Nobody’s Going to Save You


TWO HOURS BEFORE MY FATHER’S FUNERAL, while my mother was sobering up in the shower, I snuck out of our house. The second I heard the water start I zipped Dad’s blaze orange vest to my chin and hustled down the icy front steps. I ran past the shed and his beloved Chevy Nova—a rust-colored ‘78—and past the sugar maple, which had dropped all its leaves. I hurried down the wooded drive to the highway. Cars sped by, kicking up gravel, and a blue jay screeched in the trees.

Ma had picked that morning to clean out the closets. I’d come downstairs to find her standing in the middle of the kitchen, tossing expired cans of beans onto a pile of Dad’s things. Work boots, coveralls, a hard hat, a knife sheath, ratty flannels and old undershirts all lay in a mound beneath a growing heap of towels and potholders blackened from use. Ma stood before it like a madwoman at a bonfire.

“What are you doing?” I said.

“All this stuff, Rosie. It’s too much! It’s weighing us down!” 

I eyed the Bloody Mary on the counter. “It’s not weighing me down.” 

I don’t know why I plucked the hunting vest from the heap. It was made of heavy quilted cotton that smelled not of my father but of old blood and guts. Or so I imagined. When I pulled it on, it hung past my hips. “Oh honey,” Ma said, reaching for her cigarette. “You don’t want that.” She stopped herself, then began to nod. “No,” she said. “That’s good. You should keep it. The two of you—” She trailed off.

I shoved my hands deep into the fleece-lined pockets. I hated when Ma talked about me and Dad like we were some kind of united front, as if we were scheming against her. Something jabbed my finger and I felt around and pulled out a key. It was tied with a thin red ribbon. “What’s this go to?” I said.

Ma squinted at it as she blew her smoke away from me. “Who knows,” she said. She stubbed her cigarette in the sink and climbed onto the counter. From a high cabinet she wrestled down a stack of rainbow Tupperware whose coating had peeled from too many turns in the microwave. “That man hung onto everything!” The bowls sailed to the floor.

Out on the highway I walked as fast as I could, staying in the shoulder, trying to keep to the patches of sun. A box truck roared past and laid on its horn. I held up a middle finger. Up ahead a white sedan idled in the shadows. I turned the key over in my pocket and thought of Ma coming out of the bathroom to find me gone. Then I ran toward the car. For the first time in ages it felt like the world was opening up.

“You’re lucky I didn’t take off,” the driver said. He hit the gas before I’d even shut the door. Without a word, I dropped a five on the seat beside him. A squirrely kid with a thin mustache slid over on the backseat to make room for me and up front a girl dropped the new Pearl Jam CD into a Discman. Hearing it made me want to crawl out of my skin. Luck, I thought, was not the right word. This was a guy from Spanish class who’d told me about a party. The party was beside the point. If he hadn’t waited? I would have kept walking. I would have gone another direction. What I’d learned in the last few weeks was that a day could go a million different ways and it was no use getting attached to any one of them.

The girl reached over and squeezed the driver’s thigh and he pushed her hand away and growled at her to knock it off, then swept the five up in his fist. The kid with the mustache shot me an awkward smile. I fingered the key in my pocket and looked out the window. In the side mirror the girl caught my eye. “Nice vest,” she smirked.

The beach in December is cold as hell, especially if the sun’s not out. We parked in the lot behind the sand dunes as the fog rolled in and I wished I’d worn something warmer. We made our way through a series of padlocked gates. The girl and the driver wandered off toward a crowd of people at the far end of the beach, leaving the kid from the backseat to stand there dumbly, looking at me. “I think the keg’s down there,” he said after a bit, rubbing his fuzzy chin. “Should we go see?”

“You go,” I told him, “and report back.” When he started off I turned and headed in the other direction. 

