January 04, 2013
PART I/July 2010.
I see him, but I hope no one else does. The guy leaning over between the train tracks and the station bar has a guitar in one hand and a plastic baggie in the other. I am stopped at the tracks waiting for the gates to rise, watching him on the platform, hoping no one else sees him because it’s the kind of thing that makes everyone involved uncomfortable.
Taylor is sitting next to me in the passenger seat, and she is not watching him. She is going through her purse looking for her checkbook so she can pay for the hour-long session with Lisa she is about to attend.
The guy has uncombed, long, curly hair that froes out pretty well for a white guy. He is wearing a navy hooded sweatshirt and tan corduroy pants. It is late July, and it is eighty-six degrees outside. He is taller than most but not tall. He is thinner than everyone his height. He is not a man. He is not a boy. He is just a guy.
He puts the guitar down on the train station platform and moves into a crouch, the pant legs rising around his ankles to expose white socks that don’t go with his tan pants and brown shoes. He spreads the baggie open and rests it on the platform. He carefully picks up a smoked cigarette with one trembling hand and rips the paper open with his other pointer finger and thumb. He sprinkles the tobacco into the baggie, throws the gutted cigarette back on the ground, and moves over to the next one.
I want to go stand in front of this guy—block everyone’s view of him—so only he and I have to feel uncomfortable about this. Or maybe it would just be me feeling uncomfortable about it—he certainly isn’t looking over his shoulder with any level of shame. He is focused on gathering tobacco into his bag so he can put it in a pipe or a paper so he can light it on fire and put the nicotine into his body.
The gates go up and the car in front of me goes. I follow slowly on Third Street into downtown Geneva, where people drive deliberately so they can look at the shops and restaurants, where everything is planned and built to work together to create something functional and appealing, grounded and traditional.
“I don’t know what I did with it,” Taylor says, panicking.
“It’s okay,” I say. “I have mine in my bag.”
“Thank you, Kevin,” she says, so sincerely, so personally, like she has placed some huge burden on me and is promising to relieve it. “I will pay you back.”
We drive over the brick crosswalks and past the small individually owned shops that sell candles and candy and fancy bowls and expensive thank you notes. I take a right where we need to take a right, park, sign a blank check, and hand it to her. The check has my address from San Francisco on it, and it momentarily reminds me of whom I was five years ago.
“See you in an hour?” she says.
“See you in an hour.”
She leans over and squeezes me around the neck, her blue eyes right up in front of my blue eyes, and chaotically kisses me in unconventional places all over my face, her lips bouncing off my cheeks and forehead like a persistent fly off a window. Her blond hair whips around on my blond hair, and when I start laughing, it makes her laugh and she stops. She opens the door and steps out, and before she closes the door behind her, she shakes her butt in front of me and I laugh again.
I drive south back through Geneva and across the tracks, and the guy is walking south along the sidewalk, holding the guitar around its neck. His legs reach out for more ground, swapping the workload, but his body doesn’t seem to care if it follows. The body got what it wanted—the nicotine—and now it doesn’t care where it goes. I watch his back as I get closer. His guitar is in his left hand, and at least one of the strings is broken, bouncing like a tired Jack-in-the-box as he walks.
He is five-foot-eleven and weighs 128 pounds.
He is twenty-four years, one month, and six days old.
He just got back in town two weeks ago.
So did I.
I look straight ahead as I approach my brother, and I do not stop to give him a ride.