Tyler spent the night last night, for the first time. After spending his evening teaching a painting class in Santa Fe, he hopped in his old truck – the one he, a man of 40, has kept running since high school, because he is the sort to fix things rather than trade them in (yes!) – and drove to Albuquerque to see me. All the way down, he sent me links – to songs. The lyrics varied, from the song about the woman who had been damaged by upheavals and the man who didn’t see this as damage at all, but compared her to a beautiful mountain range pushed up from the planet’s own dramas, to Elvis: I can’t help, falling in love…with…you.
He arrived to find me listening to Oscar DeLeon, dancing around my living room, drinking coffee to keep myself awake until he got here. When I opened the door to find him, five-eleven, with the effortless grace of a deft and practiced hunter, square jaw, hazel eyes that show everything – hope, mostly, and acceptance, and pain of his own – his lips parted in a smile.
My God, he told me. You are so beautiful.
When I told him I wanted to show him the pretty parts of Albuquerque, he had answered without missing a beat: You are the pretty parts of Albuquerque.
We exchanged songs, and listened with our eyes alive. He is a painter. A sculptor. A man of otherworldly talent, sprung from the fertile dark earth of Alabama, where, when he said he wanted to take art in high school, he was met with puzzlement and scoffing. Why the hell would anyone want to take art? Why don’t y’do somethin’ useful, like shop class…A boy who saw every subtle variation of light and color flicker across the faces of all those people incapable of seeing him for what he was. A genius.
I have never felt as seen as I feel in his gaze. He can reproduce any image, with a pencil and his big, strong hand, and it looks perfect. The blanket looks soft, the baby’s toes, perfectly proportioned, the wrinkles on the soles of its feet, just so. Just right.
It is hard for me to hold his gaze. I am always the first to look away. Tyler’s soul shines from his eyes, open, vulnerable, free. He is beauty, and his spirit flows right into mine, and roots around. There is very little he doesn’t notice with those eyes of his.
One, then two in the morning, and still we were up talking. Sharing. Each story that passed between us only serving to confirm what we had already concluded. Soul mates, he said. You’re corny, I replied – but I felt it too. I’ve never deserved anything this good, he said, and my heart shattered for him. What life does to the beautiful ones. The oddballs. The ones who don’t fit in. We believe we deserve the pain they push up against us. I want to change that in you, I told him. I want you to love yourself more, to see yourself as I see you. A glimmer of a tear, and he touched the side of my face. Same. I want the same. We will do this, together, for ourselves, for each other. And I wondered, do those who see his art, or read my books, ever really understand what goes into becoming one of us? The isolation and derision, the arrogance of those who cannot, will not, should not, but do?
We decided to go for a walk, even though I live in a part of town referred to as The War Zone. I am only six blocks from a nicer neighborhood, and so we resolved to head that way, under the full moon, in the cool of the first night of Autumn, with stars twinkling. I’ll bring my gun, he said. He is not conservative, but he is a Southern Man still. He left Alabama because of the racism that was so natural as to go unquestioned among his people. He loves them, but sometimes it is impossible to want to do anything but run from that place and never go back. He fled to San Francisco. To art school. If they hadn’t known better – and one look at the way he looks at women tells the story of his inclinations – they might have figured he was one of those. He wouldn’t have cared if they thought this. He loves. Tyler is love.
He told me about his dead cousin, and there were tears in his voice, the kind of tears you can hear in Juan Gabriel’s mouth as he sings. Levi. A man chased by his own demons off the edge of the world, and gone forever. And then, as we walked through the blue-dark night in my poorly-lit neighborhood, hoping not to run into meth heads or lose Pit Bulls, we saw the most amazing, incredible thing, as though conjured from the ether by a memory of Levi, the gentleness of Levi, a protector whose loving impulses were guided, as so many are in males, towards the military, where he was broken in a million places and never put back together again, held in place only by the glue of self-medication, until that glue didn’t stick anymore, and he needed more, and more, until the night he simply shattered altogether.
