I cut the middle of American history like an exposed lie through infinite fields of corn. Here I am in all my searching, all my light. I feel beautiful as chills wrap my body. The chemical-laced wind carries me. Panhandles, overland trails, the shadows of flags all try to bar my path and everywhere the corn silk hangs dying Indians and the bones of frantic animals; naked women jump from Conestoga wagons and stir the black dirt of the plains, screaming to me. The insanity is there, right outside my car window, some distance from the middle strip of the highway. I pass the glimmers at 50 miles per hour because that is all my car can give.
It’s easy to cry in Kansas. I’ve been in and out of hysteria for the past hour or so. I’m blubbering for things that have not yet happened, but I can feel them coming. They will overwhelm me down in Mexico. I will be an old man by then and the future will catch me unprepared. Luck will have followed me around the globe, but then it will peter out like a salt vein and I’ll be dry; a walking, talking, empty hole.
As I drive my mind writes the future down the rows of corn flowers.
When a child is born there is the hope that the child will be happy in life: not a king or a queen, but a whole person of the earth…alone or in society, it matters not, because the only thing important is the hope of happiness. Hardships will come, but in the end the child will find a way to survive and prosper. Hope born of blood and carried upon a tune and everything turns, round and round, working, on the road, kissing the sky, tables of food, and the days pass and promises fade and hearts beat and smiles turn upside-down and we touch the child and whisper sterling advice into their ears, but then the realizations come. They are like the first rain drops of a storm: one…two…three. A foreboding and the storm starts because the mounting drops burn our skin and we are no longer blind and there it is, right before our eyes. The real child emerges from the blur of our hope and the movie ends in silence, as the darkness holds us tight. Who is this person? What does it all mean? Well, it is our child and winter is a new habit.
At the time I didn’t know anything about any of that. I only felt something, but what it was I did not know. It would finally be revealed in a message delivered by Mexicans in the Spanish language. I would need no translation.
I am driving up to South Dakota to visit my grandmother. Invisible signs advertising Mexico are along the sides of the road. They tell me about food and people and how my life will change. I can’t see them. I don’t want to see them. The car trunk is full of iron weights. I need to work out over the summer to get ready for football season. I am supposed to be a good tight end. People are talking about a war starting, but I’m more focused on my senior year in college and my good-looking girlfriend. Her father is a member of the KKK, but I don’t care. I don’t want to understand. It’s too inconvenient. The radio plays all of the small town stations. Ads for barber shops, pork sandwiches, and insurance salesmen blare from the radio and then the news speaks of war. It apparently will be fought in places unknown to me, over things that are not true, and once again, I don’t want to know.
One of the things I don’t know is that mothers and fathers are waking up in the middle of dreams all across America. White faces of children rise out of the depths of sleep; calling for help and comfort. A voice from a political leader sounds. He is talking up the war. He never went to war. He avoided the great conflict of his age. Many years later, I’d have an opinion of such people; those who never risked their life in war. I concluded that those sorts of individuals needed to lie in a field covered with bodies and try to sleep amid the flies and putrid flesh. They needed to write a letter home while resting their head upon a corpse. It might teach them something. Better yet, they should try to kill a baby with their hands. Surely that would affect their words and the beliefs they attempted to foist upon others.
In my mind, I can write about the visit. How my grandfather is a mean man and how my grandmother is a woman of few words. How we speak a combination of German, French, and English. I can draw a picture of the summer passing with long runs along winding dirt roads that take me into the kingdom of the corn where the doves and rabbits rule. How I sleep outside because of the heat and how the poison sprayer comes down the street and covers me with insecticide. I can show you the photo of the girl at the bowling alley and how she takes me skinny dipping to the lake and we lie beneath the tapioca pull of the stars, naked and alone in our youth.
But I won’t do that because I hurt too much. There is a great weight upon me and it has come in the form of a Spanish language message delivered by Mexicans. It is about how I must change and take on a new skin as I walk down the streets of San Miguel de Allende. The words make me sad. It is my fate and my genes have been cut out of the French, German, and English blood that runs through my veins. I will die in San Miguel, this I know. South Dakota is too far away, so is Africa and El Salvador and Honduras. Texas is on the moon. I can’t go back to Thailand or Bangladesh or Bosnia or Rwanda. They wouldn’t let me in any way. Europe is gone to hell and Panama has slipped into the ocean. What would I do in New York City or LA? I must stay here in my new skin, thinking about how we never really understand our children, even at the end. This is my fate and I will rename this great weight in honor of a Mexican flower, the one just outside my window.