Draft 1 of My Essay on Hell, Michigan                                                                                        Alexandra Nordman

            This is Hell, Michigan and the population is around fifteen thousand. To start off, I’ll give an overview of the town. Over there is the Wendy’s where Mr. Crans had a heart attack. That’s the car dealership: the owner, Mr. Jim Stan, sleeps with housewives Mrs. Shue and Mrs. Popalmen in the Jeeps (sometimes the BMW convertibles, it varies). There’s the YMCA I swim at in the summer. A couple blocks past the Y is my favorite diner, Eunice’s. I know it’s missing the C at the moment because the boys who live down the street took it. They’re using it in the school play as a moon. Sister Teresa has recently been complaining that there was no moon for “Romeo and Juliet.” She has been ranting about how “the moon shines on their forbidden love,” for almost two weeks now (Sister Teresa says the play is a love story, but I’m not convinced).  

            Over there is the church where we repent every Sunday around eleven (it’s very exhausting, repenting). You say prayers over and over, meet with priests to confess sins you didn’t even know were sins, eat bread, drink wine, and have the nuns tell you, “it is not bread and wine, that’s our savior, Jesus Christ, who was given to us by God so that we may enter our father’s kingdom one day and avoid the flames of Hell.” Nuns are not very practical in my opinion. (I can’t stand nuns. They say to love one another, but their religion restricts it). Church goers confuse me, so basically the entire town.

            Here’s my house: it has four bedrooms and a half-assed basement (which I believe has mold). I share it with three corpses. All those three do is moan and wander around without an original idea passing through their heads. They are just mindless lumps of flesh. That fat corpse sleeping on the couch is Dad. The skinny corpse dicing tomatoes in the kitchen is Mom and the four-foot corpse with profuse veins sprouting from his left temple is Brother. Living with walking corpses might sound fun, but it’s not. They don’t go to church; they don't even leave the house. Mom has a "job" at the church that she never shows up for. The rectory just sends her a paycheck each month; maybe they feel sorry for us. I have to buy all of the groceries for them, (Mom at least cooks; not well, but she still tries) get the mail, mail the bills, and they never say thank you; they just groan.

            Across from my house is the home of two elderly lesbians who claim to be sisters and smoke constantly. About every other weekend they’ll bake a dozen sugar cookies and scatter them throughout the neighborhood, but most fall to me because being elderly they don't always feel up to delivering all of the cookies. I have offered to spread the cookies around, but every time I offer they say they don't want to bother me. I told them it wouldn’t, but instead of getting into an argument over cookies I just thank them for the dozen and return home where I proceed to eat every single one. Now, the sugar cookies aren't bad, actually they're baked quite nicely—golden on top and soft on the inside—it’s just that I forget they are smokers, some of the worst I know, and for that reason each cookie tastes like smoke; they’re almost unbearable to swallow.

            Over to my left is where Bud and Sue live; they are very religious and have a lot of grandchildren—I do find Sue has very original ideas like how she wants to be stuffed after she dies and put in a rocking chair with her arms positioned as to where she can hold her great grandchildren. She even thought of the idea to have a voice box stuffed inside her that would say, “Grandma loves you,” and other sentiments. Bud, on the other hand, is not as interesting, but he is missing his ring finger. Bud says he lost his finger in an accident with a saw years ago, but I think Sue cut his finger off on purpose just to remind Bud he is to be devoted to her. She can be very possessive at times.

            Then to the right of my house is the man and woman who rarely leave their home. See that tree? The one in their front yard next to the rusted, blue pick up truck? That’s a weeping willow; she used to be quite beautiful, but she's been neglected for too long. Her limbs scuff the earth and her hair has been tangled into knots that even the birds don't find appealing to nest in.  The backyard is no better than the front-yard; it’s covered in weeds that are woven into the wooden stairs leading to the back door. The door, once white, now more of a dull moss green,  sports a rusted handle and hinges that are close to collapsing with a single knock. I think the woman makes candles for a living because once every week I see some van that says, “Aunt Myrtle’s Homemade Scented Candles and Soaps” pull into their driveway.  The driver picks up a box that the woman has set on her front porch, checks the contents, and then drives off.

