“I remember when… I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so precious about that day…
Even your emotions have an echo in so much space…”
His girlfriend is pregnant. He is suicidal.
He doesn’t tell anyone this, just pushes another needle into his arm. For months, he struggles with the clouds in his mind. They gather and gather, darker, heavier, until he feels sure a storm is going to break. What will rain down, he has no idea. He has a rope, a gun, and a cornucopia of pills. Why hasn’t he done it yet? It’s not his family- they don’t love him. It’s not his girlfriend- until she got pregnant, she was only a way to pass the time. It’s not himself- he’s so loony, he wishes someone would put him out of his misery- but he can’t bring himself to do the job. He doesn’t know what’s holding him back.
The baby is born. She is tiny, with spiky hair. She coos at him from her blanket on the floor, rolling around on her stomach like a helpless, playful seal. He loves her. Instantly. She brings him great happiness, moments of blinding faith and love. Waves of yellow light wash through him when he holds her, a feeling of gratitude and wonder he has only glimpsed in dreams. She clutches his collar and he melts, she spits up on his shirt and he laughs. He rocks her to sleep every night, and plays with her in the bath every morning. She is his angel, his light.
“Ooh baby, do you know what that’s worth? Ooh, heaven is a place on earth…
They say in heaven, love comes first… We’ll make heaven a place on earth…”
She watches him from her sleeping bag. The other kids have fallen asleep, scattered on the living room floor. An errant single parent has gone to bed, leaving the T.V. on and the remote within reach. The boy flicks it to the Playboy Cannel. There is some movie playing about a pair of red panties that travel from Paris to Amsterdam to London, sometimes on the svelte body of the young prostitute who wears them, sometimes lying on the floor while she makes love to various men on the bed.
The girl is not sure if she should pretend to be asleep, or keep watching, transfixed. She can’t take her eyes off the screen, but she’s embarrassed of him seeing her watching. She shuts her eyes, but then opens them again. Something thumps between her legs, a warm feeling she’s only just begun to recognize. She watches him watching the screen. She’s only ten years old. He looks at her from where he sits slumped against the couch, and they share a giggle. Her cheeks burn. She imagines him climbing over to where she lies and kissing her. She blushes more furiously and closes her eyes. When she opens them again, she watches his profile, her lips parted.
He is her older brother’s best friend, and she is infatuated. Several weeks after the Playboy movie, she walks past the living room and sees him lying on the couch. Her brother is still out in the yard. The boy is propped up on one elbow watching music videos, his blonde hair spiky in the flickering light. She wants to reach out and touch his hair, stroke it, tell him it’s okay. She doesn’t know what she is trying to soothe, why he should need her affection, but she feels a strong need to protect him, to look over him.
As she stands there watching, a wave of emotion rolls through her small body. It rocks her on her feet, but she doesn’t make a sound. Later, she’ll wonder if this feeling was love. It is a pure liquefying of her core, a deep blue sensation that brings tears to her eyes. Every part of her is open, vulnerable, aching to connect with him. She wants to rush to the couch, put her arms around his neck, tell him that she loves him. She wants to protect him. She is gasping for air, silently, when her older brother bursts back in the front door. He sees her standing there and laughs, clumps of dirt falling from his cleats. She turns and runs, throwing open the door of her bedroom and slamming it closed behind her. She heaves with embarrassment, her back against the wall. When she finally calms down, she makes a resolution: She will never be caught looking at him again.
“And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know, whoa, whoa, whoa!
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson, Heaven holds a place for those who pray, hey, hey, hey!”
They stand side by side in the art gallery. She is forty-two, seventeen years older than he is, and she is hot. She wears stiletto heels, and her hair is thick and dark. The way she stands, with her hand on her hip and her head cocked, conveys confidence and sexuality. She’s not afraid of anyone, and she wants this kid. He’s in trouble.
He looks at the painting and tries to make sense of it. It seems to be a huge room, gigantic doors reaching up to the sky, colorful murals adorning the walls. It’s like an Andy Warhol nightmare, abstract, frightening. She painted it. “What do you think?” she asks, turning to him. Her lips are painted red, and her eyes pierce. She wants to fuck him.
He knows this game, he’s not new to it. Older women come onto him all the time. He’s a beautiful young man, with sculpted limbs and the torso of a god. He charms them with his smile and his potent sexuality. He makes them feel sexy. He looks back at the painting. She’s watching him intently, hungrily. “It’s gorgeous, Katrina,” he says, using her first name. Prior to now, she’s always been Mrs. Porter. She was his high school art teacher. Now she has exhibits all over New York.
