Joyland

Los Angeles |

The Loneliest Thing

by Sasha Watson

edited by Katya Apekina

“Taz, yo, no shit, Taz just goes off on him!”

Hector was all bouncing around in the big cracked leather chair by the window in my apartment. Mom wasn’t due home for another couple of hours, and I didn’t expect Dad home any time soon, either, so we were just chilling in the living room, smoking a bowl.

“So what’d Father Spence say?” asked Danny, reaching across the stained coffee table to pass me the bong.

“What’s he gonna say?” asked Hector. “Taz just tells him, like, ‘This class is bullshit, man. Fail me if you want, I don’t give a motherfuck.’”

“Taz, man, you blow me away,” Danny said, looking my way as he tipped one of the skinny metal chairs from the kitchen onto its back legs, his arms crossed over his chest. Danny’s like a quarterback who missed his calling, or else like one of those Buddha dudes, just kind of smiling down on us all.

I finished taking my hit and shrugged.

“Spence is an asshole,” I said, leaning back on the couch with my hands behind my head, letting the words out with the smoke.

“Yeah, fuck Spence,” Hector said. He laughed loud and reached for the bong. “Gimme that shit, man.”

Hector was the only dude I knew who acted hyper even when he was stoned.

I sat back, a nice high settling in. Summer was finally coming on and there was a warm breeze blowing the frilly pink curtains Mom had up in the windows. She said the color cheered the place up, but she was just trying to pretend we lived someplace nice.

 “So, whatta you gonna do, man?” asked Hector. “When you going back?”

It was Wednesday and I hadn’t been inside St. Peter’s Prep since I walked out of Spence’s Religion class on Monday.

I reached for the bong and lit the bowl so the weed glowed red and crackled. I closed my eyes and held the smoke for a long time before I let it out.

“I’m not going back to Prep,” I said.

I hadn’t decided before but as soon as I said it, I knew it was true. I was done.

I opened my eyes. Danny and Hector were both looking at me, Danny kind of confused, and Hector sharp.

“Whaddaya mean?” Hector asked, leaning his elbows forward on his knees and narrowing his eyes. I’d seen him look like that in class before, when he was trying to understand some mathematical formula or something. He was looking at me like I was a problem he was trying to solve.

“Only a couple weeks left, man,” said Danny when I didn’t answer.

“Couple years,” I said, looking back and forth between them.

“Two more weeks and we’ll be juniors—halfway there,” said Danny, watching me.

 “Spence isn’t passing my ass,” I said. “And neither’s Mrs. Francis. They’re either gonna kick me out or make me do the year over.” I looked at them, my hands on my knees. “I’m not learning anything over there, anyway,” I said. “Just sitting in class waiting for it to be over. What’s the point?”

Danny and Hector were my boys but we were real different. Hector had big plans. He was gonna go to college, study business. “Ima wear me some nice suits,” he’d say. “Get with high-class girls.” He said that so we’d think it was all cool, but we knew the truth, Hector had ambition. And Danny’s father was getting him into the electrician’s union soon as he graduated. He was cruising through high school on C’s and nobody gave a shit.

But me, I couldn’t accept it. Like, I remember in sixth grade when Sister Wallace would read us poems in English class. I could still remember parts of some of those poems, like, “He who knew and did not know what the day might bring.” I still liked how that sounded. Once I got to high school, though, I figured out that no one cared about poems or anything except getting us to sit still until we graduated so we could all join the nine-to-five assholes of the world. That’s what made me different from Hector and Danny—they were okay with that, and I wasn’t.

When I opened my eyes again, Hector was still looking at me. Then he burst out.

“Aw, man,” he said, hitting his knee with one hand and sitting up. “It’s gonna be ridiculous, you don’t finish high school. You’re the smartest one of all of us. That’s just stupid.”

He was shaking his head like he was disgusted but I could tell it wasn’t at me, it was at them—the one thing about Hector, he was always on your side.

And Danny, he was just looking at me, kind of worried.

