Monday, March 16, 2009

The Opening Of Doors

We drove up the length of the Paseo Escalon, up from El Salvador del Mundo plaza, past the new multi level exclusive mall, where there were always cars waiting to enter and other cars waiting to leave, and the strip malls with their uniformed guards, bored as they strolled back and forth, playing with their shotguns, and the big rancho mall where there was loud music, and all the other little stores and shops and offices that followed each other up the length of the busy street. We turned left at "Biggest" ( a hamburger fast food restaurant that used to be the Hardee’s before they lost their license) and then finally left again around the corner of the Terraza Hotel and the Ramada Inn.
As soon as we had turned for the last time, I could almost feel at home. It was almost the same old quiet little corner, just a little older, just a little more used, and it was hard to tell if it was the corner itself that was older and more used or if it was me, and at this point, after so much asking and so much looking and so much exploring of my secret web of memories in this strange distant place that still felt like home, at this point, the distinction seemed less and less possible to pinpoint. The Ramada Inn was still red, but the red seemed more faded, and the Terraza Hotel seemed bigger than it once was, but I also had the sensation that I had never looked straight into it, as if the lights from its many rooms would blind me, and now that I did look, it seemed to spread further than I remembered, but it was probably the same as it ever was. The sidewalks were wide and open, and the old little strip mall was still there in the opposite corner, with curved arches and little stores that were very skillful in hiding their true purpose. The stores were all different but they basically seemed the same and I wondered if a block away there was still a little pharmacy where I could get Kaliman comic books and Tales of Horror and books of little illustrated dirty jokes.
As my Uncle quickly turned the car around, I shifted my attention to the objective of our trip. Right ahead was the old driveway covered in big dark leaves, the gray bricks cracked all over in a spider web of decay, the sidewalk cracked as well but even more so, as if the cement had turned to water in the middle of the night and it had danced in whirlwinds from the edge of the asphalt to the feet of the walls, and its solid grayness had spilled all over itself leaving behind formless holes from which tall wild grass, thorny weeds and even little hopeful trees sprang up, right where they shouldn’t be, right where someone would soon come along to cut them down.
This was the old apartment building, the one my mother had called "Terraza Apartments" in honor of the big hotel that I couldn’t quite look at, maybe hoping to lure some foreign tenants to come and live in the little building after they had grown tired of the echoes of drunken laughter in the long hallways covered in shiny yellow bricks and little brown maids in blue uniforms laughing softly at their own private jokes, and whispering in that way that makes soft words spoken under the breath reach further than desperate screams, and other foreign people carrying heavy luggage back and forth and asking about the best restaurants and the best discos and the best parks while men in little funny hats bowed down to them and said "yes, sir… of course sir… right this way sir…". After a week or two of that, the simple silence of my mother’s apartment building would be paradise to a homesick foreigner. And so it was, at least for the few tenants that took the time to notice the small building just across the way. Small, quiet, and private, receding into itself, away from the street, protected by metal and bark and leaf and brick. I could imagine what it would have looked like to the weary traveler that had just learned that he would stay in this god forsaken little country, ravaged by poverty and war and desperation, for a couple of years. Sanctuary is what my mother’s building offered, and sanctuary is what the tenants got. As much as my mother was the builder, the designer, the manager and the owner of the building, we were tenants as well, and, in our little apartment in the midst of the dark garden in the back, we got a bit of sanctuary as well.
The metal logo of the little building was still there, partially hidden by the shadows of the overgrown tree and by the metal bars of the new gate that stretched from one end of the wide driveway to the other. It ruined the inviting design of the fa├žade, but this was a land of thieves, and the metal bars would only barely contain them. The old logo was covered in the rusty color of forgetfulness, the color of things that were new and shiny once and had now fallen into the place where old toys go when their little owners have grown up and turned sour.
I looked across the street and saw an older woman talking to a couple. The woman was about sixty years old, wearing white shirt and pants, and she was talking loudly, and her voice, even across the street, and through the glass of the car window and over the sound of my Uncle talking, her voice seemed familiar, and I thought that it could be the woman I remembered, the same one that lived there so many years ago, the one that was friends with my mom and was an expert on healthy natural foods and gave her things to try and my mom would walk into our little apartment with bags of soy meat, and gluten and brown rice, and she would say "let’s try this!" and I would look at it with great suspicion in my eyes, and I would say "no, better not… I’ll stick to my meat thank you…" because in those days I loved the meat, the red red meat and the redder the better, I even would sneak into the fridge and take out chunks of raw meat and put it raw into my mouth and I would bite into it, all chewy and cold and freshly sprouted from the jaws of death, without the cooking that would turn it into acceptable food and the rice that would turn it into a real meal, and here it was just pure red meat, all over my mouth, dripping blood over my lips and it was so good, but I knew nobody could see me doing it, so I would put it away quickly and act like nothing had happened, but surely something had, and this is why I couldn’t accept the idea of eating meat that wasn’t really meat, because I liked the meat that was even more meat than the meat that other people ate. Given all that, I would still sometimes try the fake meats that the woman sent, her name was Josefana, and I found it acceptable. I would say "It’s ok, I wouldn’t want to just eat this, but every once in a while it could be ok…" and sometimes we would go over to her house and eat, and that was very scary for me, for more than one reason, because here it would be so much more difficult to say no to whatever Josefana brought out to eat or drink, but also because she had a young girl that was her adopted daughter and she was a little dark thing that simply adored me, and whenever she saw me she would cry out: "Juan Carlos!" and I had to run away from her or hide or simply look away and try to ignore the fact that here was this cute little girl staring at me with big gentle eyes and I didn’t know what to do with such love so I simply looked away and, examining the wall of Josefana’s house, I hoped that the little girl would soon disappear, even as I could still hear her calling me. I would not be able to look away for long, because, it seemed clear and predetermined, here, in this apartment building, in the little apartment in the middle of the dark garden in the back, I was bound to find love, one way or another, and Josefana’s daughter, Fatima, was just the first entity to offer it, and I was still strong enough to look away and say no. Such strength could not last for long.
