Editor’s Note: Homecoming isn’t much of a title but it is a good placeholder. I decided to take the first version of my story and upload it here. Some of this is material that you have already seen and some of it isn’t. This is part of my writing process. You might think of it as being similar to a jigsaw puzzle that I am trying to build. I am gathering all of the pieces together so that I can turn parts into a whole.
I was almost 25 when I left the city of my birth. It was time to go, time to move on and get away. There were new experiences to be had and the pain of what I had once been, what I had once had was too much. Everywhere I looked there were signs of the glory and the fall.
For most of my life I had been a scrapper, never afraid to fight, never willing to give up and not smart enough to get out. It was a self imposed punishment for sins that I had committed but was unwilling to discuss.
It is not much of a description, not very colorful at all. In fact it is rather ordinary, but that is ok, I am ordinary and I prefer it that way. If you stuck me in a crowd full of people you would be hard pressed to pick me out. It was like that in school, never did or said much in class. No need to draw attention to myself I did what I needed to do to get through and nothing more.
And for the longest time that had been enough, an average, nondescript existence. It suited me fine to be a guy who punched a time clock. But sometimes even the average man find himself in a situation that is beyond his control,a time in which he becomes something more than he has been.
But the question is not what he does to elevate himself but how he handles the elevation.
It was Friday night and I had just finished my shift at the plant. There was no rush to get home because there was no one to get home to, no wife, no family, no girlfriend, not even a dog. Just an empty house that was sparsely furnished.
Friday nights were not much different than any other night of the week. I’d go home, pop open a can of beer and stare blankly at the television screen content to let my brain turn to mush.
On this particular night I decided to stop at an ATM. I wanted to order a pizza and I had nothing but the spare change from the last time I had visited the liquor store. It wasn’t enough to buy a pack of gum, so I was forced to go to the bank.
There were two people ahead of me in line, a man and a woman and behind me there were a couple of teenage boys.
I didn’t see him approach. I didn’t notice anything about him including his presence until he was standing in front of us, waving a gun and shouting for our wallets. I have a bad habit of giggling when I am nervous. I don’t like being the center of attention and now was certainly a bad time to laugh, but laugh I did.
5’8 or so and about a buck twenty sopping wet with a bad haircut and a Judas Priest shirt, that is all he was, oh and he had a big gun and an even bigger attitude. He grabbed my collar and asked me what was so funny. Before I could answer he had grabbed the woman in front of me.
She cried as he pulled her in front of him and asked me if I thought that this was funny. I choked back a snigger and told him that it wasn’t. He told me that if I so much as smiled he would kill her. I wiped the smile off of my face.
It was the wrong thing to do, but I didn’t know it. The jackass cuffed me in the side of the head and laughed. It infuriated me, brought back memories of years of being teased and tortured by my someone who had been like an older brother to me. So I just reacted. I kicked him in the balls and smacked him in the head.
In the movies the gun falls and the hero (there has to be a hero) grabs it. Not here, not in my world. In my world when I slap him there is a flash of light and a loud noise. I am splashed with something, but it feels like hours before I realize that he just shot the woman, and that he did it involuntarily. The wetness I feel on my face is her blood.
I stand there in shock, numb and not really aware anymore of what is happening. The guy she had been with is beating the crap out of the jackass, the Judas Priest shirt is stained now, but it is with his blood.
There is a cop speaking to me, but I don’t answer. The real hero is lying, telling the officer that I saved everyone’s life, that if I hadn’t hit him the guy would have killed us all.
I didn’t hit him, I hit Georgie. It was Georgie I saw in front of me. It was Georgie taunting me, I just snapped and reacted. But I guess that somewhere inside I began to hear and to believe that I had been the hero, that when the bell rang I had come out swinging.
And that was really the beginning of the end.
