parents when they were married. There is no way to move such a large piece of furniture into the room; Nancy figures her father put the table in the middle and built the house up around it. Her mother is by the stove, stirring a sauce for the casserole. She asks Nancy how school was today. Nancy, a bit distracted by sorting the mail, says, “Um, it was fine. Some of the girls in Hermitage are throwing a party tonight. Can I go?”
Her mom pours the sauce out of the pan and over the casserole. “I'm sorry honey, but your brother needs the truck. He’s going over to Pete’s tonight so they can get a good start on his corn tomorrow morning. You know how hard those boys have to work while it’s still dry. And besides, I need you to help me clean the house—my Sunday school class is coming over tomorrow night.”
“Fine, then,” Nancy says huffily, standing and picking up the envelope and 2 catalogs addressed to her. “I'm going to take a nap. I have a headache anyway,” and she stomps down the basement stairs.
Sometimes Nancy feels like her basement bedroom is ostracism from the rest of the family, but really it’s a self-imposed exile. Ever since her oldest brother Stan got married, there’s been an empty bedroom upstairs. Even before that, she could have shared with baby Tina. But she feels her own space apart from the family is important for her sanity, especially since she started high school.
It’s always cold in the basement, so Nancy immediately crawls under her down comforter in its brightly colored cover. Her mom threw a fit when she requested it. Mom thinks down is patently old-fashioned, and she only believes in bed coverings that can be stuffed into the washing machine and dryer. But Dad is always cold when he sleeps too, so he got a good deal through his buddy Doug, who’s a chicken farmer. He asked the supplier whom he sells his chickens to, and they hooked him right up. Her dad also got Nancy her job last summer through him, catching his chickens.
It’s kind of an anachronistic job, as most chicken farms these days are factories. But Nancy thinks Doug is a forward thinking guy- instead of making his operation bigger, he kept the coops and pens his father had. All his neighbors laughed at him, but now that “free range” is the newest rage, he’s making much more money than they are with many fewer hens. And if you’re a teenager who knows Doug, you can get paid much better than McDonald’s, too. Lots of girls at school wouldn’t dream of doing it- it’s filthy dirty work, and the chickens are ugly and noisy and pecky. But it suited Nancy- she thought it was fun to sneak in at dusk, just when the chickens were starting to roost, and grab their little legs, or collect them from a catcher and hand them off to someone else who stuffs them in the crates to be driven to the slaughterhouse. There were lots of cute boys, and any teenager likes to go out with her friends after dark- even if it is a filthy chicken coop instead of a movie. And coming home from work that dirty, with the big wad of cash stuffed in her jeans pocket made Nancy feel like she’d really accomplished something.
Nancy had saved up her money all that summer and bought a laptop at the beginning of school. Now she crawls under her covers, puts on her earphones, and plays MP3s while she opens her mail. Her parents keep ignoring or throwing away the college catalogs. They just can’t understand why she wants to get a business degree; they think it means she doesn’t want to work on the farm. She thinks it would be much easier if she didn’t love the farm so much. She wanted to be one of those rebellious teenagers who hated their parents and moved off to the city and became rock stars or lawyers in skyscrapers or something. But she can’t fathom leaving the open fields of Pennsylvania. She belongs here.
But she isn’t willing to do it her dad’s way. He runs his farm the same way his father had, and his grandfather had, and he is completely unwilling to change in any way, even though they keep loosing more and more money and relying more and more on the government. There was a huge family argument when Stan took out a loan to buy fancy new drying equipment—but in the end, they make more money drying other people’s corn now than they do selling their own.
And she certainly isn’t willing to stay here her mom’s way. The thought of her life revolving around food and cleaning is even more abhorrent to her. It seems sometimes the only time her mother leaves the house is to take lunch out to the men in the fields. And with two older brothers helping Dad, Nancy was the girl mom had been waiting for to help her get the living room tidy and help with the dishes. Nancy doesn’t mind helping out so much, but she thinks she’s too much of a tomboy to let it be her destiny. And she HATES doing the dishes.
She opens the envelope last. It’s a letter from Penn State, saying they’ve received her application. She really does need to tell her parents about this. Soon. Maybe at dinner tonight. She hears her mom calling over her music. “NANCY! Dinnertime! Bring up a can a root beer for your father!”
