How do you act when you're on the outskirts of grief? When your heels are planted in the indifferent earth, the 'that's too bad' concern of an unrelated bystander, a reader of the News stumbling across those familiar, yet always distant blurbs of anonymity: "An unidentified man in his mid to late thirties was found dead Saturday in a creekbed in Irving." And suddenly you realize, your toes are teetering on the tear-soaked sand of one of your closest friend's pain, wetting their skin and numbing them with her frozen shock.
* * * * *
Erica is a lesbian. She can pack more figurative punch than any guy I know. She's the man to my non-domesticated woman. She mows our yard and fixes whatever I break. She has more tools than I knew there were names for; she's strong, witty, bold and on top of things. She's a photographer. She's a real woman. I've only seen her girly side a few times. When she changes to go out to Sue-Ellen's on Sundays to watch the girl's jam on the patio, she goes through about six outfits until she finds the perfect shade of green cargo pants and logo-ed tank. I tease her about owning so many of the exact same pair of multi-pocketed pants, but she corrects me noting the location of pockets and the variation of shades: olive, army, grey-green. I roll my eyes then give her a friendly pinch in the ribs. She laughs and tells me to shut up. I love her.
When we first moved into our house, the ceiling and walls were crawling with roaches. She said they were giving her the creeps and set off two bombs and we left. She told me that was one of the few times she would act girly. I told her it wasn't girly. It was understatedly calm considering the circumstances and most boys I knew would have shrieked and ran out the door.
* * * * *
I had seen Erica sad on several occasions. Sometimes over being broken-hearted. Sometimes over a friend's broken heart. Sometimes over work or money. And sometimes just because. But I had never seen her cry. I cry at any and everything without trying, (folger's commercials, an angry customer at the restaurant I work at, losing a casual political debate with friends because I can't get my statistics in order, etc.) and I admire her for her stability. You would think it was I who was bi-polar, instead of her. But in reality I'm just a pussy and this woman, three years my junior, has had to conquer more in her lifetime than many adults I know. And when I say adults I mean over 40. I'm 28 and I'm still a kid.
* * * * *
At first it was speculation. It was rumour. It was several separate stories that were yet to be linked, set in stone, and marked with a name, birthdate and deathdate. She had just finished saying, when we find him, I'm going to embrace him, then I'm going to kick his ass. And she would, had she had the chance. Minutes later the Confirmation Call came. The body was his. Erica's friend, J.D., was gone.
They fell enormously from her eyes, puddled on her cheek, and one particularly large tear fell onto her bare shoulder and stayed there. It reminded me of the sap that would drip from the pines lining my parents' driveway and land on the hood of my car, hardening and living out the rest of its life there. Had I scraped it off, it would have taken away part of the paint, leaving the underneath to rust. The sap on my car was a reminder of nature crying, I used to think, as I'd run my hands along it, tempted to peel it off. I now wished I could have peeled off Erica's grief, but I'm afraid it would have had the same effect. So I watched as the tear preserved her memories and absorbed itself slowly into her skin.
I didn't know him. I only began learning his life in the aftermath of his murder through tidbits of conversation from the muffled voices of my friends sitting on either side of me in circles of mutual grief, at the Coffehaus. I sat in the middle of two separate huddles, staring blankly, wishing selfishly, that I could share in their sadness, in their memories, in their tireless quest for answers, for reason. But no reason could ever be achieved. It was pointless. And I could only comfort, not relate. Which felt forced and awkward, although it wasn't. I was sincere and true in my pain for them. But who wants to be comforted by someone who cannot relate when they have so many others surrounding them who can? So I left.
* * * * *
Dakota licks my hand and gives a whimper after tasting stale cigarette smoke. She leaves the room as if offended that I would offer such an unappetizing gesture as some kind of false comfort. I wonder if she feels Erica's pain. It's been exactly one week now since the Confirmation Call. I'm sitting in last night's dress under a haze of confusion, almost envious of the punctuation that the infamous Call stamped onto the everseeking questions. Nothing has been definite in so many years. The last time I was sure of something, I followed its leash across country, only to find what was at the end of it was not missing, but worse. No longer the same. Often I long for a black and white world. Grey can get depressing, not to mention its talented knack for conjuring ennui.
* * * * *
Moving back to Dallas has been an unexpected journey after the previous ride (a year in Portland and six months at my parents house in No-Town, Texas) ran out of gas.
I had wanted to escape the heat and heart of the Lone Star State since I graduated college 5 years ago. My initial location of choice was going to be San Diego, directly upon graduating; but an unexpected relationship and a lack of funds redirected me 3 1/2 hours northeast to the city of 80's oil-rich skyrises and bad air quality. Dallas has always been a home like a prison. The kind you're forced to get used to and are afraid to leave when parole (opportunity) knocks.