Breakups bury relationships. You’re not supposed to remain friends afterwards. You’re supposed to hate each other for a little while. But maybe that doesn’t have to be.
“I need to be away from this…” Michael vocalized it first. Exhausted. A break. Something different. A pause in the life they’d lived together for over thirty years.
They looked at each other. Eyes wondering. A search for what those words meant. The stillness stretching.
“What about forever?” Peter was the one to say forever. Peter was the one to use those words. To pull the future into focus.
Stipe. Buck. Mills. Three syllables at the heart of American music. Three syllables that laid the foundation for alternative music. Three syllables that had marched on—a three-legged dog, they said—after their fourth and fifth syllable—Berry—had retired fourteen years earlier.
Now each of them needed something different. Something greater than the whole of the past.
Mike nodded. “Sounds good.”
Yes. America’s greatest band would break up.
You were flying on a star into a meteor that morning. The stream of debris filled the sky. Your weight left the air. Gravity was pulling you around, the sky peeling back.
We felt your boom east of Dallas, shaking our houses. The sound filled the streets first and then rippled round our roads.
Fire. Smoke trails. A rain of metal.
We found you days later scattered across Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. You were lost and even as we found you, broken up, we couldn’t put you back together.
They hadn’t thought to tell you the risks. Hadn’t thought much could be done. Resigned you to your fate, to break up in our atmosphere.
This hadn’t been our first break up. Cameras captured Challenger’s ascent, the explosion in the sky. Nightly news. Front page stories. The cover of Time. Pictures preserved for tomorrow’s eyes. Imprinting an image of national trauma in our memory.
Columbia was a repeat in reverse. With re-entry, no cameras gathered to package the horror. You took an angle to avoid skipping like a stone back into space. You sweated thick through the atmosphere. Terra Firma waited on the other side of the burning barrier. But you never came through.
The stars fell silent, splintered in plumes, crashing to the ground.
Your first breakup felt like a heartbreak. You wake up in a shaking panic.
Maybe you were the one that broke it off. Maybe they were. Sometimes everything is wrong.
You obsessed for days, empty prayers, empty mouths, a prop to occupy your time, making a waste of time sitting still.
You wondered whether love was worth it, whether you had felt it at all, or just some cheap imitation of life based on romance in movies and television, or whether you really cared anymore.
Maybe you cried.
Maybe you buried your feelings and said you moved on.
Maybe you felt numb.
You stopped trusting love, a song that you don’t understand, a madman shouting in the streets, and you wanted to be wrong.
Whatever the circumstances and the faults, like the time you lose your mother—a breakup all its own—you always remember your first breakup.
But every day is new again.
Every day is yours to win.
Even with a broken heart you wanna sing a song to your lover. But a break up song will have to do.
He said carry a big stick and talk like you’re whispering to a lover.
He said consolidation of wealth was the consolidation of power. Two in a bush was better than a birdie in the hand. Don’t listen to life’s rich. Demand better.
He took his stick—a walloping trunk that the boys said came from the tree Washington had chopped down—down to Wall Street. Remnants of the city wall were scattered and broken up around the cobblestones. His voice boomed through the gathered crowd as he proclaimed his intent.
“I’m gonna break up these banks. One by one.”
He shuffled the trunk from his shoulder to a batter’s position. Cameras flashed, the bulbs bursting, capturing the front-page story, the famed war hero postured not on a horse with a Rough Rider hat, but steady in front of a bank, a slugger ready for his home run. Pose and pageantry. That’s how heroes are made.
Do you remember? The day Teddy Roosevelt walked down New York’s Wall Street and broke up all the banks. The insurgency began and you missed it.
Right on target!
The first bank lurched with some shock. Its pillars shattered at the blow. The manager stormed through the front door, his waistcoat tight against his bulging belly, crying through his mustache that the authorities would be there soon. But the weasel shut up when he saw the gathered crowd and the hero in their midst. The beast’s glare broke up any objections.
Roosevelt ambled to the bank across the street.
Its manager stood outside in a corner of the crowd. His unbuttoned cuffs were rolled halfway up his hairy arms. He’d had a tip from his man at the Journal about today’s excitement. It’d given him enough time to talk to a joiner and a construction crew. They assured him they’d be able to repair the damage to the façade by week’s end, maybe sooner. As long as Teddy didn’t crush through the second story window.
The manager had observed the havoc wrought on the first bank with some satisfaction. Teddy had not gone for the structure of the building. Merely the pillars. Perhaps he’d have his bank back by the end of the day.
But what the second manager didn’t know was how dissatisfied our hero had been. He growled with rage after his first demolition. The press had thought this was all part of the act. The lion roaring after his prey had suffered. But Teddy was upset with himself. Only the pillars, he thought. Who would believe he was serious unless he did more than the pillars.
He launched himself at the second bank, a hefty throw that shattered the outside wall and the windows, collapsing the columns along with the second floor office that had once belonged to the manager.
Like his peer across the street, the manager of this second bank, who moments before had seemed content with the madness of the world, burst into outrage. He had truly loved that office, the thick mahogany desk. The leather chair. The crisp pages of his ledgers. All of those were lost in the wreckage.
And still our hero moved on, impervious to the destruction that he’d brought. A rumor fluttered through the crowd that this man was Achilles himself, dipped in the river Styx, unable to be injured. But that was just a myth, people would counter, even though they had seen his greatness with their own eyes.