Nancy sighs, rolls out of bed, and leaves her room. Along with her room in the basement, there is a refrigerator, a stove, and a bunch of counters and cabinets from the old kitchen. Rather than throw away all the old appliances when they redid the kitchen, they set them up in the basement next to the washer and dryer. They’re hardly ever used, but Mom does her canning down here in the summer, and they use the fridge for things like cases of pop, which would take up too much room in the good refrigerator upstairs.
Dinner’s a fiasco- baby Tina spills her milk, Her brother John and his friend Pete end up coming in halfway through and expect to be fed, too. Nancy considers asking them to give her a ride to the party, but decides it’s not worth it. It will be too hard to find a way home, and Mom always has a million things for her to do Saturday morning. She decides lunch tomorrow will be a better time to tell her parents about the letter. If she works hard in the morning, Mom will owe her. And besides, Tina has a play date, and that will be one less distraction.
Nancy’s Saturday morning chores actually turn out to be not so bad. Her mom doesn’t keep her cooped up indoors, but sends her out to mow the grass. Nancy fires up the mower, and cuts the grass all around the house first. As soon as she’s done with everything that can be seen from the kitchen windows, she pulls her book out of her pocket. Her mom thinks she does a much worse job when she reads, but mowing is so mind-numbingly boring she can’t imagine getting it all finished without some distraction. She wishes she could have afforded an iPod with her computer- she’d mow daily then!
It’s before noon when Nancy comes in all grassy, assuring her mother that she did the edges and she’s taking a shower right now. Standing in the shower, she remembers her friend Justine staying over for a sleepover and how confused she was by the taps. Even though the left says H and the right says C, the hot water comes out the left- no one is quite sure how Dad twisted the plumbing, but it’s definitely a homemade setup. When they redid the kitchen, Mom made Dad hire someone for the plumbing. When she’s done, Mom is in the kitchen filling up the thermos. “Your brother just called, he and Pete are staying out there, and so I need you to run lunch down to them.”
“But Mom—“
“They took the truck last night, so you’ll have to take my car. Mind you don’t spill the ice tea, the lid doesn’t stay on tightly.”
“Did you pack enough for me? Or are you going to wait for me to come back?”
“You hurry right back and don’t eat any of the boys’ food. We’ll eat when your father comes in.”
Nancy sighs, picks up the cooler and the thermos, and stomps off to the car. When she gets back she sees the four-wheeler parked in the driveway, so she knows Dad is already home. Sure enough, they’re just sitting down to eat when she comes in. They’re talking to each other, but she’s so nervous she can’t focus on their conversation. She sees their words hanging above their heads in little bubbles like a cartoon. Then there is a panel that’s empty. She says quietly, “I got a letter from Penn State today. I want to go to their Agribusiness School.”

The leaves of the trees rustle outside the window. She thinks about how this is such a moment of truth, the important conversation becoming an actuality. She’s starting to think on her own, to make big decisions about her life, and Dad stands up and walks away from the table. He needs to get back to the fields, to get as much done as possible while it’s still dry- the forecast calls for rain the day after tomorrow. Mom is still sitting across from her, staring. She pays attention a little bit longer, but then is distracted by the sound of a truck going by. So Mom too stands up from the table and runs to the window to see who it is.
“That looks like Moser’s truck,” she says, pushing back the lace curtains and peering out. “I wonder what he’s doing up this way. He must want to talk to your father about something. Or he could be up to see the McCormick’s. He should be out on his combine- it’s supposed to rain the day after tomorrow.”
Nancy rolls her eyes. “Yeah, I wonder if he has something to talk to dad about,” she sneers sarcastically. “Good luck with that.”
“Honey, we can talk about this college thing in the winter when it’s snowing and there’s nothing else to do. Right now we’re too busy with the farm- your big plans can wait- you don’t even graduate until the spring, after all. Now, come help me with these dishes.”

fic writing update

ok, so if you want to read my fiction, there should now be a link in the sidebar, under "numbered lists." let me know if you can't get to it that way. something new should be posted every sunday for your reading pleasure.

