The Horizon Rises
Wednesday. It is Wednesday, isn’t it? What happened to Saturday? Did it devour Sunday and Monday and Tuesday, and was it now hungrily eyeing Wednesday’s infant morning? This savage consumption of days frightens me. I worry that with each passing day, bits of me fall away like from a piece of burning paper tumbling along the ground. I open my eyes and lift my head from the cot. My blood moves like chunks of clay and my eyes burn as hot as campfire stones. Yes, it is Wednesday. I remember now. I remember getting out of jail Saturday and being embraced by heroin’s lonely arms that I could never tarn away from. And now I am here at the men’s shelter. I look around the cavernous room and see it is filled with rows of cots. The men appear dead, their limp, lifeless bodies draped on the cotsas
if they were hurriedly carried in from some natural disaster. A shelter worker walks along the beds, speaking softly to the men who groan and stretch their anns and legs with great effort. I dread the impending day. My heart begins to pound as loud as an angry fist at a lover’s door.
I take my small suitcase and head for the bus station. I should have been at the rehab a couple of days ago like I was supposed to, but things are not always what they should be. I”m told the bus won’t leave for another hour. I find a seat and place my suitcase on my lap and lay my head on it and quickly fall into a dark sleep.
“Hey,” I feel someone tapping my suitcase. “Hey. Your bus is loading. You going to Lockhart, right?”
“Yes,” I say. I’m having trouble opening my eyes or moving at all.
“Well, you gotta get on now if you’re going.”
I open my eyes and see it’s the same man I talked to at the ticket counter an hour ago. He seems smaller and his yellow shirt dingier than I remember. The scent of cigarette smoke and greasy food drifting from him almost makes me vomit. He turns and walks away. The seat of his black polyester pants is shiny from wear and his ass is larger than it should be for a man his size. Suddenly I feel great pity for him.
“Thanks,” I say, but I’m sure he didn’t hear me.
I place the suitcase in the overhead rack and take a window seat. The air conditioning is blowing hard on top of my head. It feels good. I lean my head on the glass and close my eyes.
“Mind if I sit here?” It is a familiar voice. I’ve heard her voice before a few hundred times in a few hundred different places. Open my eyes and stare at her intensely. She must be in her 40s–it’s hard to tell. Just beneath her tired face I can make out the pretty young girl she once was. But the years have made her immune to vanity and brought a benign indifference to the aging image she sees in a mirror.
“I don’t care,” she says. “I just thought maybe we could share some company.”
“Yeah. Go ahead,” I say. “I’m a little spacey today. Sorry.”
“I know the feeling.” She sits down and places her large purse on her wide lap. “These bus rides can get so fucking boring if you ain’t got no one to talk to. Excuse my language, but you know what I mean.”
“I go once a month to see my husband in Huntsville. I’ve been going for a couple of years. Our son used to come too, but he says he gets too bored on the bus.” She rolls her eyes.
“I’m Iris. My husband’s Mexican. You part Mexican or something? Cause my son looks a little like you. He’s 15, though.”
“My mother’s Mexican. I’m Charley Bodine.”
“It’s a pleasure,” she says and gives me a firm handshake. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you look like you could use a drink,” she says, pulling out a pint of Jim Beam from her purse. “Go ahead,” she says, handing me the bottle.
I crack the top and take a drink and hand it back to her. She smiles and tells me to take another. I can tell she’s used to caring for men like me!
The ride to Lockhart takes less an hour. I take my suitcase and say good-bye to Iris. She smiles and nods a farewell. The bus pulls away, coughing a cloud of black diesel smoke and disappearing around the corner. I stand there in the baking morning sun, feeling as if I entered another existence like an apple that’s fallen from its tree. The trail that led me to this place now shrinks away in shame and disgust, disappearing into the scorched earth like a snake. I walk inside the tiny bus station to look for a phone. There is small bench next to a cigarette machine with a yellowed, cracked mirror. The pay phone is on the back wall by the bathroom door. A ceiling tin stirs the mugginess around the waiting area. An old black man behind the counter seems too busyreading a newspaper to pay any attention to me. I start for the pay phone.
