The First Time I Met the Goat Man

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The first time I met the goat man, I was sixteen years old. Three friends and I had been down visiting a local college town south of my home town of Plummer. We had been up for a few days in the grey, cloudy musk that is Moscow, Idaho, finding trouble as only teens can find it. We had met college students who seemed so old and foolish, but then, everyone to me then had the air of old and foolish about them. I knew it all; I knew the world, and I saw it for what it really was. One did not live in a tent if one did not have some answers, or so my youthful pride told me.

My hand was lifted before me, but the fingers were the thing—the fingers, or what was between them. I could see through them, and into them. There had been a lightness in my vision that dimmed as I moved my fingers before my face. I pushed my hands down, forcing myself to stop. I moved my fingers in a complex weave, enjoying the feel of them stretching and dancing.

I watched as a butterfly settled gently upon my finger, before striking fiercely at the wasp that never seemed far from me. The two circled and struck, neither able to kill the other. They danced around my fingers in a dance with each other that was a blur of color and pain. I wiped them from my eyes with my hands and looked at the sky.

I lived in a place of purity in my life. I had seen who I was, and the quiet sounds of accented words filled my ears. My purity was greater than that of those foolish enough to be older than I. I knew this; they kept their many objects and trappings of ownership around them while I had my car and lived in a tent. Not everyone can live in a tent in Idaho year-round, and those people who cannot are not as pure as I was at the age of sixteen. Pure and filled with understanding—at least that is what I told myself. I washed away all other reasons for my situation and attributed that situation to purity.

James had come out of the dark yellow house with a laugh to find Aaron and me sitting on the porch. James entered every scene with a laugh. His smile was his trademark look, and his laugh was a short, loud bark followed by the low laugh that seemed so out of place on his large face. He was always larger than life. It was not his height—which was greater than mine, but not by much. Not many Coeur d'Alenes were tall, but he pushed that envelope, at least when standing next to our group. Well, next to all but Aaron. It was not James' girth that made him larger than life, though he outweighed me by a good margin. It was the smile that came suddenly and yet sat forever upon his dark features. His face was classically native and should have had the stoic look of an Italian Iron Cloud, but instead, he laughed and smiled. His eyes sparkled as he spoke, and there was always humor looking out at me from those wise eyes. And this moment was no different. He laughed, and I soon realized he was likely laughing at Aaron and me.

I pulled my eyes away from the sky to look at Aaron. Staring at the sky was a lifelong obsession of mine. I knew the clouds and what each one meant. I had spent hours of my life reading and studying what the sky meant and the many labels that scientists had attached to the different phenomena. I could tell you what kind of clouds were in the sky by the smell of the air. The sky held a fascination, through beauty and violence, that had immediate effects on the lives of those under it without ever really touching them. The sky was a vibrant tangle of emotions, and for a kid who had few emotions, it was fascinating for me. The cumulous clouds that sat sorrowfully to the south of us were traveling slowly, preparing to weep into the air. They were a point of depression in an otherwise happy sky. I realized I was trying to describe the emotion of the sky in my head, and I made a purposeful point to stop. Talking about things in my head created a layer of perception that just got in the way of my deeper understanding of the world I was staring up at. I wanted to enjoy what was there and not what I thought about it.

Aaron was an Apache kid who had joined us in our lifelong adventure during middle school and had become a fast friend to us all. He was goofy, in a tall gangly way, and his clothing choices came across as a conglomeration of different messes dumped together onto one body. Though the day was warm and I was wearing basketball shorts and a sleeveless T, he was in long johns, under cut-off shorts, with a large jacket over his ripped band t-shirt. He had a sketch pad and was drawing furiously some weirdly technical dreamscape that captured the sights and sounds of our most recent experience. I could see faces made of flame across the top of the page—like a ceiling of fire with small dark forms huddled beneath it. He looked up at James as well, and we both just sat there, momentarily torn from our individual dreams as we acknowledged our friend. James laughed again and shook his head while Aaron and I met eyes and smiled. It was hard not to smile when James was around. He filled the world with laughter.

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