Here it is…the epic scene… I had to rearrange a bit of the landscape in Biloxi to get this scene to work, but the lighthouse did, indeed, survive.
Their senior year passed like the wind. Dex broke up with Laycee in January of ’05. She’d started calling him “my boyfriend” around school, and his buddies had stopped ragging him about boning her on the sly, and he could feel it – the world, closing in on him, the expectation that he’d settle down, “go steady.”
And what would that lead to, he thought glumly, other than me getting drunk one night and fucking her without a rubber, or the rubber breaking, and there it is, a baby, and the next twenty years of my life set in stone.
He knew the pattern. He’d hang out with Alex on Saturdays, get baked, play music, and talk, about everything in the world other than what was maybe the most important thing in his life. Then he’d go out with Laycee. Alex had to know, didn’t he, Dex thought. That I can only fuck her after I’m with him. So close to him I can practically fucking taste him…
Some days, getting on the Internet, especially with all this gay marriage stuff in the wind, he couldn’t avoid seeing certain pictures. Pictures of gay couples, happy, smiling, handsome, together. And they filled him with…rage. Blinding rage. Not because they were sinning, but because they were happy, because they had what he could never have. Love and happiness wasn’t the natural state of Man. Aching, terrible loneliness was. How dare they. How dare they defy that, how dare they remind him over and over that nobody else knew that truth but him…
He graduated high school, and got offered a full time job at the seafood warehouse. 39.5 hours a week. He took it. Then he went to bed for two days.
August rolled around. Alex had been accepted to UGA, and was on his way to Athens, Georgia on a full scholarship to Hodgson School of Music. Dex was going nowhere.
As he walked to Alex’s house for the last time, the day his friend was leaving for school, Dex realized that he’d made a mistake, hanging out exclusively with Alex. Especially as a musician – he could have formed a band, could have…
Yeah, right, he thought. With a bunch of flakes and slackers and deadbeats who’d skip practice or fuck around or whatever. Alex was dependable, consistent, helpful, forgiving…
I love him.
The admission swept over him now, now that it was too late to do anything about it. He stopped in his tracks. The words had formed on their own, had been formed in the back of his head all along, he knew. He hadn’t asked for them. Didn’t want them. They were like a truck that hit you in the intersection, even though you had the right of way. Or thought you did, anyway.
He looked up at Alex’s house, the big old house that needed a paint job it would never get from the Carrolls, who probably didn’t even notice that it was needed. He knew every poster on every wall, every musical instrument in every corner, every one of Mrs. Carroll’s special meals and even specialer desserts. He knew every record in Mr. Carroll’s collection, every anecdote about the famous musicians he’d played with before giving it all up to teach. He knew the moments of perfect silence in the house, the two beats before he and Alex started to play, together. Moments of silence that only a power failure might – might – have brought in his own house.
They said some big storm was coming, a hurricane. You could feel it, too, the change in the air. Something dark and cold and mean.
I hope it comes, he thought angrily. I hope it wipes this whole fucking town off the face of the earth. And me with it.
“Dex!” Mrs. Carroll said, surprised. She had a big and clearly heavy box in her hands. “What are you doing here? You should be helping your parents get ready.”
“For what?” He took the steps two at a time and took the box from her.
“The Hurricane! Katrina! It’s coming this way.” She ran back inside and emerged with yet another heavy box. “They’re about to issue an evacuation order for the whole Gulf Coast.”
“It’s just a storm. They said it didn’t do much in Florida…”
Alex came out, struggling with several instrument cases. “Dude. Seriously, this is major shit. You gotta go home and get packed up.” The wind was picking up, blowing his hair around wildly.
“I…” This wasn’t what he wanted at all. Not what he expected. Alex packing up for his trip to school, yeah, but not the entire house being emptied of its most precious items.
Somehow he’d thought he’d have one last quiet minute alone with Alex. One minute in which anything could happen, even a kiss he could regret, repudiate, later. But that minute was gone.
Alex put his cases down and hugged his friend. “Hey, UGA isn’t that far. And I’ll be home for Thanksgiving, man. Go home and get shit done, get ready for this thing.”
Suddenly he embraced Dex, startling him. “I love you,” Alex said, his face buried in Dex’s chest. “I’ll always love you.”
It wasn’t brotherly love, either, Dex knew immediately. The admission, the affection, was so startling that it went right around his defenses. He started crying, just…blubbering.
