Are You OK, Guymon?
Located in the empty flatlands, where the distinct separation of sky and land is as straight as an arrow, sits the largest small town in the panhandle. There are always semis passing through, hauling pigs or oil or whatever goes in those unmarked trucks. A child passes by in the backseat of their mother’s car, gesturing with his arm honk honk! for the truck driver, who smiles and pulls the horn string. When the horn sounds, the child’s family shares a joyful laugh.
Turning off to the north, before entering the town, there’s the cemetery. A group of teens stands in the center of the dry fountain, quoting dirty phrases to hear it echoed back to them. They claim they found the center of the universe, where the person standing in the center of the fountain can listen to their voice echo as if it bounced off the walls of the Vatican Church. A young girl shows it to her crush and has her first kiss in a cemetery, a Roman church, and the center of the universe.
The pork processing plant covers the whole town with its smell in the summer, worsened by the heat. The inhabitants of the city are nose blind to unpleasant odors. Still, a husband comes home from the plant and showers pig blood and shit off before he gives his wife a kiss. She tells him he smells like her vanilla body wash, and there is no mention of the smell of grinding metal or chemical flavored pork that won’t go away.
Once school starts again, a young student wakes up early to get a breakfast burrito from Mr. Burger. It’s everyone’s favorite spot in town for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This student has to be at the school early because he’s trying out for the mascot. He thinks he won’t get it, especially since he’s going against Eric, who can charm anyone, but he beats Eric and gets the part. He goes back to Mr. Burger in the tiger uniform with his family. His grandfather joins them in that small diner, but only after his grandson takes off the tiger mask because “How the hell am I ‘sposed to talk to ya if I can’t see your face?”
Across the road, a girl gets her first job when she turns sixteen at Sonic. She becomes a true carhopping professional, only tripping on her skates a few times. Mostly she just runs out sweet tea, but she also learns the cost of being a woman when her manager grabs her rear and leers at her throughout the shift. She learns what her body is worth when she unbuttons the top of her uniform polo to cool off and gets more tips for it. When she quits 3 months later, she doesn’t say a word to anybody about what she dealt with and feels disillusioned with the state of the world.
Mary is from out of state, but she walks into the corner store like she’s lived here for years. She buys cigarettes with shaky hands and walks back to the domestic violence shelter she’s staying at. Mary smiles at the desk lady and says nothing to her because she doesn’t want her to notice that she’s high out of her mind. She won’t recover, no matter how badly the program wants her to. When she’s finally sober enough to be honest with herself, she’ll admit she doesn’t want to stop because it’s the only thing that keeps her mind away from her husband’s hard punches.
The churches don’t donate to the domestic violence shelter. Their funds go to Faith vacations for the elders and the youth group. But at the Presbyterian church, two blocks away, Patty decides to take her youth group to the Loaves and Fishes to volunteer, and finally, those kids learn something about kindness. And when Patty dies suddenly over five years later, it’s not just her daughters counted among her children, but a group of young adults who loved her. Even when they called her Crabby Patty.
On Saturday, the folk in town will go out to the bars, so they have new sins to pray about tomorrow. At Pop a Top, a popular joint, there are 3 different taco trucks parked across the street, and drunken men stumble to it when hunger strikes them. The blue one makes the pupusas, but the middle one makes giant greasy burritos for 2 bucks. Police officers wait just a block down the street to pull over John for drunk driving. When the cops tell his wife what happened, they let her know that another woman was in the car with him. John loses more than just his license that night but gains plenty of things to discuss with his pastor.
Those not old enough to drink will go to Sunset Park with the beer they bought off a college kid and sit around to exemplify the duality of man. Eric brings up his girlfriend’s nagging to his friend, which leads to a debate about free will and whether or not God is real and if man is inherently evil and if the chicken or the egg came first and “Should I break up with her?” Eric decides not to leave his girlfriend because he loves her even if his friends think she’s a bitch. And really, what do his friends know about love?
This big small town sits in No Man’s Land, smack dab in the middle of the panhandle. There are drugs, atheists, kids, and churches. No one who lives there really bothers to ask why it’s called No Man’s Land or why it doesn’t fit its description. There’s lots of life in the Oklahoma panhandle. Not a good or bad life, just life as it is. And when the college kids pack up to leave, telling everyone they hate that godforsaken town, they’ll cry on the drive and think of tigers and burritos and the park where they used to sit.
Heidi Reust is an Oklahoman writer. She’s currently studying Creative Writing and Interpersonal Communication at the University of Central Oklahoma. Her goal is to combine her passion for writing with her passion for advocacy. When not studying or writing, she’s at home with her dog, Peggy.