May 14, 2015

Elizabeth's Story: The Final Chapter

by Jessica Knoll

Campbell and I were married in the prison chapel with Jimmy, the twenty-one year old night shift guard, as our witness, and Thunder, Campbell's grizzled cell mate, as our ring bearer. For one brief moment I considered reaching out to Biz, to see if she would want to be the one to give me away. But I lost my nerve. Best to let sleeping dogs lie, don't you think?

I couldn't afford to go shopping, and the only white dresses I owned were relics from the events around my first wedding, so I wore my favorite little black cocktail dress. A high necked Proenza Schouler that tied in the back with a thick sash. Al, the art teacher's assistant, would be photographing our nuptials, and I thought it would make for a dramatic picture from behind.

Campbell was permitted to dress in street clothes too, and so he wore the suit he'd worn to court the day he was arrested. It was almost seven years old at that point, and the fit looked bulky and dated. I would have bought him a new outfit if the number in my checking account hadn't been on such a terrifying decline into double digits.

We wrote our own vows. I'm usually opposed to that degree of sentimental indulgence, but Campbell and I had earned the right to get a little sappy. I don't even think you realize how much.

Because ladies, come on, did you really think I ever bought Biz's little song and dance? The one she gave me all those years ago in college, plumping out her lower lip and begging me to go talk some sense into Bridget? You don't think I knew exactly who Bridget was? She was a carbon copy of her sister, Abby, who my brother had loved and so had I. I knew exactly what was in that drink that Bridget offered me. I slipped into the blurry, rophenol ether willingly.

"Ready, Elizabeth?"

I had to blink a few times to focus on Father Rogers, the prison's chaplain, standing before me asking if I was ready to get this show on the road.

I gave him a demure smile. "I've been waiting for this moment for seventeen years."

Father Rogers seemed pleased by this answer, and offered me his arm to take.

Seventeen years. That's how long I had been waiting. I was thirty-five on the day we got married, eighteen the day Campbell and I first met. I had been a bright eyed freshman, trying to figure out who my new Mr. Tambourine Man would be in this foreign upstate town. I know I was scornful of the blow heads at Smithson, but it wasn't because I didn't have a penchant for the powder myself. It was because they flaunted their drug use, and that was what rubbed me the wrong way. It was precisely why I didn't want to buy my stash from some student drug dealer. I didn't want everyone knowing my business. So I set out to find the direct source. 

Father Rogers elbowed the chapel door open and we waited a moment for Thunder, our ring bearer, to press play on the antique boom box stashed in the corner. Johnny Cash's I Walk the Line began to play. The acoustics were terrible.

I went to the locals' bar. Ronnie's. I knew I would find my hook up there. And from the moment I stepped inside, inhaled the damp skunk stench of sweat and beer, it was obvious who he was. Campbell stood at the head of the pool table, a cigarette loose between his lips, and he narrowed his eyes at me as he bent over the edge of the green, his movements always so smooth and feline. He sunk his shot, and the crowd cheered for him, so clearly the kingpin of this little townie universe. 

He leaned the pool stick up against the wall and came toward me. 

"Little girl, this is not The Holiday," he told me, the cigarette bobbing up and down in his mouth as he spoke. He pinched the butt between his fingers and stabbed it in the direction of the door, as if to indicate The Holiday, which everyone knew was the student bar, was that way. 

"Good," I told him. "I wasn't looking for The fucking Holiday."

Campbell exhaled a stream of smoke into my face, trying to decide what to do with me.

Campbell mouthed, Wow, as Father Rogers and I neared the alter. The last time he had seen me I'd been a wreck. But then I had realized that it was time to stop scheming, time to stop trying to get pregnant, that I was never going to be able to blackmail my father to get what I wanted. Once I stopped worrying about how I could get what I didn't have, and started thinking about how I could embrace what I did have, it was like I aged backwards by ten years.

