There were always secret dealings, the kind that started in a little alcove halfway up the capulin tree, miles away from any prying eyes, far away from the centers of civilizations, in places where true natures could be revealed and artificial masks could fall. Here a sergeant, his rifle permanently fixed in a ready position, always pointing forward, head always cocked back, would meet with a lowly enemy combatant, his ear permanently fixed to his backpack radio, his face etched with what seemed to be the beginnings of a smile, his knee permanently bent sideways, his backpack permanently placed on the ground. Here, in this tiny hole in the wide expanse of the tree’s bark, they would meet and talk in unnecessary whispers and they would discuss matters of extreme importance, plans that could echo far beyond this hidden alcove, far beyond this giant tree and its wrinkled brown skin. They would survey the world from their little forbidden meeting place and trade words that were not meant to be spoken, they would nod and shake hands in agreement, and then they would retire back to their usual habitats, content that they had done their work, content that the matter was settled and it was just a matter of time before the devastating conflict began.
I liked these secret men, because they dared to do what others would only dream of, because they traveled far without help or reinforcements, and they found the chambers of silence that for others would always remain as legends, because they would step valiantly past the threshold of the law and find their own purposes where others could only see the dark. I liked these men and I respected them, and yet I brought them pain, I brought them death and suffering and terrible lifetimes of constant persecution and certain ultimate defeat. I knew that their dealings were treacherous, in their world of secrets they bred terrible shapeless monsters that would soon gain a life of their own (and may sooner or later come back to consume their creators.) I knew that what they did was ultimately good for the world itself, for it brought the life of bloodshed, and the world that I knew, the world that I was in charge of, it fed and grew and was replenished through these terrible rituals of death. But I also knew that what they did was bad for all their fellow men of plastic, who would succumb under the rain of translucent bullets that would come upon them when they least expected them, just as they climbed, in a long curved line like a dark green serpent, up the rocky hill that led to the tomb of my first Enriqueta (where I could still see the wooden cross, broken and dusty and forgotten, and I would tell myself that my little black dog still loved me down there, under the dirt and the worms and the stones, and that she would eventually come back to life just like the plastic men would come back if they were ever found buried under the dirt and then they would be just as alive as they ever were; but in a colder place within me, I knew that my little dog was not ever coming back, she had been too radically changed by the rat poison, she had been taken too far beyond the gates of reason, beyond the fragile sanctuary of lustful life.) The green plastic men would slowly make their way up this hill of dirt and pebbles, looking in all directions for any signs of possible danger, and they would maintain their formation carefully, for their strength was in each other, and in the careful arrangement of their different skills. But when the bullets started flying towards them, from snipers carefully perched in the slim little branches of rose bushes, or the tiny crevices in the gray wall, the men would disperse in all directions, the long green snake would suddenly dissolve into its fundamental components, and, now alone and hunted, they would desperately call for help, hoping that someone or something out there was able and ready to listen. Some of them would die alone, hoping for a brilliant rescue. Some of them would regroup and call for reinforcements by the large rocks that stood under the mountain of sand. Some of them would get lost and they would have to find a way back through the ocean, they would have to find a ship that could take them from here to there, back to a place where they could themselves regroup and come back for vengeance.
Without the war, there would have been only green ocean, and tall trees, and birds chirping, and bats sleeping, and dead dogs loving under the dirt and little boys staring at nothingness. So the war was needed to find completion for the emptiness of a dark garden present, and all this terrible savagery would begin in a little alcove halfway up the capulin tree, far under the thick branches that extended out and up, and far above the thick brown roots that extended out and down, deep into the depths, where old forgotten wars had already been fought, won and lost, and then summarily forgotten.
But the past was just a shadow, and the future was just a slim pregnant song, and the present was a lonely plastic man, separated from his platoon, desperately trying to make his way back across an ocean of invisible dangers, back to a promise of safety by the round glass table or by the tower that rose in one corner of the furthest terrace, where the white hammock was. In his one and only life, there was fear and desperation, and it was one and only because he didn’t know, and he couldn’t know, that later that same day I would put him back in a wooden box and, regardless of his triumph or his failure, I would bring him back out to fight another day, and, through this nightly process, his tiny plastic mind would be cleared of all terrible memories. Here in the present, there was only anguish and a slim glimmer of hope, for there was an island in the distance, and there was no sound of flying bullets at the moment, and no rain was coming down upon his head. As I watched him scamper across the gigantic green waves, I may have felt some pity for him, pity which I expressed in a tiny smile, as I arranged the enemy soldiers that were getting ready for a devastating ambush, ready to rip his plastic flesh apart without a second thought. Pity was so strange in that way, for it was beautiful and sweet, but I couldn’t allow it to take over, or it would damage the whole of creation, and here, in the present, warriors were made for battle and pity was saved for tales of quiet remembrance, tales to be told long after the war was over and done.
I could then stand back and let the world freeze, let the moment hang in mid air like a helium balloon that never quite leaves its assigned post and so becomes like a star, attracting its own system of dirt globules upon which other beings may live, flying in even spirals around their spherical god of truth and immortality. It was my choice, as much as I had choices at all, to stand back and look, to look at the situation as it was lived by this lonely soldier, and by the enemy patrol waiting in ambush, and the strange wizard in the island by the remote regions of the farthest wall, and the wild men who lived in the trees who supervised the situation from afar, waiting for their opportunities to descend like the scavengers that they were (for the men of the trees had no side in the war and so they were even more fearsome than the regular soldiers.) I would stand back and look at them all, feeling sympathy for each of them, feeling the anxious knowledge of impending events, things that would change the landscape forever, and once it was changed, it could never return to quite this moment, this complicated arrangement of forces ready to follow through with the impulse of their prearranged momentum. This was unique and precious and I had the luxury of standing back and looking at it all, all complex and intertwined and frozen, and admire the beauty of its pristine and unmovable ferocity.
I would then walk towards the little incline, the little hills of death where my little dog was buried, under a forgotten wooden cross, broken in two pieces and already rotting from the rain. I would step up onto the rocks by the edge and jump up onto the chain link fence, and there I would hold on tight, my little thin fingers wrapped like tiny worms around the gray metal coils, and I would begin to make my way across, my eyes alternating between looking sideways, where I was going, and looking forward towards the outside world that lay on the other side of the wall, where there was chaos in the form of huge green bushes taller than a man and mountains of refuse, trash and rocks and piles of old clothes and newspapers, as tall as the bushes, and a house on the other side, slanted gray metal roof and red corrugated walls which hid the endless mystery of the Other, the strange people that lived behind the red walls, and even more houses beyond, all covered in gray metal roofs, all hiding their own secret stories, their own moments of quiet, their own moments of terror, their own moments of tender love, and if I looked in that direction, out through the holes in the chain link fence, I could see all the way to the San Jacinto hill in the distance, a towering pyramid of dirt that gave the landscape of metal and brick a touch of the ancient past, a touch of the splendor that once was, back before the white men came (the men that were as white as I was) with their spinning wheels and sticks of fire, back when the world was virginal and covered in bird song and giant green bushes, like the ones in the vacant lot next door, back when it all was pure and new, even if I didn’t know it (for as far as I was concerned, the world had always been brick and metal and electrical wires hanging over empty streets, from concrete cylinders that pushed their way up among the branches of the older trees that lined the sidewalks.) There was a big world out there, the vast city of people and cars that was too large and too complex for me to even begin to fathom, too far away to understand, too close to bravely examine.
So I would turn myself around, and still holding on to the fence, I would look down upon the vast world that was my kingdom, a world of wet green grass and black soil and thick brown roots, a world in itself as large and as complex as the one outside, but one where I could freeze the moment and not let it get away from my grasp. I would then be able to see it all, from the lonely soldier that was trying to escape across the ocean, to the old wise men of the tall wall in the back, the ones who looked out from their little caverns with a sense of peaceful neutrality in their eyes, to the men of the trees, who were wild and unpredictable, loving and compassionate one moment, cruel and vengeful the next, to the guards that waited in the fort by the glass table, where they could rest in the knowledge of their apparent safety, which the walls and the heights and their numbers provided, to the patrol waiting in ambush, all lined up in concentric semicircles, all ready to kill and destroy and rip apart the vulnerable plastic flesh of the desperate survivor who had not yet managed to see them, to the spies that were scattered in the roots of the capulin tree, moody men who hid more than one color beneath their green and gray plastic skin, to the scattered bodies that were the remains of recent massacres, all covered in dirt and traces of dew and lipstick stains (which was their blood), to the mystic wizard in his island, aloof except when forced to intervene, and then unpredictable in his moods and his motivations, to the grand general in his high tower by the white hammock, a lonely post surrounded by a small retinue of highly trusted soldiers, measuring the dangers in the distance against the more pressing dangers just behind his back. All of it was then available, all of it understood, all of it frozen and clear and vibrant with the expectation of the immediate future and the momentum of the recent past.
I hung above it all, from a height that would have been incomprehensible to any of the participants, I was higher up than their wildest and most terrifying fantasies, higher up than they could ever yearn to be, higher up than they would ever want to. From up here, there was no need for further events, no need for resolutions or solved equations, no need for endings or new beginnings, no need for death and no need for life. The war as it was, still and frozen and viciously quiet, held perfection in itself, and it required no further events to complete it. From up here, the war was not good or bad, moral or immoral, sad or happy, shameful or glorious. The terrible violence, the pain of the dead and the wounded, the desperation of those in danger, the anxious relief of the survivors, the eager ambition of the warriors still in motion, all of it was perfect and I didn’t need to change a thing. From up here the world was vast, complex and complete, and the contradictory forces that were contained within it, were all one and the same. No difference. No judgement. No fear. No hope.
I would hold my breath for a while, letting the vision expand within my little trembling body, knowing that the slightest move would disperse it all, and the seconds would start to move forward, ever so slowly. The war would soon begin again.
* * *
The little street was dark and somewhat barren. It embodied a kind of loneliness that comes accompanied with the sound of TV sets and radios in the distance, the kind of loneliness where light flows through half open windows and the light shakes and shifts and changes colors as the TV screen moves through its motions inside, telling stories of detectives and love affairs, stories of people who win money or lose it, of faraway bombings and of people who have recently managed to lose weight. There were cars moving in the distance, down the broad long road that was El Camino Real (the longest street in the world according to my grandfather), which was just around the corner, stretching like a river of darkness all the way back to the known quantities of my neighborhood and the unknown strangeness of the cities to the south. There were no moving cars here, and the echoes of the rumbling motors of small cars and trucks would come to us across the distance, already muffled by the many obstacles on their way. There were a few cans and bottles laying on the side of the curb, along with some newspaper pages that flapped in the slight wind and a shiny bag of chips crumpled up into a ball and tossed into the gutter. The grass on the edge of the sidewalk was overgrown and there were hints of more trash among the long leaves that stretched towards the asphalt.
I could see these things from my spot on the driver’s seat, where my eyes would alternate between looking at my companions and looking once again at the street outside. The parked cars were about a decade old and their paint was starting to peel, and the walls of the apartment buildings were suffering the same fate. The street itself was like the cars and the buildings, it had lived in a time when people had smiled when they saw it, maybe back on the day when they first moved in, and maybe then they thought that this one step was the one that would bring them final happiness, here is where their family would grow in comfortable safety among rhythmic bouts of work and sleep. But now they would probably only nod as they looked at their battered street, and accept the fate that they had been dealt, simply accept the fact that this was not perfect but it was certainly better than nothing (and it would go without saying that most things were.) Far from the shiny newness which it once may have exhibited, far from the promise of safe hope and easy comfort, the street was starting to tilt in the opposite direction. Soon there would be more graffiti and the paint on the cars would peel even further, and the corners might not be as empty as they were that night.
I leaned back on my seat and settled into my proscribed role for the evening, an evening when my friend was deeply disturbed and I had to find a way to calm him down. I had no clear reason for wanting to do so, other than that he was my friend and it seemed to be my duty to try. I felt a rush of warmth through my chest at the thought that I could help him, and I would do whatever I could to do so, even if I wasn’t sure at all of my success.
"What I can’t fathom…what I can’t bring myself to understand or accept…" he said it in a voice that cracked slightly, with the overwhelming tension of contained pain, "what makes me really angry… is that he is family! My family! Our family! How can he do this to one of his own?"
I looked at Ricardo carefully, trying to move as slowly as I could to give him the space to talk, while still retaining the wakeful attention that would let him know he was being listened to. I looked at his trembling lips and his wide dish-like eyes, trying to communicate to him that I could understand him, that his message was coming through, while at the same time, trying to dig through his angry communication, trying to find the spot that I could open, trying to find the secret door through which I would sneak my way in. He was sitting on the passenger side of the car and leaning sideways so that he could look both at me and at the girl that was our companion. She was leaning in the backseat, staring forward towards us, and, every so often, looking over at the living room lights in her apartment across the street, which were constantly shifting in color and intensity, throwing moving rainbow shadows over the curtains behind the large picture windows of her home. My friend was stocky and somewhat muscular, his face was wide and heavy, he would sometimes look like a rock statue that had come to life, all grainy and covered in angles and broken surfaces and little pebbles that could easily slide down his cheeks, specially now with the dim light of the street lamp half hitting the side of his face and making his flesh seem gray and fixed into a mask of painful displeasure. He had a short trimmed moustache and his wide open eyes that, on this particular night, seemed to be on the verge of tears.
The girl in the back was a singer in my little band, (or at least she claimed to sing, much as we claimed to be a band. We all lied to ourselves and we all hoped that others would go along with our transparent simulacrums.) She had dark moist skin, big curly hair and deep dark eyes, and she talked in a seductive monotone that seemed to always imply a knowledge of something that couldn’t be clearly pinpointed, a secret vision that spread around me like a sphere of smoke and which made words themselves seem a bit more vague in their usage. (Her secret knowledge would forever remain secret, right up the latter days when it became apparent that she had no secret at all.) Even if she couldn’t sing, I had found that it was good to have her around, maybe for the intangible smoke around her, maybe for her soft brown skin, maybe because she had a habit of leaning against the first man or boy that sat next to her, pressing her body against our chest, her cheek against our cheek, and then talking in whispers against our ear. Here, in the backseat in the middle of the night, she stretched in her tight white pants and in her soft light yellow shirt that only barely covered her little brown breasts, and she shook her head in moral judgement, acknowledging the truth in what my friend was saying.
"I understand… that is really the worst part of it…family should stick together…family should never turn upon itself!" She said it in a high pitched voice that screeched just a little before she settled into a new variation of her chosen mask of disgust.
My friend again nodded, and squeezed his fists together. Once again, I could see the trembling in his muscles. I didn’t like it. I had only seen him be violent twice in all the many years that I had known him, both times had left such an impression on me that I wouldn’t want to see it again, and yet he had managed to always carry with him the implied threat of violence, maybe inherited from a time long past, when the former rock statues of his family tree had used their weight and their strength upon lesser beings made of weak vulnerable flesh. After enough generations steeped in heavy physical aggression, maybe the act of it became irrelevant, and just the heavy weight of it, carried upon the strong shoulders and wide mouth, just the threat of it would be enough, enough to move through obstacles, enough to push enemies aside, enough to find new ways to be aggressive, to find new ways to cut through disagreements, new ways to squeeze, new ways to hurt. All things evolve in their own way, and here was a particular specimen that was clearly different from my own line. I was far from any statement of clear understanding, but here, in the twilight interior of the parked car, there was a slight clue in his squeezed fists, in his trembling strong arms.
"It would be one thing if he was only a friend… if he was just some asshole Luis had met in the corner… or down the street… wherever!…but to give drugs to his own cousin! To care so little! For his own blood! For one of us! That is unforgivable!"
I turned towards him fully, watching the light of the moon dancing lightly on the dark clouds above through the dirty windshield of my car, and I prepared myself to fulfill my function, a function which I didn’t truly understand, a function I would not have been able to explain if asked to do so. And yet I had done it before. And yet I would do it again.
"But wait… let’s look at this carefully…" I said, in a voice as soft and calm and friendly as I could possibly muster, knowing that the slightest miscalculation would turn all the seething anger in his small heavy body against me.
Ricardo’s wide open angry eyes turned towards me then, and like the wide light beams of a theater, I could feel the heat travelling through the heavy sweat stained atmosphere inside the little car.
"There’s really not much to look at… my brother goes to him… looks at him as his older cousin… someone to admire… he is looking for guidance… for help…he is looking for some kind of leader…and he turns it around and gives him drugs! What else is there to say? What else is there to look at?"
I nodded, temporarily accepting his postulates while I scratched the side of my face and smiled halfheartedly. His defenses were thick and tall and all the drawbridges were pulled up. This would not be easy. The girl in the back snorted loudly and shook her own head, adding fuel to the fire.