“It don’t work,” he says, not lifting his eyes from the newspaper. “There’s one down the street,” he says, tilting his head in.the direction of the phone outside.
“Hey, Mister, where can I get a drink around here,” I ask, standing by the door. He picks up his eyes from the paper and looks me up and down for a moment, then says, “What kind of drink you. looking for?” I shake my head never mind and walk out into the melting air. Immediately the air is sucked out of my lungs by the heat. The sun sharpens its knuckles on human flesh. Half a block away, I find a pay phone at the boarded-up gas station. The phone is hot to the touch, so I wrap my shirt tail around it and call the rehab to come pick me up. Eighteen months. Eighteen months is how long I’ll have to be here. Knives dig into my eye sockets and my balls are gripped so hard by my addiction that I cannot breathe.
“Hello. Hello! Who the fuck is this?”
“It’s me. I’m here,” I finally say.
“And who the fuck are you, asshole?”
“Is this New Beginnings?”
I try again.
“New Beginnings. May.I help you?”
“It’s me. I’m here.”
The humming silence on the telephone line makes me wonder if she has hung up, too.
“Mr. Bodine? Charley Bodine?” she says at last.
“Yeah, it’s me. Can someone comeget me? I don’t think I feel so good.”
“We expected you on Monday, a couple of days ago. We’ve been worried about you.” Her voice is gentle and sweet. It makes my balls hurt even more.
“Yeah, well . . . ”
I sit against the shady wall of the gas station and wait for my ride. Sweat rolls down my chest and my face feels like it’s submerged in a simmering muddy puddle. A car stops at the light. It’s old and black and I can see its muffler dangling, almost touching the street. An old man sits behind the wheel and stares straight ahead. The light changes and he gives the car gas. The muffler shakes as the wheels begin to turn. I close my eyes and instantly realize it was a bad mistake. My head begins to swell and spin out of control and the wall opens up behind me, swallowing me whole. In this space, voices sound out, desperate to flee this place of endless blackness. I. gulp for air and open my eyes. A Mexican kid, maybe l0, sits on a bike too large for him and stares at me. He is wearing only a pair of dirty shorts and his chocolate skin glistens in the sun. He is so still I don’t even see his chest heaving. We stare at each other for what seems like an eternity. Then his eyes move down to my pants. I look down and see I have wet myself. A million marching needles of shame begin to step hard on my insides. I see the yellow trickle of piss slowly zigzagging away from me, blackening the ground and carrying away a frail of ants. When I look up, the boy has disappeared.
With great effort, I get up and walk to the back of the gas station where the weeds are brittle with thirst. A door is ajar. I step in and find the floor littered with empty beer cans and neat, little piles of shit. The stench burns my nose, but at least the air is cool in here. I put my suitcase on a counter and look inside. A bulky winter coat takes up most of the space. It seemed like a good idea at the time to bring the coat along. Anyway, it made the suitcase close snugly, but now its presence seems absurd. I throw it on the floor, scaring up puffs of dust I find an extra pair of pants in the suitcase, some jeans I got at K-Mart when I was working for a while. One of the pant legs is splattered with bright, orange paint, but I can’t remember how it got there. I pull off the wet pants and lay them on the floor. They look like someone is still in them, someone content and asleep. The dry jeans fit so loose I have to keep hiking them up. I can’t remember what happened to my belt.
I step outside. It’s good to breathe clean air again, even though it feels hot against my face. I remember my pack of smokes in my shirt pocket, but it’s too hot to smoke. I don’t have any matches anyway. I look around, scanning the town. I grew up in a place very much like this not more than 40 miles away. You could take up whole streets and the people living on them from my hometown and exchange them for ones here and no one would know the difference. Growing up, I thought you could scoop up my town, put it in a coffee can, and bury it in someone’s backyard and no one would come looking for it. It wasn’t a bad town, I suppose. I guess the town you grow up in has to be pretty crappy for you to think of it as an unhappy place. After you have been away from it for a few years, most of the bad things you remember about it are sand-papered into something else almost unrecognizable. What I remember most vividly about my town was the boredom. Sometimes it annoyed me like a barking dog. Other times it felt like a car’s wheel had slowly rolled onto my chest and stopped there. It was hard to breathe even then.
