The sky is frustratingly white, no cartographic ripple of gray, no signal of cloud’s end—just white—and seen through the sun-roof of a car while sitting in the driveway, keys in hand.
I remember being in a pool and seeing the ash settle on the surface of the water, the nearby mountain burning while we swam in chlorine blossoms; water bugs finding fate in the skimmer, legs vainly pumping. Cowle’s Mountain burning, Cowles mispronounced cow-les, but actually Coales; with the buckwheat flaming as if in a brazier; Cowles, coals, fire while my dad barbecued, the cinder of both mesquite and chaparral; Dad flipping burgers while being unconcerned about the season’s lilac going up in smoke, the fire traveling north.
Plastic boats, sunken and nitrile rings, dumb beach balls. Wrinkled and unrecognizable fingerprints, all the hours spent in the water, colored by turquoise and vinyl liners.
Cowles burned every three years, and we were safe in the pool.
Through the sun-roof, a high-wire that grazes the garage, co-axial, antimony and rubber. It slices the sky in half, no clouds, white sliced liked a bedsheet, a neat fruit, white, a black cable.
I was told Jesus was coming back, and I didn’t understand omnipresence. I imagined the Second Coming as a thousand Christs descending, because how else was the whole world to know about His return unless the Messiah was duplicative, and landing in many places at once? There’d be many ethereal carbon copies of robes and beards and forefingers circled in pleasantness, a million post-crucifixion Mary Poppins riding parasols, landing with slight bounces of the knees to exclaim homecoming.
Jesus landing in Times Square, Jesus taking the mound at Wrigley Field. Jesus at the Appomattox.
There’d be at least two Jesus’ per square mile, that’s what I figured. I had this calculated out.
“The sky goes on forever, you know,” my Mom told me, and I’d look up, either past palm fronds at the beach, or in the driveway, in both instances Ursa Major being more obvious than it is currently, stars fading while light pollutes and constellations diminish. I would stare at the sky and be nervous, not wanting heaven at all.
I hated the concept of ‘forever.’ It scared me. Looking up at the sky had me looking past the stars, terrified that there was no end to what I was looking at. Always looking past the stars to the in-between place, which is necessarily dark.
I’ve never had telescopic eyes. Between here and Alpha Centauri is nothing, a finite but forever place, the gap between recognizable galactic signposts.
Next rest stop: 4.3 million light years. Scares the shit out of me.
I didn’t, I don’t want forever. I didn’t, I don’t want forever.
Looking up as a kid, I saw past the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt. These stars could actually be dead. We wouldn’t know it until they visibly winked out under our watch, ten million years later, with our planet suddenly irradiated with wind, and wi-fi suddenly unresponsive.
I imagined Jesus landing just shy of the pool, by the camphor trees, shaking out his hair and telling me, “I’m back,” while my kid feet tip-toed bottom in a four-feet pool, arms resting on the corrugated lip of the Doughboy.
“Pleased to meet you, Kid,” extending a hand with a hole.
My own hair wet, fingerprints wrinkled, incredulous at the suddenly forever. This being a small pool, ripples fast settle.
I tread water.
There’s my dad flipping a burger, the mountain burning, me diving down to the close bottom to pick up a weighted ring, and—being underwater—forgetting the surface, understanding I have only so much air but testing my lungs anyways, feeling them burn, and knowing, gratefully, eternity doesn’t actually exist, being five and wishing to not go too far, being five scared of forever, being five and grasping the ring, exhaling through the nostrils and panicking thankfully to the top of the water, gasping and gasping, gasping and finally, eventually smiling, thrusting up a red ring to no audience, to no one at all.