            I don’t interact with the other neighbors. The smoking “sisters” are the most entertaining aspect of the neighborhood. Most of my neighbors don’t enjoy my company. The lesbians seem to tolerate me (probably because I eat their cookies), but besides them I can’t seem to think of anyone that ever invited me to a get-together. I’ve tried interacting with them, like when I got my first phone. It was a navy blue flip-phone. I brought that phone throughout the neighborhood asking what ringtone I should use.  No one was really helpful; instead they would just turn me away saying, “Don't you have your own parents to bother with this?” But that’s the thing: I had already tried bothering them about it. Dad just lay face-down on the couch and groaned each time I changed the ring-tone and Mom didn’t even look up at me as she was cutting mushrooms in the kitchen. That’s all they ever do, lay face-down on the couch and cut food all day, seven days a week. They are corpses after all. (If you were wondering I never did pick out the ringtone, I change it daily because I can’t decide, but it doesn't matter much seeing as no one ever calls me. I just like to hear the different sounds.)

            My best-friend Rock, he didn’t have a phone so I could never call him. He died a year ago. Rock was a good person. He knew how to dress properly, got good grades. His mom and dad seemed to like him, and nuns never yelled at him. We used to do everything together until he died. He died in a car crash a year ago with his aunt.  It was lonely after Rock died (I figured that meant I should find a new friend) so the day after Rock’s funeral (that seemed like enough time for grieving) I found a smooth, gray rock about to the size of my hand and on the top wrote with a Sharpie “Rock 2.” Rock 2 is a decent friend. He’s quiet, but I don't mind. I bring Rock 2 almost everywhere I go. Rock 2 is very shy, like Rock, but he’s also very reliable. He always sits by me at lunch, next to me at recess, in my pocket during Sunday school, on my desk at night, and in the same place when I wake up in the morning. 

            I live about two miles from the gas station that sells the frozen Coca Cola, so I walk there a lot. The school is a couple blocks past the drug store, which is next to the gas station. I walk to school each morning and it’s usually still dark out. I pass through Mr. Grant’s yard to get there faster.  Mr. Grant has a large yard and the morning dew wets the dirt and my shoes get full of mud (which doesn’t bother me, but seems to bother the nuns at school a lot). After jumping over Mr. Grant’s fence, I land in the backyard of Mrs. Tailburt. Mrs. T has an obsession with garden gnomes and I find that about once a week I manage to knock one over (I’m very cautious, but it’s a maze to get through. First I have to get past the old gnome fishing out of the pond, then the gnome couple who are planting tulips together, the little Devil gnome dressed as an angel and the little angel gnome dressed as the Devil; next is the boy gnome bringing a wheel-barrow of daisies to the north corner of the garden, then there’s the tribe of gnomes who march towards the crabapple tree carrying assorted gardening tools, the Santa Claus who is there even in the middle of summer, the clay snail next to the azaleas, the gnome holding an American flag, the lady gnome collecting clovers, and finally the gnome that sits in a lawn chair next to Mrs. T’s backdoor). I’ve broken a few, but Mrs. T thinks it’s some cat that jumps over her fence at night, so she just buys new ones to replace them. Once I get through that molded ceramic hell, I’m outside the drug store and gas station; then it’s just a couple blocks to school. The walk is usually boring, but once in awhile the twin boys that live in the yellow house with the green shutters will set off fireworks from their backyard around seven thirty in the morning.