In the distance I could see a spit of jagged land where the rocks and trees disappeared into the water. I made my way there, kicking at beach trash as I went—soggy leaves and washed-up apples and frayed bits of rope and plastic. I didn’t have a plan. I passed a rotting bird, which I bent to examine, then a live one, a ratty-looking gull hopping over a half-dead crab in the sand. The noise of the party grew faint. My parents had dragged me here a few times to stand with the other shipbuilding families and watch a newly christened destroyer glide past. I remember tiny American flags and lots of cheering and a group of dowdy protestors holding handmade signs with slogans like PEACE NOW and BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS. The one time we came to do normal beach things—dig in the sand maybe, have a picnic—Ma got antsy and we had to pack up and leave early. I thought again about her emerging from the shower to find me gone. The thing was, I knew she wouldn’t care. Not really. Not like some mothers might. I thought about that squirrely kid, too, and considered turning back. I wasn’t trying to be an asshole. A foghorn bellowed out near the point. I decided to follow it. The sky looked like dirty ice.

I’d just passed a lean-to constructed of driftwood and old tires when I heard a voice call out. I turned and saw a curly-haired kid with a red face grinning at me through an opening in the wall of bony white sticks. He held up a bottle of Sam Adams. “It’s got your name on it,” he called. “No charge.” Like I said, I didn’t have a plan. I wasn’t walking toward anything. I was a rolling stone. A WalMart bag on a blustery day. The party was not the thing that mattered and neither was that jagged point of rocks. What mattered was whatever thing happened next. 

Inside the lean-to it was dim and quiet. It felt strangely separate from the real world, like the forts I used to build in the woods to hide from my mother in hopes that she would come stomping through the deadfall to find me. It never worked—she’d holler once from the porch and wait two seconds before going back inside. I took the beer from the red-faced kid, who was squatting beside a blue cooler, and noticed another boy perched on an overturned bucket, lanky and expressionless, shaggy hair hanging in his face. The battered plastic bucket was the kind my father used to fill with bloody scraps when he butchered a deer in the shed. 

“Where you headed?” the lanky boy said, pushing the hair out of his eyes. His voice was deep and kind. “The party’s the other way.”

I took a long drink. “Maybe everything’s a party,” I said with a shrug.

He held up his beer. “Cheers to that.” 

“You been out hunting or something?”

I looked back at the first kid. He was sunburned, I realized, the skin peeling off his face in white curls just like those Tupperware bowls. “Hunting?” I recalled the buck I’d killed behind the house a year earlier—eight points, a clean shot. I remembered how Dad had cheered. He’d shown me how to hold the gun, how to breathe out and stay steady, how to commit. I’d hated it but done it anyway and it felt good. We strung the animal up by its haunches in the shed and ate it for most of the last hard year. “Oh,” I said. “It’s just a vest.” I took another drink.

The sunburned one did most of the talking. What was my name? What grade was I in? Did I like to party? Was I here with friends? It occurred to me that I didn’t have to answer. Or if I did, I didn’t have to tell the truth. I could be anyone, with any kind of past and any kind of future. The boys were juniors, I learned. Co-captains of the lacrosse team. “Varsity,” said the tall one in his honey-deep voice.

“He thinks he’s getting a scholarship to Dartmouth,” Sunburn snorted. I could hear my father. Privileged little shits in boat shoes

Already the beer was going to my head. “Lacrosse is the one with sticks?” I said. “The little balls?” The feeling was not at all bad. I drank down my beer and screwed the empty bottle into the sand and asked for another.

“What’s your poison,” Sunburn asked, lifting the lid of the cooler. I told him it didn’t matter but when he started to toss me a can of Budweiser I shook my head.

“Not that.”

He swapped it for something in a green bottle, which he popped with an opener from his pocket. As I drank, my sleeve inched up, revealing a strip of white bandage. The boys stared. I let them look for a minute before tugging the sleeve back down. The foghorn sounded again. 

“They’re burying my dad today,” I said. It just came out. My teeth began to chatter.

“Oh shit,” mumbled Sunburn. The lanky one scratched his scrawny neck, then they both got quiet and I saw I’d shut down a whole conversation. Well. What else did I have the power to do? I finished my second beer and asked for a third. I realized I was shivering.

“You might want to slow down,” Sunburn said uneasily.

