Friday, December 09, 2005

A Loss for Words Pt. 3

(CONTINUED) I drove back to the motel but couldn’t sleep, despite the beer. I lay down on the bed and looked at the dark ceiling and wondered why it was impossible for people to change. By the age of twelve I’d known this to be true—that who you were was who you were always going to be—because by that age I’d already hoped to be someone different than I’d been at eight or ten and instead I’d felt just the same. And again, lying in a motel bed in New Mexico, decades later, I was still the same. The problems were different now, more adult, perhaps, but they sprang from the same place that had once shaped an angry child. That child would not be banished but hid behind artifice and cloaked itself in deception, always waiting to return.

I'm not a late-night person and never have been. I might sometimes stay up past midnight, but if I'm not asleep by 2 AM I know I'm in trouble. My mind seems to wander into the darkest recesses, conjuring fantastic visions of what could be and what never should be. To be awake between the hours of 3 AM and 5 AM is, for me, to be lowered into the depths of hell, an utter torment. This is the hour of the wolf, when death seems to stand beside the bed and angels hang softly in the air, their eyes sorrowful, their outstretched hands empty, out of reach. Morning becomes the only blessing and the greatest curse. Many times I’ve been out of bed and at the bathroom mirror by 5:30, the dark, sunken eyes and ashen face clearly my own, yet I stare, lost, as if my own gaze might somehow change the hammered countenance thrown back at me. But I am me. Always me.

So it was on this morning as I dressed and showered, half-alive and wondering what I was doing. The dawn soon began to work its quiet magic, however, and the cock-eyed world that had arisen in the darkness slowly began to right itself. I recalled a fragment of a dream—though I did not recall sleeping—in which I was alone in a deserted city, amongst burnt-out buildings and piles of debris. I wandered down buckled streets and entered vacant tenements in search of assistance. But I could find no one. In the trash-strewn parking lot of a sprawling apartment complex I found a red phone. A wire snaked from the back of the phone through the lot and up the stairs into the gutted building. I lifted the receiver off the cradle and heard a dial tone. I was instantly euphoric, a bubble of well-being rising from my stomach into my chest. But that joy disappeared just as quickly as I tried to recall what number I needed to dial. Again and again I punched numbers and again and again a woman’s voice, a robotic recording, told me that I was not allowed to contact this party, to please hang up and try another number. I tried the connection at the back of the phone and the wire broke off in my hand. The phone went dead. Just then a large man dressed in filthy rags began to stagger toward me, bellowing angrily, “Man, you better not have broken that phone! You better not!” Frantically, I tried to fix the phone as the man approached but I could not. I remember the fear, but that is all I remember. Then, nothing.

I put my things in my suitcase and left ten dollars for the maid. I didn’t really believe people did that anymore, but it felt strangely desperate and reckless and so I did it anyway. The day was like almost every day in the desert: warm, cloudless, bright. I started the car and headed for Albuquerque. (CONTINUED)

Top photo is the San Xavier del Bac Mission, AZ, and the middle shot is somewhere on U.S. Highway 56, between Clayton and Springer, NM. The bottom pic is Tucson, AZ.

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