Tracing Maps

You were, literally, a golden boy. With hair like a sunrise people wanted to follow you wherever you went. In grade school, you led back-of-the-bus riots and we sang pop songs at the top of our lungs, undeterred by the plastic-melt heat or the rotten smell of our uneaten lunches seeping out from our colorful lunchboxes. You were a sniper with a straw for a gun—hitting the enemy with small sago balls for 10 pesos a barrel, we were as thick as thieves—I would hold up my notebook’s plastic cover in your defense and when the enemy’s ammunition caught in my hair, you would spend the rest of the ride home combing the sticky bullets out with your fingers.

Sixth grade was the last time we held hands. It was the last day of class and we were eating orange popsicles in the van that we called a school bus. This was our day off: the lady selling tapioca ammo was off for the summer and so we settled for ice drops and the backdrop of the summer to come. Our houses were the last two stops and on that home stretch, I was thinking about the next year and how gradeschool was coming to an end. I imagined us in grown-up uniform: me with a necktie instead of a ribbon, you in black pants instead of brown shorts. We would use paper with more lines and smaller spaces, ink instead of graphite. You put your hand over mine and I fit my tiny fingers into the air in between yours. Warm and wet from sweat and sunshine, our palms stayed pressed together for the rest of the ride. Upon arriving at your house I said goodbye and you said see you soon. Jumping off the van, you waved and tossed your popsicle stick into the gutter.

I wonder if it felt like falling to you. Since the news, I have lived many a nightmare in your shoes. Forty floors up and feet against the ledge, I feel my heart beating in my throat—there is only one way this ends. I put my palms in front of me and know they are yours—they are large, the lifeline sprawling from below your pointer finger to just above the wrist. You look out across the suburban landscape and see everything: the mall where you first saw Jurassic Park, the parking lot where you lost your virginity, the red roof of your empty house and across the main road, the blue gradeschool where you learned to draw stars and read maps. You watch the roads intersect and hear the distant honking of cars. You know that that yellow dot could be a traffic enforcer and that that far-away pop-and-hiss could be gunfire. You know that the orange blotch could be a home consumed by flames and that the blue spot could be a pool where unwatched, a little boy is drowning. Roads intersect and there are too many lines and not enough spaces. There is nowhere left to leave your mark so this is where you make it and dive onto the asphalt like a pushpin onto a corkboard—I was here.

Waking up, I never know what to reach for. I have nothing of yours—no cards, no empty plastic cup mementos or straws left over from our sniper days. There is no evidence of you here. I walk to my study table, turn on the desk lamp and look at a spread I have pulled out of an atlas. A couple of blue pins are pushed in to plot the places I’ve been. I trace this map and wish it were your palm. There is still so much space, here.

(It has been 2 years. Ah, well. Taken from Paperweight.)

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