Our Last Late Cretaceous Period

Our Last Late Cretaceous Period

Our Last Late Cretaceous Period 2208 1413 Kayla Haas

Kansas was a geological epicenter. Once, a body of water called the Western Interior Sea divided America up into two different parts—left and right, wilds and civilization, but it also tore the Midwest out of the equation. The sea covered our prairies and deposited geological things like chalk, sediments, and dinosaur bones. Those things weren’t there before. Dinosaurs had drowned in the far west and east, and without the middle to hold their bodies, they floated hundreds of miles to settle in the Smoky Hills, in Northwest Kansas. Meanwhile, the Rocky Mountains snuck up and volcanos rained ash on the landscape. Kansas rose from the depths of the ocean, closing the gap between the east and west. What this means: a candy cane ribbon of white chalk and red clay sits beneath our feet. I think about this a lot.

One week ago, rocks started showing up at my apartment. They came in standard orange mail packaging with no return address or anything. They were mostly sedimentary rocks, weathered away by elements, but not quite smooth. Rocks anyone could pick up at parks and nothing special. They came in clusters of three or four. I thought they might be from my sister because I wanted the contact from her—the idea that she was thinking of me, but they also seemed to come when I needed them the most. They were little geological time capsules anchoring my body to the ground.

I broke my personal rule and called Mason to ask what he thought of the mail rocks, wondering if it was him, as well. If it was a loving apology. It wasn’t, but he said he would help me sort them, if I wanted him to. By now, the rocks were in a good-sized pile. They arrived at least once every two days, so he came over.

Mason said: Hannah, we can maybe compare these to your other rocks and create some sort of system that not only categorizes them by type—igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic—but also by the name of the rock, perhaps alphabetic, and also color and shape.

Me: If you really wanted to get into it we can even arrange them by hardness. I have a scratch mirror and we can decide that way as well.

Mason: Okay, so we can start with type, then hardness within that category, and then maybe shape and size.

Me: I actually don’t want to mix these mail rocks with my other rocks. I don’t know where they came from and I don’t want them all together because they seem like their own little planet. Like maybe they’re geology from someplace different. I didn’t pick these from the ground. Whose ground is this from? It could be any ground. What if they’re from my sister?

Mason: I don’t know about that, Hannah.

I am not a geologist. My friend, Violet, told me I should be, but instead I worked retail and folded panties all day. I didn’t really mind the underwear folding because it made me think of my sister. I thought about her a lot because she eloped with her boyfriend, or maybe husband now, three months ago and I hadn’t heard from her since. My dad was really angry about it, but Mom pretended it never happened and talked about what to get her for Christmas two months from now. I suggested a tracking device but nobody laughed. But folding panties reminded me of her because when we did laundry at home we would always get our underwear mixed up. Except the thongs because those were usually hers.

When my sister left in August, my mom called me crying. This was before she decided to pretend Regan was coming back. She asked me where Regan might have gone because we were really close. She was older than me, but by only a few years. I was taller than her, though. She was small and freckled and mousy. I guess everyone assumed I would know because I could look over the top of her head and see what was coming. I couldn’t do that this time though.

I knew her boyfriend was named Harrison and he was older than us, but like twenty-eight, nothing disastrous. Regan was twenty-three. I didn’t know where she was. She hadn’t told me of her plan. She hadn’t told me over once-a-week cheese-fries, or our Wednesday jogs, or any out-of-town hiking trips. She only told me of Harrison’s tongue and Harrison’s sports coat, and Harrison’s job. She told me she was afraid of failing her classes, and that she hated our town, and wanted to travel, but she never really warned me. She didn’t even leave me a note. She left her car in the driveway with a letter addressed to my parents inside. She called once saying she needed to get out of town and that she and Harrison were okay. She didn’t say where she was going. She didn’t ask for me on the phone.

The night she left, I slept in my childhood bedroom, but before I went to bed I tore the place up. I flipped my mattress. I shook pillows out of their cases. I took the rock collection my sister knew was a childhood obsession of mine and flipped the wooden box upside down on the carpet. There was nothing. I didn’t find anything that resembled my sister in the contents of scattered Fool’s Gold, or limestone, or igneous rocks.

 

After my sister left I started dating my coworker, Mason. We were spacing hangers exactly one inch apart on the rack when he told me his girlfriend and him had broken up and that she once gave his female roommate a lap dance and he had been jealous. I didn’t understand how the two stories were related, but I accepted his sadness about the correlation. I told him my sister had disappeared and possibly married her boyfriend and I hadn’t heard from her in over a month. He said I won.