“Hey, is that your ma?” Hector leaned around, looking out the window at the street.

“Nah,” I said. “She gets home later.”

“No, man, it is,” Hector said, pulling the pink curtains open a little. “She’s coming up.”

Danny and Hector both jumped up, all ready to go. They had their bags on their shoulders in a second. I just leaned forward on my knees and waited. Usually, I was out before she got home but I didn’t want to act like some little kid, lying and hiding. Besides, what was she gonna do?

Danny and Hector were at the door when she came in. I looked up to see them all standing there in the doorway. Mom was giving me some kind of tight, mad look and Hector was giving her what she calls his Eddie Haskell smile.

“Afternoon, Mrs. Zagarella,” Danny said, all polite, ducking his head as he walked out past her.

“Hi, there. Mrs. Z,” said Hector. “How are you today?”

Mom didn’t answer. A second later, the guys were out the door and she was in front of me. I sat back and crossed my arms to prepare myself for what was coming. She was standing over me, blinking real fast. I looked up at her and thought how, when she yelled for me to get up before she left for work that morning, I could hear that edge in her voice. Dad had been gone for a few days this time. It was always the same. He left, and I caught all the shit for it.

“You’re smoking pot in my living room?” she asked finally.

“Looks like it,” I said.

I hoped she noticed that I was telling her the truth and that that was a lot better than if I lied about it. She just stared at me, though, her eyes getting red.

“Father Spencer called me at work today,” she said.

I leaned forward and pushed my baseball cap back on my head. 

“Oh, yeah?” I looked up at her. “How’s he doing?”

"This isn’t funny,” she said to me and her eyes were hard and bright. “Father Spencer said you haven’t been to school since Monday. Is that true?”

“Yup,” I said, and then I looked away from her, across the room. I wondered where Danny and Hector were waiting. Probably on the stoop, right downstairs.

She crossed her arms and stared at me like she was trying to decide what to say next and I could see where the grey hairs she tried to hide were standing out against the rest of her dark brown hair. It made me feel worse, like I was making her get old right in front of me.

“Taylor, you swore to me that this was going to end,” she said. “We already talked about the drugs…”

“It’s not drugs, Mom…”

“It is drugs,” she said, her voice getting high-pitched. “And I’m not going to have it in my house!” 

I watched her face get even redder, her eyes all raw and crazy-looking.

We stared at each other like that for a minute.

“A’aight,” I said, finally. “I gotta bounce.”

I stood up but she wasn’t moving. I was so much bigger than her, I was almost afraid of hurting her, especially the way she was all up in my face.

“I gotta go. Danny and Hector are waiting.”  I pushed past her.

I was at the door when she said my name.

“Taylor.”

Her voice was different all of a sudden, kind of flat.

I stopped and looked back at her. It felt like a million miles just opened up between us instead of the distance between the couch and the door. I’d seen her look like that before, but she’d never been looking at me.

“You’re turning out just like your father,” she said, and her eyes went narrow and her mouth got kind of nasty as she said it.

Our eyes met for a second and I could see her flinch, like she was realizing what she’d said. People had been telling me I looked like my dad my whole life, but nobody ever said I acted like him before, especially not my mom. I mean, I was the one who ate Spaghettios and ice cream with her and stayed up late watching movies when he was gone. I didn’t care about it for me anymore, but she took it real hard. Something happened behind her face and, for a second, I thought she was gonna stop and change her mind, but then she got harder instead.

“You either go back to school tomorrow morning and apologize to Father Spencer or you don’t bother coming back here,” she said.

She didn’t even ask me what happened with Spence, I thought. He was totally wrong in class that day. It wasn’t even me that was causing trouble. That’s why I walked out. That’s why I wasn’t going back. I kind of tried to laugh.

"You’re kicking me out?” I asked her.

She looked at me with that same hard expression on her face and all of a sudden I wanted to scream at her or kick the door in. I’m not the one who fucked everything up. How come I was supposed to fix it?

