” There’s no way I can make you understand what it was like…and if I did,” he trails off distracted by a bird in a tree. “I know I’m supposed to, but …so then you can feel like crap too? ”

“Hey, even that counts, ” I say, “It all counts- even talking about talking about it . I ‘m not going to catch it , don’t worry ” and besides, I have plenty enough stirring around in my own head to be tortured by what’s in yours, even if I do feel bad when you tell it- but of course I don’t say this last part.  What am  I supposed to say?  ‘It’s OK, I’ve heard all this so many times in different ways, don’t worry about it dude, it’s all good.’  I want him to tell me the worst of it yet I know we’re not going to get there in a hurry. This is a long, slow rabbit hole. “Remember, we talked about this,  making others who don’t want to carry your emotional burdens- the guy you were telling me about  at the coffeeshop whether or not people are receptive to him he holds them hostage- how some people can deal with it, some can’t, some will unwittingly set you off and make it worse?”

He kicks the ground. “I don’t know if anything helps. I don’t know if I can be a normal person again, like I was. I can’t remember that guy, I feel like he’s dead. ”

I don’t want to lie to him, tell him something like ‘Oh, things will get easier, chin up , those nightmares won’t be as bad…’ Nor do I want to tell him things might get worse, or that yes indeedy, that guy is dead, that pretty much not only with life not be the same as before- but that he has to stop expecting it ever will be -or that he will probably always have that slightly surreal feeling as if he were in a dream, that the ‘If-I-had-only-done-such-and-such it would have been me, or I wouldn’t have gotten this injury – that the or, or, or, will lie coiled in a basket waiting for a hot day to strike….we will  get to that.

” I used to have no questions- I knew what I was doing was right. Now I question everything. I f-ing question what I should have for breakfast and I can hardly decide that. It’s like I just want to sit and stare at things and not have my brain jumping around…” He is  breaking up tiny sticks and peeling the wood.  “Is it ok if we just stay out here and talk this time ?” he asks, looking down as if he is ashamed to ask even this much. Now I have to play the game of answering a question with a question, which I hate, but somehow have convinced myself it’s kinder to offer a choice.

” Would you be ok with that little indoor arboretum place? No one’s here but the janitors.” I have told this lie so often now I half-believe I will soon see a spectral janitor, mopping up hallways and whistling some sad song of the old west, wildroot and dust motes in the late afternoon light.  I wonder sometimes if they know the janitors are a lie and feel insulted. That they have entrusted me with their fears, their secrets and in turn, I fear them and make up imaginary protectors.  Um, no my mom can’t come to the phone, she’s ummm… in the shower.

“Yeah,OK”  he sullenly agrees. I let him open the door and hold it, walk a step or two, then wait another  breath. Like the man who doesn’t like to sit in a restaurant with his back to the front door-  I  follow. He starts loping forward- while I pretend  is my height or things I am carrying or that I’m distracted by something or almost anything that is slowing me down and holding me back,-never in front and preferably not alongside  like pals-the following behind- yet another of many clumsy you-trust-me-but-I- don’t-trust-you moments. I try to shake off the aholey, creepy feeling I get from this – that we are just hanging out, boogieing on down the road, but I want him to be where I can see him. In turn he shortens  his own stride, waiting for me to ‘catch up’ to him. It’s an uncomfortable dance, but here we are. I get through these soul-sick moments playing bits of 80’s tunes in my head.

So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills-You know the one, Dr. Everything’ll be alright
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left-Ask him how much of your mind, baby
‘Cause in this life things are much harder than in the afterworld
In this life you’re on your own ……Let’s Go Crazy, Prince

He enters the garden area and slowly sits down on the cement bench-thing and leans forward and I notice he is still holding his little bundle of sticks. There’s some kind of rustling, a flicker of white feather.

“The birds- they aren’t afraid to come in here?” he asks “even though there’s people?”  He’s rolling the sticks between his hands now.

“No.” I say, looking through the glass wall at the painting of the hideous, almost dodo-ish pelican, with some douchebaggy inscribed metal thing: Donated by some rich f–k who also thought it hideous ,”Well…they’re kind of a pain at times.”

“I like them, ” he says. “I like to feed them, and the singing.”

“You do?” I ask, as if we are at a museum, as if we are both 7. I do this so as to avoid the possible subject of guns, hunting, killing, death. For now. “You know..” I begin..and this is almost like cooking, sometimes one has to make it up right then, as one goes along- I then betray the unspoken rule by offering a suggestion, rather than make him have to wade through more birdpoop to get to it on his own, ” being out in nature more often might be a good thing  for you.”

I try not to seize upon the one positive thing he says as if I were a vampire-vulture, always at the ready to feast upon what is still living in him, or dead-but that is exactly what we are both doing;  scavenging what is left-  tearing away at the bone.



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