Two Kinds of Pain
Life offers two types of pain, one physical and one mental. Man still hasn’t found a tougher prison than the one he encages his mind in. There is no greater pain than the mental anguish we inflict on ourselves and there is no tougher warden than the person we see in the mirror. For some there is no midnight reprieve, the governor doesn’t offer clemency. There is only one way out and no two people can share the path.
We all live in our secret worlds, but some of us never have the strength to leave our shelter and walk under sunny skies.
I used to.
I used to live in a place I called paradise. I could look out on the world and from my window and gaze upon waters that called out to me. Deep blue seas that embraced me like a child in the womb. The seas were always calm and at night they would gently rock me to sleep.
But it wasn’t real. I didn’t live on a boat. I didn’t live on the beach or remotely close to the water. It was all an illusion, a mindfuck that I created to make myself happy. The problem was that I hadn’t realized it. I didn’t have a clue as to how precarious my own happiness was and once that was shattered I knew nothing but darkness. I wandered aimlessly in a fog, not knowing where I was going or what I was doing. It didn’t matter, I didn’t care.
I said it before, there are two kinds of pain and mental is far worse than physical. You can always find a way to escape physical pain, but you can’t run from your own mind. Philosophers had long ago figured out that hell existed, that there was a devil, except he wasn’t a guy with horns, a pitchfork and a tail. The church had made that guy up. The devil was someone familiar with you, someone who knew your most intimate secrets and your darkest fears. The devil knew you, knew how to torment your soul.
The devil knew all this because he was, he is…you.
That’s right, the devil is not supernatural. There is no Lucifer, no Satan, and no Beelzebub. It would be better for us all if he did exist. No, the devil is just a man, a person that lives inside us all.
See when they wrote the bible and told the story of getting banished from the Garden of Eden they were not talking about a mythological place, they were referring to the end of innocence. They were talking about that time when life hits you in the mouth, knocks you down and beats you senseless. They were talking about getting hurt in places that bandages don’t stick, cuts that you cannot stitch, they just keep bleeding. And even if you manage to stop the bleeding that stinging sensation never really does go away.
Stumbling Through Life
The truth will always come out, or so they had taught us in school. One way or another it would find it’s way to the surface. The problem is that sometimes the truth had all the beauty of a victim of drowning. The weights that anchor the body slip off and it shoots to the surface where it floats and bobs upon the water.
Face up or face down, it doesn’t make a difference until you get close enough to take a closer look. And the smell, the smell is something that you never get beyond. There is a putrid stench that sticks with you, gets locked in the back of your throat and grabs a hold of you like some alien parasite.
Anyway you look at it, that body is not pretty, not graceful, not anything but ugly. And that is what the truth can be like, ugly. Our teachers would have use believe that there was something noble and majestic about it. Movies portray the hero as someone who never falters, who uses the truth to defeat the bad guys. I was a streetwise guy. I knew that the truth was never black and white, that there were shades of gray, but even a mug like me can get caught up believing his own hype.
I wanted to blame the jackass at the ATM for bringing this shit storm down upon my head. If he hadn’t tried to rob us all, if he would have been honest, if he would have done a million other things the girl he shot would still be alive and I wouldn’t feel so miserable.
And then again she might still be alive if I hadn’t reacted like the frightened little boy I had been and maybe still was. If Georgie hadn’t spent years tormenting me, picking, poking and prodding me, she might still be walking. A father wouldn’t miss his daughter and a mother wouldn’t cry herself to sleep.
Maybe if I would have learned how to deal with the bullying I could have stopped myself from just reacting. Goddamn Georgie, he was dead too. Gone for years and still I could hear him mocking me, feel his presence. They say sometimes the absence of someone is palpable. The only thing palpable about Georgie’s presence was that even in death he still walked alongside me.
If I believed in G-d I would have prayed for something, forgiveness, death, anything, something to give me peace of mind. I hadn’t had it since I had left home, if not longer. The very thought of prayer was laughable. Any faith that I had possessed had been beaten out of me.
