You know. Things happen. When I was nineteen I was in Galicia, the hard coastal northern tip of Spain over Portugal. Rocks claw out of the sea—the sea claws back at the rocks. I remember the senoras with their tight silver buns and blue kerchiefs, baskets in their arms—and the bread. They walked in flocks buzzing from the market. Their breasts lapped over their bellies and the tops of their hands were lined with veins that looked like tree roots, looked like if they finger the soil they will be swallowed down, digested, and then they will come out again and bloom into a row of soft smooth lovely girls.
I don’t exactly feel like telling a story just now. I feel like poking at the beautiful parts. Are they still alive some place? I am taking an Archiving class. I wonder if I print this story out and stick it into a filing cabinet will it stay alive? If the potential to be found remains—does it continue to count? You know. These stories are my marrow.
It was July in Galicia when I was reading For Whom the Bell Tolls for the first time. I took acid in the main plaza with Karen. Sitting on the ground leaning against the big pillar—I could feel the stones coolness on my bottom through my skirt. I kept itching at my bare knee. We drank tea from a thermos and watched the pilgrims. Streams of them with the seashells around their necks. Dirty, their shoulders raw and burnt. How far had they come? It varied, Karen said—she was examining a pebble, twisting it in her hand. Holding it up to the sun and squinting. As far as Bhutan.
Bhutan. All of the doors felt unlocked when I was nineteen. And Karen was in love with me. And on acid I was in love with her, too.
Years later, in a rural village in Thailand Bootsaba told me how her husband fell onto her when he was dying. It was in the middle of the night and he was going to the bathroom over and over again.
—We both knew he was dying. I knew and I did not know.
She could feel Dying in the bedroom. Could feel Dying packing it’s things into a suitcase.
“I will be ready in five minutes,” it might have said.
—But we would not say it out loud. We believed in words so much! If we did not say the word maybe it would get bored and shoo away.
He would go to the bathroom and then to bed. He was scheduled to check into the hospital early the next morning. Dying in a hospital? Can you imagine anything more awful? Staring at that beige speckled ceiling. Your last earthly sight.
We shuddered. I feathered my left hand. I shuddered again. No, I cannot. Imagine anything as awful.
—We knew. We must have known.
Now Dying pressed the last shirt into the suitcase—a red blouse with a ruffled collar. Smoothed it over and thought, am I forgetting anything? Talcum powder.
—If I had found him on the floor, between the bedroom and the bathroom. I would have never been able to go on. He knew that. My heart would have died.
Bootsaba had fallen asleep, she supposes, is surprised, but must have, and then she woke to his warm body falling onto her, falling into her with a heave or a sigh or a moan or a relief—You are the safest place on earth, he might have thought.
And Bootsaba cried out, “My love, my love, my love!” And she took him into her warm, safe, beating chest.
The suitcase snapped shut. Both locks clicked. Dying straightened its back. Evened it’s shoulder pads.
He fell into Bootsaba and then he fell through her and then cool, cold, colder.
Shaking him now, crying. Screaming. Crying. But before he became cold she was not frantic. She held him and loved him for that moment. For that minute or hour or season. It doesn’t matter. That time, from when he secured himself into her chest to when he died, it wasn’t neat time. Was not measurable rather, was more like the space of daylight filling a room.
—I was brave, Bootsaba says. Smiles. Ticks her head to the side and leaves it there. First her eyes are away but then they come back and refocus on the temple facing the West.
This is the story she tells me in a peeling blue classroom that only has three walls. The sun parades in. There is no wind this month. The temple is on top a hill with 506 stairs leading up to it. We watch it from the classroom. The monks are robed in orange ascending the stairs. Their balled brown heads buoying lightly and in unison. In the blue room Bootsaba and I are sitting by a fan and drinking water and eating wedges of tangerines. There are two stray dogs sleeping in the corner. I look out towards the monks and then back at Bootsaba’s old lovely mapped face—lines running in every direction. Her life’s evidence. Her proof. She breaks my heart, chiseling it away with a very small hammer. There are tangerine peals all over. They smell divine.
Karen and I were going to get matching tattoos so that later in life, when we had left Galicia and had moved on to different places and people and times we would have evidence that one another existed. That we were important to each other. That we were not alone.
—It would be hopeful, she said.
I propped myself on my elbows. We were lying in the grass on the hill that looked over the cathedral. The pilgrims flowed in and out like water. The sun was going down and the light was a warm autumn red. I peered out at it all.
Where was I? Where had I begun?
If we exist in memory does it count?
We never got the tattoos. She burnt my left forearm with a cigarette though. Under a Ferris wheel. There was a traveling carnival. We had befriended a pilgrim, Jordan, from Johannesburg. He stuck around for a while. The three of us would buy wine and bread from the store and drink it on that hilltop in the evenings. Jordan and I kissed once. He pushed me against that cathedral and kissed me suddenly and for a while, I remember. Two years later his car was stolen and he was shot in the face in the afternoon. I saw it on International CNN, the only English station that came into Antonia’s apartment in Barcelona. I was standing up when I saw the clip, holding a pile of textbooks. First they flashed his picture and then they said his name and I knew.
I was asking for it and Karen was exasperated.
It was nighttime and the glow of the colored Ferris wheel lights fell down on us like dots. Jordan flinched, then laughed.
—I cannot believe, he began. Then instinctively he gritted his teeth, showed his gums. The red cherry went out on my forearm, sizzling. I gasped in a shot of air.
Then I was left with black, a circle of ash haloing around a bubbling blister.
She tossed the cigarette butt on the ground.
—Now we will remember it forever!
I clapped. I was drunk. I looked at Jordan and gave him a prideful smile. I felt like I had won something, that I had just proven correct on a difficult test question.
Now this will always count.
Six years later I am rubbing the dot of scar tissue. Now. Today. In my bedroom in Manhattan’s lower east side. The sound of the street is pelting in through the window like stones. It is my birthday. What do I have to prove it? That I have completed all of these years—that my life has existed? I don’t even own a bed frame or a kitchen appliance. I don’t know. I was once burned under a Ferris wheel in Spain. I am rubbing it. I have proof. I have that.