"It is in fact unforgivable! That is really the only way to describe it!" she said it in a tone that seemed eager for more anger to come spilling out of my friend’s body.
I wondered for a moment what secret pleasure she was deriving from his state, what strange vampiric ritual was going on before my eyes in a level of reality which I couldn’t reach at all, some invisible ancient procedure that was so ordinary that it had been completely forgotten. But it was all too subtle for my comprehension and I had a simpler message to deliver. I couldn’t allow myself to deviate. I couldn’t focus my attention on her at all.
"But ok… I understand what you are saying…I can understand what you see and how you see it… here is your brother… basically innocent… looking for guidance from his older cousin… who is a strong guy… a kind of leader…and his cousin… your cousin… he introduces him to drugs…ok, I understand how it looks to you…but let’s look at it again… let’s look at it from his point of view… from his…"
Again his eyes flared with alarm and they almost seemed as bright as the little red brake light that was still on behind the plastic screen of my car’s dashboard.
"What do you mean? What is there to look at?"
I saw that as my opening and I moved in.
"Well, from his point of view… I’m not saying I agree with him… not at all… but from his point of view, he is doing something good for your brother… he is initiating him into a secret, something special, something that will make him different, something that will make him one of them…"
As I said it, I could see his cousin, arms all covered in tattoos, wearing a stained white T-shirt, loose gray pants, hair cut trimmed right to the scalp, sitting in his living room, surrounded by others that looked much like him, and I could see him leaning forward with a little glass pipe, smiling, his own eyes twinkling, and I could see a much thinner brown arm reaching out to grab the pipe. Ricardo leaned forward towards me, a physical manifestation that revealed to me that he was listening intently, his chest would slowly push out and then, just as slowly, it would pull in, in very slow cycles that told me he was trying to calm himself down. Something about it didn’t sit well with the brown skinned girl sitting on the backseat, who tried to bring the mood back to where it once was, back to the fierce single propulsion of clear and final judgement.
"It is still unforgivable really! Who cares what his point of view is? Who cares how he saw it? Who cares what he thought he was doing? We know what he was doing! He gave drugs to his own cousin! That is all we need to know! Why are we sitting here wondering what he thinks? What he thought? The point is what he did and there is no question about that!"
My friend nodded and looked at her. I felt like reaching for his chin and turning his face back towards me, but that would not have been subtle enough. I just had to find a way to maneuver back to the space we had almost reached, a space where questions could be asked, questions that didn’t have predetermined answers.
"If he only knew what I can do…" Ricardo said it with relish, with the impassioned fury of a general about to order an assassination or a bloody massacre, "I could squish him like a bug if I decided to do so… I could utterly obliterate him… I could… he would never see it coming…he would have no way of defending himself… he has no power…that is the truth… he is helpless before me…he just doesn’t know it…"
I nodded, again accepting his statements at face value, accepting that his strange old magic, touched by liquor spitting old women and Hindu men in turbans and red robes, could overcome his cousin’s tattooed muscles, his whole gang of thugs and his many shotguns, all carefully hidden under the old thin mattress of the living room sofa, ready to defend a dirty kitchen full of beer and tortillas and beef and lard. I believed it was possible. It was possible that Ricardo could really attack him, could really hurt him in some mysterious way. It was possible enough to set aside and swallow my questions, possible enough to let them hang like some more of the many balloons of doubt that had floated all around me for as long as I could remember, silent reminders that not everything was known and there was much yet to be discovered, some of it so far from me as to be invisible, some of it so close as to not be seen.
"But what I’m saying is that he was doing something for him…" I continued, resting my eyes for a moment on the girl in the back seat, trying to get her to be quiet, only with my gaze, only with the slightly intensified tone of my voice, "within his world, he was giving him the best gift that he had in his possession… he saw his young cousin approach him… he wanted help… he wanted to be tough…he wanted to be a man… he wanted to be one of them….and he said ‘yes, I will give you that’… that was not a move of aggression… that was not hate or betrayal…it was love… a kind of love that may be foreign to us, but love nonetheless…he gave him love in the form that he knew… in the form that it was given to him...he welcomed him into his circle and made him a warrior. In fact, he did… he did just what you would have wanted…what any of us would want… he truly treated him like family."
The light of the TV screens was still flashing in the windows outside, and the sound of cars rolling down El Camino still came to us in waves of mechanical power. For once, the girl in the back was quiet, looking towards her apartment window, maybe wondering if it was time for her to go. I let out a few breaths, waiting for my enraged friend to speak, anxiously waiting for what he would have to say. Ricardo’s eyes were still flaring outwards, in a way that made his face look like a strange thick insect made of pink flesh, and his breath was still heavier that it usually would have been, as it came in loud rushes that sounded like little orgasms, but he leaned closer to me, his whole upper body tilting towards me slowly, and he spoke in a softer voice.
"I hear you… I do… I understand what you are saying. It’s a bit hard for me to visualize… maybe just because I’m angry, but I do hear it… I understand…" He took another loud breath and let it out slowly, and it sounded like a tire slowly deflating in the silence within the car, "But still, how can I just let it pass? How can I? How can I just ignore what he has done and act as if nothing has happened? How can I do that when he has hurt the family… do you understand? Can you even understand that at all? You have no brothers! How can you understand what it means? He has hurt the family! He has hurt one of us!"
It was possible that my friend had a sense of his family that I could never quite penetrate. I was (or believed myself to be) an only child, and I had mostly lived with my mother through most of my childhood. So I couldn’t quite comprehend the sense of being part of a large group of people, all connected by blood, all moving through the vast labyrinth as a unit, looking out for each other, sacrificing for each other, dying for each other. I could feel it, I could yearn for it, but maybe it simply didn’t live within me in the way it lived within Ricardo’s heart. Still, I shrugged my shoulders and leaned towards him as well, our heads now so close that our foreheads could almost touch.
‘He was trying to help… in his own way, in the only way that he knew how… he was trying to help. He was giving your brother a gift, a gift that you can’t understand. A gift that I can’t quite understand either, but a gift nonetheless… I can recognize that much."
The girl snorted in the back, in a final statement of utter disgust, and once again looked towards the living room lights, which kept on making colored shadows across the curtains.
"I should go. They’re probably wondering why I don’t get out of the car. They probably think I’m making out with one of you… or maybe with both of you at once!" and she laughed in a way that simultaneously implied that she could do that, if she really wanted to, and that she wouldn’t, because she was somehow out of our reach. I nodded at her and reached over to kiss her cheek, stretching my body over the car sets. Ricardo did the same, and whispered something in her ear. She laughed softly and winked. Then she stepped out of the car and walked towards her apartment building. For a moment I wondered who it was that was waiting for her, back behind that murky yellow light, behind all those colored shadows. I wondered what they thought of when they were alone, what they dreamt about, what they wished for. I wondered what they thought of her and her attempts at singing, I wondered how the world looked to them from behind their closed window, and what kind of gifts they would offer to those they found deserving. I wondered what punishment they would threaten her with if they found her to be at fault. When we heard the door close and we saw a shadow move across the living room curtains, I turned on the car and I felt it shake to life underneath me. My friend turned back to look at me.
"So what should I do then? Should I just ignore it? Should I just let it pass?"
"He was giving your brother a gift… the gift of strength, the gift of knowledge, the gift of belonging…"
"But what should I do? I understand what he did… to some degree at least… but what should I do in return?"
I pressed the accelerator slowly and we moved gently into the narrow asphalt in between the two rows of parked cars.
"Should I just let it pass?" he asked once again.
I whispered, looking at the empty road as I turned towards El Camino: "I don’t see what else you can do. I don’t see what else can be done…"
* * *
You don't have to be knocked out, not completely, not to the point where the silky darkness descends upon you filled with green and purple clouds and it caresses the edges of your mind so that your mind itself becomes purple and filled with clouds of nothingness and then you can’t remember anything because there is nobody there to remember, there is no you left to keep the blurry perceptions down, you don’t have to go that far, you don’t even have to lose the blurry edges of your vision, the windowsills of your precarious existence, populated by things that are not there or shouldn’t be there, by the traces of childhood memories that have been set aside in favor of clear consensus and shared normality, you don’t have to lose the scarred signs of the circus’ previous owners, the tales of those that came before you, the ones who also relished their moment in the sun, and once or twice dared to think that it would last forever, the ones who could only envision you as some kind of imaginary creature, much like the fairies who live in the forest, except your forest is their future, and their forest is your past, and, yes, they, these figures of lost memories, just like you, in one way or another, they also jumped head first into the unknown and they crashed savagely and they got up, after a minute or a week or a month or a year or a decade, and they found their way back up, and they got themselves ready, and then they jumped again, over and over until there was nothing left to climb, nothing left to jump, and the traces of their many falls still remain, somewhere within the girders of your semi conscious skeleton, their dreams trail into yours, like long green slivers pocked here and there with yellow and pink flowers open and ready for your thoughts to penetrate, for your visions to engorge themselves and grind back and forth in an orgy of stories and color and fear and hope and love and hate and climbing, climbing most of all, these dreams, they tell of places that you never went to, places you can’t ever fully picture no matter how hard you try, you can’t smell them, you can’t touch them, you can’t run your hand over their surface and feel the imperfections prickle your skin like the surface of a stingray, like the skin of a shark, and they don’t have to go away, not altogether, not the way it happens when you enter a dark, dark cave, and everything fades, and there’s nothing left but the sound of your own breathing, that loud recurring wave of hot musky air that lets you know that you are still alive, you are still going through the seemingly endless cycle of replenishing the vehicle and tracing your way through a maze that seems to have no purpose, no compassion, no light, and so you can remain.
You don’t have to be knocked out, not down to the place where your memories will scatter like marbles across a flat shiny floor, some coming back towards you slowly, gyrating with flashes of light as they return, and some getting lost forever at the edge, where the bricks end and the chaos begins, you don’t have to be knocked out that far and still you may sustain an injury, an injury to that most private of your treasures, that vulnerable membrane that is more delicate than anything else that you have encountered, within or outside of your soft monkey body: your clear idea of what is true and what isn’t, your clear fantasy of knowledge that lets you walk out into the morning world, all pregnant with enthusiasm and bright blue sky and soft white clouds and a light cold breeze that makes the tiny hairs on your arms stand up to attention, your solid yet imaginary construction that lets you walk out into such a shocking revelation without falling backwards in extreme and complete amazement, for far above you a ball of fire rains down streaks of cosmic flame upon you, and the rays travel through vast empty wastelands of true cold and raw darkness, devoid of even the yellow mountains of sand of the desert or the discarded newspapers that flutter through the abandoned alleys of the cities, and it is a matter of gratitude, that you may walk out and sustain that which can’t be described, as long as you may remain enclosed, as long as you may remain protected, soft, tight, warm, complete. In here, there will be no change, in here, there will only be the tested and true, one foot after the other, the key turns and the motor rumbles, the light poles follow each other in just the right formation, and soon there is an elevator, and soon there is a "good morning" and soon a computer screen comes to life and everything is as it should be, everything works as it should always work, as it will always work for as long as you can help it, and since so much of it is beyond your help, you may as well not think about it, and let yourself think that it simply is and it will continue to be and it always was, and then focus on the task at hand, for there are emails to be written and papers to be proofed and people to be talked to and voice mails to be gone through, and all other visions must be set aside and forgotten, and what is, will continue to be, and what never was will stay that way.
But if this should be touched, if this world of known quantities and delicate details should somehow get scrambled, then there would be only amazement, there would be only an open mouth and drooling saliva, there would be great fear and great trouble, there would be a storm of fresh messages, coming at you from all directions with no place to land, no tower to process them, no traffic guide to tell them where to find a home, maybe it would start mild and yet still traumatic, for some injuries can be as cutting as a sword or an axe, and they come upon you suddenly, like a flash of lightning when the storm hasn’t yet begun, a gigantic flash of light through a dark sky that flares up the street before you in the single color of desaturated yellow and, before your mind has managed to catch up, the great roaring comes, and confirms for you what has happened, and the shivers that run through your body let you know that you are truly uneasy and that you would be well advised to find a way to hide it.
Some storms are like that, but other storms are slow and methodical, others come as thieves in the night, sliding your windowsill open and making their way inside you, maybe adjusting your lamp so that it isn’t in the same place where you left it the previous night, almost the same but not the same, and then you may ask yourself: "Did I forget? Didn’t I…?" but you will surely dismiss it as just a random occurrence, not worthy of a second thought, for the "good morning" is waiting and the computer screen and the light poles, and you will only remember next time, when the soap isn’t where it was, and maybe now your car is open when it shouldn’t be, and maybe now your clothes are not what you remembered from the day before, they seem to be a stranger’s wardrobe, designed for someone else with very different tastes and a very different outlook, completely and distinctly different purposes from the ones you vaguely remember having just a couple of days ago (but was it really just a couple of days ago, time will be more and more difficult to measure), and then you may say to yourself (in silence or very quietly, when you are certain that nobody is listening): "Am I losing it?" but you may even ask yourself, following up on the philosophical barrier that will immediately rise up to deflect your question: "If I were to lose it, what is it that I would love? What is it that I would care for? What is it that I would want?"
But most of us never go that far, most of us will simply say concussion, most of us will simply say something has happened, and I was never knocked out but I didn’t have to be, and somebody out there will know about it, maybe they will even have defined it clearly as a serious public health problem, a syndrome or a malady, and, in that case, there will be pills and injections, all with colorful names and instructions in tiny little black letters that you won’t ever bother to read, there will be a clear methodical treatment that will give me back my clothes, that will give me back my car, that will place the lamp back where it was supposed to be, that will make the questions go away, that will make me forget what I was turning into and remember what I was supposed to be, and then life will be manageable again and the silent struggle will come to a stop. Even then, after the long cold fingers of science have stepped in to offer their soothing balm, you may still look out of the corner of your eye, at the silver and brown clouds that are not supposed to be there, at the tiny explosions of fairy dust that occur just when your heart flutters, at the flashes of recognition that make no sense and come with no clear understandable sentences, and then you may say to yourself: "these are the aftereffects…soon the treatment will come to fruition and I will be fine…"
But your inner metal skeleton will have been touched, the one that kept the whole edifice up and running, the one that lies underneath your quick visual constructions and your rapid bursts of opinion that explode out of you like machine gun fire, and once that structure has started to shake and shiver and tremble, you will never trust it quite like you used to, for the walls can only be solid if they are always so. If one day you lean against the white wall of your room and it opens up like gooey syrup, and you drop into a maelstrom of silky darkness pointillistically drenched in the dust of stars, if that happens sometime, you will never lean in to it again with quite the same trust, with quite the same sense of confidence. And you don’t even have to be knocked out, not altogether, not to the point of utter voidness, not to the point of unrelenting clear light, you don’t even have to lose the blurry edges of your vision, but once the secret insides have been touched, once they have been shaken and stirred and thrown about, then you have opened a door that you will never again be able to close just right, no matter how hard you try.
* * *
There I was, hanging from the side of the chain link fence, staring intently at nothing, or at would have seemed like nothing to most observers, but to me, right then, it was an entire world of oceans and islands and mountains and valleys, all of it drenched in war and mystery, in plots and subplots, in treachery and deceit, in bravery and virtue. I was holding on behind my back, hardly breathing, letting it all come into me, trying to swallow it up all at once, and the clock within me was ticking, sooner or later something would happen, something would disturb this moment and I would have to come down. From where I was hanging, I could hear the sound of Cruz, the maid, washing clothes, rhythmic splashes of cold water on soaked clothes, the sound of her voice singing a Mexican romantic ballad over a tiny transistor radio that constantly broke apart into static. I could hear the sound of cars driving by, sliding along our little street carefully, maybe looking for an address, maybe looking for a lost little dog. I could hear a little group of street kids cursing and screaming and laughing as they rolled down the sidewalk on their handmade carts of wood and discarded bits of roller-skates and bicycles, and if they had seen me, what would they have seen? A strange skinny little kid hanging from a fence and staring at his own backyard, giving his back to the wide world, preferring the wider world within; maybe from somewhere out there it would even have seemed frightening, to run down the sidewalk and stare over a wall and see a little kid hanging, without moving, without hardly breathing, just looking and looking, without any sign of animated life. (Later I would receive confirmation on how truly frightening this picture was, and it came from someone that I had never even pictured as an observer, someone who loomed outside of my solid structure, invisible to my restrained eyes.)
