Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Aug 04 email newsletter
Vol. 1, No. 3

CALL . . .
I may have found my legacy. One morning in mid-July, I sat with 15-20 kids ages 7-12 at a KinderCare in Arlington. Together, we made up the story of Yasmine, Keke, and Kerrington who were 20 years old and flying to California to get away from their parents. A twister threw their plane way off course, and it crashed on Jurassic Park where T-Rex and then raptors chased the three. Eventually, after more adventures, they all lived happily ever after. Or, at least, they got good jobs playing basketball, modeling, and singing.

But that’s not the important part. As we began the story-making process, I tossed off a meaningless comment about making paper airplanes. After the story was finished, they reminded me of the paper airplanes. So, as their teacher watched uneasily, I let each of them make one plane and sail it. They got one try each; most landed within a couple of feet of the starting line. I made one and sailed it halfway or more across the room.

So we sat down again, and I showed them how to make better paper airplanes. Some learned quicker than others; the ones who did the best said they would show the others. With the new, improved paper airplanes, Christy (I hope I spelled her name right) sailed one that went even further than mine did.

It was fun. I forgot about everything else for a while. So perhaps my legacy will be showing kids how to sail paper airplanes. It would be better than some legacies.

To which (the above), my friend Rene West responded, “Some sell water by the river.” She explained that is a Buddhist saying, which I did not know. She said, “I always think of it when I think that what I am doing is a pipedream, stupid, won't work ya da ya da ya da. Batchelor says this is the devil at play in your brain convincing you that your ideas aren’t valid.” Batchelor is Stephen Batchelor, who West identified as a contemporary writer on philosophy.


(Almost all of this piece is as clearly true as I can make it.)

Early one evening, sitting in a favorite café, I watched a young woman sit on a sidewalk in Deep Ellum, obviously tired and apparently seeking. She reminded me of another young woman I know, someone who has made her own decisions for better and for worse, someone I care about. The woman on the sidewalk came into the nearly empty café and ordered a glass of wine. She drank about half the glass of wine and fell asleep at the table.

The waitress and I discussed the woman. The waitress said the woman had been on the street for hours, patient, after spending the night with a Deep Ellum club owner with a strong, ever-changing appetite for young women; spend a night with them and let them go. Curious about the woman’s story, I suggested to the waitress that she wake the woman and give her my offer to drive her home.

I drove her to a southern suburb, to the home of someone she knew, and heard some of her stories. She thought the club owner cared about her, and wasn’t ready to hear she was discarded.

A week or so later . . .

Eve . . .
On a Thursday morning, the woman (call her Eve; why not?) called and asked me to come get her out of an apartment where she feared a man was about to beat her; he was outside yelling at his girlfriend. I asked her where the apartment was, and told her to go to the leasing office until I got there. (There are things, as humans, that we must do.) I rushed her out of the leasing office into my car. She hid on the floorboard as I started the engine. I drove away as a shirtless man hurried around the corner, not knowing who I was and not seeing Eve.

During the rest of Thursday, I got more of Eve’s story: abuse as a child; rebellion; first boyfriend at 13; teenage abortion; an early, physically and emotionally abusive marriage; a child she loves; a recent abusive relationship; rape; three weeks in jail on a dismissed charge of forging a prescription; looking 10 years older than her 26; recent drifting from apartment to apartment on what she called her journey. This is a small part of her story.

The Temptation . . .
Only for a while, as she drank wine and discussed with me some of the 20 quotes on one wall that, together, begin to sum up my philosophy – for example, from Angela Carter: “We do believe . . . her dreams will be the coming century. And, oh God, how frequently she weeps.” – from Italo Calvino: “But why, then, does the city exist? What line separates the inside from the outside, the rumble of wheels from the howl of wolves?” – from Townes Van Zandt: “We all got holes to fill, and them holes are all that’s real.” – from Richard Brautigan: “There are walls that want to prowl with the mountains through the early morning dusk.” – from Meister Eckhart: “The more deeply we are our true selves, the less self is in us.” – only for a while, as she drank wine and got outside herself – did Eve look her age.

On Thursday afternoon, she talked to several lawyers for advice because she had a final court hearing scheduled on Friday morning for custody of her five-year-old son. She called people she knew, and found a vacant apartment they said she could stay in.

On Thursday evening, I took her to the apartment and left her there to meet the couple she knew. Later, I learned that the couple brought a man with them whose apartment it would be, and encouraged her to do what he wanted so that she would have a place to stay.

Eve has three butterfly tattoos: one ring of butterflies around her right ankle, two butterflies at the small of her back, and one larger butterfly in the middle of her back just below the shoulder blades. For her, they represent freedom.

Her hair is brown, vaguely light streaked. Her breasts are full; her midriff bare. She trusts me, as much as she trusts anyone, I suppose, because I treat her with some dignity instead of like a piece of warm flesh. I am not, as she put it, “trying to get inside her pants.” The trust insults the animal side of me; honors the civilized human.

All The Rest Of Time . . .
Eve called me at 8:30 on Friday morning asking for a ride to her court hearing. She’d spent hours the night before at the club whose owner she knew, flirting with a different man. She was tired; she didn’t know what time it was. She’d already missed two court hearings in her custody case – one while she was in jail, one when her car broke down on the way, she said – and today’s hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m. 50 miles away. I told her to call the court and tell them she was on the way, and got her there at 9:45 a.m.

While she was inside, I sat on a bench on the little town square, looking up at the design of the old stone courthouse – the angel carved into stone, the birds carved into stone at the tops of columns – and at the pigeons perched on the tops of those columns. There were, of course, no butterflies.

Eve came out after half an hour, in tears because she had missed the appointed time and had lost custody of her son.

I asked, “Do you want to go to your parents?” who live in the town.

“No,” she said. “Hell no.”

As she cried on the way back to Dallas, then stared out the car’s window, then cried again, I took her to a house where she bought half a dozen Zanax and a small bag of weed. (I told her that I had some problems of my own to deal with, and that I would have to cut her loose around 4 p.m.) She wiped heavy, jasmine-scented perfume on her neck and arms.

She took one of the pills and, later, when I wasn’t watching, took a second. She became too incoherent for me to drop her off anywhere, so I took her home and put her on the sofa where she slept propped against the arm – one foot on the floor, one hand loosely on her right breast, and one propped behind her head – for two hours without moving.

At 3:30, I began waking her: calling her name, patting her cool face and legs, cradling the back of her exposed neck and pulling her slightly upward, finally pulling her upright with her hands and arms. I teased and comforted, talking gently to her.

She kept falling back into her oblivion until, finally, I had enough of her attention to ask her where she wanted to go. To her parents? To the Deep Ellum club? To the apartment where she spent the previous night, and where some of her belongings were in a Wal-Mart bag? To the office of the couple who found her the apartment?

“Apartment,” she said.

She clung to her purse, which contained the rest of her belongings and her drugs, and walked to my car where she fell asleep again. I thought of driving her to a shelter, but knew she would not accept that. At the apartment, I woke her again, slowly, and she walked away.

(Eve called me the next morning, asking, “Did I fall asleep on you?” She did not remember much of the previous day or her evening; she said her jeans were undone and partially pulled down but that otherwise she was still dressed.)

I expect to hear from her again, at any time, although I may not.

Revelations . . .
Eve called me the next morning, drifting, dreaming of freedom and her son and her self, still not understanding, life shimmering for so long, life – bigger than her or me – beginning to dance and fade away in small whimpers until nothing is left but black earth and high, light blue sky, until nothing is left