White Rose, Night Rider

Or, This Was A Terrible Idea, Part 5

Night Rider 5 by Giovan Michael

[THREE DAYS REMAIN]

“You are a monster!” she screams at me, pointing her little finger with conviction. I do the only thing I can think of. I take a breath, then let out a roar. A deep roar, resonant, guttural, and fierce. I can see real fear in her eyes for a moment before she turns around and runs as fast as her short legs can carry her. All of her little friends do the same. Five screaming voices running away from me, and I chase them. Running at them with just enough inaccuracy to miss every time. I love being an uncle.

If I get tired of running, I pick her up and pretend to chomp on her and tickle her until she can barely breathe from laughter. The four other two-year-olds punch at my shins and yell “No! You can’t eat her!” I put her down, catch my breath, and the cycle repeats. “Tio Gio, you are a monster!” She says with the sincerity that only toddlers and the enlightened can have. She’s my brother Gabe’s daughter, and I remember when he was the monster. When he used to chase me and my brothers and sister around. Before I realized that nobody else saw the green flames that hovered above my head. When I used to look up at his kneecaps.

He’s at the picnic table with his pregnant wife and all the other parents of their daughter’s friends. They’re sitting among boxes and boxes of pizza, cupcakes, and Venellope Von Schweetz table covers, talking about their kids.

My dad was married at my age. I keep thinking about that and then I push the thought away and roar even louder at the toddlers. Maybe I’m thinking that if I can play hard enough I can avoid sitting at the big kid’s table. Avoid growing up, having to get married, have a kid of my own, and eventually: die.

Night Rider 27 by Giovan Michael

After the second hour of playing, I must feel bad for not having had a real conversation with any of the other adults at the party. Especially my family. Especially because I’m about to drive 3,000 miles away from them. So I spend some time just sitting with them for a while, eating pizza slice after pizza slice as we talk about nothing.

Be careful, I hear a voice in my head say. The voice sounds like dust. You won’t be able to eat like that for much longer… and not notice it. I try to ignore it and just enjoy the beautiful mundane. Sitting in this temperate Los Angeles park. I try to enjoy the sunshine, the fact that my family is healthy and happy, all those weird white five-petaled roses I’ve never seen before growing by the baseball field, the fact that a few of the kids playing baseball have famous parents. My brother points them out to me, “she was on Roswell, he’s on Schitt’s Creek.” But I can’t. Not fully. I keep noticing that I’m still catching my breath a little and that my niece and all her friends are not. As I hold my other niece, my sister’s daughter, who tomorrow will become my Goddaughter I stare at her perfect wrinkleless skin and I kiss her huge cheeks. I keep worrying that I have more in common with the picnic table than the playground. So I go back to playing.

Then, Tank Top T arrives with his husband J. T is my sister-in-law’s good friend from Philly. There’s no deep story to that nickname: years ago he wore a tank top. Once. J is from Brazil. They married shortly after Trump was elected. I met him a few weeks ago at my older brother’s birthday dinner. We got along because (aside from Portuguese and English) he also speaks Spanish. I wave at him from across the playground and he waves right back, but he doesn’t look at me. Not directly. First, he looks to my left and then to my right before finally meeting my gaze and smiling.

I look around to see what it is. Ah fuck, they’re back. My six-year-old and fourteen-year-old selves have once again transported themselves across time and astral planes to watch my life like a movie. I can still see their ride, Taa II and Galactus the Devourer of worlds, taking off in the distance just behind Dodgers Stadium. But wait, can he see them? No, of course not. Nobody can see them. I don’t even know if they’re real.

“Tio Gio, Tio Gio, come play!” my niece is tugging at my hand and I snap back from my world of thoughts. Instantly I bellow at her so loud it hurts my throat. She screams and laughs and the games continue. My younger siblings are all playing now, too. We chase them around some more and make music on the surprisingly nice drum kit that comes with the playground. The six-year-old me is running around with all the toddlers. I wonder if he knows they can’t see him. The fourteen-year-old is sitting by himself on a park bench, deep in thought and brooding about something. Eventually, I get tired again and I go sit down and grab another bite of pizza. Careful… I hear again.

I catch up with J, and after the usual small talk, we move on to Brazil. He tells me about the Orixa, a pantheon of gods that were brought over with the Nigerian slaves and mixed essences with the Catholic saints of the Portuguese. They fascinate me. One of them is a man for half of the year and a woman for the other half.

Yemoja catches my interest most among the Orixa. She’s the goddess of the ocean, she looks like a mermaid, and her festival sounds very fun. You wear all white, except for your underwear, which you pick to correspond to a wish for yourself that year. Green if you want money, red if you want romance, blue if you want contentment, you get the point. And then everyone jumps in the ocean and jumps backward over seven waves so that their wishes come true. Or, something like that.

