November 20, 2014

Elizabeth's Story

by Jessica Knoll

Quick note! Just like last year, I will not be posting next Thursday, as it is national turkey day and I take my eating for sport seriously. Zahra will be in the house next Tuesday though, making me look bad, and I will be back on December 4th!



People love to say, "I don't know what came over me!" when they behave abhorrently and, so they claim, uncharacteristically. Well, everything about my behavior that Thanksgiving weekend in New York was abhorrent and uncharacteristic, only I know exactly what it was that came over me. A big, thrashing wave of happiness. No, scratch that, more like a tsunami. Because it struck, pulverized everything I thought I knew about life, and then retreated slyly, as though it hadn't just left a wreckage of bodies and buildings and blood behind.

Campbell and I had ourselves a jolly fucking good time that weekend. It would have made you sick to see us carrying on, like two grope-y, bubblegum snapping teenagers. We would wake up every morning, and, after debasing each other in a series of exhaustively pornographic positions, we'd hop in the suite's expansive steam and marble shower, screw again, then get dressed and go out and enjoy the day.

I couldn't remember the last time I'd been out on the streets, an active, participating member of society, before noon, but Campbell was an early riser. By 9:30, we'd be sipping coffee and reading the paper at the Amish Market on South End Avenue, waiting for our eggs and bacon. Then we'd do something "cultural." Campbell had only been to New York once, when he was really little, and he wanted to hit up all the tourist hot spots: the Statue of Liberty, the Met, the Empire State Building, ice skating in Rockefeller Center, a stroll through Bryant Park. Normally, soul-crushing excursions like these would make me want to stick a shrimp fork in my eye, but like the late, great philosophers who make up the band Foreigner once said, "it felt like the very first time" with Campbell.

After our culturally sanctioned activities, it was my turn to show Campbell the ropes. My biggest pet peeve is tourists who complain that New York is ugly, or dirty, or too crowded. Of course you think it's ugly and dirty and too crowded, I think, you come here and visit Times Square, the rancid, constipated bowel of the universe. Campbell wanted to explore it too, but that was where I put my foot down.

I wanted to show Campbell the New York that was my home. I took him to the Comedy Cellar, this little dungeon of a bar where every monster comedian from Phil Hartman to Chris Rock has cut his teeth. We drank warm mulled wine at Rolf's, this kitschy German restaurant that every year transforms itself into a Christmas extravaganza—every inch of the ceiling and wall space covered in ornaments and holly and twinkling lights. We toured the haunted brownstone on 4th between Bowery and Lafayette, where I would sometimes go to think after Thayer died, a small, delusional part of me hoping that if this place was really lousy with ghosts, that maybe Thayer could be one of them. We browsed the antiques garage in Chelsea, stayed up until 4 AM dancing with drag queens at Arthur's, and inhaled the roast chicken for two at Locanda Verde.

The temperature dropped drastically on Sunday, just a few hours before we were set to leave, and on the way to our last stop on the Elizabeth and Campbell Take New York Tour, Campbell tucked me into his side, trying to brace me from the cold. My head hit perfectly at his armpit—I'm so tall that I rarely get to experience what it's like to feel small and dainty around a guy, not that I feel like I'm missing out on anything. Small girls like Biz always end up getting walked all over. I liked to believe that my height protected me from that fate. I was vaguely aware that I felt like Campbell had advantage over me—physical and otherwise—and trying even more so not to lend any credence to the fact that I kind of liked it. I loved him so much I would let him destroy me.

"Are we almost at your number one favorite spot in the city yet?" Campbell asked, his teeth grit against the wind that whipped off the East River.

I had waited all weekend to show Campbell my "number one favorite spot in the city." Mostly because it was back uptown, and I didn't want to risk running into my parents. But also because I had to decide—had he earned seeing it? By Sunday, I'd decided, he had.

We crossed York Ave, and the air swelled with salt and moisture. I'm always amazed that the water in New York actually smells like the ocean, because it conjures up an image of the beach on a hot summer day, which seems incongruous with everything about New York.

I heard them before I saw them—barking and yipping, their paws click, click, clicking on the pavement. And then we were at the East River Esplanade, the site of my favorite dog park.

Campbell and I took a seat on a bench facing the action. "A dog park?" he squinted as the sun wormed around a cloud. "Really?"

The yipping sound I had heard belonged to a little yellow lab puppy who had made friends with a hulking St. Bernese Mountain dog. "Animals make me inexplicably happy," I said. "I just imagine that how I feel about them is how most people feel about other things in their lives. Their families and their friends and husbands and jobs and whatever. I don't have anyone that makes me feel...warm inside." I thought for a moment. "With the exception of Biz. I do love Biz."

"Just the exception of Biz?" Campbell asked, and he slipped his freezing cold hand in mine.

We sat there for a bit, not talking, just watching the dogs wrestle and wriggle. "I used to think I wanted to be a vet," I admitted. I had only ever told my mother that. The way she had laughed at me and said, "Loving animals isn't enough. You have to be smart to be a vet, Elizabeth," still stung.

"What changed your mind?" Campbell asked.

"You have to be smart to be a vet," I repeated.

"Soooo," Campbell said, dragging out the word, "I'm not seeing what the problem is."

I caught my lower lip in my teeth, trying not to smile too big. Campbell clucked me under the chin and laughed. "I saw that."

