Nonfiction by Ryleigh Norgrove
On the first morning of September, I stared at the captive world and tapped on the glass. I am sitting at the usual table. In feverish scrawl, I recount the previous night’s escapades, telling my notebook (cuaderno) and her alone. Today, I feel at home in this perfectly manicured college landscape. Something about the burnished chaos and indecision reminds me of the girl I left at home.
Journal entry, usual table, Salem, Oregon 09/01/18:
My name is Ryleigh Norgrove. People know my name because it’s accented with Norgrove. Nobody asks about Ryleigh. I haven’t spoken to her in a good while.
I was raised in Healdsburg, California. Healdsburg Avenue runs through the center of town and is only five miles long. I grew up between townhomes, vineyards, and the smell of rotting grapes. A well-dressed man in San Francisco owns Healdsburg, California. He never stays for more than a week.
Our home is built of clutter. There is a bucket of melted beer bottles in the backyard. My father is planning to fasten a wind chime and has been for the last fifteen years. For another fifteen, the amber shards of glass, flattened and stacked neatly, will sit idle.
To come from a house of artists is both miraculous and ridiculous. My mother is an artist in her accumulated atmosphere. My father is an alchemist and an asshole. My brother would just like to be a grown up.
My mother has a degree in environmental toxicology. I think of her often: a lady of the lake, nose pressed to the wind, bones soaking in the cold. There is a wildness in her, weighted and fogged over. At the end of her fingertips, a wiry, yellowed string and a solitary sewing needle.
My brother is fascinated with supermen. His favorite superhero is the Flash—the fastest man alive. The Flash can outrun any villain, save entire cities, and get the girl. She is usually a blonde scientist, with thick glasses and self-esteem issues, who both designed and sewed his super suit.
My father made beer in the closet of his fraternity house in Sacramento State. This important detail defines us Norgroves. He sees the world through eyes I will never understand.
Plato, Allegory of the Cave:
SOCRATES: Now, however, if someone, using force, were to pull him away from there and to drag him up the cave’s rough and steep ascent into the light of the sun, would not the one who had been dragged like this feel, in the process, pain and rage? And when he got into the sunlight, wouldn’t his eyes be filled with the glare, and wouldn’t he thus be unable to see any of the things that are now revealed to him as the unhidden?
GLAUCON: He would not be able to do that at all, at least not right away.
SOCRATES: If he went back underground and sat down again in the same spot, wouldn’t the sudden transition from the sunlight mean that his eyes would be overwhelmed by darkness?
SOCRATES: Now if once again, along with those who had remained shackled there, the freed person had to engage in the business of maintaining opinions about the shadows—would he not then be exposed to ridicule down there? And would they not let him know that he had gone up but only in order to come back down into the cave with his eyes ruined—and thus it certainly does not pay to go up.
Lake Sonoma is just outside of Healdsburg, California. My spiritual home. It is a sly grin of blue-green. There is a park bench on whose rickety boards I write. Light, yellow and good, glints along its surface. A trip to Lake Sonoma uses a quarter tank of gas.
Journal entry, inscribed at Lake Sonoma 6/24/18:
From my perch, atop a cliff, at the highest peak of my insecurity, I lie in the gaze of the sun and bask in the honey-yellowed good. Clambering down into our collective cave, entranced by the shadowed thought and flickering facade of images, those I love sit by the screen—enamored with an egregious truth. My sun-soaked treason is an empty divide between us.
I drive a 1998 Toyota Tacoma; her name is Addie Mae. She has a 16-gallon tank and is belted by two black racing stripes. In high school, people joked that the stripes increased her speed— specifically, 20 miles per hour, per stripe. They didn’t. As I twist the key into position she grunts and reluctantly coughs awake. One night, Addie Mae and I drove 60 miles to rescue my brother from the typical teenage barn-house shenanigans. He threw up on the passenger seat.
My brother is caught between two men: the man he is expected to be, and the man he would like to become. This debate is the central topic of conversation in our house.
Journal entry, after a phone call to my brother, 09/17/18:
My brother stands on the edge of adulthood and leans far over the edge. I sit here, miles away, and the small mother in me cries. Tall and lanky, you rest your palm against the sting of azure air. I cannot protect you from the fall. I only hope I see you on the other end, that you recover, that you climb back up, and fall again.
The Norgrove clan is often hit with a considerable, crippling amount of indecision and insecurity. I imagine that one day a big man with smudged glasses decreed that those who have caught this illness be deemed “anxious.” I tried to write a poem about my anxiousness.
