Dispatch 32 (December 22, 1998)
I dont remember the exact moment she said it to
me on the way back from San Juan, the exact town we were passing through or the highway
mile marker assigning a number to each minute. Just her words, inside the little car
barreling its way through the cold day.
"Do you think it helped her?" I asked, hugging
myself behind the constriction of the seat belt.
Gina didnt say anything. She kept driving, fixated
on the flat expanse of road.
"You mean if it healed her?" she asked.
A few empty seconds as the mile markers counted down.
"I dont know if it healed her, to be
honest," Gina said. "But I think it healed me a little."
* * *
Campus bookstore. Im standing in the reference
section as a few stragglers with late finals come in, trying to sell off their last
remaining books for pennies on the dollars they paid three months ago.
I pull out a compact edition of the Bible, holding it in
my hands as if it were a mystery, unsure if it would even fit there. Maybe my hands would
burn up and scald and the book would fly across the room, flaming, pronouncing the Demon
Yi, scarring the wall with sulfur and smoke.
The experience at the church in
San Juan had made me curious, and by nature its only my own curiosity that I
cant escape. It nagged at me every time I passed those hypnotically obnoxious
religious cable stations with the 800 number and the big-haired hosts. It nagged at me for
different reasons when I drove by a church on Sunday and saw a couple running to their
Just Married car, ready to trail cans and streamers behind them in an arc of matrimonial
My hands didnt catch fire and the book didnt
do a Telekinesis Twirl. I opened it to a random page near the middle. I tried to absorb
the words, to find something of meaning in the passage. It was like Shakespeare it
didnt quite roll off the tongue like I expected scripture to. It wasnt exactly
all "Do unto others
" And my grasp of Biblical terminology was as weak as
my grasp of nautical terms. "Smiting" held about as much significance to me as
I put the book back, unsure why Id really picked it
up in the first place. Maybe it was a test. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the
opposite of a flaming book damning me, maybe I thought there was a chance a bright beam
would come down from the sky, envelop me in heavenly light, and make the words dance
wisdom in my brain.
I wanted to feel what Id felt at the church again.
That tingling serenity. That chill that you get as a child when someone shows you a magic
trick or the first time you look into the eyes of someone you know youre supposed to
love. Immaculate comfort.
I thought about what Gina had said. "I think it
healed me a little."
Not for the first time, I wondered why I couldnt
apply the salve. Why its so hard for me to embrace something that is so infinitely
embraceable. Everyone needs a God right? So why cant I find the right one?
* * *
Gina went home, alone this time. She stayed for four
days, which I think is the limit of her endurance, and then she returned to Austin.
She came over, surprising me with bags of fruit she picked
up from the Valley. They were huge lemons and oranges, bursting from the too-mild winter.
Citrus crops were freezing in other parts of the country, but South Texas was getting
along just fine and its fruit was as plump as ever.
I cleaned out a pitcher and we made fresh lemonade,
slicing the lemons and scooping out the thick pulp. It was tarter than the Kool-Aid I was used to, but it was an antidote to the
gray day outside. Soursweet bursts of awakening and stringy bitter bits in every bite.
We drank the stuff in front of the afternoon TV. I was
flipping between mountains of daytime crap. Who told Howie
Mandel he could have a talk show? Roseanne
was there too, and Montel was hanging out with some bad mothers (literal bad mothers, not
the motorcycle types).
"Were not dysfunctional enough," I told
Gina. "We need to strip and have babies so we can be on TV."
"Speak for yourself," Gina said. "I could
get my own show now if I wanted one."
"Oh yeah, I forgot," I said. "Theyre
making a soap opera of your life, right?"
"Characters on soap operas have money. Im
"Youd be the ingenue that they bring on to fall
in love with the pretty rich boy. His parents dont approve, but you end up eloping.
Youd get married somewhere in Las Vegas or in a barn somewhere with some backroads
priest farmer guy performing the ceremony."
"Do you watch a lot of these?" Gina asked.
"Your husband's sisters would hate you. Theyd
be all jealous because youre new and everybody sees how nice you are. This is
fiction, so you can be nice."
"Hey!" Gina said. "Fuck you!"
"And his mother hates you too because youre not
good enough for her perfect son."
"Why is it all the women hate me? My life is all rags
to bitches. Dont the men hate me too?" Gina asked.
"No, because they all want to sleep with you," I
"Fine," Gina said, getting up and going to the
kitchenette. "Im getting more limonada."
I joined her, putting more ice in my cup.
"Gina," I said. "Hows your mom
"Im still praying," Gina said.
I looked at the calendar on the wall. Id waited
until the last minute to book a flight out of Austin. My parents were paying half of the
flight, and my hesitation had cost us each an extra hundred dollars. Tomorrow Id be
flying out. Gina would go home for Christmas.
When I came back, things might be different. A week will
have passed time spent at home for both of us, apart and mostly out of
communication. I was afraid to leave. I didnt know what Id miss when I was
gone and I didnt know what mood Id find Gina in when I returned.
My compulsion is always to pin things down, to define
them, to keep time in a bottle and resist change.
But time fixes that notion, quickly. And you can bang your
head against it until youre bloody or you can walk along the path and see where it
takes you. I decided to let go, taking my own leap of faith this time that had less to do
with God than with my own acceptance.
Gina stayed a while longer. It wasnt until I was
ready to flip channels again, reaching for the remote on the table, that I noticed Gina
had fallen asleep, her slender wrists wrapped around the couchs throw pillow. She
breathed deeply, her body absorbing all the air around her, as if it was fuel for her
I let her sleep, the drone of the television providing its
mindless audio comfort, as I went to my bedroom and packed for tomorrows trip.