Storytellers say “History repeats itself,” because this is the same day as then, every story occurring simultaneously all over the world since the beginning of time. Every role remains equal, every character uniquely cool due to an invisible soul inside each. Awash with Shakespeare's pride, I arise from crisp bed sheets and slowly find a file box in the attic containing the mysterious writings from my youth in God's Country to be compiled into chapters and deciphered over railroad tracks.
After packing and driving through warm drizzle I hurry into the heavily-built, antique Wilton train station under its high ceilings and wood rafters.
“Twenty more minutes,” the attendant says through the window, because the train is late. I look out the larger windows of the station toward the tracks and see my parents.
Both of them seem happy, normal. It's new for his beard to be gray.
Quick, I pop sixteen pills while finishing making the Gatorade bottle of Merlot in the privacy of a men's bathroom stall. It is methodical: the rest of the Gatorade down the toilet, the window sill in the stall lined with two wine bottles, uncorked.
Ray is dropping Mom off. He walks then drives away. She is carefully dressed for the outside world, per usual; beige and white and baby blue. Three dark curls hang from the side of her forehead, same as when we were young.
Stepping into the thickening drizzle, I say, “Hi, Mom.”
We stand amidst the crowd of pastel umbrellas forming around the entrance to the train.
“Oh, I thought that might be you,” she says, turning toward me.
'Stepped out once already to take care of checking my bag. She looked at me but didn't recognize me. I wasn't surprised, she never does.
We walk the entire length of the inside of the train, looking for two open seats. She walks in front of me. She is small, petite, like a stylish librarian. I hadn't realized how much of Rose was in her, I had seen so much of Grace instead. Dealing with her is like dealing with Rose and Grace combined. Instead of dealing with two young, burgeoning Cleopatras, this is the self-realized one, experienced, comfortable in her ways.
Each set of seats is already taken. I speak to one man in the last box car of the train. I announce that this was my Mom and I had just gotten back from deployment. He agrees to move.
“How long have you been back?” she asks.
“How long were you over there?” she asks, incredulous. “I knew you were in logistics,” she continues as she takes the window seat. “So I figured you were alright.”
“I went on infantry patrols just the same,” I tell her, placing our bags in the compartment above.
“Just need a coffee,” I say to the brown hued woman manning the counter in the dining car in the middle of the train.
“Sugar?” she asks over the sounds of combustion and tracks. “Cream?”
“Um – Black – maybe – I think.”
“You don't know?” she says sly, with an eyebrow raised.
“No ... I have no idea.”
She tells me about Great Grandpa, the railroad worker, Grandma Castro's father.
“Your Grandpa ...”
“He was into books and things ...” she replies. “Worked on the railroad. He wasn't so muscular … “ she says rolling her eyes with a humph and a smile.
He was from Indiana, supposedly, his roots tracing back before the Civil War to Germany, and on to the Nordic Bronze Age. Back then, Europe was a plantation owned by a royal court. The tribal Germans were Naturalists, living by land and sun, walking the seasons. He left for America after his own wake, because his relatives knew they would never see him again.
“He taught me this when I was little,” she says. “When Spring is old, and dewy winds blow from the South, with odors sweet, I see my love, in shadowy groves, speed down dark aisles on shining feet. ”
She is the purest crone. Everyone else's mother is aging and dumbing down. She remains the unloved Virgin humbly accepting immaculate conception while even preferring the least of love, like meaningless instances with Royal.
“Supposedly, if you believe my relatives … “ she says, then laughs in that way she does, as if she already knew this was the funny part of the story. “It wasn’t him but the Sicilian who was the lazy one … In order to get rid of him they sent him to America.“
Castro is her father's grandfather, who left Sicily under the cover of darkness with his wife and two small sons, sneaking into New York illegally. He left unexpectedly because Sicilian culture had gone underground when Sicily became owned, their libraries burned, their language illegalized, their literature tatooed in secret on their backs, their agricultural goods secretly smuggled out and sold. Only the godfather kept the appropriate contacts to make this possible. My great-great-grandfather had to steal away from Sicily with nothing left to keep of his heritage but one word. Only my last name is on the wall at Ellis Island, not Mom's – I went there and checked myself.
Grandfather Castro's father would tell stories to little-boy-Uncle-Saul of being fresh in America, hurrying with his father and brother through New York City ports.
Stepping through the long line of jolting boxcars, I open end-car doors, step over the wild-moving metal floors in between cars. I pass two young women.
“When I meet someone I never show myself until I've figured out who they truly are.”
“Yes, I know what you mean,” the other says.
“It's like I don't know who I am is in direct ratio to who they are.”
