Featured Image/Art Anthony Clarkson
I am going to have visitors. The reason this is essay-worthy is I so rarely have visitors, at least any whom are wanted. Certainly none from Atlanta. But I won’t go there anymore. They have to come to me. So every now and then I will do a little character sketch of someone from my deck of cards. I began writing my own tarot deck at one time — that is how it started — thought I might publish it one day, illustrated with black and white photography, another abandoned project. Because life is a game. A circular passage through The Fool’s Journey. Or perhaps poker. For I am Alice, and we are nothing but a pack of cards.
The King of Wands is coming, along with his wife and toddler. In appearance, he, who I will call Paul, is just another moderately successful guy who does nerdy stuff with computers and has a hot exotic wife. I was skeptical when he said he met a girl from the Philippines and he was going to bring her here and marry her and he didn’t even want her to work. What could I say? Turns out, she is really nice. Now they have a red-haired daughter with brown skin, which is exactly what I knew would happen.
This friendship has answered a lot of life’s puzzles that some people never solve. Can girls and boys be just friends without attraction? Absolutely. Without a doubt. We may not have soulmates, but we have soul families. Do people change? I’m holding to no. Some people are born with hearts carved out of meteorite, and bad stuff happens and they become assholes until they come out clean on the other side, with no excuses.
My son and I drove up to their house on the northside of Atlanta on our way back from Mexico. The garage was open and empty.
“We’re still at the store,” he says. “You can go on in, though. The door is locked, but it’s a simple one. Use your card. You know what to do.”
My son gaped as I slid the card back and forth until the door unlocked. This creature, named Pablo Escobar, some insane cross between a dachshund and a Jack Russell, ran demoniacally around the house while we waited.
I met Paul senior year of high school. It was my third high school and I had three months to go. So I made an entrance in that art class dressed in head-to-toe black and a pair of guy’s combat boots that had been passed around the old neighborhood. He was the only person who didn’t stare, and the only one who asked any relevant questions like what music I listened to.
The best way to describe Paul was like a small version of Kramer from Seinfeld, spastic, but with freckles and a curly red mop of hair. He was frightening good at finding people. One year and four or five residences after graduation, the phone rang at the diner I was working at. “It’s for you,” the cook said, holding out the receiver. It was Paul.
He stayed at one apartment I was living at with way too many people; he made a bed for himself in the attic above the laundry room where there was a small sheet of plywood and a lot of pink insulation. I knew he was messed up. Hell, we all were. His stepfather used to hit him and lock him in the closet. “Naw,” he tells me now. “They let me out when company was over.”
He started running around with this Pakistani guy, Faisal, and drinking too much. At Halloween, he painted his face in black and white for a Halloween party at the restaurant where he and Faisal worked. When I pulled up to the apartment, Faisal and his girlfriend were unloading what looked like some kind of twisted rag doll with melting clown makeup out of Faisal’s car and dragging it on its knees.
We dragged him into the bathroom and put him in the tub. He was covered in vomit and blood.
“He fell out in the middle of the road,” Faisal said. ” While the car was still moving. After he puked in the car.”
He was not conscious. But he was still throwing up. My boyfriend wandered into the bathroom to see what was going on.
“Jesus,” he said. He went in the bedroom and closed the door.
Faisal and I looked at each other.
“We have to clean him up.”
“He should sleep it off.”
“We can’t leave him lying down,” I said. “He’ll drown in his own vomit.”
We turned the shower on and hosed him down. He moved and whined a little. When he was reasonably clean and soaked through, we sat him up against the back of the tub and covered him with a blanket. Faisal left. I went to bed to face a cold shoulder. At some point in the night, Paul woke up, shivering, and dragged himself up the ladder through his hole in the ceiling.
It was fall, still, moving towards winter. I remember this because the sky was gray and leaves were falling. Things always end in fall. We are moving to another apartment, a better one, my boyfriend says. What does he know? He’s a 17-year-old foster kid. Paul is not allowed to come. My boyfriend’s criminal idiot brother and his underage girlfriend are not allowed to come. The only person allowed to come along is my boyfriend’s best friend. I don’t like Jeff. He’s a shit. We put on boxing gloves to spar at his mom’s house and he punched me in the face before I was ready. I was happy here. Now we are moving to this big, expensive apartment I don’t want, and I feel like I’m only allowed to come along if I behave. I don’t know when he quit loving me.
Paul sits down beside me on the front stoop under the slate sky. He is headed for Chicago with Faisal in a week.
“You know, I miss sailing,” he says. “It’s kind of hard work, but it’s really nice being out there at sea.”
I don’t feel like talking. Another leaf swirls down.
“I didn’t know you knew how to sail.”
“Yeah. I learned in this youth program.”
It is quiet for a few seconds, until a squirrel starts making noise in a tree and then flies to another branch.
“Did you see that? It was a flying squirrel.”
“Squirrels don’t really fly,” he says. “It’s just the wind lifting them up, like a sail.”