“What are you doing for the rest of the evening?” she suddenly asks, shooting a look over her shoulder. Her perfume is intoxicating. There is a pause as he continues to stare at the painting. Then he takes his hand and slides it down her back. She catches it behind her, and grips his hand in her own, fingernails pressing into his skin. His sudden arousal decides for him- he’s going to take her home.
In the cab, he kisses her like no one ever has. It is the first time in her life a kiss has left her breathless. Something about the way he slides his tongue deep into her mouth, almost into her throat. He kisses her masterfully, and she sighs, leans back in the seat and opens her legs. He laughs in triumph and grows in desire. The cab driver’s eyes flick to the rear-view mirror. Two shadows move in the darkness. He decides to take the scenic route, past Central Park, into Manhattan, down long city blocks where white street lamps glow and high rises lift into the sky. Wet sounds come from the backseat, and she begins to moan. The driver turns up the jazz. The people in the back don’t even notice.
“There is freedom within, there is freedom without, try to catch the deluge in a paper cup…
There’s a battle ahead, many battles are lost, but you never see the end of the road when you’re traveling with me…”
He is twenty years old, and reading a book on metaphysical philosophy. The forward of the book is written by the dead author’s husband. The author was a remarkable woman, a psychic and a medium. Her husband was her partner in every way, co-authoring books, and exploring the nature of reality with her.
The young man reads the first page of the forward, intrigued. He turns the page and continues reading. The widowed man explains his wife’s work, the method she used to go into trance, and the results of official tests that were conducted to determine the legitimacy of her work. From all accounts, she was anything but a fraud. She appears to have been a completely legitimate psychic, and a channel for higher intelligence to come into this world. The young man is intrigued. He keeps reading.
Several pages into the forward, the writing gets a little mushy. The widowed man is talking about his wife’s death in the seventies. His previously professional tone changes to a more emotional voice, and he describes a dream he had shortly after his wife died. She came to him across a bridge over a rushing blue river that seemed to change colors in the light. It was a blushing blue, then a roaring white. The river was so powerful that merely standing beside it had the effect of raising all of your body hairs and sending your heart racing. The widowed man knew, as he stood beside the river in the sunshine, that he would be fatally smashed if he fell into its waters. It cascaded over waterfalls and exploded into gorges. Where he stood beside it, he felt awe and reverence. It was equally terrifying and beautiful. It was the color of pearls, or ice.
The widowed man continues to recount his experiences after his wife died. Returning from the dream about the river, he mourns his wife’s death by taking late-night jogs through the park. He cries as he runs beneath the light posts, tears staining his cheeks. His heart fills with loneliness as he contemplates his wife’s absence. He strains to hear from her, entertaining stories from other psychics who claim to have encountered her in trance. He listens to them desperately, eager for a message, but senses in his heart that they are phonies. He lies in bed at night and listens to the wind whip in the trees, missing her with a pain that is physical, hoping to encounter her in dreams.
The young man who is reading is surprised and embarrassed to find that he is crying. Something in the widowed man’s story is striking a chord. He thinks of his nineteen year old girlfriend and his forehead furrows in confusion. She’s just some college girl he takes to parties and dances, and yet the man’s story about his dead wife has him thinking about her. They break up and make up, and sometimes he pursues her, but just as often he forgets about her entirely. Why is he suddenly imagining her dead? Why is his heart contracting and tears spilling down his face? He quickly slams closed the book.
“There’s a woman on the outside looking inside, does she see me?
No she does not really see me ‘cause she sees her own reflection.
And I’m trying not to notice that she’s hitching up her skirt
And while she straightening her stockings, her hair has gotten wet”
The first time she sees the blonde woman is on the bus. They both sit in the back, watching a bizarre homeless couple several seats up. The couple seems to be on drugs. The woman has her head in the man’s lap, and he is patting it absent-mindedly while preaching the gospel to the man in front of him. He has a large afro and wrinkled skin. The woman is white, and moaning like she’s going to be sick. He keeps patting her head and preaching until the young man in the seat in front of him turns around and asks him to stop. “I’m trying to read my book,” he says, annoyed.
The girls watch this spectacle openly, and watch each other privately. The blonde is an open lesbian. She has short spiky hair, and is wearing John Fluevog boots. Shit-kickers. Her long fingers tap out a beat to the music on her headphones. She keeps looking at the dark haired girl and smiling.
