New Stories for November 18, 2019
The phone call came around 7 p.m. He almost didn’t answer because the caller ID said unknown, and it was from Connecticut. He didn’t know anyone in Connecticut. But with cell phones nowadays it could be from anywhere. So, uncharacteristically, he picked up.
“Hi, J. This is Gilbert, your brother, R’s stepson.”
“Hi, Gilbert,” J answered with a catch of premonition in his throat.
“I don’t know how to say this, so I guess I just have to say it. R passed away. He died in his sleep.”
J’s initial response was, “I didn’t see this coming.”
“None of us saw it coming.”
“But I should have. I… ”
And that was when the tears came. He choked up and could not speak for a moment. Of course, he should have known. He always knew when something big happened with R.
Randel and Jason Goodman were known to all as R&J, individually and collectively. Each answered to R&J as if that were his name and not a designation for the two of them. They were identical twins. Even their parents had looked for certain scars to know which son was which. The boys shared a womb, they shared a crib and later, a bedroom. They spoke with the same voice and walked the same walk. Their every gesture and every thought were the same. Or had been. Until they were grown they each did everything the other did. They even dated the same girls in high school, and as adults they married women who looked like one another. After they were grown and had moved to different parts of the country—J to Seattle and R to a little town south of Dallas—they began to develop different likes and different ways of being. They grew apart in many ways and talked to each other only at Christmas and on their shared birthday, but each still sensed when something happened to the other. J got a severe stomachache hours before R called to say he had passed a kidney stone; they each got fired in the same week for similar reasons, and each found a new job in the same week. They took such things for granted.
J flew to Dallas and rented a car to drive the hundred miles to the little town of Groesbeck, where R had lived since his recent retirement. R’s stepchildren and their spouses and children came as well, driving in from San Antonio and flying in from California and Florida. J had never met any of them. He hadn’t even seen pictures of them. In fact, up until Gilbert called with the death notice, he didn’t even know R had stepchildren.
The drive was on two-lane roads through what looked to him like miles and miles of small cattle ranches. Arriving at last in Groesbeck, he stopped to eat dinner at Billy B’s Sale Barn Cafe in the Groesbeck Auction & Livestock Company. The place was dark, lively and noisy with cowboys and their families, not an empty table to be seen. Despite the lack of light, J noticed a few people staring at him as he looked for a table. He knew why and had expected it.
A cowboy at a table with his family said, “Hey, R. We got an extra seat. Why’oncha join us?”
Before J could respond, the woman seated with the cowboy whispered something to him, and he said, “Oh my god, I didn’t know. You must be the twin brother we heard about. I’m so sorry for your loss, man.”
And then the cowboy stood up and announced to the crowd, “Hey, everybody, this is R Goodman’s twin brother.”
People pushed up from their seats and came over and shook his hand, telling him how sorry they were. Some of the women hugged him and cried, and somebody said, “I knew old R had himself an identical twin brother, but I never expected y’all to look so much alike.”
Somebody poured him a drink. Somebody else paid for his dinner.
J couldn’t sleep well in the hotel that night. He woke up at 5:00 in the morning and was the first person to show up for the complimentary breakfast. He had two cups of coffee and scrambled eggs and waffles, and checked his phone for emails before anyone else showed up. The first person to arrive was a woman alone, an attractive middle age woman. She stepped into the breakfast room, and when she saw J she stared at him for no longer than two seconds, gasped loudly, and spun about and rushed out of the room. A few moments later she came back, hands visibly shaking.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “You’re R’s brother. I’m so glad you came. I’m his daughter, Sheila. I thought I had seen a ghost.”
There’s a bandersnatch around
And the crows are in the corn.
Don’t be content finding safe places to hide.
Be the light in the darkness.
Be uncouth and ill-mannered
When the world seeks to silence the forgotten ones.
(listen to your mother
hiding, afraid in her little home
I have seen the face of horror, and it walks
and speaks and mews and wheedles and cries
it wears clothes like a man to
hide that it is not a man.)
Do you always know when it happens –
is it given to you or do you create it –
what happens if you miss it–
is it a God you have to believe in –
do you have to lay yourself bare to absorb it –
does it reject doubters –
do you have to jump and risk your existence –
Can you be afraid to die?
What is a miracle?
Accepting Death, paying respect to the wholeness of Life, the more you allow it, the more you are able to live and not just survive.
Giving your body and mind and heart and spirit to a lover you cannot name or taste or touch or see because your senses are stuffed with safety.
Laying your naked body down before all power. Power that portrays its capabilities relentlessly: the hideous, the gorgeous, the massive, the minuscule, the merciless, and the merciful.
Are we talking that kind of vulnerability in order to receive a miracle? The more you give up, the more you receive?
I laid my head on my friend’s chest and glimpsed inside as we collided thoughts
and the more the pieces filled the space and imposed perception,
the more we let those shapes be, risking discomfort of infinite, fastening to less and less,
a tunnel created when invisibility materialized as the byproduct of the destruction of boundaries of thought.
A space could be accessed that was further,
and in it was emotion that externalized as tears,
and in it was emotion that internalized as fears,
and words had no place to land.
Truth is not this or that, it is or, and it is and.
It is absolute values put to rest on our clean little zero.
It is vanished volume and mirrors so pure they show cottons on clouds, white ink on paper, pasteurized milk in a pool of white pudding, passively placing us in infinity, and it’s uncomfortable,
Because what is there?
And will it bring us back –
or keep us forever?
I need to grieve.
It was my first time teaching at a tribal college. I was new to the community and had a ton of prep work to do for my classes.
We had about week of prep time before the school year began.
I was learning my way around campus, meeting other teachers and staff and a few local tribal leaders and trying to get ready for several classes I had never taught before.
In the midst of this, I got notice of a mandatory meeting for all non-Native staff and faculty.
I already had more to do than I could get done in just a few days.
I went to the meeting with all that I had to do on my mind.
About eight or ten white (they called us Anglos) non-Natives gathered in a sparse room.
None of us wanted to be there or had any idea why we had been called there.
A Native elder slowly walked into the room. He could have been sent by central casting from Hollywood with his withered skin, rumpled clothes and long gray braids.
In a slow, quiet, weary voice, he stuttered out, “You need to grieve.”
We looked at each other, thoroughly dumb-founded.
I kept thinking, I have lesson plans to do, I don’t have time for this.
But he continued, “My people have walked this land and fished these waters, we have spoken our language for more generations than we could count. We know the seasons and the tides, the animals and the earth, we know where we have come from and who our people are, we know our creator who gives us life and to whom we will return…but you have lost it all. You don’t know where you come from or where you belong. You have lost your faith and culture.”
My lesson plans were swirling around in my head like loose papers in a windstorm.