Supposedly Great Grandpa saved his money so that when he dies in a railroad accident it is invested wisely and grows. Two generations later it is passed down, Mom refused her portion. She wanted nothing from her relatives. Apparently, my sisters and I are next.
“I'm royally good on money. I've just gotten back from deployment.”
She makes a face. “You’re deploying and not telling anybody may be a bigger deal in the family than you think,” she says.
“Did you just smoke a cigarette in there?” he asks me, too-cool with a young face adorned with an eyebrow ring.
“Um --” I begin, as I step out of the train's long-reeking bathroom.
“Will you watch the door for me as I smoke one?” he asks.
“I don't understand,” the same young woman as before says from nowhere. “I was waiting and I swear someone who looks just like you was just in there.”
“You must be mistaken,” I reply, unsure how long she's been standing there.
“I must be losing my mind,” she says with a smile and sigh.
“Well, these things ...” I say with a shrug of one shoulder. “Happen.”
“Rose's a social worker. We email regularly.” she says. “Grace is still a preschool teacher – I think … And you decided to join the military,” she says, emphasizing the last word with a lower tone.
“This is a Mondovi,” I say to her slyly. “I know it’s in a Gatorade bottle -- the first good American wine.”
“Ben … You’re not supposed to be doing that …”
“Do you want to try it?”
“You should be careful, alcoholism all in your blood.”
“... Well, now that Rose is marr--“ she says in the middle of something else, as if she had made a mistake to almost say it, but I understood she had done it on purpose.
“I'm divorced.” I say. “A year marriage. It was a blast.”
“I wouldn’t tell that story much,” she says.
'Looked in the small latrine mirror, the floor, ceiling, and walls a mass of vibrating white noise around me. Even the physical situation is too much. Not only does she know I survived the war but by my body language, voice … the way I handled windows and icons on the laptop screen in front of her … it is obvious I am not retarded. Maybe she won't tell. I remember that Sunday they caught me with Shakespeare.
It's good to know for certain the cops could still do nothing even if I added all the new memories together to full-on rape, the way the black-and-blue baby and the manipulated toddler showed up the first time. The cop walked me around and showed me the stacks of cases pouring in from all over the county. “And that's just this county alone,” he said. “There's so little we can actually do. It used to be one relative would take the other out to the backyard and shoot him or her. Now justice is institutionalized. For better or for worse.”
I am the one who silently sung a joyful noise. Mom would slip through heaven’s gates either way, but I would not if I did not admit that I was a watchman. Wasn't until June first I realized the sound of a laugh required. No memory necessary, just the sound. That silent, purposeful, effortlessness just before a laugh required. A laugh to be so convincing that the prince would believe it, if only he would believe it, then the truth of God's Country would be covered as a grave.
I could – not say anything. Chances are nothing will come of it. But if she were to find out I had been on this train the whole time and never told her … I want to tell her how fortunate it is that a mother's love turned out to be completely unnecessary. It is decided I will tell her Life was that little boy's mother. God was that little boy's father. I'm the one who got him out.
“Why did he go on and on about how I should be in pharmaceuticals … “ I ask.
She doesn't answer.
“I was IN uniform, driving back from drill. He said they looked like pajamas. I told him they were the best people I'd ever met.”
“Please whisper,” she says.
“I thought I was whispering.”
“You think you're whispering because your voice is so low, “
“Do you sing?” she asks. “You have such a deep, low voice.”
With the laptop I show her pictures from the last time I was in New York, just before deployment, mostly of the Halloween night I helped a group of Obama supporters scheme a way into the Halloween parade and begin a march.
“Yes, I voted for Obama too,” Mom whispers.
Opening up a new, empty word document on the laptop, “Mom, can you see this?” is typed.
“Yes,“ she says vocally.
I type: “You have to type or we’ll be overheard.”
“When I came back from deployment,” I type, “I went to the police concerning Ray ...”
“Do we have to talk about his now … “ she says. “I honestly didn’t know,” she types.
“You’ll kindly respect the reality that maybe in-the-moment I don’t all-the-way believe you."
“I cannot handle this period much less in public,” she types. “Do what you feel you need to do. I won’t tell Ray what you said. I cannot discuss it any more. I am very sorry if this does turn out to be the truth.”
“These are your daughter’s lives you’ve had hanging in the balance. You’re a woman you know what I’m talking about.”
“As I said. I am very sorry if this turns out to be the truth,” she types. “I have issues with you lying about me in the past. I feel pushed right now this is a lot to put on a person. I need to rest. Do what you feel you need to do. I’ll keep quiet re: Ray. This is enough. I’m done.”
She was my biological mother, therefore, her lawful, spiritual ownership of me was assumed. A bad habit of hers, not noticing the tiger cub was growing, growing the whole time.