The dark haired girl is trying to be sullen. She’s had a bad day and she wants to pout. But she’s fascinated by the woman in front of her. The woman is masculine in the way she holds herself, but her body is so softly feminine. She laughs as the bizarre couple carries on, and turns to catch the other girl’s eye. They hold contact for a moment, and then the dark haired girl gets flustered and looks away. She watches the skyline, the buildings falling away as the bus climbs and the trees get thicker. When the blonde girl gets off the bus, she looks over her shoulder once and flashes the brunette a deliberate smile.
Two weeks later she sees the blonde woman again. Sitting in a cab after work, she stares out the window with unseeing eyes. The events of the day play before her. The cab pulls to a halt at a red light, and her eyes slowly come into focus. Standing ten feet away is the blonde woman, leaning against a city garbage can, smoking a cigarette. The girl in the cab feels her heart lurch, and she begins flushing madly. She looks down and then looks back up. It’s nighttime, and dark, but she thinks the woman may have seen her. Did she? The blonde woman is still smoking her cigarette, waiting with the rest of the city’s filth for a bus to arrive. The light changes and the cab drives off.
One week later, she is grocery shopping. She is selecting peppers when she feels her entire left side begin to tingle. She looks up. The blonde woman is standing there, looking at her deliberately. She is smiling. The girl drops the peppers and bolts. She doesn’t think, just disappears down the bread aisle. Her heart is thumping, and she can feel her cheeks burning. What is this? She pretends to be looking at cake mixes, crackers, but her mind is racing. She shoots covert looks up and down the aisle, and when she doesn’t see anyone, she forces herself to take a deep breath. She exhales and tries to collect herself. Then she begins walking. As she approaches the dairy section, she looks up. The woman is walking towards her. Her blonde hair is spiky, and she’s wearing pink pants. Pink pants! The brunette can hardly believe it. She never thought she’d fall in love with a woman who wore pink pants! At the last second, they look up at each other. They smile, a jolt of electricity passes between them, and then the brunette woman rushes out of the store, completely forgetting to buy anything.
A month later, a sexy, sexy man asks her out. She has wanted him forever. Why he has suddenly noticed her now is beyond her comprehension, but she accepts. She transfers her passion for the blonde woman to him, and it grows like a wildflower, blushing, crimson, delicate. She never tells him that she almost turned him down. She never tells him that when he asked her out, she was in love with another woman.
“Angel came down from heaven yesterday
She stayed with me just long enough to rescue me”
He hears that his daughter has begun to paint. She is marvelously artistic, creating god-like images that make people wonder if she is divinely inspired. He remembers that she painted this way when she was a child, but gave it up when she started using drugs. Now she is clean, squeaky clean, and looking for salvation. She stands at the easel and allows the creativity to lift her hands, to stroke the brush to the canvas. Swirling forms come to life in the brush’s wake, opening hearts and minds.
He is homeless, living on scraps and booze, sleeping against buildings wrapped in an old parka. He’s happiest this way, or so it seems. No wife to report to, no job to do. He has let go of everything, he is a wandering, modern day mendicant, renouncing the comforts of the world and living on the charity of others. He has nothing to give but advice, though no one wants to listen. He’s starving slowly, wasting away, but this is fine, because he has nothing left to live for. The amber liquid at the bottom of the bottle is enough to keep him going, but it won’t last forever. When it’s gone, it’s gone.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, his daughter sits back in a hypnotist’s chair. She is purging her soul, cleansing the depths of her being, and she floats in and out of past lives like a ghost. A beaten wife, a holy mother, a scrawny orphan, a ratty boy… The hypnotist guides her back to this life. “Where is the trauma? Can you let it go?” She floats above a scene in which she is an infant. Dad and Mom are still together. She is asleep in the crib. Dad wanders back to the bedroom, lies down. Somehow, she finds herself in his mind. She is an observer, a careful, quiet presence. She watches his thoughts racing, feels his heavy body. And then she knows.
When she comes out of her trance, she tells the hypnotist. “My father almost committed suicide, but I was born. He was going to do it. He had a gun, a rope, bottles of pills. He had run out of reasons for living, he was hopeless. But I was like a light in his mind and heart, and because I was born, he decided to live.” She ponders this for a long time, and decides to walk home. A vision of an angel emerging from a lake of filth rises in her mind, a holy being who gives shelter to the homeless and love to the world. The angel is so spectacular that the girl cannot see her face, but her essence is strong enough- it is gorgeous. She will paint the angel first thing when she gets home.
