XIX. Money In The Bank
We resolved between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m that discovering the true identity of Cait Finn superseded our immediate need for sleep and the mesmerizing lure of late night infomercials. Like intoxicated explorers we staggered gallantly to the foot of her door. Her bedroom- the nucleus to all that was Cait. Wheeler dramatically kicked it open and streams of aroma crept out of the breathless room. Sweet candy and cigarettes, sweat, burnt embers and ash, sex and damp sheets; all footprints of Cait's perversity. We stepped into the world of madness.
Every space from the drawers to the shelves inhabited random accumulations and grotesquely selected artifacts. In fear of encountering nudity and beyond, I'd rarely ventured into this world without the native herself. There we were, unrestrained by sobriety or integrity, sifting through her definitive junk.
Post cards upon post cards, other peoples' mail, costume accessories, water balloons, batteries of every size, razor blades, containers of apple sauce, fliers for events gone and passed by 5 years, sex toys and calendars with meaty drag queens inside, silver spoons, neckties, and a jar of dead butterflies... Each item was likely obtained through some nihilistic predicament which she'd craftily exploit or deny.
Photographs were scarce. I knew she didn't own a camera, as she told me once that "cameras were an economic luxury that made vanity portable and insecure people jealous." The photos we did find were of indiscernible value to our quest. One was of three young boys in overalls, sitting on a stoop. Another was a woman in high waisted jeans standing next to a litter of kittens. On the back it said "Hacketts: 1992." Wheeler put it in the 'possible evidence' pile on the floor.
I fell over, physically depleted in the mess. Wheeler however kept digging with vigor, destroying the meticulous chaos of the room and violently trudging through Cait's world like snow.
Flinging himself from the inner corner of the closet, he screamed, "Alas!"
"Wake up," he said, "I found something." He shook my foot.
"I'm resting my eyes."
I opened my left eye and Wheeler held a crayon drawing of what appeared to be a girl on a unicorn, stomping on several cats, a man, a woman, and 3 little stick figure boys. It said "My Family: The Hacketts," in young cursive writing.
"Money in the bank," I said, half asleep. Behind my closed eyes images were already intruding my subconscious and vying for my sole attention. There was a soft wind. There was my parents backyard before me. There were worms everywhere, making the ground a vision of motion. I leapt, and Wheeler became a pigment thousands of miles away.
Hours later he crept back in. He spoke boisterously. The high pitched ring tone of his cell phone setting off in intervals like an alarm clock on snooze shattered the pattern of my dream state escape. Visions of my wormy backyard and the sensation of cool breeze on my watered eyes dissipated to black and left me once again aware of reality. I'd considered falling asleep in my bed a serious accomplishment, which usually tended to be far less likely than the odds of me sleeping on the floor. Wheeler had put a blanket over me, which was notably nice. I found him in the living room.
"What exactly are you doing?" He was sitting in the middle of the floor with my laptop in front of him amidst piles of loose leaf scraps, doodled with what appeared to be nonsense.
"Researching! Discovering!" He'd put on a snug red t-shirt of mine and was fervently typing then writing then typing. He'd constructed "Hackett Graphs" on large sheets of paper that were taped to cookie sheets and rested on the couch. The graphs had listings of hundreds of cities in Minnesota, dozens were crossed out and several segmented to sub categorized lists of names and numbers. It was 3 p.m and he'd clearly vested hours into the operation and hours of research awaited.
It was incredible to me that the accessibility of the Internet had trumped skill, privacy, and profession. Wheeler had made this project his occupation of the moment. He was determined to discover Cait, or at least the identity she'd abandoned. But then what?
"Suppose you find her parents, Wheeler. What then?"
"Aren't you curious? She's gone. Maybe if we know where she's been we can find out where she's at."
It wasn't quite logical, but it did make sense in my heart. She'd always been elusive, but a part of me had been so certain that I'd stepped into her world in some way. I alone had climbed over her wall and nestled myself into her madness. I'd become apart of her, I thought. I'd defended her. I'd loved her.
I made Wheeler a pot of coffee and we searched on. We told every Hackett we called that their daughter, Cait, was the recipient of some impromptu prize money or the chosen candidate to be on an upcoming game show. Wheeler was extremely creative with it. He told Nan Hackett in Shakopee, Minnesota that her daughter, Caitlin Hackett, had recently recovered the missing dog of a prestigious Chicago entrepreneur and was entitled to a hefty reward. "Can you verify your daughter's permanent mailing address?" He'd ask at the conclusion of whatever concoction he spat. Sometimes the call recipients hung up immediately. A few times it was evident that they were manipulating the moment to receive our fake prize. Those instances were relatively clear to us though. The calls upon calls upon calls became more than just our 'project'. It was a game. It was a mission. It was an art.
By dusk the Hackett Graphs had spread into the size of a living room rug. The idea that the family was unlisted, or simply unreal was reserved in a far corner of my brain, buried beneath the hundreds and hundreds of calls we'd made and voices we'd heard. This quest had taken on a life of it's own, and regardless of success or accuracy, we were going to narrow it down to three Hackett's, visit them, and hopefully answer the questions we devised.
The three Hackett families we narrowed it all down to were within a 50 mile radius of Metropolitan Minneapolis. In 48 hours, we expended five boxes of cereal, four packs of cigarettes, three Sharpe markers, and several posters and sheets of paper for diagramming. The lack of sleep and sunlight had created somewhat of a traumatic effect on Wheeler and I, and the godforsaken circumstances of our confinement and mental states had fused us together. I'd read about it in Psychology...people who formed some sort of romantic union after experiencing a traumatic event together, like a plane crash or a car accident. There we were, a fucking case study of that deplorable psychological accident. My repulsion for Wheeler did not necessarily waver, but between temporary insanity and apathy, our relationship was so.
We mapped out our final Hackett Graph and planned to leave the following night. Wheeler had volunteered to pay for our MegaBus tickets, which I did not contest. Not only did I oblige due to my definitive poverty, but also because I'd harbored a bit of blame towards Wheeler for this entire predicament. I couldn't necessarily afford to miss my nannying shifts, which were Thursday to Saturday that particular week, but the mission came first, I'd decided. I texted Mrs. Lesnik and told her I couldn't make it. They had others. She'd replace me. She texted me back. "That's fine. See you next week."
I'd learned a few more details about my regrettable new partner, most of which was entirely unsought. He described himself as an entrepreneur, making three quarters of his modest income as a bike taxi driver, and the rest as a considerably unsuccessful drug dealer. Regardless of the source of Wheeler's menial economic status, the tickets were purchased and the mission ensued.
He'd become sort of like a stubborn zit or a noticeable skin discoloration. He was something unplanned and unattractive, but nonetheless apart of me.
We fell asleep on my bed together after the planning subsided. I curled into the wall with my knees to my chest like an infant, and Wheeler shifted behind me, using my hip as an armrest. At one point in the night I woke from a dream sensation of falling. My knees buckled and I twisted over in a convulsive spasm. Wheeler fell off the bed and landed on the floor. "Fuck!" he screamed. He made a sullen whimpering sound before retiring back into his breathy sleep.
In the morning he made coffee and toast that was so burnt it was almost unbutterable. The bathroom door was closed and I half expected Cait to emerge from the small room, groggy and naked or boisterously drunk. It was just Wheeler though, wearing a pair of my grey sweatpants and a t-shirt he'd likely retrieved from the fortress of Cait. I sat at the kitchen table and took the crust off of the burnt toast. It was now cold and crumbled like ash in a mess on the plate.
"You're beautiful," he said. He kissed my forehead.
"Okay," I said. I ate the lousy crust and coughed out crumbs.