Remnants by Stephanie Kutner

Tyler was holed up in our bedroom the day after New Year’s with two glocks and seven boxes of ammo. It took a swat team and a laser aimed at his chest to get him out of the house.

Two hours later, Tyler was waiting for a bed in the Psych Unit at Cape Cod Hospital. A policeman in his thirties stayed with us in the hospital room for a half an hour, talking, trying to calm us down. Before he left, he took me and my mother in law in the hallway to tell us that Tyler’s magazine capacity was going to be kept out of the official report, his gun would go into storage and that would be that. At ten rounds, it was well over Massachusetts’ legal limit.

After I leave Tyler at Cape Cod Hospital I drive in a daze towards our house in Marstons Mills, desperate to get back to Fin, our six year-old black lab. I slowly pass the Cape Cod side of the Sagamore, where police dogs overdose on the Fentanyl their paws and noses are exposed to on the job. I have to hold Fin when I get home.  

At around midnight I drive up the slope of our complex’s hill, past the day’s ghosts: the fleet of cop cars and ambulances, the entire Barnstable Police force I’d summoned with, My husband is a vet with two guns. He won’t leave our room. He needs help. It is oddly quiet now. No SWAT team. No police force. No paramedics at the ready. I think about the last time I dealt with paramedics. I was fifteen. I had overdosed on Zoloft and was drinking charcoal out of a dixie cup while an EMT assured me that life wasn’t so bad. 

Fin and I fell asleep back to back in the guest room. In the morning I drank my black coffee and surveyed the damage: the holes Tyler had kicked in our drywall, the shattered glass and splintered wood. I turn on the TV. Fin sat next to me on the couch as I tried to zone out with Ina Garten. For once, we knew what it felt like to wake up without fear. I had been married to Tyler for three years. Now I wondered what was keeping me here when the marriage was broken.

I stared at our closet, remembering my mother’s closets over the years, peopled with outfits I’d never seen her wear, reserved for a life I’d never known her to have. I was 26 and my closet was like hers— clothes untouched for years. I thought of my mother’s life before the three of us, before my father— of Martha Graham tapping her on the shoulder at an audition in 1971, of her sweating into a schmatte in Israel, picking bananas for her Kibbutz, of her floating in the dead sea. I would still give anything to know that woman, to ask her how I move forward from this. 

Donald Trump announced his candidacy and was supported by David Dukes. Around the time of the first GOP debate in August of 2015, Tyler told me that he thought TV pundits were talking directly to him. Through static, through silences, the TV told Tyler that his father was the leader of a Neo-Nazi movement. He didn’t sleep for days. At first, he told himself he was having a really long dream, but four days after it started, he could no longer distinguish between what was real and what the TV told him about a new world Neo-Nazi order. He pieced together an inaccurate timeline of his father’s life in San Diego’s 80s punk scene, and how easily his father could have turned to the Western Hammerskins or the USAS. Finally, he fixated on WAR and soon called his uncle to ask if his father knew Tom Metzgar. His uncle didn’t understand that Tyler was serious and responded with, “Yes, you’ve figured it all out.” The next day, I drove Tyler to the VA Hospital in Brockton, where he changed into tan scrubs and the doctor folded his clothes on the bed, as if I’d just been widowed. Before I left, Tyler hugged me in the parking lot on his way to the psych ward. I still felt safe in his arms then. 

Tyler was still hospitalized when the attacks in Paris happened. My friend Becca didn’t want me to be alone so she invited me to the Quarterdeck, a locals’ only place with wood floors and ceilings covered in taxidermied snakes and muskrats. It was like walking into the Atomic 50s— a pinball machine and Christmas lights the only sources of light. If Tyler had been near, he would have reassured me that Paris was a one-off thing, even if he didn’t believe this himself. But Tyler was in Brockton, somewhere south of Boston, failing to get adequate treatment, staying up all night to protect everyone after three razors go missing on his ward. I was in the bar without armor. Becca and I talked about the dating scene in the Cape. I don’t mention Tyler. Instead, I started doing imitations using my awful Boston accent. "You gotta pahk the cah in the cah pahk and bring yaw nahcan." We laugh uneasily. Both of us knew someone who OD’ed on heroin. When Becca’s boyfriend, Harry, came out of nowhere and gave me a hug, I nearly jumped to the ceiling with the muskrats. Harry said he was sorry, that there was a skinhead in the bar and he just needed to hug a Jew. "Who is he? I’ll cut him,” I said, trying to mask my fear with sarcasm.