But the lanky one swept the hair from his freckled face and got to his feet. He must have been six feet tall. “Dude,” he said, his tone suddenly more gravel than honey. “Don’t be a douche.” From his pocket he pulled a small silver flask, which he uncapped and held down to me. “Try this. It’ll warm you up.” He came around to sit behind me on the log where I was leaning. Carefully, he arranged his long legs on either side of me. The heat of them felt good. He took the flask back, then removed the fleece jacket he’d been wearing and draped it over my front. “That sucks about your dad,” he said softly, leaning over to speak right into my ear. His breath was hot on my neck and that felt good, too. He set his hands on my shoulders and slid them slowly down my arms.

The temptation now is to say I was not in control of the situation. That’s probably true. Or partly true. But what’s also true is that on that day, in that moment, I was exactly where I wanted to be. All I’d wanted since coming down the stairs that morning and seeing my mother treat our stuff—my father’s stuff—like trash, like it and he had never mattered, was to get clear of her and that house. I wanted to force the day to unfold differently. And here I was—secreted away from the wind and the world in a spot where anything might happen, good or bad, for better or worse, where I could be anybody or nobody at all—a girl who’d killed a deer, a girl whose father was being set in the half-frozen ground, a girl completely untethered—and where the heat of a stranger’s body behind me and the weight of his huge hands as they ran along my arms felt like anchors, the only things keeping me from drifting away.

The boy rested his chin on the top of my head and I felt his hands make their way under the fleece jacket. I felt the zipper of my vest being drawn down and his hands moving under the vest and over my shirt. They lingered there a while, heavy and warm on my belly, which I tried to suck in. When he moved his hands up and brushed a nipple, I let out a gasp. The boy drew me gently back between his legs. A few feet away Sunburn was fiddling with the cooler like his life depended on it.

I should be clear: it all felt good.

The beer buzzing through my veins made my head spin and my fingertips tingle. The stitches under my bandage were electrified. Why had I never gotten drunk before? I wanted more of this wide-open feeling. I reached for the flask again and the boy’s hands grew bolder. I imagined them palming a pair of lacrosse balls and found myself stifling a laugh. He worked the shirt up over my bra, worked the bra aside. I might have moaned. His hands were warm on my bare skin. He kept his chin atop my head. Nobody said a word.

And what would have happened if I’d tried to get up? If I’d decided this tucked-away hideout was not where I wanted to be, after all? I can guess but that’s all it would be. The fact is, I wasn’t interested in walking away. I was interested in being seen. 

Sunburn shifted near the cooler and for a second I thought he would speak. I lifted the flask to my mouth through the tangle of the tall boy’s arms and as I did the jacket covering me slipped off. I didn’t fix it. Now everything was out in the open—the unzipped vest and hiked-up shirt, my bare white tits, the hands crawling all over me. I took another drink. Sunburn stared. Then he set his beer in the sand and stood up. Something in his red face changed and I thought I felt the ground pitch. He came toward us without a word. Why was he so sunburned in December, I wondered. Did he sail on the weekends? Rake lawns for beer money? Did his parents have a tanning bed in their basement or take him to the Bahamas for Thanksgiving? I set the flask down and Sunburn knelt before me and placed his hands on my thighs. I realized I was sandwiched between them. Two boys. Four hands. Twenty fingers. And me. My head spun faster. I lost track of who was where. Somebody’s hand went up the inside of my leg. Somebody squeezed my breast. The line between pain and pleasure shimmered and dissolved.

Fast forward. 

Four beers. Five? 

A dense fog had settled. There was the sound of laughter and crashing waves. I was imagining the boys’ hands as crabs. Scavengers working in tandem. When the voice beyond the lean-to cut through the thick air the warm scuttling hands stopped. My skin tingled at their sudden stillness. Then they were gone and I was aware only of the cold sand against my back. 

A girl with a buzzcut and a shock of black hair hanging in her face peered down at me through the pale sticks of driftwood. Behind her a sullen-looking blonde with limbs like a dancer’s stood with crossed arms, taking birdlike sips from a wine cooler. I blinked. In one swift motion, the girl with the shaved head pulled the driftwood boards apart and sent the flimsy walls crumbling. 

“Hey,” I heard Sunburn say. “We’re just having a little fun.”

The girl pushed the black hair from her narrowed eyes. “Fun’s over.”

Who was this girl? Could she not see I was the star of my own unfolding story? The lacrosse players—privileged little shits!—could see it. Let them pin me down and strip me naked, the boys and this hot-headed girl in black combat boots and maybe even the surly avian dancer who looked on impatiently as her friend leaned over to haul me up by the arms. I laughed and stumbled as my jeans slipped down my ass. 