            School itself is confusing-- not the curriculum, but the rules. I get yelled at by a nun about five times a day because of what I wear, and about ten times for asking questions during religion class. The nuns claim I wear too many layers of clothes, but I don't think so. I think I prepare properly for any event. Each morning I put on a swimsuit (in case I want to go swimming in the pond behind Mr. Lankly’s house) a pair of cargo pants, then a T-shirt, next is a pair of overalls and my khaki vest, then I slip a black tie into one of my vest pockets then my raincoat, then a light winter coat, my hat, my striped knee-high socks, and then my pair of Chuck Taylor's. You never know when a nice day for a swim, torrential downpour, snow storm, heat wave, hurricane, tornado, high winds, or impromptu formal dinner party may come, so I make sure I am properly prepared for any situation. Like this one time at Christmas mass I couldn't believe Sister Henrietta called me out for wearing a tie and overalls to church. The nuns specifically told us that we needed to dress nicely for church because it is of course Christmas mass and it is Jesus’ birthday we are celebrating. She said specifically how we had to wear our best-- not just our Sunday best, our BEST. Well I came with my best on: I wore my best striped socks that matched my best tie, and my nicest pair of overalls tied the whole outfit together quite nicely, if I do say so myself. There weren’t any holes or rips or stains in the pants even. I found it very appropriate for celebrating the Lord’s day of birth; if it was my birthday I would want everyone to be comfortable if they had to sit through a two hour long service spoken in Latin. It was painful to watch Father Dave butcher each word (at least the Satan worshipers that hold rituals behind the drug store pronounce the Latin properly) and everyone acts like zombies mumbling words that they don't even know the meaning to; the only reason they know what to respond with and when to say it is because of the pamphlets the nuns made that walk you through each step of the mass. I told Sister Henrietta all that about how I wanted to be comfortable in church, and all she said back to me was, “do you think Jesus was comfortable when he was dying on the cross for hours? No, he was in extreme pain and suffering. We should be able to give up small things like comfort for our Lord.” “Well,” I told Sister, “yeah, but if I understand all of your teachings correctly, Jesus died so we wouldn’t have to suffer like him, so I’m just trying to enjoy the freedom Jesus gave me, is that so wrong?” Sister didn’t really like that response; it got me five-hundred lines of “I will dress properly at Church services,” after the church service ended and before the Christmas party began. The nuns say I have too much free time if I can afford to put on so many layers of clothing each morning, but I have hobbies, like how I collect spare keys I find around the town. I think I’ve found around forty keys by now. I don't know who they belong to or what they open and I don’t really care to find out. I just like the sound they make when they rattle against each other on the string I found in a church pew one time after Sunday school.

            Behind the schoolhouse is a storage unit that some of the older kids would hide behind during church. I found that out one day when Sister Margaret had been lecturing me on why it is a sin to say “Oh my God” (for the third time that day) when Father Dave asked if anyone would go outside to help bring a new order of bibles into the storage unit in the back. I happily volunteered. As long as I could get out of another one of Sister Margaret’s lectures I would carry books through Hell, Michigan and back. I went out and started lugging bibles back and forth from the storage unit to the church backdoor, unit, backdoor, unit, backdoor. Then on my last stack of bibles five high-schoolers showed up. At first I was afraid they might force me to do some religious acts, luckily they didn’t, they were just there to smoke pot. I began to talk to them about the hell the nuns put me through and we all agreed that the people who went to church were out of their minds and all of us just wanted to get out of Hell, Michigan ASAP. The leader of their group, Denny, was a junior. Denny made me a deal; he could get me out of Sunday school by saying I was working with the high-school leadership program (which is what Denny claimed to be doing during Sunday school) when in reality, I would act as a lookout for Denny and his friends while they did whatever it was they did back behind that storage unit, (I never did find out). All I knew was it got me away from the insanity that was Sunday school. Eventually they were caught by Sister Margaret and I didn’t get punished because I was "an innocent soul tempted by the Devil, but now saved by the Lord,” when in reality I just wanted to get out of Sunday school.

            Holidays here are always very religious (even when they aren’t supposed to be). Like for example, the Fourth of July. The entire town gets together and the men grill burgers and the women make things like potato-salad or apple pies or deviled eggs, while the kids run around with sparklers. Everyone says prayers to Jesus (even though I think the Fourth of July isn't a religious holiday). You have to kneel around the campfire for two hours, while Father Dave recites from the Bible and it always seems to rain that night so the fireworks never go off. I find it just to be an excuse to get everyone to pray on a weekday. I showed up to the Fourth of July party once, only because Rock wanted to go on a date with me. (The nuns thought the fact that Rock and I went to the party as a couple was “unholy.”) 

            I could go on and rant about all the gossip I know from the town. Like how Mrs. Johnson tried to kill herself in her bathroom that one time with jumbled pills downed with bourbon, or how Mr. Rick puts on his wife’s dresses and makeup to clean the house after she and the kids have left for work and school, or how Sister Joan steals cans from the canned food drives the church collects for the poor, or how Father Dave had an affair with Mrs. Benedict. But no one would believe those stories. If I told anyone those stories they wouldn’t worry about if they were true or not, they would just wonder how I even found out that information.

            There isn’t much else to say about Hell, Michigan or the community that lives here so I’ll just leave the rest of the page blank, open to the mind of the reader to fill in.