That night I asked him if he wanted to come over and see my rock collection I had boxed up and took back to the apartment Violet and I shared. He said he would and arrived with vodka. We sat criss-cross-applesauce on the industrial carpet, sipping from shot glasses, with the box of rocks between us. I said, quiz me, and he said he would. These were the answers to his quiz:

  • It’s a form of basalt. My sister stole it from her geology class her first semester of college.
  • Igneous rocks are my favorite because they always involve magma and squeezing and cooling and real chemistry stuff. I mean, they’re like the blood clots of the Earth. Do you ever imagine the magma tubes as veins?
  • There’s chalk in Kansas. We used to be covered by a sea and if you go far north we have huge chalk formations. One of them is a national monument, I think. I don’t know what it’s called. But it’s all chalk.
  • We have limestone buildings and churches.
  • Metamorphic. I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked Schist. It reminds me of dinosaur scales. Here, touch this. Like really scrape your nails against it. Yeah, feel that? Now look under your nails. That’s graphite.
  • Yeah, if you want to.
  • I don’t really know what I want. I know I hate shots but I’ll do them anyway. I know the softness of quartz. I know how diamonds work. I know about fossils.
  • Yeah, I don’t mind. You can do that.

 

Mason woke up next to me and said he didn’t love me. I told him that was fine because I didn’t love him either. What I really loved was geology and that one day I was going to excavate the Flint Hills and find the lost world. I asked him not to kick my rock pile on the way out. He said that he excavated me last night and he laughed, so I did too. He stumbled into the rock pile when he left.

I cried after he left because I really did love him, but I was also afraid of being alone. I didn’t know why I loved him, but I did, and when he touched me he did so the way I touched sandstone. Feeling the texture of my pores in every detail. My body was braille, or glass, or skin, all those things, but I also was the sea-creature that grew legs. I crawled out of the waters of Kansas and evolved—was still evolving. He evolved with me. We could be okay together. We were always moving moving moving, pushing forward, lurching, swirling, those things that rocks do in oceans.

Regan and I once found a seashell while hiking. I didn’t know how it came to be in front of me. I imagined the seashell still a clam and maybe it had eaten its way through the prairie dirt to find my hands. Had worked its way through the dirt for millions of years to find me. I liked that thought. When I said that to Regan she didn’t laugh at me because she never thought I was silly; instead, she said I had clearly found a pet. She said I belonged someplace else. I countered, sometime else. But I guess she really wanted to be someplace else.

I always found things when I was with Regan. I told her if we found a space rock I would stop collecting. It being unnatural and natural to Earth would complete my collection. We did. We walked the hills and she squealed and picked up a small meteorite. I knew it was volcanic, but I said nothing. She stuck her tongue out and licked and said it definitely tasted like stardust. I stuck out my tongue and it tasted like ash to me—but she always had the better taste buds.

I got out of bed when Mason left. I showered and wrapped my body in a towel, twisted my hair up in one too.  I sat on the living room futon damp and watching TV, with a pile of rocks in my lap, their weight comforting. I started thinking of them as gifts from my sister, but I still didn’t know why she was sending them.

Violet threw herself on the couch next to me, picked up a rock, fumbled with it, before putting it back in my lap. She never missed a beat with my behavior, but always pretended to be lost so I would have to talk to her. I knew she thought I was in trouble, but I knew what I was doing—something she seemed to never believe since she always was bringing up one of those two things. To summarize the couch convo:

Violet: So you’re still with Mason?

Me: Well, yeah.

Violet: You’d think that would be over by now.

Me: I don’t know, I guess? It is what it is.

Violet: Yeah I mean, you seem happy around him.

Me: Probably because I am. Look how happy this face is.

Violet: So does he just ask to stay over, or…?

Me: I invite him because it’s what I want.

Violet: Okay.

Me: Yup.

Violet: You should call your parents.

Me: I will.

Violet felt concerned because Mason and I had been dating for awhile, starting shortly after my sister left, and we could only stay stable for a week and a half at a time. I could chart it on a calendar. For example: Mason would break up with me on a Monday, by Saturday he would call and tell me it wasn’t anything personal and that he thought I was sexy and wonderful and I would definitely be happy one day. I would then say he made me happy, and he would agree—and that he was happiest with me. We would then post each other’s favorite songs on Facebook, but never acknowledge it, and by the following Wednesday, he would come over to hang out as friends, have a minimum of two shots, before saying he really, really, had thought hard about our relationship and that he thought we could definitely be together—because he was happiest when he was with me. Sex, alcohol, prescription meds, rinse and repeat.

