The Great Lakes: Lake Erie: Chapter 1, part 1

Today, we get the first post from The Great Lakes, which is a LOOOOOOOONG graphic novely thinger that consists of five books, one for each of the Great Lakes. I grew up around Lake Michigan and Lake Erie, especially, but I have always wanted to do something about the place I grew up and about these fresh water beauties. So, now, I am.

This project started off as a desire to write a story about a werewolf in love. I wrote a short story, but I liked the characters so much, I decided to do something longer, and at the time, back in 2004, I decided the story should be about love. About people working at love, because it’s hard and it takes time and negotiations and a lot of work. I wanted to put something out into the world that was not what I saw in the media, on TV, in books and such. I wanted a realistic representation of love, and also, of sexuality. Now, since then, there’s been quite a bit more, at least int he US, that I can relate to (particularly Lost Girl, the TV series, which has a bisexual character at its center). And, in the mean time, this story has changed quite a lot.

This most recent incarnation/revision is the result of a comment made to me by the impossibly artful, kind, wise, and generous Orijit Sen (who is an amazing graphic novelist and comics creator based out of Goa and Delhi in India — AND he and his wife Gurpreet run the awesome design and such company People Tree. If you’re ever in Delhi or Goa, stop into one of their shops, and I promise you’ll love it — I do not promise you won’t find yourself spending more than you can realistically afford on all their awesome (and ethically made) stuff! Anyway, to be more on point, he read some comics of mine while i was in Delhi doing research, and Orijit pointed out that while my stories have a solid sense of mood, I don’t have any sense of place.

And I LOVE and VALUE a sense of place.

So, years later, reading the work I had done on this story, which was then just Tryptych, I realized that the story was stuck because it was lacking a place. And that the characters, and their stories, were so completely tied into the Great Lakes, that I was basically cutting the story off by not drawing in local folklore, stories, and images — of the sun over Lake Michigan, of ghosts riding the waves of Erie, of Superior’s depths and Huron’s beauty. And just that though opened the door to a story I felt I had to write.

And still do.

So, for your viewing/reading pleasure, here is the first part of Chapter 1 in the first Book, Lake Erie:

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Image 2a

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Did I mention that this story is part comics, part prose, part napkins poems and collage? No? Well, I’m a jerk — cuz IT IS! Here’s some prose now…

I’ve been feeling strange. I’m no expert, but I think I’m in love. His name is Daniel. I met him in a bar, believe it or not. He saved me from a bunch of scary frat boys – well, less saved and more just pretended that we were together so they would leave me alone. And you know how I fall for knights in shining armor.

      Which is so fucking cheesey.

      Though, I guess, writing about how much I like a guy is pretty high on the cheese scale. I guess it doesn’t matter really — I just want to write this down to help me think it through. To help me remember, to help me think about some other stuff too. So how did us meeting and falling for each other happen? When did this start? When did I start to feel this thing in my chest, this weight, this fear that something bad could come along and ruin what we’ve built up so far?

      I do remember that there was one day in particular when it started to feel real, like hyper-real? That kind of real that you only feel when you’re either really, really happy, like going to Cedar Point and riding roller coasters all day and falling in bed that night, warm and loved and happy. Or when you’re really fucked up. I felt it when my dad died. A tightness, a pressure. Like the walls are caving in, like you’re Indiana Jones in a Temple of Doom, but it used to be your home too. It used to be nice.

     Well, there’s a mixed metaphor for you – or really just a mixing pot of metaphors really. But there IS no you here – just me, myself, and I talking to myself about things that I am feeling. Things that I am worried about.

     I’m so afraid that we are not going to work out.

     Which is so fucking ridiculous! What does it matter if we don’t work out? He’s just a guy, some stupid, short, kinda hairy, fun, awesome guy. So what if I love him? Love comes and love goes – you just have to hold onto it when it’s around and let it go when it leaves. Like a houseguest. Or a stray bitch.

     Well, aren’t I uplifting this morning?

     Me and Daniel are on our way up North, driving from Chicago and into Ann Arbor and then onwards to his family’s cabin at the Northwestern end of Michigan’s lower peninsula. We’ve been bickering a bit – I think it’s the beginning of the end, you know? We haven’t been together all that long – about a year, I think. I’m such a guy – I can never remember the anniversaries or dates for anything, much less in a timely enough way to actually buy presents or plan parties.