After the Quarterdeck, we went to Harry's house in the poorer part of Hyannis, bordering Yarmouth. The house smelled like each of the thirteen houses I lived in with my mother: cigarette smoke and beer that had gone off. I drank a lukewarm beer and Harry pointed at a guy passed out on the couch in a jacket full of spikes and told me he was the one from the bar. I ruffled through the kitchen for a sharpie and when I found it, I drew a Jewish star on the guy’s forehead. It was the best I could do to stop the hairs on the back of my neck from standing up, to ignore the instinct in my genes that told me it was 1942 again and time to go underground. 

It was 3am. Tyler could not save me. Tyler could not save himself. And I didn’t know if I’d ever get the hero I met back. I wasn’t sure if he ever existed beyond the uniform and my fantasy. 

We met in February of 2011, ten days after he returned from Kandahar, where the only things to do beyond helicopter maintenance were lift weights and masturbate. We were both 21. We had both signed up for OkCupid. We agreed to meet in the parking lot of The Cannery Casino, a rundown casino off the strip in North Las Vegas. It was within five miles of Nellis Airforce Base where Tyler was stationed. Tyler was still so fit from his deployment that his squadron pounded the beat to the Terminator on Black Hawks when he walked by them in the hangar where they were breaking down and repairing the search and rescue helicopters. He was over six feet tall with short dark hair, big goofy ears and small, crooked teeth. The light caught his green eyes as I made an eight-point turn into the spot next to the grey Subaru he called “The Banshee.” It would become the car we drove to and from our wedding in. He didn’t talk about Afghanistan in the beginning, except to say that his rap battle name was C-lyon, the moon was red, and portapotties cost 1,000 a day. Within a month I lost my virginity to him and the blue reflector belt he wore to taxi in Black Hawks became my equator— my glimpse of a life for myself beyond my mother’s house where I was almost married off to an Israeli man for a green card.  

Tyler’s toes were still green when we met. The symbol of his Airforce rescue squadron was a green footprint, stretching back to Vietnam when the HH33 rescue helicopters, also known as Jolly Green giants, would leave huge impressions in rice paddies and grass land that looked like footprints. When his deployment ended in January of 2011, his squadron tied him up, dipped his feet in green paint and carried him to a wall where they stamped his footprint to commemorate him. I think about this wall of green footprints often. I think about the brotherhood bound up in that graffiti, never to be found beyond that wall in Afghanistan, except in suicide.

Tyler's good friend, Dillon, shot himself two years after he was discharged. 

In mid-January Tyler was released from his second hospitalization at Cape Cod Hospital. He bought a Toyota Rav 4 off Craiglist the following week. It was an all-terrain vehicle, the same make that the Afghan Taliban used in the desert. He told me he wanted to go off-roading, like we used to in Vegas. We drove deep into the Mashpee woods. I thought about how different things were when we were off-roading in Vegas, about how things were dying now. 

By late Spring, Fin was dying. He could no longer climb the stairs. Tyler carried him up the steps every night so that I could hold him and memorize the feeling of his huge body, the earthy scent of his giant paws. As Fin slept beside me, I remembered how he was covered in tics the day I got him from CraigsList. The owner looked like New England white trash, hair up in a floppy bun, dirty pajamas. She had just moved back into her father’s house after her divorce. I looked through the paperwork Fin’s old family gave me. I looked at the x-rays from when he was hit by a car as a puppy. A picture of him at doggy daycare fell out. “Lance from Tennessee” was the caption on the photo written with a black sharpie. Lance from Tennessee. Tyler’s mother paid to have Fin put down. Tyler didn’t come. He couldn’t handle it. I started crying in my mother-in-law’s car. I couldn’t stop, not even for Fin, not for hours. Without Fin there was no reason for me to stay.

I smoked in the basement before I picked up Fin’s ashes. I tried to cloud out the fact that Tyler bought the pack of American Spirits I was smoking, so irrevocably changed from the person I quit for before the wedding. I surveyed the broken chairs and beer cans Tyler had hidden there. I stood in the ruins of the basement and did a quick inventory of the stuff my mother and father-in-law didn’t want after their divorces, and the small remnants from the life Tyler and I lived in Vegas when he was a Black Hawk Crew Chief and I was a new bride, foolish enough to give up smoking. 

The following week, Dylan Roof killed nine black people at prayer in the basement of a Charleston church with the same type of glock that the cops took away from Tyler.

