Still a Jack of all trades, having been a mule makes me feel more virile.
I sit in the unemployment office, running hand over forearm. At the same time the flesh flexes the rawness of having been a mule, it relaxes with the feeling of having strong mule arms, a strong mule chest, with strong mule legs.
'Woke in the night to an early morning of clarity, stepping outside onto the back steps looking at the moon while sipping black coffee, hoping how to hold onto this June 1st clarity. Otherwise, it's like a broken record plays untruths loudly, a reel of images of the way relatives mistook silence for weakness, images produced by relatives while deep down everyone loves their relatives.
'Keep a small notebook in my pocket and will pull it out occasionally at the restaurant job. A teenage girl steps out onto the back stoop for a cigarette. Sitting on an upturned bucket, I write something by light of the street lamp.
“What do you write in that notebook?” she asks, checking the bottom of her heel.
“Lists. Like grocery lists ... you know?”
“Oh,” she says, looking at the ground, smoothing the red cloth of her dress.
Suddenly she acts flustered and says, “Pretend I didn't ask. Forget I said anything. It was better before. I didn't mean to mess it up.”
(Monday, 31OCT2005, Halloween)
Ray's mom, Grandma, stood like a crane, acted like a crane, even if the others were secretly calling her:
In dreams she teaches me things. 'Sometimes wake from sleeping in the wild with bones having soaked in more, posture slightly changed, way of life re-clarified, remembering swords and shields passed down from the sky in sleep, as dreams, with a pleasant growl, shift.
'Check out the book, Victims No Longer by Mike Lew, 1988, while the librarian looks at me coldly.
'Stay up for days and nights at a stretch, studying, working, taking notes, in the little apartment with its exposed beams and brick walls.
'Learned my heritage: Sicily, Spain, Ireland, the Southeast coast of Africa, beginning each branch from prehistoric times, working forward in fifty year increments to the Ellis Island of the nineteen twenties. A History of Sicily, Finley, Smith, and Duggan, 1987; The Oxford History of Ireland, edited by R.F. Foster, 1989; Poland, by Cass R. Sandak, 1986; Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters, by Robert Beverly Hale, 1966; The Hidden Truth of Your Name, The Nomenology Project, 1999, explaining Tarots, Runes, Numerology, and Karbbalah; Zolar's book of Astrology, Dreams, Numbers, and Lucky Days, compilation copyright 1990; Practical Intuition, Laura Day, 1996; The Soul of Sex, by Thomas Moore, 1998; Sperm Wars: The Science of Sex, by Robin Baker Ph. D, 1996; Demonic Male: Apes and The Origins of Human Violence, by Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson, 1996. Undoing Depression, By Richard O'Conner, Ph.D., 1997.
Occasionally I tattoo another ancient symbol on my right shoulder, learning my ancient days of drawings on cave walls in Ireland, three-thousand and four-thousand-year-old Caucasian graveyards in Western Mongolia, works of literature tattooed word for word on Sicilian backs in their own language, the only one that could tell the story, because it was all they had left and it was everything. It was one thing to be human and eternal, it was another to lose history.
Notebooks collect full of notes, quotes, and more notes. I begin on the documentaries, Fog of War, James G. Blight, Janet M. Lang; Why We Fight, Eugene Jarecki; American Experience, Frontline; PBS; The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer each weekday evening, Charlie Rose each weeknight. On Saturday mornings I pick out the prank calls on NPR's CarTalk, the fake calls on Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me, and never miss Prairie Home Companion.
(quick drums, blaring trumpet)
Louis Armstrong's voice:
“Float like a butterfly,
“Sting like a bee.”
Bruce Lee has me attach fishing line to a piece of paper with duck tape, then hang it from the rafters. He has me learn elbowing. It takes three months.
The paper and duck tape fall from the fishing line and nail with each exhaled breath. I buy a punching bag. 'Learn about broken knuckles.