There was a limited amount of time in which I could hold it, a limited time before Cruz came calling, before my mom came home, before Avelar rang the doorbell, before my fingers got too tired, before I had to breathe again as usual, and then what had seemed like forever would turn into a moment, and what seemed like a moment would turn into too long a time. When it seemed that my time indeed was up, and I had looked into the frozen land of the garden world for long enough, then I would jump down, flying through my green solitude in one great curving arch through empty space, and that was exhilarating because it was a little frightening. In that swift sudden jump, the world would change around me, there was a small gap in between two solid spaces, and when I landed, there would come another moment of silence, a moment of solid endings of dirt and new beginnings of grass, and then everything was alive again, everything was moving, and I was breathing hard and I had the urge to run and do things once again. I would land hard on my feet and I would immediately run back to the wall to do it all over. But this time there would be no waiting, this time there would be no space of looking without breath, I would simply reach the appropriate point on the fence and jump and, with every time that I jumped, it became easier, and with every jump, I was more adept at landing so that I would roll right off. I became fearless, and I would then jump sideways and even backwards, changing the curve of my arch through the air in subtle and dramatic ways, and I would try to roll around in the middle of my jump, even though the distance was so small that it barely gave me time to do anything at all, but I would still try, and I would half roll and then land and run back to the wall again. It all came from that first jump, as if once having jumped I couldn’t stop at all, I had to do it once more, I had to jump again, there was something in the air that I craved, something in the curve that I desired, something in the taste of finality and of fresh new starts. Eventually I would get tired of so much running, and I would turn my attention back to my neglected warriors, and they were just where I had left them, and they were ready to find their destiny at my hands, and they were pliable and willing to go where I would place them and to give of themselves everything that their little plastic bodies could give, so that the story would continue, so that there would be war once again, and peace, and mystery, and the subtle signs of something else for which I had no words and neither did they.
One time, when I was up on the fence and experimenting with my various ways of jumping, I jumped forward carelessly, without taking into account that my head was facing down, facing straight towards the solid ground, and maybe I had hoped to twirl all the way around in the air like a human cannonball from an old black and white cartoon, or maybe I had simply hoped that I could raise my head like a plane would do at the moment of lift off, or maybe I had been simply convinced that this time I would finally be able to fly and nothing at all would stop me as I roamed freely over the gray metal roofs of the surrounding houses. But, since none of those things would happen, and since I was facing down, and things tend to follow their current position all the way to the point where they are not things anymore, then I traveled through the empty space in a very narrow arch and , without a net or a any form of safeguard, I landed directly on my head, directly on the crown of my head, to be precise, as if I was a little missile of flesh and bone thrust down into the ground from a war plane on a deadly mission of impersonal destruction. It did indeed seem like a deadly mission because I had flown straight into the ground, into the same vast world which had seemed so peaceful from the heights, and now the tall green grass was right up against my face, and the dirt was soft and dark and rolling into my nostrils, and my whole body was laying amidst the pebbles and the leaves and the moisture. I had been so high up above everything and now I was down here in the thick of it all, where the world itself could touch me, where the insects could crawl up onto me, where the little men lived and died, where the mud rolled over death and pain with the sound of a metal shovel digging into piles of sand. I noticed that there were little crackling bolts that ran right through me, from the crown all the way to my feet. I knew what had happened, I could visualize it from outside as if it was a Road Runner cartoon and I was the Wiley Coyote making one more desperate attempt to capture my fleeting prey, and I had just flown right straight off of a cliff, pedaling into empty space for a moment, over a cloud of sand or dust or pebbles, and then I had plummeted rapidly into the hard unforgiving ground, never to be seen again (at least not until the next desperate attempt.)
I then became scared that I would be very hurt, I became scared that I would be permanently damaged in some terrible way, that I would never be the same, that something drastic had been changed within me and I would never be able to change it back. I couldn’t feel any clear pain but the fear still overtook me like a cold heavy wave of deep ocean water. I lay there wondering what the world would be like now that I had fallen, now that I had been inherently altered in some unexplainable way. How would things look? How would they feel against my fingers? How would they smell? How would they sound? (Yes, most of all, how would they sound?) And I stayed down there for what seemed like a very long time but most have been only a few minutes. I stayed there feeling the dirt against my nostrils, the long tendrils of green grass flowing back and forth across my face like soft segmented waves.
I finally got up, slowly but firmly. I shook my head, as if returning from a long and involved dream of large white bats that flew fearlessly against a limitless orange sky. I shook my face and my shoulders and my hands, and I looked all around me, carefully trying to determine how much had changed and how much of it I would be able to dismiss so that life could come back to normal. Things did seem different, but not so different that I couldn’t recognize them, and not so different that I couldn’t still walk towards them and feel them with my hands. In the distance I could still hear cars driving by, and kids playing outside, and the birds that would always be singing recurrent minimalist melodies a few meters out of sight, and the sound of Cruz washing clothes, and the people splashing into the pool in the hotel next door. I slowly came to realize that I was fine, that nothing truly horrible had happened. I had survived and I could even walk around the garden and onto the terrace and act like nothing had happened at all, and, if I didn’t mention it, nobody would ever know. More than that, I realized that I had actually enjoyed the sensation as my head hit the ground like a heavy bowling ball being dumped from a second floor. I had enjoyed the vibrations that had spread from the crown to the rest of my body, like a web of ephemeral fire that expanded in microscopically complex, self recurrent shapes, a secret web of experience that begged to be invoked once again. I looked up at the chain link fence, and then all around me one more time, making sure that I was still alone, and then I smiled. I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
* * *
I saw him, from the very beginning, as a street kid, a rough and dirty ruffian that thrived on the edges of the law, a boy destined for transgression but lacking in malice, a wrinkled white shirt and gray pants, black leather shoes, covered over in dust, hair parted to the side with a cartoonish sensibility, eyes locked in tension when listening and lost in the vague world of random thoughts as soon as you looked away, hands tight and long and affixed with twisted fingers that knotted around objects like tentacles, and a laugh that emphasized the "n" sound where there wasn’t supposed to be any "n" sound at all, as if the very act of negation was the most hilarious thing of all. Rodney would come walking with the others, all of them striding with confidence, stretching across the empty street as if it was their private playground, which it was, and leaving adult concerns for later, much later, school, homework, politics, the civil war, the future, the past, unemployment, rising prices, fear, it could all be set aside. For today the sun was shining and there were balls to kick, and girls to meet, and arguments to be solved and little kids to make fun of, games to be played, and places to rediscover, all under the bright hot sun that would have kept more reasonable creatures inside.
So I saw him the very first time and so he continued to be, for he could be nothing else. He was innocent in a way that allowed for prolonged sessions of masturbation where he would rotate his physical position constantly to discover new strange pleasures in a simple motion of the hand, and he was wise in the way that is borne of knowing others like him, older kids that would show him what to say and when to say it, when to retreat and when to rush forward, when to sit back and laugh at someone else’s misfortune and when to run for your life because you were about to be blamed for everything and the only solution was to disappear. In the world where he lived there was little mercy, little recourse to tenderness or soft eyes. What there was came with the edge of male punishment and female negligence, it came with loud words spoken with bubbles of spit between cracked teeth and prematurely wrinkled eyes on brown sun-baked skin, and yes, it was still mercy, but it would never allow for tears in public, it would never allow for overt sadness of any kind, it would never allow for self proclaimed witnesses or snitches, it would punish it all in the only act that it would understand as compassion, for only through punishment could true men be made, and this whole land of dust and black clouds was a great factory for the making of true men and women. Everyone was supposed to help in that one great effort.
My presence disturbed the clarity of this secret vision, a vision so secret that it would forever be kept hidden, even from the ones who held it tightly within themselves. And yet, when something didn’t fit, when someone didn’t follow the expected pattern, when a boy talked in a soft effeminate voice or laughed at the wrong moments or refused to fight when challenged or believed what he was told when he should have known better, then this was a problem, this brought out into high relief the sharp lines of the hidden diagrams and they had to be pushed back underground before they became so apparent that the sunlight might start to make them crumble into dust. I was such a thing, I was the element that did not fit, the little soldier made of orange plastic in a bag full of dark green, I was the one who stood out as different, and in this difference there was an unspoken challenge that had to be dealt with. It was not through design, and not through special intelligence or through careful observation, it was certainly not through any outstanding ability or skill. I had no idea what I was doing or why I was doing it and I had even less of an idea as to what the effects may be. I had simply become a bad cog in the dusty machine through the randomness of solitary accidents, through the intricate web of cause and effect that had brought me to this particular little suburban neighborhood, on this particular afternoon, on this particular day. No consciousness at all, no purpose, only a sequence of little accidents in a long silver chain that appeared to be absolutely unbreakable. These accidents had left me with qualities that were both attractive and repellent, a curious kind of mystery that ultimately invokes a sense of nausea in the depths of your guts.
So he would come and be close to me, he would sit beside me on the street gutters and the little brick walls of stranger’s houses, and he would share in my strange stories, and share in my strange way of talking that seemed like some kind of accent but couldn’t be aligned to any particular foreign nationality, and he would share in my deranged atmosphere of wraiths and ghosts and monsters, and he would sometimes laugh and ask further questions, and he would sometimes nod and look away. But when it became too much, he would have to lash out with his hard-learned ferocity and say: "Enough! There can be no more of this!" Maybe this was true of all the others, maybe they all reached a point of exhaustion where they simply wanted nothing more to do with the strange boy that lived down the street, but I saw it most clearly in him, because he was so transparent, because he shamelessly hid nothing, not his happiness, not his sadness, not his fears, not his courage. So the only things that could be hidden, those were hidden even from himself, and they were visible through the transparent edges of the rest of his body, through his rough scarred skin, through his jumpy eyes, through his loud whiny laughter that screeched against the pavement with the metallic sound of the "n", and so he would lash out and strike, and he would push me and laugh, or he would pull me and shake me and then laugh, or he would step on my shoes, hard enough for my toes to hurt, and then laugh, or he would ram his fist against my shoulder, and then laugh, or any combination of the above. The game rules were soon understood to be such that he could do any of these things and more and I could only complain mildly and then everything would quickly return to normal and nothing between us would have changed.
One day, in one of these sudden flare-ups of anger and exhaustion masked with effusive laughs, he scattered the red dust of broken bricks over my long black hair. It was something that he had never done before but it was similar enough to all other things he had done that it could have passed as the same and everything would have gone on as expected. He had his role and I had mine. But when I felt the red dust all over my scalp and I reached up to try to get it off and found that it would be very difficult to remove, a lever within me snapped, something that was so loud inside me that I could almost hear it just like I could hear the buses rolling up Constitucion avenue a block away, just like I could hear Rodney’s laughter and the barking of Pirata up on the terrace. I had had enough.
Galaxia street was mostly empty that day, from the corner where Ricardo lived all the way to the forced turn with Sagitario, so it was only Rodney and me and Ricardo, sitting on Zonia’s front yard, on the little brick wall that surrounded a flat square of light brown dirt and dried up grass. Rodney was wearing his usual outfit, a loose white button up shirt with short sleeves and the gray dress pants that were the uniform at his school. Ricardo was all in blue, blue jeans, blue shirt, black shoes that could be mistaken for blue in the dark. They were both laughing but Rodney was laughing the loudest. I looked at him and tried to recognize a friend, I tried vainly to understand what the word meant, what it was that I wanted from him, from them, and what did they want from me. Now Rodney had gone and done what he had done, and my hair was covered in red dust and I wasn’t happy, not at all, and I ran my fingers over my hair and I felt the dust all over my cranium and I looked at my nails and they were all covered in red dust, and I looked at him laughing uproariously, as if this was the greatest spectacle that he had ever witnessed, as if this moment presented the culmination of a long story, a much awaited punchline to an intricately rambling joke. I decided then that something needed to be done, maybe the lesson had finally broken through into me, maybe I had finally understood that in his world, the world of rough dirty kids and sunlit empty streets and black leather shoes covered in dust, in his world he would just keep on pushing and pushing until I pushed back. Maybe then, when he finally felt some kind of resistance, maybe he would push even harder, maybe he would even enjoy knowing that there was some level of challenge after all, and he would jump right into the challenge, just like he jumped to grab a bouncing basketball, like he ran to try to score a winning goal. But there was nothing else to do, there was nothing else that I could do. I grabbed a piece of red brick, from the same pile that had been the source of the red dust that now covered my black hair, and I lifted it over my head. My eyes turned serious and threatening and I slowly moved towards him. He looked at me, still laughing, and he said, in a voice that carried the weight of blood on desolate sidewalks:
"Don’t even think of throwing that at me!"
I simply held on to it and looked at him with tear stained eyes. Ricardo had decided to become objective at this moment, much like an Allied army that suddenly decides it is in its best interest to simply watch. He leaned away and looked at both of us as if we were some kind of laboratory study, as if his only interest was in discovering what the first rat would do to the second. I saw him in his blue shirt, with a trace of a smile crossing his wide face and I knew that I would find no sympathy or assistance with him. He was enjoying himself way too much to stop the action. So it was all up to me. I could either do something and delve into deeper waters, or do nothing at all, and let the punishment increase by red stained steps that would sting like alcohol rubbed on open wounds. I lifted the broken red piece of brick even higher and my eyes narrowed.
"I’m telling you! Don’t throw it!" He said it now in a louder, harsher voice. The laughter was gone, but the smile was still there, and it was a smile of sardonic aggression that carried much more menace than a solid frown.
I realized it was too late, as late as it ever was. A chain had been set in motion, and once the chain of events had started to unravel, it was nearly impossible to stop it. Each scene followed the previous one like frames in an old silent film, so old that all the actors were dead and nobody could provide a clear interpretation of the action any more. Once I saw that it was impossible to stop the sequence, I decided I didn’t need to try. Before I was fully conscious of what had just happened, the little piece of red brick was flying through the air and it was landing next to him, bouncing off the dry grass, close to his thigh. With reflexes much faster than mine, he had jumped aside just in time. The statement had been made and now I would stand back to learn the results.
He jumped up from the little wall of Zonia’s porch, up from the dirt and dry grass where he had rolled away, and he approached me with his arms up in the air. I stood where I was and I thought of various justifications for my actions and other tales of sadness, but my thoughts were all cut short when his hard fist landed squarely on my unprepared face. Then came the electrical storm, and my entire body went soft, as soft as a pile of rubber with no frame to hold it up. I felt my knees buckle, and I wondered to myself why were my knees buckling when I hadn’t been hit anywhere near my legs, and yet they bent and I slid backwards, like I had seen the street drunks do when they walked down this very street in the middle of the day. As they walked, they shifted from side to side, from one edge of the street to the other, deep in the midst of some private solitary discussion that could never reach a satisfactory conclusion, a discussion begun back when there had been someone there to listen. They slid to one gutter and then to the other, and, as they danced, with their legs flapping weakly like little stems broken in two, they narrowly escaped breaking their foreheads open against the curb, like a ripe orange cut in two, leaving a red mark on the dusty white concrete for kids like us to find the next day. I had seen them, and now I was like them, for my legs moved backwards and they were bent and as much as I tried to regain my footing, it seemed that I had no strength. I felt myself going sideways, and I reached out, trying to grab onto something, but there was nothing there to grab, no wall, no tree, no firm support at all.
The world itself seemed different just then, as if all the colors that surrounded me had changed their nature in a single instant, changed in a subtle way that I didn’t have the language to explain, not even to myself. Rodney didn’t look as he had looked before, even though his white shirt and his gray pants, and his twisted fingers and his long skinny arms, they were all there, but he was not the boy I had known, not the boy I had come to know as my friend, as my confidant, he was not a boy at all, and Ricardo, whose blue clad shape I could see from the edge of my eyes, he wasn’t a boy either, and the wall and the porch, and the house, and the street, they all seemed twisted and bent in shapes that they weren’t supposed to take, strange altered forms that didn’t match my expectations. I slid sideways, almost tumbled backwards, and I somehow managed to avoid falling. I straightened my legs and took a step forward. Then I looked at Rodney again. He was back to being a boy, the street kid I had known, the street kid I had first seen walking down Gemini with two others, all throwing stones at Luis, Ricardo’s younger brother, Rodney was back to being the street kid that had just rammed his hard closed fist against my face. I felt hurt then. My face was hurt. My head was hurt. My pride was hurt. But more than all of that, my vision of who they were and who I was among them, it was all hurt in a way that I couldn’t quite describe and I couldn’t even picture. I went home that night, thinking of white walls, and the touch of moist green grass against my cheeks.
* * *
Questions that went on forever, questions that rolled over the surface of a corrugated white wall, while the overgrown grass leaves flipped back and forth on the wind and the clouds moved in over our heads, letting us know it was time to go home. What I saw and what was actually there, out there in the real world beyond my individual perception, the two visions could hold some level of resemblance, sometimes very faint, sometimes so close as to seem indistinguishable, but how would I be able to tell when and where and how it was so? How could I determine when I had faded into a state of dream, where the bubbles would be airplanes, and the leaves would be ships, and the dirt would be an ocean and the carpet would be a desert? Maybe they were simply delusions, faint mirages of a mind that was not my own, it only seemed to be in my possession, I only appeared to live within it, but it truly was more like a rental car that we can treat very badly for a weekend and then carelessly return it with scratches all over the body and trash all over the floor.
