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#371370 - 09/30/11 04:08 AM
K) Riding Trains
Loc: American South
Storytellers say “History repeats itself,” because this is the same day as then, every story occurring simultaneously all over the world since the beginning of time. Every role remains equal, every character uniquely cool due to an invisible soul inside each. Awash with Shakespeare's pride, I arise from crisp bed sheets and slowly find a file box in the attic containing the mysterious writings from my youth in God's Country to be compiled into chapters and deciphered over railroad tracks.
After packing and driving through warm drizzle I hurry into the heavily-built, antique Wilton train station under its high ceilings and wood rafters.
“Twenty more minutes,” the attendant says through the window, because the train is late. I look out the larger windows of the station toward the tracks and see my parents.
Both of them seem happy, normal. It's new for his beard to be gray.
Quick, I pop sixteen pills while finishing making the Gatorade bottle of Merlot in the privacy of a men's bathroom stall. It is methodical: the rest of the Gatorade down the toilet, the window sill in the stall lined with two wine bottles, uncorked.
Ray is dropping Mom off. He walks then drives away. She is carefully dressed for the outside world, per usual; beige and white and baby blue. Three dark curls hang from the side of her forehead, same as when we were young.
Stepping into the thickening drizzle, I say, “Hi, Mom.”
We stand amidst the crowd of pastel umbrellas forming around the entrance to the train.
“Oh, I thought that might be you,” she says, turning toward me.
I had stepped out once already to take care of checking my bag. She looked at me but didn't recognize me. I wasn't surprised, she never does.
We walk the entire length of the inside of the train, looking for two open seats. She walks in front of me. She is small, petite, like a stylish librarian. I hadn't realized how much of Rose was in her, I had seen so much of Grace instead. Dealing with her is like dealing with Rose and Grace combined. Instead of dealing with two young, burgeoning Cleopatras, this is the self-realized one, experienced, comfortable in her ways.
Each set of seats is already taken. I speak to one man in the last box car of the train. I announce that this was my Mom and I had just gotten back from deployment. He agrees to move.
“How long have you been back?” she asks.
“How long were you over there?” she asks, incredulous. “I knew you were in logistics,” she continues as she takes the window seat. “So I figured you were alright.”
“I went on infantry patrols just the same,” I tell her, placing our bags in the compartment above.
“Just need a coffee,” I say to the brown hued woman manning the counter in the dining car in the middle of the train.
“Sugar?” she asks over the sounds of combustion and tracks. “Cream?”
“Um – Black – maybe – I think.”
“You don't know?” she says sly, with an eyebrow raised.
“No ... I have no idea.”
She tells me about Great Grandpa, the railroad worker, Grandma Castro's father.
“Your Grandpa ...”
“He was into books and things ...” she replies. “Worked on the railroad. He wasn't so muscular … “ she says rolling her eyes with a humph and a smile.
He was from Indiana, supposedly, his roots tracing back before the Civil War to Germany, and on to the Nordic Bronze Age. Back then, Europe was a plantation owned by a royal court. The tribal Germans were Naturalists, living by land and sun, walking the seasons. He left for America after his own wake, because his relatives knew they would never see him again.
“He taught me this when I was little,” she says. “When Spring is old, and dewy winds blow from the South, with odors sweet, I see my love, in shadowy groves, speed down dark aisles on shining feet. ”
She is the purest crone. Everyone else's mother is aging and dumbing down. She remains the unloved Virgin humbly accepting immaculate conception while even preferring the least of love, like meaningless instances with Royal.
“Supposedly, if you believe my relatives … “ she says, then laughs in that way she does, as if she already knew this was the funny part of the story. “It wasn’t him but the Sicilian who was the lazy one … In order to get rid of him they sent him to America.“
Castro is her father's grandfather, who left Sicily under the cover of darkness with his wife and two small sons, sneaking into New York illegally. He left unexpectedly because Sicilian culture had gone underground when Sicily became owned, their libraries burned, their language illegalized, their literature tatooed in secret on their backs, their agricultural goods secretly smuggled out and sold. Only the godfather kept the appropriate contacts to make this possible. My great-great-grandfather had to steal away from Sicily with nothing left to keep of his heritage but one word. Only my last name is on the wall at Ellis Island, not Mom's – I went there and checked myself.
Grandfather Castro's father would tell stories to little-boy-Uncle-Saul of being fresh in America, hurrying with his father and brother through New York City ports.
Stepping through the long line of jolting boxcars, I open end-car doors, step over the wild-moving metal floors in between cars. I pass two young women.
“When I meet someone I never show myself until I've figured out who they truly are.”
“Yes, I know what you mean,” the other says.
“It's like I don't know who I am is in direct ratio to who they are.”
Supposedly Great Grandpa saved his money so that when he dies in a railroad accident it is invested wisely and grows. Two generations later it is passed down, Mom refused her portion. She wanted nothing from her relatives. Apparently, my sisters and I are next.
“I'm royally good on money. I've just gotten back from deployment.”
She makes a face. “You’re deploying and not telling anybody may be a bigger deal in the family than you think,” she says.
“Did you just smoke a cigarette in there?” he asks me, too-cool with a young face adorned with an eyebrow ring.
“Um --” I begin, as I step out of the train's long-reeking bathroom.
“Will you watch the door for me as I smoke one?” he asks.
“I don't understand,” the same young woman as before says from nowhere. “I was waiting and I swear someone who looks just like you was just in there.”
“You must be mistaken,” I reply, unsure how long she's been standing there.
“I must be losing my mind,” she says with a smile and sigh.
“Well, these things ...” I say with a shrug of one shoulder. “Happen.”
“Rose's a social worker. We email regularly.” she says. “Grace is still a preschool teacher – I think … And you decided to join the military,” she says, emphasizing the last word with a lower tone.
“This is a Mondovi,” I say to her slyly. “I know it’s in a Gatorade bottle -- the first good American wine.”
“Ben … You’re not supposed to be doing that …”
“Do you want to try it?”