The heart must be upheld, the body working in relation to the chest held up ... A certain flow of kinetics ... The abdominal pulls in naturally holding up the heart from underneath and inside. The lugs stuck to the abdominal with fresh, ancient understandings push forward the movement, the thighs take control, the muscles demanding and backing up the thighs' certainty. Jumping rope, running, squats, working out. Reading Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde exhaustively, in the end, 'keep the adolescent murderer, Tom Ripley, in my back pocket. Sometimes he feels so much like me, 'relieved when good Will Hunting plays him in the movie. Ripley was born a man because he had to be when the human race took one look at him and sent him to the Spartan cliff. Since his pride kept him alive he trusted it more than his own soul, hence pride begot violence, so primal and rich. With a mattress upright against the wall I remember the little-boy who would tantrum lying on his stomach on the mattress, his fists pinky side down, pounding up and down. Each time, 'feel pain in my skull as my brain feels like it's turning inside, frightening, keeping me away from him. There is no certainty in the anger, so little memory left. 'Can't feel the anger because little-boy-me knows things I don't know, his fists against mattress not my fists against canvas. Remaining stuck, 'learn to box didactically, hoping to unlock. It's the legs that decide it, the feet. It begins in the torso, a sleepy selfishness moving down into the pelvis as the torso rises with a growl. Then the pelvis agrees, the spine straightens, the calves wake, the feet and toes flex, as the ground resurrects, recognizing ancient feet as the son ho'rises.
'Shifted to a dark room where a baby sits on a lighted white blanket as if his picture is about to be taken. “My ancients died,” the newborn wrapped in my clean, old cloths says, “I am not stupid; I am appreciative. Physically coinciding.” He leans in forward. “Just think about the impact. Planets. Dust. Colliding.”
'Give her the jist of it.
“Well,” she says. “Of course ... you're eligible for the county mental health services sliding scale plan ...”
She turns in her chair about to prepare my paperwork, then stops. “I bet that story would be something written down.”
“You'd think it would help.”
My brother and I lay in the same bed as he talks. Grace and Rose lie in the other bed.
I know he is assuming everything wrong. I know I have to explain to him the truth of the House before it goes too far.
We are in a kitchen. I can't find a way to insert myself into his flow of effortless assumptions.
“Not like anxiety ...” he asks to himself, suddenly looking up from his psychologist's clipboard. “Sometimes your symptoms reflect the symptoms of guilt.”
“The numbness, and my personality, and the -- biological momentum my personality would've had -- may have turned out incompatible.”
Out of pitch dark comes an “Ohh” and a “scufffle,” as Billy's neck gets caught by an empty clothes line and his back hits hard ground. Mrs. Marrissa and I make our way down to the corner of the abandoned yard.
“Iris,” Miss says, turning round. “There's lots of Iris that'll go to waste.”
Pots are placed in the dark, the sounds of shovels crunching-through-dirt fill the air. Then the 'heft' of heavy breath, and the patter of scuffling feet, as us four neighbors make our way up to Billy's truck.
Ever since the RX-7's been broke down, 'been taking the bus but for the days Mrs. Marrissa, Sylvester's mother, needs me to drive her to her doctor's appointments, a restaurant for lunch, then grocery shopping.
Mrs. Marrissa appeared one week upon my returning from Indiana's deployment station. At first she stayed at Sylvester's house. 'Helped move her in. Due to an undercurrent of war between her and Sylvester's wife, Mrs. Marrissa and I moved her across Sylvester's yard. The backdoor of her apartment leads down stone steps into the bit of land that completes her son's lawn with its few extra, if giant, magnolia trees, and the invisible boundary necessary.
"Main reason I didn't want to move down South was the white boys," she tells me. "Then you're the first acquaintance I make."
Small, thin, sprightly-moving and bright-eyed, her half-cackle, half-laugh can be heard down the street. The changes in her hair are like unspoken secrets. One day her boyish afro is shoulder-length braids, another, loose reddish curls bouncing around her always-adorned ears. On the road, she cackles pleasantly from the back seat of her spotless Lincoln.
'Been awake for four days and four nights straight, taking notes on Ireland, surprised by her knock on the door, her fresh expression.
“If only Freeman could see us,” she says, us on the road to Greensville. “You drivin' a colored Mrs. Daisy.”
"I saw you two," Billy says out back where the four of us are visiting. "And I thought: I want that," he laughs, "Sneaking through the parking lot with plants."
