Friday, July 3, 2015

Fourth Of July: Fort Snelling, 1971, And Beyond

Drunk, he could float, an oblivious spectacle. Gentle, wouldn't hurt a fly. People observed as much all the time. But so, so sad he didn't even know that it wasn't in fact the world he was feeling.

He could dream on his feet, standing still or moving. Giant turtles, ancient, crawling again and again from out of the surf in his drowned brain. He didn't know where that came from, but they had been coming ashore for a long, long time.

Turtles. Maybe it was something he'd looked at in a picture book at the library when he was waiting for it to stop raining, or shaking off the cold of another January night spent floating.

He trembled and thought he was being shaken in a pair of giant hands. A single dice. Die. An endless, impossible series of ones.

Often the things he spoke aloud would be remarked upon by complete strangers long after the fact: "Even the trees are unmanageable." That was one thing someone remembered years later. It was no random or idle thought, however. The world he wobbled through was divided by only one straight line in his mind; on one side was a sign that said "Unmanageable," on the other a fading but otherwise similar sign with the word "Manageable."

It was a sort of straight line, anyway, even as a teeming, disorderly city of hallucinations jostled up against the border, permanently exiled from the increasingly desolate and dying town across the way. A hamlet, he would think in the moments when he could still recall such words. A hamlet of the manageable things.

These things were quiet things, generally still and inordinately simple. He couldn't even really name them anymore, but he knew them by their ease. The hands of the woman at the Salvation Army who cut his hair. The dogs who spoke the mute, imploring language of his eyes. The sound of the night and the world retreating. Damp grass against his cheek. Once upon a time.

He depended on the kindness of strangers, and took it on unrecognized faith that the world was full of kind strangers. He had never begged, but he had been fed. He had also, of course, been beaten.

He could no longer remember if he had ever driven a car. He could no longer remember the sound of his mother's voice, or what sort of shoes his father had worn before he wore none. Things broke, of that he was certain. Tears had been shed, some of them surely his own.

He was a little boy. Somebody put a tiny flag in his hand and he waved it and waved it and waved it.