The Librium was supposed to prevent me from experiencing some of the side effects of alcohol detox, but I was still having terrible shakes, sweating, and nausea. Amy had not left my side. She said little but tended to me. She brought me chocolate malt milkshakes to ease the discomfort from the lack of sugar in my body, which the alcohol had caused me, and slow my weight loss. She wiped my hot forehead with cool, damp rags. She read to me about AA.
The next morning, a knock came. Amy met Kyra at the door and let her in.
“Hey,” said Kyra, tilting her head and giving me a sincere look of sympathy. “How’s the patient?”
“Amy,” I said, “Can you give us a moment?”
I wasn’t sure how she would respond to this, given her declaration of love to me. I worried she might be jealous of Kyra, but instead, she gave Kyra a tight hug, said, “Thank you,” and left closing the door behind her.
“You ready for this?” said Tyrice, picking at his french fries at a table in the Union.
“Yeah, I think so,” I said.
It was the day before the trip, and I was packed and ready to go.
“So what do you think you’re going to say?” asked Terrence.
“I’m gonna tell her how I feel. I’m going to be entirely honest. Tell her that I miss her.”
“How long a trip is it?” asked Spencer, munching on a taco.
“It’s like six hours.”
“Dog, that’s a lot of time to discuss feelings and shit,” said Tyrice. “You need more than that. You need to build up to that. Get her talking. Get that magic going.”
“Well, I can’t really talk to her much about the summer because that was spent with another girl. Well, I guess I could talk about my classes so far.”
“I’m gonna teach you something,” said Tyrice, “It’s called the eighty-twenty rule.”
Weeks had gone by, and I’d called every shelter in town. Although many knew Amy, none had seen her. I wondered if she were even in San Francisco anymore. I missed her greatly. I missed our mornings together at the kitchen table sipping coffee and reading the paper when she would sometimes pull a part of me out, examine it coarsely, and give it back to me with the hands of a child whose innocence had been taken by a man’s brutal hand. I missed having a purpose in sheltering her from whatever storms were chasing her.
Christmas was bearing down on me, and I could scarcely handle the weight of it. Every holiday jingle, Christmas light, and decorated tree reminded me that I would never wake up early on Christmas morning to fix Laura a cup of hot cocoa with a peppermint stick and that somewhere Amy might be alone, in danger, or hungry.
The next day, on campus, I felt different in little ways. I made more eye contact with people. I wanted to be seen. I felt good about the way I was looking after my buddy makeover. When I went to the computer lab, I noticed that Bijan had sent me an email at my school email account. He had wanted to meet me for lunch. He said he would be at Pinks at 11:30. I replied and hoped it wasn’t too late.
Pink’s was a small bar and grill named Pinks in the hopes that the frat kids would think it was a gay bar and would stay away. It was just across the street from Catlett and was a usual hangout for music majors and their friends.
When my morning classes ended, I walked across campus to find him. Though it was hot, he was waiting for me on the front patio. He’d found a shady spot and was sipping a Coke.
I knew that there was no point in trying to go after her. If Amy didn’t want to be found, I wouldn’t be able to find her. I poured a tall drink of blended scotch. My single malt was too expensive to do what I intended to do.
I paced the living room for a few minutes, drinking, and fretting. I was debating whether I should have told her about her dad, but I always came to the same conclusion: it was not my information to withhold. Besides, she was probably right: he would go after her, and I could not stand the idea of that man abusing her. I would fight for her.
I picked up the blanket she had been sleeping with and took a deep whiff of it. Her scent was still on it. I ached. For a month, she’d been ever-present in my life. I had even begun to hope that we might have a good Christmas together. Christmas had been my favorite holiday since I was a child, but the thought of Christmas without Laura had been haunting me, and Amy had eased that a little.
It was the first day of my senior fall semester at the University of Oklahoma. I had broken up with Stacey. She had gone back to Lawrence, Kansas for college, and I didn’t feel like having a long-distance relationship. Letters were not what I had wanted from her.