She was dead because Georgie had proven to me that I was weak and that I was lacking in value and worth. Really it was my fault. Georgie was right, kick a dog enough times and he’ll evolve. He’ll pass through stages of confusion, denial, anger and then he;ll reach a point where he just doesn’t care what happens, he’d just as soon bite you as crap on your porch.
Georgie had made sure that I experienced all of it. He said that he was helping me and I wanted to believe him. He said that he was making me into a man, making me tough enough to deal with a world that bent you over a hot stove and laughed at you.
The first time Georgie beat me I was scared. I didn’t defend myself. I didn’t try to, I just let him kick and punch me. And when he stopped I looked at him through teary eyes, not sure what to expect. He gave me a handkerchief and stuck out a hand to help me up.
I was wiping the blood off of my face when he hit me again. I didn’t see it coming and when I came to I was lying in the dirt and he was gone, as were three of my teeth. Georgie didn’t believe in giving or accepting help, to him it was sign of weakness and he couldn’t have that.
A Burning Anger
Georgie taught me about burning anger. It was he who trained me, rather molded me into someone who was angry all of the time. Prior to his entrance into my life I was just another Joe, nothing particularly noteworthy about me, but Georgie placed me on his forge and made me into something different. Not someone, something, his words, not mine.
Georgie’s influence was profound in the worst way. He claims that he saw potential and did nothing more than tap into it. And in my darker moments I tend to believe him, but most of the time I think of it differently. Georgie made me mean the way you prepare a pit-bull to be a fighter. Stick glass in his food, kick him, beat him and do what you can to make him feel battered and bruised. Place the animal in a position that makes it feel like it is never safe and never secure.
But humans are not animals, maybe at our most basic level, but even so there is still something more there, a sentient being who can go one of many directions. Georgie once told me that the fact that I wasn’t catatonic said a lot about me. He said it with the sick smile he used to wear when he thought that he knew a secret that no one else knew.
If it had been about something else, someone else, I would have felt differently, but this was about me and that made it worse. No one wants to think badly of themselves, even Charles Manson wants to believe that he is just a misunderstood soul. It was just another one of the wounds Georgie inflicted on me. It would have been better if he had hit me, I had grown accustomed to that, was familiar with the pain, but the mental torment never left me. I could drink or smoke the other pain away, but I couldn’t find a bottle big enough to take the edge off that cut, it was too deep.
The funny thing about my relationship with Georgie was the way we looked together. Georgie was only about 5’7 or 5’8 and he couldn’t have weighed more than 165 pounds or so.
On the other hand I was almost 6’4 and weighed a solid 230 pounds. If you looked at us you would have never guessed that for years I had been scared of Georgie, afraid in a very real and tangible sense. And he knew it, he could smell it in my sweat, or so he claimed.
I can’t explain what it was about him that frightened me so, I just know that he did. It might have had something to do with the time he beat David Jackman with a tire iron, or the time that he hopped over the counter at the mini-mart and beat the shopkeeper up for insulting him by asking for proof of his age. He was like a mini-volcano, ready to blow at any time and unpredictable.
In some ways my size had put me at a disadvantage. I had always been bigger than everyone else. In school the bullies had avoided me as had most of the other kids. No one wanted to risk having their head handed to them. The end result was that because I never had any fights I was afraid of what would happen, worried that I could get hurt and quite concerned about what a fist to the mouth would feel like.
Georgie never had those fears and I don’t know why. He came from a middle class home. His mother was a housewife and his father was chief mechanic. It was a blue collar job that paid enough to provide white collar lifestyle. Georgie’s father never hit him, never used any sort of physical threat to control him, so who knows why he turned out as he did.
Psychologists and social workers get paid a lot of money to improperly diagnose people like Georgie. I won’t waste my time trying to do their job, and who cares what made him the way he was. The more important question was how to stay on his good side because he was mean and proud of it.
Georgie bragged about the fights he got into, showed off his scars and told stories of the past hurts and battles like they had just happened. The chip on his shoulder was never very far from his present.
