Rolling one medium, brown suitcase through DFW Airport to the shiny blue-black man who drives a yellow cab.
Nigerian, he has lived here for the last fifteen years and knows Dallas like the back of his hand—he says.
The taxi careens onto the freeway.
Buckled into the backseat, I tell him I’m in no hurry.
I would usually tell him to go through downtown—take I-35 South heading toward Waco, exit Laurel Land. Heading home.
Yesterday I signed the divorce papers.
Tomorrow is my birthday.
Today I’m going another route, planning a couple of stops along the way. I ask Joseph the driver to just keep the meter running, if he doesn’t mind.
Joseph asks, why should he mind.
First stop is University Park, SMU campus. An English major. Twenty years ago.
I ask Joseph to take a picture of me with my iPhone in front of the student center where Mary Hernandez English major, Bridget Matthews theater major, and Nancy Rodes science major and soror would meet every day. We’d dream about who we’d marry, if we’d marry, children, careers, travel.
I squint into the sun—Joseph clicks.
I left Dallas right after graduation. Moved to and married in Chicago. No children. One dog, Thelonious.
I used to come back home most holidays. Return less often since Mom passed, seven years ago. Dad passed the year before. They met at Bishop College. The first to receive degrees. Their family—sharecroppers. The last wedding I came back for, there were 110 people on our side alone. Everyone still lives here.
Tomorrow I’ll gather with family, friends, the old college buddies
and blow out the candles.
We take North Central Expressway into downtown,
where the red horse flies atop what used to be the tallest building. When my grandparents moved to Dallas from their tin-topped home in Mexia,
driving up the highway—they could see Pegasus glowing in the far distance.
Now dwarfed, the horse plays hide-and-seek, peeking between a
fun house of tall mirrored buildings reflecting the skyline and projections of the news of the day.
We zigzag, past Reunion Tower, the grassy knoll, turn back around to the Adolphus hotel. Neiman Marcus.
Past the museum, still-life people walk up into clouds.
Crossing the Singleton bridge, I look down at the Trinity River.
Longhorns still graze her banks.
Seven years old and dressed in white, I was dipped three times into her waters.
My father used to take me fishing here.
My cousin, a lifeguard at the swimming pool on Ledbetter Drive, drowned here —
his death at 21 is still a mystery.
Submerged in memories as we travel south.
Past the renewed Texas Theatre,
a few blocks from where Garcia and I as teens would help tend the mesquite grill as her father barbecued and told stories of Oaxaca. He and my grandpa always wore the same uniform of cowboy hat and boots. Both did yard work, just as my grandma and Garcia’s mom both worked in the kitchen of the Adolphus.
I’ve a faded photo—I’m six months old, my mother cradling me as she stands on the steps of her parents’ house. The bungalow painted white and blue, where they moved to Oak Cliff from the country with their nine children.
Grandma swore that Bonnie knocked on that door and asked for a glass of water days before she and Clyde were gunned down by lawmen.
We pull up to their old address.
I stand in front of the demolished lot —
squint. Click. Past the giant giraffe that reaches for the leaf outside the Marsalis zoo, where an old beau working the night shift let me in to help feed the hippos and the ducks.
Down winding streets—SOC High School, the VA Medical Center,
empty strip malls, derelict movie houses and grocery stores.
Finally arrive at the atomic ranch-style home where I was born.
Joseph palms the fare and smiles like he’s known me more than these last two hours.
Greeted at the door by my oldest aunt—Bell, 92, and her youngest daughter, Lily.
They own the house now.
Aunt Bell has always been the keeper of the family tree. She can tell you who belonged to whom, and what date they were born, off the top of her head.
Aunt Bell nests in her wheelchair since a stroke felled her nearly a year ago.
I lean in to kiss her cheek. She speaks, stammering softly. Words spill from her mouth and shatter across the floor.
I take off my shoes, walk out to the backyard, where Mom’s perennials trumpet colors—red, yellow, purple … blue.
Planting my feet in the warm clay earth
My hands sifting through memories
Embraced by the enormous sky of my childhood.
Watch the sun fall down—
Wait for the flash of fireflies.