She approaches her front door and sees a package lying on the ground. “From Dad,” it reads. She carries it inside, puzzled, and tears open the brown paper, tosses aside the hemp string. Inside she finds paints and brushes. They are spectacular, beautiful. They must have cost a fortune. She has no idea how her father acquired them, or even how to find him- he lives on the streets, and only surfaces when he chooses to- so she paints instead. She paints a glorious picture of filth, the state of a mind obsessed with suicide, and then she paints heaven overhead. Tall trees reach out to a golden sunshine, and green grass sways in the breeze. In the mountains, she paints a rushing river, and feels its power in her veins. She paints faster. An angel appears now, between heaven and earth, reaching one slim hand down to help humanity out of the misery. With the other, she reaches for the sky, towards divine light, channeling love. She is a bridge between heaven and hell, and she works tirelessly to save souls. The girl’s face is infused with light as she paints, and she hums without hearing herself.
In a dingy alley, the bottle slips from his hand. This time, he hasn’t committed suicide. He saw a vision, a beatific vision, and so he just stopped trying. The filth of the streets is no challenge for the pull of heaven. An angel is offering him the way. He feels his soul slip from his body, and he takes her hand.
“Her name was Carmen, she lived down in Spanish Harlem
And I think I had the key to her secret garden…”
“I’ve just never felt passion like that, you know?” says the young girl. “We were like two flames, completely consuming each other. We sucked all of the oxygen out of the room, until there was nothing left.” She sighs. “I miss him.” The older woman is quiet, waiting. She takes a sip of her tea, and the silver bracelets jingle on her arms. She is luminous at sixty.
The young girl continues. “Before we got together, he made it so clear that he wanted me. If we were all at a bonfire and I walked away to look at the moon, moments later he was by my side. When he hugged me goodnight, he would hold me for a long time, and I could feel his heart beating. Then he would look deep into my eyes and tell me he was really glad I had come out. At parties, he would fill up a glass of wine and come down and sit next to me. We would pass the wine back and forth all night. When we were together, I felt like I was the only girl he saw. He pursued me with a single-minded focus that was intoxicating. He made it very clear that he wanted me. And being desired that way is the strongest aphrodisiac in the world.”
The older woman nods her head. “Of course it is, dear.” She sips her tea sagely. “Passion like that is hard to forget.” She sits quietly for a moment and then says, “Do you mind if I ask you… was he Latin American?” The young girl nods her head in surprise. “How did you know?!” she asks. “I met him on a beach in Brazil!”
“Well,” the older woman says. “They love like that. They put their heart and soul into loving, and to them, it is the most important thing in the world. No wonder you still think about him,” she says, winking. “Passion like that is hard to forget.”
“Come over to the window, my little darling
I’d like to try to read your palm
I used to think I was some kind of gypsy boy
Before I let you take me home”
She has been his wife for sixty years, and she is dying. He holds her hand, and sees that it is translucent, like air or water. He can practically see through her.
He wants to cry, but their grown children are here, saying goodbye to their mother. He has always been a strong man, he will not crumble now. The children take their time, both beautiful and strong in their own right. Their parents have raised them well, and now they let their mother go with grace and affection. She will always be with them.
They close the door gently behind them, and he and she are left alone. She looks at him with perfectly lucid eyes, and smiles. “This is just another change, you know?” she says. Her voice catches in her throat, and he knows that she is sad for him, not for herself. She is on the threshold of a beautiful place, and her friends and family are waiting for her on the other side. At their feet, an ice-blue river rushes, tumbling through valleys and exploding over boulders. A hanging bridge sways over this river, and she will cross it alone, with her husband on one side, saying goodbye, and her family on the other, welcoming her ashore.
He gives in to his emotion now, bent down over her hand and sobbing. She cries with him, both of her hands held in his. The decision to leave is her own, and it is time. Her deepest attachment in life is this man, and she cannot think how she will leave him. She just knows that she must, because then it will be she who can welcome him when his time comes, she who can stand on the other side of the river with her arms outstretched, joyously greeting his new, freed form.
He cries over her tiny hands, translucent in the light, and sees the blue blood pulsing in her veins. She is still alive, sprightly, and her blood rushes like that river, invisible to his human eyes, majestic just beyond the veil of his reasoning mind. But he feels its power in his heart, and decides to let her go. He cannot keep her waiting. She smiles at him gently and closes her eyes. With her hands in his, she lets go. And now she crosses the bridge and beams as she walks, the sun shining down on her shoulders, and love surrounding her on every side.