Billy stands lanky, tall, smiling in that twinkling, blue-eyed way that makes one feel like you're the reason he's so genuinely happy. Through the windows of my apartment I'll catch him outside working on his truck, painting outdoor furniture, or cleaning the parking lot of glass that somehow finds its way there. He looks like every guy working alone, a kind of personal, thoughtful seriousness on his face. The first time we met, Mrs. Marrissa and I were sneaking back in the dark across the apartments' parking lot, wary of the other six apartments in our complex because we did not know them. Billy stepped out his back door as we were unloading flower pots of loot and trash bags wrapped around the roots of rose bushes, berry brush, and small trees.
“No, it's a joke between me and him."
“Oh,” she says, standing outside the restaurant's back door. “I don't understand.”
“It's like I would hibernate ... In the past I've been surprised to have a friend come up to me and mention how they haven't heard from me in four months.”
In correct fighting form.
Hold your fingers in fists. Sob their way down your face, holding your elbows to your rib cage, fists still and pointing forward like a girl's.
This is how it feels to protect the ribs from punches. Throw jabs like you're a praying'
Miss seems overly-religious. She comes from abuse. At first I was easy with her. Maybe it helps Mrs. Marrissa, but it seems to strain on Billy's self-esteem.
'Met his mother once, not only shaped like Miss but acts like her too, like the women in my family --- natural born bullies, keeping Billy in the center of attention. His naturally innocent expression moves to their beat while he is treated like royalty being sought after.
“When they die there''ll be nothing to send one direction or the other ...” I whisper to Billy in the dark, as we piss against the apartment building.
“Well, sex is a good way to release aggression... “ Grace says, sitting at the picnic table by the walled garden. Tiny blue jays jump and flutter underneath the foliage inside the brick-walls, trying to learn to fly.
There were years Grace spent trying to traumatize me while spilling with laughter at the idea that she could turn a hetero. Somewhere along the way she seems to have decided something about me was her fought.
Grace needs to move back into her old apartment. She is courteous. She asks me before she moves into the same apartment complex as me. We talk about Ray.
“You don't remember?” Grace says. “You were having one of your night fits and he comes running into the room straight for you. Butt naked.”
She laughs: “I saw from the top bunk. He must've been in the middle of having sex with Mom and was pissed.”
Shifted to realizing I was a blind man in a dark place, bumping into things.
It took me awhile to recognize the sound of the breathing, but knew him to be the Devil. He seemed a nice chap, kept saying he was “so sorry.”
'Think this is that scene from The Rainmaker, by John Grisham:
“Oh, Him?” Mrs Marrissa says drearily as we drink bad coffee in her apartment. “He was a whore.”
I lean in forward.
“He would have sex with anybody,” she exclaims with certainty.
“Oh. You mean -- you mean, anybody, as in only one person.”
Suddenly, I seemed to have gotten her attention.
“So you're not going to visit your mother who is having major surgery,” she says, standing in the doorway, shimmering with the heavy yellow of dawn sun. Everything around is in bloom, including the front yards, a secondary priority intended only for the least-favorite of stolen plants. Now the deep reds, whites, purples, and yellow blooms mix with fast-growing blue morning glories.
“'Don't know those people anymore.”
Stepping across the yard, I fulfill my promise to Denise to help her move some barrels.
“I don't know,” she seems to be trying to say as we work. “While I was washing the car she came up seeming all devastated. I thought she might have been drinking.”
“What adventures we going on tonight?” Billy says grinning, stumbling out of his apartment, beer bottle in hand, upon hearing my Jeep park two spaces down from his white truck.
“'Just got off work, man,” I tell him, stopping on the way to my apartment, my clothes reeking of food. “It's two in the morning.”
Before hitting my mental list of staked-out spots for plants, we sneak into mansions-for-sale out of curiosity.
“Look at the architecture,” he says. “Look at this elevator.”
It is old fashioned, nothing more than a cage connected to a chain leading into the ceiling.
Up a flight of narrow stairs, deep in an overstuffed attic we notice the rot, a roof slowly caving in.
“We should go,” he says suddenly. “Come on.”
“You sure you can drive a stick ...” Billy asks later, laughing. “A truck's gears are different than an RX-7's.”