I notice her staring out the window, not looking at the land rolling by, as if lost in thought. I wish I could have taken a picture of her like that, how the new grays in her hair and the new lines around her eyes do not hide her looks. At Union Station, the train begins to empty and Mom steps out to sit alone in the two seats in front of us. I stretch out and remain half-asleep for hours as the train rocks alongside setting sun.
I gave her everything I had, knowing she would remain the only one knowledgeable of my early years.
In the breakfast nook of Elise’s kitchen, Elise’s back is proof, in the flesh, she was born to be attractive, regardless, it could never be matched, the slope of her shoulders, the downward tilt of her head. I expect her to run a hand over her face.
The sunrise through the window in front of her lays golden her skin, her slate kitchen counter, the crystal pieces of her kitchen sink. After all the years she still shows her disciplines in dance.
“The truth turned out to be different than we thought it was,” I say to her from where I am sitting in the corner breakfast nook.
Mom wakes me as the train pauses in Philadelphia. The usual casualness between us allows the normalcy of me adjusting in my seat as she says it was her stop, me saying okay, then going back to sleep.
The train ride ends at Pennsylvania Station, Manhattan. I arrive in the dead of night with mostly poor and working class people stepping into sharp shadows on dreary, vandalized concrete.
“Purple pansies at the fair,” the crazy, old woman says to me from across the aisle of the roaring subway car, her voice loud and clear.
“It will require much GRAMmar editing,” I cast back, my voice booming violence through the otherwise empty boxcar.
'Woke to a day of clarity, hinting of June 1st, 2004. I've never felt bad for Mom, not once, ever. Now there is a new sensibility keeping my movements within certain limits according to Mom's own sensibility. It feels like I toppled some big boss at the end of a Nintendo Game and my prize was my waking as my mother's son, her laws adhered to not as a great weight of chains but effortlessly.
I go running, figuring my new neighborhood out. Afterward I step inside a bagel shop run by Arabs. It is the first time I have seen them and not thought about Iraq.
While working my way inside the Guggenheim, they take my bag. My intent was to take sixteen pills now, not later, then wonder around the Met, sipping on the rest of the Gatorade bottle of Merlot.
No dark drinks are allowed in the Met. After having just taken twenty more pills, the woman inside the Met makes me drink the last half of the Gatorade bottle as if it were purple Gatorade, her not realizing.
I prefer the sculptures to the paintings. I prefer the materials. I have to sit down as the pills’ first wave hits. Listening to the live bluegrass band in the loft above, I wait for the jarring to end. I watch people walk by and think it is funny, this new way of looking at people.
There's no escaping reality, I catch myself thinking, entering a room where a woman is holding out her hands to paintings and referring to them as Picasso's dark period. He has depicted scenes of the poor as if they were royalty.
In one dark room there are two wide, tall wooden pillars with shapes cut into their sides. They are smoothly cut into but the structures look primal, archaic. Anything manipulated is art. Someone's hands touched it.
I sit as a wave of drunkenness hits. There's a difference between compounds and ions. I read it on Wikipedia. The world is made of both. They see a dead planet. Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, but I know the Life in it. I step through the Korean rooms, asking Mongolians of my true heritage.
I gave her little respect I suppose. I didn't know it was Mother's day when I planned the last minute New York trip, I didn't even buy her a card. I set Ms J__'s plant on her front door step without a card, then met the cab and rode off to the train station. I was in a hurry.
Art is how something lives forever. To make something so skillfully no one could bring themselves to throw it away, year after year, home after home, century after century, until finally it found its way into a museum.
A wave levels in my bloodstream and languages becomes so primal I can hear it, oral history so clear symbolism becomes the universal language.
No wonder they worshiped idols. Compounds respectfully made into art. The promise the compounds had: we will be here long long after you're gone. The physical world has its own holiness, its own eternal power. Certainly the ancients knew the idols had no magic or power. They afforded a great respect to the point of bowing before them. The one bowing was an ion destined to die, the other a compound eternal.
I walk back to Lexington from the Met. Meanwhile they're trying to be Him or Her. To concentrate on their souls, so they can self-realize the part of them that lives forever, the unique idea they have of manhood and womanhood that only they can see. That's worship, praying without ceasing.
“You mean, dying … ?“ the surprisingly young, dolled-up psychic says softly, her thoughtful eyes looking away from me sitting before her in the small, dark second-floor room where cards are laid out between us. Her mouth gapes slightly as she fingers the black cross hanging around her neck and looks to the night sky through a tall, colonial window facing Broadway. “Against tree bark -- hung from nails -- like a fruit from a tree…”
'Got her to say it out loud, on her own, I catch myself think, sitting in front of her, wary of what this scene would later turn out to be.