I looked over across the street, and there was a dark skinned woman there, and I wondered if that was Fatima herself, and there was a man with her as well, and I wondered if that was her husband, and I wondered if they could possibly recognize me or even remember me after all these years and I was just thinking these things when my Uncle turned to me and said, "Don’t look over there… it’s that dammed woman, Josefana! I don’t want to talk to her! Don’t look at her! Don’t look at her at all!" And I looked at him and wondered why and I asked him and he mentioned something about a car accident, about her not paying him, about her being a bitch, about her lacking the simple decency to stand up to her responsibilities. I couldn’t tell how long ago this had happened but right then she had been easily added to the long list of people that my Uncle couldn’t stand, like the man across the street from my grandmother’s house or even the man across the street from my mother’s house, the last house where we lived in together in our last year of living in El Salvador, the big gray house that my father laughed at because he said it had been designed by a crazy person, and the crazy person was my mom, and it was full of circles and curves and wide open spaces and that was the last house where I lived as a Salvadorean little boy before that life was over. Ever since then, I would be condemned to only return as a ghost.
And my Uncle was in charge of the beautiful crazy house, renting it and fixing it and renting it and then fixing it again and one day he was standing outside the house when the man across the street came walking over to him, and the man said something about my mom being a guerrilla and a leftist and a person that deserved exactly what she got and he said that he had looked out the window when the soldiers were taking us away and he had been glad that it was happening. The man didn’t know who my Uncle was but my Uncle, in the only way that he had of showing his brotherly love, turned to the man and loudly said: "that woman is my sister, you son of a bitch!" and, in the most loving way that my Uncle could invoke within him, he stared at the man ferociously and then walked quickly to his car, saying: "I have a gun in my car. I’m going to go and get it and then I’m going to kill you! You son of a fucking bitch! I’m going to kill you! You are going to die this afternoon! You damned son of a bitch!" and he would have come right back to kill him, because he really did have a gun hidden under the seat of his car, but the man had already run back inside his house, never to be seen again. All of this my Uncle told me on the way to the apartment building, as we drove up the crowded Paseo Escalon.
"Don’t look at her. Just ignore her completely! That’s the only way to deal with these people!" my Uncle said as he looked for the key that would open the gate and he snorted and shook his head, as if feeling fresh heaving disgust for the woman’s behavior. I looked through the gaps between the metal bars at the skinny dog that sat in front of the lower level apartment, where there was an office now. Many years ago, this had been the home of Doctor Escalante, who was not only a doctor but also a seeker, an expert in hypnosis and other disciplines of mind control and a kind of mystery to me, someone I could trust to some degree, but just what that degree was had never been made clear to me, someone that knew things that I had yet to discover but who had also been accused of other things which I didn’t understand. He had been my mother’s friend and in some ways, he had been mine. Although, most of the time, when I thought of him, he was simply a presence, the man that lived behind the wall of bamboo and ivy that separated his little backyard from our great dark garden, the man who lived behind the dark glass of the lower apartment windows, the brown skinned big man that was the boss of the maid that was a friend with my own maid and who hummed little songs which I could sometimes overhear through the open imperfections of the bamboo wall, Doctor Escalante was all of that and only a little more.
But now there where other strange people in this apartment, maybe people lived there or maybe it was an office, but it certainly was not what it once had been. I looked at the dog and the wooden door and the blank barred windows of the lower apartment and I could feel that something of Doctor Escalante was still there, as much as there still was some part of me. The skinny street dog snorted much like my Uncle had just snorted and I looked at him again, and he was still going through his keys, trying one after the other, failing to find the right one.
I looked through the bars again at the wide expanse of hexagonal gray bricks that had shifted in their placement and now made hard waves that seemed to slip from under the building in their rush towards the shore of the street. Everywhere I looked there was a faint memory, even in the fading line where the wall used to be on the far right, where now there was a taller wall and once there had been a little wall, a little wall where I sat collecting little rocks or soda caps, and looking towards the horizon that was crowned by the San Jacinto hill, out there in the great unknowable expanse that extended towards the east of me, and back then I couldn’t know east from north from up from down, so the hill for me was the end of the world and all the roofs and the strange houses and the cars that passed by were the world itself, and I knew that the world was a prickly thing, that it could barely touch you and you would start to bleed, so it was good to approach it with caution, with friends and guardians and with the knowledge that you could always come back to a cool dark garden where the prickly world could not enter, a safe place where the prickliness only came from you. Looking at the faint line of faded paint that marked where the little wall had stood, I could see myself sitting, dreaming, talking to one of my little skinny friends about things I barely understood myself and laughing and maybe petting one of my little doomed dogs.
Each corner of the wide gray driveway held similar faint wraiths of fading memories, and there were just too many to grasp fully, and as soon as I reached for one, twenty more had escaped me, hiding behind corners, sliding away from me and leaving me in a strange present where Doctor Escalante was gone, and all my friends were gone and the dogs were gone, and the white hammock was gone. A world where the world itself had invaded my once safe sanctuary and had left me a wanderer, forced to live without knowing that a dark garden waited for me.
While I looked and tried to grasp at all the faint images that crowded around my eyes, my Uncle was still in the process of trying one key after another, pushing them with some effort into the big rusty lock, yet none of them would work and my Uncle would just jiggle and jiggle some more, hoping to somehow force the lock open. I looked at him struggling and I pointed out a different lock in the bigger gate in the middle of the driveway. We moved over to this lock and my Uncle started trying his many keys on this other lock, just as big and just as rusty as the other one, while still whispering under his breath, "Don’t look at her!" as the woman’s voice from across the street kept on floating over to us, and her laughter, and the laughter of the couple with her, and I was very much tempted to just walk across the street right then and there and introduce myself with a soft smile, and say in a calm voice, "I am Juan Carlos, the boy you knew once… the one who used to live across the street…I have come here for a brief time… I just wanted to say hello…" and just as I was about to do it, the second lock opened and my Uncle pushed the gate forcefully inwards, and it creaked loudly as if openly complaining about the effort it was being forced to make on this lazy breezy afternoon, and then we walked inside, with the sound of female laughter at our backs. The old woman that laughed across the street would have to wait for another day. There were just too many memories all around me and the great sphere of time was expanding rapidly outwards in the process of making new ones. I followed my Uncle inside and he turned back to close the gate behind me. He was still snorting in disgust about the woman. I was still surrounded by faint images that touched me in ways that I didn’t always enjoy but I somehow always welcomed.

