I carry it in my pocket. Usually on my left side. I carry it because it helps me remember.
It’s not even a bullet really. Just a shell casing of a blank, from an old M1 rifle. Its brass has been polished fine by my fingers over the years. I panic sometimes, if I realize that I don't know where it is. Because I don't want to forget.
How could I ever forget?
How could I forget the smell of his apartment as we cleaned it out. It smelled like old cigarettes and cheap cigars and coffee. But mostly it just smelled like the books. Books stacked as high as my chest, filling whole rooms, closets, eight feet deep from the middle of well-worn paths between them. It smelled like loneliness. And wisdom.
It was a good smell.
It’s the smell I think of sometimes, when I remember that day in April. Walking through those sterile halls that would never be rid of the deep reek of piss and vomit and shit. And age shunted away, to keep the young from remembering the future.
I think I held his hand then. Become so papery and thin. Not the hands whose thumbs I held, while jumping from shoulders into the cool, cool water. No, not those. We spoke of trivialities I think. School, history, avoiding why I was really there. Trying hard not to hear the moans of the dead man one curtain over. His name was Ivan. Trying hard not to see the emptiness beneath the sheet where his leg should have been. Trying hard to believe he would get better. Trying not to see the fear behind those tired eyes.
I think I said, "I love you." And maybe I gave him a hug, despite the awkwardness of that sick bed. And when I can't sleep at night I try to remember if I kissed the cool skin of his forehead before I walked away. Down those linoleum halls, past the wheelchairs and into the heat of a fine spring day in California.
Before I walked in I had told myself that this would be the last time I saw him. And the thought was in my head as I slipped behind the hot steering wheel. But you never really believe.
I think it was June.
I was standing at the entrance to the parking lot. Doing my shit job and counting the minutes until I could go. Thinking of ways I could scam my receipts. I recognized the next car. My two stoner roommates.
"Dude, we drove to every parking structure on campus, you mom has been calling like, every five minutes, she wants to talk to you."
I didn't speak for a moment, just long enough to gauge their faces. "Its my grampa...he's dead"
They looked back at me with blank and silent eyes. They didn't know, she hadn't said. But I knew.
"I got ten left on my shift, gimme a ride, let's blow."
I don't really remember what she said when I talked with her on the phone. Only that it seemed so far away and I wanted to hang up. I wanted a bong rip, a huge one. I wanted to unscrew that new bottle of Bacardi and go to work, I wanted to feel something, cause then all I felt was dead. Its funny how death can do that to you, isn't it?
And I didn't cry. I woke up the next day and went to class, I think. Finals were soon, no time to dwell. Have to pack up my stuff, move home for the summer. Have to go. Have to go go go.
Sometimes when I can't sleep I think of my mother. Sitting in line and watching that goddamned train keep her from her father. The call still echoing in her head. Maybe she was thinking about her sister vomiting blood. Maybe she was thinking about her sister's children, who must by now be used to waking up without a mother. Mustn't they?
I think of her arriving in that place and the eyes are grave and the tears are flowing and he has breathed his last and she didn't get to say goodbye.
I remember all those wonderful books and that smell that was his alone. I remember summers by lake, the sharp grass against my feet and how the water always took my breath away no matter how hot it was. I think about barbecues and watching Niner games on Sunday and how I always wanted to be as smart as him. How I always wanted to make him proud.
I think of that hot summer morning, as we stood in the shade of eucalyptus trees and how I can't remember anything I heard that day, except for the fire from old M1 rifles.
The brass was still hot in my hand when I held it that first time.
So now sometimes I reach into my left pocket and hold that old shell. And I think. I think of when I watched the ocean and the crowds on Venice Beach and I held that bullet in my hands on the day I graduated from college. I think of finding it in my pocket as I got off the plane in Tokyo.
But mostly I remember driving home by myself that June. I remember the deep blue sky over the Grapevine. I remember how the mountains were still topped with snow. I remember the way that the clouds made yellow shadows of the sunlight. And I had never understood before how beautiful the world was. I had never seen it until then.
And I knew that he was there with me. I spoke aloud and told him that I loved him and I missed him and that I was sorry. And I thanked him for letting me see. And when the tears finally came I knew that he would always be with me.
He still is.