When I met Robert Rodriguez in 2000, he was already older than dirt. To a young man, or at least this unwise and ambitious young man, anyone older than 70 was inconceivably old, but Robert had been ravaged by several years of leukemia, so his hair was spotty and he walked a little bent over. I see the young man that I was and I am ashamed, dismissing all seniors as beyond usefulness, beyond interest, only standing in the way of my progress, and thus, merely tolerating them.
Still, there was something that drew me to Robert. As it turned out, he proved to be a true artist. He couldn’t execute the strong, fast sleights of a younger magician, but he had in the past, and those skills still resided in his muscle memory. He had been places with magic that I had never been and would never go to. Not only that, but Robert had magic in his soul. And years later, only a year or so after he died, I would put his wise, all-seeing character into my novel, What Happens to Us (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU).
In the novel that I eventually wrote, I changed Robert from 80 years old to 100. From a man to a woman. From a Mexican-American to a Russian-American. From a middle-class magician to a one-percenter prima donna.
What remained the same about him, however, was his soul.
In a key scene in the novel, my old-woman character Anja is presented in this way:
“God gave me another day,” Anja finally said, never taking her eyes away from the sunset, and with not a little pleasure in her voice. “I suppose He wanted me to see this sky.”
Anja had such a grateful smile on her face, rimmed with bliss.
“What did your son die of?”
A veil descended over Anja’s face and she cast her eyes downwards, and for a long moment, Cat thought she might not have the voice to answer. But she was over 100 now, and it was all truth from here on out, she had told herself.
“He was a good boy. Don’t judge him.”
“I know who he really was, and he didn’t mean to be bad.”
Anja looked out at the dying sun and saw her saddest days up there among the reds, blacks, and purples.
“He did one bad thing when he was 12 and that made the rest of his life unbearable.”
A few minutes later, Cat was resting her head on Anja’s chest, the old woman stroking her hair. Cat pressed herself into the warmth, the fragility, the deep echo, feeling more connected to someone than she had in years, and a phrase leapt to mind—ancient heart—and she realized all in a moment that it had first started beating when Teddy Roosevelt was president and some old-world czar was riding a dead horse called monarchy, that it was 11 when some idealist assassinated Archduke Ferdinand, that it had been irreparably broken twice by her own flesh, and Cat felt, listening to the heart’s rhythm as if to an ancient metronome, that she was now living a pattern that had been going on for centuries: secret suffering, dominaters and the dominated, narcissists masquerading as patriots, freedoms stolen in the name of freedom, and she set her mouth firmly against all the forces that had arrayed against her and said to herself: I must stop being so afraid. It crushes my soul.
Next: The astonishing man behind the magic