It was hot. Miserably hot. So much so that I could barely keep focused on the blade of the knife as stinging sweat poured into my eyes. I kept having to stop and wipe my brow, blink tears away. On top of the sweltering heat, my nerves were destroying me and I was shaking. In view of the fact that I had never purposefully cut into another person before, the shaking was appropriate. Rarely appropriate, on the other hand, was a perfect description of the person I was cutting into. Jeni. Jeni didn’t really have time for things like being appropriate or conforming to etiquette.
“Oh my Jesus Christ, would you stop jerking around?” Jeni spoke into the wind as she sat hunched on the hood of her Datsun 210. “For fuck’s sake, Amber, it’s only a tiny patch! Just cut it out and let’s go!” We were hungry and this little patch of skin on the back of her shoulder had to be taken care of before she would allow us to do anything else.
I can honestly say that I’d have demanded the same had I found that there was a decapitated tick head just under a patch of skin on my own shoulder. Even now it makes me gag a little. She’d picked up a tick somewhere in Missouri. We hadn’t caught it for a couple of days; it was minute in comparison to the Montana ticks we were used to and by the time she found it, it had embedded itself on the back of her left shoulder. Of course, she swiped at it immediately, which had dislodged it. She’d made me look at it closely to see if I could determine whether it’s head had come with it. Apparently my affirmative answer had been wrong. Now, we were pulled over in some desolate parking lot, and I was trying to focus on cutting a patch of her skin out.
Now, before you get all reasonable and start asking stuff like “Hey, why not a doctor or medical clinic?” or “Why, just why?” or “Do you have a dead heart?” I should fill you in on a thing or two:
1. We were 19
2. We had just left our home state of Montana
3. Neither of us had really ever traveled
4. We were driving across the United States in a less than safe vehicle
5. We had very little money
6. We were so, so dumb
7. We did not care about how dumb we were; we didn’t have a clue
8. We had begun with two missions and already suffered one failure
9. We had gone too far to turn back, almost in every way possible
10. There was no force on Earth that could keep me from him and she knew it.
I was surprised when the blade popped through the surface of her skin. Immediately, blood welled up around the incision and she yelled out, “Holy shit!” while jerking her body forward.
“Jeni, dammit, I had just got the guts up. Now you’re just bleeding everywhere.” Jeni had jumped off the hood of the car and was running in small circles, droplets of blood oozing through her fingers and splattering the ground in a swirl.
“Fuck, fuck fuckfuckfuck!” She was bending over while she screamed now. The blood droplets were finding their way into her mess of black hair, a few splashed against the white tips of her Converse shoes. “Fuck!” She stood up straight as a board, threw her head back and started laughing like a maniac, tears streaming down the sides of her face. Luckily, I was used to this action on her part. It was her way of facing circumstances that were scary to her. She chose to laugh like a crazy person and push through.
“Shit, we better do this,” she said “We’ve used up all the time we have for a brown person to be standing on the side of road with a knife. Fucking Feds will be rolling along any second now. You’re ass is grass if we don’t hurry.” She turned her back on me and bit her lip. I made two more cuts and scooped a triangle shaped chunk of her shoulder out. Then we drove to the roadside diner down the road and ordered chicken fried steaks.
My memory of that diner is that everything seemed to be trapped in a time warp, cast under an orange glow and languishing under a thick layer of cigarette smoke. The entries on the menu were numbered and foreign sounding, but there were some old familiars. Jeni and I smoked our cigarettes boldly and drank coffee amidst tables full of elderly people who must have wondered a lot about the two of us. We were not concerned with them at all. I’d be willing to bet any of the biddies who eavesdropped on our conversation went home and blessed their own ears for having listened to the way Jeni and I used words.