* * *

I looked up at the textured white walls of my mother’s building, at the baroque metal bars that covered the wooden windows, all tall and rectangular standing in a straight line above me, all vaguely suggesting a colonial esthetic that was also clearly touched by a hint of modernism, and I saw my mother in every detail, in the curves of chaos that splashed over the walls like a gooey shower of white oil that had been frozen in place a hundred years ago, in the translucent yellowish material of the garage doors, covered in the same black metal baroque design as the upstairs windows, in the multiple entrances and the perpendicular angles that were both expected and surprising at once, there was a clear intelligence in evidence here, an intelligence that seemed only normal and obvious when I was a little boy but now I recognized as not so common, even in these days of fading glory.
For me, the apartment building was a palimpsest of at least 2 layers that multiplied each other into greater webs of irreducible meaning. It was impossible to look at any corner without being assaulted by the multiple layers of meaning, at the pebbles and dirt that lay along the edges of the gray hexagonal bricks, at the covering of dead leaves that spread over the driveway, at the hole in the farthest corner of the garage door, even at the dog that was not there before, but seemed as if he had always been there. I looked now with difficulty, through both layers at once, through two eras that ran upon each other like a naked woman riding on a black horse, riding at a breakneck speed through a field of bushes full of thorns.
The two layers circled around two points in time, two points that in themselves could not be easily reduced to one event but carried the weight of solid stars around which other thoughts would wander.
There was the year of being a strange little boy in the hidden apartment in the back , of living in a world of marvels and stories that never ended, always touched by the shadows of the chipilin tree, by the tall gray walls that surrounded the darkness with finality, touched by moss and tall leaves of grass and crowned by a webbing of wire fence. The net was there to protect us from intruders, not for me to climb, but I did climb it, grabbing on with my thin little fingers, and once I was high enough that I couldn’t let go without getting hurt, then I would speed sideways over the great precipice of the gray wall; and try to find a place where the danger was more complete, where the danger would be so overwhelming that it would rush through my little body like a wave of incomprehensible pleasure. I would usually find such a place, but I learned early on, that I would always have to raise the stakes the next time, because the place of ultimate danger kept on moving further away. When I was tired of danger, I would slide back into fantasy, and into the lives of the little plastic and metal men that were my helpers and my heroes and my villains and my tragic figures and my lonesome guardians that spent entire lifetimes in little lost holes in the farthest wall or in tiny crevices in the pockmarked bark of the chipilin tree.
The second layer revolved around the month of being a man with a beautiful wife that loved me above all things and was eager to give herself to me in all the ways that she could understand it, even before our bond was sealed by legal papers and a lawyer that couldn’t stop talking about responsibilities and moral codes and the solid benefits of marriage, even as we both sat in front of her dressed in bright shiny black, a strange statement that only few understood, and maybe my wife was not one of them. The papers were signed by my younger cousin, Juan Antonio, who I barely knew anymore but had once been my partner in war and conquest and pillage, and maybe somewhere within him the memories still lived, and I was still his comrade of battle in the blood drenched seas, or maybe I was just the strange cousin that it was better to not bring up because "what can you say? He’s just not the same as us…", and they were signed by my wife’s girlfriend, the lower middle class girl who imagined herself to be part of the elite and who came to the wedding in a very short black dress and, in the process of signing the papers, offered her ass to all the other witnesses. I was next to her so I couldn’t watch what I could only imagine was a perfect picture of white flesh and pink lacy cloth, but I heard the gasp of surprise that rose up from behind me and, later, I was told what had happened, and that explained why my cousin Juan Antonio was so interested in this girl’s life as the party progressed later on and people started drinking and some people disapproved and some people laughed and some stayed seated and quiet and my grandmother made sure that everyone ate when it was time to eat. Even before that fateful night of signatures and toasts and tears and cake, even before then, the little brown girl who would someday be my wife wanted to be mine, completely mine, and she wanted it to happen in the little apartment that was on the upper corner, the same apartment that I had one day invaded in a moment of rebelliousness and perverse curiosity, just like I was eager to invade her, my future wife, in every way that I could think of, in every way that we could find. But I didn’t know then what the payment was for all this pleasure and I didn’t even know that it would come in the form of invisible papers that existed only in the Dream, where there would be no material witnesses to sign them, and there would be no clapping, and there would be no tears, and no girls in black dresses, and no cake.

* * *

Here in this little apartment building, a little building that was only barely a building and only had four apartments and one of them was a little apartment in the back, in the midst of what used to be a flowering dark garden, a building slowly falling into disrepair and turning into one of those faded buildings that stood all over the downtown of San Salvador, all those old buildings that were covered in marks and graffiti and little black smudges and that all smelled like old decaying matter and that all touched me with a kind of sadness that I couldn’t place. This building had never been like that but now maybe it was on its way to becoming that, and maybe my mother’s excellence in design could save it from such a fate or maybe not, maybe there was only so much that the designer could do and then the rest was up to the maintainer and to the Universe that did its best to ravage the design and break it and tear off what was pure and beautiful and leave behind only a husk, with black smudges and old skinny dogs slavering saliva by a closed door, and the maintainer would have to be very alert, very careful and very constant in his efforts, and the maintainer was the man that was now walking by me, still unable to shake off the spasms of disgust that the old woman in white had invoked within him, and he couldn’t even tell that there was a problem much less know how to fix it, and this made me think that maybe all things would eventually fall into hands such as these, and the best we could do was work with the moment that was in front of us, and make it as beautiful and pure as a little white building bathed in solidified white cement and adorned with baroque metal bars and wooden windows, and hold it and use it for as much as was possible right then and there, for it would soon be in hands that wouldn’t care and where you might have seen beauty they would see trouble, and where you might have seen peace they saw stress, a recurring problem that they would rather not think about, a decaying process that they would rather forget. That’s the way it was with the little building, and that’s the way it was with many other things as well. I could see it then, as my Uncle walked with me towards the inner door of the garage.
In the midst of this double mirage of translucent memories that faded before my eyes, of echoes of voices that seemed to bounce off the dirty corners and the cement walls and roofs and the translucent yellow material that covered the garage, of voices that said "yes!" and "now!" and "when!" and some of them were voices of kids that ran down the street as my Uncle and I walked towards the doorway, or maybe they ran in the hotel just next door, but most of them were voices of kids that had stopped being kids a long time ago and now had receded into the waiting room of Doctor Death that most of us knew as adulthood, dressed in responsibilities and carefully bathed in proper values, with no more time to say "yes!" like they once said it, or "now!" or "when!" or anything other than the things they had now been saying for years and would continue to say until someone else came along and said that the game was over and that it was time go, and then they would be lead away and nobody would hear from them again. But there would be others to take over so nobody would miss them. The voices I heard were not really there, at least most of them weren’t, not in a way that my Uncle could hear or anyone else, and yet they still surrounded me and they made me shiver a little, because I had almost forgotten them, and this little walk across the leaf covered driveway was making me remember.
Here, walking towards the translucent yellow garage door that had once been my gateway to the world, I could still feel the touch of true boundless love, of love that has no word for itself and just hides behind clean white sheets and the sunlight of the afternoon that carries within itself a hint of sadness and a promise of the end, love within the confines of a little hidden apartment and a dark garden full of bats and worms and little plastic soldiers, love that reached down and carried me back to my feet when I slipped and fell on the stone steps that led to the garage, and I saw the darkness of the stones coming up at me and I felt my face against the scraggly surface of the stone steps and it hurt me, enough that I was stunned, but there was no help coming yet, so then I cried and I felt my mother’s arms pulling me up, and in the twilight of the little path between the apartment and the garage, I realized that I had made myself cry, and that this had achieved the result that I wanted, and even then, while staring at the bamboo fence that separated our garden from Doctor Escalante’s apartment, I knew that I had learned a valuable lesson and that this knowledge carried danger within it, and that someday this danger would flourish. But right then, all I wanted were her arms and her love, the love that came from her and told me that everything was ok, and even if I knew that, more than the step that had made me fall, it was the crying itself that had been the misstep, right then I would just let it slide, I would let myself slide down a muddy slope that went in the wrong direction, just to have that love, that love that I always wanted, that love which could never be enough, and my crying, and my sliding, and my pain, that was just a small price for the bounty of her arms that told me that the world was alright, and even if we had to go out, we would soon be home again, safe and sound, behind tall gray walls and a gray wire fence.