Right after I was born, my father’s sister Esther took me in: She took over all the responsibilities of raising a child. Growing up with her didn’t require much effort. We maintained a delicate balance of distance that kept us from turning into strangers or becoming entangled in each other’s lives. Although we rarely sat together in the same room for very long, I never got the feeling she disliked me or that in her eyes I took the shape of regret. She provided for all my needs and never asked me to pay in any way for anything she gave me: Sometimes we ate together, but most of the time food was left in the oven for me. My clothes were laid out on my bed and once a week she’d leave some money on the coffee table for me in an envelope marked “Charles.” She was kind, but a very private and quiet person. Sometimes I’d patch a glimpse of her as she walked into her room, gently closing the door behind her, and I felt a longing to follow her and fill asleep in her arms.
A car wreck when she was 18 left the corner ofher mouth pulled back like she was forcing a half smile. Otherwise, she was a pretty woman with auburn hair and deep green eyes. Her brother, Charley Bodine, was 10 years younger than she and he was always being asked by men and boys alike to introduce them to her. But that was before her accident. She never married, but she had a black man named James come visit once or twice a month. He was a full head shorter than she and his hair was like a black snowball. They rarely went out together. Usually they’d talk at the kitchen table while sipping a drink. A white woman and a black man together is a dangerous thing to be where I come from, but I guess people looked the other way when it came to Esther. Maybe they made allowances for her on account of her accident. James was soft-spoken and polite and always smiled at me on his way out. We talked briefly a few times, but there was an awkwardness between us that we both could not ignore. I figured he was there to be with Esther, not me.
Esther worked at a dry cleaners owned by a short, bald Spaniard named Emmit. When I walked by the cleaners, he would call me over to the door. Inside the steam hissed and a low tumbled filled the dimness. I could see Esther’s shadowed figure inside move through the patches of light,but she never came to the door to talk. Emmit would stick his thumbs in the pockets of his black vest, which he always wore, and rocked on his heels as he talked and laughed. His smile was distracting. I’d stare at his large, perfect teeth with such intensity that I couldn’t hear what he said. Sometimes he’d pull a fifty-cent piece from his Vest pocket and toss it at me. I don’t remember ever catching it.
My father died in a car accident aeouple of weeks before I was born. By then he and my mother had long patted. A couple of months before his death he went to San Antonio to live with his father. There he met a girl. One night, after getting in a fight with the girl, he stole the girl’s mother’s car and drove off a dirt road down a deep ravine. It was several days before he was found. My mother is from a prominent Mexican family in town. From an early age, she had been assigned to carry the family’s hopes into the future. Her being swayed by my father was a. darkness that nearly drowned her parents. As far as I know, she stil llives in Houston with a husband and a couple of boys not even half my age. I met her only once, when I was 22. She lived in a pretty, white house with grass so green it looked blue. The sprinklers were on and the two boys were running through them. She was pretty. She had caramel skin and hair as black as her eyes. The boys looked like her. She told me I looked like my father. She asked me inside and offered me a cup of coffee. Maybe she didn’t realize it was too hot a day for something like coffee. We didn’t talk much. Mostly, we sat at the kitchen table, looking out the window at the boys playing on the blue lawn. After 10 minutes or so, I told her had to get going; She got up quickly and walked me to the door. She waved and smiled as I walked away. She didn’t introduce me to the boys. Maybe she forgot, maybe not. I dont know. That was 10 years ago
Sometimes I think you are sent out into the world with an envelope that contains your destiny. When you enter this life, you hand this envelope to someone standing by a large door and he takes it like a movie ticket. You go inside and watch your life unfold before you, strange but familiar. So when later you come to certain parts of your life, you can say, “Yes, I know this part.” The sad irony is that even with this knowledge, there is nothing you can to do to change the course of your life.
