It’s the day after the Whirlyball adventure, and Staley is seated at a corner table of Cafe Sophie, a quaint Seattle jazz restaurant that served as a morgue in the early 1900s. After ordering a root beer, he peers out the window at the sun, which is burning a hole through the darkening clouds and reflecting on the sparkling water of Puget Sound.
Staley’s frail frame is swallowed up by a blue warmup jacket and white T-shirt embossed with the scribbly design of his first watercolor self-portrait. His pants are decorated with Sesame Street characters. His head is bound by a white spotted bandanna, and a small scab above his right eye sets off his pale skin. A pair of black gloves covers his hands. Yesterday he wore the same gloves. Last night at dinner the gloves were gone, but the sleeves of his white oxford shirt were buttoned between the thumbs and forefingers, revealing his uncut, dirt-encrusted fingernails. When he returned from a trip to the bathroom, his sleeves were unbuttoned, exposing what appear to be red, round puncture marks from the wrist to the knuckles of his left hand. And as anyone who knows anything about IV drugs can tell you, the veins in the hands are used only after all the other veins have been tapped out.
Siegfried then took out one of the gold coins that waited in his pocket. He had thousands of them made: look for the magic that is all around you, they read on one side. Then he performed a little magic—close-up magic, quiet and simple, the way he once did, before everything else.
Surrounded by the cats who reminded him so much of his lost partner—the same animals whose hulking presence had helped turn their first day together and every day after into the most extraordinary existence for everyone in their sprawling, magical family—Siegfried heard time and again the same five words his father once said to him: “How did you do that?” He never answered. Instead, Siegfried would smile, press the coin into the hands of one of his guests, and float away, leaving his visitors to stare at one another in silence, and the last of Roy’s tigers to exalt in their wonder.
As I’m writing this, my son is downstairs watching YouTube videos. When we have dinner, he’ll stream music on an iPad, typing song titles into the app’s search box either from memory or from a list we’ve written down (at his insistence) on paper. He’ll eat while stimming, except for when he takes a dance break.
There’s no app, drug, or device that’s going to transform my son or his interactions with others. And that’s just fine. He’s doing great and anyone who chooses to listen, who chooses to put in a little work, can meet him where he is.
I have a job to do. If I were constantly worried about death, I couldn’t function. After a while, if your life is more or less constantly in peril, you come to a point where you accept the possibility philosophically. I must face the fact, as all others in positions of leadership must do, that America today is an extremely sick nation, and that something could well happen to me at any time. I feel, though, that my cause is so right, so moral, that if I should lose my life, in some way it would aid the cause.
Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.