“Jesus,” the buzzcut girl muttered as she shifted to support my weight. When she reached to help me with my pants I swatted her hand away. 

“I think she wants to stay,” the tall one said in his lovely graveled tone. He had risen from the log and picked up his fleece and he towered over us as he shook out the sand. I stared at his freckled face and the flask he was slipping back into his pocket. I started to laugh again and I pitched to the side. The girl caught me.

“I’m going to let you boys walk away with your little dicks still swinging. This time.”

I started to protest. Then I heard the tall one’s voice and saw the look on Sunburn’s red face and I changed my mind. Why not? I was a shredded WalMart bag on the wind. I had no idea what I did want, only that it was no longer this. I shivered and worked to zip the blaze orange vest.

“Oh my god,” said the dancer, hugging herself and bouncing from foot to foot like she had to pee. “Can we go already?”

The girls hauled me through the dunes. We passed the snack bar and shuttered clapboard building that housed the changing rooms and wove through the parking lot to a silver two-door Honda. The girl with the buzzcut slid the driver’s seat forward so I could climb in back. The dancer pecked at her wine cooler and we sped away from the beach. I rested my head against the cold window, blinking at the trees flying past. The fog was breaking up.

“Do you have any idea how lucky you are?” 

That word again. I struggled to turn my attention to the buzzcut girl behind the wheel. “I was fine,” I said. “Can you turn up the heat?”

The dancer looked back at me with a raised eyebrow, then cranked her down her window and hurled her empty bottle at a mailbox. “How old are you, anyway?” said the driver, reaching for the blower. “What’s your name?” It felt like a tiresome echo. Surely there were more pressing questions. What happens now? What the fuck comes next? 

“I’m Jade Berlin,” she said. “If you’re going to go to parties, you can’t be an idiot.” 

I frowned. “Who do you think you are? Wonder Woman? You two go around saving people who don’t need to be saved?” I wiped my nose with the back of my hand. “If you’re Wonder Woman I want to be . . . Tinker Bell! Zing zing! For your information I was enjoying myself. Thank you very little.”

“Here’s the deal,” Jade said. “I’m going to drive until you sober up. Then I’m going to take you home. Tinker Bell.” The dancer groaned and whispered something I couldn’t hear.

“My dad hung himself,” I said.

Jade caught my eye in the rearview mirror. 

“I’m supposed to be at his funeral.” I leaned forward between the seats and peered at the dashboard clock until it came into focus. The warm air on my face felt good. “This exact minute,” I said. “You should probably take me there.” I sat back. “Actually, let me out now. I’ll walk.” We were on the long straightaway that stretched for miles through the saltmarsh flats. 

“I’m not letting you out,” Jade said softly.

I shoved my arm between her seat and the door and tried to grab the handle. She took hold of my wrist. “Sorry, sweetheart.” I yanked my arm back then drew up my legs and began to kick the seats in front of me, as hard as I could.

“Jade!” the dancer shrieked as I drove my feet into the back of the seats. “Jesus Christ!”

Jade kept her hands on the wheel as I thrashed. Her body jerked from the force of my kicks but she didn’t react. Even in my murky drunken state, I saw that and filed it away. This girl Jade Berlin was rock solid. 

The dancer flattened her palms against the dash and whipped around. “What the hell is wrong with you!” I rammed a foot into her seat. 

Jade, braced off against the steering wheel, looked in the mirror again. Her eyes were calm and her voice was even. “I’m really sorry about your dad,” she said. “That’s messed up.”

I’d barely cried since the accident—the word I still used, even though there was nothing accidental about it—but now I pummeled the seats and screamed until my throat went raw. When I could hardly get a breath, I let my head flop back against the seat. In the sudden quiet, Jade Berlin spoke. So gentle. So sure. “There’s no rule that says you have to go to your father’s funeral.”

It took all my energy to tell her to fuck off.

