Monday, October 25, 2004

Telling Wideman's Story - Life Part One - Chapter d

Nothing But White As Far As You Can Squint by Kate Guay

Tell me a story, she says, looking straight into my eyes, seeing through my soul. She uses her left foot to kick her right shoe off its foot and it flows from the bed and it thumps on the hardwood floor, causing my blink of my eyes to be two seconds too long for the comfortable air of our laying on the bed together. She senses something, doesn’t know what. I tell her a story.

When I was younger, I could do everything off reaction, off instinct. I was particularly quick with the jokes. My jabs would be perfectly timed and placed, and I would constantly go right the edge, push the edge further off the cliff, and gracefully walk back before anyone knew I went farther than should have been trespassed. I could read people too, I could catch vibes, know where to go, know when to go, and when to stop pushing. My teachers never knew what would hit their class, but they’d enjoy it. I’m telling you. My fellow peers would get in trouble, taking were I stopped and continuing through the Rubicon, but I knew when to stop, through my instincts, right? Others would cry when being punished that I was cracking one-liners as well, but they never understood the genius of my pacing and timing and ability to know when to stop. My teachers would tell my parents I were a joy whilst telling others their kids need to stop. Eventually nobody tried to catch up with me. Nobody could catch up to where I was taking classroom humor. Kids from outside our school and I would watch movies and those kids would be in astonishment for how far the kids in the movies went in joke-making in the class, but because of me, the kids from my school were never impressed with their abilities.

Through this, I was great at the game of basketball, too. My court vision was spectacular, I could know where a player was going to go, what the defender could, and deliver a pass on the mark, perfectly placed. I could know when to hoist a three, know when to drive to the lane, know when to take a shooting foul, when and how to foul at the end of the game to come back, mostly I would outright steal the ball for a fastbreak. I was merely in my youthful teens and I could touch rim. My height proved a spectacular advantage in the youth, as most point guards were smallish and were made point guards merely based on size and the fact that they couldn’t play down in the frontcourt with the big boys. But I was different, I had the height for the big boys, but the skills of a little man. I was good enough to seriously consider D-1 basketball. That’s division one basketball, or the big boys. Maybe not Duke or Kentucky, but definitely Southwest Louisiana State Tech A&M, my range of ability was right in the middle. Even if my skills were just ahead of my age, and eventually others would catch up and perhaps pass me, I could still shoot the jay, baby. But I’m saying I would do things so quick and so natural, it would be as if it were luck. But it wasn’t. It was all instinct and reaction.

But unfortunately there comes a time in a youth’s life, where reason and thought eventually take over instinct and reaction in the lifelong battle to suppress what adults’ naturally come to realize and what children hope is enough to know. Reason and thought were my downfall. As I got a little older, I tried out for a basketball team and for the tryouts, I was terrible. I began to think on the court, and for at that age, with those skills, there was no thinking, that came later and at a high higher level, with scouting, watching tapes, advanced plays, philosophies. Reason and thought were battling my instinct and reaction during my play. I began thinking about rotation of the ball during my shots, trying to aim the shot at the front of the rim or at the back, whichever would ever help. I thought about trying to make the perfect pass, and it ruined me, I was terrible. Horrific, and because I’m white trying out with black players, the stereotype of my race preceded me in my teammates’ and opponents’ minds, as they had never seen my beautiful play before. It was awful. I was starting to become a thinking man, where instincts and physicality where leaving me during a physical activity. Soon afterwards I would become more interested in thinking and philosophizing in and around and about the world. I was terrible on that court, couldn’t make lay-ups, started to get intimated by my opponents, it got so bad, that my opponents, let alone my teammates were giving me pity high-fives when I did even the tiniest thing relating to an actual good basketball move, or even worse…when I hustled.

Well, anyway, my mother had to leave work early to pick me up, right? I walk out of the gym and the bright lights blind me. I can’t see. I can’t think, I’m totally lost in the world in that what was me was changing, perhaps evolving, but then her silver car made the turn from behind the tree and over the ramp into the parking lot. And all was right in the world. The familiar car, the familiar headlights and grill, the spot that always seems to be there on the left corner of the hood, even if it were there only for a favorite vacation in the past. The sound the car makes, brought me home. The way the brakes squealed brought me home. The way my mother would tap the accelerator too hard and the frame would jump past the front tires. All the familiarity was right in the world.

