[originally published August 14, 2008]
"The photo reflects just how threatened I grew to be by my husband's animal appetites, by the very maleness of him. I forgot that his natural lusts and longings were bound by an equally natural sense of love and loyalty. But it was inevitable, I had come to fear the corresponding aspects in myself."
— Amy Irvine
"And he's got no disguise in his eyes for his love
as she nears
He spreads her a shelter
She takes the tall skies
As they helter-skelter
Along the same sighs"
— Roy Harper
"but one man loved the pilgrim soul in you"
— WB Yeats
Some people dream in black and white, some in foreign languages. i dream in touch, and as my dream opens, my right cheek is smooshed into the worn black t-shirt clothing my friend's shoulder. i am breathing evenly against the rise and fall of her chest, dark strands of her hair stick to my cheek. When we pull apart to hold each other at arm's length, we're both smiling, and her lover, my friend, sits behind her. i lean over to embrace him too, but awkwardly. My knees brush his inner thighs, and he tips over backwards, slowly enough to catch himself, but he doesn't: his legs lift into the air, and his face shapes a faraway, still sadness, staring directly upward. Everything around the three of us turns from warm to white.
Then I am squatting over the toilet of a women's restroom in a mall, but when i leave the stall, a boy asks What you doin in here?, and i turn to see an older boy in pissing stance at a urinal. There are mirrors everywhere, fogged with grit, slimy wet paper on the floor. Through the door, i hear a man talking. i open to the shadowed hallway that leads to the separate restrooms, where a man wearing a red polo shirt is coaxing, shudderingly sweet, a small blonde girl to come with him. His hand wraps her wrist as she trembles, tearfully resisting and mute. His other arm headlocks an even smaller boy, who sobs and pulls with both hands at the man's clamped arm. The little boy's shaggy brown hair falls into his eyes, and i can only see the top of his head.
i say to the little girl Do you know him?, and she shakes her head no, eyes huge. To the man, i command Leave her alone. He sneers, hunched toward his prey, blocking the exit, then leans away from the girl and into the little boy as he steers him, struggling meekly, out into the crowd.
The people surging through the food court swallow the little girl into their mass, and i watch her light-haired head fade into their shadows, knowing she is okay, though she's searching for her family who isn't there. i look around the atrium, that, for its domed glass ceiling and plate glass walls, is stormy-dark. People move, headfirst and too fast, along fixed paths, over-dressed in black coats. They barely have faces.
Still calm, I look for a security guard who can help me get the boy, but they aren't wearing uniforms, and even the woman working behind a counter, switching food for money, points to a man who spins around and lifts his knees and flails in a crane dance. All the men at the posts are shabbily dressed, slouching and weaker than me. At last, I find one, a man a few years younger. I tell him There's a man I think kidnapped a little boy, but the guard shows no interest. Before he left, i heard him trying to make a little girl come with him, and he rouses.
We walk down the endless, airport-like hallways while he talks and brags, posturing to impress me. We haven't locked the doors so no one can leave until we find the boy. We aren't running to the parking lot to make sure the man isn't driving away. He hasn't radioed the other guards, he isn't even looking at the people all around us. Finally, i interrupt What about the boy?, and the shock in his face tells me he wasn't listening. He never heard.
. . .
As i compose this, walking through my neighborhood, my city, a man straddles his rumbling engine, horsepower, and leers down at me. In his wake waft sharp diesel fumes, and i hope that's not the only way he feels the earth: extracted, refined, toxified. i hope he loves a woman whose flesh parts tectonically when he presses into her fissure, and the friction at their fault line quakes with seismic love that collapses them.
I also pass a mother who clasps her hands around her child, steadily eyeing every passerby. Others walk straight lines in tight-collared shirts, and their bodies' lines warp and sag, and their hairs wisp from their scalps years sooner than their fathers' did. Or maybe i am getting older and my father's hair is thinning and we go days without speaking while nothing holds still as i surface deeper into a world that continually resolves into focus only to avert its gaze from its own unbelievable reflection.
i've met the wounded man in some men--and loved him fiercely, to the edge
of his own black hole, where he is still under
his uncle on a dirty mattress on the floor of a one-
room Iowan apartment; hauling
his drunken father up the stairs at 4 am, the last one
awake in the world; begging
forgiveness from his stepmother's misfired anger;
staring bewildered and hurt at me,
my body locked at the hinges
with grudge, cold and all jaw.
All scorning those whose approval they so desperately seek.
They are the same men, who, even though we barely spoke then, knew what to say when i called with nothing to say after Frank, hooded grinning bodhisattva, got shot off his bike on his way home from the bar, and was dead, no matter how many times i glimpsed his shaded face smiling in my periphery; he talked about his friend from school, how the one with the knife in his gut was his friend and the one with the knife in his hand was his brother's. When i call because i can't hold the vision, he tells me It's like opening the dam, more water in the same river. Hold more flow, though he doesn't know that i am actually crossing the Monongahela when says it. He leaves me when i am five, butt still asks my sister about me when he meets her secretly behind his new wife's back. When i come home from college, defeated and crying, he tells me If you never do another thing your entire life, you have already done enough. When he holds my singing bowl, mistaking it for mortar and pestle, he palms it and clangs out rhythm, strikes the rim at more than the ceremonial cardinal points and grinds the mallet into the center to mute the tone. He turns it into the instrument i have never recognized it as. He touches everything so fearlessly and joyfully, like nothing could break in his hand. He shields his eyes from the spotlight, fist closed around a microphone, lungs clean out of air but still singing. He leans over his guitar like he's coaxing prayer from it, playing out the silent song he hears. They always lean over a guitar, eyes closed, loosing their muted prayers. i have known a few altar boys. They know when god is out of earshot.
All perfectly innocent in the moments they forget to guard, when their burqas lift away from their hot mouths and they gulp cool air.
So i have a friend who is going through some shit. My lover is going through some shit. i am going through some shit. In the shadowy alcove of gender we impose so strictly, we forget our equally vulnerable innocence, the fragile candles we harbor as children and as speaking, conditioned animals. But in our dreams, the boundaries between skin dissolve, and we witness the scene where we act every character--where the thread of who i am with my mother splits from who i am with my boss from who i am among strangers to who i am when i'm on top, and we dispense with gravity while we we navigate the web of our overlapping appetites and defenses.
i saved the girl, i left the boy. i assumed he could take care of himself while i arranged to come for him. i assumed he knew i was coming for him. But i am as much the man in the red shirt with the vice grip as i am the crying frightened child as i am the hero as i am impotent authority as i am the handsome rapist and the shadow people and the falling friend and the strong, loyal lover and the saved and the fronting.
And we are more alike than not.
And we are going back.