what kate's afraid of

Caitlin Leah Keeler
Fiction Writing 2
Chris Rice
6 February 2006
What Kate’s Afraid Of

So the first thing you need to know about Kate is that she’s not scared of anything. I knew from the first moment I saw her I wanted to be her friend—she was just so confident as she threw her hair back and leaned over her guitar. Everything in my life seems built around fears. I'm afraid of muggers so I walk in groups. I'm afraid of people hassling me, so I don’t wear short skirts. I'm afraid of being alone, so I surround myself with friends, everywhere I go. I'm still a little afraid of the city, I think. Kate isn’t at all. I imagine if you’d take her out to the country and put her out in the sunshine she’d just whither away anemically, like the end of E.T. She lives by herself, in this amazing artist’s studio—or at least she used to… but that’s the story that I'm trying to tell.
So anyway, I was telling you about Kate. How she doesn’t seem to need a boyfriend to take care of the mice or cockroaches in her kitchen. I think she actively likes spiders; she won’t knock down their webs and says they eat nasty bugs. She’s not scared of small spaces, she couldn’t really be and live in her building- the elevator is so small and cramped and decrepit. Even people who aren’t scared of elevators will take the eight flights of stairs if there are too many light bulbs burnt out in Kate’s elevator. But she’s not scared of open spaces either, I don’t think. There aren’t any really open spaces in Chicago, but she loves modern sculpture, and she gives visitors downtown tours of the Calder and Picasso in their big open plazas. She must not be afraid of crowds, cause I know she’s been to big protests on those same plazas, and she rides her bike in critical mass rallies.
She’s not scared of anything really weird either, like water or traffic or the color red. She’s not even scared of normal things. She was mugged a year or two ago, some guy put her in a headlock, stuck a gun to her back, and told her to give him all her money. She didn’t want her ID and stuff stolen, so she calmly opened her bag, took out her wallet, and gave him her cash out of it. I think I would have nightmares for the rest of my life, but she just shrugs, and says, “hey, it’s part of living in the city. You’re gonna get mugged sometime. I feel like I’ve gotten it out of the way now and can get on with my life.” She doesn’t think her fearlessness is that extraordinary. If you ask her, she’ll say, “Sure, I'm afraid of stuff. I'm afraid my grandma’s gonna die before I get a chance to see her again. I'm afraid Bush is gonna win re-election. I'm afraid we’re gonna run out of drinkable water before the end of my lifetime.”
She does have one sort of common, fear, I guess. She calls it a fear, but I always thought it was more of a quirk. She lives in her sort of run down high-rise because all the utilities are electric. She says she’ll never cook on a gas stove because she’s scared of fire. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, I mean, she burns candles and lights incense sticks. But she says she’ll never smoke because of it, and she doesn’t even like campfires very much. It’s a really big thing for her, but I think it’s because all of her energy focuses on that one fear, unlike people like me, who have to spread their attention out over a whole litany of fears and worries.
So now that you know this about Kate, you’ll understand the impact of the story I'm trying to get around to telling you here. So it’s 1:30am on February 1, and Kate suddenly wakes up, and she’s a little paranoid, she thinks she smells smoke. Now she’d had insomnia a lot lately, but the waking up in a panic was new. There was a quiet buzzing noise in the hallway, she thought she better get up and investigate. She sighed, got out of bed, and put on her house shoes. As she stood up, the smell of smoke seemed to be stronger. “Maybe I'm not making this up,” she thought. She went to the bathroom and got her bathrobe off the hook on the door. She remembered all her fire safety classes in elementary school—don’t collect possessions from a burning building. How ridiculous—it wasn’t really a burning building, probably someone just burnt their midnight snack. Still, she was prepared. Keys, wallet, cell phone were all in her coat pocket, which she grabbed and flung over her fuzzy arm. She cinched the bathrobe belt tighter and touched the front doorknob. It was cool. She took a deep breath and opened the door.
