Category Archives: Nonfiction

The Outside

My friend, Jenna, always told me Triple Stacks was a secret place.  She said only people who grew up in Mankato know about it.  She went there a few years ago to get stoned with her friend James and another guy.  It was the most beautiful place in Mankato she said.  But it’s a secret.  And she would never tell me where it is.  She said I could go there — with her — if I sat in the back blind folded.

Today the temperature has to be in the sixties.  It’s a gorgeous November day in Mankato, similar to the 80 degree stretch of days we had in October.  How cunning fall has been this year.

I decide today is the day I will go outside.  In the little free time I have, I generally watch a little TV or read a book and tell myself that I just don’t have enough time to go outside.  Today that will change.

“Let’s go outside,” I say to Jenna as I sit on the loveseat and pop two bronchitis pills.

“Yeah, it’s gorg, we should,” she replies, not looking up from her computer screen.  She hasn’t left the couch since I went to the doctor almost two hours ago.

“Seriously, we need to do something.  All we ever to do sit here.”

“What’s a website that has stuff to do in Kato on it?”

“I don’t know, Greater Mankato Growth events?  Those aren’t the things I’m really looking to do though.”  I carefully fill a tablespoon with the codeine syrup the doctor has prescribed me.  I am terrified.  May Cause Drowsiness.  Alcohol May Intensify This Effect.  Use Care When Operating A Car or Dangerous Machinery. May Cause Dizziness.

“I know, I’ll call Nate.  He grew up here,” Jenna says.

I don’t know who Nate is, but fine.  She knows so many people.  I stick the spoon in my mouth and hope for the best.

After countless phone calls and internet research, we are traveling down 169-South on an adventure.  Jenna insists on using her GPS, whom she calls Bridget, but as she does not know the address, I drive aimlessly while Bridget sits on Jenna’s lap and continues to re-calculate our trip.

We turn left to continue on 169, and I notice an old sign that says “Wildlife Safari.”  It is a dark brown yet metallic looking sign.  The letters have been cut out leaving jagged metal edges behind.  The dirt road it points to doesn’t seem like it would be home to the greatest safari on the planet.  We giggle at the thought of it.

Jenna is taking me to the secret place she calls Triple Stacks, only she won’t tell me that’s where we’re going.

“We’re going to Triple Stacks, aren’t we.”  I’m so positive that it doesn’t even sound like a question.

“No, no, no.  Now it’s one of these roads on the left, but I can’t remember which one.  It’s by the Mankato Cycle Club, whatever that is.”

“You can’t guess what that is?”

“Well I don’t know what the hell a cycle is.”

I’m astonished, but I shouldn’t be.  Over the years I have had to explain to Jenna the definitions of many words.

  1. Swine
  2. Marlin
  3. Splice
  4. Domestic Partnership
  5. Arsenal

Her most amazing moment, though, came when I asked her what countries are north and south of the U.S.

“Well, Canada. And… South America,” she replied.

She took a family trip to Mexico roughly six months before I asked her that.

We pass a side road with a good tree on it.  I call them good trees.  The ones I like.  This tree looks older than the landscape itself.  It is black and hunched over the gravel path it stands along as if it is reaching to dig its branches into the ground on the other side.  I think to myself, that’s the road.

We drive past.

“Ummm… I think that last road was it actually,” Jenna says.

I find a side road, one with the extra black top on the edges so that it’s really wide, and make a u-turn.  Bridget says a loud, “recalculating.”  We make it to the road with the tree, and I lean over the steering wheel, mesmerized by the rickety branches.  That tree deserves a black and white photo of itself up on a wall in some art museum.

We finally make it to the “secret” spot, and I pull the care to the edge of the road.  Jenna turns off Bridget because we have arrived at our destination.  She was so much help.

“I hear a waterfall, and there’s a river or something,” I say.  “I know we’re at Triple Stacks.”

Jenna laughs and smiles.  “Come on!”

We walk down a path and reach a ledge.  It looks like we’ll be climbing staggered sandstone rocks all the way to the bottom.  Many rocks, I think.  Now that I’m standing, I realize I’m only feeling slightly dizzy from the medication, but my eyes probably make me look high as a kite.  Medicine always does that to me.  The dizziness aside, I’m only wearing old shoes that are so worn thin they may as well be socks.  Jenna has on clogs though, so I figure she’ll probably fall before I do, but I’m still terrified.

