I remember sitting in a park. It was warm and sunny, and a thin layer of cirrus dimmed the sun, reducing the glare on the pages of my spiral notebook. I was distanced from the others, conscious of them and they of me, and after a time a friend came over and sat down next to me.
“What are you writing about?” she asked.
“Socorro,” I said. Or I think I did, anyway. I really don’t remember much more than her sitting there and me pausing in my recollections, and the sun warming the two of us, and how grateful I was for her presence. It was a long time ago.
I might have told her that I first saw the hotel at half-past midnight when I walked through the cobblestone courtyard and roused the old man sleeping on a couch in the foyer. Of how he walked me to my room, his footsteps slow and arthritic, up a flight of oak stairs that groaned under our passage and down a long dark hall, and how half the tiles were missing in the bathroom, and the window overlooked a fountain whose waters had evaporated decades ago.
I might have told her, but I really don’t remember. I’m sure whatever I said didn’t convey what I wanted to express.
If I had it to do again, I might tell her that sometimes we forget that the heartbreak and loss we experience are uniquely our own, that though friends like her may express sympathy or empathy or any other –pathy, only we know the road we travel. I might say that I was writing down the details of an important part of my life and I didn’t want to forget, that it was an exercise to while away the lonely hours while I waited to go through to the other side and find out who I was and what I might become, and what would be left and what missing.
I would tell her, I’m trying to fill the gaps.
It was a long time ago. I don’t remember much more, and I never did write it all down.
I’ve been having dreams lately of being in a car speeding backward, and when I stomp on the brakes there is only a faint slowing. It’s always night and I can’t see what’s behind me, and the pedal doesn’t go to the floorboard but feels solid. I know what it feels like when brakes are bled dry, how the pedal hits the floor with no resistance and the car continues on as if under its own volition, and panic is a brutal punch to the stomach. It’s happened to me before, in the Gallinas Canyon above Las Vegas after I had engaged in drinking and offroad exploration. It’s not like that.
It’s more like I’m being carried off, dragged back to somewhere in my past, and my terror isn’t so much that the car will hit something but that it will take me where I don’t want to go. I’m wild-eyed with fright, both feet on the pedal, both hands gripping the wheel. When I look in the mirror I see nothing but darkness and a few colored lights.
Last night I dreamed I saw Lori get into a car and start the engine. A sense of dread hammered me speechless, and before I could shout the car lurched into reverse and shot away, and her eyes widened in fear and I screamed no no no stop and she couldn’t and the darkness took her and I was left alone on a deserted street, the pavement gritty under my knees.
I think of that young man with his notebook. If I could meet him again I would tell him that maybe some things are best forgotten.
I wrote that the airport was two miles out of town, that it was new and empty except for four pieces of furniture, a Coke machine, a candy machine, and a pile of magazines about flying. An old man came in each day I worked there and fell asleep on a couch. We never spoke.
The jet was chained to the asphalt runway just to the side of the terminal. It was a T-33 trainer and the reason I was there. A former pilot wanted it back and had threatened to take it. My job was to make sure he didn’t.
The waitress where I ate was named Melissa. She was very pretty.
At night the hangars rattled in the wind, and tumbleweeds rolled down the runway as if taking flight. Sometimes a car would turn off the frontage road and drive up, and I would stand off to the side and watch its occupants. They came to see the jet.
I wrote that I called Ellen from the payphone. A girl named Betsy answered and put Ellen on. I apologized for calling so late. Ellen said she was reading Dune.
I have forgotten who Ellen was. There isn’t the shadow of an image, a face, a recollection. Only a gap.
Last weekend we drove to Manhattan. On the drive back Lori fell asleep, and it seemed for a while that I was alone in the vehicle, distanced from the autumnal landscape and the life I’ve led and the steps I’ve taken to reach this place. That for a sliver of a moment I was that young man sitting in the park with a notebook and pen and a friend who asked what he was writing about, and even as he tried explaining he knew that words would sometimes betray him. That they would never be enough.
I watched crows boiling up over barren fields, and leaves cascading gently to the ground, and the car was like a time machine whisking me from where I had been to where I was going. I glanced at Lori and saw the silver in her hair, and the rise and fall of her breasts, and the reds and golds and auburns of trees beyond her, and I told myself I could not forget this. I must remember, I said. I don’t want to someday look back on this moment and wonder what happened. Don’t forget, I whispered. Don’t forget. Don’t forget.