by Charlotte M. Henning


We were Wall-nuts.  We were all nuts.  We sat on the wall that encircled the clock tower in town.  This was back before any of us had purpose, but we wanted to have purpose.  We wanted to be deep.  So we sat on the wall as those before us had done.  We liked to think that we sat there because it gave us a bad reputation, but mostly we sat there because we had no place else to go.  Me, and my friends Jen, Cate, and Cris sat there on the cold, masoned stonewall every night that we could.  Not smokin’, not drinkin’, just sittin’.  Sometimes people would drive by on the sleepy street, jab their horns and yell, “Get off the wall!”  We loved those people.  They got us fired up and gave us a reason to be angry teens.  “Why are they always picking on us for who we are?”  “People are so close minded.”  We kept sitting.  We had cold asses and red noses, but we were proving something to the world.


Then we met Rick.  Rick was this guy we knew from a distance.  And he was bad, very bad.  He stole.  He smoked.  He smoked up.  He did it all.  And he drove a van.  That was the coolest.  He wore hippie clothes and promoted the legalization of marijuana.  He had dreds.  We were in love with him, but he turned his eyes to Cate.  He wanted her.  We hung out with him more, missing curfews, skipping school, smoking, smoking up.  Cate stopped coming to school altogether.  She started living in his van at his parents’ house.  She would sneak into their house after they left for work and have a joint and a shower.  Now she was bad too.


We kept sitting on the wall, but she was different.  She didn’t have to pretend to have a meaningful existence.  Defiant and strong she shrugged off the world and the constraints of her parents.  She smoked.  She smoked up.  She lived in a van.  She was way out of our league.  We admired her for her strength.


Rick would goad her to steal.  He forced her to light things on fire, just to make her squirm.  She would cry and refuse.  He threatened to leave her and she would cry and obey.  He would turn his lit bic upside down, heating the metal, and put it on her thigh and burn her.  She stopped eating when Rick said he would leave her because she was fat.  She would beg him not to leave, to give her pot, to let her eat, to love her.  We hated her for her weakness.


We sat on the wall less.  The defiant aura it created was gone in the face of real rebellion.  We didn’t like real rebellion.  We were fakers and we were ok with that.  We ran to our parents who were happy to have their good girls back.  Occasionally when we went to town we would see Rick and Cate.  She wasn’t allowed to speak to us and would walk down the opposite side of the street when she saw us.  She wore hippie clothes and she had dreds.  She was becoming Rick.


Intervention time.  Jen drove us out to a secluded spot by the river.  The river was deafening and the silence even louder.  Cate spoke.  “Take me back.”  But we love you.  He’s no good.  You’re going to get hurt.  What about your family?  What about college?  What about you?  Then I said it.  “We think you’re weak and we’re starting to hate you.”  Cate cried.  She said a lot of mean things that you can’t take back.  We all cried.  Jen put her car in drive and took Cate back.  Without a word she got out of the car and crawled in the van.  We drove away.

Weeks later we heard that Rick’s parents found out about her living in the van and kicked them out.  Cate went back home.  Rick lived in his van in some field.  We saw him around town with other girls.  We saw him do to them what he did to Cate and were relieved it wasn’t Cate.  Cate found out he was cheating on her.  No surprise.  The next time we saw her she had split with him.  He was out of her life.  We rejoiced!  We had Cate back!  Rick was gone!


We went back to our old ways.  We needed an outlet.  We recycled religiously.  We acted in plays.  We learned to play the guitar.  We went to concerts.  We were cool.  Rick was still around, but on the outside looking in.  We were shining and laughing and there was nothing he could do about it.  We formed a protective circle around Cate that kept him out.


Enter Jacob.  He was a college man we met one night while we were sitting.  His keys were locked in his car and he was waiting for the cops to help him out.  He was a sophisticated older man with a smoldering gaze and dark hair.  We were all in love.  He turned his eyes to Cate.  We weren’t jealous.  Maybe a little, but we were happy for her.  She needed him.  He fed her, kept her safe, kept her happy, and mended her.  He smothered her with love, but gave her space.  Everything was good again.


Then Jacob met Rick.  Jacob knew about him and hated him, sight unseen.  We were sitting on our sanctuary as usual and Rick walked up to Cate.  She tried to blow him off, but he had this hold over her that we couldn’t break.  Jacob was across the street at the bakery but he saw.  He came tearing across the street at a full run and stepped in between them, forcing Rick to release his grip on her arm.  Then they went at it.  Jacob was screaming and Rick was screaming and Cate was crying.  We held on to Cate for all we had.  They started punching.  Jacob was much bigger than Rick and had him on the ground in no time.  Rick got up and looked at Cate.  He had a bloody lip and his eye was puffy.  Then he smiled at her, except it was a snarl, and he walked away.  Jacob was our hero.  He was Cate’s hero.  Everything was going to be ok.  And it was.  For a couple of weeks.


We didn’t see Rick in those weeks.  There was a rumor that he had enlisted.  I didn’t believe it, but I hoped for it.  I wanted him gone.  I wanted to have never met him.  He was that evil and that wrong.


Jacob went everywhere Cate did and she was happy for it.  She glowed.  She was lively.  We admired her again.


One night, the five of us were sitting on the wall.  It was winter.  It was cold.  Our butts were numb.  Jacob offered to get us hot cider from the bakery, but Cate said she would.  We emptied the change from our pockets into her hands and she walked away.  Jacob called out to her when she got to the corner and she turned around.  Deep in the back of my consciousness I heard something familiar.  Jen too.  Cris too.  But either I couldn’t place it or I didn’t want to.  Cate was smiling as she looked at him with raised eyebrows.  He told her he loved her.  We melted.  What was that sound?  She tilted her head to the side, put her hand on her face, and closed her eyes.  When she opened them she looked at Jacob and said she loved him too.  What a vast moment.  Then I placed the sound.  Jen too.  Cris too.  Jacob wouldn’t have known it.  We skipped school in it.  We smoked in it.  Cate!