It was there, plain as day in Alex’s voice. Alex, too, had hoped for that minute. Had hoped it could make up for all this time. All this lost time, all this lost love, for what? In exchange for what? A shit job and a shit life, forever and ever amen?
“I love you too. I love you so much.” He started to sob. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…”
Somehow Alex’s mother had made herself scarce. It was only the two of them, on the front yard, holding each other tight.
“Come to Georgia. Just…move there and be with me. I’m in student housing, but you can get a job and an apartment and…”
“Yeah,” Dex nodded. “Yeah, fuck it. I’m gonna do it.” He laughed, wildly. “Fuck it!”
Alex laughed too, lifted his head, his own tears apparent. “Fucking kiss me, you dumbass.”
He did. He cradled Alex’s head in his big hands, and met his eyes, and didn’t close his own as he leaned in and finally, finally, finally touched someone he loved.
“Alex,” his mom said gently. “We have to go.”
He nodded, pulled back, wiped his own tears away. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Yeah,” Dex agreed. “You will.”
“Dex, go home, get your family out of here,” Mrs. Carroll said. “This is going to be bad. Very very bad, do you hear me?”
He saw the look on her face, and knew it wasn’t just a storm. “Yes, ma’am.”
When he got home, the front door wouldn’t shut without Dex putting his weight behind it, the winds were getting that bad.
“What are y’all doin’?” Dex shouted when he saw the other kids playing in the living room. “Why aren’t you packin’? There’s a goddamn hurricane coming.”
“Jus’ a storm,” Mike mumbled from the La-Z-Boy. “No big deal.”
“Dad. You’re watching the TV now, and they’re issuing an evacuation order. Right there, in front of you.”
“Yeah, shit. I keep changin’ channels and that’s all I get, damn it.”
“Fuck,” Dex sighed. “Kaleb! Carrie! Charlene! Pack your shit up! We gotta go!”
“That’s what I told him,” his mom said, carrying a basket of laundry. “We gotta go to the shelter they got set up.”
“Shelter’s full up,” Mike said. “See, I’m payin’ attention.”
Dex moved almost as fast as the wind outside. He grabbed his father by the front of his shirt and lifted him out of the chair. “You fucking dumbass, you’re gonna kill us all. Now get the fuck upstairs and pack your god…damn…suitcase.”
That was when the power went out. Mike looked at his son, half drunk as always, blinking. “Okay, okay. Jesus, you don’t know your own strength,” he mumbled as he went upstairs.
He got the kids to pack their backpacks full of food, after threatening to spank Carrie. “Take the goddamn Barbies out and put in there what I tol’ you put.”
She burst into tears. “Mommy!”
“Dex…” his mother said softly. “Honey, you better come look at this.”
Dex ran downstairs to the living room window. “Oh, shit.”
In the short time he’d been home, the street had flooded. He couldn’t even see the sidewalks over the rippling waves of water. A minivan stacked with belongings was stalled out in the middle of the street, its occupants frantically throwing their possessions into the flood, so they could get on top of the van and out of the rapidly rising water.
“Get upstairs. Everyone upstairs. In the bathroom. The inside bathroom, not the master bathroom.” He grabbed a jacket from the peg by the door.
“Dex, where are you going?”
“To get help.”
He was soaking wet before he got ten feet from the door. Only his big strong legs kept the wind from knocking him over.
He had to get to the coast. There would be people there, first responders, someone, who could help them. He moved along the street, hugging the fronts of houses for the tiniest bit of windbreak. An animal was swept down the street, swimming frantically for its life. He couldn’t stop, couldn’t help it.
He heard the wrenching groan even over the howling wind. He ducked as something huge flew over his head. Not that ducking would have helped if it had landed on him, since it was a whole roof. He watched, awestruck as it sailed out of sight, as if it was as light as a kite that had broken off its string.
He saw something he couldn’t believe as he got nearer to the shore. An apartment building, with people still in it. Some fucking dumbass on a balcony trying to take pictures.
He waved his arms, shouted, senselessly, futilely. Nobody could see or hear him.
In school, they’d seen a movie about the A-bomb tests in Nevada. They’d built fake towns so they could measure the power of the blast. The black-and-white footage showed the whole town blown down like a house of cards. Everyone in class had shouted like it was a video game. “Cool! Awesome!”
