I Would See Everything I am standing in a long line in a dark video store waiting to pay for the movie my two sons finally agreed to rent. It is 7 o'clock on our first Friday night in this town--Walnut Creek, though we have not seen one walnut tree--and Max and Alex have picked out a slasher movie. I stare at the movie box, flipping it in my hand. The actor on the cover seems to have been whipped or burned terribly, his bald head and fleshy face a mound of sinewy scars, yet he is leering at me. Usually when the boys want to rent a movie like this, I launch into a sociological discussion of violence and America's sick view of teenagers, but I was too tired tonight, so now I wait in line. The woman behind me pulls newspapers and coupons out of her large purse and bumps into my back rhythmically. I want to ignore her, but she says, "Oh, sorry," her breath smelling of green beans and bacon. I feel my face falling slowly downward; my skin, my lips, my makeup. I shuffle slowly forward on the tattered red carpet. "Hi. Are you a member?" the young man asks when I finally reach the counter. I look up at him, but I can't make it to his eyes. I watch his smooth chin with its sparse dark beard. Every hair seems to be the same length, straight and separate on his soft skin. I think he is smiling. "Ah . . . No. Not yet. I've never been here before." His chin shakes, and he rubs a hand down a long black shank of hair. "You've got to fill in this form before you can rent anything. Here." He gently hands me the form and a pen. "You can stand over here while you do it." I meet his eyes finally, and he is smiling. "That's a really scary movie, you know," he says, pointing to my box. "I'm pretty scary tonight," I say, moving my purse and application over to the other side of the counter. I have not felt this incapable since my high school physiology teacher made me dissect a twenty-pound feral cat by myself. I remember sitting at the black formica table, staring at the prone, formaldehyde pickled cat, finally sobbing when my teacher handed me the huge silver shears to cut the rib cage. The bones snapped like wet twigs. "Are you done?" the young man asks. I hand him my form. "Yes. I guess so." He looks at my form carefully, and then slowly fills out a card. "This is your card. Make sure you show it when you check out a video." As he takes my money, I notice that he does everything purposefully. The money goes into the register just so; the pen fits right above the cash register keys. His arms are as smooth as his chin with the same sparse hair. He wears three thin bracelets made from colored yarn on his wrist, and they slip down to his hand and up to his mid-arm as he works. I look at his name tag: Tran. "Well, Tran, thanks a lot." He looks away from me as Max and Alex run towards the counter. He looks back to me and raises his left eyebrow. "Have a good time." It is Saturday afternoon. Max and Alex got tired of unpacking boxes, so I found the address of a public pool, and now I am sitting on a chaise lounge at Heather Farms watching Alex swim. Max is sitting on the chaise next to me, a snorkel in his mouth. "I'm pretending to be Freddie," he says, breathing loud snorts through the tube. Before we moved, Max insisted on having his head shaved. He used to have a flat top, like Arnold Schwarzeneger, but he wanted to go one step further, to have that G.I. Joe look. One day, my mother pulled me aside and told me that her bridge group was concerned about Max. "They wanted to know about his chemotherapy. They thought he had leukemia," she said. Later, as Max, Alex, and I moved boxes into our new house, I wondered if this was the same reason my neighbors gave us such pitying looks. Up until he was three, Max's hair was long and curled at the ends like those fancy twist straws. Every day, someone would ask me about my beautiful girl, pointing at Max as he ran, his dark hair bouncing on his shoulders. I finally took him to the Supercuts downtown where Max told the hairdresser he wanted to look like Terminator. "I'll be back," he said into the mirror at the finished product, the distressed hairdresser looking on. Now, his scalp shimmering under what remains of his hair, he breathes into the snorkel awhile and then takes it out of his mouth. "If there was a bomb, would I be able to survive with this snorkel?" He is looking at me anxiously, his brown eyes wide, his body tense. "What made you ask that?" "With bombs there's lots of smoke. No one can breathe." "I don't think there will be any bomb, Max. At least, not that I can imagine . . . I don't think the snorkel would really help, though." Max holds up the snorkel. "Yes, the snorkel would. I could breathe anywhere." He puts the snorkel back on and begins to walk around the pool towards Alex. Alex follows his brother with his eyes, and then thrusts his body up in the water and shrugs. When Simon was alive, he would read to Max out of a big Time-Life book, stopping to detail the aircraft carriers, U-boats, and fighters. When they reached the chapter on Hiroshima, Simon would talk about the loss of human life. There were pictures of nuclear shadows, the etched remains of