“Did she ever leave you alone for an entire night before?” Donna asks.

“No,” I say, but then feel like I shouldn’t be lying now. “Well, not very often. Sometimes. But tonight is different. I feel like something very bad might have happened. I sorta just know it somehow. You have to trust me on this. Seriously, Donna, I’m really scared.”


“Okay,” Donna says, and I can see in her eyes that she is worried—that this is bad. Very bad. So terribly messed up.

The three of us drive around aimlessly looking for Mom.

We cruise the ghetto, all of the major Childress streets slide past the passenger-side window; we pass all the bars and liquor stores of which we can think and then go back to the bus lot when it is time for the bus drivers to pick up schoolchildren.

Mom’s boss confirms that my mother did not show up for work today, and none of the other bus drivers have seen her. Mom didn’t call out sick either.

I start to feel as though I am very alone in the world.

When we get back to Donna’s house, Ricky is gone, and BBB has shredded the arm of Donna’s leather recliner.

When Jessica comes back from dropping off Ricky, she apologizes for the mess, and Donna says, “My fault. I forgot to tell you to lock up Bobby Big Boy whenever you leave the house.”

Even though Donna doesn’t say anything about my dog ruining her expensive furniture, seeing the damage makes me cry again for some reason.

I’m so tired.

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After a few phone calls, Donna convinces the local police to come interview me. She leaves Father Chee in charge, and then the lawyers shower and dress and get ready to go to Donna’s ongoing murder trial.

Father Chee just sits next to me on the leather couch BBB ripped earlier, and we take turns petting B Thrice.

FC doesn’t say anything stupid, like most adults would, but just sits with me, which I appreciate.

Right after Donna and Jessica leave, two nice uniformed officers come and ask me a bunch of questions about where Mom and I were living, Mom’s drinking problem, and her long list of past boyfriends, all of whom I describe in great detail, while the cops write it all down.

Donna told me to tell the truth, and so I do.

I give all of the same answers to the private detective Donna hired, who shows up seconds after the police leave. He’s a twitchy man with a big yellow mustache and acne scars all over his face. He also writes down my answers—all the secrets I have been keeping for months now.

When we finish, it’s almost noon, which means that—besides the hour or so of sleep I got on the bus—I have been up for thirty-some hours straight.

“Are you okay?” Father Chee asks me.

“I’m so tired,” I say, and then because I really need to, I snuggle up to my Man of God, resting my head on his shoulder, and cry some more.

Somehow I fall asleep.


Puke and Cry


It takes them nine days to find my mother’s body, but when they do, the story is the lead on every TV news station and is on the front page of every local paper, especially since my mother’s killer is immediately linked to the other rape-murders that had happened in the area, so I’m sure you know all of the gruesome, unreal, sadistic, and childhood-ending details. I’m not going to list these details here, because I don’t want to give the facts any more credence than they already have.

I’m pretty numb now.

Maybe even numb enough to be an official nihilist like Joan of Old.

For some things there are no explanations—no reasons, and so, when these things happen, there is nothing to talk about really. And it is best not to dwell on said things for too long, because you will find that life has no real meaning if you do.

Maybe you think I am only saying this because I am in a state of denial or shock, but that’s just not the case. I’m being honest, maybe for the first time.

With Father Chee and Donna, I go to identify the body, even though Donna says I don’t have to.

For some reason, I need to see.

I insist.

I’m a real cat about it.

Maybe I want to know, just so I won’t be wondering for the rest of my life—like I do with Dad. And as selfish as it might seem, knowing that my mother is definitely dead is better than thinking she might be out there somewhere having abandoned me in an effort to live an easier life without her stupid daughter to worry about.

I go to the morgue.

I see the facts.

It’s worse than anything I could have ever imagined.

My howling stops them from uncovering more than Mom’s head and shoulders.

I don’t want to see any more.

I crumble.

I melt.

I evaporate.

They cover what’s left of my naked mother back up with a sheet and push her into a wall, which is when I realize that she is in some sorta freezer.

I do not talk for three days.

I sit.

I stare.

I see my mother’s naked dead body in a dark freezer.

Sometimes I shake.

It seems like I am in a constant nightmare.

Donna brings me soup and crackers and toast—and takes care of BBB’s needs.

At my request, Donna pays to have my mother cremated.

Fire. Warmth. It’s better this way.

I promise to pay Donna back, and she says it’s not necessary.

The very next day, at my request, Father Chee performs a private ceremony at the bench where Mom and I used to feed ducks.