“You never kicked him out but you’re kicking me out?” I asked her, and I was yelling now. “All right, then,” I said. “I’ll leave.”

And I turned and slammed the door behind me.

*

Out the door and I was on big old Jersey Avenue, where people were walking up and down, some of them going places, some staying in pretty much the same place no matter how fast they went. I saw a skinny black girl in a miniskirt giving this big girl dressed like me, in baggy jeans and a white t-shirt, shit about a cigarette she owed her or something. I put on my street walk, slow and like I owned the place. Which I practically did. I’d lived there all fifteen years of my life.

“Shit, man,” said Hector.

He and Danny walked up to me from the side of the stoop, where they’d been standing smoking cigarettes. I could tell they’d heard every word.

“She didn’t mean it,” said Danny, but he sounded uncertain.

“Whatever,” I said, and shrugged.

“Shit,” Hector said again.

“I just gotta get outta there,” I said.

“Yeah,” Danny agreed. “That’s not a good situation, man.”

We were all uncomfortable and I figured it was better if we just moved on.

“C’mon,” I said. “Let’s head over to Shani’s. Her parents are working tonight.”

*

Shani lived over by the bridge in the Indian part of town. She buzzed us in and we went running up the narrow yellow linoleum stairs to the third floor. Hector beat me and Danny to the door and started banging. A few apartments down, an old lady opened up and frowned at us under the chain. She was wearing a yellow cloth wrapped around her and I could see the red dot on her forehead. She had something spicy cooking in there, and it smelled good even though I don’t like Indian food that much.

“Sha-sha-sha-shaaaani,” went Hector when Shani opened the door a crack and looked out at us. We could hear the other girls in there talking, and one of them laughed.

Shani shut the door real quick, slid the chain and then opened it wide. Her brown eyes bounced off mine as the three of us moved past her into the apartment. It was just as small as my Mom’s place in there but more crowded with stuff. Shani’s got some huge family back in India and there were pictures of them everywhere.

I gave a nod to Michelle and Tara inside. The girls were like these soft explosions around the room, lighting up the edges of my vision as I went for the case of Heineken on the counter.

Shani was a little sharper, though.

“Haven’t seen you in a while, Taz. Where you been?”

The door closed behind Danny.

“Here and there, Shani,” I said, half smiling and avoiding her eyes, which I knew were watching me. I pulled three bottles from the pack and tossed one to Danny, one to Hector.

“My man Taz is moving on up, ladies,” said Hector, popping the top of his bottle. “He cannot be bothered with the mundane affairs of this world. He has places to go.”

Sometimes I think Hector wants a job as my PR guy. He took a swig.

“Yeah?” Shani said. “Where’s he going?”

She said it to Hector but she was looking at me. I looked back at her.

“Someplace nice,” I said. “You wanna come?”

Hector hooted and the girls cracked up and Shani rolled her eyes.

“This way, boys,” she said and we all followed her into her bedroom and out of her parents’ part of the apartment. Hector winked at me. Shani and me had been playing around like this for a while now but so far it hadn’t gone anywhere. Hector’d been on my case about moving things along. Maybe today, I thought.

I smoked everyone up and soon we were all crashed out in Shani’s room, the sun coming in around the purple cloth she had up on the windows, smoke from the incense making curly trails up to the ceiling. Everyone was zoning out, even Hector. I was leaning back on a pillow on Shani’s bed, next to her but not touching her.

“What’s Hector talking about?” Shani asked, sliding closer to me.

“What?” pretending like I didn’t know what she meant.

“Going places. What’s that about?”

“I’m quitting Prep,” I told her, “getting out of my mom’s place.”

“Really?” She was quiet for a second. “You make enough to live on your own?”

She meant from dealing weed, which I’d been doing since the fall. I didn’t make enough to live on. Most of my customers were in this room, after all.

“I’ve been thinking about expanding my business,” I told her.

I kind of laughed but she was looking at me all serious and up close. I reached out and touched the middle of her forehead. My finger looked big and pale and chewed up next to her soft brown skin.

