Training

By Sarah A. Odishoo

Training

Sarah A. Odishoo

 

Once you start on a journey, there is no turning back. My brother told me the story years later. Some stories get more real in the telling.

Bryan and Chuck drove off in my brother’s white convertible to Mexico on that winter day because, Chuck said, Bryan wanted warm weather—the sun was too low in the sky in Chicago. Bryan thought he was dying. The only cure—Sun.

They drove straight through, each taking turns behind the wheel, stopping only for food, gas, and pissing. Chuck said wryly later, the whole trip was a piss in the wind. The accident had made Bryan crazy.

When they got to Acapulco, they had one hundred dollars between them, so they had to find a cheap hotel. Bryan’s eyes kept watering, and he kept wiping them with the handkerchief Ma had given him—a yellow silk one—it was so wet by midday, he had to wash it out and leave it on a chair in the sun to dry.

Bryan cried at night, Chuck said. As soon as they got to Acapulco, he wanted to go back home. The room they found was in the poorest section and only prostitutes and the crippled roomed there. But crying at night helped his eyes, watered them, he said, then he could sleep.

 

One eye, his left, had been burned open in the accident, Chuck recalled. That eye open all night spooked him. He thought, “he’s watching me—not just here in this room, but in my thoughts—in my goddam soul.”

Bryan got relief by paying prostitutes to come to the room during the day. Chuck said, “I didn’t care what he did during the day. I left. But I was there at night—I didn’t want any fucking whores in my bed. And he, he couldn’t get to sleep unless he cried and fucked. He missed home.

“Then, one day he brought a goat to the room. It was a kid. He kept it in the room all day as he watched it pace and cry, running into the table next to the window, shoving it with his matted body, looking for its mother, it kept kicking its way into the empty window panes. Bryan lay on the bed drinking Tequila from the bottle, wiping his eye with the stained yellow silk handkerchief, watching the young goat.”

Bryan got the goat for Ziggy, the Arab who lived on the first floor. It was Ramadan, and Ziggy was too poor to get a goat for the dinner celebration. Bryan wanted to test himself.

Bryan hadn’t been in a war, but he had been in the Army. He had been training to go to war. But then the accident happened. His friend, his barracks’ buddy, died in the accident. Bryan thought he was responsible.

Bryan wanted to sacrifice to God, and he didn’t know what to do to make the sacrifice real. When Ziggy talked about Ramadan, Bryan figured if he sacrificed something innocent, it would show God he understood—giving back to the Source what was the Source’s. Then maybe, he thought to himself, he wouldn’t hurt so much.

When Chuck got back that night, Bryan told him what happened.

Ziggy took the kid, grabbing hold of the matted fur at his neck and his backside, and dragged him into the shower. He asked Bryan, “Do you want to cut his throat?” “Yes,” he said, and took the knife as Ziggy held the goat’s head back. Bryan said he tried not to look at the kid’s eyes, full of terror and wet with fear, they rolled wildly back and forth, but Bryan couldn’t help shaking, trying to get his bearings. Bryan cut across the fur, but the goat didn’t die; bleating relentlessly; he struggled against Bryan’s arm, wresting back and forth, biting to get free. Finally, Ziggy, screaming, “kill it, goddam it, kill it,” as he tore the knife out of Bryan’s hand, and ended the goat’s last cry as it went limp in Ziggy’s hand. He dropped the goat in its own pool of blood.

Bryan had started crying at the beginning of the story, and near the end, he couldn’t talk; he was shaking, trembling convulsively, bent over, both hands over his head as if he were being struck.

“I want to go home . . . Take me home.. . . . we have to leave now.”

Chuck said they drove for five days and five nights. Bryan couldn’t drive; his eyes closed blind in pain, while the left one wept involuntarily.

Ziggy and his wife cooked the goat celebrating Ramadan the night Bryan and Chuck started home.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Bryan had been in love with death for as long as I can remember. He loved it like a boxer loves his opponent. He ran until his legs buckled under him, and he’d have to stay off his feet for a week. He’d jump off the highest window ledge of the Rogers Park Bank, the ledge none of us dared. He would walk on the train tracks until the train a few feet away from him would cut us off from him and for seconds all we heard was the whistle howling. When it passed, he would be standing on the other side of the tracks, darkly serious and hardly able to walk back home.

Whenever Chuck would tell the Mexico story, I would feel the same way I did when Bryan would step on the train tracks. My heart would start to pound harder, and trying to stop the inevitable, I would be paralyzed with fear, helplessness, and a terrible fascination. He forced us to watch something we could not stop.

In the story, when Bryan raises the knife, whenever Chuck gets to the part where Bryan raises the knife, I gasp. It is the gasp I hear when the train and Bryan are feet apart; it’s the gasp I hear when I can’t do anything but watch, it’s the gasp—taking my breath away—of impending death. And Bryan trying to get the courage to face it.

When he tried to kill the goat, he saw himself doubled in that baby goat’s eyes, holding the knife and watching the helpless terror and standing it for seconds. He missed. And not being able to kill the goat, he felt something else, something new.

Bryan cried until he got home. Then he stopped. Chuck couldn’t see him after that. He said, for him, Bryan was dead. But he would continue to tell the story as if in the retelling he would get what he couldn’t get when he was there. I suppose it became a prayer.

At first, we saw his displays of fearlessness as a way to mock us, going too far, beating us. But what I have now discovered is that he was too sublime for us to understand. What he did by going too far was a daily unremitting devotion to what he didn’t know—the terrible seeking to know—not just what was humanly knowable, but that boundary line between life and death–the inhumanly knowable. He was called to that fearsome edge, enslaved by it perhaps, but called to act on it nevertheless.

Our minds, it seems, may be nourished and invisibly repaired by a renovating presence, a pattern beyond the world, by which knowledge of that presence is enhanced by our inherent pain. And like passion, that presence struggles to lift us out of ourselves when we think we can control our destiny, and it lets us fall when we need “to see” that which we can’t control.

For me, well, I am still standing at the train tracks, not sure if this time he will suddenly appear on the other side, once the train howls past.

___

Sarah Odishoo is a writer and poet. She has published in a number of small presses, including New Letters and Berkeley Fiction Review. She has also been a finalist in competitions such as Nelson Algren Competition with judges Joyce Carol Oates, James Dickey, and Margaret Atwood. Odishoo was also selected by Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who Among American Teachers (1998–2005).

 


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