Last Night

Are the turkey vultures circling me or just, you know, circling? It is one of the pleasant oddities of living up the main canyon of Inverness, California, that one can actually look down on gliding buzzards. And glide they do, dipping and swooping over the green hillsides where bay laurels still give their convincing imitations of tufted broccoli spears. Sometimes the vultures slip by at tantalizingly close range, the red of their heads and flared effect of their wingtip feathers clear and prominent. True, I am not moving, at least not much, but at this stage my candidacy for buzzard food is probably weak. My wheelchair moves, not often, but enough.

And enough of this, whatever this is. Life and death always arise simultaneously in my mind. They are something to behold, these birds. And in late afternoon they alight in the redwoods by the deck. My friend Phila assures me that they do not nest there. Very well. I nest here. And that is the problem.

I knew something was odd on Tuesday. With guests expected that afternoon for lunch, we rose relatively early and hit the road. After all, this is Inverness, at the edge of one of the nation’s great seashores. Dramatic cliffs, crashing surf, a small mountain range with stands of rare Bishop pines. And a strange peninsular geography, the landmass projecting into the cold Pacific like a sideways banana, various points curving into the sea. Who would miss such a thing? I could, it was clear once we were parked by the breakers at North Beach. Always stirring, the sounds of pounding waves. And there it was, the mass of fog moving like an army in formation toward its afternoon assault up Tomales Bay and every adjacent nook and cranny. Yep, this was the source of it, where the fog bank hung out during the day. And that mystery solved, I was happy to drive home. ‘Home’ being this rented redwood house, not our own, and shortly to revert to its real estate managers. Tomorrow.

Leaving me rather irritated and edgy today. What have I done this week? What has been accomplished here that could not have been accomplished somewhere else? And whatever happened here, what has made it so important that I am highly annoyed to see it end?

Evenings in this 90-year-old redwood house, sounds come alive. There are very few, and those that one hears acquire prominence. Jane asked me to turn off my humming laptop computer one evening for, it was true, the faint whine filled the woodpaneled living room. At night, even when we have had no guests, the upstairs sounds slightly haunted. Things wooden are on the move. The crack, they creak, they thud. I always awaken before dawn. The house is cold in late August. Every thirty minutes or so, as late-summer light creeps across the bedroom, a car drives down the hill. Morning rush hour in Inverness, California.

The fog. Then no fog. Then the book, the deck, the vultures, the broccoli treetops blowing in the coastal wind. Somewhere down the canyon normal life is occurring beneath a redwood forest canopy. Car doors slam. A dog barks. The outrageous whine of a chainsaw sends its blades into every living thing on two forested slopes. In the distance, the most tantalizing view of Tomales Bay. Infinitely blue, its green marshy islands vibrant, almost chartreuse. Everything lazy and effortless and sparkling. And I have been coming and going through these parts for something like 44 years. None of it can be improved, no one would dare try. And somehow such a green coastal idyll has become wildly expensive. And that is the thing. I want to move here. To live here? Would that not be madness? Would I not quickly tire of the remoteness, the time and automotive effort necessary to sit in a room where others are drinking cappuccino and reading newspapers? Not to mention the safety angle, for that has been at the background of everything this week. I have been alone here for stretches. And what if I had fallen or gotten stuck in some corner?

Of course, there is that other corner, the habitual. Which is why in the middle of the night, the last night, and the last hours of the last night…that it comes to me, wakes me and keeps me awake. How angry I am to be crippled. To have spent my life so restricted. While whoever did this to me has…walked away, quite literally. That being the reward of the lucky. Mine being the daily challenge of getting to my paralytic feet and walking, if that is the word, around the perimeter of this rented vacation house. And, although trying to hold my torso upright, the whole thing painful, not to mention exhausting, rounding the final corner of the perimeter terrace delighted to crash back onto the wheelchair, breathing rather heavily, returned to my rolling orthopedic home.

And so much lost, so many things never seen or done. And so much arduous work along the way, every day, every way. In 1968, the Berkeley police speculated that my shooter was the brother of a prominent Black Panther. I will never know. Nattily attired, my very phrase for his dress. He looked like a racetrack gent, done up in a rather tacky, unsophisticated way. Very out of place in North Berkeley. I was wearing a Pendleton shirt, de rigueur in those undergraduate days. I liked the shirt and asked about it after my shooting. A nurse explained that it had a hole in it. The hole in my life was not yet apparent, of course. The only thing prominent in those days after the shooting was terror, sleepless terror. The two accomplices, the ones who helped kick my apparently lifeless body under some Oleander bushes, wore bandannas on their heads. It was one of the styles of the day, certainly pre-Afro or, in the politics of that era, anti-Afro. As a friend then described it, ‘those are the blacks who really hate themselves.’

I am not sure I have seen the same style of bandannas tied over heads among African-Americans since. Even then, it seemed old-fashioned, something I’m not sure I had ever seen. Before that night. They were from Richmond, perhaps Sacramento, the police speculated. And did they hate themselves? If so, I will not give them the favor of continuing this tradition. By loathing what I have failed to achieve or failed to manifest in this, my crippled life. As for the shooter and accomplices, I haven’t forgotten the trio. I have put them through many tortures in my mind. Reasonably certain, although not quite certain enough, that fate had appropriately bad things in store for them. Meanwhile, a week in Inverness has returned me to my angry self. And another? Well, that is the thing. I shall return.

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