When I woke up the dancer was gone and the Honda was parked on the side of the road, in the piney shadows near our mailbox. “Hey.” Jade tossed a worn paperback onto the dash. She’d taken off her jacket and I could see a brightly inked cluster of fruit trailing down her bare arm—jewel-colored grapes and berries, tumbling apples, a melon, a luscious dripping peach. “You’re alive.”

I sat up, panicked and nauseated. “How did you know where I live?”

“You gave me directions,” Jade said. “Right before you told my friend you wanted to punch her in the face.”

I slumped back. My head was killing me. “She was kind of a bitch.” I squeezed my eyes closed for a second. 

Jade laughed. “You’re one to talk. Want to come up here?”

I started to crawl between the seats. It felt like the seats, the car, the whole dark forest around us was spinning. I tried to focus on the paperback cover on the dash. It was a jumble of gothic black lettering twined with the image of a shriveled rose. “That’s my name,” I said, sliding down into the seat where the dancer had been. “Since you asked.”

Jade frowned. “Sylvia Plath?”


“Is everything okay where you’re headed, Rose?”

I shrugged.

“You want to talk about anything?”

I did not.

“Here.” She gestured for my arm.

“What?” I said, but I held it out. 

Jade dug a pen from the console and sucked the tip. She pushed back my sleeve. When she saw the bandage she looked up. 

“Oh,” I said. “No, I didn’t—it’s not that. I swear.”

Jade pulled the sleeve down gently and reached for my other arm. She inked a number onto my skin. “I want you to call me,” she said.


“Because you can,” Jade said. “Because I’m here.”

I didn’t know what to say. Was friendship really that simple? Was that what this was going to be? I pulled down my sleeve and stuffed my hands into my vest pockets. It took me a second to register that they were both empty. I ran my fingers along every inside seam, feeling for a hole, a gap in the fabric. My heart caught. Had it fallen out at the beach? 

“What’s wrong?” Jade said.

“I lost something,” I said. “A key.” Together we scoured the interior of the car. I climbed into the back again and Jade felt around in the front. I looked all around the seat, in every crease and crevice and cup holder. “It’s okay,” I said. “It was nothing.” Just up the driveway on our kitchen counter sat a glass jar filled to the brim with orphaned keys indistinguishable from the one I’d found in Dad’s vest. I could fish any one of those out and start treating it like a talisman.

“You sure?” Jade said from the front. 

I bent down and stretched as far as I could under the driver’s seat and when my fingernail tapped against something small and hard, I cried out. Clutching the key in my fist, I scrambled back to the front. I was suddenly desperate to get out of the car, hungry for fresh air. I dropped the key back in my pocket and reached for the door handle. Jade touched my arm. “I’m serious,” she said. “Call me.”

I heaved the door open and nearly tumbled out. “Thanks for the ride.”

Ma and a group of people I didn’t know were standing in the kitchen. The pile from that morning—Dad’s flannel shirts and old boots, the food, the rainbow Tupperware—was gone. A woman I’d never seen was arranging little sausages on a tray. I walked over and helped myself and the woman looked at me, surprised. I chewed and stared, daring her to speak, and she looked away and plucked more sausages from a glass jar to replace the ones I’d eaten. Ma stood by the counter with crossed arms, watching it all and tapping her cigarette into the sink. 

“Where the hell were you?”


“I don’t appreciate stunts.”


“I don’t have the energy, Rose.” I walked past her and grabbed a Diet Coke from the fridge and took it up to my room. Out the window, I could hear the low voices of men, Dad’s friends from the yard, all welders, all still looking for work like he had been, yet all somehow still here, still alive on the earth, still laughing and belching and guzzling their beers and swearing and happily full of shit as ever. One of them, tipping his head back to drink, caught sight of me at the upstairs window and his smile melted away. The other men noticed and turned, and then, seeing me, went quiet. I backed away quickly and sat down on my bed. The walls spun. Later I would throw up the sausages on the floor and Ma would find me and cluck her tongue, then clean it up without a word. “How was it,” I’d whisper from where I lay curled under a blanket. “The funeral.” And Ma would stand and drop the dirty washrag in a pail and run a hand through her hair. “I don’t know,” she’d say. “Not what I expected. But what is.” I’d start to say I was sorry, but before I could get my words out Ma would tell me to hush. “If there was anything in this world that man seemed to get, Rose Marie, it was you.”