I was 13 the first time I drank alcohol. As it flowed down, I felt it spread in me like a cool fife and ignite a glow that felt like a sunrise burning somewhere behind my heart. All the insecurities and anxieties of a 13-year-old boy fell away with such ease I thought the world was made of tiny pieces of paper. The second I time I drank a few days later, I woke up in jail. I had been drinking wine with a few other boys by the cotton gin. Afterward, I tried to walk home, but I passed out on the side of the street and was picked up by the police.
Esther came to get me. I waited in the car as she talked to the sheriff. I could not hear what he was saying, but he kept using his hands to make his point. Esther stood patiently as she listened to him but never said a word. She took his outstretched hand and shook it. He seemed pleased. We drove home in silence, but it was a comforting silence, not the kind that makes you wish for a loud crash or something. She never mentioned the incident.
At 16, I dropped out of school and a couple of months later, I left town. I swallowed whole stretches of desert highway on my way West until I reached the ocean. It saddened me that the road had come to an end. I had hoped to keep going forever. For years I drifted around the country in various states of disintegration, feeling that parts of me did not fit, that they were not mine, that I found them discarded along the way in places now lost beyond the horizon. In my weakest and most helpless time memories of those years roam aimlessly in my head like abandoned dogs whose eyes are wild with disbelief. Eight months ago, I wound up in a house in East Austin, a place that seemed to sit at the edge of the world. Some years before I’d met a couple of the people that were staying at the house. The others there I had never seen before. The house was a reprieve from all the things that pushed us harder and faster than we could go, and we fell about the place like exhausted children.
It was December, sometime in the morning, when I got busted this last time. It might have been just before or just after Christmas. I couldn’t tell the difference. The night before going to jail, I’d been drinking with Denise, who was staying with me at the house. We might have been celebrating Christmas, I just can’t remember. It was quite early in the morning when I came to. Outside a gray, weeping light consumed everything. An angry rain slapped against the windowpanes so hard I thought it would break in and choke us. The sky boiled with shifting shades of black and gray and was cast across the earth like a we canvas that sagged just above the rooftops and shivering, naked trees. Denise lay next to me, uncovered and naked. She was no more than 25, a thin, high, yellow-black girl with red hair and moist, gray eyes. I met her a couple of weeks before at the Wrangler Inn on Congress Avenue, a place where lost people find comfort in each other. She and I fit right in. I don’t remember much of what we said to each other that night, but what I liked most about her–about us–was that we could be together with a minimum of effort. She didn’t ask me about my drinking and doping and I didn’t ask her about the stretch marks on her belly.
That morning the rain was not going to let me go back to sleep, so I decided to. get up. As much as I had drunk the night before, I didn’t feel too bad. I looked over at Denise. sleeping. I cupped her small breast with my hand and kissed her large, red lips. She opened her eyes and said, “Charley,” then she pulled me on top of her. After a few minutes, I got out of bed and started putting on my pants.
“Where’d this come from,” I said, looking at the floor.
Denise sat up, pulling the blanket around her. “What is it?”
I picked up a full bottle of whiskey from the foot of the bed. I opened it and took a long, hard drink.
It took me a second or two to get my breath back.
“I got paid yesterday,” she said: “Remember? I know you like that brand, so I thought I’d surprise you. Remember?”
“Sorry,” I said, taking another long drink.
“What day is it?” I asked her when she got back from the bathroom .
“Sunday? Yes. Sunday.” She started to put on her underwear but stopped when she saw me moving toward her. She stood up and smiled. “Charley,”.she said softly pulling my hips toward her. Somewhere in the house I heard someone moaning in his sleep as if he was trying to untangle himself from some dream of a thousand groping arms.
“I want to get high,” I told Denise.
“Okay,” she said, burying her face under my chin.