Blinking through a film of dark-blue speed,
I plummet into the awaiting faction
though this is to be expected.
Bear Republic Brewing Company was established in Healdsburg, California. It is my family’s first child.
One day in 1996, my father put the wrong bucket of hops into a tank of marshy yeast. A young pub owner with no money and no options, he served his brew. This beer would go on to define the style of west coast IPAs and turn my father into a proper businessman. We will both proudly tell you he didn’t graduate from college and is self-taught.
He is now a blue-collar king.
As a floor manager, hostess, and busser, my mother carried me on her back, clutching my sticky palm. Bricks spilled from my father’s empty pockets, and my mother unloaded the mortar. I watched the wall grow, expand, outsource, and crumble.
I welcomed the chill of the air. It was thick, circling my bones. I’d run past the cement blocks of the walls, along the scratched surface of the floor, feeling the metallic sting of the air. I loved the cellar. Boxes, bottle caps, shards of auburn glass, and pennies gathered in its corners. Barrels, oak and sturdy, lined the walls. Plastic strips covered the doorway, locking in the deep, musky scent of fermentation. It was easy to find a dark corner and relish in the cold.
It was there that I was built a Norgrove, and it is there that Norgrove was built.
This is the paragraph in which I craft a psychological profile of my father, and perhaps, if I’m feeling ambitious, understand and undermine his thought process. I will also give voice to my admiration. I imagine this will be my best, most enlightening paragraph, and carry no interest to any curious reader. This paragraph will ignore profitability. This is in direct contrast to the mental mechanics of my meticulously driven father, who will, as I mentioned previously, occupy this section of the story.
The following scene is a short reenactment of the Healdsburg Future Farmers of America Fair, which occupies about sixty percent of our football field, a quarter of the way down Healdsburg Avenue. The routine is as follows:
Jacob Door tipped the scale (steel toe pressed against the machine), and miraculously, the pig made weight. Davey Door, the hog’s owner, and younger brother to Jacob, would soon be rewarded for this small feat of deceit. Mr. Door, their father, shook the hand of Davey Door and gave him a -green velvet grand champion ribbon. Mr. Door is chairman of the fair board, emcee, and sponsor of the show ring. Jacob Door then loaded the pig into his cardinal-red 2017 Chevy Silverado with floodlights and high-definition stereo, and took the squealing thing to be slaughtered. The meat was bought by a close family friend and Door associate, Mr. Kiff, at $22.50 a pound.
That same year, I watched my father run between pleasantry and drunkenness. This is the ancient practice of networking. He filled his pockets with prospects, collecting handshakes like stones. I watched his voice spread, his message spread, for the sake of a lineage not yet grown.
He is a Norgrove, first and foremost.
“Anyone who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light.” — Plato, Allegory of the Cave
There are very few feminists in Healdsburg, California. As well as very few art classes—let alone ones on writing or journalism or painting or the early northern Renaissance. The remaining feminists are lumped in with the school board moms, who advocate for art classes while ensuring their sons obtain engineering degrees from M.I.T.
I am told engineering is the way of the future.
There are very few writers in Healdsburg, California. There is, however, a small horde of newspapermen. These same newspapermen, whose remaining hair is gnarled and grey, greeted me with gruff expectation.
“Norgrove,” grunted the newspapermen, “we expect good things from you. Not great things, but for now, good ones.”
It is the habit of old newspapermen to call you by your last name. This proved particularly difficult in Healdsburg, California, where people are most readily defined by their last names.
For a year in high school, I worked for the Healdsburg Tribune as an intern, assignment reporter, and general office laborer. It wasn’t glorious, I wasn’t paid, but it certainly wasn’t boring.
We worked in an old blue farm home, guarded by a white fence. Weeds overtook the brick path and ventured towards the porch. The floor mats had been removed, thus uncovering its skeleton. The door hinges were rusted, exposing metal ribbons of tendon and bone—each joint exposed, chipped and vulnerable. The panels in the floor moaned with each shift in weight.
It had a heavy, red wooden door, to which I was awarded a key. Every reporter was given one. “If the post office is burning,” said the newspaperman, “you haul your ass down here and start typing.”
I’d go in early, before school, to clip stories from last week’s paper and file them in our press log. Switching on the lights, unlocking the door, I found solace in those empty mornings.