A month later, Trump became the official GOP nominee. Jackie was the only person I called when Tyler was hospitalized for the first time. She helped me adopt the first lab-collie I see on the ASPCA website, because he was the closest I could come to cloning Fin. In Georgia he was named Big. In my house he was called Hardy. I stayed awake most nights, waiting to take him out, watching the rise and fall of his body— all torso, ears, newness. Tyler helped me with nothing. I let my step-daughter stay up all night to watch the DNC while Tyler worked at Dominoes. After Biden spoke, I carried her upstairs, with Hardy nipping at her feet. I denied his aggression until he bit a neighbor’s dog. I blamed Tyler for it. I blamed myself for it. I blamed the South. 

On New Year’s Tyler dragged me to a party hosted by his best man in Methuen. Within an hour of our arrival I told him I needed to leave to be with Hardy. But he kept drinking and telling me it was too dangerous to drive. I wondered how long ago we had stopped being able to hear each other. Upstairs, I hid myself in a small hallway facing the front door, trying to make myself small. A random guy bunched up a towel and placed it under my head. It was the kindest thing anyone had done for me in years. Curled in the fetal position, I faked sleep, wearing the red flannel pjs my mother in law bought for all the girls in a family I no longer was a part of.

In April, Becca and her friend Dave helped me move into a house teeming with mold while Tyler was at work. I shared the house with Dave and two other men in their twenties. The water didn’t work. My bathroom didn’t work, the water from the shower had pooled in the downstairs ceiling, leaving the foulest smell. I got athlete’s foot from sharing the downstairs shower. But, apart from missing Jackie, I was happy.  

By June I’d worked long enough as a concierge at the hotel across the street to buy my plane ticket home. I made arrangements to stay with a friend from high school, who lived right near the first home I ever lived in. I could not bring myself to say goodbye to Jackie. I took the last bus I’ll ever take over the Sagamore Bridge, into South Station, passing by the Boston Globe, the Gillette stadium, the tangle of streets I’d walked down weeks prior as rain soaked into the graduation gown I’d borrowed from my step-daughter’s mother.  My hands shook as I threw fifty pounds of clothes away to make the luggage limit. In the sky I can’t sleep and grow dehydrated, as if the desert is already reclaiming me. 

By the time I started as an adjunct at the College of Southern Nevada in August, I had twenty cents to my name. My first paycheck didn’t come until October, so I survived off my roommate’s food and food from the Jewish Family Service’s pantry— stale breads, Prigat grapefruit juice, five pounds of frozen cherries. 

My twin sister Samantha drove her ’94 Honda from Reno to Vegas to make my gramp’s 90th. After we celebrate, I drove back to stay with her for a few days. In Hawthorne we passed WWII bunkers and I wondered what life would be like inside them if Trump’s wish for nuclear war with North Korea was granted. Sam and I protested Trump’s speech at the American Foreign Legion. My eyes were swollen from crying as we waded into the group of protestors, holding a sign that read, “One cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.” Robert E. Lee said it. We walked along the Truckee River, looking toward “the Bridge of Sighs,” where droves of women used to walk straight from the courthouse to sink their wedding rings. We made wishes with pennies.

Hurricane season hit in September, filling me with longing for the east coast.  I got a second job at a law office downtown, near my old high school. It’s the oldest high school in the city. I drove past it, remembering all the times I ditched and ran down its steps through the ghosts of students gawking at mushroom clouds blooming over the Nevada Test Site.

In October, the worst mass shooting in American history happened at the Mandalay Bay, on the Strip, killing 58 people and injuring 851. Though it is the most recent terrorist act committed by a white man, just months after Charleston, the media described Stephen Paddock, the white son of a white bank robber, as “a lone wolf,” “a man down on his luck,” “someone who didn’t fit the mass shooter profile.” Before the city covered it up with a Vegas Strong banner, the hole in the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay could be seen from the street for days— a pinhole through which you could see into America’s heart. When I looked in that hole I remembered my old bedroom and the ribbons of crime scene tape that almost were. I smelled the paint of green feet drying. I saw rings sinking in the Truckee River, heard the echo of heels along its banks and joined the women who found it in themselves to walk away. 

Contributor Notes

Stephanie Kutner is a native Las Vegan, identical twin to Samantha (a counter-terrorism researcher) and little sister to Max (world touring, virtuoso musician/singer). She holds an MFA from Emerson College and a BA from UNLV. She has previously worked as Jacquelyn Mitchard's assistant, and had an editorial hand in Mitchard's Young Adult Press, Merit Press. She adjuncts at the College of Southern Nevada. Her writing has appeared in Helen Lit Mag, Words, Pauses, Noises, the Huffington Post and The Culture-ist, among other places. Her first novel is in progress and she is seeking representation. 

Twitter @stephpaige89

Instagram @stephaniekutner