Even though we’re parked on 6th street, I get out of the car. The whole way towards City Hall I worry about stepping on needles tainted with HIV or being shot from behind, a clean, hot bullet stamped into my skull. She follows me in the Suburban for as long as the road allows, Please stop, get in the car, you’re being a child. Please come home, until I veer onto a paved path that, too narrow, doesn’t allow for cars. It’s the path couples take as they walk towards the War Memorial to watch the ballet. The women link arms with the men. The men search the sparkly pavement with their eyes for items which might disturb a high-heeled procession. I’m not wearing shoes so there is nothing to get caught on: I’m 13 years old, slight and slippery in the dark, a fresh-water fish caught in ocean seas. Yes, I quite like to imagine myself something that could swim or fly, do anything but walk this path away from my sister, 17, bright and bossy, come to take me home.

It is San Francisco, 1996. I stand in the frigid July air without a coat, 30 miles from home. My feet are numb, turned white around the painted nails, stinging at the heels and ankles. Young trees planted to beautify the city poke their heads just above mine, and shiver as the marine layer settles over us. Children often learn that heaven is made of clouds, that, when you die, and if you are very good, you jump from cloud to cloud, eating grapes and visiting your dead friends, grandmother, childhood cat. But we are inside a cloud, me, the trees, my sister making circle after circle around the city square.

We’re already inside heaven: alive people playing dead. This is how cold it is in California.

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