L     O     S     S 


You see it like a dream: the man falls down on the slick pavement. You almost expect a splash but there is none, only the pounding of the sky. He turns from a human into a huddled mass, a hardly decipherable lump in the dark, wet night. Streetlights glance off the shining road, looking like a watercolor painting abandoned by an expressionist suddenly struck by another idea. Did the artist intend to paint this man? This man, standing? This man, mouth opened in a silent scream? This man, taking long unsteady gaits on shaking legs? This man, falling to the ground? And not getting up again. He doesn’t get up again.

You see it like a dream: the man crumpled on the ground. It is only moments after that you realize a car could hit him, destroy him, make sure of what you don’t yet know. You freeze and remember who and what you are: twenty-three, black, a girl, alone. You imagine yourself stopping the car, getting out, running to his side in the rain. You think of how small and thin you are, how weak. You imagine the man opening his eyes and grabbing you by the arm and then you stop imagining because you don’t know what happens next. People are so deceptive; it could be so foolish to help—what would your mother say?

Keep driving. And so you do. But before you press the gas you see a hooded figure through the rain. It runs from the sidewalk toward the huddled mass that may or may not be a dead man. You see the figure raise its arms, stopping the onslaught of cars coming toward him. You’re relieved. You watch the figure doing what you could not, and you want to close your eyes, but you’re supposed to be driving. You move the car forward, glance in your mirror and see the man, still not moving, and the figure, another man, leaning down, and you’re thankful there was someone else there—thankful it wasn’t up to you—because what would you have done?

Once you get home you call 911 and the woman says they’ve already gotten a call, and they’re already on the way. She hangs up. You sigh. What if the other man had not been on the sidewalk? What if you were the only one who saw the man falling? What if you drove on, and let the cars come? You think of the last time it rained this hard. You remember yourself, head aching and eyes streaming, curled in a ball on your bed wondering where it all went wrong and how you could ever move forward. You stop remembering. You see the man collapse, again and again. What would your mother have said? Keep driving. What did you mother say? You did the right thing. What did you say? What if no one else had been there? And your mother says, Thank God someone was. And you thank God someone was. And for a moment you hate yourself. You hate that you are a small black girl afraid of what could have happened if you helped.

You see it like a dream as you drive the road that leads home, and you try to see the man in the street in your rearview, there and gone in seconds, disappearing into the rain-washed scene. And you keep going because you have to, and the further you move away the more you realize you’ll never know whether or not you saw someone die.


The man holding the plastic bag raises his arms over his head and waves them slowly back and forth, back and forth. His face is hidden under his hood, and the rain falls around him and the lump at his feet. Cars, oncoming, stop, their red taillights glaring through the rain. The man with the plastic bag looped around his fingers kneels down and touches the lump; it doesn’t respond. He touches it again, pushing it gently, then forcefully—hey man, hey man, get up. you okay? You okay, man? Hey…hey. The man with the plastic bag looks south; the police station is just down the way, on the next block, but the cars are coming and honking and drivers are yelling and hanging out of windows trying to see what’s going on.

Someone must have called. Someone must have called because the police come, sirens blaring out of the station parking lot and make a right, then stop. The lump is still on the ground, unmoving, and the man with the plastic bag stands up and raising his arms again, back and forth, back and forth, and officers come to meet him. Another officer reroutes traffic. Go around, go around, and disgruntled drivers back up and turn the other way, slowly, watching and grumbling. Others rubberneck, unsure of what’s going on, eyes wide and mouths open. If their windows were open they’d catch the rain. The dark street is wet and there’s a lump on the ground, and a man standing with a plastic bag in his hands, or maybe he’s already gone. He disappears from the scene. He doesn’t know the old man, doesn’t know what to do. If there’s food in the plastic bag, it’s getting cold; if there are goods in there, they’re getting wet. He can’t hang around. The ambulance is parked on the curb, and EMTs are lifting the lump onto a stretcher. It’s lucky there’s a hospital down the street, not even five minutes away. They lift him, and his slick parka glistens beneath the streetlamps and the headlights as the line of cars make their left-hand turns. Still unconscious, rolling with the stretcher as it’s wheeled over the asphalt, the man is lifted into the back of the ambulance and the sirens whine as it pulls away from the curb and speeds up the street. It makes a right at the light, and then a left, and then another right into the medical center parking lot, where the double doors are thrown wide just in time to receive him.   