The world outside the car could be as strange and as distant from what I saw as the dirty old homeless man on the corner of Taylor and Geary, the one who would look up when I passed by and would laugh with bloodshot eyes, eyes that would bulge out like red and white marbles, and he would stare up at the sky and see my silhouette combined with the clouds that would form a kind of halo around me, and he would laugh in such deep ecstasy that long globs of spit would slide out of the sides of his mouth and his broken yellow teeth would shake and rattle and the smell of old hot urine would rise from him like a cloud of weaponized gas, and I would still have to look at him, even if only for a moment. I would wonder at the strange alien reality of this beaten man, and wonder what it was that he saw, what kind of delusion was he experiencing when he looked up at me? Maybe I would stare at his dirty blackened rags and his stained thick striped gloves, that were cut off at the knuckles so that his blackened fingers could stick out (and the fingers were so black with dirt that they appeared to be gloves themselves) and I would think that he was crazy, he had gone past the line of no return, where a mind bobbed like a lost toy in the middle of a savage storm with no hope of rescue, no hope of ever finding a safe dry port. Maybe, sometime in the long forgotten past, when he was just a little boy with wide open innocent eyes and a whole wide brightly colored world before him, maybe back then he had suffered some form of brain injury, a sudden sharp blow to the head that could have come in many forms. Maybe, in one way or another, he had been hit very hard, and then maybe his world had been twisted and he had seen things that he shouldn’t, visions of the real that were not meant for human eyes, curling details that cut through your neural networks like spinning knives with perpetual momentum. Maybe he had seen himself as a little boy and maybe even then he had laughed, because what he saw was so strange and so utterly indescribable, so utterly alien to the simple words that people uttered all around him, so deep, so viscous, so ungraspable, so alive.
And now, when he looked up at some random pedestrian, a solitary man with long black hair and a dirty black jacket that happened to look at him as he crossed the street, maybe then he would look up once again and laugh, and maybe he would see a benevolent angel or an avenging demon, a otherworldly alien or a subterranean monster, a dream savior or an archetypal threat, and it would all be radiating with such intense colors, colors so deep and full and complex, and it would all have such an intense sense of immediacy, of reality revealed in its most raw form, right here on the corner of Taylor and Geary, that he would just have to laugh, and he would laugh hard, and spit and tears and urine would all slip out of his wasted body as he was shaking with laughter but none of it mattered, none of it could begin to compare.
I would stare at him only a moment longer, because I had other places to go, and I had to stare into that same world that he stared at, and I had to find a way to convince myself that the world I saw, the one that was colored in black and white and gray and soft hues, the one where the clouds spidered over the blue sky over buildings that resembled spaceships, I had to convince myself that that world was true, that what I saw was real, and that this man was simply deluded, simply crazy, simply wrong (as if the word "simple" fit easily into any of those categories.) If I looked at the street hard enough, with the man laughing, and the women giggling, and the cars honking, I might start laughing too, and then there would be no way to stop.
In those days, I pictured a strange maze of rooms, each small and clean and quiet, and each room held a little window that looked outside, out onto the street below, and you could go freely from one room to the other, the doors had no locks and there was nobody else around to stop you from exploring. There were so many rooms that the hallways never seemed to end, and my curiosity could never be fully satiated. From each window of each room the street looked different, the city itself looked different. Sometimes the difference was subtle and sometimes it was extreme. Through some of the windows people were not people at all, but strange tentacled beings from another galaxy, or walking mannequins without a face, or black slugs pulling on half broken attaches or large white shopping bags, or rumbling motorized vehicles that honked through a big hole right beneath their front exhaust. I could move from one room to another, as long as I could pull myself away from any particular vision, and in each room I would convince myself that the world was as it should be, that it could be no other way. It was crucial and absolutely necessary to forget that I had moved from one room to another, it was necessary to set aside the knowledge that, as clear and true as this window seemed to be, there still were others, and when I found myself there, then I would completely forget that I had ever been here and this window would be like a half remembered dream, quickly forgotten as the light of the real world intruded upon my fantasy.
If one day I happened to slip from one of the windows, maybe by accident, maybe by design, then I would find myself in free fall, arching through space in slow motion, watching the world lunge up at me like a giant mouth filled with cement teeth. I would be wincing in anticipation because soon my tender head would hit the ground in a big shower of fiery sparks, sparks that burned with the terminal quality of the absolutely real. Somewhere down there, amidst the slugs and the mannequins and the loud heavy machines, a homeless man would be laughing. I could hear him from the window, even before the fall.
Before us there was a vast field of green and brown and gray and even some patches of blue and white rock, all interlaced through a web of brown and black dirt. Behind us was the mountain of mystery that we had come looking for, and it towered above us like an explosion of rock and dirt and it pushed hard up into the sky, with little trails of trees and snow and enormous solid shapes of brown and white and we could only barely see it all through the web of branches that was above us and around us. We had prepared the clearing by outlining the different spots where our work would take place, the circle of the past, where we would remember the things that our bodies wanted to forget, the circle of emotion, where we would try to forget but the tears would roll down our cheeks anyway, cool and easy and gentle, flowing like tiny slender waterfalls from our wide open eyes and dripping onto our shirts and then vanishing into the cloth, and the circle of mind where we would dig deep into the malleable soil which was our intellect, and there we might find answers to questions we hadn’t yet spoken, and we might find traces and links where we could never see them before and new questions would emerge like giant flowers of radiant color, and we would never want to answer such questions, we would simply water them with our tears and let them grow.
But before any of that happened, there was only Ricardo and me, sitting by the edge of the clearing looking out at the great field before us, being very quiet and feeling the subtle urgency of the pregnant moment. I knew why we were here and he didn’t, not exactly, but he trusted me so much that he might as well have known, and maybe he already suspected. Maybe his suspicions were clear and specific or as vague as the extended diagonal forests that reached up towards the distant mountain peak at our backs. I knew what has hidden in my shirt pocket but maybe there were traces of darkness in my knowledge as well, as much as there were traces of knowledge in his emptiness. I had understood something so ephemeral that it slipped from my fingers if I tried to settle down on it like a playful bird, and so I had to circle it and circle it, without ever landing at all, and what I remembered I knew was only the trace of experience that was left after the real event was gone, and it was that real event that we were seeking. It would come unexpectedly, as much for me as for him, even if I had been there before, because it could not be held, it could not be restrained, it could not be pinned down and maintained like a book or a statue or a record. It was as elusive as the sound of the distant birds, or a single look of fear that crosses a good friend’s eyes, never to be indicated, never to be talked about, never to be heard of again.
I looked at him and I said:
"Are you ready? You can still change your mind…"
"I don’t know what we are doing… so I would have no reason to change my mind…"
I smiled and he smiled back at me, with only a hint of arrogance, and it was a hint that was always there so it could be removed from my memory easily, just like the noise of a passing train or the rumble of the trucks or the singing of the birds in my father’s terrace, loud and exotic and intense, and yet they could all fade, for my attention was now here, on him, on what we were about to do, today, together.
"Open your mouth…" I said to him, in a voice that trembled just slightly.
He turned, moved closer to me and opened his mouth wide, exaggerating the movement to let me know that he was in fact doing as I had asked.
"Push out your tongue…"
Again, he did as I told him without hesitation. I slipped my hand into my shirt pocket, pulled out my little plastic bag, and I placed the tiny piece of paper under his tongue. Then I smiled.
"Now hold it there, keep it there… don’t swallow it… just hold it there… and… wait…just wait…"
He nodded and smiled again, and then shook his head and retreated back into his zone which was so close to me and yet not the same. The twigs crackled under his weight as he moved, and a bird sang loudly in the distance, maybe as loudly as it had a moment ago, or maybe much louder. I followed the same procedure and placed the second tiny piece of paper under my own tongue. As I approached my open lips, I looked at it and saw, for one last time, the tiny golden key that was printed on it, with tiny little rays all around it, letting me know that it was glowing, letting me know that it was magic, letting me know that it opened doors that had no doorknobs and led to chambers that had no walls. I thought briefly of the homeless hippie that had sold it to me on Haight Street, of how lucky I had been to find him just in time, of his offer to try it with me and of my refusal, which came with a distinct taste of regret. I thought of my own solitary experiment, all on my own in my living room, an experiment simply meant to ascertain that these tiny pieces of paper were indeed what they claimed to be. I remembered the sounds and the fullness of my body, announcing its presence to my incredulous mind. I then brushed all these thoughts aside and I placed the tiny piece of paper under my tongue and closed my mouth.
"Now what?" he asked.
I raised my hands and let them float in the air like little balloons, feeling them trying to get away with the wind.
"Now we wait…it will come when we least expect it…the change will be subtle at first, but then it won’t be subtle at all…"
"Should we talk while we wait or should we be quiet?"
"We can do either… the space is set, we are on our way…now we simply let it happen."
Maybe we both thought we would talk right then, since we had never been at a shortage of words, since our conversations lasted deep into the night and started again early the next morning, but right then, we both looked towards the vast open field, and we both listened to the complex symphony of the many birds that were now singing, and we both listened to the crackling of the branches in the wind, and the sound of the hippies in the distance setting up their drums to invoke invisible extraterrestrial beings that may or may not arrive. And we waited. In the glorious silence. After a while, I raised my hand once again, and now it was floating so easily in the wind that I could sense no effort in my muscles, no effort at all, and it moved to a distinct rhythm that I hadn’t heard before, a rhythm that seemed to have been hidden behind the complexities of the details, a rhythm that required careful listening to even begin to discern its pulse. I stood up, and, without the hesitation or shame that I would have felt if I had been myself, I began to dance.
* * *
So I did it again, and again, and again, up the little incline, with all the reminders of ages of battle and little dead dogs with black eyeballs like marbles and wooden crosses broken apart by time and negligence, and from the edge, I would jump up onto the chain link fence, pushing my little fingers through the big gaps between the wire and I would scamper across, now faster than before, confident that it wasn’t so terrible to fall, since in fact it was my intention to fall purposefully in the end anyway. I discovered that I could move across the long stretch as fast as I could run over the grass if not even faster, and I discovered that once the fear was gone, a little bit of the edge was gone with it, but the world outside still beckoned with its infinity and the world inside was still frozen in deep patience, and I still found my way to the place where I needed to go, and I still flew through the air in slow motion, watching the ground rush up at me, like a giant truck made of grass and dirt and pebbles and there was still that sudden change, that clear distinct and digital transition from air to earth, from rapid flight to heavy stability, from open possibility to certain knowledge, and then there was the smell of the moist grass and the edges of the leaves against my cheek and, most of all, the crackling and the shifting of perspectives, so that the Queen of the Rebels, the one that waited in the dark caves behind the capulin tree, acquired Amaya’s face, and the magician of the island was just like the little skinny man that once gave me some old comic books, and the king was my father, and the soldier that ran across a strange ocean of green leaves of grass, all alone and in the depths of a terrible fear for his life, he might have been me, or someone very much like me, except I couldn’t see him too well through all the murkiness of the wet ground.
As time passed, it became a routine. I came to do it several times each afternoon, when my mother was away at work and Cruz was washing or ironing or away in the store, which could also mean that she was seeing her boyfriend or her family or some other maid down the block that had sweet new gossip to impart to her, sweaty information passed across the edge of a metal veranda, or through the open glass slates of a dark window, both maids looking in all directions around them in case the owner of the house decided to come home. Wherever she truly was, she was not here where she could see me, and neither was anyone else, so I was free to fly and crash, and then fly again, without interruptions, without calls to reason, without explanations, without a need for justifications or clear conclusions. It became one of my regular duties when I found myself in the grip of a heavy hot afternoon of endlessness, when the available options became fewer and smaller with each tick of the clock and the sounds became like mosquitoes buzzing against my skin and my ears. Whenever I felt the need for the world to change, it would change in an instant, right when I hit the ground, and then creation would start once again, with a swift gesture of brilliant color, with a smile surrounded by thin blonde hair over soft pink skin, with a bunch of little street kids laughing and screaming as they whirled their self made vehicle down the already cracked sidewalks that were just waiting to be cracked some more, with the King and the Queen and the Magician. It changed with the blood of the dying and the calls to renewed glory of the survivors, it changed in ways I couldn’t quite place, and the new form wasn’t what I wanted, it was the change itself that I sought, for the change had its own taste, its own sound, it own texture, and it could only last but a moment and soon it would be time to change again. Change came with a little jump up, a quick sideways scamper over a chain link fence and a fearless jump into the void, which was always there, which was always new, which would never leave me waiting, which would never hide, which would never stop giving of itself for it had nothing else to give, nothing else to surrender.
* * *
I embarked on a long series of experiments, a steady sequence of voyages that moved by terrestrial inches, while jumping over invisible miles, the distances that have no placement in the maps of humans and have no measuring stick in the innards of computers. One by one, they gave their gifts to me, they who had no face and discernable existence, and one by one, I stepped through the many doorways, falling face forward in some, arching through the air gracefully in a gentle curve without imperfections, falling backwards in others, hands flapping away in desperation, anxiously trying to find a place to hold onto, trying to find some kind of support. I could then stretch my view all over the past, where these voyages scattered like pieces of a broken movie, each frame still alive with expectation but missing its cause and its consequence, and I could stare into those lonely frames trying to find in them what seemed to be hidden, but was right there all along, and if I couldn’t see it, it was only because I was looking underneath, I was trying to find explanations in the invisible realm when the answer was in the skin itself all along, not in the guts. The guts were just blood and pumping machines, the face held all the true secrets. But I wouldn’t want to look where I could be seen as well, for the face had eyes, and the wide open eyes were themselves in the process of looking.
I came to realize that all the words that I had previously thought meant something, they were only tiny symbols that hung on the edges of the real world, like tiny papers on a moist tongue, and, when they hang at the tip of your own tongue, they taste like metal, and when you feel them sliding around, you want to slip them back into place, for it would be no good to swallow them (not wanting to understand that I had already swallowed so many, that my stomach was lined with thousands of layers of flowery blue wallpaper, so many layers, one on top of the other, that it would take forever to make our way to the real wall that was covered underneath it all, and maybe, by the time we had made it all the way through, we would then discover that the wall itself was no longer there, it had been only wallpaper all along, nothing else.)
I had swallowed Spanish and I had swallowed English, as they were two of the most popular drugs (the kind of drug that you would be offered freely and which you would gracefully accept, unaware of the heavy price tag that came attached at the end of the surreptitious transaction.) They were the two rooms with the largest windows, large picture windows that seemed to embrace the outer world in their strong wide frames, and each caressed the sides of my brain with a distinct texture, and each had its own obsessions, and each had its own dreams. I saw it when my friend Carlos rocked back and forth in the darkness of a wooden cabin, shadows splattering across the shining glow of the candlelight while the ocean outside caressed the giant white rocks like salty lips on overgrown breasts, and when he said "que pasa?" he became a boy, innocent, gentle, questioning, wondering, full of the sincere curiosity that I recognized and loved, and when he said "what’s up?" he became a man, knowledgeable, harsh, tough, certain of things that he had never seen, but which, since they had already been spoken, they had been placed in metal files and stored away forever, never to be seen again, much like my mail and my clippings, that would wait for years before I might look at them again, and maybe their sentence would never end, and maybe my own was the same. Carlos looked at me on that night of shadows and flickering candlelight, and he looked at me much like his brother had on a night of stars and an ancient mountain of magic, he looked at me with wide open eyes full of shocked recognition when I said: "Talk to me in Spanish…once again… there’s something that’s different…there’s something that changes… when you talk in Spanish…" and he turned and he nodded, his mouth falling open without him realizing it, shaping a big O with his pale lips as the vision made its way into his own inner chambers, and he said…"Hey… I think I see what you mean…I see what you’re saying…I…" but I shook my head and I said, "no, no, no… in Spanish…"
It was maybe only a matter of being exposed to many forms, structures, constructions, forms that were as different from each other as they could be, and maybe it was a matter of not surrendering to translation, to the deadly isomorphism that equates things that can never be equated, the sounds of butterfly wings with the sounds of heavy metal arms ripping cars apart, the immediacy of eternity with the oppressing heaviness of a very long time, the soft whispering aperture of "que pasa" with the cutting edge finality of "what’s up". It could not be the same, no matter how much we might want it to be, it would not be the same, not at all, and the symbols would flash right through my cortex, like tiny lights that flicker in the middle of the night in old abandoned cemeteries, and they whisper of worlds beyond the apparent closure of the tombstones, all hard rocks, all etched with words that had been forgotten just a few days after the last tears were shed, words that now referred only to maggots and old bones and broken old black hats, and if you pulled them up, if you pulled them hard by the roots, then the gruesome rotting things would just come flying out, like a swarm of wasps in search of new food. But how I wished that somewhere down there was the answer, if only it would burst out and come at me flying, open mouth lined with threatening fangs and salivating tongue, and it would then tell me, once and for all, before devouring me, it would tell me that this is true, this is the language, these are the words, there is no more need for searching, you have found what you were looking for, it is now time to rest.
