Within a couple of weeks of that night we were in the same argument again, him wanting to go explore the world and me not able to tolerate the idiots he was hanging out with. I had pushed everyone away, friends and family, and was stuck in a world of biker skanks and dealers, of obnoxious half-wit scum-girls and tweakers. Erich was so restless, and not just from the speed. He sensed that there was more in the world than what he'd been offered, and he wanted to taste it all.
He was a very beautiful, very tragic figure; tragic because of the softness of his voice and because of his light blue eyes and because of the specific and delicate way he used his hands. Those hands had clutched at the redwood decking behind his mother's house when he was eleven and his older brother dosed him on LSD and left him home alone and Erich lay on the deck on his back for hours while the horrors of his young imagination crawled over his body and tried to bore into his skin. They never really left him.
His mother was an alcoholic who jaundiced and bloated up to twice her size when Erich was a teenager. She was incapacitated, stuck all fat and yellow on the couch while he had to fend for his younger half-siblings, buying food and trying to keep them in check. His father seduced and married a girl Erich went to high school with, who'd had a deep crush on Erich for years. She, Linda, resented them both and hated me. Helmut also tried to take Tanya, Erich's girlfriend before me, luring her into his bedroom where Erich caught them. Helmut was powerful and handsome, and the war between father and son was primal and proud and violent. I know he loved Erich, but his sense of competition and his judgement were too much for Erich to bear. Erich truly truly truly only wanted Helmut to be proud of him.
If we believe in Free Will we should say that he had the choice to change his path, to not end up a drug abuser, a high school drop out. True, and not. Helmut always told Erich that he'd have the family masonry business one day, but that Erich had to work hard for it. So by fourteen years old he was working summers as a hod carrier, hauling piles of bricks on a poled pallet up ladders and over distances all day long. His young body got hardened by it, and he felt he was making his father proud of him.
But the construction world in California is hard core, and within a few years Erich was snorting speed, sticky yellow Sonoma County peanut butter crank, with the brick layers. It gave him power, made him one of them, and deadened the voice inside him that screamed to get away from the business. He hated masonry, resented his father for making it seem like his only option, and at the same time had to make Helmut see his stamina and his worth.
By seventeen he'd left high school, distrusted books and teachers and all the things that were supposed to help him out of the life of manual labor. They had failed him. It doesn't take much for the system to abandon a person. So when Erich stepped just an edge off of the prescribed path, he was forgotten, let go. He was a blue-collar laborer by the time he was sixteen, and by seventeen an official high-school drop-out.
He was handsome and clean-cut, charming. He was always, no matter how deep into the underbelly he probed, in clean black 501's and clean socks, clean under his nails. He bore himself like a hero, like someone who'll protect the innocent, though the way his right toe pointed to the side while he stood gave him a balletic grace, even in his black and white Creepers. He wasn't tall, maybe 5'10'', and when I first met him he was muscled from working with bricks. He had a serious chronic back injury that his doctor told us was too common in young men who begin laboring when they are still growing. He was on Workman's Comp, had to go to physical therapy, though he eventually gave up on that. I tried all I could to help him keep his back appointments and do his paperwork, but I think it was a reminder to him that he had failed as a mason. I also think, in retrospect, that he was dyslexic, because even the things he wanted to read he gave up on. He didn't trust books. When we took the motorcycle apart to change the head gasket, I had to read the manual to him. He was only 23 when he died.
I fell in love with him from the very moment he looked up and into my eyes, in Santa Cruz 1988, a year before the earthquake changed so many things. His soft voice and his miles and miles of pain in beautiful sky-blue eyes. I knew I had no choice but to walk a path with him, though I would come this close to my own destruction. I remember the way he looked at me all those many many mad months later as I waited for my father to pick me up and take me away from the life we were sinking in. He stood over there, sorrowful beyond description, knowing we had gone too far and that I wasn't coming back. He cried and I saw his lips shape my name as I got in the car and let my father save me. On the way home I cried and I asked my father how come it hurts so much to do the right thing. He said, you'll see him again next time, elskan.
They went to the hospital and stood watch until his parents were able to show up, my mother and father did. I was in Iceland, trying to escape and to forget how broken he was the last time I saw him just before I left the country. He was speeding, tweaking, drinking forty-ouncers and smoking pot in between it all. Had been for the four months since I'd moved out. He was so thin, his eyes so clouded, though he tried so hard to focus on me and to see me. We exchanged jackets, I gave him the leather and took his flight and all the smells of him that lined the smooth black nylon. I held him, but his body was so restless and thinned that it was almost impossible. He told me that he loved me, and I told him that I loved him too. That was fourteen years ago, almost to the day. I can't remember his birthday. It was almost his birthday when he crashed. He was a Taurus.
He came to me one night in a dream, a visitation. We stood on the second-story balcony of the apartment complex where we had lived and we delved into each other's eyes. I asked him if he was ready, he said firmly and softly, yes. I walked up to him and pushed him over the railing. I looked over and saw him lying there, just below me, on his back with blood streaming out around him, and I knew he was dead.
I gasped out of the dream, sat up in bed at my grandmother's house in Reykjavik, and started to sob with the reality of it. I killed him. He had come to me. The phone rang and my sobs caught in deep fear in my chest. Amma answered, and I knew from her tone as she called to me that my dream was true. And it was. He was broken and bloody in the hospital, had been hit by a car while on that fucking motorcycle, no helmet, he'd given his helmet to the neighbor girl who was with him, he was dying, held alive. The only phone number on him was to my parent's house, and honey do you know how to reach his family? Maria mín, you have to try to remember, we have to reach his mother and father, you have to remember...and somehow I did, I remembered a list in a drawer and they called Helmut and Erich's mother, and they came to the hospital, my parents were there, watching over him for me, and they stayed until his mother and father were able to say goodbye and let him off the life support, and let his body go.
I raged at the mountains and at the ocean and at Erich for leaving me here alone, I raged and drank whiskey and cried and stumbled around Reykjavik with all my innocence gone and a whole life of never seeing him again in front of me.
Years later I tried to find a grave or a memory of him in his home town, but it was as if he never really was. He has a son, Gabriel, with Tanya, was her name Tanya? He's a teenager now, wondering who his father was, and I don't know if Erich ever even held him. He was so proud to have a son, he had a photo on the refrigerator. He and Tanya probably thought the time would come for them to meet, someday. Someday.
I was his last hope, his angel. The good girl, maybe strong enough to pull him out of the black hole into which he'd spiraled. But I wasn't so good and I couldn't resist tasting his dark side for myself. I wasn't strong enough to save us both, so I had to save myself alone instead.
© Maria Alva Roff 2002
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