You have to understand how small Live Oak was. I mean, my graduating
class had something like 100 students in it, and I was number 50. You
would go to the Wal-Mart and see everybody there all at once, everybody
you knew and had problems with. I had to get out of there. Just the
idea of everybody always knowing what I was up to, where I had been or
if I hadn't been anywhere on a daily basis was impossible to deal with.
I mean, I had my friends, but most of them couldn't even comprehend the
idea of leaving that town. My girlfriend Rachel was one of those people
but I had to get out, and so I just left her, left Live Oak, and left
Florida as soon as high school ended. I went to North Carolina for a
while. I liked the mountains, the real winter. You appreciate heat a
lot more when you have to spend legitimate time without it. I never
visited Live Oak. My dad and I were only civil with each other. I would
call, and he would just sit on the other line, "Huh." Never a question
about what I was up to, how I was feeling. He would end every
conversation with "You know how it is here." I barely kept in touch
with anybody from high school. A couple friends, but most resented me.
Like I abandoned them. Fuck that. They could have left if they wanted
to. I mean really
wanted to, and not just talked about it. Eventually I went to school at
NC State, for poly sci. Got a job right out working for the mayor of
Chapel Hill. Paid well. I had to go back to Live Oak when my dad died
though. I loved him in the obligatory way any son loves his father. The
funeral was sparse. I went to Arby's. Rachel came in, and she looked so
skinny. She was happy to see me. She hugged me for a little too long,
too tight, and when we pulled apart there were tears in her eyes. She
wiped them and told me she was working at the Sugar Shack, the strip
club in town. "Well, we only
go to underwear," she said. Rachel was doing well, she was happy. She
had a husband. She loved Live Oak. Two weeks ago Diddy came into the
Sugar Shack and tipped each of them $1000. Maybe she could take a trip
up to Chapel Hill, she said. I never thought twice about leaving. I was
sure Live Oak was a poison. Live Oak, Chapel Hill. I can't understand
all the wiping paths happiness can take.
Glenn Shaheen is the author of PREDATORY (University of Pittsburgh Press), which won the
2010 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize in Poetry. He's an editor at NANO Fiction and serves on the board of
the Radius of Arab-American Writers, Inc.
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
of Vittorio Pandolfi.
Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Vittorio Pandolfi.