“You've been drinkin, so I'm the get-away-driver.”
Suddenly the truck stalls, heavy with loot, as we roll past a stop sign.
Arriving back at the apartments, Mrs. Marrissa steps out her door. “Shame, shame, shame,” she hisses with anger in the popular Christian melody. Her curlers and bathrobe catch moonlight as she steps to the back of the truck. The fingers of her hands make the signs of the cross over and over. “Shame, shame, shame.”
'Close the driver's door as Billy steps out with an almost smile. "It's okay, Mrs. Marrissa," I tell her. "When you send Jesus to me I'll explain it to him." He laughs.
“I'll dance at your wedding if you let me have that potted plant,” she says, suddenly straightening her neck, her hands moving behind her back. “Oh, my, she's beautiful.”
It takes both Billy and I to lift it. Mrs. Marrussa's daugher in law, Sylvester's wife notices the activity in our back yards, across from her backyard and separated by a line of old trees. Her Great Dane keeps at my heels. We plant lots of lost plants that night, the moist heat wafting in low rice country.
The cop is my age, quiet, busy in his own work.
Between the plants, kitchen equipment, military gear, and shelves of books all around, the cop's partner acts impressed.
“You put all these shelves up yourself?” he asks.
It has been ransacked but nothing stolen. It is the second time.
'Next day, after making the rounds through the police station and courthouse, I send Grace a cease and desist letter, killing all contact.
Though Grace left on her own as an adult, Michael stayed around as the neighborhood tomcat.
He was hit by a car and lay for days alive on the sidewalk. 'Must've driven past him many times without knowing. He would've known my Jeep each time. Some sort of heartbreaking emotion would have been born inside him, one I keep with me now.
Coming home from work Friday night, an unfamiliar cat meows toward me as I unlock the apartment door. It steps inside as I turn on the light.
It's as if Grace came back to mourn, or at least let me know why she left. Can't stick around when the neighborhood tomcat's your brother.
At two in the morning I buy the necessary items at Walmart. She stays a few days until one night I open the back door for her and she stays in the tree this time, obstinate, already on her way to her other family in her other home.
The divorce is quick, final. We eat out afterward, then tour the second Moon Bean, filled with more artists, more musicians, a new teenage crowd, a full, industrial kitchen, and bathrooms black with chalk autographs lining the walls.
'Say little other than compliments, saving face.
After befriending the bartender at the restaurant, we go out with the half-blind cook who is also our age and secretly in love with her but of the wrong skin. She is the wrong attitude for me so we make a jokestering trio as I give them the night tour of Washington, D.C. “Straight from Elise and me,” I tell them over the rushing water of the World War II Memorial's lit-up fountains.
Neither Marcus nor I can fall in love with Lyndsay, not with the lazy father of her baby hanging around through her cell phone. We act like we want to talk, then joke around it, the three of us a loud, inebriated clique. I black out when we drink. I sit in Lyndsay's recliner, done for the night, to find out next morning I got up, went to the refrigerator, gulped down liquor, gave Lyndsay and Marcus a royal time.
Katherine, another co-worker-our-age comes by sometimes, but really I am in love with her sister, Carol, another-coworker, who lives in a different world than Lyndsay and Katherine. They all have low-self esteem, but Carol is thin with older eyes.
The six of us act like teases. When I sleep with Katherine, Marcus happens to sleep with Lyndsay, then it all falls apart when Carol goes too far and I tell her how I don't want her anymore.
“You want my response,” she says, her blonde hair in a pony tail, her best friend and roommate still in the Dumfries' Olive Garden restroom; she always does that, tries to be more, assumes her friend is more attractive than her because she has 'hotness' instead of mere beauty.
“You know response is the root word of responsible?” she says, laying our new boundary. “I got no response,” she whispers, drying her eyes.
Miss, a student at the local, private college, babysits children out of Billy's apartment on Saturdays, while I work on the car, weed the gardens, and use paint to touch up outdoor furniture. Billy comes home before the blow out.
“She is not a monster because she is a girl!” yells Miss, her wet eyes shimmering as she suddenly stands up across the outdoor table, where we are to eat Mrs. Marrissa's cooking. She has put up with her charge all day, same as her charge's little brother.