“I’m going to die,” I say as a jump down to the next rock.

“It’s okay, I’ll lead.  You’ll be fine.”

Slipping and sliding through moss and leaves, we manage to scurry down about seven levels of rock before I finally see it.

I don’t know why it’s called Triple Stacks, but it is beautiful.  It’s like a harbor that no ship could ever fit in.  The walls are almost entirely sandstone with ledges of some rock I don’t know the name of at the top.  It is in a horseshoe shape, with side-by-side waterfalls in the well.  The water flows straight off the ledge, like one of those infinity pools.  It collects in puddles at the bottom, flowing randomly toward the river in confusion.  It looks like I could get down and stand underneath the waterfalls and only get misted with water—if I had better shoes.

So this is what outside is.

“What river do you think that is?” I ask Jenna.

“I’m pretty sure it’s the Mankato River.”

Even after all this time, I can’t help but laugh at her.



The sound of the cigarette paper burning is like the sound of the soft wind blowing through the frozen trees on the cold, still January night.  The sky gray but tinted pink from the lights of the city.  You stare deep into the orange cherry and are reminded of movies from your childhood.  You don’t know which ones.  You don’t know why this memory is triggered.  Your stomach is pained from the sobs of the last few hours.  A rotting feeling deep down like you ate too many green grapes.  You try not to think about the phone not ringing, but it is a constant thought in your head no matter how hard you try to force it out.  The TV buzzes with meaningless entertainment about the unfortunate lives of others.  You know your life isn’t that hard.  You don’t have a drug problem.  But you’ve always wanted one.  For so many years you’ve dreamt of a life where you could blame your problems on an addiction.  Your problems can’t even be called that next to those of others.  You’re hurt, but by what?  Confusion and misunderstandings.  Maybe that’s not even it.  Maybe you’re just let down.  Your expectations were too high.  You saw something that wasn’t there, put too much pressure on him.  Maybe it was just a relationship in your head.  He didn’t even know how close you two had become.  You had built a life together.  A life in Los Angeles, Chicago, Vermont.  You had four kids together.  Though you’d always dreamed of starting with boys, your first was a girl.  Her name was Ava.  She had your murky blonde hair and his deep brown eyes.  Eyes almost black, always looking hopeful and wanting.  Eyes like a deer in headlights.  You text him, tell him he can talk to you, that the future of the relationship rests on him.  You hope the time apart will make him see how great you were.  Make him miss you.  You know the truth is he’ll leave you.  You’ll never speak again.  Or he’ll never speak again.  After some time passes, you’ll text him to see how he’s doing even though you promised him you’d wait for him to talk first.  He won’t respond.  You’ll be crushed, and it will be another difficult day for you to get through.  You’ll wonder if he even got your message.  So you’ll send another and quickly realize how desperate you look.  The depression will worsen.  And for what?  Two months.  Two months is nothing.  Yet you sit and wonder if this is love.  It’s not.  Your jaw hurts like it has for days.  You don’t know why that is either.  Why don’t you know anything anymore?  You’re cold.  You’re cold all the time though.  Even with the heater burning against your skin, the heat can’t seem to penetrate down to your bones.  They ache with the cold.  The cold that came too early this year and is certain to leave too late.  You hate this place.  You wish to be irresponsible.  You wish you could lie in bed for days and not be bothered by bosses and friends and coworkers.  You wish you could pick up and drive and stop somewhere and build a new life.  A life without anyone from the old one in it.  You could change your phone number, forget them, disappear.  You sense vibrations that aren’t there, convince yourself it’s your phone even though you know it’s set to a loud ring, so you check it, and disappointment settles over you.  You wonder what he’s doing.  You imagine him checking his phone, reading your message, and sticking the phone back in his pocket.  He’s already forgotten you.  You’re too clingy, too emotional, too needy.  And you’ll swear you’re not.  But who are you to say that?  How are you to know something about yourself that another could discover so easily?  You make quick assumptions about others, why can’t they make them about you?  Are you one of those people you hate?  Are you that girl?  Of course you are.  Just look at what you’ve written.