Notes Toward Something Important

Bryan D. Price



I was drinking out of a cartoonishly large beer glass at Sky Harbor Airport when he approached me. You could see in his eyes that he recognized me. I remembered him immediately, his face but not his name. It didn’t take us long to get reacquainted. Peter. His name was Peter and he was the roommate of an old friend of mine when I lived in San Francisco. He went by Pete then. They lived south of Market Street in one of those strange, old, tall, skinny houses that looked out of place amongst a bunch of run-down store fronts. A crumbling catholic church across the street attached to a school whose children all wore maroon sweaters and navy pants. Who knows what it looks like now over there. Probably not the same. The rest were bartenders in those days but this Peter had his own construction company, which was odd for someone that age. I didn’t really think much about it then but it doesn’t make sense to me now, a guy that young owning any kind of business. He wasn’t in construction anymore, he informed me. He was in public relations now. I nodded. It didn’t take long to realize he was enmeshed in politics. Right-wing politics, where he said there was a “shit ton” of money to be made.

We were each between flights. Me to Albuquerque and him to Tampa. I was going to live in my grandparents’ house who had died the previous spring. One after the other. It’s like that sometimes with couples. If they’re lucky. For whatever reason it wasn’t a good time to sell the house and it was offered to me as a place to live for a while. He had a very nice, antique leather satchel, the subtlety of which radiated power. As did his suit—not baggy or rumpled. No tie. He ordered us two shots of tequila because he needed to rub it in my face, I guess, but I was glad to have him spend his money on me. We exchanged numbers, but I never heard from him again. The past has a funny way of asserting itself and I have come to realize that it never does so in a benign way.

My aunt met me at the airport and took me to the house that I would be living in. It’s not the one I remember from my childhood, but a smaller, newer one in a little cookie-cutter development situated up in the hills. Everything beige, even the grass. They had held an estate sale so there was very little in the way of furniture and other amenities. We weren’t particularly close, me and my aunt, and after about a half an hour she was gone. In the spare room there was a couch that converted into a bed and an old exercise bike. I pulled out the bed and there was a sheet still on it. In the corner were some framed pictures piled up. All of Jesus (or Mary). In one of the pictures the crown of thorns was on Jesus’ heart instead of his head. On the mantle there was a little statue of Jesus. I remembered these things from when I was a child. These images of Jesus and Mary. I realized I learned how to be guilty from these people. My people. God, I was told, was always watching. It took me a long time to come to terms with that and then to be abandoned by it was no small thing.

I took a rather long walk to a convenience store and bought cigarettes, two bottles of wine and a few bananas that were just about to turn brown. I carried my haul up the hill and got that feeling I used to get when I didn’t have a car. The feeling that people are looking at you funny for walking. Especially when you’re holding a brown paper bag instead of a dog’s leash or something that puts you in the right context. A burning sensation and full-body itch accompanied that feeling of humiliation. I tried to shrug it off but couldn’t. It didn’t take long for me to just get angry with the people for driving in my presence. When I got back to the house I opened one of the bottles and drank straight from it before finding a stack of clear plastic cups that seemed left over from a party or real estate showing.

My aunt told me not to smoke in the house so I went out back where there was a concrete slab and then a brown lawn that was half dug up, some of it stuffed into a wheelbarrow. Beyond that, a little stucco wall and then in the distance a high school called El Dorado, the letters of which were painted in gray and gold on an enormous cement wall that I could just make out in the growing darkness. I sat in a plastic chair and looked at an old contraption for drying your clothes on. It looked like some kind of antenna. As I sat still and cleared my mind I could hear music, country music. It was too subtle for me to know what it was specifically but there was a lightness to it, that telltale twang, and a kind of silvery or metallic characteristic that was hard to describe. It had the quality of distance. Not that it was particularly far away but that it seemed to sound like a recording of a recording. I could close my eyes and picture it degrading. Maybe not picture it but imagine myself crawling through its various removes as it became more diffuse and untraceable. There was almost something to it one could call tactile. I felt my spirit brighten, which is a funny way of putting it.

