Sunday, November 23, 2008

Friend Behind The Mask

I extend my hand deep into the quick sands of time and lock my hand around something which has been pulled down deep by the strength of gravity. With grave effort, with great curiosity and a sense of awe, I unearth a little katchina doll, a creature with dark brown eyes and tan skin. Her hair is short now, but I remember when it was long and tangled, a massive web of a thick dark mane. Now I am in her kitchen. The window overlooks Beach street and a white building across the way. It is a beautiful window which lets bright sunshine in.
She chops, stirs and shuffles around the kitchen with a look of seriousness frozen upon her face. Her body is plumper than I remember. The girl I knew had muscular legs and arms, her body was lean. I try to capture her in a photograph. The photo is wrong, this is not the girl I remember, but a glance upward reveals that it is an image of the woman before me. The stress, the anger and frustration, I had thought it was all a game, a mask she liked to try on when we were younger, but now it seems bigger than her, a presence that holds her captive. Her new friends expect it. She expects it. A familiar persona.
Searching for my playmate of old, I continue to take picture after picture. I am always looking at her carefully, looking for what I want to see revealed. So often she is grimacing, it looks as if she is in great and terrible pain. Her face flickers with variations of the endless grimace. There is a smile that is a tight mask of horror, a neutral facial expression that looks as if she is baring her teeth menacingly, and a frown that seems to be the least pained of the three. Her neck is tight.
Sitting at the table at last, so much of the work has passed, and even now that she is more relaxed, she is more of something that I thought was an act as a child. I wait patiently to see my friend and at last, for no particular reason, our eyes meet and she is there for a flash, surprised and relieved that I was waiting there for her. My heart tingles warmly because she is alive behind all that heavy armor.
Later amid talks of workouts in the gym and loss of weight, I suggest that she go back to chasing after ice cream trucks. For a moment she is there again, the girl I remember, and she is glad that I remember. And I do, I do remember Angela. I remember that we tore down the burning white sidewalks, the pads of our bare feet pounding against that scalding surface with a dull thud, our hair flying wildly behind us. Faster and faster we ran, listening to the retreating sound of Beautiful Dreamer played over a loud speaker, unable to slow down lest we should feel the horrible burning sidewalk on our soles, unable to stop lest we should loose all hope of catching that van full of cold treats. We ran and ran and ran. The way I remember it, we never caught the truck. The way I remember it, we didn’t really care if we caught the truck. We said that we did care just to have a reason to run like this, like wild things down the meandering circles that were the streets that made up our neighborhood. We ran until the circle had brought us back home, to her green front yard, to the porch where all the shoes sat unused in a basket near the deep shade of a huge tropical plant.
Today we walk with shoes on, back to her apartment with its big bright windows. We walk back with my youngest daughter and, in the dim elevator, I ask my old friend if she remembers the opening line to Glinda’s song from the Wizard of Oz. I can’t remember the tune.
"I can’t sing." She tells me. But she can sing. I know she can. She can sing every song from the entire movie. She is singing it and dancing in the front yard near the sidewalk while we wait for the ghostly sounds of an ice cream truck to find its way to us.
I extend my hand deep into the quick sands of time and lock my hand around something which has been pulled down deep by the strength of gravity. I will not let go. I will not forget, not ever. So long as I am, I will see to it that our soles burn forever, that we sing, breath easily and run un-shoed for all eternity.

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