* * *

Here, on these old gray bricks that were covered with the refuse of years of strange footsteps, on this garage entrance that hid our little kingdom of safety and long afternoons waved away with the swing of a wide white hammock, here I found love that burned past the edge of my comprehension, when I was walking out from my little sanctuary and I opened the small garage door and I looked up, up to where I expected the known world of street and houses and bricks and trees to be, up to where there should have been the nothing that was the known world and which would continue to keep me calm and at ease. Instead, I looked up and I saw a little slim girl dressed in a complex red outfit, an outfit that spoke to me of strangeness, of places far away and of things that should not come near me, layers of thick red cloth that told me that here was something unexpected, something that it would have been better not to see, I saw a slim little girl with a face of calm defiant composure that I couldn’t understand, a face that didn’t hide behind the clothes or the hair or the eyes or the smooth white cheeks, a face that simply said "I am here… this is me… as strange as you may think I am… I am here and I offer no apologies for my presence" and I had seen plenty of girls before, and I had even liked them and I had even fantasized about rescuing them from terrible dangers, in nights of storm and evil men that lurked in the shadows and wind that made their hair fly around their faces and curl around their cheeks, and, after I had risked my life to save them from oblivion, then they would look at me, with wide eyes of admiration and kindness, and they would offer me a kiss, a simple kiss on the lips that would make my whole body tremble, like Elsa, the beautiful girl from the American school, whom I had noticed in third grade class and somehow her image had stuck with me, and it drifted across my dreams and my afternoons of lonely story making, like the older sister of the little boy across from my father’s house, whose name I had long forgotten but who still sometimes appeared behind the shadow of a tree or against a blank white wall, like Florence, who had lived on the other side of a brick wall, in the flying garden that my parents had built in our first house of wonders, and she laughed down there where I could see her running, and she would say my name and I would look down and wonder what it was that she really wanted and she once crushed her thumb with a door and I was sad for her and I wished that I had been there to stop it from happening, but I was up above in the flying garden and she was down in her own driveway of red shadows and I could only imagine the pain of her finger being crushed and I could retreat to my own private quarters and dream new dreams and invent new endings for stories I didn’t understand. All these girls I had liked already and more, but the sight of them didn’t burn into me, they didn’t hurt me so that my skin crawled and my chest was hot and throbbing, they didn’t slice across my consciousness like a hot iron and leave only burnt memories behind, as they stepped away. But when I opened the door, all of them were like faded messages on a dirty wall, little marks left behind by a boy that used to live there and used to think that he knew a lot, because of some comic books he had read, because of some stories he had invented, because of some things he had said to other boys and had then believed that they were true, and all the messages were fading so fast that soon there would be nothing left, and by the time the small garage door closed, there was nothing left but a faint smile, blue eyes, light brown hair, and a voice that echoed within my head like a gigantic bell that never stops ringing. It’s time. It’s time. It’s time.

* * *

In the endless hot afternoons of El Salvador, back in the days of the little apartment crouching behind a little building that protected it from the world, the pale yellow sunlight would come in through the glass windows with long trails of flying dust, dust that swirled in slow spirals that came from nowhere and went nowhere, and I could only see the little slice of spiral movement that was illuminated by the light, and it all had a smell of dead stillness, a sense of things that had been dead and would remain dead for a long time, with old black and white movies on TV which I found myself watching more than once but which always ended with a headache and a sense of loss, in them there was a lack of color, of hope, of movement, of stories that had been told too many times, and in the process of their retelling they had lost their color and their meaning and their passion, and now they just lived inside a metal box where they repeated over and over like spirals of dust, like pale yellow sunlight, and their lack of meaning only increased the stable enclosure of hot sweaty eternity. School was over, I had escaped the confinement of desks and teachers and programmed activities and little kids who sat around hoping that time would pass quickly, trying desperately to move the hands of the clock with their minds, and, having escaped from this prison of little wooden desks and dark green blackboards, I found myself here in this new prison of aimlessness, here where there were no clear games to play, none that I could push myself into starting, none that would simply fall into my lap and rush into that later stage when games become easy, because now, everything was hard, everything was terminally difficult, nothing could be started and nothing could ever come to an end, and the sun would still be up, hot and bright and blinding and, if I looked out the window momentarily, I knew that the bright sphere of fire would be there forever and there would be no escape into wind and twilight and night, and the TV could be on, blaring the voices of drama and laughter and tears and violence, and the garden was open and available but too hot and inhospitable on an afternoon like this, and thoughts themselves would become stagnant, like lead weights that dropped through my nervous system, shifting form as they slid through the crevices of my mind, crashing through the tendrils of my consciousness, banishing any subtlety, any attempt at excitement, cutting through any trace of hope.
It was in an afternoon such as this, when I sat by our little black and white TV, making the fateful decision to watch or not to watch an entire afternoon movie, to dive into the black and white world of romance and violence coated in 19th century music that always seemed completely out of place, old movies that were packaged with the words "World Premiere" and this never made any sense, not even back then, for I myself had seen the movies more than once, and if they were a premiere, it was only a premiere of forgetfulness, a amnesiac promise that held the tantalizing taste of newness just out of the reach of my sweaty hands; or, if I decided to reject a lifetime of tears and revenge and anger and kisses that faded into nothingness, then I could step away, not without some effort, and then maybe sit alone in the living room, staring at a book that I loved but I couldn’t bring myself to read, or maybe walk out onto the street, where there would only be more sunlight and more dust and more light brown endlessness.
So here I was, sitting on the edge of the big bed, by the open door to the patio where large white sheets were hanging to dry, and then, right in the middle of the place where nothing could ever happen, something did. Drifting slowly down from the heights that were lost to me beyond the reach of my vision, I heard something unusual.
It was a song, a clear lilting melody that gave shape to a language I couldn’t recognize. It fell like electric drops of an invisible rainbow, from the mystery of the sky, falling onto the patio like small explosions of shifting colors. I reacted slowly, unable, at first, to recognize the difference, to separate what was from what had been, to separate what was heavy from what was light, what was promise from what was a final sentence. When I finally was able to center my attention long enough to determine that something unusual was indeed occurring, I shut off the TV and I looked up and around.
Who is that?
Who is singing?
I stepped through the doorway and found myself surrounded by the large white sheets, still a little damp from their recent washings, while the explosions of melody kept on landing all around me, splashing bright colors all around me, all over the patio, the sheets, my arms, my eyes, and the color was not a color that could be seen but it could still touch me, and I tried to recognize the voice and realized that it was nobody I knew, it was nobody I could possibly know. I realized that it was a true stranger, a stranger even stranger than the people outside, stranger than the kids that roamed down the sidewalk in their half made wooden vehicles, screaming as they rolled down the sidewalk and landed in a clump of wood and dirty flesh and dark water, even stranger than the little kids that asked for change whenever my Dad stopped the car, as they ran up to the window and screamed "will you give me five? Five? Only five?" and my Dad would turn and say "NO!" in the meanest way possible and then they would scatter back to their resting places, to their corners, to their holes, even stranger than the girls at school who sometimes talked to me and sometimes didn’t, with their tight pants and shorts and their curly hair and their knowing laughter that easily escaped my limited understanding. This was stranger than all that. Those were all strangers from my own world, even if from another region. This was far from that. The color that flowed now from above was so different, so alien, so incomprehensible, that it completely escaped my grasp. But I couldn’t stop listening and it didn’t stop.
I moved among the large drying sheets, trying to understand what has happening, while the song continued, and my heart started beating ferociously, and I felt a sense of death coming upon me. This was real. This was a moment when "I am" is true and tangible and I looked up, still trying to find an explanation for this marvel, and the melody kept on flowing all around me like long webs of multiplying color that reached to trap me in their grasp and I could do nothing to stop them, and the sun was no longer yellow but white and the sheets themselves were full of detail and the patio was full of expectation and possibility and the melody kept on coming and I looked up and simply wondered. I wondered at the mystery of music, at the mystery of stories, at the mystery of the world itself, at the mystery of this soft female voice that so offhandedly had changed my being forever.