“You should be careful, alcoholism all in your blood.”
“... Well, now that Rose is marr--“ she says in the middle of something else, as if she had made a mistake to almost say it, but I understood she had done it on purpose.
“I'm divorced.” I say. “A year marriage. It was a blast.”
“I wouldn’t tell that story much,” she says.
I look in the small latrine mirror, the floor, ceiling, and walls a mass of vibrating white noise around me. Even the physical situation is too much. Not only does she know I survived the war but by my body language, voice … the way I handled windows and icons on the laptop screen in front of her … it is obvious I am not retarded. Maybe she won't tell. I remember that Sunday they caught me with Shakespeare.
It's good to know for certain the cops could still do nothing even if I added all the new memories together to full-on rape, the way the black-and-blue baby and the manipulated toddler showed up the first time. The cop walked me around and showed me the stacks of cases pouring in from all over the county. “And that's just this county alone,” he said. “There's so little we can actually do. It used to be one relative would take the other out to the backyard and shoot him or her. Now justice is institutionalized. For better or for worse.”
I am the one who silently sung a joyful noise. Mom would slip through heaven’s gates either way, but I would not if I did not admit that I was a watchman. Wasn't until June first I realized the sound of a laugh required. No memory necessary, just the sound. That silent, purposeful, effortlessness just before a laugh required. A laugh to be so convincing that the prince would believe it, if only he would believe it, then the truth of God's Country would be covered as a grave.
I could – not say anything. Chances are nothing will come of it. But if she were to find out I had been on this train the whole time and never told her … I want to tell her how fortunate it is that a mother's love turned out to be completely unnecessary. It is decided I will tell her Life was that little boy's mother. God was that little boy's father. I'm the one who got him out.
“Why did he go on and on about how I should be in pharmaceuticals … “ I ask.
She doesn't answer.
“I was IN uniform, driving back from drill. He said they looked like pajamas. I told him they were the best people I'd ever met.”
“Please whisper,” she says.
“I thought I was whispering.”
“You think you're whispering because your voice is so low, “
“Do you sing?” she asks. “You have such a deep, low voice.”
With the laptop I show her pictures from the last time I was in New York, just before deployment, mostly of the Halloween night I helped a group of Obama supporters scheme a way into the Halloween parade and begin a march.
“Yes, I voted for Obama too,” Mom whispers.
Opening up a new, empty word document on the laptop, “Mom, can you see this?” is typed.
“Yes,“ she says vocally.
I type: “You have to type or we’ll be overheard.”
“When I came back from deployment,” I type, “I went to the police concerning Ray ...”
“Do we have to talk about his now … “ she says. “I honestly didn’t know,” she types.
“You’ll kindly respect the reality that maybe in-the-moment I don’t all-the-way believe you."
“I cannot handle this period much less in public,” she types. “Do what you feel you need to do. I won’t tell Ray what you said. I cannot discuss it any more. I am very sorry if this does turn out to be the truth.”
“These are your daughter’s lives you’ve had hanging in the balance. You’re a woman you know what I’m talking about.”
“As I said. I am very sorry if this turns out to be the truth,” she types. “I have issues with you lying about me in the past. I feel pushed right now this is a lot to put on a person. I need to rest. Do what you feel you need to do. I’ll keep quiet re: Ray. This is enough. I’m done.”
She was my biological mother, therefore, her lawful, spiritual ownership of me was assumed. A bad habit of hers, not noticing the tiger cub was growing, growing the whole time.
I notice her staring out the window, not looking at the land rolling by, as if lost in thought. I wish I could have taken a picture of her like that, how the new grays in her hair and the new lines around her eyes do not hide her looks. At Union Station, the train begins to empty and Mom steps out to sit alone in the two seats in front of us. I stretch out and remain half-asleep for hours as the train rocks alongside setting sun.
I gave her everything I had, knowing she would remain the only one knowledgeable of my early years.
In the breakfast nook of Elise’s kitchen, Elise’s back is proof, in the flesh, she was born to be attractive, regardless, it could never be matched, the slope of her shoulders, the downward tilt of her head. I expect her to run a hand over her face.
The sunrise through the window in front of her lays golden her skin, her slate kitchen counter, the crystal pieces of her kitchen sink. After all the years she still shows her disciplines in dance.
“The truth turned out to be different than we thought it was,” I say to her from where I am sitting in the corner breakfast nook.
Mom wakes me as the train pauses in Philadelphia. The usual casualness between us allows the normalcy of me adjusting in my seat as she says it was her stop, me saying okay, then going back to sleep.
The train ride ends at Pennsylvania Station, Manhattan. I arrive in the dead of night with mostly poor and working class people stepping into sharp shadows on dreary, vandalized concrete.
“Purple pansies at the fair,” the crazy, old woman says to me from across the aisle of the roaring subway car, her voice loud and clear.
“It will require much GRAMmar editing,” I cast back, my voice booming violence through the otherwise empty boxcar.
Wake to a day of clarity, hinting of June 1st, 2004. I've never felt bad for Mom, not once, ever. Now there is a new sensibility keeping my movements within certain limits according to Mom's own sensibility. It feels like I toppled some big boss at the end of a Nintendo Game and my prize was my waking as my mother's son, her laws adhered to not as a great weight of chains but effortlessly.
I go running, figuring my new neighborhood out. Afterward I step inside a bagel shop run by Arabs. It is the first time I have seen them and not thought about Iraq.
While working my way inside the Guggenheim, they take my bag. My intent was to take sixteen pills now, not later, then wonder around the Met, sipping on the rest of the Gatorade bottle of Merlot.
No dark drinks are allowed in the Met. After having just taken twenty more pills, the woman inside the Met makes me drink the last half of the Gatorade bottle as if it were purple Gatorade, her not realizing.
I prefer the sculptures to the paintings. I prefer the materials. I have to sit down as the pills’ first wave hits. Listening to the live bluegrass band in the loft above, I wait for the jarring to end. I watch people walk by and think it is funny, this new way of looking at people.
