Thursday, June 1st, 2017 – 1:21 am
And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. – Exodus 33:11
Vallejo, CA 1974
Robert Nulph was the first best friend I loved and lost. They didn’t warn me on Reservations or Naval bases that I was ever transient. I didn’t care if they called me white trash, just the fact it was true. Each friend I make is blandly peeled and razed, quick like band-aids. But the pain and quiet hate never quite fade away.
At five, I began to store beatings and traumas into places I ought not have, under the bed, in my closet and head, in a fleet of terrors and sweats. I wound the wounds in music and math, numbers and letters, the barest potions of magic.
But I love too much.
Too deep. Too vividly. I have no face for him yet still see the flame of the heart of that friend. For short time, it waved the smoke and slowed the bleed. I only recall and will never forget his name. It may be the last one I say.
Each Mare Island morning, I was the pat and patter of mind your manners and minor disasters. I would lay awake late and get up first to get into everything. And I do not mean getting into mere trouble per se. I got into everything possible. And trouble is one lone sin and sinkhole in that infinite hot dessert.
First up. Again. I confirmed everyone was sleeping, so my covert work remain clandestine. I read every book. Little and big, with breasts and beasts and faith in wrath and endless torture with fire for those who are wilful and unwilling.
I peeked down the same stairs that Bloody Mary would have thrown me and there was the thunder below. At bottom lay the cracked remains of mom’s screaming and crying the night before. Broken spines, torn stories and lives and whole worlds flayed open. The bookcases and curses she threw down the stairs at dad the night before were beyond salvage.
That night, the screaming was louder and eternal as all wars are scripted. It was shortly replaced by sirens. Not to save me. They never save you. Never. I’m sorry, but nobody told me and you should know the truth.
The next morning, I creeped downstairs and unlocked the kitchen door leading to the joint courtyard of our row of apartments. We lived in 254 McDougal. You had to get up extra early to fool me or set foot on our back porch before I was up. I was ever anxiously awaiting precious sugar in the yogurt delivered once a week. The blackberry and sour white curd only edible by mixing in the sugary jam. The peach and strawberry and blueberry alternates were a few other favorites.
The milkman had not delivered my stuff yet and yet the sun was high enough for me take a few steps out back onto the grass.
Halfway across the twenty foot divide of grass, our yard dipped down sharply. The backside of the building behind us was at a slightly lower level than ours because of that.
It was the same hill where dad clutched the loop of silver steel behind my Schwinn seat. He had carefully jogged aside me down the hill the day he got me that first yellow bike.
The next morning I tried to go down by myself and landed in a heap at the bottom with a handlebar jabbed into my side. I started to throw up, the pain was too sharp. I shook it off and refused to forgive him for failing to warn me of the danger life posed to me.
That last morning, I slipped barefoot across wet clover to the source of the screams and sirens the night before. For the first time, they drowned out ours. The orange that glowed across the street was now shards of glass and licks of black soot up the side of the windows.
At the bottom was glass and plaster, a wet and charred bear, snapped and melted bits of a mobile, wires and plastic parts of the humidifier that malfunctioned.
They say that started the fire in the baby’s room.
My best friend Robert walked up and said hello in the gray of almost morning. I asked if he heard the sirens the last night and if he’d heard about the baby. We didn’t know if it ever lived. His eyes got big when he saw the puddles and mud fused with part of toys and trinkets. I told him to forget about it. Don’t you dare touch the already innocent and abused.
His eyes hardened and he asked why I had to move away.
I did not know.
I said it was because my dad hates me.
Every best friend of mine was taken away from me by God and man. So I simply stopped having them to lose.
And their hearts each broke as hard as my own. I knew it. I felt each slice stored in the searing silences.
I tried not to love or feel anything after losing my friend Robert.
It didn’t work.
Southampton, NY 1984
I saved up for my Saint Tropez and endured the extra weight of the cheaper, heavier frame than most of my friend’s bikes. I couldn’t ride it enough. I have infinite steam. I’ll never die.
I used superior peripheral to pretend to not look as I shot out of Oak avenue, perpendicular to Noyak.
Half of those words were ones my giant friend Wayne wouldn’t want to see on a test. I smoked weed with him because he stayed back twice and was as huge as I was tiny. I was always the one to bloody and bruise in a new town, usually once a year.
Our four years in Southampton were four times longer than each previous home.
I yelled out to Wayne. He had his back facing me, raking leaves of the yard across Noyak from his own. He didn’t want trouble despite being one of the few kids big enough to dole it out. He didn’t want to get his beer money from stealing from the cars and summer homes. I had tested most every home in North Sea and dragged any willing to pilfer with me. We stole boat engines and motorcycles. We danced over the chance of a shotgun welcome with every forced entry. Modern window lock design is now Buck knife resistant. You’re welcome.
The screech of tires told me my dream would now come true. The wheel was spinning and I already read the end credit. I was supposed to die by nineteen. My dad saw it too.
The first time tires tried to judge me wanting, I was back on McDougal street. Deep breaths. The grill of the cadillac was still bouncing to the left of me – close enough to touch – when it finally stopped. My mom saw it from the house and scrambled to grab the baby and come get me.
I kept insisting to my second grade teacher I was fine. When mom ran over to check on me, I thought I was doing just fine in the corner.
I was not. I was rocking back and forth with my face to the wall, freezing and covered in sweat.
Add to that the two times I was knocked out cold at that same tender age and you can partly see how my shrinks find me fascinating.
The hoarse shriek of rubber and steel was behind me and then I heard the bang. The same clang my skull has felt a dozen times I should never have survived.
I never saw Wayne look scared before. I thought he was invincible. He ate Frosted Flakes for dinner with Sweet Emotion as loud as hell and decibels allow.
The panic on his face told me something was very off, so I turned back to look.
My dog Porgy was lying on Noyak in front of my neighbor’s blue Volvo. The killer stood silent, his hat and driver door in hand.
Time moves differently in trauma. It fills the universe with too much hate and love and electric and pink and dry and kin and betrayal from mortals and their torturers and lovers, the same. There pour out dead ones and ohs in the overflow and souls crash and tear, melt and mold in the dirt, next to clasps from cribs and ambulances driving away a mother who left years before. It is more than we were meant to hold and time must fold and weave within itself to make more room for the screams.
I scraped my left hand under the broken yellow back of my Corgi and my right into the puddle of skull and memories of my best friend.
I wasn’t home then. I am back there again. I’m serving time for your sins against me.
I held my dog and watched her eyes flit and fly and beg me for a reason.
Why did you hit me so hard just for following you?
I loved you with everything.
Why did you let me die?
I walked cradling the baby just as she helped hold me sane for six years of abuse.
When her eye caught mine, I looked away from her blood and brain in shame. If anyone, she didn’t deserve the universe and its lethal apathy.
I trudged passed Oak and ground through Bay, sleepwalking Noyak to the swarm of Locust.
Every car idled and driver staid silent. Every day-drinker from Hogan’s bar weaved and watched me cry like a girl, shirt drenched with an impossible flood of blood from the truest one I’d met, ever loyal and loving.
After the minutes and years it took me to walk three blocks, I dug my knees into the garden in front of Aunt Betty’s window and set Porgy in the grass one last time. Her lone eye was circling slower now. Her warm frame was cooling and all softness fading from us.
I’m still there. She is buried and almost at rest now.
I still refuse to let anyone else touch the shovel.