I found a place, a good place. It was filled with very tall trees and covered with cool green grass. There were sharp stones, though, before I could get there. They hurt my feet. The night was warm and quiet. I sat next to the small pond and regarded the ocean of stars arranged before my eyes. I ran my fingers through the fragrant grass.
I mourned The Kind One.
I had seen the sun come over the mountains, and I had watched it descend into the ocean. Another day had come and gone. I died another death. The same death that I had died yesterday. The same death that I would die tomorrow. I listened to the soft whispering of the beautiful trees.
The Kind One left me and my sister one year and six months and three weeks and two days ago.
She left us here. She had always been frail, and she had become tired. Everything is so different now. My sister and I do see her from time to time, and she tells us not to be sad.
I wish that she hadn’t left us. But she did. She left us.
I stared into the pond lighted by the bright moon and I saw her beautiful face and my father’s in mine.
I miss her so.
I walked twenty blocks and saw a place with people inside. They were laughing and joking together.
There were five: three Mexicans, a brown man like me, and an Armenian girl.
I asked for a beer and smokes. The pretty girl tending the bar gave me the beer, but the manager told me that they were out of smokes.
“?Hermano, no hay smokes por aqui? Verdad?”
He smiled and took some smokes from his pocket and gave me a few. I tried to give him some money, but he wouldn’t take it.
I sat at the bar and had a smoke and a beer. The pretty girl put on a song that she liked a great deal. She came from behind the bar and danced wonderfully. She wore a bright white shirt and a pleated blue skirt that flared as she spun.
I asked her if I could dance with her. She took my hand and we danced. She was so full of life and happiness. She spun and I spun. She had blue-gray-green eyes that are difficult for me to describe. She kissed me as we spun.
She later gave me another beer and asked me why I hadn’t asked her for her name, or if I could see her again.
“Cathleen. That’s what your parents named you. It’s a lovely name. And, yes, Cathleen, it would be wonderful to see you again.”
She blushed and asked me how I had known her name. I told her that it was a lucky guess. She found a scrap of paper and put her phone number on it and gave it to me. She asked me to call her, and I was amenable.
I sat down next to the brown gentleman. He drank his whiskey and I drank my beer. I asked him if his two little brothers and his little sister had eyes like his. He said yes. His father had been in the Air Force and had met a beautiful girl in Okinawa. Instead of going back to Mississippi, he brought her to California where they raised their children and lived happily.
My new friend, Deven, had been in the Navy. He had seen a great deal of the world. I have seen a great deal, and we traded stories.
I was happy that I had met them. They told me where I could get more smokes, ten or twelve blocks away. Cathleen escorted me out and draped her arms around me. She asked me if I had a problem with shoes. I laughed and said no.
She kissed me and told me to be careful. She asked if I would call her and I told her the truth.
I went to the AM.PM and they were closed. I knocked on the door and asked the man in Farsi, his language, the language of his home, if I could buy some beer and smokes. He smiled and said that I could have no beer, but I could have smokes. I gave him money, but he gave it back. I jokingly chided Shaheen, that this was no time for “t’a’rof kardan”, that he “had to accept this money”, “how could I enjoy my cigarettes?”…
Of course, he refused: “How can I take this money-especially under these circumstances?”
And on, and on.
Thoroughly amused, we compromised: he finally accepted the money for his trouble, and we parted friends.
I continued my journey. The concrete was still warm. I finally had my own smoke and I smoked it with pleasure.
The police were coming soon, so I enjoyed the last little bit of my smoke.
They were undone with fear and confusion and frustration. James and Scott. I don’t believe that it’s ever too late for anyone: they cared about people, but they didn’t understand them, or themselves. I felt sorry for them before I even met them. I know what it’s like to feel sad.
I asked the sergeant why he had left Fayetteville, he had liked it there. I told him that he could tell his wife not to worry so much about him. I asked him to keep an eye out for the young one, Scott, that he wouldn’t let him do something that he was going to carry with him forever.
“Scott, you have a good friend here. Mind him. Oh! By the way, Jessica’s fine, and the little one you’re waiting for is fine as well.” I regarded him and smiled. ”He’s going to make you proud, Scott. You’re going to be a good father. Don’t worry.”
James asked me about my feet, why I had no shoes. I told him the truth: I had worn boots and OD green and sand-colored uniforms for such a long time in so many strange lands that I was glad to feel the soil and even the concrete of my country. I was glad to walk in my country.
James and Scott thanked me for my service.
I asked them if they might have a smoke and a beer with me. Their shift had just begun, so they couldn’t.
I left my new friends and went to my quiet room. I looked at my pathetic stash of beer. Somehow, I had made a terrible miscalculation: there weren’t enough.
There weren’t enough to ensure dreamlessness. There weren’t enough such that I would not see good things or terrible things.
The Kind One is gone.
She dreamed, too.
Now, I have no one to tell, no one to help me.
I took Her for granted, as She was. Granted in my life-to my life. I am now awash in the sea of pain that exists in the absence of Her laughter and touch and smile.
Happiness and laughter, or slaughter and madness. I was so tired. It was going to happen tonight. I knew this. I had been awake for so long. Four, maybe five days. I try to stay awake, but I can’t stay awake forever.
I fought sleep, the closing of my eyes.
Perhaps one thousand years ago, maybe tomorrow, sometimes yesterday, people live and they love and they hate and they do wonderful things and incomprehensibly horrible things to each other. It’s so hard to know when any of these things are going to happen, where they’re going to happen, or if they’ve already happened.
There is nothing that I can do about the things that people have done to each other.
There is nothing that I can do for people I’ve never seen nor ever met; people that I would never be able to find in time to help anyway.
I can only see, and hear, and feel.
There is the joy, and the laughter, and the fear, and the pain, and the suffering. And there is nothing that I can do.
There is nothing that I can do.
The struggle is done. I am exhausted.
My eyes close, and I dream.