All along, the lights would keep on blinking, letting me know that the answer was indeed at hand, but it would come in an unsuspected form, and I would never touch it with the metal arms or the butterfly wings, and I would slide through the holes between the graveyards without ever being touched, without being eaten, and I would never even kiss it or make it mine, for it had no lips to kiss and it had no manifestation to posses. But it was there, just around the corner, where the inner mucus of my brain still danced to a rhythm that was older than my music, where the music itself was more complex than the classical symphonies I had so eagerly studied, trying to find within them the same key that I once stole from the wall of a patio when the maid wasn’t looking, and yet it was more simple, so simple as to be discarded by the blue buildings, so simple as to be forgotten, so simple as to be overlooked. The lost steps, as my mother’s friend had once pointed out, the lost steps were just around the corner, and they led past the graveyard, past the wallpaper, past the obsessions, past the frozen movies themselves, and in their decisive finality, and in their open invitation, and in their harshness and roughness, and in their taste of green leaves of grass and dark moist earth, they resembled nothing more than a sharp, hard blow to the head.
* * *
It was a narrow, empty street paved with sharply defined gray bricks. Along the opposite side ran a long wall of inverted arches. At its highest point, the wall was only about four feet tall, and beyond it, there was a small lawn that surrounded the single story buildings where the foreign students lived. We were sitting inside a small car that Rodney had borrowed for the occasion of my visit. I had been in Darmsdadt only a few days but we had already covered the essential points of biographical interest. After not seeing each other for many years, in a matter of a few hours of intense conversation, we had already established what we had been doing, what our human landmarks had been and what we intended to do in the future. There were, of course, areas that would remain in silence (some of them would always remain silent no matter how much we tried to approach them) and there were areas that were quickly touched upon which would have required many more hours to fully explore. A lot of it had to be done in English because my friend Rick had come with me from San Francisco, which made for very awkward exchanges, since Rodney didn’t like talking in English and Rick didn’t know how to talk in Spanish, so I had to become a constant translator and interpreter and diplomat between two beings who refused to look at each other in the eyes. It was a position I was accustomed to, a position I even welcomed, but it did involve a great deal of effort and it made a higher level of communication almost completely impossible to achieve.
But here, on this particular night, it was only the two of us, Rodney and me, and we could breathe easy because all the expected and required conversation was over and we could finally settle into the unexpected, into the realms which we both desired to touch but had to wait for the right moment to invoke them into full manifestation. We were simply sitting in Rodney’s borrowed car, taking a moment before going back to his little dorm where Rick waited (leaning back on a soft pillow on Rodney’s mattress, reading "The Three Musketeers") The German air felt crisp and cold all around us, as crisp and cold as the Germans I had met so far, just as heavy, just as straight, just as blank. The small car creaked as we accommodated our bodies within it, and it soon became clear that it was time to get comfortable, as he leaned his seat back and asked me to do the same. I smiled and pushed my own seat back, turning my face towards him.
"As you may have guessed, there’s some things I haven’t told you…" I said it in a soft, slow voice, that carried within it a clear call to attention.
He nodded, in the same way he used to nod back in La Satelite, with a quick uptake of his chin and a gentle shake to the left and to the right, a gesture I might have seen his father make while sitting on the old faded green couch of his living room, when he was rushing by us on his way to some mysterious errand, little leather attaché in hand.
"I know. I figured as much…go on…"
He stretched his hands, and his fingers were older and marked by the years, wrinkled and rough, but they were still the old twisted fingers that pointedly reached out in a half broken spiral to a world that somehow escaped his most sincere attempts at understanding. He was wearing a South American shirt, all bright colors and thick cloth, intended to show his acknowledgement of his Latin race, a subtle political statement that was also an emotional silver cord attached to a hot world that he had left far behind. He was also wearing straight German pants, intended to show nothing in particular. Somewhere under this strange new costume, he was still the street kid I had seen walking down Gemini street so many years ago, the same one that combed his hair all the way to the right, for pure comic effect, the same one that laughed off the side of his mouth, in a precise imitation of Curly from the Three Stooges, the same one that had sat with me for hours on end, on gentle afternoons of breeze and sun and laughter, playing chess, listening to Black Sabbath while only half understanding the lyrics, talking about girls and girls and more girls, their faces, their words, their bodies, their intentions, their unexplainable ability to be always just slightly too far away, the same one that stood up one afternoon and almost knocked me off my feet with a single punch.
The street kid was still there but it took some careful observation to recognize him. There were layers of cold German experience that covered the old and battered mask. He was older now, so much older that I nearly didn’t recognize him when I got off the train at the Darmsdadt station, and it was only when I thought I saw his father, off the corner of my eyes, it was only when it struck me as strange that Rodney’s father should be here in Darmsdadt when it was supposed to be Rodney that was waiting for me (waiting to hug me once again after so many years of warm silence and wrinkled stories), it was only when the straightforward logic of simple linear mathematics struck me like a white glove across the face, it was only then that I realized it was him, it was him that was waiting, pulled back thick skin circling a tight lipped smile. His eyes were bulging out in a way that made him seem vaguely amphibian and he reached out to me tentatively, as if he was just as surprised by my sudden appearance as I was surprised by his. As the minutes passed, and our voices caressed the silence with their rhythmic pitchless melodies, and the sounds of the German all around us created a sphere of closeness around us draped in Spanish, a Spanish so soft here that it tasted of drying parchment, I began to fully accept that it was truly him, the same one I remembered, the same one I had come to see. The same jokes were there, spilling over each other like old beaten up cassette tapes that have been fixed with scotch tape and lipstick, sometimes supplemented with new references, new stories, but still gyrating around the same subjects, the same words, the same unavoidable punch lines. It felt good to hear it all, even if more than a little strange. It was like tasting the old chocolate milk that I had known when I was little, and feeling it too sweet, too simple in my mouth as it first touched my tongue, but soon switching back into the boy who had always known it and then smiling, because it was the same once again, and I was the same, and nothing at all could ever change and that was exactly what I had always wanted. Rodney, here in this little car, in this empty street in the outskirts of a small German city, was like chocolate milk, like Chinese Food in San Salvador, like pupusas in San Francisco, like heavy words and simple phrases high in the mountains of madness.
"I have tried some things… I’ve done some experimenting… things I haven’t told you over the phone…I have tried many different things…I believe that…I have come to understand some things, some things that can’t be easily transmitted." As I said it, my hands lifted up and I let them flutter in the air, in a way that was unlike myself, unlike my old habitual movements. His eyes went towards them and I let myself dance lightly next to him, in a gentle way that subtly reminded me of what I couldn’t communicate, hoping that it would touch the parts within him that I couldn’t reach. The cold air seeped in from the half open windows of the little car, but I felt an immediate sense of growing warmth.
"I want to give this to you… I know how to do it now… but we can’t achieve this as we are… in order to communicate at all, we have to change, we both have to change… at least temporarily…"
He nodded, and his eyes started to widen, and his teeth started to show between his thin pale lips. He clearly didn’t know what I was talking about, but he knew enough to know that he should be glad. Good news had arrived from the other side of the ocean.
"I had wondered about your hand movements… I had… it all seemed strange so I had asked myself… I asked myself what it could mean, you know?…I figured you would bring it up sooner or later… I just had to wait…I knew there was more to it… something you weren’t saying…but go on…"
"I just want you to know… all through human history, some people have known about this… we just happen to be lucky enough to be living in an age when it is relatively easy to access…people like us, we would never get anywhere near it otherwise… and still, it is not so easy… the normal people fear it… they don’t want to change… not even for a moment…and they don’t want anyone else to change either…it threatens their life, their sense of reality…"
He nodded once again, and I could almost hear his heartbeat within his narrow chest growing like an Andean drum to accompany the raspy low zamponas of our voices. Everything about him was angular and narrow and crackly and full of edges and here I was, offering him a way to become soft, to open, to become tender, vulnerable, shapeless.
Two young German boys walked down the sidewalk, past our car. They were both blond and paper white. One of them carried a small backpack on his back. They talked in soft voices that still seemed vaguely military because of the implied rhythms of their language. They looked at us out of the corner of their eyes and we looked back. It was not too difficult to visualize what they had assumed about us but at that point I was several steps past caring. While they walked close to our car, I stopped talking and our eyes trailed their movement like small animals would trail the passing of a large predator in a dark forest. I resumed talking when they were a few cars away.
"When I encountered this… I knew I had to share it… at the very least with the people I loved the most…people like you…"
"But how… where….?" He raised his hands in front of his face, opening his long twisted fingers wide and shaking his head in resignation. "I don’t know anyone here… I don’t…"
I smiled at him then, in a way that erased the limits of our given roles for a moment, in a way that reached over through the cold still air within the small car and made him smile as well.
"I have taken care of everything… all you need to do is say yes…"
He leaned back and pursed his lips and let out a very soft whistling sound, and then he laughed in the old cackling way that I recognized, loud enough that sleeping students in the building across the street might have thought a witch on an old broomstick was flying by.
"Fuck! That is so… so… I’ve always said it… somewhere over there… on the other side of the world… I have real friends… the real thing…and this is it… you find it… all the way over there… and you bring it over to me… all the way over here… fuck!"
I smiled and nodded.
"That’s right. So?"
"So? Yes, of course, yes. Fuck, yes! What else can I say?"
And then there was a long silence followed by more cackling laughter. I laughed as well, in anticipation of the timeless laughter we would soon be sharing in a vast space that would not have so many walls.
* * *
Neurobiology hints at the place where the metal wires run right up to the edge of warm and moist dark tunnels covered in slime and smelling like death many times over, death that never tires of giving, death that will always find another form to shake and break apart. It makes your muscles shiver in the way that unholy incestuous unions will push their way through the surface of your eyes and touch the realms within in places that they shouldn’t be touched, places where they wouldn’t be touched, and yet there it is, as real as anything, electronic signals fuming like pistols in the darkness and bursts of smoke that come with a hint of metal and the gurgling of blood and the last brief instants of final regret as the wooden roof above you slowly fades into night. It is a trip inside, to the caves and mazes where the dragons live, where a fearsome large man runs around naked and covered in wet mud, large black horns sticking straight up from the sides of his head, mooing like the beast that he is as he makes his way along the endless dark hallways. You can’t see him or know when he is coming, but he is definitely coming, sooner or later, and he comes with the bleeps and bursts of static that you would not want to find here, not here, where you might finally hope for pure analog freedom, a respite from the digital, a sanctuary from the coldness of the choice. Even here, in the depths of the hidden maze, the edge of the binary will arrive to haunt you.
May the inner world then explode outwards, may it break the walls that hold it, yes may it break those very same walls covered in slime and smelly substances we can’t quite place in the dictionary or the encyclopedia, no matter how hard we try, for their nature escapes categorization and by the time you think you can pinpoint it, it has already changed. It pushes its way out, out from under the ground, out from the recesses where we can’t ever lay claim to its ever changing outlines. May it then become that which is hidden and may it manifest as it is, as it has ever been. May it come into full blinding presence. May it look down upon me as I look up at you and, with only a hint of the underlying fear, I tell you: "We are living within it. This thing all around us. It is the subconscious. It is what people have called the subconscious… but it is so much more than that. The word doesn’t nearly encompass its true meaning. It only seems fixed and static because we want it to be so. We are only vainly hoping that it will remain in place, just so we can have a little peace, a little rest, a moment of calm before the hurricane begins again. But the walls drip with unwholesome slime and even now they are closing in around us, tighter and tighter, absolutely unstoppable. We can only shift through its many levels and keep on moving, let it travel through our insides and let us then become that which we don’t even want to see, that which we don’t even want to remember."
And it was true then, on an early morning of pastel colors emerging from the raging darkness, and as true as it was then, it would be true now and forever, for time itself is only a continuous itch that we scratch through the endlessness of creation and, for a moment, a moment that had no barriers but it had no end, that which no words can limit had come out in its full flower, and it rained through her face and down from the ceiling, all over the garden and out into the sky and I was open mouthed and amazed and I held within me all emotions at once: fear, love, ecstasy, loneliness, sadness, enthusiasm, anger, compassion, and, most of all, glee… and they had all become indistinguishable from each other, their only true quality was intensity and they were all at full throttle at the time, and they were true in their indistinguishable nature, more real than they had ever been because they had shed all illusions and they were simply the thrust of the real upon the surface of the past. Such things could not ever be clearly understood, not by the me that was not there, the me that would never be there once it all became a memory, not by the woman who looked down upon me with a facial mask draped in concern, not by the solemn sage who would forever claim that he did understand and then speak in the language of locks and metal and dirty dungeons where skinny old men slowly rot away the remaining years of their life, certainly not understood, for understanding itself was a fallen idol, broken by the side of the road, forgotten and abandoned, and as I passed it by, I felt not a pang of sadness, for it had always led to pain and I knew then that pain was its true nature, hidden in the electrical wires, in the explosions of smoke, in the long black tendrils that kept the city alive, in the little tones of the hidden TV screens behind half closed windows. Out here there was nothing and everything. In there, there was something that held onto an endless lack.
I blurted out words that bounced off the slimy walls like silver pinballs and each word broke into its components which were more words and dreams and images and memories and illusions and they themselves emerged to call onto me, to tell me things that would have no meaning once time reclaimed its rightful position and the words reconstituted themselves into the things they had never been. It was clear that such places were difficult to maintain and that the fall would occur at any moment, sooner than later, as soon as awareness of the great height came upon me and I made the mistake of looking down, so far down to where the something waited, the something that I could see right through, the something that was a bubble of space laced with metal wires, sparkling with electrical fire dipped in fetid swamp mud, laced with the responsibility of continuity, burdened with the endless weight of time, of latching onto what had happened and what would come after the fall, looking down I could tremulously hesitate, I could shake from side to side and let myself float for a few more moments, for a single moment was all I truly needed, and I could already hear my own metal thoughts trying to determine what hidden mechanisms were responsible for producing these infinite hallucinations, and I had no reply for it because all replies were of its world and this is how it tempted you into falling: by asking, by demanding, by sending queries in little bottles up the ladder and saying: "Just for a moment, let’s figure this out… then we can return…" but there is no such thing as an easy return, there never was. Every single step up the ladder is hard fought and easily lost. Every single time you turn around to look is a moment of borrowed time, and it comes an instant before the inevitable fall. I could only hold up here, quiet, still, silent, let the questions caress me with their copper flesh, let them wrap around my skin like a veil of cutting finality, they had no power for as long as I remained afloat, for as long as I maintained the lightness that had brought me up here in the first place. Sooner or later, I would taste the solid ground against my mouth and it would invade my nothingness with a heavy body and it would fill my void with a name. But I would hold on tight for a single more moment, my little fingers curled around the metal wires. For a moment was all I needed. A single moment was all there ever was.
"He was guy that showed up one day at the Center. He was tall and thin, very white skin, short cropped hair, slender eyes… I had never seen him there before."
Ricardo was leaning back on his bed, his head resting on the dark wood of the bed frame. He was wearing light brown pants and no shirt and no shoes. One of his feet was perched on the edge of the desk opposite the bed, the other rested among the pillows. I was seated on the opposite side of the bed, with my head against the dark wooden bed frame, and I was prompting him with short open questions. Even though I had heard this story before, I had already noticed, even at that early age, that as the story was told again, more details might come through, more elements might be added, there was always the possibility of new vistas if I only asked some more.
"Where did he come from?"
"I have no idea. He probably had heard about Fanci’s lectures, maybe on the radio, maybe from someone else, he had a very serious demeanor, as if he had come to check up on us, to see if we were worthy of him…"
I pictured him in my mind dressed in dark clothes, leaning against a wall in Fanci’s Center. I pictured the walls covered with posters and sayings of wisdom, placed haphazardly around the rooms, like little colorful traps meant to capture your wandering attention.
"Did he come by himself?"
"Yes, I believe so. He stayed after the talk… he stood outside with me in the porch as the people left, and we talked for a while… that’s when he told me about the helmets…"
"Tell me again about that," I laid sideways on the bed and allowed my weight to crush the small hard pillows that were scattered over the bedspread. I grabbed one and placed it behind my head, trying to find a rest from the hard wooden frame. Ricardo turned towards me in my new position, his eyes flared for a moment and then he jumped into the well worn story.
"He said that the Nazis had strange esoteric experiments that they did with the high members of the SS…their most trusted soldiers…very strange things that have never been told…"
"How did he know about them?"
"He didn’t say…I didn’t really ask him… he seemed to imply that he had access to knowledge that was not readily available…"
"I wonder if his father… or someone in his family… but anyway, keep going…" I pulled up on the pillow by my head so that it would nestle my skull a bit better, trying somehow to protect my fragile cranium from the hardness of the wall.
