We went to a parade on Saturday morning, for military veterans, which would draw him like a wise man to Bethlehem. We walked from our home on Redberry Farm through the neighborhood of Woodland Heights into Cascade park. I had him on my mind, and I would name him here, but I fear I have no right to do so– the boy that would sleep in the woods, and the man on the go loping across Tallahassee knapsack unraveling, weighing down like a sack of wet cotton. From the park we climbed the bank of the highway onto the shoulder then the sidewalk, police officers already stationed to block the traffic below the Capitol. Just the other side of the road is the hotel where he used to sleep– not in it, but behind it by the retention pond where the big red buses idle in the night. That’s where he was staying right before I started solving problems he didn’t have, me the one unable to bear him being homeless, which he told me time and again was a bargain price to pay for intellectual freedom and a currency of time and self-determination I could never understand.
We set up on the corner, sunshine dripping on this caramel apple of a day, citizens lining themselves along the route with folding chairs, cotton candy, and strollers. A woman selling boiled peanuts and water from a cooler in a wagon caught my attention and I swear I saw him slip behind her. Cold needles ran down my arms and legs, sweat beading on my scalp, knowing it could actually be him, as this whole long year I’ve yet to find the evidence he died. It could also be his ghost, which will surely haunt me to my own deathbed, and if I see anyone waiting across the gauzy haze it will likely be him.
I follow him with my eyes until I see in profile it is not him at all, but one certainly of his kind– sliding through the crowded downtown absorbing all around him with a curious bespectacled eye. He loved Tallahassee, or he loves Tallahassee, and Tallahassee loved and loves him too. When I learned of his death, rumored to have occurred on a bridge in Mobile, AL I searched all combinations of “bridge” “John Doe” “Black Male” “Suicide” and I still do, and still I find nothing. The trail cools quick and we must accept it.
When someone precious is lost, and we all of us are precious, I swear to my own heart I will build a towering monument of fire to the heavens in their honor, commit countless acts of noble grace in their name, devote my dwindling days to guaranteeing they will not be forgotten– then,the dream deferred, explodes; and the falling ash frosts my lashes as guilt and regret, because the thing you want to do can’t be done. There is not enough time. Not enough me. The person is actually, and matter-of-factly, gone.
Others out there remember too, but there is no social club for mourning, no projections of the deceased’s face on the clouds across the sky, no tattoo or car window decal in memoriam. Somewhere around town there must be others who still see him too? Head down in a pained posture as he perseverates on the collapse of our civic institutions, striding like a knight through Frenchtown towards the library and anywhere else a prince remains welcome in his kingdom that forgot him.