Dispatch 20 (Nov. 17, 1998)
"I knew youd call," Gina
said, using Caller ID to twist the knife of surprise when she answered. "Your
curiosity is stronger than your pride."
I didnt say anything to that, because it wasnt
something I could disagree with.
* * *
For a week, Gina and I were shortwave, a static-tinged
blast of nothing holding heavy in the air. I kept seeing visages of her as I tried to live
my life. On the way to class, her hair was across the street on the head of a girl
Id quickly realize wasnt Gina. Her smile seemed to grace the lips of a woman
selling beads and jewelry in the alleyway next to Texas French Bread on The
The only place she wasnt was in my line of sight
where I could follow, or watch, or chronicle. I felt like the threads Id been trying
to tie between us had been severed. That the longer I stayed away from Us, the more It
would unravel until the odd camaraderie that had developed between
us in Dallas and in other moments since then, would be lost, replaced by cold,
I was sitting in my apartment, less than bored, aware that
I was wasting time that should have gone toward Gina. I was listening to Tori Amos (a pathetic thing for a girl to do at home alone
on a Saturday, even if it was raining outside), and a line from Little Earthquakes
resonated. "And I hate/and I hate/dis-in-te-gra-tion," Tori growled, and the
sound of it threw goosebumps at my skin. I thought of Gina, and the image in my mind was
one of the paintings Juan had done, the canvas crinkling and peeling like old paper left
in the sun.
So I called.
Gina answered, smug as ever. And her words, which for all
I knew shed been holding on the tip of her tongue since last I saw her, were enough
for now. Shed won.
* * *
I offered to come over. I invited her here, even as my
apartment echoed Toris rainy day sentiments. She asked instead that I meet her at
the Zilker Botanical Gardens
off Barton Springs.
I pointed out that the rain hadnt led up. It was
reminiscent of the flood weekend a few weeks ago when parts of Texas were rained on so
badly that families were washed away, their couches and televisions drifting down and
downstream like branches from a broken tree. Gina said that was where shed be in a
hour if I wanted to meet her.
I took an umbrella.
Id been to the Botanical Gardens before and
its gorgeous little pathways along the side of a hill where the most
beautiful flowers grow next to little ponds holding fish of all sizes. Last time I was
there was on a date, a romantic excursion among the flowers, freshman lily love and all
that. It had been sunny that day and the green leaves and the drying petals of flowers
carried fuzziness grown in the sun that made them less real. Their edges seemed to blur
next to the air surround them, giving everything a painted, brush-stroked appearance.
Today, the effect was different. The cloudbursts gave us a
dim wattage from which we could see every detail as if through water-droplet
magnification. Everything stood out, bold against the gray of the day, defiant.
Gina, too, stood out. She was wearing a red top and a
black skirt. She looked more ready for the mall than for rain. Even next to the drinking
flowers, her colors (lips, the highlights in her hair, the contrasting blue on her nails)
I met her near a bridge where she was standing alone,
looking into water as a drizzle poured down around us. She had no umbrella. Her hair was
frizzier than Id ever seen it, water droplets forming nets amid the strands. I came
to her, holding the umbrella over both of us.
"I used to come here sometimes before Id go to Harlingen," she said, not looking up. "I
would pick some flowers, just one or two, to take to my mom. A lot of these you cant
find in flower shops. I would give them to mama, and she would save them in an old
scrapbook shed had for a long time, since she was in Mexico. She kept all of them.
She still has them pressed in her book."
"What would you do if you got caught?" I asked.
"Just pretend I didnt know," Gina said.
"I didnt think theyd notice one or two flowers missing."
"How are you?" I asked. "This last week,
what have you been doing?"
"Worrying," Gina said. "About things."
"What kind of things?"
"I dont want to go into it," she said.
"I wont want to talk about it, and youll get mad because it should be in
the journal, and I dont want to fight with you. Is that okay?"
I thought about it as the drizzle grew to a steady stream
of drops lightly strumming against the umbrellas fabric. "The journal aside,
are you okay? If you need to talk about it, I dont have to write about it right
Gina turned and I saw lines around her eyes I hadnt
seen before. Without makeup, she looked strained, as bad as Id seen her when she was
sick. Physically, she looked fine, but the worry on her face and her stoop as she leaned
forward, barely holding her head above sea level, made her look much older.
"I cant right now. But its back home.
Im going to have to leave soon for a visit and Im really worried about
"Juan?" I asked.
"Heather, stop asking, okay? Ill tell you when
"Im sorry," I said.
"Its a lot bigger deal than that. And bigger
than the writing project," Gina said. "If I go, I may not come back right away.
I may be gone for a couple of months."
"Oh. If I can help, you know," I stammered.
"Its not that kind of situation," Gina
said. "But I appreciate it. As soon as I know for sure whats happening,
Ill let you know, okay?"
"Hey, Heather. You ask me all these questions and you
want to know all these things, but let me ask you something."
"Go ahead," I said.
"Why were you so upset about Halloween?
What about it made you so uncomfortable?" she said.
A small silence began to extend itself between us as I
gave it some thought, still unclear on the real reason behind my reaction. Despite that, I
gave it a shot: "It surprised me," I said. "And when it comes to my
relationships with people, I dont like big surprises. I dont like being caught
Gina gave me a small smile, the first Id seen since
I arrived at the Garden. "Some of the best things happen when you get caught off
guard," Gina said. "Stop trying to control everything."
Gina turned, patting my shoulder as she went. She walked
slowly across the bridge, leaving the shield of my umbrella, and baptizing herself in the
cool rain that made it through the trees above us.
As she walked, she pulled her hair back with her hands,
leaning her head back as the rain washed over her unmade face.
I began to follow, folding the umbrella and carrying it
next to me as I went.