The cycle first began because Violet, Mason, and I were hanging out at a bar and I asked him if one day, if he ever got a PhD, if I would call him Dr. Mason or Dr. Ross. He said I probably wouldn’t even be friends with him anymore by the time that happened, to which I responded by saying fuck you and locking myself in the bar bathroom and pressing my palms against my eyes. I let Violet in and she sat with me on bar-bathroom floor, petting my hair, and I said:

If I were a rock I think I would be metamorphic. They are in-between everything. It’s like they don’t have to be anything. They are rocks, but they can be any combination of rocks they want. I like that. If you were a rock you would be igneous—like basalt. Mason would be chalk because chalk is stupid and I hate it. You can buy it in grocery stores.

***

Since the rocks started piling up in my room, I thought it best to talk to my parents. I had a hard time talking to them because they were either angry at Regan, talked about Regan as a child, a lost dog, or a dead girl. I dressed and left my phone at home because I knew Mason would text and I didn’t want to start the cycle over again. My parents lived ten minutes out of town, so I put on my jacket and headed out. They lived in a suburb in the middle of a prairie. Except prairie in winter is red and tan, cracked and flat, rather than the blue-stemmed grass everyone hopes to find when looking at Kansas flatlands.

I walked into their house and took off my beanie and jacket. There were too many baby pictures on the wall. Regan called the environment “belittling,” but couldn’t afford to go to college and have an apartment at the same time. Maybe she felt trapped. I speculated often about her reasons.

Mom rushed in, grabbing me in a big hug and asked me if I knew there were already Christmas decorations up at Walmart. My dad sat down in his armchair and said, Well, sit, where’ve you been—any tattoos since I last saw you? He liked to think a few weeks was a long time to not hear from me. That I might go-rogue in that amount of time. I guess that was a reasonable fear now. I sat down and tried to talk to them about rocks. There was an art to talking about rocks and a missing sister and connecting those two items together without alarming them. I did so by structuring everything like this:

Beginning: I know you guys haven’t heard from Regan because if you had you probably would have called me, unless you did and I didn’t answer for some reason. (Pause here, wait to make sure they didn’t actually forget to update you on Regan.) It’s been awhile since I last saw her and I really miss her. I’m starting to wonder if she’ll ever show up again. I don’t know what happened. I wish I did because then maybe I could move on. I don’t know. (Wait for Mom to jump in and ask if you had been eating lately, answer politely.) But I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. (Remember to make it sound like you don’t always think of Regan every second of every day.)

Middle: What I’m trying to say is that I’ve been getting these weird packages in the mail since last week. I don’t know who they’re from. I thought maybe the Earth was just sending them to me as a gift, but I know that’s not true. The truth is it’s Regan. (Watch your father lean forward slightly. Hope he doesn’t start crying.)

End: But what I was wondering is if you guys had maybe gotten something in the mail from her too? Maybe a hint of what’s going on? I just keep getting rocks, did I say they were rocks? Rocks. Rocks in the mail and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with them. I don’t know what she wants. What she’s trying to tell me.

My parents told me they hadn’t gotten anything odd in the mail lately and they looked disappointed. They asked if there was an address, or any notes, and I told them there wasn’t. Mom repeated Regan’s call from when she left (I just need to leave for a while. See things. I’ll talk to you when I’m ready. I love you.). Hearing it again didn’t provide me with new comfort.

Dad asked where the rocks were from, and I told him the mail. No, he said, where are the rocks from.

I had thought, deep down, that Regan was trying to show me her journey. I was angry, though, and the gesture hurt. The rocks couldn’t replace her, wouldn’t replace her, no matter how much she tried. I didn’t want to look for her; I wanted her to be with me.

Mom told me I looked skinny, and should eat more. The truth: I couldn’t eat more than mashed potatoes and bread without throwing up. There seemed to be a constant pit in my stomach that was only cured by moving away from the problem, such as the gigantic photographs of Regan and I that now surrounded me. Such as the growing pile of rocks on my bed. I decided not to stay for dinner.

More rocks arrived Monday. Violet carried in the mail and placed it next to the rocks on the couch. These new rocks were different. They looked less like river rocks and more like shale. I pictured my sister in Michigan, near the river beds of the great lakes, surrounded by thin streaks of black shale. Prehistoric animal tracks were imprinted on the bank and maybe she would put her own step inside the step of a reptile. Maybe she would spoon a plesiosaur’s skeleton. Let its neck curl around her, tucking her into its chest cavity. I couldn’t decide if the thought made me angry or sad. It probably made me sad.