I came to the car peered through the window in attempt to make sure it was her. But we both knew it was the right car, I just wanted to see that slight neck turn of hers from that smiling profile, where no matter what happened in her day, she was just happy to see me. I opened the door and sulked into the front seat. The black cloth never felt more like the velvet I had considered it to be when I was younger. The seats used to engulf me as a boy and the driver would always have to help with putting the seat belt into its buckle, but not anymore. The chair was just starting to get uncomfortable, I’m just starting to experiment with the recline mode lever at the bottom of the side of the chair. The seatbelt is no longer a battle of wits to grab it and stretch it out long enough before it locks into a length that’s always too short. I can easily stretch it out farther than I ever used to be, and the buckling takes no more effort or thought than breathing. The front seat is more a necessity than a luxury.

I wept. I mean, I really started to cry. She couldn’t possibly understand why. I told her it was because I was horrible today at basketball, I mean legitimately awful. Never should have been on the court in the first place. Never should have picked up a basketball, others would think baseball or bowling were my sport. All that was too childish for what was really going on, for somewhere in my head I knew, even if my mind wouldn’t tell me, I knew reason and thought were taking over my childhood instincts. My mother was none the wiser, or she could have guessed that this was the change, but didn’t want to spoil the eventual enlightening or just didn’t know what to say, wasn’t prepared to discuss my becoming an adult.

She told me it was all right and the vibe from her was pure empathy, if there were a polygraph for empathy, she would have failed, but she didn’t know what to do with that empathy. I read that and took advantage. She drove us to the local Foot Locker, and I played the no-confidence, I suck, I’m terrible card to perfection and got new basketball related shirts, new basketball shorts, even new shoes, shoes that were one and one half sizes too big but I loved the design. I needed those shoes, and through all of our thought processes, we couldn’t take a step back to realize that buying shoes too big wasn’t too smart for being needed for use tomorrow.

I hated the fact that I took advantage of my mother like that. It kills me to this day. I never wanted to be that type of child who does that. Maybe I did in my youthful days when instinct and reaction dominated my mind, but I thought about this ploy and perpetuated it to action. My instincts were telling me to lay off, but my mind was reminding me of all the stuff I had always wanted, maybe I could get some. She just wanted me to not feel that unconfident, she would do anything it took. I caught her on an empathetic day, where the last thing she wanted was for her son to have no confidence, maybe she had some battles today with self-esteem and confidence, and she just want me to feel not happy, just have a feeling with some sort of confidence, and I knew that and exploited it for my own personal gain, and felt like the worse human being ever.

The next day of the try-outs, she forced me to go, perhaps to get some use out of these ever-shiny clothes, these clothes that shine, they blind me, make me another person, clothes clearly too shiny for me, and shoes, one and one half sizes too big. Perhaps knowing how good I was, and thinking yesterday were a mirage, and playing today would boost me up. But I was just as terrible tomorrow as yesterday. The transformation was continuing.

All try-out the soles of my shoes would thump on the court, thumping the soul of my body, either my heel being scrunched to the back providing the front of the shoe with a clown like slap to the parquet floor and my toes scrunching the feet where a thud from the hollow heel of the shoe would hit the floor. Thump, thump, thump, I would get faster as I ran, and they would squeal as I stopped. Others on the court would stare and act as if they wanted those shoes because they were obviously too big for me, and I would be all too willing to just give them up, but that wouldn’t be punishment enough for me. I needed to hear the embarrassing thumps to hammer home the guilt hopefully allowing this to become a lesson that I can use for my kids, When I was about your age, I had these ill-gotten shoes that were too big…, a lesson that would always stick with me, and it has.

I can still hear the thump of the shoes in some dreams I have. And anytime a shoe thumps on the ground, if I catch it at the right volume, I feel it the empty part of my innards, where bone, blood, organ, fat, and muscle don’t feel as if they meet. I sense the foreshadowing when a baby feels he’s bigger then he is and tries on daddy’s shoes and they thump on the ground as daddy holds his arms to help him walk, and the mother laughs and brings out the camcorder and acts as if this were something special, needlessly stammering and exclaiming over the picture. Don’t laugh I wish to say as I watch the home movie, he might do it again.

She takes the story in and breathes it out in a rush of cool air that hits my face. She complains that my story wasn’t one what she had in mind. She wanted something to take her away, let her become a child again, enraptured in an authority figure’s words, taking in what she wants and leaving out the other details that don’t confirm to how she wants the story to happen. I don’t know any stories like that off the top of my head, and she gets angry as if I were her dealer of good times and magical places.

