I used to love to drink coffee. I could punch trees. Now coffee makes me too nervous. Sometimes there is too much coffee in the decaf coffee. Karl does not believe me, no matter how many times I tell him. Karl works the late shift at 7-11 and his name is Vishad. He reminds me very much of Karl who was my coach. Karl has a black mustache and is sometimes not happy with me but he always looks me in the eyes. Fuck you if you are cruel to Karl.
I am sorry for cursing. Sometimes I cannot help myself. I can’t stand it when babies cry in the grocery store. I hear their crying right in the center of my skull, just above my uvula. It’s like I swallowed a butterfly. I have never actually swallowed a butterfly, but I have swallowed a moth. What happens behind my skull when I hear a baby crying in the grocery store is bigger and more colorful and less hairy than when I swallowed a moth. Fuck you if you do not think the difference between swallowing a butterfly and swallowing a moth is important.
I am sorry for cursing. I am not angry out of anger. I do not hate anyone, even the boy who leaned out of the window of the silver truck to toss a crushed beer can in my direction. What a stupid thing to throw—how could anyone control it? And yes, stranger, I did know that I wasn’t wearing shoes.
Who has never once forgotten to put on their shoes before leaving the house? I usually remember. And it’s not like I was planning to walk to Annapolis—I was just going for a drive.
Driving calms me and would calm me even more if Maryland would let us drive faster. Cars are more controllable than missiles and look how many of those we have. It’s also stupid that they want to phase out cassette tapes.
But I’m not angry about it. I’m not. I love to have a good conversation. I am always willing to help out if you get your car stuck in the snow. I keep a shovel just inside the front door and when it snows I watch out the window to see if anyone needs help. Someone could have stopped to give me a ride—anyone could see I didn’t have shoes. But I can’t complain—when I got into 7-11 Karl took one look at me and reached down below the counter to grab me a handful of paper towels. Karl is a kind man. I told him he was a kind man.
“My name is Vishad,” he said. I cannot make Karl understand that I call him Karl as a gesture of respect. I respect Karl so much that if someone were to harm him I would immediately walk into the kitchen. That’s where the knives are.
I would give my bronze medal to Karl. I hang it from a nail on the wall in my room. My mother bought me an expensive frame so I hung the frame on the wall, too, next to the medal. I don’t like the idea of putting things in other things.
“Why did I spend money on that?” says my mother everyday. She says this so I will forget to ask her to make me breakfast so, when I remember, I ask her to make me breakfast and she says no. Sometimes she says she wishes I had never won the medal in the first place, which means she wants me to do my laundry. I don’t mind doing the laundry—the dryer knocks in a nice rhythm when it gets unbalanced. I love my mother and fuck you if you don’t know why.
I love my mother but I was angry. I admit it. I was very hungry and she would not make me breakfast. She said she was asleep. It was past midnight so it was morning but she didn’t believe me. I can see that I could have been more considerate. She loves me. She does not mind when she is watching a program and I put in a COPS on tape.
In my favorite a police car drives into a forest and catches on fire. The cop gets out and watches his car burn and he holds onto the fire extinguisher that did not work. Like him I always want people to understand me. I was angry because my mother didn’t want to make me breakfast and she never wants to make me breakfast even though she knows I always turn the burners up too high and burn the eggs and then I eat them right out of the pan and burn my fingers and my mouth.
I felt lonely. I admit it. Which is why I went in to see Karl, even though I did not have any money. There was not even enough change in the glove box for a hot dog. I only eat hot dogs to be friendly to Karl. I get energy from bananas and oatmeal and when my mother cooks me breakfast. She insists I not help her in the kitchen but sit at the table and wait. She asks me if I want orange juice and then does not bring me the orange juice. She never wants to cook breakfast anymore. Do it yourself, she says. You are a grown man. I bring up the check I get every month from Maryland for when the garbage truck broke my leg and made it different for me to walk. She says you just keep bringing that up. I don’t know why I let you go away to Colorado when you were just a boy. I wish I’d never let you go. Then I wouldn’t have won the bronze medal, I say. I should have never let you go to Colorado, she says. I learned everything in Colorado, I say. Why don’t you go back there, then, she says. Get someone out there to cook you breakfast in the middle of the night. If that’s the way you feel maybe I will go, I say, and leave. You’ll need shoes in Colorado, she says. No, I won’t, I say.
I wasn’t just being difficult. I knew at that moment that I wouldn’t need shoes. It’s interesting how my brain can get overloaded. Once I walked into a bunch of pigeons and when they took off all around me I couldn’t stop myself from going after all of them. They were like grey butterflies in my brain. I caught one. I have superior reflexes. I put the pigeon down and he was fine.
Karl does not like it when I try to scare the birds away from the front of 7-11, even though it is for the best. Birds are dirty things. I would do anything for Karl. One night I came in late and I did not have the dollar I thought I had in my shoe so he went back into the little room behind the register and came out with a white bowl that had some rice in it and something orange and brown that sort of looked like diarrhea. It was good substantial food even though it looked like diarrhea. Karl acted like he was mad when I told him it looked like diarrhea even though I ate it all and it was good.
I would do anything for Karl. Whenever I tell him this he tells me his name is Vishad. I can’t make him understand how much I respect him and how much I appreciate the way he always looks me in the eyes.
He looked me in the eyes as I was standing in the 7-11 barefoot handing him the dirty paper towels he said to me “I am very sorry but I must ask you to please leave my store.”
“I’ll be normal in a five minutes,” I said.
“I’m sorry but please understand me. I must ask you to leave my store or I must call the police.”
“I’m not any trouble,” I said.
“Please. I have been receiving complaints. I have my responsibilities. I have a family,” he said.
“I have a mother,” I said.
“I am very sorry, please understand,” he said.
“You don’t have to worry about me, Karl. I promise. I promise you so much,” I said. I said it just that way—“I promise you so much.” I will never forget exactly what I said. I remember it good now because I just said it.
I could have done a lot of things but I believe that life is a series of moments to be mastered. But I won. I walked right out of 7-11 into the wet. That’s why I’m here. Because of my shoes. It’s not so weird. But why are you here?
The light from these streetlights—it looks white enough from here but if you saw it from a plane it would look orange. One day I will fly on a plane again. I won the bronze medal. The platform I stood on to get it made me taller than the man with glasses who put the medal around my neck. I looked up and listened to the Swedish National Anthem which is a good song about wanting to live in the North and being ancient. I once took a bus to the library to ask a librarian about the words and she was very helpful. I did not even need to tell her I won the bronze medal. I only told her after. People in Barcelona walk too close to you. The Swedish boy who beat me smelled like chalk and barf and had cauliflower ears. He was little but he was better than me. I had him wrapped up but he did not move off his center and I could not make myself wait and I held him too hard and he reversed. It was the one moment I did not master. The next boy I wrestled was from Japan and I was so angry I kept imagining he was trying to whisper something into my ear and then I had him. It was something. I picked him up and whirled him around and even though I had him and I had my feet on the mat I felt like I was throwing myself into the air.
I love my mother and I love Karl, who once told me I had the strongest hands in the world.
Karl, I will not give up.
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