That was what happened to the apartment building. He screamed, he knew they screamed, but it was just like the bomb, the whole thing just…started to fold flat. Cheap construction, probably. Certainly never meant to withstand this.
He couldn’t help them. They were all dead. He had to move.
He got to the shore line. There was nobody. Everyone had run. The tide was slamming boats into buildings. There was one van, with a weatherman standing outside like a fucking idiot, bracing himself against a pole, knee deep in water now. The cameraman was filming from inside the van, clearly having more sense.
“Get out! Get the fuck out of here!” Dex yelled at him.
Then the wind snapped the antenna off the top of the van. “Get in,” the guy said. “We’ll give you a ride.”
That was when Dex heard the screams. There was a two-story gazebo by the waterfront, headquarters for a tourist boat company, a gazebo that was slowly, methodically disassembling itself. A family of four was waving at him from the doorway.
“We gotta help these people!”
“Fuck that,” the weather man said. Then he paused, shocked at himself. “Here.” He took off his rain slicker. “At least take this. Good luck.” He jumped in the van as it tore away.
Dex put the black slicker on, trying to hold the hood over his head as he pushed towards them.
“Thank God,” the woman cried out from the doorway. “Oh thank you.” She and her husband were in their sixties, at least, and the kids must be their grandkids, Dex thought. “We don’t know what to do.”
Dex looked around and saw it. “Over there. The lighthouse. We gotta get to the lighthouse.”
“But that thing weighs a ton!” The man exclaimed. “That comes down on us, we’re dead!”
“It’s not coming down.” He remembered something he’d seen one day, hanging out with Alex and watching Discovery or something good to watch when you were stoned. About how square buildings were more vulnerable to high winds, how round buildings parted the winds, something sciency anyway, he couldn’t remember the details. And he knew it was made of cast iron, too. It wasn’t going anywhere. Unless everything went. In which case, it wouldn’t matter where they ran.
He picked the kids up, carrying one under each arm. They never would have made it otherwise. The water was rising, and rising. It was only a short way across the road to the lighthouse, but it seemed like a million miles.
The small decorative fence around it was torn away, and the door was unlocked, mercifully. Dex herded his charges inside.
A falling brick made the little girl scream. The inside of the lighthouse was lined with them, and the force of the storm was shaking them loose.
“It’s falling apart!” the old man shouted.
“No, it ain’t.” The center of the lighthouse was a metal spiral staircase. “Get under these stairs. And don’t move. Right?” He made eye contact with the woman, who was in shock but nowhere near the degree her husband was.
She nodded. “Where are you going?”
“I…I have to get home.”
“God protect you,” she whispered. “God save you. Thank you.”
Dex nodded. “Stay here.”
He was only a few feet away from the lighthouse when a huge pane of glass sailed straight over his head, still in its window frame. It was like something out of one of the Surrealist paintings that Alex had shown him in a book. Then it exploded against the ground.
He turned around and went back to the lighthouse. The wind was terrifying; it was getting even faster, too. He was scared now, so scared. Another minute out here and he’d be swept away.
The family was huddled under the stairs, crying, folded together like one of those families frozen in time in Pompeii, buried under the ash, nowhere to go, no way to get away from the apocalypse. Dex sat on the steps of the staircase, his face hooded in the black raincoat, and he prayed. That was all that was left to do.
“God, please save me. Please don’t let me die here. I swear I’ll…I won’t waste it, I won’t waste this life. I’ll make something of my music, my life. Please, please, don’t let me die now.”
He must have passed out from exhaustion at some point. He woke up to silence. The storm had finally passed. He opened the door to a cloudy sky, and the end of the world.
Everything was gone, all the way up the shoreline to the casinos. How they were still standing was beyond him.
Later he had time to reflect on it. You heard these stories, you couldn’t believe them. Crazy-ass generals who stood up in a firefight, bullets whizzing everywhere like popcorn popping, and they never got a scratch. Tornados that devastated an entire town, except for that one house, in the middle of it all, untouched as if it had been under a force field.
But they were true. If they were God’s work or incredibly dumb luck, it didn’t matter, did it? He had survived the hurricane.
He looked back at the family. They were asleep too, and he left them there. They’d find their way out. Now he had to get home to his family. If he still had a home. Or a family.
At that thought, he began to run.