Maybe the doctors were right there. Maybe they ran alongside his gurney like they do on TV and rushed him into the operating room. Maybe a doctor has his hands against the man’s chest and is pushing and pushing, one hand over the other against his ribcage, pushing and pushing. The heart monitor is not beeping, but they have reason to believe he isn’t dead and so the first doctor keeps going and then another brings out the defibrillator, and between calls of “CLEAR!” the tiny beep of life sounds and grows louder and maybe the man stirs—a twitch of the finger or the mouth and the doctor leans back, hands still on the man’s newly heaving chest. The man can’t say where he’s been or what he’s seen, he only breathes, eyes fluttering. The doctors step back and watch him, exchanging glances as he sucks air into his grizzled mouth, chin and neck covered in matted gray hair. A powerful smell is coming off of him. Wet and musty. Rain water mixed with sweat and urine. The breath of one who hasn’t eaten, stale and pungent, and dirty hair festering with the layer of dirt and grime that covers his skin. The doctors don’t mind—they have seen and smelled worse—they still exchange glances. Waiting. The man’s eyes close, but he is still breathing—sleeping mainly. Maybe dying and coming back to life takes a lot out of you; maybe resurrection is like being born.

Not a week later the man sits under the wintry sky wearing the same coat and the same hat sitting on the same street. He’s muttering to himself, eyes roving back and forth up and down. Beneath his shirt there is a bruise where the doctor was pushing on his chest. Beneath his pant leg there is a scar where he cut himself on the street. Beneath his hat his hair grows wiry and tangled, matted with downtown’s dirt. Cars rattle by but he doesn’t see or hear them—he doesn’t even stir. He just sits, arms wrapped around himself, muttering quietly, eyes darting. His chest hurts and he can’t remember why. His legs sting but he can’t tell you what happened. His hips are sore from falling in the street, but he doesn’t remember that either.

He looks up at the sky where he does remember a light and some pressure, and some part of him thinks it was an angel. He looks up at the sky, muttering. It looks like rain. 


The man holding the plastic bag raises his arms over his head and moves them slowly back and forth, back and forth. His face is hidden under his hood, and the rain falls around him and the lump at his feet. Cars, oncoming, stop, their red taillights glaring through the rain. The man with the plastic bag looped around his fingers kneels down and touches the lump; it doesn’t respond. He touches it again, pushing it gently, then forcefully—hey man, hey man, get up. you okay? You okay, man? Hey…hey. The man with the plastic bag looks south; the police station is just down the way, on the next block, but the cars are coming and honking and drivers are yelling and hanging out of windows trying to see what’s going on. He can’t just leave, and so he stands there, arms still raised.

Sirens warble through the watery air, making the man holding the plastic bag feel like he’s underwater. He keeps his hands up, making himself taller and larger to ensure he’s seen. At his feet the lump still doesn’t move, and he’s afraid to look at it now. He isn’t sure, but a creeping feeling in his stomach tells him if he looks, there will be something he doesn’t want to see—something he won’t be able to handle. The police cars stop around him, lights flashing around the scene, and he lowers his arms. Men and women slide out of the cars, rushing forward. They’re asking questions he can’t answer, others are flapping their arms at the cars waiting and honking, unaware of the man lying in the street. Go around, go around… one of the cops calls, and the drivers in the cars begin cottoning on, making their left hand turns and craning their necks as they pass by, trying to understand what’s going on. Soon a barricade is set up around the man, blocking off the street, and the stream of traffic automatically makes the left turn; the people don’t even look anymore. The sirens of the ambulance can be heard, a little far off and then coming closer; the hospital is just down the street, not even five minutes away. More sirens on the horizon. The man with the plastic bag has slipped away, leaving the lump behind because he knows something the hospital will find out later, if the lump ends up at the hospital at all.

EMTs kneel down in the wet street and take the lump, the man’s, arm. They lift his damp sleeve up, exposing his wrist, and one of them places his fingers to the skin, waiting. He pulls his hand away and then pushes it down the front of the man’s filthy shirt to touch his chest; he waits. Again, he pulls his hand away and looks around, frowning. His colleague leans in as he speaks to him, nearly shouting over the din of the rain falling around them. The other EMT can just barely hear him, but the message is clear: …can’t find…pulse…

Someone asks if they should take him to the hospital to be sure, and someone else answers, and they lift him onto a stretcher and roll him into the back of the ambulance. Maybe they turned the sirens on, just in case. Maybe they didn’t. At the hospital, the old man, rank and grimy, smelling of urine and stale breath, dirt mixed with rain water smeared across his dark skin, lies on a table. The doctor standing over him imagines the long vertical incision from sternum to belly, opening him and laying him bare like a frog or cat or the fetal pigs from school. The thought probably doesn’t make him sick or sad; it’s just a thought. But then maybe it does. Maybe death never gets easier, no matter how often you’ve seen it.