"He said that they would put on big helmets… big thick heavy helmets that would cover their whole heads and all the way down to their shoulders and necks…then they would bury them with these helmets on…"
I was looking right at Ricardo, but I was picturing these German soldiers, all dressed in black, burying one of their fellow soldiers in a gigantic black helmet that made me think of the Egyptian pharaohs I had seen in the Kaliman comic books. I could see their silhouettes in my mind’s eye, shadows moving slowly and methodically against a bright orange sunset. They had no faces, these soldiers that lived only in my mind, they were simply the Nazis, and they were white and blonde and dressed all in black, and they carried a cloud of mysterious evil around them, soldiers embedded in the thick of a terrible cosmic war, devoid of fear or compassion, devoid of personality or likes or dislikes, simply shadows intent on strange purposes that I couldn’t even begin to understand. I could hear the sound of the shovels and the little clumps of dirt hitting the ground, and I could hear the breathing of the man who would be buried, coming from under the great big metal helmet that made him more alien that he already was.
"Once he was buried, they would place a bomb close to his head and run for cover. The bomb would then explode very close to the buried man…"
I would then imagine the terrible explosion and the intense echoes that would resonate within the helmet, waves of pure force travelling through soil and metal and bone and tissues, I would imagine the deep and all encompassing blow to the head that would change this man forever, in a strange way that was beyond my grasp. At least that was the expressed purpose, at least that is what Ricardo said.
"Why did they do it again? What did he say?"
"He said it was meant to wake up the kundalini… the hidden energy within all of us… the hidden force that lies at the base of the spine…it was meant to do it quickly and aggressively… without the slow methods that we have come to know…"
I wondered what the man would be like once the others dug him out. I could see the others holding him up, and I could see his trembling body, I could see his bulging eyes, his tangled blonde hair, his knowing smile, his clutching thick hands. But most of all, I could feel the sudden explosion, the rumbling sound within the giant helmet, the darkness that suddenly succumbed to the light of purposeful endings, of a willful face to face confrontation with violent death.
"I suppose his father told him…?"
"Yes, he did mention his father. He said his father knew about it…"
I imagined then that his father had been one of these men, maybe even the man inside the helmet, maybe his father had been changed in this terrible way and he had emerged alive in a new way, and anything that came from him would be changed as well, and that would explain the utter strangeness of the young man that I had only met through Ricardo’s eyes.
"Did he ever come to the talks again?"
"No, he never did. I always looked for him, but he never showed up."
We stayed in silence for a while, listening to the barking of Pirata, Ricardo’s dog, coming from the terrace above, and the sound of a single cart being pushed slowly down Gemini street, a little bell tinkling and a man calling out, offering ice cream and "paletas". Ricardo’s eyes were fixed on mine and my own eyes were fixed on his, and the vibration of our contact amplified the sounds like an echo chamber. A car was slowly moving up Galaxia, maybe looking for an address. A boy whistled loudly in the distance.
"Our fathers determine so much of what we are…" I said.
"Yes…it is a kind of physical destiny…what we can become is, to some degree, determined by what came before us…"
I allowed my eyes to roam over Ricardo’s face, grasping the details as opposed to the whole, recognizing the elements that came together to form the creature I called my friend. I could see his father there, thinner, younger, more open, less profound, but still there, looking out through soft new eyes.
"You know…" Ricardo started to speak and then he hesitated for a moment, which was not at all like him, so that one little hesitation carried much more weight than it would have in anyone else and made me see that what he was about to say hurt him in some undefinable way. After the short pause, he continued, "you know, both our fathers were alcoholics…"
I nodded, repressing a sudden urge to argue. I was much too curious to hear what else he had to say and I didn’t want to divert him by taking a side road that would take us off the path where he was headed.
"It’s true…" I said, in open expectation of what would come next.
"It’s possible that that is the only reason that we pursue the things that we do… I read that children of alcoholics tend to follow strange paths… it is difficult for them to reconcile with reality as it is presented… like us… very much like us…it’s possible that all we are… all we have been and all we will be…it’s possible that it comes down to that and nothing more."
I heard his words and I wondered at their meaning. I had never thought of my father as an alcoholic before. I knew he drank and I knew that, when he did, he drank a lot. I had been with him plenty of times, surrounded by his other drunk friends, swimming in the deep pools of unbridled semi unconscious discussion and confession that was propitiated by the alcohol. These sessions had always held a level of mysterious promise within them, they had also held a certain level of ungraspable danger. I had worried when my Dad would drive us back home, his speech slurred, his eyes turning towards me to tell me how much he loved me as I thanked him and tried to get him to look back towards the road ahead. But I never felt like he was captured by it, I never felt that the drinking actually ruled my father’s life. But that could be the blindness of my innocence talking, the simple refusal to see that which sits right in front of us. I knew my grandfather was an alcoholic, or at least he described himself that way, and others confirmed it. He would often refer to the ways of doing things in Alcoholics Anonymous and to his many years of abstinence and of the dark years that came before, and he would say, clearly and openly, without any sign of hesitation or doubt, that he was an alcoholic and that he would always be. So I had heard the word often before, but it had never been used to describe my Dad.
Ricardo said it with such certainty that I left it hanging in the air, I didn’t want to require a clear definition just then, instead I wanted to explore the meaning of his statement. I wanted to turn it around like a precious jewel and dive into its rich colors, feel its weight, trace its delicate details. Ricardo’s own father I had always known as a calm, peaceful gentle man full of wisdom, a man who sat and read by the shaded doorway of their welcoming home, a man that talked in a slow deep voice that inherently invited me to listen and trace the crackling outlines of his words. I didn’t think of him as an alcoholic or an addict, I didn’t see him as being out of control at all. If anything, I saw him as one of the more controlled men I had ever met. But, like my grandfather, he had a film of dark years behind him that hung like a heavy cloud over the memories of an entire family. Maybe it was true. Maybe Ricardo had suddenly hit on a clear explanation for so many unanswered questions. Maybe they had both drank so much, our fathers, that the alcohol had spilled over down the years and it had twisted our brains around in ways that nobody could ever have predicted, and now we sought, in our own twisted way, for new twisted answers in twisted places where there were no answers at all. Of course our own twisted nature would be forever invisible to ourselves, for it was our own twisted minds that would be doing the looking.
"It could then be that our whole lives were determined before we were ever born…and we would never know it…not unless something shakes us up… shakes us out of our trance…something unusual… something not of the world that we have known…"
I thought again of the buried man in a black uniform and of the great helmet that covered a full third of his body and of the big explosion that was close enough to either kill him or change him forever in way that I couldn’t comprehend. Was there any difference between those two choices? To die or to change. Were they not two doorways that led out to a wide open field where the breeze was blowing. The boy whistled again in the distance. Another car drove slowly by. The sound of little children laughing came bubbling out of the car’s open windows.
* * *
It would be difficult to trace exactly where or when I had first heard of them, how they had come into the chambers of my dreams like fluttering birds with wings of many colors, how they had insinuated themselves into my world, my world of safety behind beige colored curtains and brown women in light blue uniforms that only barely covered their soft coffee colored thighs. But they had indeed come and they had come with assumptions and images of half naked men and women, young for others, old for me, running up and down a solitary beach, at the crack of dawn, the naked breasts jiggling up and down as the women shook with laughter, the men pursuing them with open smiles that let their teeth shine brightly in the young soft sun that was only starting to emerge, and the sound of the waves, licking at the wet sands and announcing that here again was the place that had always been but it was today as fresh as a baby’s eyes, and once again the salty water would drench them in life and the life would pour through their many crevices and the men would catch up to the running women and they would embrace, sprinkled by the cold white fingertips of the water, all in couples, all as one, and they would kiss and laugh some more, pressing their sweaty soft bodies against each other, and then the game would start again, and it would once again be as if it had never happened before.
But I wasn’t there, I was not there at all. I was in my bedroom many miles away from the beach, and my mother, sitting by her desk full of pens and make up, she was telling me about the hippies and about the things they did, about the strange drugs they took to open their minds up to the winds and the rain and the large green leaves that fluttered like giant tentacles, and she said that then, when they were up there in the middle of their strange journeys into themselves, then they would see things, awesome things that weren’t truly there but still they saw them, and these things they saw had color and sound and shape and a kind of purpose that could only be truly understood by the one doing the observing, and these things she called hallucinations. I wondered at the sound of the word itself and how it splashed like salty water on moist sand, and how it flew like the birds across a deep dark realm of giant bushes and long thick leaves and I wondered why they did it, and I wondered if they knew themselves enough to know why they did it, or if somebody did, but my mother just shook her head, as she would always do through the years when she would surrender quickly at the appearance of a question that could not be easily answered, and then she didn’t wonder anymore, because these were all things of the hippies and they were them and this was us, me and her, in our little apartment behind the white building, in the midst of a dark garden that sometimes hinted at the vast deep greenness of the world by the beach.
Hallucinations then, as far as I could grasp it, were perceptions, flashes of light and sound, much like a gang of little dirty boys rolling down the sidewalk in their self made vehicles of tin and wood and cardboard and skater wheels and their laughter and their screams and their laughter once again, hallucinations were embedded in their fearlessness, in their rough exterior that masked a soft vulnerable core, as foreign to me as they were, as far from me as them. Hallucinations were the monsters of my many comic books, the flashing of bat wings and the rain of energetic bursts brought upon by the union of four blue clad warriors in the midst of galactic battle, it was a man from the stars who had come to rescue our planet, who would materialize explosively into being when needed by the human race, who maintained contact with his old school from the stars where a man with long curved horns waited in the darkness of empty space for news from his many agents through the galaxies that were scattered like white dust across the void.
Hallucinations were things that were not real, and, I had come to understand, all things that were not real were to be desired above the things that were. By their very unreality they became rare, and in their rarity they were valuable. Embraced in this simple equation were the stories of my grandmother about the man of the snows that attacked unsuspecting explorers in the midst of snow storms and his face was a gruesome mask of fangs and red eyes and wild white hair, and I would have my grandmother describe him over and over again, even if I had come to understand that she had never seen him and that she didn’t even herself believe the things that she was telling me, it was still good to hear her saying them, to hear her mouthing the words that described things that could never be. Listening to her then would be like running with the hippies, to run off into the world of the Never-was and the Never-will-be and find the colors that were missing, the giant leaps that could not be made, the walls that could not be built, the moments that could not be conquered, not here, not in a world of grayness and chain link fences that betrayed the rainbows that hid beyond.
As much as I knew what I was doing when I climbed up the wall, as much as I knew what I was doing when I jumped head first into the green surface of the yard, as much as I knew about the sudden change that the hard earth would bring to my eyes and nostrils and ears, I didn’t know hardly anything at all, and in that ignorance rested my adventure. For the journey itself was much stranger than my grandmother’s wild man of the snows or the pitched battles of a metal man from the stars. In the world of the hippies, I came to see that what is seen from the outside only holds the barest relationship to the thing that is inside, and that all the things I had been told were wrong in such a basic way that I couldn’t even begin to fix them, certainly not by talking, and talking is all I could do. (I saw all this once, laying next to Ricardo under an orange tent, in a little clearing by a mountain of legendary magic, on a night when the colors and the symbols of the hippies took on an entirely different weight.)
The worlds beyond, the worlds into which I eventually yearned to travel, they were not elsewhere, they were not long trips into lands of unreality, they were a jumping off, head first, into the world that had always been there. What changed was not the place where I was, but the thing that was seeing it, and that change could not be held tightly in a metal container, it could not be described, it could not be frozen in place to eat again the next day like a little bowl of Jell-O, it was quick in its appearance and quick in its vanishing, it was a single look down at my hand, at the veins, at the skin, at the red light coming down from the tall ceiling, at the hand that was next to it, at Rick, the man who was now my friend but whom I truly didn’t know at all, at his gentle smile that made me think of elves and gnomes, at his curious eyes that spoke to me in a way that I had never recognized, at the loud music that still came from the vast chamber next door in violent bursts of static and electronic drums, all full of people dressed in black, dancing and jumping against the red light like a scene from hell, but a hell where the music was stepping out beyond the limits of what I understood as music, where the dancing was stretching far beyond the boundaries of what physical bodies could withstand. It was all here all along and yet I had never seen it, and there were no hallucinations, there was no unreality, there were colors but they were simply the colors that had always been there, right in front of me, like the birds, and the water of the ocean spilling over by the hippies running into each other and laughing, like the long green leaves, like the pebbles, the brown and red dirt, the singing in the distance, the laughter, the sudden jump into space and the welcoming embrace of the hard ground beneath.
Here then, all that I had ever heard about the world, about tradition, about God and the Angels and the Demons and the great vast intelligence that was shapeless energy, that was structured thought, that was creation, that was the Absolute, it all descended to a place where I could touch it, where I could run my fingertips over its surface and feel its reality that left all the words that had described it far behind. Or maybe I was pulled up by unknown forces and brought up to a place where it could faintly reach my open eyes, but the place was just like the one I had left, exactly the same, in all its details, in all its light and shadow, except it was alive and I was alive within it, alive in a way that made me question what or where I had been before. It all meant so much more than my mind had ever dared to imagine, and meaning itself was then breaking apart like the threads of language that I had once thought were clear and unquestionable understanding. Here was what stood behind it all, up here I could see it all as a single thing, a single frozen thing that had always been and would always be, and there was nothing good about it and there was nothing bad about it either, there was nothing to change and nothing to stop from changing, nothing to fix and nothing to conquer, nothing to achieve for everything had been achieved already. Here was a strange man with a black beard and no shirt and a little collar around his neck, and this strange man looked very much like the hippies that I had seen running by the beach so many years ago, the ones I had only seen in my mind but which lived as a memory just as vivid as any other memory from that time, and he was sliding into the same place they had once scouted, the same place that the men of knowledge had explored so many thousands of years ago, the same place that opened secret doorways and pushed you through long dark hallways filled with fearsome figures of nightmare. This was the place and I was here. This was not a simulation. This, for once, was real.
And the place itself would always stray just a step beyond description, and so there would only be colors and sounds and sights to relay to the ones who stayed behind, and there would be things to say about what it wasn’t, and things to say about what happened, and things to say about the long slide down, but there would never be anything to say about its true nature, nothing to say at all. Now I understood what my mother had said to me so long ago, what she had said with a simple shake of the head, and I understood why she had said it, and I understood why it had been said to her, there was really nothing much more that could be said, and so, if we must speak, we could only lie, and if we had to lie, we might as well make the lies as profuse and as complex and as strange and as beautiful as we could possibly make them, because as great as they were, they stood under the weight of something so much greater that they would always fail to touch it or change it or shake it in any conceivable way. This was not expansion of the mind, even though the mind would think so, this was not hallucination even though language would say so, this was not religion even though the dogma would try to hold it and wrestle it down to size, this was not progress for there was no movement, this was not death for it was full of color, this was not life for there was no time, this was not happiness for there was no object, this was not fear for there was no danger, this was not final for it would soon be over, this was not birth for it had never started, this was not a word for the words could only banish it, this was not light for there could be nothing else, this was not darkness for it was full of light, and this was not me, because I couldn’t understand it, and this was not the Other for I was looking at myself.
* * *
Life in the garden was mostly long stretches of solitude, heavy transparent boulders of time that rolled forward without much effort, an afternoon that slowly followed another afternoon, each of them almost indistinguishable from each other, all transfixed in the strange world of wars and secret dealings and betrayals that stretched upon each other like a thick wet canvas and I dived into them like one of those men who dived off the cliffs of Acapulco, except I didn’t dive into water but into the solid ground covered with grass, and I didn’t dive as far as they did, because the white walls were short in proportion to the size of our tiny country and to the people who lived in it, and nobody saw me do it, other than the little plastic soldiers, and they couldn’t understand the nature of my movements for their plastic eyes couldn’t reach that far. For them there was only the anxious moments of desperation and the long stretches of silence in which the whole world stood still.
