“We bade adieu to each other affectionately in the carriage. When he had got down upon the foot-pavement, he called out, ‘Fare you well;’ and without looking back, sprung away with a kind of pathetick briskness, if I may use that expression, which seemed to indicate a struggle to conceal uneasiness, and impressed me with a foreboding of our long, long separation.” – Boswell
My stomach knotted. But the feeling wasn’t new, or strange. But this was new, and strange. I sat on the seat, shut the door, placed foot on break, shifted to drive, and slowly, slowly, slowly lined tires with ramp and inched. My eyes darted between hitch and hands as a friend waved and directed from below. I parked. We wrapped straps around front tires; I looked at a large truck, a hitch, my car. I told myself this would test my faith. A neighbor showed and observed the straps, pulling and squinting like men do. I told myself, this would test my faith.
One year ago. The Day blurs, blends into colors, faces, feelings, moments. The Day, for me, reverberates. It echoes like sound-waves. It rings like lost ripples along lake-waters, spreading from the splash of stone. The shock happened once – like stone hitting still waters; the ripples are less intense and intrusive. But they widen; their scope covers, effects more. The Day eases; the Day hardens. It’s never quite the same, but its ghost hovers about. From sun-up to sun-down, that Day’s ghost frowns at me through faces.
Early that morning, I met a friend and we helped another move. The last view of that home is not memorable. When I think of the home, I see four or five souls hovered above a board game or supping on burgers. I hear particular songs, particular phrases, repeated till the end of time. I stand by the doorway, chatting, taking twenty to say goodbye. I smell popcorn; I smell gin or wine or brown beer, molded in a frosty mug; I hear my own words read by another and better words by better men. I hear Dickens read by a hero. But I don’t hear the stale questions that come with stale boxes; I don’t see mounds of a life crowded and crumpled in piles, as if a body belonged in a box. I don’t feel the touch of heavy hugs and handshakes – the taunting of that Day’s ghost, more lively than ever.
I smoked the Churchwarden in my own hollow home the day before the last. An orange tabby watched, and the room was bare, empty. Few boxes cluttered the space. An unfurnished home is an unfurnished body; it is soul-less, dead. It’s an end, or a beginning. Or both at once. But not a life. It is the awkward transition from past to future that is rarely felt. But on this Day, that subdued present magnifies itself. Like the waters of the Red Sea, the past meets the future, but each can only wall itself up like a wave, waiting to crash. A man can only wait until the fated wave carries him along and the other blends with the rest of his history.
We ate breakfast in a McDonald’s on the corner of Pecos and Bonanza. It was a typically hot, dry August morning in the Valley. I had a coffee, two breakfast burritos, and a sausage McMuffin. The coffee was good, the food wasn’t satisfying. Three days and fourteen-hundred miles of travel, and I was a new man; and I was a hungry man. We ate and said little, listening to the chatter of Spanish. I was the only full-bred Caucasian in the restaurant. Everything seemed, felt, was so different. Even the globalized, pre-packaged food tasted exotic and strange. I looked out the window towards a parking lot. A U-Haul sat without a hitch next to a black Toyota. Freedom, I thought. My thoughts wandered with my eyes beyond the lot to several palm trees surrounding stucco-styled buildings. The Desert Schooner. Odd how we grow accustomed to place. Everything looks so different at the moment of meeting. But Time chisels away at the odd sculptor of first impressions; Time helps us see things, places, people more accurately, more truly, more spectacularly.
Memory, though, molds places less exactly. We see back through a sheet, or veil, of fog. A week ago feels like a year; a year feels like another age. Like a spoon dipped in water, the image is distorted. I suppose Time magnifies itself in space. A year ago today only feels distant, otherworldly, timeless when specific places, people, faces, actions act upon the memory. The spirit of those things and events exists near and now; but its body lay buried deep in the earth of distant lands.
We stood on the balcony of an Econolodge in Grants, New Mexico. Goosebumps covered our arms, and we shivered against the stormy breeze. The sky turned in upon itself, black and blue-grey clouds pillowing upon one another, catching the stars like fat mits catching balls. In the distance, we spotted a veil of rain-water. Sprinkles spat on the cement below, and the breeze pushed the rain our way. We didn’t mind but watched the storm progress and march as an angry army. I wondered to myself when I’d see such a sight, sighing and saying goodbye to the rage of the skies.
I remember the rain in Manhattan. Lands change hue in rain. A haze of grey shrouds the waking world. I sat on my mower, trying to make distinctions between grey grass-blades, over-mowed. A few drops landed on my neck, and I grabbed a jacket. Lightning lit the sky, and across the way, I watched another mower bolt across the plane for shelter. But I remained rooted. Too long, I remained. A few lightning strikes later, I fled. Water slid from the clouds, as if poured from a child’s bucket. Pulling into a garage, a fat, wide-eyed man looked at me and smiled. Another gangly fellow climbed out of a truck, carrying a pitcher of water. He looked downward, shook his head, and said in his own way: “Raining again.”
I was eleven when that first stone began the ripple-effect. It was late July, early August. Men moved boxes into a truck, and I watched idly on. Crossing the road of our Dead-end street, I knocked cautiously on a basement window with my fist. A friend slumbered through the sound. The night prior, he had told me to knock and wake him. That evening exists in a haze, lit by a waning moon and sad stars. But the morning is vivid. I see my paternal grandfather lifting boxes and taking orders. He wears a brown shirt. The back reads in white letters, Faith: Belief in that which you cannot see. I see my maternal grandmother, meanwhile, marching around the house with a camcorder the size of a small fridge hoisted atop her right shoulder. Some memories are questionable; some are of mind, some of tape. I’m interviewed, anyways, holding in tears as I answer her question, So, will it be hard to say goodbye to your friends? The question shoots from her mouth, as if she’s not holding a camcorder but a bazooka. I think only of my friend, slumbering on in ignorance, wondering if I should’ve knocked harder.
I climbed into the truck with my grandfather. The storm-clouds started piling, one upon the other. The wheels hit the soft slope of the driveway, and I knew it was the last time I’d feel its effect. The back tires bounced, and the storm-clouds burst. My window was down, and I looked out so my grandfather wouldn’t see the stream on my cheeks. I looked toward the house at which I had knocked. Then, I saw him. A figure stood, holding the screen door with his right hand, waving with his left. I waved back, and the storm raged onward. His spirit haunts me yet. With each move I see him. With each parting, I see dimly through a veil of tears the sad shade of his ghost, holding an open door and waving an everlasting wave goodbye.
Much too moved,
Las Vegas, Nevada
July 26-30, 2016
Painting: “Mallards Preening and Drying”
By Peter Markham Scott,
Oil on canvas, 1933