tasted shapes. McDonald’s hamburgers
were most wonderful parallelograms.
The Rice Krispie treats never had quite enough
perpendicularity. But Caesar salad,
oh Caesar salad! You would never devour
a more delicious bounty of line segments.
Meatloaf and green beans disappeared from my brother’s plate so
it was like magic. Once something got caught
in my brother’s windpipe. The lunchroom aid slapped
his back. A small hunk of tuna flew
through the air. All the kids clapped. Two periods later
I heard the story: “Your brother almost died.” My response:
“Too bad.” When they saw him in the hallway, they patted
his shoulder and said, “Congratulations.” As if he won
the spelling bee for the seventh year in a row. Everyone wanted
to become his friend. He was a living good luck charm
and he described things in funny ways. They begged
him to come for dinner and grace their meals.
He accepted their invitations and complimented
the dull American dishes. “This tuna casserole is
an inspired rhombus. Can I have another glass
of pink lemonade? It tastes perfectly
sharp.” Parents loved him. He inspired
their kids to see leftovers in a new way. Or maybe
he excited them so much about their meals
there never was any extra to pack away
in Tupperware bowls for tomorrow. I don’t know.
I was never invited. And I never asked
too many questions. What interested me was
the potentiality of death. My brother said, “Death is
like that robin you saw yesterday lying in the middle of the street
that was so gone it came back to life.” I looked a little confused
so he added: “Or remember when we were swinging
so high in the air, we thought for sure we’d catapult
our own bodies across the playground and crash
into metal bars of the jungle gym. It’s like that. Except
you’re never expecting the fall. And when you do,
it’s on top of a trampoline as large as the universe.
Your soul bounces for at least two eternities.” Death sounded
like a pleasant change of pace. From my life. Which consisted
of girls asking my brother what it felt like to kiss them
(“Like the sun shining through stained glass
after a monsoon on a Sunday afternoon”); friends begging him
to be ruthless about their new hair dos (“The perfect cross
between the smell of burnt tapioca pudding and undercooked
pot roast”); Mother wanting a critique of her latest strapless dress,
(“The sound of a waterfall doing the jitterbug with a harem of robins”).
One day after shoving my fingers into my ears and shutting my eyes,
I walked into traffic. My body went numb and I fainted.
Next thing I know a police office asked, “You’re young.
You can be anything you want. Why roadkill?”
I went home and did nothing for weeks.
Death still eluded me. But life became more clear.
It’s like being clad in a straightjacket and bowtie
and having to crawl toward a hidden door in a room
as large as a baseball stadium and as dark as the scream
from someone’s throat. That someone is you. Don’t yell
too hard. You may wake up and realize life
isn’t like that. It isn’t really like anything.
But life does like itself and it needs you.