There's no escaping reality, I catch myself thinking, entering a room where a woman is holding out her hands to paintings and referring to them as Picasso's dark period. He has depicted scenes of the poor as if they were royalty.
In one dark room there are two wide, tall wooden pillars with shapes cut into their sides. They are smoothly cut into but the structures look primal, archaic. Anything manipulated is art. Someone's hands touched it.
I sit as a wave of drunkenness hits. There's a difference between compounds and ions. I read it on Wikipedia. The world is made of both. They see a dead planet. Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, but I know the Life in it. I step through the Korean rooms, asking Mongolians of my true heritage.
I gave her little respect I suppose. I didn't know it was Mother's day when I planned the last minute New York trip, I didn't even buy her a card. I set Ms J__'s plant on her front door step without a card, then met the cab and rode off to the train station. I was in a hurry.
Art is how something lives forever. To make something so skillfully no one could bring themselves to throw it away, year after year, home after home, century after century, until finally it found its way into a museum.
A wave levels in my bloodstream and languages becomes so primal I can hear it, oral history so clear symbolism becomes the universal language.
No wonder they worshiped idols. Compounds respectfully made into art. The promise the compounds had: we will be here long long after you're gone. The physical world has its own holiness, its own eternal power. Certainly the ancients knew the idols had no magic or power. They afforded a great respect to the point of bowing before them. The one bowing was an ion destined to die, the other a compound eternal.
I walk back to Lexington from the Met. Meanwhile they're trying to be Him or Her. To concentrate on their souls, so they can self-realize the part of them that lives forever, the unique idea they have of manhood and womanhood that only they can see. That's worship, praying without ceasing.
“You mean, dying … ?“ the surprisingly young, dolled-up psychic says softly, her thoughtful eyes looking away from me sitting before her in the small, dark second-floor room where cards are laid out between us. Her mouth gapes slightly as she fingers the black cross hanging around her neck and looks to the night sky through a tall, colonial window facing Broadway. “Against tree bark -- hung from nails -- like a fruit from a tree…”
I got her to say it out loud, on her own, I catch myself think, sitting in front of her, wary of what this scene would later turn out to be.
“And what do the cards say to do with leftover anger … “
“When you're angry you know you're alive,” she says quietly, then pauses, swallows, as she turns her gaze from the window back to the cards. “In the end I learned to convert anger into depth and maturity so that my environment knows I am a true-live-one – despite all the rest – without my having to express myself on purpose.”
“As if there was no God … “
“In my experience, it has been proven that God is apathetic toward humans. If anything he might care for women, in a superficial way … but to him men … are a line of cattle to slaughter.”
I glance past her through an open doorway leading into an orange-lit bedroom with an old-fashioned quilt for a spread. I understand why she acted surprised that I really did want a reading.
“The boy used to pray – fervently – “ I reply. “Every morning and every night with the Bible in his hand. Every bad thing that could happen to a boy happened anyway. I had not known God was so – heartily – laughing at him in return.”
She noticed the glance. “I have met good men, once or twice,” she says with a deep sigh, then looks down at her ring-filled fingers folded together against the table top. “They were … protective. If anyone was going to be tainted with worldliness it would be them, not their girl. Long gone now … ”
“I had no idea someone like you existed,” I text to Royal as I cross lit-up Madison crowded with heavy, loud traffic.
Maybe I suspected my lone-wolf-connection to Willahford. Maybe I knew I had done the same as him, faltering in our battle-buddy friendship out of some instinct that knew Royal would suddenly have to leave for home early.
“You don’t know anything about my trials and tribulations,” he texts back.
“Well, anything's better than Shea stadium,” I overhear someone say.
Citifield feels like home. They act normal here. I thought shows like Sex and the City were displaying caricature versions of Northerners, I hadn't realized they actually acted like that in real life. I root for the Mets but they’re losing to the Giants. As I watch the baseball players, a sensibility lets me be the batter as he bats, lets me be the pitcher as he pitches, movements I can feel in my bones.
The Subway roars, the boxcar packed. The man carefully leans toward the window, writing onto the back of a white brochure:
“Maybe,“ she had written, like some C.I.A. operative alone in the deep. "But I remember how you used to be a Storyteller.” She left the note paper clipped to my book. She would've had a paper clip.
The subway boxcar lurches.
I take the train back South. When I step off the train eight hours later it turns out there had been drama while I was gone. I had beat out all the daughters as far as Mother’s Day gifts went: I bought her a potted plant of yellow roses. I also had dropped off the Jeep at the last minute, without much explanation except a voice mail to J__ who works twelve hour shifts and doesn‘t cross paths with his family regularly. I didn’t think it a big deal but the family was insulted that I had taken a cab from their house to the train station and that I had intended to take a cab from the train station back to their house. “You should have asked once of us for a ride,” Mrs J__ says. “You are rudely independent.”
I didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings.
They said they know their family is mostly women and they know I treat women the same way I do my mother and sisters -- casually, freely, with no hint of obligation or conformity.
I was high and didn’t know it. I had taken the last of the pills days ago but they were still in me. When I know it, it’s fun, because I have to be present to pull it off and not get caught. When I don’t know it, it is terrible because I’ve failed yet again to be present, to pay attention.
Ms J__ asks me about the random voice mail I’d left for J___ about how my mother had been on the train.
“Well,” I say, “It was Mother’s Day weekend.”
I smooth things over, staying for dinner and watching a movie with them called Night at the Museum, a comedy about the Museum of Natural History in New York City.
The baby starts crying; I pick her up. She stops crying.
J__ chuckles, then looks at Mrs. J__ as if he shouldn‘t say anything. “It’s really something how you’ve got such a way with kids,” he says.
I feel accused.
Shifted to the inside of a speeding subway car. I sit there for a long long time, sitting thru one stop after another, trying to make sense of things.
I remember running into my one-appointment-therapist once, after I had left Elise, but before I had met Billy and Mrs. Marie. The therapist had that always-annoyed flair about him, even on the outside. He chuckled when I mentioned I had problems with dating. I thought he was treating me that way on a personal level until I ran into him treating his wife and two young boys the same way in a furniture store. I stood hiding behind a large, wooden cabinet.