“It's post-feminism, Miss,” I reply. “No one believes that anymore. No one looks at a human female and just assumes she's not a monster.”
(Monday, 31JUL2006- Sunday, 6AUG2006)
The military sends me to Fort Bragg for an artillery war exercise where North Korea attacking South Korea present-day is simulated.
“The Faint Hearted Cannot Go To War With The 18th Airborne,” the sign says on the War Center.
“Here's your badge, wear it at all times,” the Sergeant says. “And don't look so nervous.”
“You don't reach your physical peak as a man until you're twenty-eight,” the skinny-buff nineteen-year-old Specialist Chris Meader is saying. He is battle-buddies with Specialist Ruckard ... the two of them have befriended me. “Hey, you don't want to hang out with us tonight?” they ask me, suddenly dressed in civies, surprised I don't know to tag along with them naturally.
“The mission is never done,” Lieutenant Moore says during a calm spell. “Over all your military career is this much,” says the Lieutenant, showing his empty hands. “Because there is always more to replace it, more to be done. I know there are at least one-hundred and fifty more guys ready to replace me, so I don't worry about the Army once I'm out.”
“I won't ever try to sell this shit about the Army needs you,” Major Oshbosh replies. “You have to do what's best for you. And the Army's a good deal; no other workplace gives you four-day weekends once a month, thirty-day vacations.”
The soldiers are unafraid always, even when they might be in trouble or are, they are consistently unafraid.
The strip club is loud and hectic around our table.
“You know when you just kiss them once, and no matter what you do, they won't stop calling,” Willahford says thoughtfully, his Filipino eyes squint as he smiles proudly, confidentially, turning his head to face mine. “You know there's something special about you.”
Willahford calls almost everyday, on his way to Holly.
He talks until his service runs out as he drives home into the country.
“I mean, he may seem small and passive,” Willahford is saying. “But he doesn't give a f__k. That's why we were best friends through high school. He was a genius. He was so smart and so humble he could be anybody. When he wakes up in the morning he doesn't choose his behavior according to ANYbody. The whole world could be against him and he isn't gonna do what he doesn't want to. He's like a bulldog. You could beat him to death, he's stupid enough not to unclench his teeth from your testicles. He lays low, like he's ordinary, talks like a hick but then all of the sudden he could speak perfect – COLLege level – English when he needed to. He was cool.”
“Plus a shooting skirmish, with me as the point man ... Eight IEDs, Chuck. Eight,” Willahford says proudly. “While I'm the gunner. If I'd had coal in my ass I'd have eight diamonds ...
“I came home from leave and my friends from high school threw a party. Supposedly I got drunk and was all crying. I started going off about how I didn't want to go back. Living day-to-day, knowing you're going to die at anytime. It wasn't good.”
Not having deployed, I'm an easy listener, my own guilt smooths over rough spots.
“When I came home, I would go crazy. Holly would wake up in the middle of the night and find me putting my gear on the hood of the Jeep, like I was going on mission. One time I came home and found her talking to my best friend outside, them sitting in the lawn chairs. I went crazy, pulled a loaded gun on him. There was no talking to me.”
He is the too good-looking type, small and wiry, the kind guys do not let around their girls, unless you are the guy without, then you are the world-weary friend he turns out to have been waiting for all along. As a boy, he once came home to the local news of a forest fire he had accidentally started with his younger brother; he didn't say anything to his Mom as she watched. His father taught him sports, and if he hadn't, he wouldn't have been able to play sports or become good at; according to him, that was just the truth of it. Through elementary, it was as if the world were set up for dumb people. During high-school he was clever enough to skip school without being caught and would sit alone by the lake wondering how the world could be like this. He realized he was finding his way when he noticed he could make people laugh sometimes, and not because they were laughing at him. It seems impossible to imagine Willahford this way after my having met him. He was harshly abused by his stepfather until he was seventeen when he punched the stepfather, sending him to the ground. His mother never quite forgave Willahford, nor him her. He says he likes to drink but draws the line at drinking alone.
