Kaya Part 2

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The dog and I had a rocking summer. I was looking down the barrel of a senior year of college and despite the cushy liberal arts ticket that I had to ride, I didn’t let myself off easy and there was a load of work to do, so I took that as entitlement to fuck and run, twist and shout, drink and wander. The dog was, more often than not, a passenger on my right forearm, nigh 9 pounds, boarding metro busses and secreted into greasy falafel joints, neon-bloody dive bars, friends’ cars and the occasional dance club without any trouble. Mostly the dog and I lolled the first half of days around my best friend’s apartment where the dog stalked the roommate’s cat, a pair of cartoons without a musical score.

 

But I left her at my pop’s house if I was bound for something that struck me as irresponsible for a tiny pup to attend. My younger brother often rolled in during the tiny hours and worked through the end of his ecstasy by cuddling the dog in the climbing penumbra of day, and my father could be counted on to care for her in the evenings. There is a reel of film that I can no longer locate but the content of which is seared onto my brain, given all that came next:

 

Our three-legged 14 year-old lab-pit bull mix, Sky, is not pleased with the puppy’s identification of her as mother figure. Sky, though, cannot step off the carpeted runner that stripes the kitchen and living room, as the wood floor dependably kicks one of her legs out from under her and sends her into an undignified sprawl. So my puppy belly slides across the wood floor, getting as close to the Sky’s grayed, snapping pit jaw as she dares, then flipping over onto her back to bare a bright pink belly to vehemence of her elder, who can’t quite bring herself to actually disembowel the baby. Sky snarls and snaps and stumbles, drool flying inches from the vulnerable flesh of my puppy’s center, but not once does she make contact. Eventually, when she tires, the puppy gets as near as she can, propping her jaw on her tiny paws, staring with endless adoration at her rejecting mother, punctuating the depth of her feeling with sharp yips here and there.

 

Nineteen months later, the fishbowl has spun again. My brother lives in Barcelona, studying at some American school and plenty more in the gothic alleyways full of fiesta. I live in North Carolina with a taciturn, sassy, gorgeous Persian woman and teach and study creative writing, and my father is preparing for his first trip back to the southern hemisphere since his plummet from the Costa Rican cliff five years prior. It is no big surprise when he calls to summon his sons home to put down Sky, which we do with no lack of ritual in our living room, breaking and rebuilding together around the void of her. It is a surprise that this ceremony is the last time we see my father, as he’s felled by an errant bubble in his blood—his broken arteries the last legacy of the earlier fall—his first night in the outskirts of Quito.

Kaya, Part 1

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The interstate was jammed with broken heroes, or at least that was the track that my father hummed along with as he maneuvered the Subaru up the onramp. Maneuver might be too generous, or too precise, because of his imprecision, which arose with the euphoric haze that the little pills kindled in him. I’d learned to white knuckle the armrest and speak loudly and suddenly—about anything that came to mind—when I suspected he might be dozing or spacing. I knew I shouldn’t let him drive and I knew that his ego wasn’t ready for the damage that announcement would cause. So I buckled up and gripped leather.

 

Mount Vernon sits 90 miles or so north of Seattle and there was occasion for me to wince through the outer bands of Seattle and then through the basket of Skagit Farmland. Dad was elated at this excursion, a real-deal father and son kind of outing that he could manage—since his nine story plunge from a cliff in Costa Rica, and the seven surgeries, the hardware screwed into his spine and ankles, he wasn’t going to be leading me on any hikes or to throw the football. But he could, he was sure, navigate us an hour and a half north to get me a golden retriever puppy before I returned to my last year of college.

 

In the backyard of the down-low breeders’ property, a gorgeous and frantic red-coated golden sprinted on a cable run, back and forth, back and forth, barking a metronome that was equal parts joyous and desperate. At the base of a crooked staircase, the two runts (two of eleven) tumbled—the boy was lazy and tubby and mellow; the girl was fierce and enervated, nipping her brother from five angles as he pawed at the cobalt blue sky with a tiny tongue poking sideways. I gathered up the female in my arms and she chomped at my ear and scrambled to escape with nails as sharp as her teeth and I pressed my nose into her fur and nodded at my cane-propped father, who fumbled three Benjamins out of his front pocket. The dog behaved much better for him—even snuggling into a brief snoring spell in his lap—as I drove us decisively and fast, back to the city as the sun clawed at the sky in death.

