BY ZACH VANDEZANDE
Rick Perry is on an elevator in the Statehouse building in Austin and he has to fart but he is not alone and he knows it will be audible and wet-sounding and of course he is also governor. This is about a week or so after I drowned to death over at the Barton Springs Pool. Maybe you saw it in the local paper, though it wasn’t that big of a story. It went like this: some college kids on mushrooms break into the closed park at night to go for a swim, one of them isn’t as strong of a swimmer as she thinks, drowning in real life isn’t nearly the production people think it is—in fact, it’s almost easy to drown, the easiest thing a body will ever do. It was a mental cut-and-paste job for the guy typing it up for the city section. Hey, presto.
Rick Perry is thinking about whether or not he can get away with letting out a little controlled fart and I am dead by drowning. He does not know the people in the elevator, but they all know him. It’s the first day of a new Senate session. My boyfriend of a month is sitting on his couch and trying deliberately to feel a little worse than he actually does about my death and the fact that he intends to use it as mental slash emotional leverage to drop out of school, probably for good. My twin sister is at work repeatedly writing and then deleting an email to the guy who delivers coffee and other refreshments to her company break room every week. They’re dropping him as the supplier in favor of employees bringing in their own coffee, and she barely has the heart to tell him. My mother is smoking a cigarette in the backyard of my childhood home, looking back in through the kitchen window absently. I am sort of everywhere at once, although it has occurred to me that maybe that isn’t true, that maybe I am still in that moment of slipping under the water and my subconscious brain is trying to save me from the knowledge that death is an endless nothing. I try not to dwell on it, but it’s hard. I’ve found it helps to focus on some kind of banal and emotion-free detail going on in the world, like Rick Perry’s tightly pursed anus, that physical discomfort deeply rooted in the having of a body. A thing I would not possibly feel good about imagining to distract myself from my own death and therefore mustn’t’ve, it must be really happening out there in the world, it must be that I am connected to everyone in my death.
Rick Perry doesn’t remember me—at least, I’m not in his thoughts in any real or conscious way—but I remember him. He was speaking at a fundraising event, and I was there for extra credit in my high school government class. Our teacher wanted us to go out and get invested in politics. Like a lot of Austin kids, I was already invested. I knew Rick Perry as a man who wanted to control my body, who thought his slick-shit paternal authority was all that was necessary or valid in governance. I listened to him talk. I got in line to shake his hand. And then, when my turn came, I looked up at him with what I thought were my best big baby deer eyes and spat in his face. I was composing the moment, trying to be memorable and evocative. What I didn’t, what I couldn’t expect was the look of hurt on his face, the loss of composure. I thought about it a lot while I did my community service, and then for a little while after, and then I tried not to think about it anymore.
When I think of that moment now, mostly I’m sad about trying to be remembered. It was a thing I did a lot, when I was alive. I was obsessed with being memorable—like, I would act almost as though I were composing the present in order for it to be a beautiful past. My smile would be brilliant, but not warm. I would be there but also in the place beyond there. My boyfriend, the one on the couch, he said to me right before I went swimming, “You look at the world as though it’s already ended.” We were sitting on the hill leading down to the Barton Springs pool, and it had just started raining a little bit. It smelled of petrichor, which is the word for when it smells like it just started raining a little bit. I was in that moment of being high on mushrooms when you are feeling at once that you wish it would never end and are also terrified that it might not, and I knew that word right then, petrichor, though I knew also that I had never heard it before. I said, “Hasn’t it?”
What Rick Perry doesn’t realize as he tries with an increasing amount of concentration to make it through this elevator ride without letting rip is that though yes, his life and this moment is about him, it is also about me, and about the other people on the elevator, and my sister, and my ex-boyfriend, and that his struggle to not fart on the elevator is a basic admission that he wants to understand and love the people around him, and that, though he would say if pressed that mostly that kind of thing is just not done in an elevator—meaning it is a breach of decorum, which is one of the things he holds most dear when it suits him—what he is asking for from the people around him by holding back is the kind of unrequited and universal love that he can only provide for himself.
What I did was I stood up and stripped off my clothes, conscious of what I must look like but not really self-conscious that none of my friends had seen me naked before that moment. I walked haltingly down the hill, avoiding roots and slick mud, and leapt in. The water was cool, not cold, and I stayed under. There was just enough light to see the rough surface pelted by rain. I thought to myself that I could go deeper, that I could get to another, burdenless place, and all I would have to do was exhale. So I did. It seemed at the time like the only thing in the world to do.
Rick Perry steps off of the elevator and into an empty hallway and finally lets himself release a long, plaintive fart. It’s the best he’s felt all day. He smiles, a little, at the stupidity of his life. For a brief second, he’s nearly a contemplative man. He’s nearly a person I could like.
I wish I hadn’t spit in his face, now, is what I’m saying. I wish I’d had the power to show him something more. I wish I’d had the power to tell him that he is compassionate in small ways, that he wouldn’t fart in an elevator, which is a place to start. That he’s trapped inside of himself and so is everyone else, and that his being right is no more or less being right than anyone else’s being right. That there’s very little between me and him and everyone else except the meat and bone that contains us. Even if it isn’t true. Even if what I’m seeing in him now is just me seeing it in myself as my lungs burn and my body screams out for oxygen and my brain flips that little switch, the one that’s been there all along, the one that’s marked, “let her think she knows everything. Abolish the concept of time. This is the last, last moment. One last burst of purpose. Give it to her. Just give it to her. Make everything, finally, all right.”
Zach VandeZande is the author of Apathy and Paying Rent (Loose Teeth, 2008). His work has recently appeared in Portland Review, Atlas Review, decomP, Bop Dead City, Necessary Fiction, Hot Street, Crack the Spine, and Punchnel’s, and is forthcoming in Gettysburg Review, Passages North, Thin Air, and The Boiler. He holds a PhD of fiction from the University of North Texas. He likes baking bread, hammocks, and people who bring their dogs.