She reports back to me that she feels antsy, she’s feeling the cool breeze of the night, a breeze that contrasts the humid heat that’s been falling on us recently. She wants to go somewhere, but we don’t have the money to go anywhere nor the responsibility to do anything. Life just seems to be happening to her. We decide to do as all couples do and we decide to go out for dinner for the both of us. As I drive there, the bright lights off the road and my pupils dilate, I can see brighter now, and the cool night air hits me and it reinvigorates me. I start to feel right again, as if I belonged in the world, as if it were okay for me to be out in the night doing something. I turn to face her and through the street lights, her silhouette shines on my pupils and I tell her of my feelings. My rebirth into the human race, where I can take charge of my destiny and hopefully have a cool story to where I as the uncle can make laugh my nieces and nephews who soon will have their own journey into being not young anymore and yet not old enough. She tells me that I should let go of my basketball story and to not let it bother me, and if I couldn’t do so before, her remedy is to inform that she also has taken advantage of her parents, in fact we’ve all done it. I mumble something and she asks to here it again, but it was just a mumble, I couldn’t think of a retort quick enough nor did her sentences deserve a response.

The downtown area is congested with busy people fluttering to and fro, people with lives, some of these people will actually go on to do something, grabbing their opportunity in life, their sole opportunity and making themselves up to something. Most however will forever be chasing the latest flavor of coffee. These people will have generations off of them down here in future times reenacting the same movements like a trail guide leading his group at a historic landmark.

I ask her to tell me a story as I look for ample parking, whereas regular parking won’t be sufficient. She excites and become overly eager to share something. She contorts herself towards the backseat. I recommend to her unbuckling the seatbelt to no avail, she stretches for a notepad she carries in her purse that has lodged itself under my seat. As she stretches, her shirt again rises up past her twisted torso, her navel winks at me and her jeans would be a little too low rise for her mother’s taste. Her revelation of the hidden tanned skin excites me enough to where I’ll be a loud chauvinist breathing out an air of contempt towards my contemporaries that have not been given this great gift that I set out before me. My loudness will take over the night, as I’ll flirt with anyone in sight, male, female, child, adult alike expressing the same youthful exuberance or youthful naiveté, depending on one’s station in life, that I have come to so loathe in my life.

She begins to start to read her words off her notepad with her patented sound of guilt-ridden confidence. She knows she’s something but she doesn’t want anyone to feel bad about her talents. This sound make her more snooty then she wished to be as she comes off as one who truly believes she has gifts from God, but those who know her well, know she may be on to something. She alerts me that what she’s about to read is nothing, just something she came up with. She then squints to read between the squiggle lines to notify me that she has titled her piece, Nothing But White As Far As You Can Squint.

I remind her, “I thought you said that this piece was nothing, if somebody titles something, immortalized with a name, then its not nothing.” She laughs a hurried laugh to be respectful, but still wanting to get back to her work for fear that this car ride could be the only right moment to unleash this work on me. She misses that I was serious, missing that it was my way of reassuring her that she’s talented enough to title her work, she won’t come off as portentous, she has too much talent for being portentous to be a concern, missing my vague clues that I respect her. She squints down at the page reading off from the light of the streets.

“You wore your faults on your face. A secret code carved that few could see. Long ago we decided it wasn’t a bother; who doesn’t have at least one fault? Who does not know the hurt that it can bring? So knowledge of fault became a sort of acceptance.

An ache to know surface simplicity filled you up to the sternum, and every day when we woke I tapped your chest gently, a reminder of what we shared. But that morning, I kept me all to myself, falling back asleep without giving you what you needed.

You dressed, walked outside into the snow for three hours and stopped, frozen in spot by thought, then by time, skin flaking, cracking; small blood droplets formed on your cheeks. By next morning it was hypothermia and cardiac arrest. Yet another fault; a physical reaction to the external failing the internal.

Stipulated in your will, you had me scratch out your headstone by hand. A misnomer, as it was really a piece of driftwood. Clumsily it read: I’m going hunting. I’m the hunter. I buried you after spring thaw.”

I sit staring at the traffic light fixture above, stunned and speechless to her work. She quickly assumes and worries that I don’t like it. That I don’t like Bjork. I tell her that even though I’ve just heard it, I’m enamored with it, but yet deeply concerned that I was in her life at the time, and that it’d need to settle. She feeds off my concern as it’s a time for her to act motherly, motherly to me, affirming that the story means nothing about our relationship or me, for that matter, but that she happened to be thinking of snow recently and it inspired her to write. Just like her to be thinking of winter at a time when the romance of spring should be filling her. Winter’s a while away, the coldness of it, the bite of the air, the sting of the frost should be something not thought with our time. Leave it to her to be thinking of winter. Time has no meanings for her.


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