He took my shoulder and pulled me in close to him. He pointed.
“See that tree over there? The smallest one?”
There was an ocean of trees and I did see the smallest one.
“It’s HUGE! Didn’t you say you only planted it like 6 or 7 months ago?”
“It’s not huge.”
“Yes it is! Look at it!”
Six or seven months ago his cat died and he buried it between the lake and Grand Avenue, in a tree covered park like setting. Burying pets is illegal in Alameda County so he started at 1 am in the morning. His cat had already been in a cooler for a couple of days and needed a permanent home fast.
California has been in a drought for years; the ground was hard and trying to make a hole in cement like soil was so loud it was apparently waking up the neighbors. He paused and finished the task the following day: Saturday at noon. No one paid any mind.
“No! Not that tree…that tree.”
Our eyes were finally on the same tree. It was a dwarf of an evergreen, barely standing straight. I couldn’t tell what color it actually was, but in night’s light, it looked yellow and half dead.
When I first arrived at his apartment to receive the grand tour, I noticed a litter box in the kitchen. There was no litter in it, though.
“Is there a cat here somewhere?”
“There used to be. He passed away about half a year back from liver failure.”
“Oh. That was recent. I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah. It was sad.”
I complimented him on his teal walls and we walked. It was my first time walking around Lake Merritt. I’ve lived in Oakland for nearly 7 years and have never walked around the lake. We took the slightly longer way, whatever that means, a greater radius I guess; he said we walked 3.3 miles. That included a playground detour where we had one of those spinning movie moments where you focus on the person in front of you as you go round and round and everything behind them is a blur, or vice versa. I relearned centrifugal force. I learned that standing up straight close to the spinning source makes you go faster. I freaked out (inside).
Once we got down from whatever contraption we were on, I wobbled, and he held me. It was the perfect opportunity for a kiss, but we didn’t.
The walk continued. We walked underneath a bridge, along water, along a minimal homeless camp, and he said, “I think the chirpers must’ve died out or they took them down or something.”
“Chirpers. I don’t know what that means. What’s a ‘chirper’?”
“Yeah, I didn’t know either. It’s a device that chirps incredibly loud regularly. I think the city was using them as a homeless camp deterrent. You know, why would you want to set up your home near this super annoying sound?”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it.”
“But I don’t hear them any more and here are the camps.”
I told him about Cathedral Park in Portland. Somewhere around there, you walk under a bridge that is so low and open you can see the bottoms of all the cars. It’s exhilarating. “That sounds awesome. All you probably hear is that ‘doomp, doomp, doomp’ and then ‘ca-chink, ca-chink, ca-chink.'”
“Yes! Yes! Exactly!”
I didn’t tell him about the homeless woman who had crashed the wedding at the park and how I tried to “dance her” back to her camp. I should have. It’s a great story.
Back at his house, we sat on the two very comfortable and granny-esque vintage chairs he bought for under $9 each at Eco-Thrift in Hayward — his favorite thrift store. His chair was on rollers, mine was a spinning rocker. I wasn’t taking advantage of the rocking feature so he rocked it for me with his foot.
I looked down and saw a small piece of mail on the floor. It was about the size of a thank you card. “Can I read it? I love reading notes.”
It was from his grandmother. She had sent a note filled with typical grandmother sentiments: how great his visit was, how she wished they lived closer, how her cleaning lady found something underneath the sofa when he left that she thought he’d need. (She bought him a battery operated can opener for Christmas and had left the instructions at her house.)
All of this was written in a notecard with a photo of a cliff, lighthouse, and waves crashing over rocks. It was all very grandmotherly, including her cursive style. My grandmother had the same exact handwriting. Do all grandmothers have the same exact handwriting?
We got talking about our childhoods, family, and dreams.
“My mother is very argumentative. I never questioned it. It was just how she communicated, but she also yelled. It wasn’t until I was about 15 or 16 that I asked her why she was yelling. She was IN MY FACE, like this close,” he put his palm to his nose, “and she was yelling. Something finally clicked on my end and I asked her why she was yelling. ‘I could hear you, you don’t need to yell. You can lower your voice and I’ll hear you just fine.’ I said it over and over and over again. She eventually stopped.”
“You got her to stop arguing? That’s great.”
“No, she didn’t stop arguing, she just stopped yelling.”