     Oh what a goose I am!

     Yeah, that’s a random reference.

     Ugh, I cannot stay focused! I should have slept more last night, but instead I just talked and talked with Daniel. That was probably the exact moment when I realized just how hard I have fallen for this guy, and how bad things have gotten. Our conversation was frought with tense moments, little arguments, not being able to just talk about stuff, not even movies. Every single thing ended up leading into an argument of some kinda.

     But maybe I was just cranky. Maybe we’re both afraid of losing each other, of letting go, of having to realize that – that maybe life is life and you never stay with anyone for very long. That each of us is just a dust mote in the deep, deep water of the galaxy we live in. That every galaxy is just a dust mote too, inside another dust mote, inside another, and another.

     Maybe we’re both just scared that it’s turtles all the way down, whatever that means.

     But somehow I’ve fallen for him. For this writer, this ridiculously sensitive, quiet, and wise young man. With a penchant for plaid and band t-shirts. Ha.

     I kind of hate myself for falling for him. I don’t really get how it happened – like it felt so quick. Even though it wasn’t. Even though it was slow, and sweet, and bitter.  

     So back to the beginning, right? That’s the way to find the root of things, the heart. Trace those pale capillary lines back to the base, to the very start.

     So here it is.

     I wore my fuck-me boots, as Daniel calls them, or the almost-knee-high leather boots that my mom gave me for my 21st birthday, because I was supposed to be going on a blind date. His name was Gus, and he was a finance student who loved Jean Luc Goddard and REM. I was only vaguely attracted to him, and we had met once before, at my friend Alex’s party. So, technically, this was not a blind date, so much as a blind-folded and spun in the direction of a wall you formerly ran into date.

     But Gus never showed.

     I got to the bar where we’d agreed to meet, a place just the other side of the Ann Arbor Border’s, at 7 o’clock sharp, as we’d agreed.

     Wait. Shit. I’m doing that thing that I do where I start telling a story without giving all the details.

     Back then was something like 2003, I was about halfway through my Bachelor’s in Textiles at the University of Michigan. I was living in an amazing apartment near the Arboretum there, which is this huge public nature area with trails and a river and a meadow and other awesome stuff. And I was working at a local bookstore, the Dawn Treader. Which remains my favorite bookstore in the whole wide world.

     So, okay, back to the story.

     I had gotten to the bar, whose name I forget, early so that I would not miss Gus. I could just remember his hairstyle, a close-cropped businessman style, but not so much his face, or even his voice. He had seemed nice enough, and I was really just looking for some get-over-my-psycho-ex-boyfriend-Simon time, and/or sex.

     What? I’m just talking to myself here, but, so, self, don’t feel weird about sexual needs. That’s just dumb.

     So, anyways, self (gosh I feel like a crazy person here), I was sitting near the bar, waiting for Gus to show, and feeling super stupid for wearing a short skirt. Several guys had given me a look that I’m sure they considered THE LOOK. Because, yes, I have been in bars with boys talking, and fucking hell do they ever talk shit. About women being one-time lays, about the ladies around them being not-high-enough caliber for more than one date, being hideous or slutty, or all nothin’ but hos and tricks. Or just plain bitches. Talking about the women they’ve been with being annoying, about their lives being pointless, and basically turning everyone off.

     It’s just like, okay, Mr. looking-for-sex-man, do a better fucking job not coming across as a total tool if you’re actually looking for a connection. Otherwise, take your women-hating into a dark apartment with your ‘bros’ and make out amongst yourselves, you creeps.

     Well, except that I guess I might miss the free drinks – hmm, no, the benefits definitely don’t outweigh the bad. That’s a trick that one guy at a bar taught me once – that he lived his whole life just doing cost-benefit analyses. He was trying to convince me to do one on him, and I did, in my mind, and concluded that the costs were definitely too high. He didn’t like it when I blew him off, but I definitely learned a bit about how those cheap-ass bastards think.

     So an hour goes by at this nameless bar, with sports blaring, and people talking their talk, and Gus-Gus never shows. I’m about to walk out, when I find myself, sitting at the bar still, but surrounded by a few guys who clearly once were or are in a frat. One had the classic thick neck and dull eyes, another the very annoying t-shirt with Greek letters on it, and another the vocabulary and pronunciation of someone very, very trashed.