* * *

She was something I had never encountered, a soft strength wrapped in smooth white skin and curled light brown hair, a ferocious look of simple confidence, a raised chin towards the world and a complete lack of fear or shame, at least as far as my limited perception could gather. She was dressed in red that first day, bright red in layers that seemed foreign to me, as she was indeed foreign, from a distant place across the ocean that I couldn’t quite imagine, a place where girls were strong and confident and they laughed in sprinkles of smooth happiness that betrayed no hesitation, and she was here now, in a place I knew so well, right outside the garage door, stepping on the old gray bricks, standing by the side door that led to the apartments upstairs, with her hand on the black metal of the door and eyes calmly focused on me, such a strange sight in a place that I thought so familiar, a place I had come to know so well, but her I didn’t know, she was a kind of creature I had never encountered, a silhouette out of dreams, the kind of dreams that would leave a residue of pain after waking, and her voice was soft but strong and firm, and it carried through the breezy air of the tropical afternoon like soft leaves dancing in midair, finding grace in their last moments of defiance, and she said "hola" as if she knew me, as if I was as familiar to her as the door and the bricks and her dress and her whole world, which looked so much like mine, but wasn’t, and her familiar tone made me hesitate, as if I should know her, as I had met her, as if somehow I had misplaced a memory and it was only now coming back to roost on my vibrant forehead. But I didn’t know her, I couldn’t know her, and I stepped back and away, back into the safety of my dark garage that lead to my dark apartment in the middle of my dark garden, and I said "hola" under my breath, as if trying to avoid making any real sound, as if hesitant to disturb that eternal moment of clarity that spread before me, as if trying to keep the scene untouched by my own actions, as if trying to maintain a dream in my mind’s eye before it faded away forever, and I closed the little garage door and I walked back into our apartment, which was not where I was going, but by that point I couldn’t remember where I was meant to go, and as I walked over the rough stone steps, the same ones on which I hurt myself not so long ago, the same ones that hurt my face and gave me an excuse for crying and for soft arms around my shoulders, as I walked back, I wondered who this person was, I wondered if I would see her again, I wondered if we would talk, I wondered what I could possibly say to such an apparition, I wondered if I could say anything at all, and that thought was so fearsome that I then wondered if I could in fact simply hide forever and make myself invisible, back here in the shadows of my little garden, and maybe then I would never again have to be in her presence, and then the days could keep on flowing without this constant beating in my chest, without these shivers, without this sense that something terrible had happened, something which had started already before I even opened the door, something that had loomed in the horizon like a dark mass of heavy clouds over the volcano, and looking up at the balcony of the upper apartment, maybe that day, maybe days later, the pieces of the puzzle came together and I once again heard my mom saying: "We rented the upstairs apartment… it’s a Spanish family… from the Basque country…" and it was then that the music, the mysterious melody that had enchanted me, and the noises from upstairs, and the shadows in the windows, and the face against the glass, and the girl, the girl that stood outside, the girl in the red dress, the girl with the light brown hair, the girl with the soft voice, then it all came together and it all rammed through me like a long deadly drink of hot poisonous oil. I wished then that this had never happened, and maybe then I could simply walk back into the shadows of the garden and lose myself among the bushes, or climb up on the gray walls and jump over when I felt like it, or run outside while I waited for Avelar to come over to play after school, or simply swing back and forth on the white hammock, playing with my dog or listening to music or humming softly to myself. But it was too late, what had happened, had happened, and it was as simple as me opening the door and facing a strange girl with a very soft voice and a foreign accent, standing across the way from me, all dressed in red, in a strange outfit of many layers, a strange girl looking at me straight in the eyes and saying: "hola..."