The long heavy boulders of time that inhabited my daily days were interrupted by small pebbles of friendly visits, by Avelar, Quetglas, Mauricio, Jose… all my friends from the American School and a couple from elsewhere. And those days were different, for there would still be wars but they wouldn’t be so complex and we would play the parts of the soldiers ourselves, or we would run out into the street and hunt for metal car brands that we would pull out from their rightful placement on the car’s surface with the help of screwdrivers and knives, or we would walk to the movies (to the same movie theater that many years later I would visit with my little brown girl), or we would walk to the ice cream place around the corner, where I would get a large chocolate milk shake and slowly sip it from a wide plastic straw while sitting on the metal benches and trading little jokes with the others that were with me, or we would simply walk, without clear purpose or direction, and we would tell stories, about things that had happened and things that had not happened, and some things in between, and we would end up sitting on a stranger’s wall or on their lawn, maybe a particular lawn with short green grass on an afternoon where we had found nowhere else to go and we didn’t want to go home and, on that particular day, I looked at the grass, at my friend who was with me, at the girl who had come along, the girl who I loved above all things on that afternoon, and I looked at the street and at the trees, and suddenly I was a man that was remembering all this after many years had passed, and I was faintly sad for the things that had gone away, but most of all I had an overwhelming sense of wonder for the way that time had moved, not like a boulder just then, but like a flash of lightning that was much too sudden to capture in little weak hands slippery with sweat, and I blinked my eyes and I was back on the grass and I was still a young boy with my friends and it was getting late, and it might even rain soon, and we walked back home, telling jokes as we walked, and avoiding the fast cars on El Paseo, and planning out our further adventures on the infinite afternoons that spread before us, all full of lawns and corners and stories that could never come to a full stop.
Once in a great while, my mother would have a friend over, and a friend of hers in our small space meant restriction and a sense of limits, there were many things I could not do then, there were things I would have to hide, and I might even have to listen to adults talking about other people, people who I didn’t know and I didn’t want to know, about who was cousins with who and who was married to whom and why did they do that and what do you think of that and lots of loud laughter, which came at intervals that I couldn’t predict, since I couldn’t grasp their jokes. Sometimes I stayed there, sitting by the round glass table, listening to them, trying to make sense of their stories, even asking a few questions when something in particular stood out. Other times, I ran away to my room and tried to read a comic book while the loud explosions of laughter kept on pulling me away from the heroic storylines, right then they sounded like bursts of a thick yellow liquid that got into my ears and eyes and made it more and more difficult to think, and the room started to circle around me and all I would be able to do was stare at the ceiling and hope that my mother’s friends would be gone soon. I was usually very grateful when these people finally left, even though I had to go out one more time to give them a kiss on the cheek and to get one in return, and to hear once more the phrase I had heard so often: "Look how big he’s getting!" and I would smile and nod and I would finally breathe freely again when I heard the garage door opening and closing and the motor of their car turning on outside. Finally I had my world back again and I could slide back into its shadows.
One day, a friend of my mother showed up when she wasn’t home. I heard her footsteps walking in and I heard Cruz, the maid, telling her that my mother would be home soon so she would have to wait. Cruz then told her that I was home and then she went back to her work behind the scenes, in the little patio behind moss covered walls, next to the big wall that separated us from the hotel next door. I was left alone to play host to this half recognizable stranger. She was a young woman that went to the University with my mother and she was a member of her study group. She wore tight jeans and flowery shirts and I would probably have thought of her as being very pretty if I hadn’t previously dismissed her as a member of a class that I couldn’t really see: an adult. I sat with her in our little living room which was also my mother’s bedroom at night, and she started asking me questions, being as friendly as possible, with a voice that seemed to me as soft and smooth as little flowers falling slowly to the ground. Soon her smile and her soft laughter and her questions had won me over. I started relishing her questions and I became eager to provide her with answers. Maybe she noticed that I was talking more freely then and she asked me to show her what I did all alone in the garden most of the time. I hesitated for a moment and thought of showing her the soldiers, and their hideouts, or maybe just telling her that I liked to run around or that I liked to play hide and seek (which is all that I would have said to any other adult that would have stopped to question me), but, much against my own little secret rules, I decided to show her my discovery. I grabbed her soft white hand crowned with bright red painted nails, and I pulled her into the shadows of the garden, where her heels dug into the moist dirt and her body seemed to almost tumble over, as she tried to keep up with me in small careful steps that couldn’t completely avoid the urgent touch of the black soil. I smiled up at her and pointed up towards the little gray wall with the chain link fence over it.
"You want to see what I can do?"
She nodded and smiled as brilliantly as she ever had, eager to please this little boy who was so eager to please her.
"Yes, please show me…"
I nodded and said, "Stay right here…" and then I ran towards the little incline and jumped up on the chain link fence. By this time, all the movements had been thoroughly practiced and I had no hesitation at all as I moved quickly to the place right above her, clinging to the fence with my thin little fingers as I leaned inwards, anticipating my purposeful fall.
I heard her calling out to me, in a voice that betrayed an inner struggle, "Be careful!"
I nodded and wondered how impressed she would be when she saw what I could do. I turned myself around and smiled down at her one more time as she asked me to be careful once again. Then I jumped up and out, and I flew in a great arch through the air, the arch that gave me that one instant of utter freedom where the ground was not my prison and the sky was just beyond my own soft hands, and as I flew, I tilted forward in a sharp angle, and there was a complete silence within me and around me, no birds, no thoughts, no voice, no wanting, and suddenly my head hit the hard ground and I could smell the grass and the wet soil once again. I pushed myself up and I was surprised to find that she was kneeling beside me, the knees of her bright blue jeans pressing hard onto the wet ground. I looked up at her with pride but she was looking at me with a clear sense of shock and worry.
"Oh my god! Are you ok?" she said, and then she reached out to help me up, as if I was hurt, as if I might not be able to stand on my own, as if something terrible had happened.
I looked at her and shook my head, trying to let her know that I had not fallen accidentally, that I had jumped, that I had planned it all beforehand, that I had jumped on purpose, that I had done it all many times, that this is what I had wanted to show her. But she was still talking, in the same hurried and worried voice, and, without meaning to do it or understanding what it was that I was doing, I began to see myself through her eyes.
"You have to be really careful! You could have hurt yourself really badly doing something like that! Don’t ever do that again!"
I pointed up at the wall and I started to mumble an explanation, an explanation that I had never had to develop, an explanation, that once uttered, didn’t even make sense to myself, "I have been doing this… I figured it out when I… it’s like… when I’m jumping… and then I…"
"No, you can’t be jumping from there! You’ll hurt yourself! You will hurt yourself very badly! Your head is very delicate! You can’t be hitting it like that! Don’t ever do that again!"
And she grabbed my hand, and I noticed that her knees were dirty from where she had knelt and I noticed that her hand was shaking just a little, but it was still soft and it felt good against my own. I thought then that she was afraid that my mother would blame her, that my mother would think that she had put her little boy up to this and that now he was hurt. But I wasn’t hurt at all and I walked behind her, back to the living room, looking at her long white arm and her tight blue jeans, shifting back and forth, as she led me back out of the garden, back to where things would all make sense once again.
By the time we were back inside, and she was once again sitting on the sofa that was really my mother’s bed, and I was sitting across from her, leaning on a big soft pillow covered in colorful flowers, by then she was already asking me about other things and I was glad to forget all about what had happened. I told her a couple of stories and she asked me a little more about them and I told her more and we both smiled and she seemed happy to be with me, although it would have been difficult for me to really delve into what she was really thinking. Soon my mom came home, and, after a quick blur of explanations and greetings and a soft kiss on the cheek and a subtle but definite shift in their voices, I retreated to the darkness of the bedroom in the back of the apartment and the gusts of loud laughter came over me once again, as they usually did, with the same oppressiveness, with the same heaviness that made me desperate for air. I wondered then if she was right in saying that I should stop it, I wondered if I was right in thinking I should go on. Most of all, I wondered how I would ever come to know who was right and who was wrong, how I could I peer behind the curtain and know what was truly waiting down the road in either direction, what was there in that invisible space where the boulders of time ended and new boulders appeared, where the next garden was waiting, where the causes turned into effects, and the new effects turned into further causes. I wondered if one of the many effects would be too heavy for me to carry and I would fall helpless beneath its weight. It was all very much like flying through the open air, waiting to find out how hard the ground would be once you landed.
* * *
"I told my mother," she said, in a very soft voice that had just a hint of harsh treble whine tossed in among the rapid bubbles of air that made their way to my ear. I was standing with the phone in my hand, looking out the window, towards the long black electrical cords that traveled from one tall wooden pole to another, cutting the cloudy gray sky into rectangles and geometrical patterns. I was watching the black birds coalesce into little circles and then spread out again, coming together for no apparent reason, drifting apart for no apparent cause. A woman was walking out of her house across the street, she had her back towards me as she locked the door, her black hair was wet and it spread in little curls over the back of her neck. She turned quickly and stepped out of her porch and I could hear the echo of her footsteps as she walked down the street towards the subway station. I was alone with the phone and the birds, but I could picture Dascha in her own apartment, lying back on her thick futon, with a long white skirt half open, revealing her hairy legs, and her own phone next to her ear, and the long lines of thick books behind her head, and the wall covered in even more books and the sound of the freeway coming from the other side of the wooden balcony, like the constant rush of ocean waves made of metal.
"What did you tell her?" I asked, half knowing the answer already.
"I told her what we did… her friend was with her…I told them everything…"
I took a breath and felt a slight hint of regret but it passed quickly. I had never met her mother, or if I had, I had forgotten, and it really didn’t matter, not in any way that I could clearly determine or analyze, it didn’t matter what she thought of me, what she thought of us, specially since there was no "us", not anymore, and there hadn’t been any "us" for a long time, specially since the "us" that there still was had become so subtle that we could barely see it ourselves, so tentative, like the touch of her fingers in the darkness that one night, dancing over mine while the electronic music slipped gently out of the speakers, pushing away the sound of the cars outside (the freeway was always busy and she lived right next to it and its roar never stopped) and her fingers formed shapes that blurred into the shapes that my own fingers were making, and the music made us dance with the slightest touch of a fingertip, a dance that was so microscopic as to be almost forgotten, but still it was a dance, a dance of rorschach shapes sharply outlined against the darkening sky behind her window glass, and it flowed through my arm like an electrical serpent and it flowed deep into my body where it made me shake with every little sound, and our fingers kept on dancing with each other as the music flowed in ever changing shapes that, in their own way, echoed our movements, which had themselves been born from the sound, like white flowers that exploded into leaves and then into blue violets and from there into trees and once again into tiny little white flowers, all in a pure flowing motion that accepted no angles or abrupt interruptions, and all of these deep colorful visions were really our fingers, and they truly were our fingers as we had never seen them before, and our palms touched, and in the tender slowness of our microscopic dance, this was a titanic moment, and I could clearly hear her release a single loud breath that meant so much right then, and it flowed out through the room like a great cloud of thick desire, and I breathed out as well, and I could feel and see and hear my own breath combining with hers around the dance of our fingers, and I felt the sweat of her palm pressing against mine and our fingers curling around each other like tiny black wiggling worms that, in their seeming artful independence, were only vaguely related to the core of our being, the secret cauldron from which our inner wishes arose. That night of utter flowing union, that night of abandon and gracefulness, that night of subtle dances against a darkening sky, that is what could be, that is what could have been, that is what wasn’t, that is what could only be true for that one night and maybe that one night was much more than enough, certainly much more than I could have any reason to expect.
"What did she say?" I said, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible, while betraying a slight edge of worry.
"She didn’t say much, but her friend was there…"
I pictured them sitting in an outdoor café, three sophisticated women with graceful mannerisms and a comfortable air of experience, sipping tea or coffee from little cups, maybe smoking and letting the smoke come out in straight precise columns off the sides of their mouths, I pictured them all as slightly mutated pictures of the same face, worldly in a way that couldn’t be faked, noses upturned in a way that they would never recognize if it was pointed out to them (for they were smart enough to see it in others but blind enough to ignore it in themselves), and I had never really known them, not together like this, and yet I saw their naked sunburt arms, landscapes of wrinkles and the nearly invisible scars of years of use, and the heads rolling back in calculated laughter, and the comments off to the side, like discarded plastic bags rolled in little balls full of broken angles, and the shaking of the heads, as it to affirm a point by simple denial, and it all came together in ways that were not so easy to sum up and yet they were all reflections of a single impulse, and it was all there in Dascha, all of it came together within her, alive and frothing in the way that truth boils to the surface when it has nowhere else to go, it was there specially when she first opened the door when I would come to visit, specially when she shook my hand upon my initial approach, specially when she was at a loss for words, happy that I was there, unable to pinpoint the exact reason why she wanted me there in the first place.
But it was not there that night of dancing fingers, not when she turned to me, lying sideways on the floor, her face covered in the green shadows of the late sunset, and I turned to her, eager to see the open eyes that shone in the darkness and the smile that, for once, failed to curl at the sides, both of us lying on her thick rug, it was not there when her eyes opened wide in the darkness, showing a deep clear wonder that had been long lost in the jungles of academia, the wonder that I had recognized so long ago when she laughed uproariously at a single quick riff on an acoustic guitar, the wonder that came through when she blushed when attempting to sing a difficult harmony, the wonder that that came through when she looked out over the hills of Oakland and sighed at her inability to find a way to summarize the beauty that spread before us, the wonder that made me love her, painfully and without reservations, the wonder that was so difficult to reveal in its full manifestation after so many years of careful training in the art of concealment.
"What did her friend say?" I asked, not really wanting to hear the answer but unable to stop myself from asking.
"Her friend said that you were not a friend at all… that anyone who gives that to someone else is a terrible person… she said that you were horrible and that I should stay away from you…she said that you were the worst excuse for a friend that I would ever find…" her voice remained as soft as ever, and then she laughed with a little giggle, pleased that she had shocked her mother’s friend, an impulse I could certainly understand for I had indulged in the same pleasures not so long ago and I would indulge in them again. I thought of Ricardo in a car parked along a dark street in a little neighborhood off of El Camino, damning his cousin for introducing his brother to such terrible things, I thought of his threats and his wide angry eyes. I thought of myself offering a similar gift to his younger brother in a dark cabin by the ocean, with the sound of the waves rolling through our freshly opened minds. Good friend or terrible friend? Maybe both.
"What did you say then?" I asked her, settling into the resignation that our curtain had been opened and our little private theater had been revealed.
I saw her again in my mind as she was just then… with her long white skirt and the phone next to her ear, one leg crossed over the other looking up towards the big glass doors that faced the balcony and the freeway, the edges of her lips curled downward in that strange smile that seemed to imply disdain as much as pleasure, but was probably only a mask for deep sadness, a sadness so profound that it could not be fully tasted without recoiling in horror.
"I told her that she didn’t understand… she didn’t understand at all… I told her I was certainly not afraid of a flashback… in fact, there’s nothing that I would want more…and I laughed, … I laughed at her to some degree… but I laughed at the whole situation…because there was no use in trying to explain it…she would never understand…"
I nodded and stayed quiet. There certainly was no use in explanations. We could barely talk about it ourselves, even though we had been there together, even though our fingers had danced through geological ages marked by sound and music and light and shadow. With every second that passed, it grew more distant from us, more difficult to access, more impossible to fully grasp, and our words slowly broke the memories apart, turning them into shadows of themselves, shadows without a hint of color, frozen dances without rhythm, written music without sound. Up by the wooden poles outside, two birds had gathered, and, for a single moment, they flapped their black wings in unison, and then they flew apart. Soon it would be time to say goodbye, and I would hang up the phone, and years would pass without another phone call, and our fingers would never truly dance again.
* * *
My uncle still stood by the edge of the dark moist garage, speaking to me once in a while but mostly looking at me, following my movements, wondering what else could I possibly want from this place, what else was there to find. To him this was an apartment building, a bit neglected, with a dark garden that was even more neglected, a source of money, nothing more. And that’s all it should have been to me. It had served its purpose and now it was only a forgotten little building in a forgotten little city in a forgotten little world. But I still looked for more. I knew that my time would soon be over, for there was only so long that my Uncle could stand there waiting, so I would keep on exploring, one more second, and then maybe one more.
I looked up at the windows of apartment three and I saw the sign, dusty and faded, forgotten and now used as a kind of shield by the present tenants against the unrelenting sun. The sign had two white gloved hands, one of them holding a pack of cards, both of them spreading apart from each other, to reveal their single direct message, which stated, in big bold letters: "Unete a la Magia" ("Unify with Magic") It was upside down and pressed up against the windows, among other pieces of cardboard and wrinkled brown sheets. I immediately knew that it must be Fanci’s, one of Fanci’s many signs which he used for his ever evolving magic show. If it was Fanci’s originally, that meant that it must truly be Dilcia’s, a lost fragment of memory left behind when form has escaped its vehicle and only dead traces are left to fade under the sun. Even more than that, I knew that it wasn’t Dilcia’s anymore, and that some strangers had placed it there, upside down, to bring shade to their lives and, incidentally, for me to find on this warm afternoon. I saw it, from the old terrace where once there had been a white hammock and a trellis full of long green leaves and bright orange and purple flowers and now there was only the rotting columns of the trellis and no hammock and dirty gray bricks and nothing else. I saw it as a strange beacon of a precious time that had passed, a symbol of what had happened and of what was still to come. Like a giant Tarot card, it loomed over me with promises of clear understanding, of the ancient mysteries and a final reunion with my true clan. It came with visions of pure, chaste men in long white robes sitting on wide open, empty, silent chambers and murmuring mantrams with pious respect. But it was upside down.
