Debra Dickerson

       I finalize the arrangements for a two-week trip back home to St. Louis. I hate St. Louis. All right, I hate the gloomy weakling I was when growing up in St. Louis. Friends who attended Washington University, who fly in to consult at Monsanto or McDonnell Douglas, do not recognize the miserable city of my memories. The St. Louis beyond my working-class orbit remains a mystery to me, as does whatever was good within that orbit. I blow into town just long enough to witness kinfolk being either married or buried, and am out again on the first thing smoking. I will have to buy a map of my hometown. At the last wedding I attended, a niece imitated me by lobbing make-believe belongings into a paper-bag “suitcase” and Mad Max-ing her Hot Wheels full tilt for the airport “cuz that’s where Debbie lives.”
       My newly cagey U.S. News editor sicced the photography guys on me. They call to coordinate the photos for the many simultaneous articles I agreed to produce. Can’t blame him. He gave me an inch, I took six weeks. If I fall behind now, I’ll drag innocents with me. Even so, this development cheers me because the last photographer was a hoot. We giggled for six hours. He’d spent the campaign watching endless showings of Fargo on the press plane and tormented me with trivia questions. My favorite: How many ponytail revolutions did the prostitute servicing Steve Buscemi perform? I forget how many, but he killed me imitating her.
       Get a surprising call from an old acquaintance. We’d never been close, so I know he wanted something. He’d just heard that my ex-boyfriend (we’d all worked together) had come out as a homosexual. I confirm that piece of intelligence and brace for the usual questions.
       Gay men demand sympathy for my ex. Certain straight men (the kind who barely know you but ask personal questions) want to know first, whether he and I were having sex, and second, whether he was having sex with men while with me. Though they pretend to provide comfort (I don’t need it–he’s my best friend), what they really want is to know whether he was having sex with men while they were treating him like a heterosexual. They know this question is deplorable, they stammer and turn red in the face, but they can never control themselves. As ever, I refuse to answer the first question and refer my caller to the source himself for the second. Then I tell him never to call me again.
       Women have two responses. They either murmur sympathy for me, or, more often, want to know precisely how furious I was when he told me and exactly how and where I struck him. When I admit that I did not hit him, they launch into furious pantomimes of their own hypothetical anger and graphically shadowbox the way they’d thrash such a creature. It’s always fisticuffs, never tears, guns, knives, or hit men. Knuckle sandwiches. I offer up weak defenses of my friend and secretly enjoy their anger.