Spring 2011, #17



     by Jacqueline Kolosov

I have been walking Guadalupe for miles, hoping to see the Number One Bus over my shoulder. Grit coats my teeth and grazes my eyelashes. How could I have forgotten my sunglasses? How I long for a shower. Two miles to go, and I finally stop just outside Urban Outfitters. Another person waits there, too. I take this as a sign that the bus will be here soon.

He smiles. In the windblown sunlight, his hair is the color of bottled honey. “Late?” He asks.

I nod.

“Me, too.”

The cars go by.

Minutes later I know his name is Tobias, and he is twenty-four and has been living in a halfway house since February. “Heroin,” he says, “I lost four years of my life. Four years.” He snaps his fingers. “Gone.”
Lateness no longer matters, though already I can trace the furrows in my husband Will’s brow despite his smile; but once, wasn’t Will — who lived half a continent away in an arid landscape of yucca and mesquite — a stranger too?

“When I walked the Way of Saint James,” I hear myself say, “the miraculous happened. It was part of the journey.”

(“But how,” Will and the others will ask, “did you and this guy get on the subject of miracles?”)

He leans closer, the pupils of his eyes opening like an animal’s when it trusts you. “Like what?”

“I met a woman named Erika in Navarre. She was Brazilian. She wore diamonds in her ears, yet she slept beside me on the cool, stone floors of the refuges. She told me to live only in the present, not in the past or in the future. The past and the future,” I say, my eyes meeting Tobias’s own, “are fictions, or perhaps they exist only within the space of the present.”

It’s clear Tobias isn’t sure what to make of this. Still, his eyes—more amber than hazel — hold my own, the pupils still open wide.

“A pony stepped onto a path in the Pyrenees,” I tell him, shrugging off all I have been told about divulging such petaled secrets to strangers (from the French ‘etranger’ which is also ‘inconnu’. And yet the Spanish word for pilgrim, ‘peregrino,’ is also the word for curious and strange.)

“The pony brought back a poem I love. A poem I had been carrying around for nearly a decade... ‘If I stepped out of my body, I would break into blossom.’”

“All day,” Tobias says, “I’ve wondered what I did to let the hope in.1 Meaning,” he grins, “I share your sickness.” He names the poets he likes. Plath figures prominently, but there is also Wilbur, O’Hara, and remarkably, John Donne. “Though I hate Bukowski,” he says, “and Kerouac. What show-offs. What goddamned frauds.”

How is it possible that he only finished the eighth grade? I wonder later. Or perhaps I misheard his story. After all, he was reading The Leviathan or at least carrying it with him.

Though he wears short sleeves, I do not think to look at his arms, not even when he tells me he got down to one hundred and nineteen pounds. He and I stand eye to eye. That makes him five ten.
“If I had the money,” he says, “I’d still be doing it. But I had to do things, really bad things.”

His mouth is wide and his jaw square. A beautiful kid, I think, though twenty-four makes him a man. Twenty-four. What if his life ended here, this boy-man with honey brown hair and the eyes of an owl who wasted down to one hundred and nineteen pounds?
“I changed,” Tobias says, “to chase the dragon. And it scared the hell out of me.”

I tell him I understand, recalling the morning I hurled a lamp down the attic stairs. I didn’t want to hit Will who stood below, but I did want to make him and the argument burning both our tongues — the shame, the ugliness — go away. Vanish. The way a gust of wind can clear a rose garden, leaving only the thorny stems. Blinking in the exposed attic light, he slammed the door so hard the wood cracked, and the door jammed. I sat down on the stairs and wept. He listened, but after a while — how long? I cannot count the minutes — he jimmied the door and set me free.

But what if we’d let the anger escalate? What if it burned and spread like the wildfires raging just north of the drought-infested country where we live?

“If you were still doing it, the heroin,” I tell him, “there would be only one ending to your story.”

“I know.” Tobias’s eyes close a little. The sun is bright.

The bus pulls up, and we board, then sit side by side in the narrow seats, knees bumping.

All day I’ve wondered what I did to let the hope in.

The cars go by. The bus chugs down Guadalupe.

“I’m getting off at the courthouse,” Tobias says, then rattles off a day filled with the kind of errands that require one to wait and fill out forms and never use one’s head.

“You should go back to school when you get out,” I tell him.

He stares hard at me, shrugs, tells me he’d like to. “But how?”

How? I want to ask him about his family in Baltimore. Does he have contact with them? Instead I say, “Give me your address. I’ll send you a parcel.”

“Yeah?” He says, writing down the halfway house’s address where he’ll be living through May.

“Poetry,” I say. “I’ll send you a parcel of poetry. We’ll keep in touch.” I scribble my email address on a postcard.

I hand him the address, and it’s then I see the tracks. They remind me of journeys through northern cities in Germany on trains that gray, cold, rainy season I lived in a centuries-old village outside of Nuremberg and missed home so much I spoke English aloud in my room, rolled my loved ones names around on my tongue, and went for endless runs in the maze of forest beyond, never once considering I’d lose my way.

But the tracks also bring back the night I stole into my neighbor’s garden and plundered her roses. Because her husband wanted to hurt my dog. Wanted to scare him off with a shovel because he’d been digging their prized flower beds. Or so the neighbor’s husband said. The dog limped home and wouldn’t allow me to touch his right side, though the neighbor’s husband denied hitting him. It was the height of summer, and the roses were sachets of long-necked blooms of a red so velvet dark they looked black. Bleeding hearts in starlight. I broke the roses off one by one, twisting the stems with my bare hands, the thorns puncturing my palms and the delicate undersides of my wrists. Did I think she’d catch me? Dream that her husband would come after me with a shovel? Bruise my ribs?
But what if I was Tobias, the shadow self chasing the dragon of death Freud talks about, a self I have met, more than once, in the mirror’s reflected eye? (Consider the shattered lamp below the staircase, shards so sharp they cut my palm.) And what if I stole into their house after dark and filled my jacket and jeans pockets and armSful(s) of black trash bags with the things they valued? And what if they caught me? Would the neighbor’s husband have broken my ribs? Or maybe I would have carried a gun. Would I have fired? What if the story had ended there?

It’s Tobias’s stop.

“Keep in touch,” I say.

“You won’t forget?” The honey-gold hair falls across one eye.

“Absolutely not.”

He grins, gives me a thumbs up.

The cars go by. I settle my head against the window, follow his retreating figure into the crowd until the bus propels him out of sight.

1 Also from Szybist’s poem.