I started to write a post about all my beaux over the years, but got hung up on the first one, Roger in St. Anthony, Idaho, thanks to a little research. It’s made me think a fair amount about St. Anthony, the town of about 3,000 near Dad’s childhood home/farm. (St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things.) My brother Jon, Mom, and I were airlifted to it with mixed results when Dad bought the farm (literally, in this case). Jon thrived, or seemed to, among the strapping natives. I didn’t do so well. It was my freshman year in high school, and I really had no ideas about anything, just an overwhelming desire to be popular, with no possible concept or experience to achieve it.
I met Roger through his twin, Susan. A few months older than me but in the grade below, both went to our church, a uniting force in a town that was 80% Mormon. They had identical twin brothers about 3 years older, Mitch and Mike. All but Roger had brilliant orange hair; Roger was dark, with olive skin, blue-green eyes. He was handsome, and knew it.
The looks and the common religion were the only things that could have possibly attracted me to him, as he was otherwise oafish, thuggish, and extremely angry. Once when we weren’t even seeing much of each other, he thought I was laughing at him (I wasn’t even thinking about him), he hauled off and punched me in the arm as hard as he could and left a bruise that pretty much covered my bicep; my parents called his, he got in trouble, and he yelled at me over the phone. I didn’t feel any sort of loss when communication ended post that. It’s not as if it was a real relationship, anyway. We used to make out when I spent the night at Susan’s, and we went skiing a couple of times. He constantly pressured me to have sex, and I constantly refused, mainly because there was no way in hell I was going to risk pregnancy and get stuck in Idaho. All I wanted to do all through high school was get the hell away.
My junior year, I transferred to Madison High School in Rexburg. 99% Mormon, it had a theater and music program, which South Fremont, the St. Anthony high school, lacked. I had stopped talking to Susan at all; she was incredibly manipulative and basically used me because I had a car. She was as nasty with her words as Roger was physically; in hindsight, they were a mess. Roger did call me when I was a senior. He had been sent to a Christian school somewhere for a year and had got religion, which amounted to him throwing around a few multi-syllabic words, telling me he wasn’t after sex but just liked being seen with me because I “got really good-lookin’.” We went skiing one time, but he was just as angry and boring as ever. Much as I craved some sort of dating life and a boyfriend – being a non-Mormon destroyed my chances of ever going to any social event at Madison – I didn’t talk to him after that.
When I was in college, I found out that his older brother, Mike, took a shotgun and blew out his brains in their father’s office at City Hall. Suicide, esp. by shotgun, was common in St. Anthony. Mike was the third one I knew about at the time. Guns are everywhere up there, and pointing them to one’s head was pretty common. St. Anthony men didn’t really give a shit about how big of a mess they left behind for the grieving women to clean up.
I saw Susan once after that. We went down to Idaho Falls to a bar, had a drink, danced with a couple of cowboys, and she invited me to a mysterious meeting about “the business,” which of course turned out to be Amway. I just laughed my way through it. It was a thrill to know that her old tricks didn’t work any more.
She only referred to Mike once, when she said he had “passed.” In fact, he had passed on his 24th birthday, which I found when searching for the family the other day. The only trace I found of them was a listing of the headstones in the St. Anthony cemetery. Roger, I knew from Jon, had killed himself in the same way and place. It happened in February of 1990. He would have been 29; his birthday was in November. I guess he couldn’t wait that long.
It wasn’t until I saw those dates that I realized how much my book, Fly, tried to come to terms with all of that despair that I was exposed to. I mean, I knew, but a chord resounded pretty loudly when I saw those sad numbers from those grave markers. My protagonist, Michael, is not an angry and unimaginative jerk like Roger, but he is different physically, like Roger. But more importantly, the whole undercurrent of the novel is this longing for something better crushed by a fear of the unknown. Got to get that thing published. It really is good.
There wasn’t any hope for Roger, I guess – at least not in his own mind, which was really all that mattered. He must have realized that in the end. If his soul found peace, I hope he could embrace it. But I don’t know how he would have recognized it.