HE SEES HIMSELF
Edgar was the middle of three children—that much, we had in common—but the similarities ended there. He was twenty years my senior, bronzed, and well-traveled. An immigrant of Peruvian, Japanese, and Chinese descent, he regularly visited his familial places of origin. I didn’t have a passport.
I was flying to Seattle because my father had fallen down a flight of stairs in his own house. The doctor had been brief on the phone, sterile. “Fly up as soon as you can, please,” he said.
I had printed out articles about head injury to read on the plane. They sat in my backpack, untouched, because I began listening to Edgar. Over the roar of takeoff, he spoke about the Japanese dictator of Peru, jokingly calling the man a prisoner because he was a dictator for so long.
“The country had him locked him up in a box of gold,” he said, and I wondered if this was a metaphor. I didn’t want to seem ignorant, though, so I didn’t ask.
Native Peruvian opinions of the dictator varied: the old believed he did great things by fighting terrorism, but in the eyes of the younger generation, the man had stopped at nothing to defeat the terrorists—not even human rights. Innocent civilians were pulled into vans on the way home from work. Blood spilled in the dark.
The flight attendant interrupted to serve us drinks. Peering into his plastic cup of water and ice, Edgar was reminded of salmon fishing in Alaska, which he then proceeded to describe with the same excitement as his last story. I asked if he'd ever plunged his bare hands into a river's belly and caught a fish, the way I’d seen in films. Edgar laughed and said no, but maybe someday he’d get close enough. His wife was a good luck charm. Every time she went along, the salmon were plentiful in the streams. When they visited San Francisco, the fish practically jumped into the boat.
I asked, "Is it safe?"
Edgar said that yes, if you didn't get seasick, going on a trawler wasn't dangerous.
I clarified myself: were the fish safe to eat? Out of the San Francisco Bay? A scene from this documentary I’d seen in college came to mind, of dead fish and plastic bottles amassed along a coast. The class projector lens had scratches on it, but after a while, everyone got used to it. The water in the scene looked like solid ground, that's how dirty it was. Some of the fish didn’t have eyes.
Edgar frowned. “I never really thought about the pollution.”
I was paying attention to Edgar for so long that as time passed, his face lost its distinguishing features and began to resemble every person I ever knew: my father, my mother, my best friend, my first love. For a second, the face was my own. Then Edgar became a fish, with a muted mouth and unblinking eyes. I thought about how similar all human beings are, how other animals would struggle to tell us apart.
When the plane landed, Edgar and I shouldered our bags and wished one another safe travels. My father’s mental faculties remained intact, his broken bones healed thicker. I forgot about Edgar until years later, when, at a church Christmas party, my father recounted his fall. Everyone stood around and listened, holding miniature paper plates that rattled with Goldfish. My father talked about how he rose above his body and watched himself pitch down the stairwell headfirst. There was no pain; rather, he felt idle.
“It was worse than I imagined,” he said, “all seeing and no doing.”