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  John Holman

I . D I D . T H A T


I sat in the front yard near the street under the shading cedar trees digging in the lawn with a spoon. It was summer, and the air hummed--I felt the slightest effervescence in the air, in the grass, in the dirt, in the spoon. I was a child, and the ditch made deeper by a hill rising to the road was like a moat of protection aiding my oblivion to the passing cars and bicycles.

While I sang to myself, my head bent and eyes fixed on the damage I was doing to the ground, my legs stretched before me and the white rubber heels of my red sneakers rubbing the green off the grass, I felt the spoon tremble in my fingers. Sunlight shimmered off it. And I became aware of the rumble. I looked up and saw the dogs running in the road. They were a pack of fierce, bristling fur. They ran at me at an angle from the top corner of the yard, bounding over the ditch, barking pink gums, white teeth, and black eyes and noses. I scrambled up to run, but my sneakers were new with too much room to grow in. I fell, sat up and levitated by the seat of my shorts. The dogs nipped at my elbow, but I was fast. I zoomed feet first on the fizzing air to the safety of the porch. The dogs veered off across the yard to the road again, their tails high.

"Dogs that bite you," I said several times that summer. I was otherwise too young to tell more.


I was five and wearing a blue seersucker short-pants jumper. Something was slowing my parents, so I was outside remembering not to get dirty. I lingered at the side of the house by the newly bloomed dogwood, blowing the heads off dandelions, blinking at the purple and yellow baby flowers in the grass. The dandelion heads burst and dispersed, bits seeming to flame in the sun, lifting suddenly and disappearing. That seemed like fun, so I stood erect, caught a breeze and surprised myself by rising up the length of the dogwood, viewing the light in its petals until I drifted over it, easy as I pleased. My father came out and called my name but I didn't answer. He walked round to the side of the house, lingered by the tree over which I hovered, called me again, and walked to the back to the swing set. I was a secret suspended in the spring-time.


I began to confuse silence with invisibility. Not merely in the way school children sit mum in the back of a room, though my experiments with silence took that form. Sure enough, teachers did not call on me in class, kids did not speak to me or look at me at recess and lunch. I was convinced that I could disappear if I were silent. I would walk the most dangerous streets--skim them hushed. I discovered other invisibles, nearly invisibles really, since I could hear them. Others could not, I guessed, because they were listening to something else, like their thoughts or their hearts beating and so got mugged without ever knowing what hit them. But I could hear their shoe laces tap, the wind in their jackets, the in-and-out of their breathing. I moved among them, my shoe laces trimmed, my clothing fitted. Back then, I held my breath for hours.


I saw color on the screen of our black-and-white television. Red shirts, blue eyes, tan vests, amber dust under the hooves of horses. I sat there until I knew the color of things. Days of the week had color then. I don't remember them all now. Thursday was blue, still is I suppose. Tuesday was brown. Wednesday, I believe, was orange. Saturday was gold, I think. And later, when I was fourteen, flashes of powder blue, small as a feather, would herald something pleasant--like the fair or a visit from an uncle in a new green car. Sometimes the flash was lavender. Now it is violet, though I don't attend long enough to welcome the pleasure, if indeed there is any pleasure. But the color still darts before me now and then, across the steering wheel of my car, out of the glove box as I search for a pencil, from the pages of a book. I notice women wearing it spread on their eyelids. Magic approximated. They disappoint me. I met a woman who told me that her eyelids were naturally blue. Whatever.

I once went blind in the dorm room of a charismatic basketball star. A bank loan gotten on the strength of his being a first-round pick resulted in a Lincoln town car, a quadraphonic stereo system, and a pound of ganja. I passed the face mask to someone sitting next to me in the circle, and watched a whirl grow from the periphery of my eyes until I sat in the dark, or perhaps oblivious to the light. Later, when I had been ushered outside, the thin outline of the world appeared in bright cobalt blue. It was Thursday.


I fell in love when I was six years old. My parents held my hand as we walked up the street on our way to my first neighborhood picnic. When we got to the top of the dirt road that led to the picnic grounds, I saw a beautiful little girl standing about sixty yards away with her parents and some older children. I had never seen her before. I had never before been down that dirt road. It was sheer discovery. I broke from my parents and ran full speed toward her, and would have run into her had her father not caught me. I had only wanted to touch her; she had the softest-seeming skin. My father, fearing that I would fall on the rocks, trotted up behind me and laughed something to her parents. I learned that we would be in first grade together. Through the years, I always loved her, and no one has ever caused me such longing and questioning of fate. I have been in love with others since I developed the pride and intelligence to quit trying to make her love me. But those other loves have been like the adding on of blankets. No matter how many cover me, it is the first one I always feel.


When I was twelve, I dreamed of falling in a hole. It was a monumental shock. In the dream, several of my friends and I were running through a construction site, skirting a deep, bulldozed crater. I fell, and while I was falling, I thought, it's me. I had always been awed by the fate of boys who drowned during an unsupervised race across a river, who were shot with a neighbor father's gun, the boy whose branch broke, or who was bitten by the Rocky Mountain tick. The dream was the first inkling that I could be that boy. At the peak of an adult depression I parked inside the gates of a rock quarry and walked to a hole so large that I couldn't imagine it was real. I severely wanted to fall. I felt immensely silent and insignificant. I held my breath, and when I put my heels to the edge and leaned back, I floated, just bobbing on the gray quarry air.

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