Campbell was the love of my life, and he wasn't going to be incarcerated forever, and he certainly wasn't dead. New York State permitted conjugal visits once a month—that meant for once a month, for the next twelve years, I'd get to be with Campbell. 36 opportunities for him to slip inside of me, gasp Elizabeth like it was the first time. It wasn't enough, but it was better than continuing to screw half of New York, of fooling myself into thinking that maybe this would be the time the stars would align, and I would finally find myself pregnant. It was time to let go. Accept my circumstances and make the best of them. Marrying Campbell was the only way I could think to do that.

That was the first night I checked into Geneva on the Lake, the hotel that would later become my home away from home with Campbell. Any chance we got to steal away we did. We would fuck, drink, bitch about our lives, the boxes we had been put into by our various circumstances, and imagine our future. Already, at eighteen, I knew my parents expected me to take a certain route in life. To marry well, embrace the society life, and pop out an heir to replace my brother, Thayer. There was no way Campbell was ever going to be a part of that. 

So we started to wonder. What if we had our own money? Enough to run away with? To never have to be reliant on my parents, to live our lives as we saw fit? And so we came up with a plan....

Campbell reached into his jacket pocket and extracted a small square of paper. He smoothed out the wrinkles obscuring his words and began to speak. "Elizabeth," he began to read, "from the moment I met you I knew I had found my match."

What if, we postulated, Campbell threatened to bust all the kids who bought drugs from his go-between—the role of which was passed down to Pat Denson after our freshmen year—unless their parents agreed to pay a certain sum of money? But then we decided no. There was no way we could control for factors like parents who would refuse to comply, wanting their kids to get a taste of tough love, and at best we could collect a few thousand dollars from everyone. Not enough money to get by. 

Next we came up with the idea that I would steal back the drugs Campbell sold to Pat, and then Campbell would sell them to another buyer. This way, he'd make a twofold return on the product. That was really the reason I started sleeping with Pat—a move that unintentionally put into motion Campbell's ultimate fate. 

"For a while, I thought that the best way I could love you was to let you go. But now I know better. I can't let you go, not because I don't want to, but because I'm incapable of doing so. You are a part of me: a phantom limb that throbs when you are not around, a neuron in my brain, a chamber in my heart, pumping blood all through out my veins."

Remember how Campbell had tracked Biz down after she pocketed the package of drugs Pat tossed out his car window? Biz had agreed to meet him, to return what was rightfully Campbell's, and that was when she proposed her plan to him: help her get revenge on the girl she thought was her best friend—me—or else she would report him to the chief of police. Campbell was smart, and played along, pretending like he had no idea who I was. Later, he called me and told me what Biz was planning to do. 

"Campbell," I said, looking into his heavy gray eyes. I didn't write down my vows. I didn't need to. I had practiced saying these things to him so many times over the years that my words were burned into my brain. "Because of you, life has been harder, filled with more pain and desperation than it would have been if we had never met. And if we had never met, I never would have known that loving someone so much it hurts is a privilege that not everyone gets to experience. I wouldn't trade the pain of missing you for anything in the world, because without it, I wouldn't know what it means to really live."

"What if I just go along with it?" I said to Campbell, after he had detailed Biz's plan. 

"Why the hell would you do something like that?" Campbell asked.

"Listen to me!" I said, getting excited. "She's essentially kidnapping me, right? Once she does that, you can call my father. Demand a ransom! He will pay any amount you want."

Campbell squeezed my hand as Father Rogers began to bless the rings—a brass coated set I'd found at Duane Reade for $5.99.

The plan would have worked out perfectly if only I had bothered to take into account just how disoriented I would be when I came out of my drug induced coma. I was so out of it, so freaked out even though I had known I would wake up in that basement, that I'd worked myself free and tried to escape. And then Bridget walked in. And I snapped. All before Campbell had even placed the call to my father.

Father Rogers declared us husband and wife, and I didn't even wait for him to say that Campbell could now kiss his bride. Because I could now kiss my husband. And my husband tasted like baking powder toothpaste and smelled like nerves and cheap general store body spray, and the fact that I was finally able to detect these details, after so many years, felt like a small miracle.