“How come you don’t have one of those dots?” I asked her.

She ignored me and pushed my finger away.

“So you’re not going home tonight?” she asked.

I thought of the way Mom was looking at me before I left, like she was done with me for good. I felt my insides cringe.

“Nah,” I said.

“Where will you stay?” she asked. Leave it to Shani to go right for the particulars.

“I’m going in to the city to pick some stuff up from Keith,” I said. “I might crash with him till I set something up for myself.”

Keith is the dude I sell weed for. He’s from J.C. too but he’s been living on Saint Mark’s for a few years now. He used to come back to Jersey to sell to some of the Prep guys but then he got tired of the commute, and I volunteered to help him out. I’d been working for him since then, mostly just earning an extra bag for myself here and there.

From the way Shani was looking at me I could tell she was thinking something she wasn’t saying. Finally, she just sighed and laid her head down on my shoulder. I’m not sure why I felt relieved and disappointed at the same time.

“Tough, tough Taz,” she said.

Awkwardly, I brushed the side of her head with my fingers, and closed my eyes.

I must have fallen asleep then because it felt like no time before Shani was up and moving bottles around and lighting more incense, telling us guys we had to leave before her parents got home.

“Come with me,” I told her at the door, but she pushed me away.

“It’s Thursday, Taz,” she said. “I have homework? School tomorrow?”

I just looked at her for a second, wishing it was different, and I saw her expression change from teasing to worried.

“Are you gonna be okay?” she asked. The guys were all the way down the hall.

“I’m straight,” I said, and I smiled like it was a joke, like everything was cool.

She looked relieved and shook her head like she didn’t know what to do with me or whatever, and I knew she didn’t want to have to worry about me any more than my mom or the teachers at Prep did. They all just wanted me to quiet down and tell them everything was all right, and now Shani too. So I waved and turned around and jogged down the hall after Danny and Hector.

Outside, we passed a bunch of little kids on bikes. Their training wheels bumped over the cracks in the sidewalk and got caught in the dirt between them. We stopped on the corner in front of the laundromat, Carolina’s Lavanderia, where some ladies were standing around with metal carts full of folded laundry, talking in Spanish.

“I gotta split,” Hector said. “What are you doing, man?”

He and Danny both looked at me and I felt kind of lonely on the wide sidewalk all of a sudden.

“Going in to Saint Mark’s,” I said. “Check in with Keith. Want to come along?”

I said it to Danny since Hector just said he was taking off.

“Can’t,” said Danny. “I told my mom I’d hold it down till school ends.”

He looked up the street and squinted and I thought they were feeling bad for ditching my ass. But what the fuck, I had places to go.

“A’aight,” I said. “Well, I’ll catch you tomorrow then.”

I slid my hand against Hector’s, then Danny’s.

“Where you gonna be?” asked Hector as I walked away.

“I’ll be around,” I said, turning so I was walking backwards. I put my hand to my ear in a call-me gesture, and Danny and Hector headed off, their beige Prep pants low around their waists, and their backpacks with their white button-downs stuffed inside them over their shoulders.

*

When I got out of the PATH train on Fourteenth Street, I felt like the day was starting over. Everything was lit up and the people on the street all looked like they were going someplace. I rolled across town, looking at the leather boots and fancy clothes in the store windows. It looked nice, like somebody cared about it when they put it out there, or at least knew they were gonna make a buck with it. Heading down to Saint Mark’s, I thought about how it would be to live here, get myself a nice place like Keith’s, deal some weed, have the guys over, and Shani.

I swung past a head shop and past dudes selling jewelry on the street and a bunch of Goth kids sitting around on the sidewalk and climbed up Keith’s steps. I hit his buzzer a few times in a row. There was no answer so I hit it again.

Nothing.

I called him. He picked up right away.

“Keith,” I said. “Where you at, bro?”

“Oh, hey, Taz,” he said. “Whassup?”