* * *

Here, in this very same driveway that we now crossed over, my Uncle muttering and me taking pictures, here I found the kind of love that hurts like sadness and despair, the kind of love that was so strong within me that I failed to hide it, I failed to keep it wrapped up within me in my cocoon of flesh, waiting for the right recipient, waiting for the one what would open up to take it in. On a warm summer night, standing on the gray bricks by my mother’s golden Mercedes Benz, a doctor reached out to me and touched my wrist and, as he felt for the speed of my pulse, he said "How long have you known that girl?" And she was coming come with her parents, and she was dressed in jeans and a soft white shirt, and her light brown hair was flowing all around her and she said hello as she always did and I kissed her cheek and she kissed mine, and she smiled in the way that she did, without a glimmer of shyness, and then they walked to the side door, the translucent yellow covered in baroque metal bars and I stared after them and I forgot that the doctor was standing right there, next to me, and he grabbed my wrist, pressed it between his thick brown hands and he looked at me, with a kind of concern, and it took me more than a moment to realize what he had noticed, what he was now exploring through the telling music of my skin.
The doctor was Doctor Escalante, the man who lived in the lower apartment of the building and was my mother’s friend. In those days, when we all felt destiny crashing around us with the sound of gunfire and bullhorns and loud sirens in the middle of the night, days when every day seemed like the last one and there were electrical waves that splashed up and down the broad streets of the city, letting us all know that the end was near, and it came riding little dirty green tanks and stolen cars full of people covered in red masks, in those days, he studied hypnosis and mind control and my mother many times referred to his breadth of knowledge with admiration. Here was a man that had a hand in more than one world, in the world of respected science and in the world of mysterious esoteric knowledge, and even then, I knew that both worlds had a hint of truth and a smattering of lies within them, and that, to really feel the humid secrets of reality, it would be necessary to push deeply into both worlds, as treacherous as the pushing might be. Here was a man who was doing what I merely fantasized about and so I had to respect him and fear him, just a little.
Many years later I would come to know that he studied with Fanci and that he worked with Fanci for many years, as part of his inner circle, the little group of people with whom he met once a week to do experiments which I could only marvel at. Back then, Fanci, to me, was just one of the various magicians that came to little birthday parties and played little magic tricks on little open mouthed kids. Each magician would be dressed in their own style, as a dervish, as a Chinese warlock, as Houdini, as a mysterious man in a suit. (One day Fanci was the magician at one of my American school friend parties, a party in a very expensive house with very expensive gifts and very expensive food, all of it shiny and bright and impressive, and he pulled a trick where he used me as the volunteer and, as the nervous sidekick, I got to be the butt of the joke, I was the one that didn’t know what was happening, I was the one standing by him while he twisted the world upside down, in the form of a little bowling pin. Maybe that was a strange prediction of what would happen when I came back to Fanci so many years later, looking for new magic, looking for new answers, looking for new hope.)
But here, on the wide driveway covered in gray bricks, there was only Doctor Escalante, and I knew nothing of Fanci or of promises too endless to keep, and he lived alone in his apartment with a maid (alone because he was the one who counted, not alone because the maid was with him, and, more than once, my mom implied that there had to be something happening between the maid and him and, of course, I would never know it for sure, although it seemed certain in my own mind, like so many other things that I seemed to know even though I couldn’t) and Doctor Escalante, more than once, came to our rescue, as a man of science, as a man of knowledge, as a man of strength.
One night a stranger was climbing over the chain link fence that sat atop the gray walls (the same ones I used to climb so often), a strange man in the darkness, moving into our territory from the vacant lot that lay next to our building, a vacant lot full of enormous weeds and trash and pieces of brick and rubble, the essence of chaos distilled into a few thousand square feet. My mom somehow became aware of the intruder and she called on Doctor Escalante when she realized that this was really happening and that there truly was someone there, a silhouette against the chain link fence, a silhouette of death and danger from a land of chaos, closer than it seemed likely, closer than it had ever appeared. Doctor Escalante came out running from his apartment behind the wall of bamboo and long green leaves, he came running in his long white robe and sandals, maybe naked underneath, his hair was disheveled and his eyes were only half open and his large black gun was in his hand, out and ready, as he ran across the rocks and the mud and the grass. He started firing at the silhouette that was hanging from the fence in the darkness and the shots rang like sudden thunder within our world of peaceful solitude, and there were little sudden bright flashes with each shot and I wasn’t sure of what I could see, what I actually saw, what I only half saw and what I imagined. It was much too dark for me to see anything clearly, but I remembered the old doctor, his deep brown skin contrasted by his soft white robe, his sad wild eyes, just wrenched from the deep solace of sleep and his thick dark arms, his big beer belly, his black gun roaring into the green shadows, and I remembered the man jumping away in terror, even though I couldn’t really see him at all, but I could see him enough that I could remember his eyes, wide and shocked, and his hands releasing the fence and the loud sound of his feet as they landed on the chaos that would continue to flourish on the other side of the gray walls.
It was maybe because of that night, or maybe because of the way my mom had referred to him previously, that I always thought of the doctor as a kind of ultimate defender of the building, an old overweight dark skinned guardian with sleepy eyes and disheveled hair, naked under a soft white robe, someone to call if things got truly bad, if there was real danger then we knew we could always recur to him and he would be able to solve things, one way or another. Like the time that my mom had to take me to see my father, in the days when I would actually spend entire weekends with him because that’s what their agreement said and they were actually trying to follow it in some precise way. But, regardless of signed papers, I really didn’t want to go, because in those days my Dad would get angry all the time and yell and scream or maybe because he was my Dad and, being that he was, then he couldn’t be the quiet of a dark garden and a lightly swinging white hammock or the silent war of plastic soldiers and spacemen, and since he could never be those things, then I didn’t want to go. On this particular day I was terrified and I was trembling with anguish and fright, because I thought that my Dad was mad about something I had done and I was convinced that he would be very mean when he saw me, and the last thing I wanted that afternoon was to sit in the presence of such anger and meanness, and to be helpless and vulnerable and alone. Doctor Escalante came out of his apartment and saw me crying and trembling and pale and he talked to my mom briefly and then he came over to me and he placed his thick dark hands around my face, and pressed his fingers into my temples and then he asked me to look into his eyes, and he started to talk very softly to me as I felt a slight itchy feeling in my temples and his eyes were big and strong, looking up at him, standing right by the doorway to his apartment, and his voice was soft and smooth and told me that everything would be ok, that I shouldn’t be frightened and I listened, while still shaking, but maybe a little less than I had before, and it all went on for a while, maybe a few minutes, maybe longer, it was hard for me to tell, it felt good while it was happening, and I still felt scared when it was over but knowing that someone was willing to do something, knowing that someone was at least willing to try, even if it only seemed like soft words and a couple of thick brown hands pressing against my temples, even just that much, made it all seem a lot better. And maybe there was more to it, and maybe with his hands pressed against my temples that afternoon, he initiated an entire other sequence of events which he would never see to their conclusion. Or maybe he just helped me a little, right when I needed it most. Either way, he still remained the guardian that stood behind a wall of bamboo and long dark green leaves, and I felt his presence through the garden even when I had forgotten his hands or the roar of his gun in the middle of the night.
And so, I was standing outside on the driveway, the same one that we saw covered in thick dark leaves when my Uncle and me came to visit so many years later, and my mom was with me and so was Doctor Escalante, and right then, the Spanish family from upstairs came home, and the beautiful girl jumped out of the car and came towards me and we said hello and I kissed her cheek, and it felt so good against my lips and she had tiny almost invisible blonde hairs on the side of her neck and her eyes were so open and inviting and she kissed my cheek as well, and then they all ran inside, but that much was too much, that touch of her hand, that grazing of lips against cheek, that glimpse of her blue eyes, all too much for me, and my skin was hot and my body was trembling and my sight was blurry and I was fixed in place, paralyzed, looking at the strange Spanish family walking into the yellow side door. Immediately, the Doctor reached towards my wrist, and he held it tight in his thick brown hand and he pressed his fingers into my flesh and then he looked at me, with eyes of knowledge and vague concern, and then he said: "How long have you known that girl?" I was then speechless. For I had only known her a little. For I really knew her a lot. For I had always known her.