That afternoon he shows me around the small town as he runs errands before we work on our Jeeps. This is where Willahford meets Richard Gere in Primal Fear, already slept with everyone, has difficulty believing in a world not as innocent as when he was in third grade. He tells stories, asks questions, keeps me imagining books I haven't studied yet.
Willahford has a way of talking everything up, then, finally, weeks later, telling the truth of the situation. During the three hour drive in the HHMWV he explains her as she really is.
“An insecure person isn't anybody at all,” I finally say. “Yet.”
Willahford doesn't seem to understand. He is nineteen, she is eighteen. They are talking marriage.
At night, 'in the field,' during drill, crickets, frogs, and trees clashing in the wind buffer my sleep until Willahford's whisper asks me: “Where's that bottle?”
"Um ... under my cot.”
I wait patiently, Willahford's forearm against the side of my lifted-up-back, as he searches for glass under my cot.
Willahford gives a chuckle and a smile. “You drank it all man? The whole bottle?”
“When I was over there I did everything, but my main job was logistics,” the Sergeant says. “We would play cards in the bunker. My favorite soldier was named Lucky. He was a runner of paperwork and supplies and would get hit by mortar and IEDs time after time unscathed, so we called him Lucky. The worst day of the deployment was when we were expecting him to play cards with us and he never showed.”
He quiets as a young Warrant Officer steps out of the board room and into the waiting area.
“They asked me about the two legs I broke jumping, the broken wrist, the concussions, the broken ankles,” he tells us as he sets his jaw, shakes his head. “They asked me why I wanted to abuse my body any further when I've already accomplished such a successful career. Then they said thank you for your service.”
“Kiss of death,” says the Sergeant.
The Sergeant shakes the Officer's hand before he steps into the board room. He's not gone five minutes. He looks near tears as he exits the board room, shakes his head.
The reason I do not like to speak of the first deployment is because it is impossible to articulate. I allowed them to send me back and everyone knows it. I noticed a dark familiarity to certain mistakes.
“And why should we keep you,” I'm asked in the dimly lit room, standing in front of a long crescent table with all the Army's ranks sitting on the other side.
“It's not how it used to be,” I reply. “I keep making the difference.”
“We have an exemplary recommendation letter concerning you.”
“I know nothing of it.”
“You will deploy?” the Colonel asks.
The Medical Review Board gives my inflamed heels the written go ahead. Afterward, stepping out of the board room, a Sergeant Major Forester gives me his number and offers me work.
Blues and old rock overwhelm the way-station-of-Sylvester's-house. Having stepped out the back door, all the usual suspects arrive, having been hanging out with Grace already.
After the early-party in the gardens full of the smells of Mrs. Marissa's cooking and the sounds of her pleased laugh, the night-party begins upstairs in Sylvester and Denise's next-door house, where one of their twelve kids' bedroom has been converted into a pool room. Over the sounds of pool balls hitting and Ray Charles from the old record player, I overhear her say to someone else, “Over the years, what's proved true the most is -- never tell my brother what to do.” She and Brandy, a daughter of Sly and Denise's, laugh as Brandy replies, “So I've heard.”
All is pleasant, running into the newly-aged versions of the members of Pastor Romes' teenage Bible study. Later, as the party is clearing out and making our ways across the yard through the Magnolia grove to our apartments, she says, “Good night.” It is the second time tonight I noticed a hope of permanence she had. Really I am only in town by accident and don't really live here anymore.
'Told Mrs. Marrissa about the new job opportunity. “At some point I will have to move two hours away.”
She sits down with her coffee, between her garden in the corner, and Billy and Miss' garden across the sidewalk, glancing out across Grace's yard, then Mrs. Sharon's, to the brick wall around my garden, housing all the hanging bird feeders.
"Not pretty for pretty," she says. "But pretty for good."
(Annual Training, JUN2007)
Driving through Fort Bragg, we've been set free from the field during Annual Training.
“Get out of the car, get out right now,” Willahford blurts out, for no reason.
I look out the passenger window, ignoring him, waiting for his torrent to be over.
Finally, he calms down, we go on to a gym that's rumored to have an Olympic pool for lap-swimming.
When Willahford goes crazy I ignore him, then pretend like I forgot the whole thing.
We have an unexpected night off. Willahford wants to hang out.