“And what do the cards say to do with leftover anger … “
“When you're angry you know you're alive,” she says quietly, then pauses, swallows, as she turns her gaze from the window back to the cards. “In the end I learned to convert anger into depth and maturity so that my environment knows I am a true-live-one – despite all the rest – without my having to express myself on purpose.”
“As if there was no God … “
“In my experience, it has been proven that God is apathetic toward humans. If anything he might care for women, in a superficial way … but to him men … are a line of cattle to slaughter.”
I glance past her through an open doorway leading into an orange-lit bedroom with an old-fashioned quilt for a spread. I understand why she acted surprised that I really did want a reading.
“The boy used to pray – fervently – “ I reply. “Every morning and every night with the Bible in his hand. Every bad thing that could happen to a boy happened anyway. I had not known God was so – heartily – laughing at him in return.”
She noticed the glance. “I have met good men, once or twice,” she says with a deep sigh, then looks down at her ring-filled fingers folded together against the table top. “They were … protective. If anyone was going to be tainted with worldliness it would be them, not their girl. Long gone now … ”
“I had no idea someone like you existed,” I text to Royal as I cross lit-up Madison crowded with heavy, loud traffic.
Maybe I suspected my lone-wolf-connection to Willahford. Maybe I knew I had done the same as him, faltering in our battle-buddy friendship out of some instinct that knew Royal would suddenly have to leave for home early.
“You don’t know anything about my trials and tribulations,” he texts back.
“Well, anything's better than Shea stadium,” I overhear someone say.
Citifield feels like home. They act normal here. I thought shows like Sex and the City were displaying caricature versions of Northerners, I hadn't realized they actually acted like that in real life. I root for the Mets but they’re losing to the Giants. As I watch the baseball players, a sensibility lets me be the batter as he bats, lets me be the pitcher as he pitches, movements I can feel in my bones.
The Subway roars, the boxcar packed. The man carefully leans toward the window, writing onto the back of a white brochure:
“Maybe,“ she had written, like some C.I.A. operative alone in the deep. "But I remember how you used to be a Storyteller.” She left the note paper clipped to my book. She would've had a paper clip.
The subway boxcar lurches.
'Took the train back South. When I step off the train eight hours later it turns out there had been drama while I was gone. I had beat out all the daughters as far as Mother’s Day gifts went: I bought her a potted plant of yellow roses. I also had dropped off the Jeep at the last minute, without much explanation except a voice mail to J__ who works twelve hour shifts and doesn‘t cross paths with his family regularly. I didn’t think it a big deal but the family was insulted that I had taken a cab from their house to the train station and that I had intended to take a cab from the train station back to their house. “You should have asked once of us for a ride,” Mrs J__ says. “You are rudely independent.”
I didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings.
They said they know their family is mostly women and they know I treat women the same way I do my mother and sisters -- casually, freely, with no hint of obligation or conformity.
'Was high and didn’t know it. I had taken the last of the pills days ago but they were still in me. When I know it, it’s fun, because I have to be present to pull it off and not get caught. When I don’t know it, it is terrible because I’ve failed yet again to be present, to pay attention.
Ms J__ asks me about the random voice mail I’d left for J___ about how my mother had been on the train.
“Well,” I say, “It was Mother’s Day weekend.”
I smooth things over, staying for dinner and watching a movie with them called Night at the Museum, a comedy about the Museum of Natural History in New York City.
The baby starts crying; I pick her up. She stops crying.
J__ chuckles, then looks at Mrs. J__ as if he shouldn‘t say anything. “It’s really something how you’ve got such a way with kids,” he says.
I feel accused.
Shifted to the inside of a speeding subway car. I sit there for a long long time, sitting thru one stop after another, trying to make sense of things.
I remember running into my one-appointment-therapist once, after I had left Elise, but before I had met Billy and Mrs. Marie. The therapist had that always-annoyed flair about him, even on the outside. He chuckled when I mentioned I had problems with dating. I thought he was treating me that way on a personal level until I ran into him treating his wife and two young boys the same way in a furniture store. I stood hiding behind a large, wooden cabinet.
... CPT L__‘s hands in the van during our work lunch break .. As he was articulating he uses his hands.
Except I’m not drunk or high. I just understand.
We are planets and the space between us is vast and immeasurable.
I am asked to drive to two different cities to acquire items.
After acquiring the items and returning to work, my supervisor received an email from someone at one location mentioning he thought he had smelled alcohol on me. They are a bit freaked. So am I, having forgotten that in this heat I’d be sweating the smell of it. I deny the charge and it is dropped but it frightened me that I had made such a mistake. It also frightened me that I hadn’t eaten all day and hadn’t noticed.