I’m going to meet Buzz outside a bar in downtown Ft. Myers. She says, “Go over the bridge. Do you see all the buildings? The lights? Are you over the bridge?” I told her twenty minutes ago that I was over the bridge. Now I’m just driving my Pontiac Transport van — imagine a gray space shuttle with four tires — in circles, around and around and around Ft. Myers proper. We’ve both resorted to shouting into our phones.
Buzz: “Do you see lights? The buildings?”
I am driving around and around the buildings, basking beneath the street lights, my Pontiac Space Shuttle is all aglow. I yell: “WHY THE HELL ARE ALL THE BUILDINGS HERE PINK, PURPLE OR SALMON?”
I am new to Ft. Myers.
Buzz says, “Ok, just tell me what you see. Some sort of easy landmark.”
Up ahead of me, on the side of a salmon building, is a brightly-lit neon palm tree the size of the Frisch’s Big Boy statue back home in Indiana. I think, Frisch’s. I think, hamburger.
Wait. I think, landmark.
Buzz: “Abby, what do you see?”
I say, “A palm tree.”
I’m in the back of typography class, crying. The thoughts in my head surface in spurts: Ten days. Julian is leaving. You’ve got ten days. Make her love you again.
Even my thoughts are gasping.
I rip my heart from my chest and throw it at the professor. It misses and slides down the dry erase board.
Then, a hand on my shoulder; a soft man’s voice close to my ear: “You ok?”
Cautiously, with my chin still tucked, I turn to my side. The man with the soft voice has a shock of curly, brown hair. But soft eyes above what is probably a soft beard. I’m pretty sure he’s Jesus.
I ask if he wants to get a beer after class.
Then we get up and leave.
I don’t know Ringo* that well. I’ve seen him around, but I’ve never held a conversation with him. I don’t think he even has conversations. I’ve estimated his age to be somewhere between 45 and 55; he has gray hair, jowls, and a bottom lip that protrudes like a springboard from his face. Presently, Ringo is going around the room, making the same demand of everyone: “Look at my alligator boots. Look at them. Look.”
It’s difficult to tune a guitar and monitor a raucous but lovely troop of state hospital patients at the same time. My friend, Mel, is with me. She’s tuning her mandolin. We’re in the library, about to put on a show. Typical Saturday night. After my shift is over, we’ll hit the bar and have deep conversations of which we’ll have no memory ten years down the line.
Ringo saddles up to Mel, points to the mandolin in her clutched hand. “Oh,” he says, matter-of-factly. “My favorite song is playing on that.”
I ask Ringo to sit back down. Please. Just for a few minutes? On his way to the couch, he giggles and wags a finger at me. “I like you,” he says. “You’re a keeper. I like you and my new boots.”
*Names have been changed