After eating, drinking, and driving around I am surprised when he pulls into a small white building out in the country. It is a massage parlor.
'Allow the girl to give me a hand job. She touches me on the inside of my thigh and I suddenly shove her off me, so that she falls off the bed. I apologize; she's okay and starts again.
Afterwards, in the car, Willahford asks me how far I went; I lie and say a blow job, he tells me the same.
'Thought I was praying physically instead of mentally, the soul's true voice inspiring the spontaneous movements of finger bones.
All around are books ruined with notes in margins, notes in essays, structures allowing.
“To actually get good at repressing memories ... Only Cain could've done that.”
'Learned how to do that from Willahford. How to make my eyes sparkle with emotion when I intend to make someone laugh. You have to want them to know the truth.
Willahford is the best Jester I've ever met. He's small of stature, and such an intelligent smart-aleck people assume he must get beat up all the time.
Willahford always fights back. He's so good at combatives he became a cop.
'Didn't move away at first. I stayed six months while coming home on weekends from staying in the barracks.
The three of them seemed to have formed some sort of alliance while I was gone. They were acting overly-nosy.
“I'm gay,” I say to them in the middle of Mama Mia's, at the end of a table that had been pushed together with another table so it could fit all us neighbors. “Like, you know,” I say, as my right hand gestures just above my scalp. “Straight up,” I continue, while my right hand makes a fist and punches a few inches into the air. “Flaming. Hard-core. Gay.”
“No you're not,” Mrs. Sharon says with a quick, wide-eyed gape.
“You are going to Hell, you know, you really, are ... “ Miss says, sitting beside Billy, grabbing his arm.
“Yeah, when I fuck a girl I think of my mother and when I fuck a guy I think of my father. Dead on.”
Mrs. Marrissa makes the sign of the cross with her fork as it enters her mouth and whispers, “Lord have mercy.”
Billy keeps silently smiling, acting as if he keeps running out of breath.
“Mrs. Marrissa,” I whisper bluntly, my push helping send her against the ground.
The headlights swing into the yard as the truck parks; a door slams and two men argue.
I hold the shovel up like a weapon as Mrs. Marrissa remains behind me. We hide behind the bushes, uprooted Iris all about.
All around smoke rests layered in the moist heat from forest fires in the east.
At Camp Butler all we do is work land with weed eaters, lawn mowers, tractors, and every other kind of useful tool or equipment imaginable.
The best civilian worker is Jason, like he was born to be him, he can fix or figure out anything. Of the soldiers the best is Staff Sergeant Toni Cray, who gives me a tour of the small civilized side of Camp Butler.
Though the true boss is Sergeant Major Forester, mine is the ultimate mediator, Sergeant Major Biers, with his quick, sharp Southern accent. On weekdays he wears civilian clothes that include some kind of military insignia. He gives me a four-hour tour of Camp Butler's forty-five hundred acres in an old fatigue-colored Chevy blazer.
We stop on a sharp foothill in depth of forest because a huge owl blocks the path, spreads his wings.
There she goes again,
Grace working at the windows, checking the locks on the doors. Just like Toni Morrison wrote in Song of Solomon, Grace trying to make her way in here to kill me.
Later in the book, Morrison writes: “... she had indoor plumbing and her smile was just like her name, Sweet, as she nodded her head to Milkman's query about whether he could take a bath. The tub was the newest feature in the tiny shotgun house and Milkman sank gratefully into the steaming water. Sweet brought him soap and a boar's-bristle brush and knelt to bathe him. What she did for his sore feet, his cut face, his back, his neck, his thighs, and the palms of his hands was so delicious he couldn't imagine that the lovemaking to follow would be anything but anticlimatic, but when the lovemaking came, he decided he would crawl. Afterward he offered to bathe her. She said he couldn't because the tank was small and there wasn't enough water for another hot bath. “Then let me give you a cool one,” he said. He soaped and rubbed her until her skin squeaked and glistened like onyx. She put salve on his face. He washed her hair. She sprinkled talcum on his feet. He straddled her behind and massaged her back. She put witch hazel on his swollen neck. He made up the bed. She gave him gumbo to eat. He washed the dishes. She washed his clothes and hung them out to dry. He scoured her tub. She ironed his shirt and pants. He gave her fifty dollars. She kissed his mouth. He touched her face. She said please come back. He said I'll see you tonight ...”