The photographers were cursing themselves. They hadn’t brought enough bulbs to take this many pictures. How could anyone believe this tyrannical spectacle? How could America understand that they had finally found not just a hero but greatness itself, the thing of legends?
Teddy moved down the block. Five banks was his plan, and five banks he’d stick to. The third and fourth banks were not brought to rubble like the second bank. Teddy knew that he’d made his point and limited their destruction to the entrances and the pillars. But the fifth bank. That was his masterpiece. He had saved all his energy for this moment.
The crowd had begun to thin a little. The gloss of the spectacle had dulled with time. People started to wonder about their money inside these vaults, began to think about how long the street would be closed off for reconstruction, began to care less and less about the clearly articulated vision Teddy had for freedom and equality, and (of course) for his own ascension to the Pantheon of American Power.
These people who had left early would later claim that the fifth was the hardest to watch. Descriptions wildly diverge, as most were fabricated by those who fled but still wanted recognition.
Some claimed that he threw away the tree trunk, placed himself between the bank’s two central columns, and pushed them aside. Others claimed that he took the trunk under his armpit and rammed through the entire building, coming out the other side, where the press couldn’t capture his triumph.
The truth is much simpler.
The Bank of Manifest Destiny stood at the end of the street, the most iconic bank on the block, with two rows of pillars and steps that lifted the building into the clouds.
Teddy climbed the steps, the trunk held under his arm. He set the trunk, root-side down, at the top step and went inside. He knew that the destruction to this final bank would be so great as to ensure that the banks could not continue to consolidate their power over American capital. He knew he had to leave the street with a final, back-breaking amount of devastation.
But before he could begin, he wanted to check that no one was inside. He was an enemy to the banks, but humans were humans, bankers as well. And no one should suffer to die in their place of employment.
He walked the marble halls and sunny offices. Empty, every single one. He walked down to the vault and found it peeking open, an error by the manager who fled in a flurry and never thought to check if the vault had been left open. Teddy grinned to himself, took a few stacks of bills and thought, “will they really miss it?”
In the lobby, he placed a few pieces of dynamite along the walls. His heroics were always spectacle and he knew he couldn’t wreck buildings with a big stick. For their part, the banks had known this would happen at some point, had thought Teddy’s performance might temper people’s hatred of the banks’ power, undermine efforts to bring them under government control. So they had fled the buildings, let security become lax. Some might regret it later, but none more than the manager of the Bank of Our Manifest Destiny, who did not think the vaulting ceilings would be damaged in the destruction. Maybe the façade, but surely not the majestic lobby.
Teddy set the charges and walked back outside. The press was far enough away so that they could not see how he would do it. The trunk was heavier when he returned to it, but he pulled it back up to his shoulder. As he heard the first explosion rumble he swung the trunk down and into the bank’s façade. The blow came as the eruptions crescendoed and brought the building down. The shockwave launched Teddy off his stance, tumbling down the stairs to the street.
His suit was in shambles. He lost a tooth. But as he looked up at the billowing dust of his masterpiece, a photographer caught his gap-toothed grin.
That was how Teddy dreamed of breaking up the banks. That was how he told his kids he’d done it. And they’d told their children. Until generations later, a country couldn’t discern truth from fiction, fables from fact, legend from the man.
She had gripped her mother until the man had said something and she’d been left on the ground. The moonless night was warm and unwelcoming. Lights leered from the patrol’s truck. She wailed wanting to crawl back into her mother’s arms, but the man said no and moved his fingers down her mother’s side and below her waist.
Moonless, she thought. If only there’d been a moon. She’d grow her fangs, slither out of this skin and into herself, the rage that she kept under control. All she needed was the mother of the night. The sunlight’s reflection from the full moon’s surface set her free, howling into the darkness.
If only it wasn’t moonless, she could wake up and devour this man.
How gentle the flesh would feel, warm in her mouth. The salty taste of his skin. The burst of his organs. The crunch of his bones. The thoughts calmed her.
She was only a girl tonight, a month from the start of their journey from Guatemala.
A simple start. Rafting over the river with her mother and a handful of strangers. Each of them eager to scramble up the bank on the other side.
Storm clouds bubbled over the horizon. Her mother handed her a plastic bag and gestured for her to put it over her head. A hood. Protection from the rain.
The storm pounded her ears. They crouched near the freight train, its reaping wheels. Waiting for a signal to rush out and climb on top la bestia. The Beast.
She mouthed the words.
It’s what they’d called her, the boys on the streets, when they discovered her monthly power. They whispered it with fear. She smiled at the power. Like the Amanita that covered the graves. The flowers often bloomed at night. She was a vengeful blossom, not a beast.
But her mom said the power was a curse, not a blessing. It could only protect them some of the time. And they needed protection every day. Not once a month.
Her mom was worried. The boys knew her power. So would the gangs. They might think to use it, those stupid idiots, unaware that it could not be controlled.
Her mom packed the bags and said they had to hurry. She knew of the route to safety, to America.
They rushed past a chronic town, posters torn, onto the box cars pulling out.
They’d timed the trip so that she’d turn when they were at a shelter near Hermosillo—Don’t get caught! Don’t get caught!—but the clouds had been overcast that night and she’d stayed a girl.
She wished they’d done it different. Waited to cross when it was a full moon. Given her the power to rage at these men searching her mother.
She had no idea the men would soon break up her family, take her away from her mother.
They had no idea what a full moon would mean, only 15 days away.
She’d be ready then. She already knew it. Longed to be unleashed. The beast was worse when it had been caged for too long.