We ran to the car, covering our heads with our coats. The passenger-door window didn’t roll up all the way. A fine spray of rain fell on the side of my face. The rain gathered strength and fell with such recklessness, it sounded like fists beating in the roof of the car.
“Is it going to start?” I said after the fifth try. Denise shrugged her narrow shoulders. She touched my face with the back of her hand and tried again. After a couple more times, the car started. The streets were nearly empty then. I pulled my collar up against the spray coming through the window. My coat smelled like wet fur. We stopped at the light at Martin Luther King Blvd. It was strange to see such a large intersection like that so empty. I began to wonder if some catastrophe was about to happen and everyone had run off to hide and we were the only ones unaware of the impending doom. A man riding an old bicycle crossed in front of the car. He wore a fixed, sedated smile as he slowly peddled through the light. He seethed completely oblivious to the weather. “Where is he going?” Denise asked. “Nowhere,” I said.
Down the street a pair of headlights pierced through the gray curtain of rain. The bus lumbered past us, the inside bathed in a flickering, white neon light. It carried a few riders, each seated as far away from each other as possible. They seemed like paper cutouts pasted on the windows, frozen in time. “Where can they possibly be going,” I thought aloud. “Work, maybe Denise said. I was surprised she’d heard me.
I banged on Tony’s front door for several minutes. The curtains on the house next door closed slowly. I walked around the side of the house and looked in the window, calling through the missing pane of glass. Suddenly, I felt my feet go cold. I looked down and saw I was standing in a puddle, my shoes disappearing beneath the muddy water. After a minute or so, Tony entered the room and pointed me to the back.
On the way back to the house, I smoked some of the heroin and stashed the rest in my coat pocket. The spray from the window was like a woman’s hair sliding across my face and 1 felt as light as threads hanging from a piece of cloth. The rain’s drone came in waves and entered my ears like a warm liquid . . . At that moment, a soothing emptiness filled me and I was sure nothing could touch me, not even time.
“Stop the car right here,” I told Denise.
“Here? Right here?” Denise said. “We’re on the bridge.”
“Perfect,” I said and stepped out of the car, dropping my coat as I walked. It was still raining hard. The dark water in the creek ran swiftly, swirling and folding onto itself. Other times, the creek only had a trickle, but today it roared with power. I heard Denise calling from the car, but I didn’t pay her any mind. There, below me, was the world rushing by, carrying all it had gathered, pieces of people’s lives they would never miss, things left out, forgotten, things easily replaced, all being rushed out of the city to be deposited in some desolate place. As I stepped closer to the edge, a hand grabbed my arm. I turned around and saw the flashing red lights.
That was the last time I saw Denise. Before I was rolled away, I told her I wouldn’t be back. She stood there in the rain, looking at me, saying nothing. I got six months at county and I was to attend the rehab after I had served my time. My cellies shook their heads when I told them about my sentence. “Man, that’s fucked,” they said. They asked which judge I had. “He’s a dick,” they said. I was beyond caring. My life was like a long, slow car wreck. During one of the many flips, I had undone my seat belt and let the violence overtake me. It was better than struggling to find hope.
Denise came to visit me a couple of times, but I refused to see her. Shortly afterward, I got a thick letter from her. It smelled sweet, but I threw it in the trash without opening it. I was too weak to fight off her words. I wrote her back a very short letter, telling her not to write to me again. She didn’t. At night, when I was in bed and the lights were out, I’d think about her. At first, I was surprised to see her there in my mind, then it started to anger me. I didn’t want to think about her. Why should I? I hardly knew her. Maybe that was the reason. She was like a strange but beautiful song I came across only once but couldn’t hear it very well because of all the noise in my head. Once it was over, its words and music remained cloudy and vague, but the feeling it stirred was strong and clear. A song like that can live forever, because it does not exist within the boundaries of precise memory but wanders like a shapeless mass, slipping in and out of obscurity, recreating itself at will.
