Carlos Garcia motioned me in, pointed to the seat, relaxed
back into his own chair, cupped his hands behind his head, studied me for a moment, then unscrewed his face and said, "So".
I think it was a question.
I told him what I was doing there, how I was chaffing from
20 years in a career that didn't fit right, was still getting sent to the office, how the kids were grown, the hair the color
of moon dirt, and my systolic pressure now higher than my weight. I told him I was too old to be scared but was anyway.
He squinted at me, like the air in this civic grotto had suddenly
gone stale, like he'd heard all this before. "What do you want to do?" he asked, grating his words through a deliberate impatience.
I scanned the walls, gulping the gray taste of another pale
morning. Finally I said, "I think I'd like to go write a book." I glanced at him, waiting for the cavil, for this absurd brick
to break his face, for the Top Three Reasons This Is A Stupid Idea to tumble out.
Instead, almost without hesitation, he asked, "What are you
waiting for?", like the idea actually made sense to him.
I turned away, toward the window, feeling my face tightening,
and peered past the collied grime, toward a future I hoped might appear out of the confusion.
Then Carlos Garcia, an unvarnished keeper of dreams, unlocked
my life. "Life is slipping away," he said, grinding a boot heel into the cracked and mottled tile, then scuffing an imaginary
cigaret into oblivion. "Your life."
Six days later I quit my job, went to the beach with two pencils
and a blue spiral notebook, and dangled my feet over the edge of a continent, like a child on a porch swing, wondering where
they would touch next.
Note: The first story I wrote in that blue spiral notebook - a memoir about scattering my dad's ashes on some mountain train tracks he loved
- won first prize in the 1994 Writer's Digest Writing Competition.