“I’m at your place,” I said. “Thought I’d do a little restockage.”

“Man,” said Keith. “I’m kinda caught up in something right now. You in the area for a while?”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said, figuring I didn’t mind killing a little time there.

“I’ll give you a call when I’m on my way back,” he said.

“No problem, catch you then,” I said.

I looked down the block from the top of Keith’s steps, and there were people filling the narrow sidewalks, a long line going into this Japanese place, a couple of kids hanging out in front of Search and Destroy. I stood there for a minute and felt the air getting cool on my skin. It wasn’t summer yet even if it felt like it earlier that day. There were jewelry stands set up on the sidewalk, and I saw a guy with black hair and a lot of black shit around his eyes taking orders at an outdoor restaurant.

I wondered what to do until Keith showed up. On the corner, I saw a deli glowing white from inside. A Coke might hold me over for a while. I headed down the street, and when I walked in I saw a couple of guys with all this metal on them, rings and chains and shit. One of them was falling against the other as I walked in, and I moved out of their way as they stumbled toward me pushing each other. They were both holding forties of Old English. I got around them and went to the refrigerators in back. While I was pulling out a Coke, I heard another crash from the front of the store, and one of the punk dudes yelled.

“You!” I heard someone say. I figured it was the Chinese guy behind the counter. “You don’t watch it, you get out my store!”

When I walked back to the front the two guys were falling out the door, their chains hitting the glass, and they were both going, “Get out my store! Get out my store!”

I laid my Coke on the counter. The guy was shaking his head and grumbling to himself as he got my change and dropped the bottle in a bag.

When I got back to Keith’s stoop, these same two guys were sitting there, drinking out of paper bags. I walked up between them and hit Keith’s buzzer again just to show I had a reason to be there. When I went to sit on the top step, one of the guys was looking up at me. It was the one who’d been falling all over the place. He was wearing a ripped denim vest with a Black Flag patch on the back and he had a fat ring in the middle part of his nose. His mouth was hanging open. The other guy was facing out to the street, moving his head back and forth kind of quick, like he was looking for someone. I looked back at the one who was staring at me and pulled a cigarette out of my pack. He looked away and we ignored each other for a while.

When I looked at my phone again it’d been more than an hour since I talked to Keith. I gave him another call. No answer.

“Hey, man, just wondering when you’re around.”

But I was starting to get this real strong feeling I wasn’t going to see Keith that night.

“Rudy! Fuckin’ Rudy!” the Black Flag guy screamed from the stairs below me. He was up on his feet, waving his bottle around, and the people walking by on the sidewalk were giving him a lot of space. The smaller guy started twitching even harder. I looked up and saw a few more punk dudes coming down the street. One of them had a tall stiff Mohawk and he was reeling like he was really wasted. There were a couple other guys with him but after saying something to the twitchy one, they took off down the street. I watched these two out of the corner of my eye and at first I was thinking this guy was really fucked up, and then I thought there was something else going on. When he turned to the side, I got it. There was a gash above his ear and blood was clumping up in the buzzed part of his hair and dripping down over his neck. It was a big cut and I could see something white in there that almost looked like bone. His friends weren’t too shook up about it though.

“Those fucks,” he kind of slurred, and then he fell back onto the steps.

The more I looked at this guy’s head, the more I thought I was actually seeing his skull in there. I started feeling sick.

“Man, you need to see a doctor,” I said.

They stopped talking and looked up at me. The bleeding kid gave me this real unfocused look and mumbled, “Who’s the fuck?”

“Don’t worry about him.” The Black Flag guy sneered at me.

But the bleeding kid was trying to stand and face me now.

“What’d you say?” he asked.

“You’re bleeding,” I said slow, like he was retarded. “You should do something about it. Like go to the emergency room.”

I was trying to act tough, but really it was making me sick to look at the blood turning to jelly in his hair, and I wished his friends would just take care of him. But they were too busy looking up and down the street while the bleeding one fell back against the steps again and half closed his eyes.