... CPT L__‘s hands in the van during our work lunch break .. As he was articulating he uses his hands.
Except I’m not drunk or high. I just understand.
We are planets and the space between us is vast and immeasurable.
I am asked to drive to two different cities to acquire items.
After acquiring the items and returning to work, my supervisor received an email from someone at one location mentioning he thought he had smelled alcohol on me. They are a bit freaked. So am I, having forgotten that in this heat I’d be sweating the smell of it. I deny the charge and it is dropped but it frightened me that I had made such a mistake. It also frightened me that I hadn’t eaten all day and hadn’t noticed.
#371371 - 09/30/11 04:10 AM
Re: G) Riding Trains
Loc: American South
I wake intermittently on the bathroom floor.
According to the bathroom mirror I’ve lost weight around my face. The chin and jawbone are more pronounced, my head seems shorter. The chemical burning feel is in all my fluids, the moisture of my mouth, even my eyeballs.
Shifted to some sort of empty rehab facility. It was so silent I could have heard a pin drop.
“Well, this is the room,“ Royal says. I turn, shifting to the inside of a barracks room. I look at my bunk, the nightstand beside it. Royal, wearing a white t-shift and beige pants, acts like he’s an attendant here and that we’ve just met.
Shifted to the inside of a therapist‘s office. It smells stale; the sounds of traffic drift in from outside tall, dirty windows. “But you’ve already proven the spell you need to heal,” the counselor is saying. His tweed suit looks like something out of a Godfather movie.
My last day at work. The two week’s notice is over. I had already asked for days off weeks ago so I could go to New York again so my notice is much shorter than two weeks. The staff thinks I'm leaving for school, which is true, except I want to go to school in the mountains, same as Royal and I talked about. I don't tell them I'm going to Wilton instead in order to make sure my getting my GED does not upset my GI Bill.
“I don’t understand. Have you been hiding your feelings?” SFC Cray asks me from the outer doorway of the supply room, her expression lost for second, as she understands that I am really resigning.
Driving home from the maintenance shop, I stop by a Taco Bell. An hour and a half later I change clothes and notice how hot my skin is.
I fall in and out of sleep. I wake up at one point to catch a young, overweight woman on the show, Last Comic Standing: “I’m a lesbian, you might could tell,“ she says. The audience laughs. “It took me awhile to realize it. I remember my Mom asking me why it bothered me so much when my best friend would go out with boys. I’d say: BECAUSE SHE’S MY BEST FRIEND!”
The audience laughs.
Watching “The Middle”'s “A Simple Christmas,” Axle is saying with a roll of his eyes to his little brother: “You know, when Mom lived on the prairie and only got an orange in her stocking.”
“It wasn't frontier days,” his mom, played by Patricia Heaton, quickly replies. “It was your great-grandmother during the great depression. How old do you think I am?”
“I don't know,” Axle blurts with annoyance. “I try not to think of you.”
I notice he's said that more than once throughout the family sitcom's seasons. Sometimes he says it with an expression on his face like he does not quite understand. I'm surprised he gets away with saying that on network television.
“Um – the part where you were a sexual surrogate,“ Debra Messing is saying to a man behind a white drape, showering in an old-fashioned tub that has been made into a shower complete with curving curtain rod. “And then started to – branch out. Is that how it happened?”
“The real story,” Dermot Mulroney replies. “My mother was a hippie, and a stripper. She was insanely inappropriate with me. She used to wash her lingerie in my bath water – while I was still in it. So as an adult I needed to experience intimacy and sex with rules that couldn't be violated.”
She hangs on his every word. “Yes, yes, okay,” she mutters in constant support and agreement.
“I'm just screwing with you.”
Waking to morning, I manage to go to the grocery store while consumed with fever. I’ve been surprisingly sick for two days. Though it’s eighty degrees outside I turn the heat on in the house it’s so freezing, then curl up on the couch, flipping channels until I fall asleep.
“Being a Gyro girl is a lot like being in a sorority,” JD of “Scrubs” narrates, busy imagining the OBGYN doctors wearing little as they have a giggly pillow fight on a king size sorority bed. They pair off and begin kissing –
“JD!,” his coworker Elliot says, demanding him out of his daydream. She is desperate to not become an OBGYN even though she is female. “I can’t go with them because I have to help you right?”
“Ah, just give me a second,” he says. “I’m just figuring out something for a patient.”
His imagination resumes with the girls sitting on the bed, post copulation, pulling their clothes back on. “I’m glad we all finally experimented with each other,” the blonde says. “But I never want to do that again.” The others nod and murmur agreement.
On Friday, the fever is gone. I look in the mirror: See, I told you; you were only ugly before cause of the illness.
I remember going into a Burger King with Mom and my sisters for breakfast when I was twelve. The person in front is a brown-hued person I couldn’t tell was a man or a woman. The person stuck his or her butt out almost as if on purpose when he or she walked, had this affected attitude. I remember thinking, Is that how I will be … Afterward in the parking lot I wondered why I would’ve worried about that, what an odd question to ask yourself in such a panicked, instantly-afraid kind of way.
I eat with J__, who has given me a ride to the train station. In his FIRESTONE work uniform he eats a sandwich across from me in the booth while making small talk, regular chuckles shared here and there. I notice I'm doing exactly what Royal said for me to do, the piano, the cashing in the GI Bill, 'the college experience,' but how can I explain it to J__, whose eyes behind his work glasses seem frightened and reserved concerning my decisions. His only consolation is the coincidence that Billy puts his two weeks notice in at the church about the same time I make plans to move to Wilton – him and Miss are to marry and move away to her new job.