I decide right then and there that I’m going to go to that festival on New Year’s Day. But then I think about the last time I was in Brazil, how I spent two months in apartments, waiting for an adventure to start. The most exciting thing that happened to me was that a nude of mine was leaked. And then I start to worry about my road trip again. A montage of all the failures I’ve had while traveling flashes before my eyes and I think, “why do I keep doing this to myself?”

Night Rider 35 by Giovan Michael

And that’s when death shows up to break my train of thought. She’s riding a huge horse. Ten feet tall if I had to guess. But the horse isn’t a horse, it’s a Joshua tree in the shape of a horse. Prancing and whinnying and shitting flowers at random, the way horses do. Blooming from its body, and growing from thorny vines that wrap themselves around the bone hands holding the reigns, are those same white roses. Death herself is wearing all black, with spurs of gold. She’s got a ten-gallon hat and a black leather vest on. Hair covers her face which blows in the soft breeze, and I can see hints of a jawbone and empty eye sockets. She has the body of a child and can’t be more than four feet tall. Actually seeing death in front of me makes me start to cry. I feel a small ooze of tears come out of me. Like a wide cut that’s not too deep.

“I’m sorry, it’s the pollen from all these fucking roses,” I say. I’m amazed that my instinct for social preservation is bigger than my fear of the actual grim reaper invisibly staring over my niece as she blows out all three of her candles.

“What are you talking about? There are no roses out yet, it’s February,” Tank Top T says. Got it, they’re her flowers. Only I can see them.

“T! Come over here and tell these people how amazing Philly is and how LA is literally the worst city ever,” my sister-in-law says and T follows, leaving J and I alone.

“They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” he says, and he picks one of the roses up. He plucks each of the huge five petals off, one by one.

“Can you see her?” I ask of the huge horseman slowly turning her head and observing the children playing, the parents relaxing, and the celebrities worrying.

He smiles, crushes the petals in his hand and drops them to the ground. They fall out as ashes. “Yes, I can see her. But only because she wants me to. She’s not here for me, she’s here for you.”

“So, am I gonna die?”

“Giovan, we’re all gonna die.”

“You know what I mean. Am I going to make it to my Goddaughter’s baptism tomorrow?”

“Well, I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure you’re fine. I don’t think your body is going to die.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you die almost every day. Just look at those little ghosts that follow you around everywhere.” And he beckons behind us. The six-year-old is going ahaaahaahaha and running in a circle for no apparent reason. His older self still hasn’t moved from that park bench, brooding. “Besides, life is just energy. Death doesn’t mean that energy disappears. It just goes somewhere else. It changes. And she shows up whenever there’s a big change coming. Quitting your job, removing yourself from a situation that isn’t working … going on a journey.” He looks at me smugly. “Why are you going on this journey, anyway?”

“I’m really not sure,” I tell him. “I sort of feel like I have to. Like if I don’t do it now then I’ll never have the chance again. There’s so much of my life I feel I haven’t lived. Like the wind was just blowing me along. I don’t want to wake up forty-five years old and realize that my life is behind me. I’m always worried about that. I don’t want to — ” I look up at the dark rider fearfully. She’s still not doing much, turning her skull with the speed of a windmill. Can’t tell if I can hear her breathing or just the soft LA breeze blowing through her bones. “I don’t want to die without any stories.”

He smiles at me and chuckles a little. “Oh my god. You are too young to be having a mid-life crisis!” he says.

“That’s what people keep telling me, but I don’t feel that way. My dad was married at 24. But I feel like my life has just started and I’m already missing it. I feel like I’ve failed at being a kid, that I spent my life depressed and that even this move is some last ditch effort to live my life.”

He picks up another rose and hands it to me. “Smell that.” I do. It smells like a campfire, red wine, and sex. “Smells good right? Touch it too. Go on!” I feel the flower, the petal is as soft as the babies cheeks I was kissing. “We can see these things, smell these things, touch these things. And everyone else here could too — if they were paying attention. So trust me when I tell you that there is a whole lot more surrounding you right now. I can’t even describe to you the color of your aura, and the ghosts that are visiting you now from the ‘future’. Parts of you that haven’t died yet, only because they haven’t been born yet. And you could see them too, but you’re still learning. Your fear is blocking your vision.” He pats the side of the huge white horse with blood red eyes. “This bitch is always going to be with you, she’s never going away. And if you live your life right you are going to see her a lot. So stop being afraid of her and just learn to listen to her.”

My dad yells at me from the park bench “Giovan, it’s time to go.”

I give J a hug and thank him for the conversation. “Just relax,” he tells me. He looks around me, at m y future ghosts I guess I can’t see yet. And someone else too. A presence I can feel, but I know I’m not yet ready to see. I can hear the sound of seashells. “If you’re worried about dying without any stories, then you have nothing to worry about. You’re right where you need to be. Have fun!” he tells me, and I turn to help my family pack up.

And be careful… I hear, whispered with the wind.

Night Rider 2 by Giovan Michael

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