I drank my Coke and chilled out for a long time until there was hardly anyone at the tables across the street and only a few people walking up and down. The crowds from earlier were gone. Eventually, the punks got up. The two who were here first grabbed the bleeding one by his arms and led him down the street, his head hanging off to one side.

“Sleep tight, asshole,” the Black Flag dude sneered at me as they walked off.

I tried Keith one more time but he didn’t answer. It was after two by then, and I didn’t know where to go except back to Jersey. I took my black hoodie out of my bag and pulled it on before heading west. A cold wind was blowing trash around in the street.

*

More than an hour later I was getting off the PATH at Grove. I was the only one coming out of the station except for a woman in high heels who went clicking off real fast, and a guy who hopped right into a cab. I went into A-1 Deli, the only 24-hour place on the street. The Arab guy behind the counter was talking to a cop who was leaning in the doorway. I tried not to look at him while I ordered my turkey and cheese sandwich, then stuck it in my bag. Outside, the guy hunched up on a piece of cardboard didn’t bother asking me for change.

Everything was dead on Grove, all the stores shut up with metal grates, and nobody walking around. I kept my head down and headed for City Hall, where I’d turn for the park. Right before I got there though, something caught my eye. It was in the doorway to one of the new coffee places. It was closed now, but when I looked up I saw it on the raised concrete step of the doorway.

It was an animal, a white and brown thing with damp, wiry fur and a long skinny tail, about the size of a cat but closer to the ground. It had this pointy nose sticking up in the air, damp with slime and blood, and its eyes were bloody too. It was standing there in the middle of this four-foot square patch of concrete, waving its nose around like an antenna that wasn’t picking up any signal. I looked at it, kind of disgusted and amazed at the same time. I didn’t know where an animal like that would even come from. While I was watching it, it started to walk. It banged up against the door and then moved back toward the edge of the step and stopped. It was stuck here in this doorway, I realized.

I stood there looking at it and I thought, man, this is the loneliest animal in the world. And it came to me all of a sudden that it was a possum, even though I couldn’t remember seeing a possum before, and I wasn’t sure how I knew it. I felt so bad for him, because I knew he was going to die here tonight, and he was never going to go back where he belonged, in the forest or some shit, with other possums.

This is what I was thinking when I heard someone yell behind me.

“Don’t touch that thing,” this voice said, and I heard a car door slam shut. “It’s got rabies!”

I turned around and I saw a kid in long pale blue shorts and a white tank top and a baseball cap running across the street toward me. Behind him a car pulled away. It was the only car on the street and I watched it go, wondering why this dude was getting out of that car with the tinted windows on Grove Street at three or four in the morning. The kid came over and stood next to me. He was a light-skinned black kid and I saw he was wearing clean white terrycloth wristbands and shiny white sneakers. He looked like he was about my age. He was looking down at the possum. I looked at it, too. It was reaching its nose as high into the air as it could get it and swaying back and forth.

“Yeah?” I said. “What makes you say that?”

“Look at it,” the kid said, crouching down to watch as it started up its wandering and bumping routine, looking helpless and pathetic in the bright light of the coffee shop doorway. “It’s foaming at the mouth.”

I guessed he must have been over here looking at it before he got into that car.

“That might be from walking into the wall,” I said, crouching down next to him.

“Cat coulda got him,” said the kid agreeably. “His eyes are bleeding like a motherfuck. What is it, a mole?”

“Possum,” I said. “Wonder where he came from.”

“Wherever it was, he’s not going back there,” said the kid.

“Maybe from Liberty,” I said. The big state park facing the back of the statue of Liberty was the only place around with anything like nature.

“That’s a long walk for a little possum,” said the kid, like he didn’t believe it.

I could see the park in my head, the swampy grass and the tall reeds and the big empty fields in the moonlight.

All of a sudden I knew what I was doing with the rest of my night.

“I’m taking him over there,” I said.

The kid turned to me.

“How the fuck you gonna do that?” he asked.

