Story for Patrick
“And eventually, if we do the growing up right, he will walk away from us.”
You learned to crawl on the beaches of Ibiza. There were no boundaries— just miles of gentle shoreline. Sometimes you stopped and ate the sand, but mostly you crawled away from us as fast as you could, not stopping to wonder if we followed.
“I’ll try to be home by Christmas,” you wrote on the back of the photograph. I turned it over and studied the picture of a bearded young man in a plaid shirt leaning against a rock. Behind you, I could see the rounded peaks of Machu Picchu and the ancient stone ruins partly hidden behind white clouds. I touched you with my finger, trying to will you back into our world and trying to remember when you belonged here.
When you came home in the spring, you pulled gifts for us out of your heavy backpack. Each unusual shape and foreign item had become a part of you that you’d carried with you so far and so carefully, like an expectant mother. A Buddha made of ebony, reaching its arms straight up in the air. “They should always be smiling,” you said. Three small wooden balls etched with words that looked like tiny pictures. A bamboo scroll that unrolled into a tender watercolor of a flower. “Be very careful,” you said. “It’s done by a good artist in Chengdu.”
Even your clothes were different from a year ago. Loose and practical and woven from soft silk threads. Later, when you weren’t looking, I pressed a shirt against my face and smelled the mountains and the incense and the damp clouds where you walked.
Last night you telephoned. The connection was so clear you could have been in America. I asked about the other students in your classes, trying to picture a group of people seeking a Ph.D. in Buddhism. “Monks,” you said. “Mostly monks.” “Oh,” I said. A little space of silence, and then I recovered. “Are you happy there, Patrick?” “Yeah. It’s where it’s at.”