The Outsider Ch. 18


However, like the weather, Jake Junior offered a welcome distraction from the tense silence between Jake and Ruthie. Jake Sr., happy that his two kids were together for the first time, took them out for pizza. From the pizza place they went home. It was dark, but Ruthie could see that on the outside the house had not changed, that detail for detail it was as she remembered it. Her old room was still there as well, although over the years the furniture had been moved around and the nightstand had been replaced. Jake mentioned that he had kept most of Ruthie's stuff from when she was a kid, but it was boxed up in the attic and that if she wanted to go through any of the boxes, she'd have to wait until it was light outside.

Jake asked Ruthie to help put her brother to bed. She still could not believe that the kid in front of her was her relative. Subconsciously she had expected that nothing in Nebraska had changed apart from everyone getting a bit older. She also felt some unexpected sympathy for Jake Jr., thinking how much it would suck to be Debra's kid. The very fact that she was putting the boy to bed instead of Debra said a lot about Debra as a person.


Jake had to go to work most of the days Ruthie was staying at his house, which left her alone with her thoughts during the days. She spent the next week wandering about Lincoln and walking around her old neighborhood in the bitter cold. She wanted to see all of the places familiar to her six years before and try to come to terms with her memories. She visited her grade school and her middle school; both of which had let out for Christmas. She wandered the empty hallways and went into the classrooms where she had been assigned. She knew that some of her old teachers were still working at the schools she had attended, but she had no desire whatsoever to run into them or let any of them know what had become of her. She had returned to the school to renew her own memories, not to share herself with anyone else. Nor was she interested in tracking down any of her friends from middle school, because she felt they had betrayed her by not writing.

She realized that the passing of time gave her anonymity. It was probable that people she had known years before passed her in their cars or even on the sidewalk, but no one ever recognized her. On the final day of the year, she walked right by a middle-aged couple that she recognized as the parents of one of her friends. They did not know who she was and she did not try to draw their attention, so one chance for renewing contact with her former life came and went.

She visited her grandmother's grave twice during her trip. For a long time she stared at the tombstone and momentarily regretted being an atheist. She wished that she could imagine feeling her grandmother's presence; that she could talk to the tombstone with the conviction that her grandmother was listening to her from "the other side". It would have been comforting to think that she could have told her grandmother that she was doing OK and that she still remembered her and loved her. However, such comfort was a luxury that Ruthie would never have. She did not believe in Life after Death. Her grandmother was gone and nothing remained of her except some decaying bones under a carved piece of granite and the details of the conversations stored in Ruthie's memories. Ruthie had no means of communicating with her, because, like the pterosaurs, her grandmother had vanished into oblivion and no longer existed. It would have been nice to believe otherwise.

Ruthie went to her father's attic and rummaged through the boxes, looking at her old toys and books as part of her effort to reconnect with her past. There were a lot of things in the attic she wished she could have taken with her when her father kicked her out, that she deeply regretted not having when she moved to California. And yet, perhaps it was better that she did not take what was precious to her in Nebraska, because those things would have tied her even more to her past and make the transition to her new life in Salinas even more difficult. Her things sat in the attic for six years, ignored and undisturbed, but also momentarily protected from the ravages of time. She thought about taking some of her old items with her, but figured that no, if her father was willing to keep them it would be better to leave them where they would be safe instead of bringing them into her uncertain life in California. There was no guarantee that she would not end up committing suicide after-all and she did not want to think that as a result her stuff would end up in a dumpster somewhere in Santa Cruz. Ruthie closed the boxes and left the attic. ----------

It was fortunate that Jake Burns was not the type of person who felt that every problem and personal conflict had to be straightened out immediately. His daughter spent her entire time in Nebraska dreading being forced into a serious conversation about her relationship with her father, but that never came. Instead, Jake was content to let things happen naturally. If Ruthie wanted to talk, that was fine; if not, then that was fine too. Ruthie's father figured that if she had a reasonably good time in his house and there were no unpleasant incidents; she'd be willing to come back in the future and over time he could fix his relationship with her.

Little by little Ruthie felt more at ease when around her father. She knew that he was neither intellectual nor introspective, so there were a lot of conversations she never could have with him. Nor was Jake Burns the type of person who easily showed emotion or affection. That detail was fortunate for the relationship with his daughter because she was not in the mood to deal with or respond to affection and love from her estranged relative. The best Jake could hope for would be to re-establish contact with his daughter and get her to be willing to come back periodically. He knew that. Anyhow, Ruthie was only a small part of Jake's life. He had his son to worry about, along his newest girlfriend, his job, and his group of friends.

He wasn't sure what to do about her tuition for the following year. He had been taken aback when he found out how much Ruthie had to pay each semester. Although he did not have any debts, he certainly did not have enough money to keep up those tuition payments. He figured that California was just too expensive: at some point he would have to "have a talk" with his daughter and convince her that the only logical option would be for her to study in Nebraska. The best time for "the talk" would be sometime over the summer.


