[Alison Mosshart via Lukegraydiscourse]
NYLON dubbed its November 2009 edition ‘The America Issue’. Accordingly there was a lot of red and blue going on as I thumbed through the pages, but what I thought was really cool was the ‘This American Life’ project they carried out.
They got in touch with some regular headliners and asked what America meant to them. Most of the answers are quirky (a’la Erin Wasson), some touching (Tracey Emin’s) and one was downright loopy (Juliette Lewis and her tribute to vitamin liberation), but the one that I thought was really outstanding was Alison Mosshart’s. The Kills’ one-half contributed a macabre tale of an American memory, and perhaps I’m a little strange, but her story was oddly very beautiful to me.
Born: Vero Beach, FL
Lives: London, England
My American memory is a total of parts. It consists of the American dream, the American nightmare, the American way, and the American. This story is as true as I remember it. Death warrants my tale. And Death was on my tail, or so I thought, in 1998.
I went to Martha’s Vineyard with my family. It was high summer. I had never been to Martha’s Vineyard before. I knew little about it, other than its geographically small proportions and that it was an island off the coast of Massachusetts. My Uncle Steve had just built a house there in the small town of Vineyard Haven. The house sat on the edge of a ravine and loomed over it. The ravine was dangerous and jagged and deep, full of knotted limbs and tangled trees. But I believed it could be crossed if someone was daring enough. I watched this ravine for two weeks, ready for anyone who might.
Outside my uncle’s house was a short driveway that rolled out onto a dirt house. The dirt road led left to town and right to a lake. There was forest on all sides of the road and the house. Upon my arrival off the ship from the coast, I put my luggage in the house and went for a walk towards the lake I hadn’t found yet. I distinctly recall how still and quiet the world felt there. A crackling twig sounded like an avalanche. A single car engine roared like the onset of a parade.
I’ve always had a fear of nature. I’ve never been the outdoorsy type. I see no romance in camping, or hiking, or even the beach. There is nothing about dirt and bugs and snakes that I find appealing. Cities suit me. People awake at all hours. Lights. Traffic. Noise. Businesses that are always open. Silence scares me. The woods and long, dark roads are creepy and are precisely the kinds of places where I think I will be murdered, attacked, eaten… or get lost. They are the places people disappear from forever. Oo so ever nerve in my body tells me. But I’m always trying to get over my phobias. Mostly because my phobias are so fucking anti-social, and I’m a horrible person to vacation with. I am certain I went to Martha’s Vineyard with hope, or at least some determination, not to be totally inward and hermit-like. Besides, it was high season. There were extra people on the island. It wasn’t totally desolate.
I can’t quite remember if my father was trailing behind me about 50 feet or if he came because he heard me screaming. I can’t remember if I even screamed at all. The exact details are a little blurred. Either way, he saw what I saw after I found what I found…my first 20 minutes on this supposed paradisiacal island. The idea of a relaxing family vacation was immediately crushed.
“It” outdid my morbid imagination tenfold. It advanced my regularly suspicious nature to a point of near hysteria. Everything changed after that first 20 minutes. My nerves rattled and wound into fists. I was so high-strung I felt I might shatter. I heard things. I saw things. At night, the pitch-black sky suffocated me. I chain-smoked. I paced. I worried. And I did much of this down in the basement. I spent a lot of time down there, where there was a sliding glass door that led to a sandy spot under the house. I sat under the house day and night, scratching my ankles. I wondered where the murderer was and if he/she was still on the island.
I checked the newspapers every morning for obituaries or the story. I figured it would be front page. I figured everyone on the island would be talking about it. But no one was. The story was never printed. Nothing came over the radio. The only thing that stopped me from thinking I hallucinated the whole thing was my father being there and taking me away from that lake. And while I stood in shock in the kitchen, he retold the scene to the rest of my family. He told it. He said it, too. I hadn’t imagined her. She was real.
I walked down the dirt road to the end where it hit the lake. I walked out onto the dock. I stood on the end of the dock looking out onto the lake, and then I looked down. Beside the dock, half under the dock, there floating in the water, was a naked woman, pale blue, bloated, and dead. Her mouth was open slightly. Her lips were white, like slick, wet rubber. Her head was cocked in a strange, disconcerting, broken-neck way. I stood there for what felt like an eternity.
Eventually a boat came and two men fished her out of the water. I don’t remember if we called the police and that was who fished her out. I don’t remember anything but her and the immediate cataclysmic onset of my own suspicion and dark thinking. Three-hundred questions. A lump in my throat.
I got it in my mind that every time I walked to that lake I’d find another body. I went back almost every day to check. I watched the ravine for bad guys. I looked out the window into total blackness, at total blackness, listening to total silence. I couldn’t get over why a murdered woman found in a contained lake on a paradise island inhabited by a measly 15,000 people was not newsworthy. Journalists wrote about various clam bakes, yard sales, printed movie listings, applauded new coffee shops, even the paving of a road- but not her. So I guess this will have to do as a makeshift, 11-years-late obituary to the dead, blue woman in the lake. She was my first and only new acquaintance that summer in Vineyard Haven. Now she’s just an American memory.
I must have liked her tale more than a fair bit to have typed all of that out.