We must have been around 20 or so when Georgie decided to teach me his life lessons. At first I was shocked and confused. I couldn’t believe that he was hitting and kicking me and then I was too bloodied and bruised to do anything but curl up on the floor and try to protect myself.
If I had any sense he beat it out of me there because the smart thing would have been to just walk away and not speak with him again. Alternatively I could have fought back, hit him, the lack of resistance only encouraged him to continue to batter me longer and harder.
This went on for a couple of years, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. I was in a funny place then, so time really didn’t have much meaning to me. It would probably still be going on if not for the accident.
It was a Saturday morning. Georgie showed up at my apartment at around 9 am, sat there kicking and yelling at my door. When I answered it he told me to get dressed, we were going out.
I threw on a pair of jeans, some Timberland boots, flannel shirt and topped it off with a baseball cap turned backwards and followed him to his car. We were heading into the mountains to “see someone.”
That was bad news for someone. Any time Georgie said he wanted to “see someone” it meant that he wanted to see them bleeding, preferably because of him. I didn’t bother to ask who or why, it wouldn’t matter and it wouldn’t change anything. Georgie would do what he did just because and that was the fact of the matter.
Georgie in the Mountains
Three hours later we joined a half dozen other cars in a campground turned shantytown. If I had been a photographer for Newsweek I could have composed a photo essay about the working poor. The people roaming through the grounds couldn’t have been much older than their mid-thirties, but the tired and weathered looks upon their faces told a different tale. Callused hands and leathery skin spoke of untold hours engaged in manual labor.
I still didn’t know much about why we were here, other than Georgie’s comment that morning about needing to see someone. I wasn’t real happy about it either, but Georgie wasn’t the kind of guy you complained to, let alone about. So I shut my mouth and followed him out of the car.
It was late afternoon and the sun had begun its journey to the other side of the world but somehow no matter which direction we walked I was squinting. I tripped over a pile of empty beer bottles and found myself face down in the dirt. Among other company this might have generated a laugh or two; with Georgie it earned a look of derision and a muttered curse.
In the distance someone was singing along with Springsteen’s Born in the USA. To the right of me a woman was trying to mediate a fight between her children, it can’t be easy when threatening to send your child to their room means the back seat of the car. More sounds drifted in, laughter, a dog barking and something that sounded like the pop pop pop of a pistol being fired.
Georgie finally stopped in front of a beat up Toyota Camry and motioned for me to wait where I was. I couldn’t hear the conversation but judging from the wild gestures and curses coming from Georgie he was not happy. If I knew Georgie we were moments away from one of his violent outbursts. It might have been warm for everyone else, but I felt a definite chill in the air.
The man in the Camry got out of the car and walked off into the forest. I waited as Georgie followed him. Seconds turned into minutes and I became very conscious of just how long I had been waiting for Georgie. It wasn’t unusual for him to just leave me somewhere with no instruction on how long to wait so I kept waiting.
It was sunset and now there was no question about a drop in the temperature, it was getting colder. Georgie had driven up here and taken the keys with him. I began to grow concerned about how I was going to get back. It wouldn’t have surprised me to have found out that Georgie had gotten back in the car and left me here. There was only one person that he cared about and it wasn’t me.
But running off into the woods to find him had its own problems. To begin with I had no idea which way to walk and for how long and then there was Georgie. With his paranoia issues there was no way to tell how he would react. But I feared a beating less than I feared being stuck out here so I began to follow the trail that he and the other guy had taken.
It didn’t take me long to find them. I had seen Georgie do some horrific things, but this one surprised me. Georgie had tied the guy from the Camry to a tree. His head was hanging and I could see him take a shallow breath. Georgie was talking into his hand, whispering something that I couldn’t quite make out.
That was when I realized that Georgie was not talking into his hand, he was talking into the ear of the man tied to the tree, except the ear was no longer attached to him. Neither were his thumbs or the middle fingers on both hands. They were lying on a rock in front of the man.