The heat and humidity of the Oklahoma summer were still lying thick over the campus as I walked from my Monday 8:30 Database Design class to the Catlett Music Center. I had auditioned in the summer and had been placed in the bass section, although I could have been as equally comfortable in the tenor section. Not only had my voice preserved well through several years of not singing, but its range had also grown significantly.
Dr. Baker was bustling about, straightening chairs and organizing his music stand. He was an African-American of around fifty with short salt and pepper hair.
He gestured to me then to the chairs and said, “Basses on the back two rows on the right.”
I kept the details of my evening at Heath’s apartment to myself over morning coffee with Amy. I didn’t really believe what Sri Ravi had said, but there was something about the encounter which had stuck with me. Something about the way I had felt. For just a few moments, I had been at peace, the peace that I had been looking for in one-night stands, booze, and pills. I hadn’t known just how profoundly discordant my mind and body had become until that moment when Sri Ravi gave me his blessing. I wanted more, but I didn’t know how to get it, and it was sure as shit not going to come from a guru. I just couldn’t see myself become a devotee of this guy. I thought of how Padma had rolled her eyes over Heath praying so much with his guru. I found myself agreeing with her, and yet I could not shake the feeling that I had stumbled upon something important.
I did not see Laura again that summer, but I did see a lot of Stacey. Every Friday night, we hung out with her friends at the Classic 50s Drive-In for burgers and Cajun curly fries. I saw less of Bijan as the summer went on, as he became focused on his musical composition, and I focused on Stacey. Then one warm Saturday night, two weeks before the start of my senior year, Bijan invited me to his parents’ house to stay the night.
We made a usual, almost ritualistic, night of it. We watched one of only three videos in his house, Dirty Dancing. The other two were Busty Blonds, which we discovered in his dad’s bedside table and 9 ½ weeks, which, although it had some sexy stuff with Kim Basinger it held little interest for us. But Dirty Dancing was part of our ritual. We knew all the lines. We made fun of it, but by the end, we always got wrapped up in it.
After the movie, it was street time. He lived in a quiet neighborhood, so there were very few cars at midnight. We felt adventurous when we would lie down on the street in front of his house. The concrete held the warmth of the day, and the air was very still. The cicada’s song had ended, and in the brush and creek running through the backs of the houses, the crickets’ song had begun.
The BART took me within a fifteen-minute cab ride to Heath’s apartment in Fremont, where there was a large Indian community. His apartment complex was modest but by no means a dump. As I climbed the stairs to his third-level apartment, I was overwhelmed by the fragrance of cumin, turmeric, ginger, onions, and garlic. The hour-long train ride had not done much for my appetite.
I was greeted at the door by a young, pudgy Indian woman in a sari. She was not unattractive, perhaps well-matched to Heath’s appearance.
“Welcome,” she said warmly, “I am Padma. You must be James. My husband has told me so much about you. Come in,” she said very formerly.
“Thank you; it’s lovely to finally meet you. Dinner smells delicious.”
“You like it? Do you eat Indian food often?” she asked as I handed her my jacket.
“Of course. Who in San Francisco doesn’t like Indian food?” I said, perhaps a little over-enthusiastically. I was feeling very anxious about the evening.
“Please have a seat wherever you like. Can I bring you some tea? You must be tired from the train.”
Her hospitality touched me in small-part. I did not generally drink tea, but it sounded like something that could settle my stomach. “If it’s not too much trouble.”
Laura and I decided to break up the spring of our senior year of high school. She had chosen to go to a small private college in St. Louis, and I would be staying in Oklahoma to study computer science. We wouldn’t write or call. That was the deal. But we would reconnect in the summers–no questions asked. Summer became my favorite season.
It was the week after our junior year in college, 1995. I had totaled my Ford Festiva out in front of my bank a week before. Bijan said he would get his dad to cut me a deal at the dealership where he worked. My dad and I drove up to the city to look around the lot. Much to my father’s disapproval, I intended to by a pickup truck. I felt that I would be moving around a lot in my twenties and might benefit from it. He had never owned a pickup truck and didn’t like unknowns when it came to a large purchase like a vehicle.