BBB is the only other person invited to the ceremony, because this special childhood place is mine alone—it’s what I have left, so I don’t want to share it with anyone except FC and BBB. Not even Donna and Ricky are invited.

Father Chee does a very good job eulogizing my mom, especially since he never met her. He says a lot of things about Mom going to heaven and my seeing her again, which is pretty nice, especially since Mom was never baptized or confirmed as a member of the Catholic Church—and I’m pretty sure she never went to confession—so I know FC is supposed to say Mom was going to hell and all.

Maybe the Pope is pissed?

I don’t care.

FC says he doesn’t care either.

I’m not going to tell you exactly what Father Chee says at Mom’s funeral, but it was very beautiful—as beautiful as Private Jackson’s best haiku, which is saying something. True.

We spread Mom’s ashes on the water and grass around the bench—and I pray flowers will bloom there in the spring, which is a girly and maybe silly sentiment, but a nice thought too.


Donna takes me in, buys me a bed, gives me my own room, and begins sorting through the legal red tape involved for her to become my legal guardian, which is complicated since no one knows if my father is still alive or where he might be—and I don’t know of any living family I may or may not have since my mom left her home out west early on in life, hitchhiked east at the age of thirteen, and never told me anything about her parents whom she hated and refused to even name. I never even knew my own mother’s maiden name.

Donna says she knows enough people to keep me out of the foster care system at least until I turn eighteen this summer, provided that I will state before a judge that I want to stay with Donna and Ricky, which I do.

The police arrest a man with huge brown glasses and strange hair.

I am sure you read all about him in the papers or see him on television.

His face is everywhere.

He becomes famous.

He admits to doing what he did, but his lawyer stresses that the whole thing was random, an accident even, because my mother’s killer went off his medications, but is now back on meds, as if that matters at all to anyone.

Along with the families of the other victims, the prosecution contacts me and says I will be made to testify, which I will hate doing, even though I have Donna to help me out—and I’m not going to tell you about the trial, because it will prove to be too horrible.

My mother’s killer uses my name whenever he talks to the press.

Through the media he apologizes to all of his victims’ family members, but the only name I really hear him say is Amber Appleton.

He says he is sick.

He says he deserves whatever he gets—and his unfeeling mechanical voice makes me shiver.

He has a long criminal history.

He is a registered sex offender.

Looking into his eyes makes you believe that life can be absolutely meaningless.

He is like every other man who makes people disappear in horrible unimaginable ways.

He reminds me of a Nietzsche quote I found while doing Joan of Old research: “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.”

Donna tells me this man will go to jail for life, that he will be punished in terrible ways over and over again by the other inmates—and I tell her I don’t really care about any of that—in fact, I never want to talk about that man ever again, and I do not really care what happens to him.


I do not go back to school.

I lose fifteen pounds.

I am always cold.

I become very jumpy; any old noise will scare me horribly.

Donna tries to get me to see a therapist, but I refuse.

I cannot stand listening to Ricky’s autistic nonsense, and I yell at him a lot—until he finally gets the message and just leaves me alone in my room.

I decide to quit being Amber Appleton, which isn’t to say that I change my name or anything. I just decide that I can’t keep living the way I used to live—swinging for the fences, believing that things are going to work out, that everything is worth fighting for, and that I am brave and strong enough to change my reality, because I’m not and I can’t.

Joan of Old was right.

I get her now, and what she said about life being a hell that I was only beginning to experience—that makes sense suddenly.


I’m not a kid anymore.


Ty, Jared, and Chad-in-a-backpack come over to Donna’s and—in my new bedroom—they say a lot of dumb things.

At first, they say they are sorry, and ask what they can do, and when I don’t say anything, they get sorta fidgety, and start talking about the recent Halo 3 games they have played in The Franks Lair, and how they are organizing an all-night video game tournament to help the football team raise money for new safer pads and helmets and other sundry equipment.

This seems important to them.

Back in the day, that news would have pissed me off, because Lex and company are obviously just using my boys—but listening to Ty, Jared, and Chad go on and on, I can’t even shrug.

I just stare at my boys with what I suppose is a very blank look on my face until they leave.

That night I tell Donna I don’t want to see Ty, Jared, and Chad anymore—but she doesn’t respond to my request.


Father Chee jogs to my house every single morning and comes up into my bedroom—even on Sundays, before he presides over Mass.

He never fails to show up.

If I am up, he’ll ask if I want to talk.

For weeks, I do not want to talk, so FC just sits next to me for an hour, and we sorta breathe together.

We just sit on the edge of my bed breathing, occupying the same space, which is okay with me, because I really like my Man of God, even if I am mad at God Himself.

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