      “Hey, girl,” the latter said, as if he were a cave man. Coming from a less drunk guy, or even possibly this relatively good-looking guy without the odor of trashed-ness, and it might not have annoyed me. But it did.

     (Sidenote: How did that phrase become sexy? I know people put those words in Ryan Goslings mouth and, okay, I can understand that it’s attractive. Cuz yeah, he’s hot in a my-face-is-fucked-up-and-I-dress-real-purdy way. But no one calls me girl and gets my attention in a good way. Not EVEN when it’s followed by some pseudo-intellectual, uber-feminist statement. It’s just not okay – give me the statement, not the call to attention that assumes I’m just a flimsy little girl.)

     “Hey,” I said, trying to slip past him. But, of course, his friends stopped me, moving close on either side to stop me getting past.

     “Um, stay a while, yeah?” the lead drinky-boy says. And I’m about to punch him when Daniel walks up.

     Okay, maybe I wasn’t about to punch him. Maybe I had, myself, already drunk 2 or 3 gin and tonics and was not feeling as bright and powerful as I should have been. Maybe that was a bad idea and I should have left after the first one, should not have let my icky feelings about Simon control me so completely.

     So, maybe it was a really good thing when Daniel walked up to me and said, “Hey, Stella, been wondering where you were.”

     And, just like that, he pulled me aside, slipping me past the three large young men as if it were the simplest of actions, a small knife through warm butter, or something less grossly evocative.

     “Hey, you’re welcome to join us over here, but feel free to head out, too,” Daniel says to me, looking me in the eye for only the briefest of moments. I had not fallen for him, or at least I don’t think I had. I remember thinking that he was kinda short and hairy. That he had a gruff voice, like I imagined a lumber jack would have. That he was nice and man-shaped. That he was a ginger and that I must know him even though I did not.

     “Hey, I’m Gwen,” I said, stupidly (yes considerably tipsy). “Thanks for your help.”

     And then I walked away, I think. I don’t remember talking to him after that – I just sort of said thank you and walked away. I was sorta shook up, sad, and I really just wanted to get away. Get home, get warm, get far far away from the way that stupid men treat women. Treat me.

      I went for a long walk, down Liberty to Main and then further on, down Huron and out by the strip malls West of town, out to the movie theatre.

     And that was about the time I realized that a cute guy had been super nice to me and I’d pretty much blown him off. But, as usual with my profound revelations, not that this was one, it was too late to do much about it. So I wrapped my arms around myself, as it was starting to get a bit chilly with the night coming on fully, and walked home. By then, I was fairly sober, and it was not hard.

     Thinking about it now, walking all over town after getting almost-assaulted by some drunken men was probably a bad idea. But I just did what I needed to do – too bad that it was probably a bit dangerous going off alone at night like that.

     So I forgot about that ginger-haired knight. Until about a week later when I was getting coffee at the Espresso Royale on State.

      It was about 2pm in the afternoon, in June, a long ways past the end of the official school year, and so the place was much emptier than normal. I ordered an iced latte (something my friend Avani turned me onto), and backed into someone on my way away from the cash register. I turned to look at this stranger in the face, about to apologize for almost spilling my drink on them when I gasped instead. I knew this face.

     “Hey, Gwen,” Daniel said, turning toward me, “careful there.” He put a hand below my drink as if to catch it should I drop it, and then, after he’d gotten something cold to drink as well (I think it was a frozen matcha), we sat down to chat, introducing ourselves more fully. Getting to know one another. Talking the sun down.  

      And, I suppose, if I had to say exactly when I began to fall for him, when a few dates  were destined to become several, when eating Indian turned into watching movies at the summer festival and playing skee ball late into the night, it was that moment. Because I turned around and saw this red haired boy with bright green eyes, and I felt simultaneously afraid and safe. Because he was strange and familiar. Because he had helped me once and here he was, a regret in the life of a young woman who had once been a young girl who had sworn to never have regrets.

     Because instead of thinking I was rude for running off the night we met, or thinking bad of me for being drunk, or hating me for bumping into him at the café, he was nice. He admitted that he’d thought I was cute, but that he’d stepped in simply because he hated to see anyone harassed, much less when they were clearly nursing a heartbreak. And that niceness, that decency that everyone should have, that felt a lot like home.

      Or something much closer than I’d known for a good long while. 

To Be Continued…

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