It was Monday, so Mason would insist on coming over today to tell me we should stop the cycle he created. In that way, he was geological himself. Like giant continental plates bound to slip when we say they will. That night, he slipped a downer into my mouth to melt on my tongue. It tasted like a chalky candy—maybe a sweet-tart. I washed it down with beer, and leaned back to back with him on the lawn outside my apartment. He couldn’t ever look at me in these moments, and I never knew why.

Mason: How do you feel now?

Me: I don’t feel anything. It feels like nothing.

Mason: That’s good.

Me: I don’t like to slow down. It makes me itchy. I feel itchy now.

Mason: You know why we never work out, right?

Me: Sometimes.

Mason: I think it’s because you aren’t happy.

Me: But we make each other happy.

Mason: Yeah. I guess.

Me: So I don’t get the problem.

Mason: Me either. How do you feel?

Me: I don’t know. That the Earth spins, and the plates shift, and we have earthquakes from fracking, and our national monuments fall because rock isn’t solid, and that river rocks are the least solid things around, but when I hold it all in my hands it makes sense. It’s the closest thing to family we ever get because it’s always right there—forever. Even when it’s leaving us.

Mason: I don’t know what to do about that.

Me: It’s not about doing anything. It’s about not sitting so still we figure out everything is moving without us. Right now I am very very still and I don’t like it. You can’t drive home so you should probably sleep it off on the couch.

Mason: You know I won’t stay on the couch. I never do. I always want to be with you.

Me: I know. I’m just saying. You can stay for the night. Leave in the morning and never talk to me again. You only want me when you’re lonely. When I’m lonely.

Mason: That’s not true. I care about you.

And I knew he was full of lies. Violet, looking out from the window on the second story knew he was full of lies. Mason knew we were both lying to each other and ourselves, but I felt I was being honest, even if he couldn’t see it. And we both got up, and went inside and he held me in bed. I shook violently, panic surging from a place both unknown and known. It was hard to cry when I didn’t feel lost enough, so I cried now while I had the chance. I always felt lost enough with Mason.

Shhh, Mason said, we’ll still be friends. We have this last night. It’ll be okay. I wasn’t listening to him, though.

Instead, I looked at my rocks spread evenly on the carpet, chanted their names, and counted them in my head. I shook some more, but I knew she was with me. My sister. I wasn’t completely lost because I had these geological moments anchoring me to time and space. We were all dirt, after all. My breathing slowed, and I started feeling okay.

 

Over two weeks of rocks resulted in three dozen rocks. They were mostly sedimentary rocks that clearly touched a body of water recently. They smelled like algae and tasted like fish.

People think almost all rocks are sedimentary, but that’s not true. Sedimentary rocks are common in the sense that they are easy to find by just about anyone. They are scattered all along the Earth’s crust. The easiest bit of history people like me could pick up. In reality, most of Earth is igneous and metamorphic. We are a planet of explosions and disaster. Hot magma runs through our body like veins, and bursts, like an artery severed. It’s the sedimentary rocks that matter. They were created by the ocean. They cooled all the heat and let us live and then tucked themselves into river and ocean beds, cradling fossils in an unexpected graveyard.

It was Tuesday. Violet and I made mashed potatoes. She loaned me makeup remover and said it would be great if we binged watched Harry Potter. I told her I was thinking about quitting my job to get away from Mason. She said I would probably be happier if I did. I agreed.

I sat on the living room floor with all my sister’s rocks in front of me. Sorting them in a way I felt was correct. They seemed more thoughtful now that they had an order. I could tell where my sister had been. That we were on the same tectonic plate, even when apart. Violet slid off the couch and sat next to me, picking up the unsorted rocks and asking me about them.

  • What do you think of that one?
  • Where do you think she found it?
  • This one is really polished, do you think she was in a museum?
  • The colors of this remind me of my mom’s kitchen counter, don’t you think so?
  • What about this?
  • What about this?
  • What about this?

Violet opened the orange envelope I hadn’t opened yet. I felt like I was saving it, but I didn’t know why. Maybe because I wasn’t sure when the rocks would stop and something else would begin. Rocks and time were always mixed up in my head, but I looked up when Violet spoke:

  • What about this?

Violet pushed heavy stone and iron into my hand. Heavy despite its small size. It was dark and speckled like granite, but too heavy to be that. It was metal, but wasn’t. The shiny grey and black exterior reflected my lips back to me as I licked it.

It tasted like stardust.

Header photograph © Andrew Hall.

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