from the collection of: d. heidel
Why do you keep telling me about that guy?
I didn’t know what he was talking about. What guy? I responded.
The guy who may or may not have died.
It was a good question. Why do I talk about him? I met him one night in the outdated lounge of a Best Western in central Pennsylvania. The woods were too dark, the stars were all dead or blanketed over, and the entire night swam with unknown creatures. I pulled my jacket over my shoulders to keep the aquatic nocturns of night birds from sending chills down my spine and walked from room 137 to the lounge. There, in the lounge, I sat in the suede bar stool and drank whiskey after whiskey until my head felt as soft as the shag carpet. There were lights hung from the ceiling that looked like green bottles with the bottoms cut out. They were hung too far apart. In between islands of light, the bartender would disappear into the depths of the sea.
At one point, the door opened and shut, sending a current of pine-scented air into the room. The islands of light shifted this way and that in the breeze. And then all was still again. “I fell in love with whiskey in the Army,” he grumbled. I couldn’t see him too well. I was seated, after all, at the edge of one of the green-lit islands.
“What unit?” I asked.
“Tenth Mountain,” he answered.
“What was your specialty?”
“I was never given one,” he answered.
I nodded. We drank together then, swimming through the sea of memories and lost tomorrows. All that we had at that point was this stop off of Exit 310 and the air that was moving up from the Susquehanna valley on a strange east wind, the air that smelled like pines, the air that was trying to drown us.
When we were done, he shook my hand, leaned in and gave me a hug. “We’ve gotta figure this out,” he said.
I was quietly surprised. I hugged him back.
When he stepped back, he had tears in his eyes. “I’m leaving tonight for Arizona,” he said.
“I’ve never been there,” I mentioned. “But I’d like to go, sit in the desert on the edge of some washed-out arroyo and smoke some peyote.”
He smiled, “Right on, brother.”
The way that he said brother made me feel like a brother.
And then he left. Disappeared into the sea that swam with other creatures of the night. And I went to my room which, at that hour, was too brightly lit and took a shower underneath the hard water of motels. The water has to be hard in order to distinguish itself from the lush drowning liquid of nights on the road.
“I’ve heard that story before,” you tell me.
“I know,” I say. I know.
But there are ghosts all around me these days. And, if I don’t embrace them, they tatter the edges of my eyeballs until the world looks ragged with the blood of people I’ve forgotten. And so I tell you about the guy who only lived for one night in central Pennsylvania in the wind that moved east out of the Susquehanna valley. I tell you about this so that I know it was real. And I tell you so that I know that you, too, are real.