* * *

Here I found love that embraced me in soft, gentle warmth, as I swam in the depths of the ocean of dreams and the light wind that came down from the volcanoes made the wooden windows rattle against each other and it made the glass behind them shake with a sound like old cymbals, and, in the midst of my silent journeys into the intangible, I heard the sound of the garage door opening and closing downstairs, the same garage door I had opened and closed so many years ago, when there was only a little girl in a red outfit saying "hola", but now there was only me, and strangers underneath, strangers across the hall, strangers across the street, strangers all around me, and the wind snuck its way in through the little imperfections of the windows and it made its way up to my naked flesh and it felt so good that I felt like just staying here, drifting back and forth between strange chambers, like a piece of rotting wood in the middle of tall blue waves that went nowhere and everywhere at once.
Dreams, so many dreams, one where I am far away, and one where I am close, one where I am alone and one where the one girl I have ever loved is right here with me, one where the wind is soft and calm and it trails like little fingertips across my naked arms and one where I make my way among bushes bathed in shadows and create stories that never quite come to an end, and one where I write all this down like a memory of things that have long since passed but they are really all in the future, the future that I can’t quite imagine, that future that comes to me without knocking at the door.
I shifted back and forth on the soft mattress, enjoying the touch of the fabric against my skin, and then I heard the apartment door open and I vaguely wondered who it could be, and there could be only one answer but that answer made no sense, so the question remained, and then I heard the sound of soft footsteps coming towards me across the thin green carpet that covered the apartment floor, and the door of the room opened and then the light shifted and there was quick movement right next to me and the bed changed shape and I felt the weight of body and presence and lust fall on the mattress as heavy as steel but without the edges, and then she was there laying beside me, pressed tightly against me, falling into my arms as if she had always been there, as if that was the place that she had always longed for, the place where she should always have been.
And it was perfect, because the soft mattress and the wind and the light sunlight and the distant sound of dogs and children and cars, all of it was not quite enough, not quite enough to fully satisfy me, not quite enough to end the longing, not quite enough to open the doors of Eternity and invite me in, but now that she was here, in her tight white jeans and a tight black shirt and her eyes shivering with tenderness and her hair already starting to fall into its naturally disheveled state, and now that she had jumped into my bed and had made her way under the covers, and now that my half closed eyes could roughly trace the outline of her small brown face against me and my fingers could travel across her long smooth back and her round soft ass and down her sweaty soft thighs, now that she was here with me, now the dream was truly complete, and there was no more need to wander, no more need to travel any further. My longing had come to an end, for this morning, for this one moment in a long sequence of journeys, of warm welcomes and sad good-byes. In this one moment I was home, and she was in my arms, fully and completely in my arms, as close as she could get right then, and trying to get closer. I would wait for later to ask why she had come so early, why she had not gone to school as she was supposed to, why she had disobeyed her parents and her teachers and her own sense of reason. For now she was simply here and I was kissing her furiously and she was kissing me back and her lips felt so eager and soft against mine and her breasts, still covered by the black shirt, pressed against my naked chest and our legs were intertwined and the wind was still making its way into the apartment and attempting to dry the thin film of sweat that was forming over the skin of her neck and her arms and, right then, I loved her as much as she loved me and there was no need to convince her or ask her or plead or make any logical argument at all, and her smile said everything I needed to hear and my kisses were all the music she needed on this morning when she should have been elsewhere, and I was pleased past my threshold of understanding and there was nothing else that I wanted to say or ask, for this story that seemed to just be starting was actually coming to a glorious end. Anything that came later would only be an afterthought, a fading echo of the one moment when the Dream was complete.

* * *

Here, in the little apartment just above the garage door, the one with the green carpet and the wooden windows and the little narrow kitchen and the drawers full of surprises and the tiny orange bathroom, here I found a love that vibrated harshly, like electrical wires on the verge of exploding into fire, almost too harsh to be pleasant, almost too painful to be called love, when a little light brown girl leaned back, legs crossed, wearing a little red and white dress that only covered half of her coffee colored thighs and less than that if she leaned back far enough, and she sat on a wide green couch that forced her to lean backwards, more than she would have otherwise, and I pressed myself close to her, the heavy weight of my body impinging upon the lightness of hers, and I offered her an echoing promise, an avenue of escape, a way out of the desperate world that she had so far inhabited, and she said "yes" as if there was nothing else that she could say, and she said "yes" with a smile that seemed to come from every inch of her body at once, and she said "yes" and in so saying, she opened fully the door that I had unlocked with my question, and, now that it was open, things were as clear as the gentle breeze that still made the windows rattle, as the open questions of the little kids that would follow us home from the supermarket every afternoon, little street kids, dressed in rags and dirt, eager for a little bit of money, but just as eager to find out what this strange creature, this tall bearded man with long hair, had to say about the world, about religion, about history, about anything and everything, just as curious and open as she was, just as eager as she was to open her innermost self to me and let me in, eager to open her mind, eager to open her legs, eager to open her heart, and the little light in her eyes that said "yes, yes I will be with you, and I will be with you forever", the light flowed out from the little circular doorways under her eyebrows and it reached me and touched me and I once again heard the song, the song masked in a strange language, the song that fell from the sky without rhyme or reason, that dripped in multicolored drops of life onto the white sheets of my endless afternoon of confusion, the song that was color and shape and form and promise and redemption and a lilting thread that danced in the wind, and here, today, the confusion of the hot afternoon ended, and the clarity began like a bright new morning when it had been raining all night but now there was only sunlight and blue skies and light breeze and a sense of simple excitement, a clarity that even then I knew could not last, but I was willing to suspend my disbelief and say "maybe it will" and in that maybe was the summing up of so much adventure, so much testing of the waters, so much seeking and so much running head first into brick walls, and the maybe was resonant with so many places and so many times and so many people, and maybe she would understand, maybe she would be the one that could truly work with me, maybe it was all true and maybe she simply flowed like water, like many colored teardrops of love from the vast blue sky that reigned over that land of moist white sheets and fell across my eyes and forehead and head and filled my endless afternoon with a life of love and truth and passion and maybe her arms were truly the arms of the one guide that had now embraced me and I found in her the strange creature that would show me the path to lands I had yet to discover. I was eager then to hold her body, to press it against me and to burrow deep inside, but I was just as eager to discover what this strange soft brown creature, with little hands and a little mouth and eyes that were shining like golden stars, I was eager to discover what she had to give me, what it was that hid beneath her form of flesh and bone and hair and words and touch at the edge of the infinite, the edge of the adventure that was just now about to start, the adventure that was always new and, in being always new, it would always be about to start and it would always be on the verge of ending, and in this beginning, leaning against the green couch with a beautiful little brown girl in a red and white dress in my arms, in this beginning there was a promise of doors that I had never opened, and it was all happening here, in this very same building, where I first opened the door and there was another girl in a red dress, who, with a voice so soft and strong and easy, looked at me and just said "hola", just as easily as this other girl now said "yes…yes."