The old man is moved to the hospital morgue where he lies still against a hard metal table, tag on his toe: N/A, N/A, N/A—Unknown. Outside a doctor makes a call to social services—they should try to learn who he was, if he had any family, if anyone actually cares that he fell down and died last night. Maybe the doctor has seen this before, over and over—again and again. Maybe these bodies stayed the designated amount of days, and then were transferred to the next holding place, world still spinning unaware that it’s been relieved of the weight of their soul.

Inside the morgue, the light automatically shuts off—there’s been no movement for more than five minutes and they can’t waste any power. Outside the door, the hospital whirs, alive with electricity. Inside the morgue, the old man’s body sits, settles, decays—each cell, each molecule, fighting to get away.

The old man’s clothes, wet with rain, stinking of dirt and urine and sweat, will probably be burned. His body, placed in a box in the ground, in an unmarked grave. He won’t be able to look at the sky through the thin wooden ceiling. He won’t see the clouds or feel the wind. He won’t know it looks like rain.



This is my worst memory of you.


It was raining. I’d been waiting for it all morning, a little annoyed because we were going to a friend’s show. My friend, not yours, but you were coming. We were going to get dinner, exchange Christmas presents. The rain didn’t change anything for me, not really. It was inconvenient at most, but that was all. I was waiting for the rain all morning, but you’d been out in it, driving around out past Pasadena, past LA where the storm had already started. Back home the wind was high, kicking the trees around, loosing twigs and thin branches, sending them careening through the gray sky, but no rain yet. I was at home, waiting to hear from you, waiting to know what to do. We were going to see each other; your Christmas present sat on my floor against my bookshelf, the biggest bag in the pile. We’d been planning it, this, today—finally spending time. We’d seen each other a few days before. You later asked if that wasn’t enough for me. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if it hadn’t been so long. Maybe I wouldn’t have tried so hard to make it happen if I didn’t feel so much distance. Maybe if we hadn’t already planned it.  Maybe if so many previous plans hadn’t fallen through, always falling through. Maybe if there hadn’t been so many days and nights when you were busy. Maybe if understanding didn’t also mean it was okay—I understood you were busy, always busy, but it didn’t make me feel any better. It didn’t make me miss you any less. Maybe I was selfish.

My mother asked what time I was going to see you. I said I didn’t know yet know. You said you didn’t know. We waited. We waited. You said the rain was bad. You said the rain was so bad; that we shouldn’t go far. I suggested staying close to home as the rain, finally arrived, pounded against my window. I suggested staying in. Pizza. A movie. Anything. You were only minutes away from me; I could meet you at your house. I could bring movies. We could just talk. You said you didn’t think it was a good idea. I asked what wasn’t a good idea. You said all of it, none of it. I suddenly wanted to get back in bed, go to sleep. You said you’d let me know for sure later. I said okay.

My mother asked me to come with her to run errands, so I went. You weren’t home yet, or maybe you were. I didn’t know. I hadn’t heard from you. I bundled up but the rain had calmed down to a drizzle. It was windy, still, but we didn’t need our umbrellas. While I waited for my mother, I sent you another message. What were we doing. How were you feeling. What was the plan. When you responded, all you said was that you’d drop off my gift. The rain, the rain, the rain. You didn’t want to be out in it. Frustrated, I pointed out that you had been out in it just the week before, with your boyfriend. We’d been planning to see each other today for ages. I missed you. You said you’d just stop by quickly, drop off my present. You were tired. You were short; I could feel tension growing, so I told you never mind. I told you never mind, that we could do it later when the weather was better, when you were less busy. I was thinking we’d have more time; I just wanted more time. I told my mother it wasn’t happening. She said she was sorry. I shrugged, put my phone away.

An hour later it started. The levee inside of you—the one so often sensed but never seen, the one so often felt, pulsing just beneath the surface—broke.

You said I was pushy. That I didn’t understand. That I was unfair. Passive aggressive. You said I had to make things so hard, so hard. You said I expected too much from you—demanded too much. You said, you said, you said. Was it a coincidence the rain started up again, pounding the roof, the windows, the walls? There was so much water—in my eyes, in the sky, washing over me as you spilled every drop that the levee had ever held. I tried to explain, and explain, and explain, and I should’ve stopped. But I didn’t stop. Because I wanted you to hear me. I wanted you to understand. But you didn’t hear me. Maybe you couldn’t hear anything.

After midnight, phone no longer lighting up with your words, your spilled water, I lay against my pillow, tears falling into my hair. I wondered if you were crying too. Maybe. Maybe not. I held my phone against my chest, warm. I felt my heart hammering against my ribs, felt like I had just finished running. I tried not to think of the last things you said or what you meant, or how I felt them. I thought about intention, and how mine didn’t seem to matter to you, and how yours was all that mattered to me. I thought about how it wasn’t enough.

The next morning it was dry, cold. Every part of me ached. It looked like rain.


~ A F T E R W O R D ~