(CONTINUED) I got to the gate as the plane was boarding and slept through most of the short flight, but by the time we landed at SFO I felt worse than I had at departure. At the airport I called my friend Ruben. He answered on the seventh ring.
“Hello?” He sounded groggy, but I guessed I probably did too.
“Hey Ruben, it’s Tom.”
“Tom! What the hell? Where are you?”
“I’m at SFO”
“SFO? Where are you going?”
“I’m not going, I’m returning. I need to see Anne.”
He paused for a moment. “You’re going to see her?”
“Yeah, I want to.”
Ruben sighed. “Are you sure it’s a good idea? The papers are signed and the rings are off. It’s all over. Let it go. It was your decision anyway.”
I didn’t want to get into it. Not there. Not yet. “Listen, Ruben, I was just wondering if you could give me a ride.”
Another pause, then: “Hell, you could’ve given me some notice. I’m not even dressed yet.” Ruben worked nights at the post office loading and unloading trucks. He’d had the job since I’d known him, which at this point was about 12 years. He continued: “Not only that, you could’ve let someone know you were leaving. What were you doing?”
“I was writing.” It was sort of true.
I cut him off. “Listen, I was only wondering if you could pick me up. I can wait awhile. Just as long as you can show up sometime this afternoon.”
He laughed. “Yeah, sure. Let me get dressed and I’ll be there in an hour. You going back to your place?”
“Nah, I let the lease go and moved my stuff into storage.”
“You did? Man, that was a nice place. You’ll never get rent that cheap again. So where…?”
“I was thinking your couch might be available.”
Ruben groaned. “Shit. Alright, I’ll see you outside baggage claim in an hour.”
I picked up my bag and went to get some overpriced pizza. At the table next to me a woman in what I guessed to be her mid-thirties was talking to a man at least fifteen years her senior. She spoke slowly, her words measured. “Honey, do you think you can make it to the counter? Or you can tell me what you want and I’ll get it for you.”
“I don’t want that garbage.” His voice cracked. His bloodless face was covered in short, gray whiskers. “I ain’t hungry.”
The woman continued: “But you should eat. We have a long flight and they don’t have much to eat on the plane.” She spoke like she was frightened, as if a single unanticipated word or action on her part might cause the man to suddenly explode, as he’d no doubt done many times before. Or maybe he’d crumble to dust. I thought it was like watching someone working around a plug of dynamite that now had only the power to destroy itself yet remained just as volatile.
“Hell, I might be dead before we get there…”
The woman choked back a sob and I turned away. Then I heard the man say, softening, “Ah, I’m sorry. Baby, I’ll make it. It’s just these hospitals and the damn doctors and their bullshit.” His voice began to rise again, but he forced it down. “I’m wore out. But I’ll be okay. I promise you that.”
I looked over again and saw that he’d taken her hands in his. His arms trembled slightly as he squeezed her fingers gently in his palms. “Just get me a slice of pepperoni and a glass of ice water.”
The woman went to the counter and I stole one last glance at the man. I was worried he’d notice me, but instead he had his head in his hands, his withered fingers working through thin, greasy hair. I got up and went outside to wait for Ruben and noticed the difference immediately. The air was damp and cool and the sun dipped behind gray clouds. I wondered if there’d be fog in the morning. At least in one way I was out of the desert. (CONTINUED)
All photos of Tucson, AZ.