There was a wall of smoke. She couldn’t see the door across the hallway. She couldn’t see anything but the thick grey smoke. It seemed so solid, not like air at all. She crouched over and started to run left down the hallway to the fire escape. There was just one apartment between hers and the door to fresh air. But then, as she passed that apartment, she saw something through the smoke—a faint glow—no, the whole door of the apartment next to hers was glowing red. “Ok, wrong choice,” she thought, turned around and started back toward the stairs by the elevator on the other side of her apartment. She drug her coat behind her as she ran as fast as she could, all hunched down. “ I wonder if I should be crawling?” she thought. “It seems like running is better, faster. The floor doesn’t look all that smoke-free.” At the top of the stairwell there was a mess of foam, like a small fire extinguisher had exploded. Water was shooting out of the smoky fog, getting her robe and house shoes wet. The buzzing noise that was so hard to hear in her apartment was quite loud here; it must have been a defective smoke alarm. Why didn’t the one in her apartment go off?
The door to the steps was propped open, but they were less smoky. She hadn’t realized how hot it had been until she felt the cool air of the stairwell. She ran down the steps—down, down, down she spiraled, running clockwise. On seven the smoke cleared significantly. On five there was no sign of it. On four a woman stuck her head into the stairwell as Kate ran by. “What’s happening?” she asked.
“There’s a fire on eight,” Kate said, “call 911.”
“Oh, I think someone already did,” the woman said and went back to bed. But Kate kept running down.
Kate didn’t know her neighbors very well; as I told you before, she lived alone and didn’t need anyone’s help. But when she got to the lobby there were all the people she had nodded to on the elevator, her fellow eighth floor dwellers. She recognized the student across the hallway, the old couple with the bikes from the east end, and the cute guy with the dreadlocks from around the corner. She didn’t know who lived on the other side of her kitchen wall. She wasn’t sure which of these pajama-ed strangers had run down stairs away from flames instead of just smoke.
There were sirens going off outside, and firemen came through the front door. They had all their gear on—the big coats with reflective tape, neon hard hats, big black boots and canisters of oxygen on their backs. They walked right past all the neighbors and went to the—this is the part of the story that is hardest for me to believe—they went to the elevator and pushed the up button. This was when Kate thought, “Well, the fire can’t be that bad, if the FIREMEN are taking the elevator. What happened to all the ‘in case of fire, do not use elevator, use stairs’ signs?”
Some of the neighbors were talking to each other, but Kate didn’t know any of them. Her feet were cold and wet. All the adrenaline she had while running had left, and now she was shivering and her throat hurt. She thought about how she had to be at work in 6 hours. She turned to the student from across the hallway, and told her, “I'm going to a friend’s house to get some sleep. Tell them I’ll be back in the morning.” She put her coat on and left.
So now it’s about three am on a Tuesday morning, and Kate’s walking the streets of the city in her wet house shoes, robe, and overcoat. I can’t imagine what I’d do—but it would probably include flipping out. But not Kate. She calmly made her way through the deserted streets to my dorm. The guard at the front desk wasn’t going to let her up, because it was so late. That was when Kate started to cry and told them about the fire, so they called me and woke me up, and I told them to let her in.
I’d put on water for tea as soon as the guard called. When Kate arrived at my door she looked smaller than I’ve ever seen her before. I gave her a big hug and she started to cry again. I was a little freaked out—one thing I never expected to see was Kate crying. I didn’t know what to do first, but she kept sobbing that her feet were wet, so first I got her a pair of sweatpants and thick socks, and she put them on while I made tea. Then we sat on the couch, and she told me the story of what happened, just like I told you here. It was really scary, but I just kept petting her on the back and telling her how brave she’d been.
It was kind of strange. I mean, I didn’t like seeing Kate so weak and vulnerable. It seemed like one of the absolutes of life was broken. But at the same time, it was nice that I could do something for her. I never expected to have that opportunity, since she was more grown-up and independent than I ever hoped to be. I was happy, though, that when awful stuff happened, it was me she thought of. I like being the person people can count on to make them tea and give them a place to sleep. Kate had done stuff like that for me often enough. So even though I didn’t like learning she really was human, and had fears just like everybody else, I was glad I had a place she could stay until they assessed the damage. I knew that even though she was as weak as me tonight, tomorrow morning she’d be back to her fearless independent self, and who knows—maybe after living with us a few days, some of that would rub off on me.