What is that? Tyler asked me, pointing, seeing it before I did. His eyes work like that, always scanned, always aware, a male thing, I think. I looked to where he pointed but I saw nothing. Is it a rabbit? he asked.
Maybe. We have those around here.
Usually, rabbits run away from people in the city. They know, the little scrawny gray cottontails, the ones who survive, they know that to live they must flee, always. But this one did not.
This one, hopped towards us, with deliberate intention.
What the hell?
It was not a wild rabbit, not hard bone under stretched mange and scar. This was a round, butterscotch-colored, floppy-eared, fat, soft pet bunny, with big shiny black eyeballs that trust and trust. Somebody’s pet. And upon hearing our voices in the dead of night, in the worst part of town, it came out from under a cactus and hopped all the way to the street to greet us. Came within one foot of us.
Oh my God, I whispered. It’s the cutest thing I have ever seen in my life!
We watched it sniffing and nibbling weeds and, oddly, rocks, and thought about what its story might have been. Its face was blackened, a little roughed up, as though someone, perhaps an abusive boyfriend, had dropped it out a car window to torture a woman. Or to hurt a child. I have known men like this, tried to change men like this, loved them as an act of self-hatred.
We should take it home, he said. It’ll be dead by morning if we leave it out here.
Cars whizzing past, wild dogs roaming about, two hawks in the tree behind my house, and hungry, desperate people, drugged and boozed beyond recognition, into monstrous shapes flapping through the night behind their shopping carts and upon their stolen bikes.
We tried to catch it. But the bunny did not wish to be caught, only to be fed, perhaps, or seen. Something. We followed it two blocks, and lost it beneath a truck in a yard that we did not want to enter, because the gun in Tyler’s pocket would not be much use against the gun that might find us from inside someone’s home if we trespassed.
We have to just let it go, I said, my heart aching for this small scrap of pure innocence, hopping around in the worst part of town, alone, in the middle of the night. Practicing my Buddhism. Acceptance being the key to inner peace, and inner peace not being the same as happiness but rather just the absence of suffering. Pain comes. That is inevitable, but suffering only comes from wanting what is to be something else.
Levi had only wanted to keep everyone safe. He had not wanted fights, but fights always found him. A soft, tame, dark-eyed spirit, appearing in the worst part of town, in the darkest part of the night. Come and get me.
We kept walking. For more than an hour. We walked all the way to Ridgecrest, and along the sidewalks as the sprinklers watered the wide grassy median. To the parks. Past the beautiful homes, in the beautiful part of town, and I prayed that soon I would sell this book, this film, something, and be able to get myself back to a place like this, with a man like this.
We went back, and sure enough, the bunny came to find us again, hopping out into the street. So odd. It was not where we had left it. And still it found us, and came to us. And this time, Tyler caught it. With his bare hands. He has the largest strongest hands I have ever held, hands that bend metal into the sculptures he makes. He just sold one, a massive dragon, to George R.R. Martin, the man who wrote Game of Thrones. It is beautiful. Tyler doesn’t have a manager or publicist, but if he did, everyone who loves that show, those books, would know about his art. He is the artist hired by other artists, to make beauty for them.
The bunny kicked and scratched, and Tyler held it out, firm but gentle. We released it into the guest room, with water and lettuce. It hid behind the drum set, and I remembered when that other boyfriend, five years ago, knowing I was on blood thinners and could die from bruising, had grabbed me in anger and thrown me into a different drumset. The pieces of the stands and edges of the cymbals and bruised and cut me then.
Tyler wrapped me gentle in his arms. People make fun of me, he said. Because here I am, a hunter, but if I find an injured dove or a baby bird, I have been known to love it and raise it and set it free.
He comes from a world that raised him to hunt, and he is good at it, because he is one of those people, competitive, brilliant, who is good at anything he tries to be good at. But he appeared in this world with a heart and soul that hurt for things. Bodhichita. He touches in himself the tenderness of pain itself, and allows it to make him compassionate, but also resolute.
Tyler spent the night last night, for the first time.
We laughed, we loved, we walked.
He told me about Levi.
We brought that bunny home.