* * *

Later, in the moist, dark, coolness of the garden, I would observe that the walls were tall but not as tall as I remembered them, and the tree was not as full and not as imposing and the flowers were mostly gone and there was a lot of green life but it was the kind that simply came when human attention was elsewhere. The gray walls, with their lining of chain link fence, were still there, but now they were white and I nearly towered above them. And the garden was much smaller than I remembered and I could walk across it in only a few steps, avoiding the tall weeds and the mud and the scattered stones that threatened to trick me into falling, and the apartment itself, the little secret hideout in the middle of green and mud and moss, it seemed the smallest of all, even after my Uncle said that he had just made it bigger, and if this was bigger than it once was, then it had been very small, and if it had been that small, it meant that I had been truly little, as little as one of these rooms and even smaller, as short as one of these gray walls and even shorter, and most of all, I had been light and compressed, tiny and able to pass through doors that barely opened, and look through keyholes into worlds that I didn’t have the skill to explore. As I looked back, the world of the past seemed even smaller, as if I looked through the wrong end of a looking glass, and it almost seemed that I could hold my entire past in the palm of my hand, an entire world of memories rapidly shrinking, so that there was only a girl standing by a metal door, a girl leaning against a green sofa, an old book, a little dog lost in the city, a brown skinned boy that was my friend, an afternoon of witchcraft, a morning of sadness, a night of music, a dawn of death, and as my mind traveled over these many little chambers, they were already vanishing. As little as they were, they were rapidly growing even smaller. I myself was the looking glass and I had been turned upside down.
As much I would try, I could only barely reach the faces that had touched me, the words that had reached out to me and shifted my impressions and my hopes. So far away, that they had faded into a kind of filmy old photograph that only barely stays together and rips apart if you touch it too roughly. The little girl on the other side of the door, the girl in my bed who offered me a love that she had saved within her through a lifetime of hardship and disappointment, the one girl that was both and the many girls that were neither. In my heart, I had once thought that these girls were unique and irreplaceable, I had seen it and believed it and I would have fiercely argued with anyone that dared to say the opposite. Now I knew that they were indeed unique and irreplaceable, as unique as an afternoon when I ran past the corner down the street from the apartment, and the sidewalk was very broad right there, and there was nobody else and green grass stretched up towards the red walls of the building and I had a little bit of money in my pocket and the bookstore was just a few blocks away but right now there was only the corner and the grass and the breeze and the sky, and irreplaceable as holding onto the chain link fence and staring through the holes between the wires at the San Jacinto hill in the distance and the roofs of the other houses and the black birds that called to each other and landed on the little pipes that stretched out beyond the gray metal slabs that protected the houses from the rain, as irreplaceable as a morning when there was no school and the day was as long as I could handle and the birds were singing in the trees and I had a new notebook to write on and nothing could stand in my way and I would simply write for hours, hoping that today I would manage to complete a page. They were, as unique as that, as irreplaceable as that, no more, no less, and while they still remained within me, and their presence was strange because it wasn’t stable, and so they would change across time, even without their volition, even without their knowledge, even without their bodies, even without their smiles, and as much as they were still with me, my heart had opened wider, like a single painful door soaked in blood, and it had grown to envelop them, to house them in membranes that constantly changed shape, to hold them for as long as I could manage, and still, as full as I might be, as complete as I might be, as drenched in memories and stories as I might be, still my heart was open and it was ready for more visitors to come in.
My Uncle and me walked across the driveway, the gray bricks covered in thick dead leaves, some brown and decaying, some still green and full of life. Strange companions in this silent voyage, we were now returning to a world that had for so long been the realm of dreams and half formed fantasies, of young brown girls in pink dresses and transparent nightgowns, of strange girls who stepped on the shiny gray bricks of a stairway and said "hola" without fear, of great maelstroms of wood and green that hid stories of loss and pain and heartbreak, of little caves where little men still waited for their day to come out and live once again, of sadness without object, of anticipation without vision, of knowledge without words, and in all those years, the walls had remained, the stones had remained, the doors had remained, waiting quietly for my return.
My Uncle turned the lock and pushed the small door inward and we stepped inside.

The stepping stones
That flew up towards me
In a violent flash
And landed on my face
With a single dry thud.
I cried without needing to
Thus learning a lesson
Which was as treacherous
as a two edged sword.

My Uncle
Who spent a lifetime
In a battle for appearances
And whose body
Now fails to live up to the task.
There is only anger left within him,
Anger that hides sadness,
Sadness that hides fear.
His sad eyes
say everything
while his mouth
speaks of other things.

The tall narrow windows
Of the main apartment
Where we lived once
Where she lived once
Where I looked out
And saw danger
Where she looked out
And had no fear.

The round glass table
That once was our dining room,
And now is a forgotten skeleton
Without a tablecloth
To cover its nakedness.
I still see my dog Luna
under the white tablecloth
Covered in blood and whining with pain
In loud painful wails of horror,
All because a door was open,
All because she chose to cross
that open doorway.

A simulated battle
In the heart of a real war,
Real smiles
In the shadows of a dark garden,
A moment of peace,
Before a door opens,
And peace slides through my fingers
Like colored tears
Falling from the sky.

The white walls
That once were gray,
That once were tall
And now were little,
That promised safety
And now promised nothing.

The little brown girl
Who became my woman
Who became my wife,
With her red and white dress
And her wide open eyes
Full of eager curiosity
And blind surrender.

The logo,
The windows,
The textured walls
And the doors.
An attempt at beauty
That would
Sooner or later
End up in hands
That would be unable
To recognize it

The street as it was
Now that I was a ghost
And my Uncle was an old man.
Had the street always
been as cracked
And as dusty?
Was it as new today
As the first time I walked
with her by my side
Electrified by the closeness
Of her voice, of her hair,
Of her growing knowledge?

The beautiful girl
That twisted my life
And turned it upside down
Without even knowing it,
Who showed me
That such beauty
Could still flourish
Even in the midst of war
And old decaying sidewalks.

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