I’m Too Short to Ride This Ridelisten to this story
K stands for Kavanagh and Kay, which are the respective first and last names of my only remaining offline friend or acquaintance. Even my grandmother, who gave birth to two children before the transistor was invented, has an AOL account. My aunt has to monitor my grandmother’s email because she is 85 and though she still walks—with a cane—and can float her Buick LeSabre down the street to church, as long as she never has to go in reverse, she does not have the spam awareness that is genetically encoded in younger wired people, who would know not to reply to that. K pays his bills with a stamp, and takes road trips he plans with a Rand McNally atlas from 1992, which he bought for a quarter at a garage sale in 1999.
If I do not know where he is, I do not know where he is, and if he is with me, he is with me. This is why I love him. My other friends and I and the other people I know are transitioning to disembodied states. I mean that we are no longer located where our bodies can be found. I heard that an essay question they ask on the undergraduate application to Yale is Are you your body? K describes himself as a creature, with joy. I am a creature, he says, stretching, and then he says God damn that was some creaturely motion you had going. When he comes he curls into me and closes his eyes and makes a sound like the barest sound of wind over the top of a glass bottle. He never buys anything plastic. He buys only glass bottles and he keeps them, objets of a consumption history.
I sleep with my phone in my hand. Not because I am afraid of missing a call that much. I hate talking on the phone and I usually don’t answer or return calls. It’s because I am texting or hoping for text before I fall asleep. I hate the verb text and all its forms. A phone is not a person, yet more than once the phone in my hand has turned text into a person, the phone has replaced itself with a body I can hold in my bed.
While I’m waiting for email to save me he’s watching a bull elk graze in Montana and then he’s drinking coffee in Bonners Ferry. I’m googling bull elk image because I got his latest postcard and I want to see what he saw even if I know it’s not the same. I’ve sat across from K in so many cafes I see just the way he’s sitting in the booth looking out the window, hands around a mug. See the way he’s nice to the waitress, see the concentration that sketches the shape of Idaho for me, that puts a dot where Bonners Ferry is. I google Bonners Ferry.
He does have a cell phone. He got it last year, the year 2009, and he is 38 years old. Sometimes he doesn’t turn it on for a week or two. He holds it the way my grandmother holds the remote control. Two hands, as if it is a weapon, as if it has unknown powers. So he sends me text messages like telegrams, they are even rarer than his postcards: Fried clams, beer. Elliott Bay. That’s all I need to see him sitting in a deck chair facing the water, leaning back, a creature open to it, taking it all in.
Late at night, in bed, I send him the message I’m unhappy with the ratio of how often I think of you to how often I talk to you and he responds with miraculous swiftness, like other people do: 10:4. I sit up, write back Exactly. Not Why 10:4 instead of calling? I see him in the cabin of his truck, he must be in Canada now, he has poor circulation and the tips of his fingers will be extremely cold. He smiled when he got my message. A phone is not a person.
I wish you had a bluetooth heart so I could connect to you when I am in pair mode I write. Four days later: bluetooth?
He brought five different kinds of pot to my place in the middle of this country, in the middle of his trip. They were stored in plastic coin sleeves: the dime container held pure resin, the nickel a hydro that sent us driving around this flat town looking for the highest point we could get to, If I can’t see the stars right now I’ll die right now he said. I’m always looking at him and he’s always looking at the sky.
Teach me to drive a stick, I write. With the short form you can be this random, you can dictate a thought with no care like blowing a bubble. I write Come back and teach me how not to hate this tiny screen. Three weeks pass, so long I wonder if he died and how I’d find out if he did. My grandmother emails me to say she hit a mailbox with the Buick. Then I’m teaching a stone to talk buzzes through. He’s moving south now, I put the Pacific Coast Highway on my refrigerator.
I know who’s in the truck with him, in his ashy leather satchel. Dillard, Maugham, Kerouac, Jung. Benjamin on psychedelics. He reads like other people listen to music, he’s put some books on repeat forever. I think his bond with Then and Now is stronger than most marriages. I google Kavanagh Kay and get a bunch of women, I email my grandmother to make her laugh.