There had to be a way to make the best of the situation, Campbell and I decided, standing over Bridget's broken, rapidly cooling body. And finally, we figured out a Plan B: my father would pay any amount of money to protect his daughter. I had committed an atrocious crime, and that was good. The more heinous the act, the more my father would be willing to pay to make it all go away. 

The bride and groom "suite" looked like the nurse's office in high school. One sad, lumpy cot lined the wall, and a chipped metal folding chair was pushed into a corner. Campbell and I took one look at our options, and in a second he had pushed me up against the wall. We didn't need a bed, or Egyptian cotton sheets. All we needed was each other.

I was the one who moved Bridget's body. Campbell enlisted one of his closest confidantes to help me. He didn't want to have any knowledge of where the body ended up. It was already a risky plan, and the less Campbell knew, we decided, the better. 

But it was crucial that Bridget be discovered in a place that would implicate me—that was the fulcrum on which this delicate plan balanced, after all. It had to look really bad for me. If it didn't, my father would have no reason to start paying people off—people like Campbell, the detective he thought was trying to nail me to the cross.

"I don't care who has been here," Campbell said as he pushed inside of me. His fingers brushed between my legs, soft as butterfly wings. "You just pretended it was me, every time you were with someone else. I know you did."

"I did," I gasped into the crook of his neck. "I promise I did."

I didn't bank on the fact that my father would offer an even better deal to Campbell—not just money, but an opportunity to better his life. And I certainly didn't bank on the fact that Campbell would accept it. That was the most painful period in my life. Even more painful than when Campbell went to jail. At least in the case of the latter, Campbell had been forced out of my life. With the former, he had chosen it.

Though of course he came crawling back. Found me in New York. Couldn't stay away. And that was when my father not only rescinded on his offer, but placed a call to the new police chief to inform him of Campbell's extracurricular side hustle back when he worked for the department. 

You get fifteen minutes. Sometimes Campbell and I would fuck two, three times. Others, we would just lie together (I learned to bring my own clean sheets from home to drape on the floor), talking about what our lives would be like when Campbell's sentence was finally over.

And then one day, on my monthly drive to visit my new husband, I had to pull over on the side of the ride, where I threw up all over someone's fledgling tomato bush. I wiped my arm across my mouth, gave my cheek a little slap, and raced to the next exit. I drove around for a few miles until I located a CVS. There, I bought some orange juice, saltines, and a pregnancy test.

That was the first time Campbell and I didn't consummate our visit. We were too busy laughing and crying and squealing like little kid we were about to have.

- -

My father demanded a paternity test. I'd really gotten around, he reminded me not once, but twice, during our conversation. But if I could prove that Campbell was the father, then he promised he would make the call, start working his connections. My baby, his only grandson, deserved to have his father in his life.

The doctor told us to expect results on a Tuesday morning. I was so nervous I couldn't be in the house. I took the baby for a walk down to the reservoir in Central Park. It was a painfully bright day—the sun was brilliant in Brian's hair, a fire cloud surrounding his sweet, curious face. Of course I named him after Campbell, and of course I knew Campbell was the father. Campbell's sister had had bright red hair too. There was no other explanation for it.

Still, I was so nervous I had to sit down on a bench when the call came in. My father didn't even say hello. Just told me I was right. "Brian Campbell is the father of my grandson," he said.

"So does this mean"—

"I'm a man of my word, Elizabeth," he said. "I've got a lot of calls to make today. But my goal is to have that baby's father home in time for his first Christmas."

"Thank you, daddy," I gasped.

My father cleared his throat. I hadn't called him daddy since I was a little girl. "Right, well, let me get going on this, okay? Give my grandson a kiss for me."

He hung up before I had a chance to say anything else. Which was fine, because I was crying too hard to say goodbye.

_ _ 

I can assure you that the ending of this post is the very best example of art imitating real life! This was an emotional one to write. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your support over the years! I am so excited for you all to be able to read Luckiest Girl Alive—which cracked Amazon's top 100 yesterday and was featured on The Today Show this morning!—and hopefully you love the story as much as you've loved LSP.

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And on that note, I bid you all farewell. May your lives be filled with much love, sex, and pizza!