after Natalie Diaz
My brother Marco believes he is the reincarnation of an Aztec warrior. He returned from another tour of the desert as a luchador, still in costume, and he told me about the ghost inside him as he leapt around the living room, practicing for some wrestling match he fears will be his last. He is determined to die in the ring, figures it’s his destiny. He finds omens in swirling desert sand, in the cloud a bit of milk makes in coffee.
Marco says he’s destined for greatness with this history inside him. I pat his shoulder and tell him we are so special and he wraps an arm around my skull in a headlock. I push and tell him to stop and he holds tighter until I tell him he’s hurting me. “Sister,” he says, “you got no fight in you.” I go to the kitchen and make lunch. He tumbles around in the next room.
He stands in the doorway in his silly mask. I ask him to take it off when he’s in the house. He says he can’t take it off because then he’d lose his identity, he’d be someone else. Thinking of his Aztec warrior or god inside him, I say, “But, you’re already someone else,” and he puts both hands to his masked face and shakes his head as though he doesn’t know the answer to a question I never asked.
* * *
Our father vanished in the Nevada desert last year. We had come here so he could solve the problem of water disappearing from the West. He’d gone out on a job and he’d never come back. Marco, at first, went out looking for him daily, driving around the desert trying to find any sign of our father, a trail or something lost and left behind.
Marco was doing more drugs at the time than eating. Some steroids, some cocaine. He was afraid giant desert worms had swallowed our father. He thought maybe our father had found an ancient lost city and decided to stay. Marco would go out for days, into the desert, and when he returned with nothing, no sign of our father, he’d focus on lucha libre and cocaine. He’d show up to local shows and would travel far away for others. He’d return, his ear mangled or a scar on his forehead. He’d showcase injuries and new scars. I’d ask him if he found anything like what he was looking for. “Meredith, there’s nothing out there but God and all that empty,” he’d say.
My father spent so much time studying where the water had gone, how to get it back. When he was still around, he would rush home after any small victory, would make us listen to him talk about any slight development. But, the drought and water loss had been going on so long, so much time and overuse, that I wondered if he believed he could help save anything. If he showed up in our house, I think sometimes all I could say to him would be, you can’t get back what’s already lost.
* * *
Marco wrestles a show in town and wears this feathery headdress on top of his mask. On the microphone before his match, he tells his opponent that he is a god, that all the world is his to burn. This doesn’t seem scripted and the other luchador just shrugs and goes to his corner to psych himself up. Marco is high as usual.
During the match, Marco misses spots and botches moves. He jumps from a top rope and overshoots and his knees actually collide with his opponent’s head. Blood gushes from the man’s nose, over his mask. They then start to fight for real, actual punches, actual anger. The referee breaks things up and pretends the match is stopped for injuries. Marco stands in the ring, hands on his hips, as the ref and the other man walk away, The crowd boos Marco and he yells that he is better than all of them, that he is filled up with so much greatness that it must go somewhere.
Afterwards, I tell him he has to be more careful. That he can’t forget that this violence is just a performance, so much different than the real thing.
“That’s what you think,” Marco says. “You don’t know what’s real because you’re not in there. This thing’s as real as the next thing. It’s as real as our dad. Just because we can’t find him don’t mean he’s not out there.”
The day our father disappeared, Marco had already been on a three-day bender. The drugs preceded all that happened. Marco came home from some party in the desert. Said he’d seen ghosts out there and they’d told him to go home, that something had changed. He walked for miles in the heat, shoeless and wearing his mask. After hours of trying to contact our dad and talking with police, Marco said he predicted it, that the ghosts told him it was happening. He wanted to believe he had some sort of control over what goes on in the world, that if he predicted it then he could stop our father from being gone, but what is an illusion if not seeing the thing you can’t have that you want most?
* * *
Marco wants me to go into the desert with him to search for Dad. He’s wearing a cape, holding a pistol. I ask him if I can have the gun. He says it’s for protection. He says we need to be prepared for anything that might come to hurt us.
“What about the giant worms?” I ask. “What about the ghosts waiting for any lost soul to wander too far?”
“If we never did anything because we might be destroyed, we’d never do anything at all.”
We drive down highways and into the sunlight for an hour or two. I never have gotten used to all the nothing out here. How someone can drive for so long and never find anyone else besides themselves.
“Seen anything?” I ask.
“I keep seeing water, but then I think about Dad and how I know there’s nothing out there.”
“Just no water?” I ask. I make a u-turn and head toward home. Marco stares out the window, eyes fixed on a spot somewhere out there. “What do you see?” I say.
Marco says nothing and instead pulls at the bottom of his mask, pulling it tighter over his head, and he holds on to it, making sure nothing will come along and take it away.
Marco disappears in the night and I worry about where he’s gone. He always comes back, but I worry all the same. He’s so afraid that something terrible might happen that it almost guarantees something will.
I call his friends and other wrestlers and no one has seen him. I ask about tours he might not have mentioned, about any women he’s been seen with. I don’t drive out into the desert to search for him, though the fear is always that the same thing will happen to him that happened to our father.
I start finding notes around the house from Marco. Little notes leaving directions on how to find him if he disappears. But, the notes are nonsense. Go to the last place you found me, one says. I won’t be there, but that’s where you should begin.
* * *
I stop making phone calls on the fifth day. The police tell me they have found nothing, but there’s no sign that anything out of the ordinary has occurred. “Other than my brother vanishing?” I ask and hang up.
I spend the day convincing myself not to go look for him. I go to his room and find that all of his masks are gone. He had twenty or thirty of them and not a one is here. I find more notes, each one more confusing than the last. I try to make a map of the disordered thinking in them to see if there’s a pattern, anything that might lead me to him or to the other men he believes he might be.
* * *
There’s a lucha show 100 miles away a week after he’s gone. I travel to this town and this high school gymnasium. There are so many men and boys and so many of them wearing masks. Through the night, I see men who might be Marco, but they could mostly be anyone beneath their masks. I keep looking for scars on bodies or birthmarks, anything to signal that any of these men are Marco. I think maybe he’ll spot me, that he will see me standing out amongst the crowd and he’ll be the one to find me.
I wander the crowd, hoping to spot him. I keep my eye on the ring in case he shows up to wrestle. Amidst all the chaos and yelling and bright lights, it is clear that he may not be in this crowd or building at all. I look around at all the masks and all the faces I cannot see and feel suddenly dizzy, unsettled and shaky.
I go outside to get air. I search the faces and none of the people outside seem to be him. I think maybe Marco’s gone in search of water, to the most likely place our father might be found. I picture searching and searching and finally coming upon some expansive lake, seeing Marco and our father out on the water, and I picture swimming out to them, the waves slowing me down, all that water rushing in, all the water rushing out.