Red, showing in the Golden Theater on West forty-fifth street, is about an aging artist pitted against a young one. There is only one set, only two actors. The characters work closely together, hence the friendship implied, the drama oncoming. The play asks questions about life and death and art all of which were answered by the three metal lights shining down on the stage. They are metal, not glossy, flat-grey colored instead, each a circle with a light bulb in the middle, held by a thin metal tube connecting it to the high ceiling. Frighteningly eternal compounds allow the light on stage. The play talks about how the black swallows the red -- at some point you die. But that’s not true, really the red swallows the black, over and over, one generation after the next.
“At least know them in silence!” the older artist, Alfred Molina, exclaims to Eddie Redmayne, “At least give the dead that!”
The bartender is conversing with me without conversing with me, flirting without flirting, when all I’m there for is to watch some soccer since the hostel doesn’t have televisions in the rooms. She keeps explaining to me the different drinks, including the Manhattan. She emphasizes the word as if I had never heard it before. It occurs to me she is assuming I am not as sharp as her due to my Southern look and sound. I order another expensive mixed drink, more food, dine, then dash.
I wake, shower, and ask the clerk how to get to Yankee Stadium. After the game I race down the stairs of the Port Authority, not knowing if I should be in a hurry or if I have plenty of time. I reach the bottom of the stairs and get in the back of the only line I saw. Mine is the last stop, at a mall that is empty and closing. The Mall is one of the biggest I‘ve ever been in. The shops are closed but their lights remain on, their music playing. I pass an ice cream stand, its moving displays functioning, its cheery jingle playing to no one.
Adam pulls up in a Honda; we talk shop as he races to his house. “We drive very aggressively up North, don’t worry,” he tells me.
He has facial hair, a thin, edged strip from side burn to goatee. He wears low basketball shorts and a t-shirt. At some point he mentions Royal. The way he said it, as if of course I was in-the-know.
Upon arrival at the apartment I meet his wife, mother in law, and young son. Next we drive to his friend’s house, which is a long drive toward the New Jersey shoreline. We talk more about the deployment, especially the post deployment period, how we couldn’t talk to civilians anymore, the space between us had widened infinite.
He’d had a difficult time with his wife, a young woman with a ballsy accent. “She was used to being in charge, he says .”I wasn’t having it when he got home from deployment.” It was a constant tug of war.
I tell him that me and Royal had been two alpha males living with each other, that we naturally went out of our way to be considerate of each other, even if I was the hidden, silent one, like we were making a point we were friends, despite the conflict implied. Adam’s dynamic with his wife is the opposite. Neither of them are very considerate of the other. They’re household is a full-on, constant onslaught of the battle of the sexes.
“She had lived a tough life. Being in charge was all she knew.”
At Mick’s house we smoke a blunt. Adam wants to leave to go to his apartment, one separate from his wife’s because he is a superintendent and the second apartment came free with the job.
“No one could get in or out,” he is saying. “It took a long time for the ones inside to stop screaming.”
He says we are going to New Jersey Beach, but I have yet to see or smell water.
“The world is not uniform,” he is saying as he drives. “Any rules set by the federal government assumes business is uniform, hence states Must set the rules of society, because every population is different, same as it's always been, as if God had seen such a human race as ideal … With information always burgeoning, structural upheavals are inevitable, laws change, policies are written, time passing in seasons ... I wish I could write down the thoughts I have,” he says. “And what is happening to me when I burn, you know ...”
Outside the passenger window New Jersey is one small town and post office every few miles.
When I am stoned with someone else present, the high is uniquely different, according to that person.
“Ensuring capitalism …” he continues. “Our conservatives are the most conservative people on earth -- and they're living at the western end of western civilization because they want to -- they can hate on liberals all they want.”
The energies of people must be physical, I catch myself think, leaning back into the passenger seat and headrest.
“Maybe by being of the one political party, you're actually keeping an eye on the other party … “ Adam says. “The one that has to be there.”
His other face is me observant and analytically aware of every physical feature, every flaw, every physical advantage, so that he looks tired, as if he had just come back from war.
“Your actual party,” he says, then laughs. “Oh, man, I just completely forgot what I was going to say.”
Sometimes Adam seems angry about having been lied to all his life. He used to lament how he was running out of people to respect. I told him maybe it leads to respecting yourself more. He said he couldn't imagine being that alone.
"Someone impoverished comes of age and becomes aware," he is saying. "That their people, land and resources are being exploited, then follow dirty money to their local government, then state, then national, until they reach the international scene. If they don't fall for the violence propoganda waiting for them, they follow the money from there."
"Why don't journalists follow the money ..."
Adam’s wife is furious when we arrive back at their apartment. “The only thing that calmed me,” she says later. “Was the fact that despite Adam seeming so out of it, you seemed alert and just fine.”
Later I ask him why she is so surprised at how we stayed out all night. “Didn’t she know we were going out ...”
“She doesn’t really have friends,” he says, as if that explained it, “She doesn’t get it. And she doesn’t like me smoking weed. She doesn’t understand that part either. When she smokes she just gets all giddy and giggly, you know ...”
I tell him that when I get high it feels like a reset button.
“The way you are,” Adam says that night, as we drive to Jersey Shore. “You should be writing this down.”
I glance at him with a gape as I wonder morality. “I have my own problems. My own responsibilities.”
“It's funny how weed makes assholes less assholes,” he says suddenly. “And people who need to be more of an asshole, more of an asshole.”
“Do the good ones ever really become assholes,” I ask him.
Still watching the road, he pulls on his cigarette with a smile. “The danger of drugs.”
It is an adventure getting me back to Manhattan. Before I leave, his wife implies something about how my traveling alone is different.
“Yeah, some people find solo traveling loserville,” I say, leaning against her counter, my head bowed.
“No .. I don’t,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to, I just never had the guts.”
Adam secretly wants to drive me, but has to thwart his wife whom he knows isn’t going to let him. We play a game where over the phone she suggests a bus stop or train stop while we supposedly arrive just five or ten minutes late. Hours later, Adam feels comfortable suggesting he drive me in. She agrees.
We arrive back at his apartment to smoke another blunt. The highs are so seamless with real life it doesn’t matter to me that I am getting high again because I know whatever it teaches I will keep.
