Story for Pa­trick

Pasatiempo - - Stories - by Pamela Egan

“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.”

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