the people who died in the first second of the explosion. One man had just climbed down a ladder and hung up his belt, the surprise in his body registering in black on the concrete wall. A little girl had just thrown a ball in the air, her outstretched arms the testament of her joy, her shadow the record of her life. Max would nod solemnly as Simon reassured him. He told Max that we learned our lesson. Sometimes Max would ask "Dad, will someone bomb us?" And Simon would reassure him again, talk about disarmament, lulling Max with words that went over his head. Just the sound of his father's patient voice was enough. After Alex is done swimming, we decide to go home. There are so many boxes to unpack, so much I need to go through. Before we left Sacramento, my mother, in desperation, took all of Simon's clothes that I had stubbornly left hanging in the closet for months and gave them to Goodwill. She wanted to do something for me before we left. When I told her and my father that I was moving, had found a new job, had bought a new house, they both sat at their kitchen table staring at me with eyes I can only describe as mournful. "But Dana, you shouldn't move to escape. You need your roots," my mother said, putting a strong hand on my knee. "And the boys!" I had thought of these arguments for months, that I was running away from my troubles, that I was yanking Max and Alex from the only life they knew. But I also knew that living in the house with Simon--his scent still on the comforter, his golf clubs in the basement, his mail showing up every day--was killing me. And I knew there were things I was not ready to see now with fresh eyes: the vase he bought in Guadalajara, his tennis racket, his high school graduation picture. I remember when I first saw this picture. We were visiting his mother's house on a spring break during our last year of college, and he pulled out a framed picture from the closet. "Who is that?" I asked interested, the young man's long black curls and bronze face sexy despite the late seventies' black bow tie and wide lapeled jacket. Simon looked at me astonished, then irritated. "Me. Of course." "Are you jealous of yourself?" I asked, pushing him softly on the arm. From then on, Who is that? became our joke phrase for anyone attractive. And when we were married and in our first apartment, I put the picture on the mantle. Who is that? I would whisper in his ear at night, biting his thick, brown butter lobe. I remember the smell of Simon's neck and the thickness of his ear, and I turn to Alex as I drive, realizing I don't want to go home just yet. "Let's go get another movie. And a pizza." Alex looks wary. "But we want to watch the one we got last night again. It's good." "Let's get one we can all watch, okay? Then we can eat pizza and unpack at the same time." I can feel Alex looking at me, calm and sad. Everything about Alex now is quiet; even his chlorine blonde hair seems to be more of a fading than a bleaching. At night, I go into his room and pet his head, his hair flat against my palm. Somehow, I want to give him life again, like when he was born or when I breastfed him. He was such a round, fat baby. My mother-in-law still talks about the ripples in his thighs. But there seems to be nothing I can give him now to nourish him, to plump him to a rosy, rippled, smiling baby. When Simon died, Alex fell into the background, into the quiet questions he had that no one could answer. Instead of talking, he started to watch us. If I were arguing with Max, Alex would appear as a silent referee. I was worried, so I took him to a therapist. After a few visits, the therapist asked me to a session alone. "Alex misses his father, and he needs to be sad. It is healthy for him to be sad now. He isn't depressed. He is grieving." She stopped talking and then looked at me. "Have you grieved yet?" When she asked me that, I realized that I was too busy to grieve but also that every second was grief. The kind of grief that pulled on the corners of my mouth all day, that felt constant, dark, and heavy like an implacable sinus infection. I went home that early afternoon and cried for it all: for Simon being hit by a drunk teenager in a two-and-a-half ton muscle car; for his life being over when there should have been so much more left; for me being alone with two boys; for my fear of being in charge, responsible, an adult; for my desire, sometimes, to not do any of it at all, to leave these two grieving children and my own hollow sadness as if they were horrible movies. But aside from keeping Simon's clothes hanging like thin ghosts in the closet, I did do it all. I emptied the safety deposit box the morning after the accident because my father was worried about probate. I met with the boys' school teachers, telling them both about Simon; telling one about Alex not talking; telling the other about Max's obsession. I tried to explain that one child would probably blow-up the first grade, while the other would fade so far into the fifth that no one would find him. I filed the police report and then listened to the teary sixteen-year-old talk about how sorry he was to the judge, his parents