“This has been the first time I’ve really gotten to talk to someone about the deployment,” Adam says from beside me on the couch. “I feel so free.”
“I used to wonder morality,” I tell him, turning my face to his as I reach for what he is handing me. “Like it even came up with Royal … You know … Like, life used to have this right and wrong to it. “
He moves quick. That's what I like about him. Everything he says and does, like he knows what he's doing, like he's a real person.
“Then I realized that people take whatever contrast is out there to argue about in order to keep things the same.”
On the way in to New York I'm regularly surprised by the empty, unfamiliar Manhattan streets. Tires squeal as I swing the Honda around the corner and onto Broadway.
“Holy shit!” Adam says with a laugh.
After I shower and shave I run errands, feeling more indigenous as I accomplish mundane shopping. In the Gap off Madison I stand in line for thirty minutes to get to the cashier, then detour to Times Square to decide what to do tonight.
I decide on the Addams Family, a musical starring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuworth. I walk back to the hostel and change, carefully choosing what to take in the cargo pockets of my pants and how. I roll two joints, place them in a zip lock bag, then smoke one in an alcove outside the hostel; I smoke another while in the latrine of the theater where the Addams Family is being performed.
Again the world changes from being 2D to 3D, the way I remember it from before I grew up. I can see the empty space between everything. The buildings outside in New York seem like little painted boxes, even the skyscrapers, as miniscule as the buildings I built with Lincoln Logs as a kid. During the musical I don’t take my eyes off the dancing shadows of the performers created by the stage lights and spot lights.
“We do not choose death, death chooses us!“ Nathan Lane says suddenly.
Next morning, the weather in New York remains breezy and cool, smelling of ocean salt. This is the West side of Central Park. I stop by Lincoln Place Cinema and choose a foreign film that is about to start. It is called The Secret in their Eyes. It is about a woman murdered, the man who raped and killed her, and the now-aging detective still pursuing him.
“I can’t look at the past,” the lead actress says, “I have to go to work everyday, I have to keep going, moving forward.”
“Justice is an island,” one man says.
“Stop thinking about it, letting it haunt you,” the husband says to the detective. “You’ll have a thousand paths and no future.”
I impulsively buy a ticket for the musical Next to Normal. Before, whenever I thought ‘musical’ I thought ‘show tunes‘, but most of my favorite movies are like this: Requiem for a Dream, The Hours. Only the Kronos Quartet let me unlock the Goldfarbs. Only Phillip Glass's score let me know Clarissa Vaughan was Richard's wife.
At one point in the play Dr. Madden says: “Sometimes patients get well enough to follow through on their suicidal impulses, but not well enough to fight them.”
“What happens if the cut or the burn or the break isn’t in my mind or my body but my soul?” Diana sings. “Maybe I’ve lost it at last,” she continues, “I’m dancing with death, I suppose, but who knows?”
The moral of the play seemed to be: Moving forward is the price paid to feel. The daughter in the show has a scene where she’s Robo-tripping, demanding to her boyfriend that her mother’s weakness is unforgivable.
“Others can’t hurt you, they can only hurt your ego,” one woman says later in the crowded subway car as my pupils widen.
“How can that be?“ asks the other.
“Because where there’s ego there’s wallowing.”
“But I don’t feel as loved by God,” says the other.
“Don’t complain and you’ll feel more loved by God.”
A routine formed over the last few days. Adam’s wife goes to work; his young son wakes maybe an hour after. His sister in law, Jamie, and I, get up and have breakfast -- or lunch if Adam, Jamie and I have stayed up late the night before.
Regularly, throughout the day, we walk over to the pool Adam’s apartment complex has; it stays calm and un-crowded. In the evenings Adam starts up the grill and we hang out in their back yard along with his mother-in-law, Diane.
All the siblings were supposed to be there that weekend -- two brothers and another sister -- because it was Adam’s birthday, but the only one who could make it was Jamie, who came without her boyfriend, to Adam's relief.
After the Fourth’s fireworks I sat silently looking out the open window in the passenger seat of the SUV, her crying silently in the driver’s seat after she’s gotten off the phone with her boyfriend, a guy who seems to have a drinking problem.
I notice how clear her face is, symmetrical maybe.
All of them have strong personalities seemingly easily matched by a consideration of others. It’s not the same down South, where the culture itself is the consideration of others. When I’m here, away from the South, all the things that weed does to me happens on its own, without the weed in my system.
One afternoon after we’d gotten back from the pool, the world shifted and remained like I was at the church in God‘s Country, playing with my peers on the church lawn, except this time Adam, Jamie and I were playing a golf game on Wii.
Adam has started explaining to me more and more about his situation, which adds up to him being a pothead while growing up in the social services system, then thrown out into the world.
His wife was his pregnant girlfriend whom he married before deployment so they would be covered medically. The wife spent most of his money while he was deployed. They both desired being married and having a family to live within.
An argument began in front of me and it all fell apart, the marriage supposedly over. We drive to his other apartment. Since he has no money a new plan is made in which he will stay with Mick. Adam had been working on Mick as far as getting the quality of marijuana I want. He says it is going to take a couple of days for him to get that much.
“It’s hard to introduce someone to coke,” Adam is saying Saturday afternoon, his limbs moving like snakes biting, grabbing items from cupboards. He had already been doing lines in another room with Mick’s roommate, another young drug dealer. “Some people just can’t let go of the experience once they’ve tried it.”
Mental damage is extra on the mind. Once it is damaged off, the mind is clean again. I didn’t know that’s how the word 'damaged' worked.
Downstairs, I play the brand-new baby grand fluidly, sipping on Guinness.
Stepping out onto the back porch into the dusk, I remember Russia, what it was to finally escape the wandering in the desert and go Northeast, my youthful years as a gypsy coming true. The thunderstorm begins with a strong wind, fast moving clouds and bright streaks of lightning even though it is late afternoon. A golden hue from the setting sun shimmers over the house, the trees, my bare feet and legs.
