We grew up faster
Than we should have
Held each other afloat
In the stormy waters
With your heartbreak
And my expected loss
We came out together
When tears ran dry
I held your hand
When he left you
And you held mine
When she was gone
When words no longer worked
And hands no longer held
There is little left to save
Of what once was ours
My friend, my friend
I am still here
We are cities apart
But always near
It is said that quiet means peace
But I have never met a silence so violent
An explosion concealed by a gentle face
I remember watching
The sky turn pink behind you
As you stared back at me.
I can’t remember what you said.
There were no cuts or bruises
No harsh words or objections
Just empty space between two strangers.
And I tried hiding
But there is no distraction
From what is real
The sky faded to a dull blue
Then it was black
I still don’t remember what you said.
My mother had a warrant out for her arrest again. It was the third time this month.
As her memory loss increased, so did her tendency to walk out of grocery stores with carts full of random items – cat food for the cat we did not own, six hams, rye bread even though she was severely allergic, multiple types of laundry detergent, even though we’d been using a wash basin ever since she had gone through a back-to-nature phase.
It took awhile for the grocery clerks to realize what was happening and my mother never remembered taking those stolen times once she got home; but eventually someone at the store sat down and watched the video – a self righteous man with a hook nose and an almost harelip gleefully called to tell me that the next time my mother went to the store she would be arrested on the spot. I couldn’t really tell my father what was happening; the fact of the matter was, he hated her, even though it was he who’d been the one pursuing her frantically, with unabashed fervor and finally wore her down to the point where she’d said yes when he asked her for the tenth time to marry him all those years ago. Since then, he’d been married more times than my sister had been to jail, though they were neck and neck for a while. It seemed that my mother would soon be following in my sister’s footsteps; the problem was that after being banned from the discount grocery store down the street, my mother started stealing form the Whole Foods uptown, and then the far away Costco in the parish. I’d successfully managed to keep her out of jail thus far – the first two warrants she’d gathered were dismissed after a violent outburst in the courtroom by my sister (she was taken away in handcuffs after threatening the prosecutor from Whole Foods) and after a judge had gone through stacks of paperwork we’d gotten from the hospital; all of the documents that had diagnosed her a few months before.
At the Costco, my mother had only been stealing bananas – piles and piles of them. For weeks that was all she consumed; we couldn’t convince her to touch anything else. My father was oblivious to all of this, he called only occasionally from his new house in the middle of rural Nevada with his newest wife and their teenage sons. Since my sister was back in jail, that left me as the sole caretaker, and occasional defense lawyer for my mother. I’d recently decided two things: the first was to break up with my long time boyfriend Joe. The second was that I was going to take the Alaska trip – forgoing my mother’s upcoming court date. We were going to run away together.
I’d been planning the trip far before my mother was diagnosed, before we even suspected anything was wrong. And anyway I had never intended to date Joe as long as I had. At the time when we met, I thought I wanted something boring, and he was the perfect fit – even his name was boring. The only thing that could even be considered remotely interesting about Joe was that he thought he was a wizard. Meaning twice a week, he would meet with his other wizard friends and talk about Malcolm X. there were four of them altogether, they’d grown up in the same neighborhood on the Southside, all of them outcasts. Strangely enough, they all looked alike, very short, slight men with crooked teeth and dark skin. It was almost as if on becoming friends they not only grew up, but grew into each other. They were a mysterious, high occult group, the official name being The Hermetic order of the Golden Dawn and the Rosicrucians. They were a very insular, highly spiritual group of men who performed one man plays at the community center on Saturdays in rotation, commanded by the ghost of Malcolm X himself, or so Joe said.
Joe had been unaware of any plans of mine to move away, especially to Alaska. Had it been up to him we would’ve gone on together, painfully banal and, at least for me, wholly unfulfilled. I broke up with him on the first day of June, his eyes watery as he nodded, not so much in agreement as in recognition. There was nothing he could say that would stop me at this point. Even though the solstice was still three weeks away, I felt that I was at my greatest height, tilting 23°, 26’.
I gathered up my mother who I swaddled like a baby, and gathered up our things. We went and said goodbye to my sister and we went away.
The drive was 42 hours, and I spent most of them listening to stories about the black power movement and the nation of Islam, which I’d only become acquainted with recently, because of Joe and his Malcolm X channeling, wizarding friends. The drive took three days, and when we finally arrived I rented a small cabin on the lake. In the mornings we’d watch the fisherman on the dock, me drinking tea and my mother still swaddled, which kept her calm and was appropriate due to her decline back into an infantile state. Despite this she was still sputtering along and I think the air in Alaska was good for both of us.
We were there about five months before Joe showed up. My mother was getting worse, and Costco had finally caught up with our relocation and I was being bombarded with letters daily. I was at my desk, writing a story for the paper about a local boy who’d fallen through an ice hole the week before and then was punted out of it by a Gentoo penguin. Only there were no penguins in Alaska, and the boy had since started speaking in a strange Icelandic sounding language and disappeared from his family’s home at night and only reappeared at dawn, standing shivering on his front porch, unable to tell anyone where he’d been. I was pondering this when all of a sudden; a small dark man in violently clashing wizard’s robes appeared in the corner. He carried with him a thin black purse, with a small pin of Malcolm x’s face right in the middle.
“Hello Joe,” I said, unflustered.
He only nodded in response, standing slowly, dusting himself off. He got up and turned, walked to the window and stood there for several minutes. I stood up too, walked to the kitchen and put the kettle on. My mother sat silently, watching from the swinging chair in the living room where she sat most days, going back and forth silently, swaying in time with heartbeats and fingers tapping on bare knees. When I returned with two steaming mugs, he was still standing at the window looking out as if he was contemplating jumping out, or maybe I was just projecting. We stood side by side looking out at the lake, at the fisherman who’d become a part of my landscape, out past the mountains and the other lake where the boy had been rumored to wander off to at night. But I reached for his hand, and I felt the weight of the journey he had traveled to get here.
He started making things for my mother. The elixir of life wasn’t a real thing, no one was fooling themselves. My mother was deteriorating and there was nothing alchemy could do to save her, yet we kept on mending, we kept on calling on Malcolm to ask him what to do. He told us to let her go but we didn’t listen. Joe made my mother’s voice sweeter and sweeter the smaller she got. She was just this tiny thing now, looking more and more like a grotesque elderly baby, but she had a saccharine voice to calm me down on nights i got hysterical, on nights when it all felt too much and I had nightmares about all of us being arrested and jailed in the Costco forever. The fishermen came calling daily, bringing me fresh fish and bread I did not eat, food was a foreign notion to me now.
We existed in this precarious state for a few weeks before the lawyers from Costco finally came bursting through the door, just as my mother began to sing. And then Malcolm showed up and everyone could feel what this meant. Joe stood up and began to turn slowly, making grand sweeping circles with his arms, with his small body, slowly, slowly lifting himself off the ground and then Malcolm picked up my mother and walked out the door with her and the wandering boy showed up to say goodbye. The fishermen clapped and waved and we were all crying by then, even the Costco men.
The last few days Joe mostly sat in the corner doing alchemy, turning lead into gold and back again, but transubstantiation wasn’t the point. The external change was only a way to signify that he himself was shifting. The point was that in changing the substance, he was transforming himself.