Yo era, a mi vez, y sin que nadie estorbara a los demás,
un santo, un viajero, un equilibrista.
voy a matar a mi animal levántate
Rafael se para en el borde de un gran muro de piedra, moviendo los brazos arriba y abajo como un pájaro, flexionando las rodillas y aleteando como si fuera a despegar, como si fuera a lanzarse sobre mí. Habla y habla. Cada vez que se inclina hacia adelante, estoy seguro de que está a punto de caer. Juega, hace fintas, recupera el equilibrio, bate las alas, se tambalea, parece que se va a caer de nuevo, luego se vuelve a centrar. Todo es entrenamiento, dice. Control. Es algo que tienes que aprender. Agita, mueve las caderas, sigue hablando. Tienes que cerrar los ojos, dice, doblando las rodillas, cerrándolos.
Empiezo a preguntarme cuánto durará el baile, qué tipo de tempo es este. El ritual está empezando a aburrirme. Justo cuando estoy a punto de irme y dejarlo allí, todo se acelera. Aterriza a mi lado con la misma ligereza con la que trepó.
“Esta es la Universidad de Berkeley. Ewe-see en Berkeley.
“Me di cuenta de.”
Luego estamos en el departamento de María y Roberto, compartiendo la cama con ellos, rodeados de conejos. A la izquierda, en un rincón junto a la ventana, hay un montón de ropa sucia, donde nuestros anfitriones revuelven todas las mañanas en busca de las prendas menos apestosas. La habitación huele a sudor viejo y hierba. Cuando nos despertamos, tenemos que tener cuidado de no pisar los charcos de orina que las mascotas han dejado por todo el suelo. Excremento disperso, comida. Días después, en mi ropa empiezan a aparecer bolitas marrones. Los conejos y sus senderos se han apoderado de todo.
Mi tercer y último recuerdo de esta época es una escena de Indian Rocks. Un parque verde fosforescente lleno de enormes formaciones rocosas grises y marrones, enormes perezosos prehistóricos. Aparte de los animales de piedra petrificados, no hay nadie a la vista. No puedo sentir mis oídos. Sólo el líquido que brota de mi nariz, las gotas que limpio y trato de secar directamente con los dedos apretados. Froto mis manos en mis mallas de Lycra. Los bordes de las rocas se dibujan en silueta contra el cielo eléctrico. La única manera de mantener nuestras manos calientes es estrecharlas. Descansando después de cada intento, rotamos nuestras muñecas de lado a lado. Estiramos los antebrazos. Estiramos los dedos y las palmas, formando una palanca hacia abajo con la otra mano. Mis brazos están entumecidos. Duele estirarlos. Rafael dice que el dolor es placer y su gran sueño es lanzarse en paracaídas desde El Capitán. Trepamos por las rocas. Estudiamos las rutas más desafiantes y nos damos instrucciones unos a otros.
“Ahora tu. Pie aquí, mano derecha allá, la otra en este lugar aquí. Ahora levanta el pie. Esta mano en la grieta, la otra aquí, luego una dinámica. Empujar. Eso es todo. Sube por encima. Tramo largo con el brazo derecho o no llegarás. Mira si ayuda. Bien. Empuja fuerte. Ahí tienes Prueba con este. Sigue adelante.”
“Vamos, no te detengas”.
Supe de El Cap porque lo llevaba en una postal destartalada con esquinas blandas y redondeadas. Un muro de granito de mil metros con un corazón tallado en todo el centro y un relieve que parece una nariz, que es exactamente como se llama.
The radiant wall materializes in my memory, always posing the same questions. How can rock possibly reflect light that way. The relationship between the truth and its exact moment of emergence. If the shape of what we see depends on conditions external to us, if the truth depends on the timing of its arrival or the angle of its perception. Does authenticity run on a schedule. Are there plausible or impossible ecosystems, depending on the windowpane, or on the light, better put, they’re seen with. Why are there true places that seem false. Whether we can all live in absolutely any ecosystem, and what happens if we can’t.
His friends said he had a drinking problem. That he got violent when he drank, and he drank often. That he wouldn’t stop until he saw blood, his opponent’s or his own, it didn’t matter. He’d tear himself to pieces in the street for no reason at all, like a cowboy, or like how people in my country say cowboys fight: out of stubbornness or the need to show that they’re macho men or that they can be. I’d heard that he and his girlfriend often came to blows, that she’d hit him and he’d bite her back, that they’d blast through bags of coke and end up attacking each other with their fists and their teeth. That she was a wild animal. That they’d cheat, that they’d get shitfaced and fuck anyone who crossed their path. That nobody ever said no; they were magnetic like that. Everyone would spread their legs for them. They’d believe the rumors about the other’s infidelities (whether false or true, one thing or the opposite) and the slip or the suspicion would be paid in blood. In raw flesh.
That day, in the green-gray park, I decided to ask him if it was true. He frowned and stood up.