Waking moist to the sounds of morning, I stretch out on the grass at the top of the hill. I slowly sit up, the orange red sun beams through water falling from the sky.
“You wouldn’t believe what it’s like out there,” I say that afternoon to J__, the sunset blaring around us. “It’s not like it was in your time. Life’s a dream.”
He rakes leaves below the towering Magnolia. “Is it now,” he says.
“I’m just waiting for a cab -- I didn’t know if anyone would be home to give me a ride and the truck place is by appointment only.”
“Do you have someone helping you move?” Mrs. J__ asks.
“Yes,” I lie. She knows I don’t and I don’t want to argue. “I dealt with my landlord today so it’s all a go. I’ll be glad to be moved. My expenses will be cut by fifty percent. Anyone can imagine what that’s like. A lot of pressure.”
The House out in the woods, in the foothills of the rural South, the sound of crickets, frogs ... loading a moving truck, under a solitary light bulb, sounds of the Bonnie Hunt Show from the television, it becomes clear how much respect is required, every movement holy, in the silence and stillness that was original life. Carefully chosen, soulfully decided if right or wrong, the slightest breath, the frog’s “ribbet.”
J__ knows who Dawn is. He knew her in high school or something. How is it I suddenly know that … Dark from elementary school; the one who kept trying to get to me in school. I stop loading the truck, stop mid-movement.
I write a letter about Dark, carefully, properly filled out, something that might pass for acceptable. I step down the hallway to the assistant principal‘s office.
“I already know the story, J__ … ” I will say if he ever tries to bring it up. I hate having forgotten and then remembered; it's such a weakness, having been ejected from the human race and having to find your way back on your own, as if the human race deserved you.
The two kids, Christopher and Jeremy something. The little blonde kid, that’s Christopher. I remember Mrs. Sharon, their Mom, from when I was little. Christopher and Jeremy are Mrs. Sharon’s kids. Mrs. Sharon is Mrs. J__’s sister. Mrs. Sharon is the woman Mom was talking with that day at Hills.
Dark is the one who married J__’s oldest daughter, Ms J__’s eldest. There was an ugly divorce. Dark was investigated. That’s in the future. J__ got Mrs. Sharon’s boys when social services took them from Mrs. Sharon, who lived in Smithfield. They went to the same school as us for awhile. Dawn would pick them up in Smithfield, as a favor to J__, Mrs. J__, and Mrs. Sharon, then go on to Wilton, where the school was. Years ago, we stood by the tool shed working with the lawn mowers, J__ telling the story of his oldest daughter’s divorce. He named her husband. “Dark?” He says, like a question, and pauses.
I wondered why he’d paused, why he asked it like that, as if he expected something from me.
I overheard J__ once, talking to someone: “He lives in his head. He has this story of how he has no family, he just stepped out of the ocean, you know, fell out of the sky.”
I wrote a letter to the Assistant Principal, explaining the group of teenage boys who went around cornering little kids as a joke. They thought it was funny, flashing themselves when no adults were around. Maybe they only did it to me.
Jeremy loved his helicopter, kept showing it to me, us trying to make it work. Christopher, the youngest, was always jealous for my attention. I can’t remember if I was the oldest. Christopher always kept his hand in his mouth. Slobber on his chin, me wiping it off with a folded paper towel from my pocket.
They are upset that I had a cab pick me up from the moving truck place, but they let it go.
“I don’t know why you insist on doing that,” J__ says, shaking his head at the television.
“Look, Mrs J__,” I say to her in the kitchen. “It’s not some emotional statement. I don’t even think of others when I’m being independent.”
She leans back in her chair, suspicious of how much I Know. Maybe.
I stop by again so she’ll know I’ve moved. Her oldest daughter is there already with her second husband, Mike, along their two boys from her previous marriage with Dark.
Their third and smallest boy, who’s never properly met me, stays against my bare calves as I talk with Ms J__ in the kitchen, him catching my eyes and saying “Bang bang” with his toy gun.
“I don’t like the idea of spaying and neutering pets,” I say to Ms J__ as she sets the table.
“I understand,” she says. “But somebody has to be the last generation.”
I take sixty-four pills. I remember when I was little I was being watched by Latino migrant workers for awhile. That’s when I learned my name. Ben. Except they said the E differently.
I honestly wouldn’t hear people if they said it the non-Latino way.
I Remember Mom bought us pillows. She thought it must not be nice how we had to sit on the floors all the time. Another Sunday we woke up to a stuffed animal on our beds. It was Easter, she had bought us bunnies. Mom didn’t have many friends so church was the only thing going on in our lives, except for when Mom went out on her own, like she must have last night. She had secretly chosen a different color bunny for me, like a secret between us, blue instead of pink.
The others who were in the horrific had different stories of having got there but in the end it was all the same. They stayed despite themselves because they assumed they deserved to be there, some crime they believed but had forgotten too much of to name.
I left the ones I loved, reaching the next level, where I loved again. They told me, this level of hell we deserve, though we don’t remember why. I loved them but left them so I could reach the next level, a rumor I could feel, some dream I once had but couldn‘t remember.
Level after level, never easing my pace, love after loved ones, till I left hell altogether and was in the lowest level of heaven. Love after loved ones, level after level, till I neared the mysterious upper reaches, alone. Maybe I should have forfeited eternity to have been truly alive for awhile. Maybe all along that was the fall from grace.
Dark as night, in the back of some sort of wooden truck bumping along uphill, then downhill, Seth sits at a table before me, wearing a black hijab and burqa like an Arab woman, laying cards. I wonder if she is actually male, like the Bible claims. She says nothing. Her eyes are so hazel and brown they're familiar, piercing out from the depths of the shadows of her face. Her hands have no skin, just white bones fastened without cartilage or muscle, making a 'clock' 'clock' sound as each card is laid from a stack to the right of her. She never looks at the strange cards, she only looks at me as she teaches me telepathy.
“I am not yours,” I suddenly think back at her, cutting off her words entering my head. “I am my brother's. He is the only one I know here.”