I turn and see him standing there. A fat Mexican in his 20s with a face as big as a Sunday picnic cake. His blue T-shirt, with New Beginnings printed on it, stretches across his stomach and a pair of baggy shorts hang low. His left hand and part of his forearm are missing. Oily sweat fills the rings of fat around his neck. His smile is blinding.
“Charley Bodine?” he asks, his eyes scanning my face.
“Like Jethro? Hey, where’s Ellie Mac?” he laughs so hard he starts coughing. When he recovers, he says, “Just fucking with you, man.” He holds out a plump hand. “Rudy. But everybody calls me Mocho, because of the arm,” he says, pointing to his arm with his chin. “Mocho.You know–somebody that has something cut off. You speak Spanish? You look Mexican.”
“My mother is Mexican.”
“Isn’t that the way it always is?”
“Nothing,” he says, looking at my suitcase. He picks it up and shakes it a couple of times before setting it down again.”What you got in here, a bag of marshmallows?” He starts to cackle and cough again. He digs out a cigarette from a pack in his pocket and dangles it from the corner of his mouth. He pats his pockets. “Shit, where is my lighter? You got a light?” I shake my head. He shakes his and puts the cigarette behind his ear. The paper immediately darkens with his sweat. “Let’s go,” he says, picking up the suitcase again. An old pickup with New Beginnings hand painted on the doors is parked in front of the station by the rusty gas pumps. He throws the suitcase in the back without looking and turns to me. “I don’t want you to get pissed off, but you look like shit, man. You got the malias?” I nod. “One last run before you came out here?” I nod again. “Dont worry. We got a doctor on call and there’s a place at the rehab where you can kick. It’s safe, and they give you stuff to make it a little easier. A nurse is there on some weekdays. Norma. She’s kinda old, about 40 or something like that, but she’s nice. She only got one tit-cancer, I think she said. But she’s nice.”
My bones feel like they are made of razor blades. It hurts to listen to his voice. Rudy tells me the rehab is a couple of miles outside of town on the highway going to Austin. Every week or so a guy decides hes cured or can’t take a life of routine anymore and decides to leave. They always find him in Austin. Lockhart isn’t a bad town, just boring, he says, stopping at the light. “Can you stop over there? I need to get a quart of Mickey’s,” I say. He shakes his head; his face looks apologetic. “I can’t do that. You gotta know that,” he says. I nod and close my eyes.
He talks on and on about things I don’t give a damn about. After some time, I feel the truck stop and I open my eyes. I see a river, small and peaceful. About a dozen people are in the water, mostly kids on their last days of summer vacation. They are closer to the other side ofthe river, where a park is dotted with picnic tables sitting beneath large pecan trees. Willow trees along the bank lean toward the river, their branches gently rake the surface like fingers testing the water. A couple of men sharing a 12-pack of Pearl, sit and talk on the grassy knoll overlooking the river. A large black and white dog takes a running leap into the river, splashing the kids in the water. They squeal with delight as the dog swims in circles around them.
“We usually come here on Sundays and hang out,” Rudy says. He opens the door and rests his leg on it. I get out and start walking toward the river. “We can’t stay too long, man,” he says. “They’re expecting us. You’re already two days late anyway.” I walk in ankle deep. The water’s coolness races up my spine and spreads like wings across my back. The river is as clean as glass and smells like afternoon rain falling on a plowed cornfield.
“Hey, man!” Rudy yells. “What are you doing? Let’s go.”
The water is now at my chest. I see the lush green grasses growing at the bottom, dreamily swaying under the lazy current. I let myself slowly fall backward until I am floating on the water, perfectly still, my arms stretched out to my sides. Above, small, orphaned clouds hang motionless from a piercing blue sky. At this very same quiet and still moment the Earth is madly rushing through space in its tethered path around the sun. Once people believed the sun revolved around the earth. People can be so wrong, even about the simplest things. At this moment there are people being born and people taking their last breath. At this moment there are people fatling in love and people whose hearts are turning black with hate. Is there a right way to be born or a right way to die? Is there a wrong way to love or a wrong way to hate? I wish I knew. I wish with all my heart I knew.