I watched, stationed behind my filing cabinet, and waited for the orange crack of sky. I watched the sun rise through the haze of old windows, frosted over with mildew and dust.
Placed behind a rusted filing cabinet (my so-called “desk”) I wrote within my word count.
Journal entry, creative writing class, 09/23/18:
A plea to the masses to engage with print media:
To you it is simply eight pages of forgotten voices and scores and highlights. I counter: done right, it is the purest form of truth-seeking and storytelling.
Curled between your index finger and the creases in time is a newspaper. Flip through, skim the headlines, take in a sentence or two. We taste-test stories like whiskey, swirling them on our tongues, meditating on our own perfectly curated opinions.
In some corners of our rusted, grimy, and infallible America, the educated man opens his daily paper and asks three reporters in a pillbox room to recount the terror and vagrancy of the previous day.
Three pompous men, hands soaked in ink, safeguard information like thieves. With truth dripping black and white from their lips they clutch to their chests the morality of a nation.
These days, it is not uncommon to walk past a newspaper stand brimming with thought, untouched and waiting.
Journal entry after Chris Barker interview, 10/15/18:
I reject the term “grown-up” because it has connotations I’m unprepared for.
Last night, I tugged on the coat-tails of adulthood. It ignored me and continued on with its day. For the last year, I’ve been attempting to report on a letter sent to our college paper by the KKK, demanding we ignore the preaching of a historical fiction novel. The whole thing is egregious and unnecessary. Shoulders back, I set myself to the task, open beer on the desk, black licorice in the top drawer. Lagunitas, my family’s largest and most direct competitor—but it’s still from home, so I drank it anyway. I felt like a real journalist.
Reporting is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, but you’ve only heard word of the picture and it’s up to you to track down the pieces. I followed the marked trail scratched into the carpet, walking the line, altering my pace, the language, the story, the response, and the characters running rampant in my mind. Sometimes, you lose the corner pieces, or, by the time you’ve found them, the story is no longer interesting. Sometimes, the only way to see the thing clearly is to leave it alone for a few weeks, or a month, or a year.
Pictured here is a non-grown-up person: licking Cheeto dust off my fingertips, on a phone interview with a KKK Imperial Wizard in my sweatpants because my laundry is in the basement of our communal dormitory. By now, someone has moved it, placed the wet clothes impatiently on top of another machine, leaving mildew and an angry note. At least I’m doing laundry, I tell my younger self. The inside of my mouth is singed. The chemicals have burned through the topmost layer of skin.
“Who do you work for again?” he demands. There is a density to his voice. I work on peeling back its layers, wondering what stories lie in each silence. “Are you eating or something? What is that noise?”
I reply, “The Willamette University student paper, The Collegian. And no, of course not.” I crumple the Cheeto bag, tossing it towards the bin. It lands far from the target. “Apologies there, I was moving some papers around.” This is almost true, I assure myself.
“And what was your name?”
I hesitate, exhale, inhale. I need my history, my home, to follow me into adulthood. Exhale. “Ryleigh Norgrove,” I reply.
I am trying not to think about the mold growing in my favorite pair of black jeans downstairs. I have lost complete control over the interview, so I steer us back to shore. “I was wondering if you’d like to expand on that last question a little. What does someone in your position do on a daily basis?”
I’ve been told this could be a national story, which is why I have so egregiously procrastinated.
My last night in Healdsburg, California, my father and I split a beer. It was his own, of course, though this detail was miniscule in the grand scheme of things.
He yanked back the tailgate, cutting the silence between us with a sharp, metallic scraping. The truck shifted under his weight.
“You know, Rye,” he said. The words lulled and dipped. “If you ever find a guy you think is worth all this bullshit—” He paused to take another sip. “I’ll believe you.” His eyes swam in the drink, and a kind of red climbed his ears.
My gaze was fixed outwards, heavy, staring at the brushstrokes of orange, yellow, and pink that splashed against the backdrop of night. This was our ritual, the two of us. Ever since I’d left, gone off to college, he held my place in the bed of that truck, Addie Mae.
We’d watch the sun tuck in for the night and talk about nothing in particular.
My father, young, long-haired and promiscuous, met my mother his senior year of high school. His coat pockets were empty, and only ambition spilled from the tired seams. “You’re a Norgrove, Rye. So, you’d better make damn sure any guy is up for that task, you understand me?” The words dripped from his teeth.
I tapped the rim of my pint against his. “Yeah, Dad. I know.”