“Here’s the deal with this boulder. I use this for support. You have to see if it works for you. If not, try this one,” he said, climbing up to the triangular rock and sliding off along the edge in three seconds. “It’s easy. You try it. Pay attention. Control.”
That was our sport. Hunting for problems.
Our hands reddened, sensing the alchemy of chalk and sweat collected under our winter clothes, we sought shelter from the wind behind the biggest boulder. We pulled out our dented thermos, coated in stickers, and drank some coffee. As we passed the cup back and forth, I taped up a blister on the verge of bursting and he sorted the pot seeds he’d been carrying in a candy tin with no candy in it. It was phosphorescent, mossy, and typical of the weed we’d buy from the Colombian guy; it left us jolted, electric, our ears ringing after just three hits. Rafael talked, not looking at me, as if to himself. Into his own compressed ears.
“If I drink from the bottle, that means a shitshow for sure. Blood. That’s what I’ve learned. I open a bottle, a bottle of anything,” he said, growing more emphatic. His gaze was steady and grave, his brow furrowed. “Of whatever, Julia. And I fucking lose it. I have too much energy.”
He continued with his task, filling another sheet of rolling paper and sliding his thumbs toward his spread fingers.
“Sometimes I feel like I can stop a moving train. I don’t know how to explain it. I get confused when I try.”
I didn’t say anything. His swollen, callused fingers—they seemed stiff, almost deformed—worked with great care, caressing the paper as he rolled it up and cinched the tobacco. A bricklayer doing origami. His tongue flicked out. He finished sealing it. He held it out to me with his arms stretched long, lowering his head and looking down at my feet. There was a taut cord between the two images: his rough body, his attentive bow. Two possibilities. I accepted the cigarette and returned the gesture. I played the damsel’s game. I lit it, aware of my own fascination with the strange contrast, the rift between them. You keep living, you keep getting to know yourself.
“All I know is that I don’t fight anymore,” he continued. “I take it easy. I’ve learned how to go with the flow, as the gringos say.”
I wondered if the bit about the train was true, if he really thought he had superpowers. The childishness of the image struck me now. He spoke as if he were eight, nine years old. I thought about how flexibility and incongruity complement each other. Seen from outside, a body’s movement along the rope is unsettling, improbable. The possible versions of the man before you are only troubling if you look at them warily from a distance. If you refuse the pact. Everyone’s an evolving species. An endangered chameleon. A single tightrope from the day we’re born till the day we die.
Thinking about inconsistency, I had to stand. Grit in my eyes.
“Want to fly?’ he asked me.
With his hands wrecked and the thermos empty, lying on his back in the grass with his legs stretched skyward like columns, he instructs me. I bend my knees and settle my back onto the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet. I move backward. His feet receive my lower back; I feel his fingers. I support my dorsal against his hands. I’m a bow, my chest opens out toward the clouds, my arms fall slack to each side. Dead limbs. I struggle to breathe; my lungs don’t have room to inflate. I gasp, but it’s just fear.
“Open your wings. Relax your wings.”
I start breathing. I close my eyes. The fear evaporates. He folds me, massages my back with his soles and palms, turns me around, and I let him. My will is to have no will. A rush of air inward. The force that pulls you toward the undersoil is the same force that lifts you up. I see the color of the grass before me. I feel his limbs pressing into the bends of my body. I feel the weight of my inner thighs entrusted to his feet. I feel my armpits filling his hands. He travels the entire length of my body as he moves me. He turns me over twice more, like a vine. I’m a knot. He ties me and undoes me, he twists me and my vertebrae crack. I close my eyes every so often so I don’t have to see what he’s doing. So I don’t have to know what I’m showing him. The line of my breasts. My ass. My lower abdomen announcing myself, two millimeters fleeing their Lycra toward the light. Everything passes. Your body doesn’t matter when someone takes over your body. If you took charge of it yourself, you’d never let anyone touch you again. I’m floating and don’t have to do anything. I’m a jellyfish. I grow into the four aquatic throbs he offers me as assurance. I’m an embryo swimming in my mother’s belly. Rafael calls it flying. I call it diving, returning to the uterus. I’m a freediver, an amphibian. You have to close your eyes underwater. I’m a deep-sea creature. There’s no light inside your body.
The cold and the fear had vanished; I’m not sure when. My eyelids parted. Every depth has its shore. Every precipice has its landscape. When he returned me to the surface, flexing his legs and placing me gingerly onto the ground, it was time to go.
“You’re a natural.”
I stayed there. Astonished by my trust, by my viscous submission, by the tingling in my lower abdomen despite the layers of clothes and the germinalness of everything. I took note. I accepted the photo, took up my new body, recognizing the part of me that was uncommanded, not even by myself. He gathered our things. The wind chilled my cheeks as it rose up from the city. This is the beginning, I thought suddenly and without explanation. Sometimes it happens that way. It’s a matter of time. Every window has to open and show something. There are photos you understand long after looking at them for the first time. There are uncertain seeds. The first pages start to turn and that’s when you know. Two days later my whole body still hurt. Like after a good fuck.