Shifted to a dark cemetery, the pounding from the pills gone. I hear a giggling sound or a cackle, I can’t tell which. It seems to come from a tombstone. I can barely keep my hand steady as I hold the lantern up to the stone. I touch the stone; it was as if I could tell a heartbeat. I name it Tombstone. It acts like a pet to me, my new familiar going where I go, it is so lively.
It felt like suicide could be the only option. How can I not know what Honorable means … I ask myself, looking in the mirror, trying to ignore the restaurant noises, wondering if the lock on the bathroom door will really hold as I down more pills. Sink water drips from another five-o-clock shadow. I have a deep seated feeling that Willahford knows, that he’s read the whole thing. If he’s known this whole time … “F_ck,” I say to no one, my forearms on the steering wheel, waiting at the stop light. Rain pelts the windshield. I don’t even have a radio in the Jeep; if I had a radio I wouldn’t be thinking so much. If Willahford found out he’d shoot me in the face.
As a youth counselor, I’m at a summer camp, knowing the answers, forever alert, a proper watchman. I don’t know how much of the horrific is appropriate to warn against, or even how to word it. I was a good actor when I was a kid. I couldn’t make sense of anything, couldn’t feel on the inside of my skin. I kept a brave face.
At fifteen I cook in the evenings, as Ray and Grace arrive home from work; Mom has been in her room for two weeks. I am stealth quiet, setting the old fashioned wooden table, the only sounds the chink and thud of plates, the ting of glasses.
I look toward the sound of her laugh. Long black hair. I’m in the middle of a stair case, a bare wood landing with a window shining light down onto me. The young Spanish woman at the base continues laughing. Baby Boy on a landing, all on his own. “B - (e) - n,” she says.
I remember the exact moment when I died. We were washing Ray‘s green truck by the side of the House. It was a warm day with a chilly breeze. God‘s Country‘s morning glories color the green, hay-filled edges of the yard with violet and pink. I remember when I realized this was not life but a Nintendo video game, a virtual reality training event; these were not live beings but images to be fought, survived, outmaneuvered, ably, like a nation under siege. I remember the moment when I chose the grave over the living, when I realized: these are not live beings but ghouls. I remember when I accepted that wildness, that genius of war.
Ray is beside my bed, grabbing me roughly, his member bouncing around. With his fist he pops my face twice to quiet me. I had been rocking myself to sleep again. Grace laughs from her top bunk in the corner of the room. My mind was silenced for several days. It wasn't strange how I was aware of a large feminine spirit watching me with this attitude like she was thinking, 'another of my boys,' except with a wisdom to it, a resignation, like only she knew God. Maybe they do not win by making me afeard. Maybe brave can be a way of life. It makes sense to be ready for the worst while enjoying whatever happens better. It felt like respect, not anger. Fine choice for a prince, not a king.
Completely unsure, but moving, I hold to my own promise and leave forever. They think I’m leaving to house-sit for someone for the two weeks until Christmas, really I am moving into the townhouse in Wilton. By the finality of my movements Mom must know this will be the last time she will ever lay eyes on me. Leaving by way of a standard instead of a plan, I know it is going to turn out right, this brand new life.
In silence, Mom leans against my bedroom wall and watches, expressionless. The knowledge that I would never come back or ever see them again acted as salve to keep my soul intact through the worst years in God's Country. I never go back on my decisions. It would be tantamount to breaking a promise. Quickly, methodically, I pack the last of my things as the darkness of God’s Country descends all around us.
“You don’t know what it’s like to have to turn away erroneous sentences … “ I say to Royal, his blue-eyes widening, his face so Master Race I grit my teeth and flex my jawbone, looking away. It’s as if Royal lived on the same street as me, was around the same elements and events and people, only he was living an opposite life. The violence that shows up when I come into contact with someone like Royal feels natural to the point I understand every crime ever committed, every human conflict, every revolution. One baby-boy born blonde, blue-eyed, and blessed, the other black and blue, forsaken, us equals to the point of brotherhood. The van in the Walmart parking lot outside Camp Shelby begins to fill with soldiers now that the street lights have switched on.
Shifted to Africa, my Motherland, savanna to the horizon, jungle against the west's, surprised to first recognize her by the sweetness of animal musk. The world remains in a state of flux between ice age and flood as she reaches her next glacial age while still none know which is closer: the last ice age or the flood just before the next one. Whispers in the wind say sin done her in, while women blame men and men blame the wind. Between the heavens above and the lake of lava below, there are rumors of melting glaciers North and South and floods in the tropics still ripe from when the continents were one and the holy land was only beginning to flow apart again, firmament disappearing back into ocean.
'Raptured to the roof of a floating cathedral made of gray stone and adorned with white statues. Ancient now, Seth, the original storyteller, delivers my eulogy, either ignorant of or oblivious to my standing presence. “Soulless and heartless, his fate is the same dust as his body, same as Cain who haunts me still,” she says.
The audience atop the floating cathedral moves like music.
“With my soul and heart,” she continues from the stage, as if to empty air, casting the words like a spell not meant for listening. “I prayed for Able's blessing upon my offspring. But my history haunts my offspring like a curse upon his blood.”
The sky has both a soft moon and a sun because the cathedral floats above and through the clouds. Stars throb in night sky above warm, noonday light.
The audience below sings quietly but threateningly, baritones groaning their mourning, sopranos exhaling haunting as autos gnash their teeth. I am desperate to write Seth's spell, kneeling down to scratch notes into the dust of the rooftop. I barely hear for the audience's rising crescendo. Seth's posture trembles, the arms raised and held up as through clenched teeth Seth exhales:
“All is lost forever.”
The choir stands and kneels, then stands again, leaning on each other chaotically as their roaring mixes with the breath in my lungs. I scratch the four symbols as with a loud roaring stars descend with a blanket of darkness upon us suddenly falling, falling.
“He is lost forever.”
Drowning into the abyss loud with their screaming, my brother catches my hand. “You come away from here.”
I shift away. I awaken. Under my pillow he lets go my hand.