"Shut up!" I laughed, burrowing my head in his shoulder. Campbell squeezed his arms around me tighter and planted a big kiss on the top of my head.

"What kind of dog should we get, one day?" he asked into my hair.

Everything down to my marrow ached with the possibility that there could be a white picket fence for us, one day. "I actually really like bulldogs," I said, allowing myself to indulge in this game. Why not? Why not just pretend I could be this happy, forever?

"Bulldogs?" Campbell scoffed. "They're so ugly!"

"Yeah, but they're so ugly they're cute!" I said. "Plus, they're great apartment dogs. They're lazy and cuddly and don't need a lot of exercise."

"So we're going to live in the city then, are we?"

I put my hand on his chest and ducked my head out from underneath his arm so I could look up at him. "Is that a problem?"

"Not one bit," Campbell said. "I've always seen myself here, one day." He nipped the edge of my nose and smiled. I always remember this moment, and how, despite the ugly twist our road took, I know one thing as sure as I know that Park follows Lex, that my father loved my brother more than he loved me, and that was that Campbell had been happy too.
_ _

The drive upstate is gorgeous this time of year. It's like the view outside of my parents' apartment, only instead of a penthouse rising above Central Park, it's I-81 above the Adirondacks, their frothy, copper colored reign lasting mile after mile, hour after hour. The car was golden with sunlight and our silly, stupid sappiness. I was steering with my left hand and holding Campbell's with my right. The whole scene couldn't have been more disgusting and perfect.

Halfway through the trip, Campbell and I pulled into a rest stop, to pee and get some food. When I came out of the bathroom, I looked for Campbell, wanting to know which greasy chain restaurant we should get in line at, but I couldn't find him anywhere. I glanced at the entrance to the men's room. There was no wait, unlike the ladies, so he couldn't still be in there. I did a lap around the atrium, checked every nook and cranny, but couldn't find him. Thinking maybe he'd gone out to the car, I made my way to the parking lot.

Outside, at the far end of the lot, I saw Campbell, talking on his cell phone. It was 1997, not everyone had a cell phone back then, and those who did rarely used them. I knew Campbell had one, but he mostly kept it turned off and only used it when he was working. I started to walk toward him but before I could close the distance between us, Campbell ended the call and stuck his phone in his back pocket, making his way over to me.

He had a cross expression on his face, but that was normal, for Campbell. Plus the sun was blinding and he hadn't bothered to dig his precious Ray Ban aviators out of his overnight bag.

"Hey," I said, as he came closer, "I didn't know where you went. Did you want to get food? I thought"—

Campbell grabbed my upper arm, clamped down hard, and pulled me with him to the car. "I'm not hungry," he said, gruffly.

"Um," I said, trying to wrench my arm out of his grasp, "maybe I am. We still have two hours to go and"—

We had reached the car, and Campbell slammed me up against the side. "Just stop talking," he said, then started kissing me.

He was still kissing me as he wrestled the keys out of my hands, unlocked the passenger side door, and pushed me into the backseat. I wanted nothing more than to fuck his brains out right then and there, but hard enough as it is to believe, I still had a modicum of decency in me. "Campbell," I said, as he climbed on top of me, "people can see."

He pulled off my pants and spread my legs wide. "Let them see how it's done," he said.

I'm sure quite a few adolescents got an up close and personal anatomy lesson that day, but I was too busy enjoying every last second of Campbell owning me to care.

_ _

We drove the rest of the way home in silence. Which wasn't necessarily strange—we hadn't been speaking a whole lot before we christened the back seat of my car, but there had been a different air then. It had been warm, and sweet. As I pulled into Campbell's driveway, I couldn't help but worry that whatever magic we'd had in New York had been broken, never to be replicated again.

"Thanks for a great weekend," I said, sullenly, as Campbell unbuckled his seat belt.

Campbell's sigh was irritated, and so was his tone when he spoke. Which made what he actually said all the more surprising. "I loved you in New York, Elizabeth. I hope you can remember that."

I stared at him, incredulously. "What the fuck does that mean?"

Campbell opened his mouth to answer me, then shut it. He was a brick wall again. "Nothing," he mumbled. He opened his door and climbed out. "Nothing," he said once more, before slamming the door behind him.

I was so agitated I couldn't go home right away. I found a gas station, bought a pack of cigarettes, and drove around a bit, smoking and listening to sad, angst-y music. What had I done to turn him against me? What could I do to win him back?

Eventually, I decided to make my way back to Grey House. I turned the corner onto our street, and was immediately blinded by a farm of blinking red police lights. "What the..." I murmured to myself, easing to a stop on the corner. The cop cars were all collected around Grey House. Had something happened? Biz, I thought. Something had happened to Biz.

I threw open my door and made a beeline for the house, but before I could even make it to the front porch I felt a hand on my arm. I didn't have to look because by the way the person squeezed, the pressure like he knew it hurt, and he was sorry, I knew it was Campbell.

"Elizabeth Van der Deer?" he asked, quietly, like there was any chance in this world he wasn't fucking sure who I was.

"Yes," I hissed at him, knowing exactly what was coming next. Exactly what the fuck was coming next. That sociopathic asshole.

I felt the chill of the handcuff on my left wrist, and then the right. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, I thought, as Campbell told me that I was under the arrest for the murder of Bridget Mason.