Tom stepped out of the bar into a pool of yellow-ochre light from the streetlamp. Yellow-ochre is the color of this country, he thought, and terracotta. His brain, bathed in a loose veil of red wine and whatever the Italian football players made him drink, seemed to drift along behind him like an awkward, dumb animal. “Catch up,” he said out loud. “Put your hand in your pocket and find your keys,” he said, to the cracked sidewalk, to the slice of sinking moon, to anything listening. “Why is everybody so goddamn nice around here?”
In 1997, after the Christmas holidays slowed and we dragged the brittle tree out of the house and down to the edge of the woods, my parents and I packed everything I owned into their mauve Ford Taurus station wagon, and drove north from Tennessee to New York City. We spent New Year’s Eve in a hotel room somewhere in between here and there. It was snowing, and we were tired, and we didn’t stay up to watch the ball drop on television in Times Square, which we had done for many years with our neighbors, the Craft family, playing Trivial Pursuit until midnight.
When I was little, my mother told me that inside everyone, at the absolute center of us, there is a tiny golden kernel, our essence distilled down to something pure, elemental, something very close to a soul. She told me that radiating from this small kernel are thousands of vaporous strings, impossibly thin, like the rippling pink licks that float inside a plasma globe. And those strings hold us all intact like a magic anchor, tied with miniscule square knots to our organs, our bones, our skin, which pull our bodies back toward that absolute center, toward that precious kernel, like our own unique gravity.
We? I’m fine with whatever you want to talk about. I don’t think there always has to be middle ground. But, that is the best way to drink a Coca-Cola.