Soon after, I received a demonstration, a preview of the moving train plus the alcohol, too. I witnessed it in Caracas on the night of the DJ incient. We went to a party Lupe had invited us to; she was dating a guitarist and she’d beg us to come at every possible chance. Partly to share the next day’s hangover, so she wouldn’t be the only one climbing with a weight belt in La Guairita, but mostly so she wouldn’t end up all alone in a dark corner of some club after dawn, not knowing where to even start looking for her rockstar, finding herself next to two drunks locked in their own personal porno, or alongside three cokeheads fighting over a shared bag. Her boyfriend was a popular guy. He’d stop to greet everyone and their mother every couple of steps, so if Lupe showed up without climbing buddies she’d have a lousy time. Anesthetized by alcohol, she’d end up in the middle of the dance floor or adrift in a hallway, anchorless, looking all around her. Suspended in the void. Until the guy showed up, or until her accidental company grew unbearable, or until she regained her faith and her strength and decided to keep looking. Once she found him going into the men’s room with another dude.
“Fuck, I’m not sure if I saw what I think I did. It was just a second, I’m not sure.”
She didn’t want to tell me what she’d seen through the crack in the door. I only know it involved some pants pulled down, a paper bag, and a needle. Nothing in the vein, he’d promised from the beginning. That was their pact. Nothing in the vein.
The last night I went with her was the one that ended with Rafael and the train episode. We were on our way out. We’d gotten into Tomás’s SUV and were only waiting for Lupe, in the passenger seat, who both made out furiously with the guitarist and fought with him through the window, showing no interest in saying goodbye.
“Okay, that’s it! Get a room or fuck off!”
No matter how supportive you wanted to be, no one could stand their spectacle after the frenzy of the club, much less at that hour, feeling the burn of your own fried brain, sensing dawn’s orange ache in your eyes. I should’ve fallen asleep, but if I closed my eyes I’d vomit. Then Rafael slipped out through the car’s back window, vaulting like a monkey from beside me onto the street, or like a leopard: swift, incredibly agile. And for no apparent reason—because except for Lupe’s little scene, everything indicated that we were about to leave—he was in the middle of the road within a split second, moving against traffic, chasing the DJ, tackling him to the ground, kicking and punching. We were told later that he bit the guy’s ear and it bled. Or maybe the guy himself shouted it from the sidewalk: “You bit my ear, you son of a bitch!”
I didn’t see it; I’m not sure about the ear part. When Rafael got back into the truck, I couldn’t find any red streaks on his clothes. If you witness a fight, everything happens in slow motion, you get goosebumps; you’re safe, but you’re sweating. You take sides without caring who’s right or why. When were finally all there, Tomás slammed on the accelerator. Maybe we were fleeing something. We sped off, burning rubber.
“What the fuck, man, are you crazy? Are you gonna keep putting on these fucking shows? I’ve had it, man. Jesus.” And then, after a silence: “You’ve got some balls.”
“What did he do to you?” I asked in a whisper. Rafael looked at me with dilated pupils and an iron jaw. It was then that I noticed his hands: they were hurt, trembling. I’d never seen this particular spectacle, the emergency on the backs of his hands, his fingers, his fists still tight. Fingernails maybe digging into his palms. His tone of voice, the crack exposing a fear only partly overcome by the punches he’d dealt. People fight to shake off their fear. Better to get it all out in the open than to keep holding it in.
“That fucking fat guy owed me. If a guy talks shit you have to teach him a lesson.”
That’s it. Full stop. He said nothing more. In a few minutes my dizziness and nausea were gone.
“Man, I’m dropping you off first. I don’t even want to look at you, okay,” Tomás said to him. And then, jabbing his index finger into his temple, “You’re sick in the head. What you are is fucked up in the head.”
“Hey, who’s up for hot dogs from the Portuguese food truck?” Rafael answered.
“Fuck hot dogs, man. You’re fucking crazy.”
That was the last thing I heard before resting my head on Rafael’s thighs and succumbing to sleep.
Siempre pensé en sus incidentes con todos los demás como asuntos suyos con todos los demás, cosas que no tenían nada que ver conmigo. Mientras no sea conmigo, me decía, siempre imaginando alguna razón para la violencia. Solo él puede saberlo, creo. Sucedió por esto o aquello o lo que sea. No hubo tragedia ni desorden; tal vez todo era parte de la misma expectativa. La misma cuerda tensa entre dos acantilados, amenazando con abandonarnos en el aire. La misma evolución. El mismo camaleón. Creo que me acarició la espalda y el pelo con sus manos hinchadas, pero tal vez lo soñé. Cuando desperté estaba en casa, eran casi las seis de la mañana, y aparte de Tomás no había nadie más en el auto.
Traducido por Robin Myers