First thing Cadillac told me, first time we met, before hello, was that courage is a choice. I’d been marathoning some show on Netflix, swiping through my feed, eating something that could be construed as dinner. He wore a winter jacket that oozed stuffing out of cigarette holes. Tufts of hair did the same out of his holy hat. Sneakers more duct tape than shoe, pants with “juicy” on the ass.
For five dollars he collected my leaves into a McDonald’s bag he brought with him. And the name? That tended to stick when you only slept in unlocked Caddies through the winter. No point in settling for less if you’ve got the choice. And you’ve always got the choice.
He said the leaves had a way of teaching you things if you let them. Everything’s a lesson if you’re ready to hear it. Told me to bless myself. No one else could do it for me.
Came again the week after, same time, in the middle of some movie I had on as background noise. My gutters needed cleaning. I offered my ladder, but he Spider-manned it onto the roof instead. It was good exercise. He plucked a tree branch, collected fall mush, dropped it into paper bags on my driveway. Stared at me when he was through, mush hands dripping, 747 slicing pepto sky overhead. Birds were involved. Asked me what I was waiting for. I said for him to get down, tacked on a question mark at the end. No. What was I waiting for to start living?
Every week he found a new task I’d been neglecting. Got cold enough for hot soup eaten over the counter, cans of some microbrew he always turned down. He’d play with my alphabet magnets as we ate, rearrange them into poems by Keats, Shelley, Frost. Each week a new poem. When I asked why, he’d just point to them. One night I withheld soup. He smiled. Said I could keep the soup. He taught poetry. Community college. A lifetime ago. The poems went up on the blackboard. The lesson isn’t always in the lecture. And all that. We ate our soup in silence.
One day he took me to the backyard. Took off his coat, gloves, hat. Arranged them at my feet. Only the vapor of his breath moving. Night. Air heavy. My insistence turned to begging, but he left his clothes on the ground. Told me to join him. That I could grow or be comfortable, not both. My hat hit snow. His son must’ve made a sound when he felt the barrel touch the back of his head. Must’ve formed words before the shot, but they wouldn’t come to Cadillac. Stayed at the tip of his tongue. Oh, they came later. Set aside, in verse, turning the past into something it wasn’t, something it could never be. Tears tracked icicle rivers down my face. I put Cadillac’s clothes back on him.
We went inside.
Unplugged routers, tore out cables, collected cable boxes and remote controls. Laid them out in the snow without a word. I showed Cadillac to his room.
Most of my clothes were too big for him, but we made do with what we had. He went in to shave, wouldn’t let me see till it was done. Like a magic trick. Like a bride on her day. He came out with two piles behind him: hair and clothes. His eyes had a shine I’d never seen before. A glint. I tried to say something, but he asked for pen and paper. While he wrote I ran, into the night, laying tracks on untouched snow, flakes like infinite diamonds shining in streetlamp haze. Drifts of it on car mirrors, hoods, powder-falling off the branches of trees.
When I got back I could taste blood, cough silence. Fell onto the couch and compared ceiling to sky outside the window. Half-moon sliced by window frame, incomplete or whole depending on which eye I closed, which one I opened. Cadillac came in with his pad, sat down on the floor beside me, laid his words at my feet and breathed. Each of them filled with verses, lines, quotes, prose, doodles.
Cadillac was there, at the top of the first page: faded, smeared. Erased. A palimpsest over it, printed neatly. His name.