I was waiting outside when Kyra arrived in her beat-up Nissan Sentra. She pulled up next to me, rolled down the window, and said, “Get in. Oh shit, James. Have you seen your face?” she asked, “And are you drunk?”
“I just want to get her out of there. Go! Go! Go!”
“Where are we going?”
“I don’t know, just go. We’ll figure something out.”
She gunned it, blowing the first stop sign. The next block down, a trolley was stopping to pick up passengers. She slowed down until they were all on, and then she gunned it again. She went as fast as possible, blowing as many stop signs as she could and dodging trolley traffic.
Amy and I arrived at Sears Fine Foods before Kyra and ordered a basket of calamari.
“So this is like octopus?” she said when it arrived.
She grimaced and said, “Are they like…tentacles?”
“Yes, but taste one. It’s delicious. Here,” I said, squeezing lemon juice over the calamari and grabbing one. It was crisp and steaming hot. “Dip it in the marinara sauce like this,” I said, dipping and stuffing it hungrily into my mouth. “Oh my God, that is really good.”
She made a yucky face but picked out a small piece, dipped it, looked at it for a moment, then nibbled it. Her face changed into a hopeful raise of the eyebrows, and she popped the rest into her mouth. “That shit’s pretty good,” she said after swallowing and grabbing for another.
When I arrived at home, Amy was cooking dinner. She did not seem to notice me coming in, so I went into the kitchen to say hello. She did not look up.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Nothing much. I just told someone that I was in love with them, and they stomped all over my heart. No big deal.”
I went to the cabinet out of habit to pour a drink and found it empty. It occurred to me that this could be harder than I expected. I needed some relief.
“You don’t want to be in a relationship with me, Amy.”
“I’m already in a relationship with you, James.”
“You know what I mean.”
She went quiet and stirred the chili on the stove.
“Look, I need to make a call,” I said.
I grabbed a pack of cigarettes and my lighter, went outside, and started looking for my phone contacts for George. I found it, but I hesitated. It was around dinner time; I didn’t want to disturb him. Instead, I lit a cigarette and took a few drags, hoping for some sort of relief. I hadn’t smoked all day, and the buzz came on strong, but it didn’t last. It wasn’t the same. I thought of the pills and realized that I hadn’t thrown them away with the booze. My arm had pretty much healed, and I was no longer in any pain from the accident, but it was medicine. How could medicine be bad? I thought, but even in my thinking, I could see the flaw. These were the same pills that got me into the hospital just days before. I finished up my cigarette and stamped it out on the sidewalk, then walked inside. Amy was not in the kitchen. I found the bottle of pills, and there were only a few left. Not enough to do any significant damage. I thought hard for a moment about what it would feel to take them. It would take the edge off my discomfort; give me some relief.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We had fallen into a routine of morning coffee and newspaper. I no longer questioned her presence in my apartment and my life. She was a part of my existence now. She was filling a piece of a large hole in my life. What piece, I did not know.
I heard her shuffling to the bathroom as I sipped my coffee and opened the paper to the Arts and Entertainment section. Something I saw gave me an idea.
“Amy?” I called out. There was no answer. I walked toward the hallway and called again, “Amy?”
“Please don’t,” she said softly and sullenly from behind the door.
“Talk to me while I’m taking a shit.”
“Oh. Sorry. There’s just something–”
“And yet you’re still talking.”
I supposed that my idea could wait a few minutes. I sat down again and studied the paper. I pulled out my phone to see what my evening was like. Nothing planned–as if I ever had anything planned.