Galaxy

The young woman had caught a jetliner east to Jersey to spend the Holidays with her “best friend,” the term that she used both genuinely and euphemistically with her Mormon mother; genuinely because it was true and euphemistically because she was also the young woman’s lover or at least had been in the now-long-gone-days of Rutgers. They had scuttled their erotic passion for a passionate social media, Skype and text message friendship as the young woman slid into a bland career of marketing nearby her divorced (the scandal!) Mormon (perhaps…unwell) mother and her Jersey lover skated easily into the Queer bohemia of the Tristate. So, the Holidays of 2006-2007 broke onto the horizon pregnant with possibility and already haunted by hope.

 

And Christmas Day broke upon the two young lovers with a splintered gold and blue sky magic that sent them into a mania that would, before the night fell, include hi-jinks and escapades: dining and dashing from a greasy spoon in SOHO with the excuse that they had forgotten their purses at the hotel; tongue kissing atop a sidewalk vent with impractical skirts billowing like Marilyn Monroe’s and cabbies cat-calling with their horns; rifling a strangely open retro clothing shop for Audrey Hepburn costumes in which to linger at 5 star hotel bars, sipping cosmopolitan after cosmopolitan; gobbling hot slices feverishly on a frozen bench at Washington Square Park, pillbox hats askew, cigarette holders tucked behind reddened ears as the greasy shadows began to grow long. They paused only for the young woman to dial her Mormon mother twice on her Samsung Galaxy and leave sweet, tipsy apologetic messages that did not acknowledge the mother’s jilted anger at being “abandoned for the holidays.”

 

So it was markedly horrific in that way that only the promise of mania jilted and sabotaged by the plunge into darkness can be when the women lost track of each other outside an Irish Bar in the West Village and the young woman from Mormon country was discovered by a dishwasher in the small hours of December 26th with clothes and throat ripped in unnecessarily thorough manner, her lifeblood pooling beneath a dumpster.

 

The Mormon mother blamed the Jersey lover, of course, and how could she not? The Jersey lover blamed herself for without the distraction of a small bladder and a shot of Jameson proffered by a kindly Indian businesswoman, she might have not dallied in the elbowed interior of that bar while her lover slipped out the door for a smoke and toward her awful end. And so she forewent attendance of the young woman’s funeral. The Jersey lover respected the mother’s sorrow and did not disturb it by any intention for a full year. She tucked herself away into a pocket of her old life and ate Xanax and made it till tomorrow until one night she knew she might not and in a stumble fury dialed her dead lover’s phone number in the vague hope that she could at least hear her voicemail greeting and scream pain or apology or perhaps rage into the virtual mailbox.

 

The mother, possessed by a similar longing to, a), somehow connect with her gone daughter via telephone and, b), somehow aid the apprehension of the person responsible for her brutal death (as if they would for some reason call the number), had kept the worse-for-wear Samsung Galaxy that NYPD detectives had delivered up to her in a jumbo size Ziploc along with lipstick, tiny sequined purse, Virginia Slim Light 100s, and six orange tic-tacs. So she snatched up every ring that came in, fielding calls from clueless classmates, from advertising execs, from telemarketers, always with urgency, always with a hello? that said, instead, who are you and what have you done? The Jersey lover, to her credit, paused and bit through the cognitive fog of Xanax and rapid-cycling grief and spoke the Mormon mother’s name aloud, for the first time in her life, as a question:

 

Genevive?

 

And though neither party got what they had wished for when their hands punched the numbers in hopeless ritual reaching, they did find one another and they did weep together on the line and they did share stories deep into the late winter night and they did seed a relationship that would come to resemble something like that between a mother and her daughter.