It was too late.  We all relive the too late.  She stepped off the sidewalk and turned to see why we were yelling.  If she had looked the other way, she would have seen him.  He flew around the corner in his beat up baby blue van and came to a shrieking halt, just past her.  We tried to get there, but it was too slow.  I was running in deep mud.  I couldn’t go!  Jacob couldn’t either.  It was too slow.  Someone flung open the back of the van and grabbed her.  She fought.  She kicked, screamed and bit.  She screamed for Jacob.  How painful it must be for him to hear that at night.  She was yanked inside and they sped off.  Jacob got in his car to chase them and we ran to the police station for help.  They saw the commotion and were in their car when we got there.  We stood there as they sped away.  We knew they would bring her back.  We knew Jacob wouldn’t stop until he had her.  We knew.


It was an hour.  Then two.  Then Jacob came back alone.  As State police cars went wailing by, we asked him what happened.  He said he caught up with them, but lost them on a road by the river.  He was angry and scared.  We didn’t know what to do for him or for us.  Jen went to the station to ask them what was going on.  Then I went.  Then Cris went.  Then Jacob went.  The Jen went again.  They couldn’t tell us anything.  Cate’s parents showed up at the station.  They were close to frantic.  We were all sitting there when we heard the call on the radio that they found the van.  We tore out of the station and jumped into Jacob’s car.  We hoped for the best but expected the worst.  Jacob just needed the best.


We pulled to a stop at a police roadblock.  We shot out of the car and ran down to where the flashing lights were on the bank of the river.  We saw the van.  The van!!  Then we saw 5 police officers with their guns drawn, trained on something we couldn’t see.  When we came over the rise, we saw the guy who grabbed Cate.  He was waist deep in the river, waving a shotgun around.  A shotgun.  Were we really seeing this?  This could not be happening.  They were telling him to put the weapon down and come out of the water.  Somebody called for more back up.  Why weren’t they asking him about Cate?  Why weren’t they trying to figure out where she was?  In mid-yell, he disappeared under the water.  He never came up.


Jacob was talking to a police officer.  Where is she?  Where is he?  Who was that guy?  The police officer told him that no one was in the van when they got there, just that man yelling in the river about washing away his sins.  They wouldn’t tell us anything so we spread out and eavesdropped on the cops that were around.  We heard snippets here and there.  . . . no blood . . . no weapon . . . hair . . .shoe . . . no sign . . . no trail . . . river . . . dead end . . . dead.


The rest is a blurry nightmare.  Cate’s parents came down to the river.  Her mom fell to the ground.  Her dad cried.  We just stood there.  Jacob just stood there.  She couldn’t be dead.  But the police said the crazy man in the river alleged she was.  For days we waited to hear word.  Any word.  We went to the wall every day.  We sat by our phones and begged her to call.  We went to the river and watched them search.  We begged Rick’s parents to tell us something.  We read papers from towns up and down the river to see if a body was found.  Nothing.


Sitting on the wall became more of a job.  What if she came back?  What if he drove through town?  It became our defining purpose.  We had to be there.


Jacob was dead inside.  Ten months after she disappeared he took his savings and hired someone to look for her.  The investigator came back and said that a girl meeting her description was seen in upstate New York, living on a communal farm.  She was married and had a baby.  None of us had the guts to see if it was true.  We liked believing she was there.  She would have loved having a baby to take care of.  In the back of our minds though came nagging recognition; why didn’t she come back to her family, to Jacob, to us?


We stopped sitting on the wall after that.  It was too holy, too sacred.  We did come back one year after she was taken.  Jacob was there too.  He was falling apart.  He had bags in his car and was going to New York to see if it was her.  He couldn’t stand not knowing.  Jen said that we needed to let it go.  She was staying.  I was going.  I needed to know.  Cris said the same.  It took us two days to get there.  We traveled the whole way in almost silence.  No radio, no talking.  It was like it would be sacrilegious to chat idly on our pilgrimage.  Jacob had written down the name of the farm where the Cate-sighting had been.  He stopped to ask directions.  We didn’t want to know really.  People on TV said it was the not-knowing that was the worst.  We agreed it was the potential hope shattering.


Jacob got the directions and we were off to face whatever ending there would be.  We traveled down a packed dirt road and after about 3 miles there it was.  We saw a big farmhouse surrounded by fields, now barren and unapproachable in the winter weather.  Jacob was determined.  He strode up to the house and knocked on the door.  An older lady answered the door.  “Can I help you?”  Jacob pulled out a tattered picture of Cate that he carried in his pocket.  “Is she here.”  The lady looked at the picture.  “That looks like our Georgia.  Georgia!”  A young girl came walking in the shadows toward the front door.  We couldn’t make her out yet, but she seemed right.  She stepped into the light and looked up, brushing her long hair out of her eyes.  Cate!  It was Cate!  Jacob swore and punched the wood beside the door.  He stalked off the porch into the tundrous fields behind the house.  Why was he angry?  It was Cate!  Cris was sobbing.  What was wrong with everyone?  It was Cate.  Cate was smiling at me.  Cate was . . . not Cate.  She was shorter and had blue eyes, not brown.  Cate was not Cate.  I couldn’t breathe.  I knew this would be her.  But it wasn’t.  I apologized I think.  I couldn’t breath.  I took Cris’s hand and led her off of the porch.


We went to find Jacob.  He turned when he heard us coming.  He was crying.  “It’s not her.”  We enveloped each other in the vacant, naked field and cried and cried and cried her away.