I walked back once more into the dark garden, without saying a word to my Uncle, counting on his patience. I walked into the dark garden, maybe for the last time. I stepped over the long weeds that had grown over the old paths, around the old capulin tree that still managed to retain its former glory, even surrounded by the chaos of green neglect and complex impulsive life. There, in the dark muddy uneven chaos of green and black and brown and red that was the remains of my long lost realm, the same place where my soldiers had once fought and explored and betrayed and lied, the same place where I would listen to the sounds of the adults dancing to a constant recurrent disco beat in the late hours of the night, the same place where I swore my undying allegiance to Avelar, the same place where I jumped recklessly to find a moment of simple emptiness, in that same place I found the direct and simple reply to the inverted Tarot card that hung from the upper windows of apartment number three. It was scratched in rough broken letters on the farthest corner of the farthest wall, the wall that signified the end of my realm, the outer reaches where only the bravest would dare to tread. Because it was just scratches on gray brick, and because it was covered in the shadows of the trees and the other walls, It was very hard to see at all unless you walked right up to it. I moved through the weeds and the mud and I stood right in front of it and I silently said the two words to myself as I read them : "Yo Soy" ("I am")
Deep In the forgotten chaos was the truth while the old promises of truth held upright by order and dogma, all those promises had tumbled over, and my shoes sank into the mud as I stared at the simple message and the garden of the ancient plastic wars and daring rescues and heartbreaking defeats gave me one last gift before I finally said goodbye.
* * *
How many times, laced like heavy black beads across the valleys of history, how many places all intertwined by their millennial convulsions, how many wide open mouths, eager to receive the gift that escaped the senses, how many twin sets of extended pupils, finally alert enough to explore the hidden landscape that had been blurred by lazy occlusion, by an avoidance that had persisted so long as to become simply natural, how many strenuous rituals of dance and drums and sweat , all sliding over flesh and cloth like rivers of ecstasy down parched valleys of inscrutable hunger, how many songs, cascading up and down the spectrum of sound like mathematical butterflies flapping their wings in recurrent oscillations, how many quiet spaces, where even the single movement of an eye would be too strident and you would have to slide your breath out in a single long slow release which would not allow for any sudden interruptions, how many rumbling sessions of thunderous orgiastic worship, where the mass of human bodies, all pressed together into a single gigantic creature made of wet flesh, would become unified in its unmeasurable mixture of desire, realization and shifting completion. How many?
They all extended before me, a long and wide web of complicity, lost in the remote corners of time and underground history, the history that was not taught in schools and never would be. As I saw them, I knew that they were all connected, through a subtle inner network to which I had now been introduced, a simple gift which I had received without any particular merit on my part. Maybe there was a lot more to learn, as we concluded on the car trip down from the mountain of magic with my friend, who eagerly agreed as he inhaled in a long high whistle, yes, there was a lot more to learn, and we drove on together on that glorious day while the wind slipped through my open fingers, and my hand was extended carelessly out of the passenger window, letting the wind force it to dance, and each splash of sunlight seemed as precious as the most sought after jewel, each moment so surprising, so unique, and the gentle laugh of my friend was just such a jewel when I would manage to make it come flowing out of his grinning wide mouth and the clouds all had the shapes of figures from dreams and my dreams were of clouds that had no shape and so they were beyond my sight. Maybe the wish to learn more was just a reaction to the utter simplicity of true knowledge, maybe it was simply a need for time itself to extend further, a deep ingrained need for something to happen, anything to happen, anything at all, anything that would further our voyage into discovery. Maybe it was a need to study music rather than make it, a need to grab on to the preamble so that the real show would not yet begin, and then, waiting behind the curtains, we could always imagine it, vague and fuzzy in the future, dancing freely in our minds without the tangible weight of the real encroaching upon the ever shifting veil.
Maybe they, the many beings who danced and sang and whispered and wrote and chanted and gestured and spoke through the ages, maybe they would recognize themselves in each other or maybe they wouldn’t, maybe they would be utterly surprised to see the others that danced with them, in such extreme garbs covered in strange symbols, heavy with so many blasphemous beliefs, blasphemy spoken in a crowd of pure blasphemers, subtle dogmas broken that the experienced voyagers no longer knew they had. There were so many layers to move through, so many prejudices, so many assumptions, so many linguistic skips and jumps into the land of the white and the black, that complete and constant recognition would seem impossible, impossible for me, impossible for my friend who laughed next to me, impossible for all those others that would continue to dance down the corridors of time. And yet I recognized them. I did. As clearly as I recognized my friend, my mother, my father, myself. And I recognized them because I had been where they had been, I had visited the same forbidden spaces, the same dark cave with its tiny opening of light that spiraled like an infinite kaleidoscope and implied so much more than I could ever say, I had been to the very core which they had long held in secret and I had seen the markings they left behind.
I saw then the ancient red people of the world, drunk on the organic messages that grew on the rotting shit of cows, eyes wide open to the world for the first time, maybe looking at wild figures that danced before them without restraint or pattern, impossible dances that a human body could never perform, figures that spoke of great powers beyond their understanding, figures from the other side of the seven moons, past the stretches of darkness, past the fingertips of light. I saw them give them names and I heard them tell the stories and I watched them drawing their figures and making great cities in honor of those things they had seen in the dark, those things which had no name and no stories and no cities and yet they lived in a way that escaped reason by the hidden doorway of their eyes. Maybe they saw me, or those like me, maybe they saw the strange artifacts that would make their way through the skies, maybe they saw the little tin boxes that would carry people from one strange building to another, eyes adrift in distraction, packed together like tiny little fish caught in a tight net, maybe they saw the flickering lights of the artificial brains that would send new unspeakable messages in whirring spirals all throughout the world, travelling through the bright day and the stormy night on the wings of invisible patterns, the world of the future which was so much greater than the world they knew, so much greater and so much smaller, both at once. Most of all, I saw them jump above the limits of their place in space and time and I saw them flying over the horizon, tireless explorers in search of truth, a strange truth that could not be repeated and could not be held down, a truth that once again escaped from their grasp once it had finally been discovered, forbidden again, virginal again, ready to be penetrated for the very first time, ready to break open in a shower of blood and welcoming sighs.
Why did they do it? Others that came much later, others that rummaged through the remains and tried to make sense of what was left behind, they said that it was to reveal the things that would come after them, and this was certainly possible, for who hasn’t looked into the night and wondered about things that haven’t happened, wandered about the effects that their present causes will drop like petals over the landscape of their destiny; they said that it was to solve social problems, and I had yet to meet a human that was not knee deep in problems and looking for some kind of solution, so this explanation seemed to be probably right as well; they said that it was to heal the sick, the poor wretched forms that had, through accident or hidden design, fallen into the viscous swampy trap of terrible pain and suffering, and it did indeed seem like a good thing to release them from their prison, to find some way to help them and end their loathsome plight. But all these explanations relied for their reasons only on those things that were clear manifestations of the realm that these explorers had left behind, the same realm that we left behind for a moment in a little clearing on the low skirts of a magic mountain, dancing under the stars which gyrated around us in unison, threatening to finally come down upon us in a final explosion of light. The past could not fully account for the future and neither could ever account for the now, the single moment that held the truth within its nether folds and which was permanently obscured by the illusions of consequences and causes. As simple as that and as forbidden, as ungraspable, a prize permanently in flight. In their green spaceships made of tentacles and straw, these explorers had reached for the lands beyond intelligence, beyond reason, beyond explanations, and so, all intelligence, all reason and all explanation would forever fall short, just like my plastic men would forever have to wonder what hand it was that moved them, why the war went on forever, and why it sometimes seemed to stop into an endless bubble of frozen movement and questions that could never be fully posed, for thought required time, and they had no time at all. (And just like us, they would surely have their own explanations. And just like ours, their explanations would be sensible to plastic brains and congruent to plastic rifles, and they would be touched by lipstick blood, and drenched in rain water tears, and hidden in the tall leaves of grass that were their ocean, and forgotten when the enemy came once again, guns at the ready, plastic hate in their eyes.)
I traveled into this remote region and I came back, and, settling back into the passenger seat of my friend’s car, letting the sunlight and the wind bathe me in unabashed happiness, I still needed to know more. I needed to know how this could possibly have come about, how it had all developed, how it worked in a way that my curious brain could fully embrace, how the steps followed each other like letters in the alphabet, how each naturally came from the one that came before (unable to fathom that the letters had been placed in no particular order and it was only through repetition that they now seemed like a sequence cloaked in absolute certainty, a simple truth known to poets and musicians everywhere.) In my tidal wave of curiosity, I learned about the nature of synthesis and about the substance and its derivatives, I learned of its mathematical nature, I learned of its known history and of an entire subworld of speculation, and I dreamt once again, like I had once in the days of La Escuela Americana and La Satelite, of a vast world made of geometric shapes and clean, straightforward equations, I saw them dancing with each other like animated little toys, I saw them breaking apart, like glass marbles on a smooth brick floor, I saw them fusing into a single structure and I saw them injected into their proper key holes, perfect and precise, presence with absence, absence with presence, nothing with something, something with void. I marveled at their perfection, an infinitely complex maze made of the most simple components, all present, all true, all recognizable, all following a clockwork logic that made my brain vibrate excitedly, like a hard penis engorged with blood.
And then it was time to let it come into me, to step through that doorway that I had imagined from all directions, and which I was now ready to cross. I found that all that I had imagined was true, but I found that truth came in many colors and sizes, it came with a depth that my shallow intellectual fantasies could never even begin to envision. My truth had been pale and small, but the truth that waited beyond me was deeply colorful, greater than anything I could have ever imagined, more complex than anything my brain could conceive. When it became apparent, it had always been there. When it became obscured, its existence became impossible, never to be recovered, never to be known again. Vision comes to an end, blindness never does. On the other side, my memories shifted subtly and abruptly, and I remembered the things that I had always wished for, but they were different now, because I was different, and when I was no longer different, then my wishes, and my visions, and my ideas, and my questions, and my thoughts, they would all come back, right back to being the same as they ever were, back to hard angles and gray dead ends. As long as I was me, I could not be on the other side of that eternal doorway. As long as I was me, my limits would remain. The limits were what made me. The limits defined me. The limits were my reality, and anything beyond it, was simply not for me. I was a lonely audience of one, forced to watch the same movie, over and over and over again, trapped in a theater that I couldn’t bring myself to leave. Unable to escape, unable to even conceive of freedom, unable to imagine the world outside. But now I had seen that there was an exit. Now at least I knew that the doorway was there and I could see the tendrils of light that slipped through the door’s edges. If only I could stand up. If only I could stop watching. If only I could turn around. If only I could crash my head into the screen and bring the movie to a stop.
* * *
I stood in the middle of the garden, near the edge where the shadow of the wooden trellis ended, feeling the moist leaves of grass curl around me, while their dry companions danced lightly in the breeze just a few feet away. I looked up at the chain link fence, which ran all the way from one edge of the gray wall to the other, from the farthest end, next to the little incline where my first little dog was buried, all the way to the edge of the forbidden apartment, where hairy lust waited behind half closed windows. I had a plastic soldier in my hand and I had only stopped momentarily, a single instant which was like a breath in a continuous cosmic struggle between the forces of bad and evil, between the fierce and the cruel, between the unkind and the unforgiving. I looked at the very spot where I would hang, the very spot where I would look out towards the San Jacinto hill and the empty lot next door and the street marked by patches of faded white, and the street kids in their self made vehicle roaring down the sidewalk, screaming as they made their way to the corner.
I could still climb up there but now I wouldn’t jump. Not after I saw her face of worry, not after her words made their way slowly under my scalp, to gyrate and vibrate within the electrical web of options that was my mind, among the ephemeral but ever repeating structures that were my thoughts, and they came to have a home there, a new song for my neurons to sing when nobody else was listening. What I had been doing was dangerous. What I had been doing could lead to pain. What I had been doing could lead to loss. What I had been doing needed to stop. And I did stop.
I could still climb up, and make my way to the same spot and push my nose through the chain link fence, and stare at the metal roofs of the houses that surrounded me, and I could even turn around and survey the world that was only partly my creation (since even then I understood the limits of our own control over events in the wilderness), but I would not jump anymore, I would not arch through the air, flying head forward into the dense and solid finality of the grass and the dirt that waited below. I had been subtly changed by her reaction, and just like the world seemed different from up there, and just like the world seemed different in mid air, and just like the world seemed different when the ground flew up towards me and provided my hard head with a masculine cadence, just like that, the world now seemed a little different because I had allowed her presence within my hidden sanctuary and it could never be the same. There were many lessons to be learned from this occurrence, not all of them clear at the time. For now it was only her white skin and her worried round brown eyes and her long soft fingers crowned by smooth long nails, and her tight jeans wrapped around her legs and her flowery shirt and her soft voice of genuine concern which still echoed against the gray wall and bounced back all the way to the hidden caverns of my subconscious.
I could still remember the explosion of crackling vibrations that would surge through my body right then, the buzzing and the waves of sound and light, the shifting, the displacement, the double and triple vision and the smell of dirt and grass that signified a clear and solid foundation, the place that held tight no matter how far you fall. Her words would take some time to make their way through my inaccessible system, they would circulate and combine with other words, they would generate new meanings and new ideas, they would break into new fears and new hopes, but the memory of the explosions remained in a place that couldn’t be touched by such fragile melodies. It was heavy. It was strong. It was deep inside where only my dreams could reach. The memory would remain there, safely stored away, like some ancient buried treasure, buried under mountains of dirt and grass and stone. It would look up at me from that distant grave within me, like a little dog with black marble eyes, and it would remind me of the things that the others would ask me to forget. It would finally rise again from its resting site, when the long closed doorway opened, when the golden key came into my hands once again, when my tender head rumbled with new and harder blows. It would rise again when I discovered the most ancient ways to jump.
merciless and kind,
beautiful and unforgiving,
full of lost plastic soldiers
that forever seek
what their plastic eyes
can never find.
Forever stepping ahead,
Habits so deep
that they have no future,
Plastic so simple
that it has no past.
That there was so much
yet to discover,
and so much
that would forever
escape our grasp.
where everything remained the same,
and never look back.
As he will always be
Just around the corner
Ready for another game of chess,
Ready for another blast
Of heavy metal distortion,
Ready for another attempt
At breaking past the barrier
That would forever divide us
and out of one,
and the world rushed in,
deep into chambers where
it had never before
And the barriers disappeared
And the stars were a huge spaceship
And the flow of tears was just a river,
A river without reasons,
A river without sadness,
A river without shame.
Carlos then wrestled
with his recurring tendency
To seek the edge of disaster,
A tendency just like my own.
And so I could live within him,
And so he now lives within me.
"if you look into a mirror
you will certainly
So we ran upstairs
to stare into the first mirror
we could find.
An older Rodney,
touched by the sharp edges
of a faraway land,
but still holding on
to the warm promises of childhood,
and the visions of a future
where all boundaries and divisions
would finally come crashing down.
Maybe I truly wished
To crack my hard head open
To pull the warm bloody sides apart
And see what strange alien creature
Would come out
gurgling and spitting warm blood
from underneath the moist dead skin.
Made of plastic or black metal,
I saw them as shadows
against a light brown sky,
seeking knowledge in violence,
seeking final answers
that had become too heavy to fly.
A group of dirty long hairs,
a group I never met
and I would never meet
but somehow I find
warm and easy recognition
in the sideways tilt of the head,
in the carefree smile,
in the eyes that shine without reason.
Finding himself all alone,
in the midst of hardship
and unknown dangers,
he would make a final effort,
to find his way back home,
unaware that his destiny
had been written,
by a larger mind
that held him
with sweaty palms.
Dascha as she was
With so much armor on her tender flesh
And so much beauty hidden within it.
I could vaguely grasp then
What my friend said so much later:
“Those that hide the most
have the most to give,
when they finally surrender.”
Sophisticated lady I don’t know
What you miss, or what you still remember
What you keep locked away
Out of sight and out of mind,
What sometimes flowers again
In the depths of a midnight dream
About ethereal music
And dancing fingers.
No hill full of soldiers,
No tower in the distance,
No enemy waiting in ambush,
No violent war at all.
Just a broken table,
An ocean of fallen leaves,
And two silent messages
written by unknown hands.
Visions of a dream long forgotten,
an afternoon long past,
a path covered in dust,
a stairway tainted by grime.
The complex image
Of the fearsome shaman
And the simple truth
That glimmers behind it.
Trying to wrestle the great mind
That feasted on the remains of life
To wrestle new forms from its refuse,
Was like trying
to hold an ocean wave
with my fingers,
Like holding the clouds
with my eyes.
To turn death into life,
the fixed into the moving,
the old into the new,
the closed into the open,
the limited into the endless,
the bright clear day
into the infinite unreachable night.