I just looked at the possum in the bright light of the doorway, waving his nose around like he was asking God to step in and save him. I had no idea how I’d get him to the park. It was a long walk from there.

Without thinking about it too much, I stood up and pulled off my hoodie and my t-shirt, then separated the two, and pulled the hoodie back on over my head. I opened up the t-shirt and looked at the possum.

“No way,” said the kid. “This animal is sick. He’ll bite you.”

“He won’t bite me,” I said and I dropped the shirt gently over the possum. “Besides, he doesn’t have rabies, he’s just hurt.”

“What are you doing?” asked the kid.

We both watched. The possum was perfectly still under the shirt. I leaned over and got the back edge of it.

“If I flip it over,” I said, “I can carry it.”

The kid watched as I pulled the far corner of the shirt toward me, trying to kind of wrap the possum in it as I did. When I pulled enough to move it, the possum flipped out and started wriggling around under the shirt.

“No shit!” The kid jumped back and I stopped moving for a second, waiting for the possum to chill. It kept going for a few seconds, then stopped.

“You got to get it from both ends at the same time,” the kid said.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “If you grab that end we can flip it so he’s in the middle.”

“Okay,” he said, moving so he could reach the other end of the shirt. “But I’m not going all the way to Liberty.”

We both leaned over and grabbed the corners of the shirt.

“All right,” I said real soft. “Do it.”

We pulled the shirt tight and yanked it toward us so it caught the possum and we lifted it up off the ground. We held it and both stood back as it squirmed around in there. Then it went quiet again.

The kid was looking down at the lump in the shirt between us.

“I can take it from here,” I said.

He looked uncertain for a second, then he said, “You really gonna get this thing all the way over there?”

I nodded and took the shirt from him so I was holding one end in each hand and the possum was out in front of me. I nodded goodbye to the kid and I started walking down Grove Street trying to keep it steady so it didn’t swing around too much. All of a sudden I thought if Hector and Danny could see me right now, walking down Grove Street with a wild possum in the middle of the night, and I started laughing. Behind me, the kid laughed too.

“Motherfucking possum rescue squad!” he yelled after me, and he was shaking his head when I looked back.

It took a while to get to the park. I went a back way through a parking lot and over a little wooden bridge near where the boats were docked. The possum thrashed around every once in a while, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

I looked out at the boats rocking a little on the water, and I thought how mom told me that my dad always wanted to get a boat to dock at the marina out here.

“He used to sail out there when he was a kid,” she’d say. “He wanted to teach you how.”

I imagined coming out here and sitting on the boat on weekends with my dad. We’d drink beers and listen to music and he’d smile at me like he used to do sometimes. But then I felt disgusted and shook that picture out of my head.

I kept walking to a bridge that led across this little swamp and then I was in the park. There was a field in front of me reaching over to the river, and there was all this tall grass over to my right.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked the possum real soft.

I looked around.

“By the grass there,” I said, and walked over to it.

“Man, it’s swampy,” I said. My feet were getting wet.

“I’ll just put you down right here.” I bent over with the t-shirt in my hands.

I placed the whole package on the ground and then dropped the corners of it so that the shirt opened up and I saw the possum there. He was kind of on his side and he didn’t move right away. At first, I wasn’t sure he was alive. I looked around and picked up a stick from the ground. It was more like a piece of straw than a stick really and it bent when I poked the possum with it, but even that got him moving. He squirmed around until he was on all four feet again. He lifted his nose in the air and waved it around like he was doing back on Grove.

And then he started moving. He walked right toward the grass like he knew exactly where he was going. I stood up straight and watched, and after a minute there was no sign of him. He was back where he belonged.

I found a bench by the water facing the back of the Statue of Liberty, and took out my sandwich. While I ate, the sun came up bright orange over New York, and I felt all right for the first time since I walked out of the house and away from Mom.

“That’s beautiful,” I said out loud, tearing a bite of sandwich off and looking up at the sunrise. And then I said it again.

“That is some beautiful shit.”