Grace demands Sweet does not exist, cannot exist.
'Turn back to sleep.
We are out back, in the dusk, amongst our gardens, sitting in lawn furniture. I have a bit left in my glass.
Miss is still talking, controlling everything. I fling the bit of wine at her. She gasps from the insult.
“Maybe you'd want to apologize,” Billy, the good-hearted one, says the next day.
He should have confronted me. He should have made me spell it out until he understood.
“Miss and I both have a classical education. She in school and me, my way. Morality is different for us, the two roads ... starker.”
But how could I ever say that to him.
My arm is around his neck as Willahford laughs drunkenly, his passenger door open, the sounds of the speeding highway rushing in.
The PFC in the back hoots and hollers from the back.
When dealing with others, Mrs. Marrissa has been referring to me as her grandson. They must wonder about our difference in features.
Barefoot, I step into her apartment to ask her a question. She is setting up her food in front of her television.
“Do I have Asian eyes?”
Without looking up at me, she says: “Yes. You got that Asian look sometimes.”
“Is that why Willahford and I are friends, cause of he's half-Filipino? My battle buddy when I first was to deploy was half-Filipino also. HE walked up to me and asked me: You want to be battle buddies ...”
“You're just getting older on the inside,” she says, as she steps toward her kitchen. “Connecting dots ... Circuitry.”
In her book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Maya Angelou describes her anxieties that she may be homosexual, and even still, a freak of a homosexual, because she felt little sexuality concerning her supposedly-homoerotic behavior. She resolves the issue when she realizes it is not homosexuality afflicting her, but a want to be a woman. She is late developing, without breasts for a long time.
'Wonder about my older brother's death, if too much happened to that little-boy-me in God's Country, in the hands of a family of mostly women, to the point where Life found the situation too impossible, enacted a miscarriage of her own design. There is something wordless I see on the cover of magazines, on movie posters: masculinity. Meanwhile the guys who are helping the photographers and directors represent this in medium do not have it in real life. Some of them are ridiculous, lacking the qualities I somehow picked up on. I see him in the statue of David, the cover of a fitness magazine, in abstract art at the Met. Maybe to be happy that guy must exist in one's life; it's only that I am him. Girls and guys have supposedly fallen in love with me. They claim I'm him, and see nothing but him. I leave them, quickly.
My brother turns, rests his hand against the table in front of the window. Sunlight shines down upon his fingertips. “Peace is the first word of the English language.”
“No it wasn't. It was a Pssst, like a snake's hiss.”
“That's just a story.”
Half-awake in the night I read the cards.
Do not give up on emotions to remain calm, choose them instead, because they're steering ahead, not weighing down. Their mystic power will fuel and back up actions instead of getting in the way; emotions are never more powerful than the individual. The individual born in violence will find himself reactive, noticing himself developing into someone who converts everything into motivation: a Survivalist. The survivalist inevitably remembers to trust the body again, realizing it is the Lord's not his or her own ... the temple is safety because it is the Lord's best creation.
'Shifted to God's Country, the Trickster moving so fast against the wood line, twisting and darting, his moonlit skin pulsing and diving. I'm afraid of the corn stalks breaking, how much trouble I'll be in, then I notice how I'm taller then them, us both grown already. I turn my head to the right to look up across the corn field at the House. Its pecan trees and orchards give it the look of an estate. The house windows are dark, shaded by the five gigantic pecan trees from the full moon's light. I look for him, see him, but he darts away.
“Isn't it much better at night?” Elise says as we cross toward the Lincoln Memorial's steps.
Inside, I try to read the inscriptions. “Might be about slavery ...” I say to her over the hyper sound of the crowds around us. “How did they not know ...”
A group of college students pass between us, talking lowly. I bow my head toward the right as they pass.
“Come on,” she says, taking my hand, making her way through the crowd.
I drive Mrs. Marrissa to an outlet mall down I-95, wondering about Saturday and if I'm going to end up killing this body.
'Stand in the mall's bathroom stall a long time, wondering.