I knew another Peter back then as well. This other Peter was older, probably in his fifties. We worked in a movie theater together. Some thought it strange, a man his age cleaning the popper, sweeping floors. I liked to see the dignity in everything though. Even small, unimportant things. Besides, there’s something noble about sweeping, cleaning, straightening. He would give me books that he thought I’d like. Books by authors like Peter Gay and Richard Hofstadter. He told me about Bloom’s, The Closing of the American Mind. It’s not a book I felt particularly drawn to but it clued me into something that is still occurring. A shift or realignment. Most people don’t think of such things, aren’t aware. Or they’re too aware. Or they’re aware of the wrong thing, like they’re looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Sweeping distracts us from such things and it might be better if we were to be productively distracted. Not ignorant but focused on things that might be more integral to our happiness. I’m not particularly happy but it’s not something I’ve given up on.

In another life he could have been a monk, Peter. I think he was a Zen Buddhist (though I’m not sure what that entails). He lived in an apartment that was in the kind of state that he’d keep his papers in the oven with the pilot unlit. I’d never seen that before. I think they were some kind of manuscripts, notes toward something important. I don’t like the word hoarding or hoarder, something pejorative about it, but it’s funny sometimes to see how other people live. For some, private life is not meant to be shared. I understand that position.

I walked through my grandparents’ house and mentally indexed what was left. Mostly that old religious kitsch. There was a lamp made of orange glass. In a kitchen drawer I found an old TV Guide from the early aughts and a map of Alaska. I remember hearing stories of my grandfather buying land in Alaska, usually told in the form of a joke. There was a bottle of vodka in the freezer, a tub of margarine and a loaf of sliced bread in the refrigerator. In a kitchen cabinet I found a deck of cards and remembered playing these games with my grandmother that no one I have talked to as ever heard of. Games like Baseball and Spit in the Ocean. They still smelled like her perfume or lotion, her hands. I was the youngest so she protected and indulged me.

Some families grow apart. Everything just kind of peters away. We don’t usually think to ask why. I don’t mean ask of ourselves but ask of others, like strangers who have also experienced the same kind of disintegration. So much of life is unspeakable or unmentionable. That kind of thing is passed down like an heirloom. I plugged the lamp in and set it on the floor to make the light more dramatic. Dark and light at the same time. It’s not hard to pinpoint where everything began to unravel. But that could have just been a symptom, the disease was harder to discern. It is normal to do that, refuse to recognize a pattern as it begins to lock into place. To purposefully unsee what is going on right in front of us.

It began to dawn on me how I didn’t know where or who I was. Didn’t know what I was going to do in this place. The sun will come up and something will be asked of me. I will be asked to make decisions again. For some, this position might be seen as utopian, an opportunity to become a new person in a new place. A colonist going to remake something, the landscape of the moon perhaps or a previously untended wilderness. But one needed the will for such a thing. I’ve read a thing or two about exiles—Russians in Armenia, Chileans in Mexico. People overcome with muteness and a refusal to eat. It was not that long ago that people still died from their homesickness. I once read about a boy scout who died from his nostalgia at a summer camp in Connecticut. The doctor quoted in the story said that he died from a “kink” in his stomach. Who would speak to me about such things, about things that might keep my mind off the inevitable.

A strange sensation came over me. I got this tremendous longing for someone to come to the door and ring the bell. A visitor. Anyone. They didn’t need to be familiar to me. Usually nothing gave me more anxiety then the idea of a stranger knocking at the door or fumbling with the gate. Someone selling solar panels or magazine subscriptions. For whatever reason at that moment, I wanted to be talked to, talked to about anything. Unidentified flying objects maybe or music—country music, like I heard outside, Hank Williams or Jerry Jeff Walker. I didn’t want to sleep, I didn’t want to dream, I didn’t want to wake up. I just wanted to stay up talking about things like what happened to the Sagrada Família during the Spanish Civil War and the pact of forgetting.


Bryan D. Price’s poems and stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Diagram, JMWW, New World Writing, Posit, and some others. His collection of elegies, “A plea for secular gods” will be published by What Books Press later this year (2023). He lives in San Diego, with his wife, Claire, a dog (who shall remain nameless), and a cat named for Pina Bausch.