Besides worrying about avoiding a serious conversation about their relationship, there were various other topics Ruthie avoided during her week in Nebraska. A major item she needed to stay away from was politics. Her father was a militant Republican, the sort that voted on "God, Guns, and Gays" issues. He was into conspiracy theories, sympathetic to property rights and militia movements, and supported abolishing most of the Federal Government.

There were plenty of contradictions in his political positions. One of the biggest was his stand on religion. He fully supported the Republican vision of mixing religion and politics, of having mega-churches and Christian front organizations set social policy for the country. And yet, Jake very rarely went to church, had gone out with various women with no intention whatsoever of getting married, and spent his life going to strip bars and drinking with his friends. Most definitely he did not lead a "Godly life". It was ironic that a lot of what he enjoyed doing would be prohibited by the very people he was supporting with his bumper stickers and at the voting booth.

Ruthie realized that her father was not exactly a hypocrite. He simply could not make the connection between his own behavior and the politicians he was supporting. He did not have the education to reflect, nor did he try to really comprehend what was going on around him. He was content to have his politics dictated to him by talk radio, just as Ruthie's mother was content to have her perspective on life dictated to her by a preacher. Jake was totally the opposite of Mike, who analyzed everything in detail in his effort to understand what had happened to his father's business, and expand that understanding to figuring out why the United States was in the condition it was in.


When Ruthie was not wandering her neighborhood or looking at the contents of the boxes stored in her father's attic, she rode around Lincoln with Jake and Jake Jr. She listened to her father's talk-radio programs babbling about "traditional American values" and the marvels of selfish individualism and unrestricted capitalism. She looked around at all the SUV's and oversized pick-up trucks, and at the multitude of evangelical churches that surrounded her. Physically she was miserable because the bitter cold tore into her whenever she went outside.

Ruthie spent New Year's Eve alone in the house, taking care of Jake Jr. Her father and his girlfriend celebrated with some friends at a bar, taking advantage of having Ruthie in the house to baby-sit. She put her half-brother to bed at 9:00. Once the boy was asleep she relieved her tension by masturbating. She was in bed by 10:30, not bothering to stay up until midnight.

The day after New Year's Ruthie's father took her to the airport. Jake was in an upbeat mood, thinking that he had repaired the relationship with his daughter. He still did not realize how traumatized she was from what he had done to her six years before. The trip to the airport was the hardest part of the entire week for Ruthie, because she started having flashbacks of the previous time she had made the journey, six years before. Jake, blinded by love for a woman, had taken his daughter to the airport and tossed her into the void, not really caring what happened to her upon her arrival in California. Had he known about the difficult transition that awaited her in Salinas, he would have been glad, figuring it would be good punishment for "giving him shit".

After forcing herself to hug her father goodbye, Ruthie found the flight that would take her to California. The flashbacks intensified once she took her seat. She imagined that she could see herself as a terrified 12-year-old, hugging her backpack as the plane carried her away from her former life and trying to comprehend what her father had just done to her.

She had hugged her father goodbye. She would hug Mike in San Jose when he picked her up. She would hug her mother upon returning to Salinas. She wished she didn't have to touch any of them. The person she wanted to hug was not her boyfriend or any of her relatives, but herself. She imagined sitting next to herself six years ago...and trying do what? Tell her 12-year-old self that everything was going to be OK? Well, that would have been a lie. When she got to Salinas nothing was OK. Her life sucked...but then it would have sucked had she stayed behind in Nebraska, dealing with Debra and her kid.

No matter where I would've gone, my life would've sucked.

Home...she had always thought of Jake's house as home...just as she had always said that Nebraska was home to her. "I'm not from Salinas...I just live there right now. Actually I'm from Nebraska." Much of Lincoln was as she remembered it in its physical detail, but she knew that didn't matter. The Lincoln of her memories, the place that she had idealized, had been nothing more than an illusion. The house and the neighborhood were still there, right in front of her, and detail for detail the way she remembered. But now, after finally returning, the place of her childhood had a hostile and alien feel for her. It turned out Ruthie Burns wasn't from Nebraska at all. She no more belonged in Lincoln than she belonged in Salinas, or Davenport, or Culiacan.

So, she truly was an outsider, a homeless soul destined to spend her existence looking through the windows of life into places she could never settle.


Mike picked up his girlfriend in San Jose, just as he promised. The trip to Salinas was very difficult, because she was unable to put into words what had happened to her in Lincoln. She was silent and moody.

Mike became nervous and started up with a lecture about how glad he was that the Christmas season was over and that the annual orgy of materialism had finally come to an end. He gloated that national sales figures looked bad, even for Mega-Mart, but then Ruthie cut him short.

"Mike...I...uh...I'm really not interested in hearing about that right now."

Mike was deeply hurt and chastened by her rebuke. She did not seem happy to see him. However, he knew Ruthie well enough to understand she was "in one of her moods". Hopefully whatever was bothering her had nothing to do with him.

He said nothing more and the couple spent the rest of their trip to Salinas in tense silence.

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