Big crowd at Cal State Dominguez Hills, backed out the door, standing along the walls. They were still entering.
Foggy spring night 2011 in Southern Calif., I had some vague idea of what I could do, what I was going to deliver.
I had a couple of my books on the podium, with a piece I’d read in Santa Cruz for big crowd recently that went for it.
Night fell against the windows of these big academic halls. As usual, I had one ear pressed to the ground.
I had one ear open to pick up the vibe from the crowd. As I read, I tried to hear inside me their rhythms, whether they laughed or went silent.
I tried to hear their leaning, feeling for their reception of the material. I tried to balance out the material with the delivery.
I tried to roll out unexpected useful information with new bright notes of expressive energy, interspersed with a few laughs.
I got some of it. Lots of questions afterwards, a good sign, with a line of people with books to sign. I got it done.
Somewhere down the line, a shaggy-haired skinny rockero stepped up to deliver me a letter, with arm covered in Xmas-colored dragon tats.
I probably stepped back with a shock when the kid said it was from his mom, daughter of a murdered woman I wrote about in a previous book.
The kid said the letter was from his mom to mine, writing to thank her for her kindness to the family after the murder. Probably this happened when I was 13, 14.
His grandmother was found in a car, shot behind a supermarket, after she ran away they said with a man.
When I put it in a book, I had pictured the kind of ramshackle peach-beige Dodge station wagon our families drove in those days.
I thanked him and put the letter in my pocket, very grateful he wasn’t jamming me up with a bunch of hard questions. I was just a kid, I might’ve said.
But he was just delivering a message. That message rode so many years out of the past and pressed on the right side of my chest.
12 or 13, I’d stood on the steps and looked up as she had opened the door. Whoever I was asking about (maybe Oscar, or his brother) wasn’t home.
I was surprised, shocked then as now, by the lack of anything like interest or kindness or warmth in her eyes, though maybe something like a smile had faded from her face.
I had always thought it was because of what women in the neighborhood said about her—that she was unhappy because she was ill. She turned away and shut the door.
After 40 years, about the street lamps of the foggy parking lot damp night hung like a black dress.

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