ashen and stiff behind him. I kept getting up every morning, making breakfast, driving to school and to work, helping with homework. I kept moving, but my sternum seemed to freeze up and petrify. When I breathed in, pain fell down my ribs like stairs. I could still smell my husband on my blankets and hear his voice on the answering machine, and I could still imagine his strong body flying over our Corolla, flipping in the air, and landing on the wet street. I could still see him lying, just moments dead, his last breath somewhere still in the room, his eyes blackened, his head swollen and bloody, his dark skin as white as the hospital sheets. I looked at his naked body, still so perfect, and wondered how death really worked. How did the body just shut off? How did blood stop flowing? Nothing my physiology teacher taught me--not even my own cutting of the cat's stiff flesh--had prepared me for this. His body might have been dead, but everything else between us had never been so alive. I saw him in the kitchen plates, the tools in the basement, the curve of the iron's handle. His hands still held everything except me. For months, each night I would think about my last look at him. As I walked out of the hospital room, I turned back and saw that his hand curled over the edge of the bed, as if he were hanging on, as if he could push himself up. I carried this picture around with me the same way I carried around Max's and Alex's school pictures in my wallet. I wondered when I would finally go crazy, sink into total depression, or become violent. I found it hard to believe that I was functioning and knew it was only a matter of time before I put towels under the kitchen door and stuck my head in the oven. But I didn't go insane and I kept not going insane; I started thinking I could live through this and that is when I decided to move. As I drove the U-Haul down Interstate 80, Alex and Max alert and silent next to me, I finally comforted myself by imagining myself the most well-adjusted insane person I had ever known. In that instant, every normal thing I had done since Simon died seemed miraculous. My hands are on the steering wheel at ten and two, the safest way to drive. Alex reaches over and pats my right hand. "Okay, Mom. But let's go home and get the other movie first." Max pulls on my seat from the back, the snorkel still in his hand. "I want to get one about the war." Alex turns to him. "We are going to get one we all like." Max slams into the back seat. "I'm not going to watch it. I'd rather drown in Thompson's Water Seal. I want one about war." He puts the snorkel in his mouth and snorts. Alex looks forward and says, "It'll be fine, Mom." Max finally sighs noisily through his snorkel, then spits it out. "Mom, what would happen if I had eyes all over my body?" Alex and I laugh. "I don't really know, Max. It would be interesting." "It would be great," says Max. "I would see everything." Tran is working again tonight, and he smiles at us as we walk in. He is watching a video, and I realize it is one of those movies made from E.M. Forster novels. The sound track reels with violins and harps, and Tran is counting money. "Hi, again," I say. "So Freddie scared you too much?" he asks, shaking his long hair back. "Not me," says Max. "I would shoot him with my machine gun." Max holds his snorkel vertically and makes shooting noises so violently spit drops to the floor. Alex shrugs again and then pulls his brother toward the back of the store. "You can see we are a non-violent family," I say, embarrassed. I walk over to the stacks. I fumble at a movie, wondering what I am looking for. Tran comes up behind me. "You know, we just got a couple of good movies in. Let me show your kids." I look into his eyes and stop breathing for a second. There is an answer in his voice, something I have been listening for. His left eyebrow lifts like a quiet exclamation on his forehead, and whatever he is saying, I want to believe him. His eyes are dark, and the yellow room fades. Now it is so easy to just hand someone my boys for a minute, the same way the doctors handed them to me when they were born. I let air slowly out my mouth and find my chest feels lighter, like I can breathe without a snorkel. Tran pats my arm quickly; so fast, that when I look down, his hand is back on his hip. "Hey, guys," he shouts. "Come over here. I've got some movies for you." My boys follow him towards a stack of videos under a sign that reads New Releases. Alex laughs as Tran points to a movie. Max pokes a movie down with his snorkel; Tran picks it up and hits him gently on the head The three of them move slowly down the aisle, and I breathe deeply now. In my mind, I pick up Simon's hand and uncurl it from its grip on the bed. I kiss each finger before I lay his hand on his smooth chest. I walk out of the room. I hear Max and Alex laugh, the room suddenly grows light, and I feel as though I have been lifted above my boys, both graceful and alive in their bodies. I can see everything in this minute, even the walnut trees on green hills, the nuts black and smelling like rain.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org