But that wasn’t the worst part of it. Next to the fingers and thumbs was a slice of bread, ketchup and his tongue. Suddenly Georgie’s mumbling started to make more sense, he was promising to reunite the man with the “pieces of flesh he had liberated.”
I must have coughed or gagged because until that point he hadn’t been aware of my presence. And then there he was, standing in front of me, prodding me to take a turn, pushing me to show him that I had learned something. I felt sick inside, but I let him press the knife into my hand.
Like Two Prizefighters
I stood there and looked blankly at the man, my arms dangled at my side like two sides of beef. It was overwhelming me. I stood there knowing that this man had been tortured, knowing that Georgie expected me to torture him some more. And the worst part of it was that part of me was curious about what it would be like to do it. What would it feel like, would I get some kind of rush of adrenaline or would it be the beginning of a nightmare that would haunt me.
It would have been nice to say that I was a nice guy who had never done anything wrong, but that wasn’t true. It would have been nice to blame it all on Georgie and to say that he was responsible for the violence that I had been a part of, but that wasn’t true. He may have gotten me involved, but I always had the chance to walk away, to say no and I never did.
The reality was that I blamed myself for the way my life had turned out and even though I knew that Georgie played a large role in it, I still beat myself up about it. Even though I knew that had I tried to walk away there would have been an ugly confrontation I still thought that I should have, could have done better.
Georgie came up behind me and guided the hand holding the knife to the battered remains of the victim’s face. As he suggested that I cut out an eyeball I realized that this time would be different. I had had enough that much was clear by how I thought of this guy. In the past I never would have used the term victim to describe the people we had hurt. But that was a different time.
I pulled my arm out of Georgie’s grasp and flung the knife into the woods. He grabbed me by the collar of my jacket and asked me “to tell him what the fuck I was doing.”
I knocked his hands off of me and told him that I couldn’t do this. Enough was enough. He spat at the ground in front of me and said that pussies like me deserved whatever happened to us. For a moment his face softened and he asked me to reconsider, told me that the guy was going to die anyway and that we might as well enjoy ourselves.
And that was when I knew that I had to kill Georgie. There was no way that he was going to let me live. Oh, he might let me get off of the mountain, he might not do anything for a while, but sooner or later he would come for me and I knew it.
For a moment we stood there starting at each other, like two prizefighters sizing each other up we shared a moment of silence. Georgie was an animal who could hurt you badly without thinking about it. I was someone who had participated in acts of violence, but I couldn’t escape the sick feelings that accompanied it.
And I couldn’t escape the feeling of dread that was wracking my body. I was scared and I didn’t know what to do. I knew that I didn’t have long. Georgie wouldn’t let this impasse last for long and for all I knew the Tree Man (as I had taken to calling him) might have friends come looking for him.
I knew that in the glove compartment of Georgie’s car there was a .38 snub nosed revolver and I knew that it was always loaded. Of course I had the simple problem of what to do about the Tree Man and Georgie. There was no way that Georgie would just let me walk away and I hadn’t a clue about the Tree Man. He might not survive his wounds and given that Georgie said that he was going to kill him anyway he could potentially be factored out of the equation.
But that left me as an accomplice to murder and I wasn’t real keen on that. Neither was I happy not knowing Tree Man’s history. Maybe I had read too many books or seen too many movies, but I was concerned with whether his death might create trouble for me outside of the many legal problems it presented.
And then it happened. Georgie hit me in the head, knocking me backwards over the stump. I grunted as I hit the stump and fell face first in the dirt. A boot slammed into my ribs. Again I wished that this was a movie or at least a dream. Nightmares ended with you waking up panting and short of breath, but at least you had escaped the monster. I was not so lucky.
This wasn’t a dream, I wasn’t going to wake up and no one was going to help me. It was nightfall and the moon had not yet risen so it was dark. I scrambled to my feet and tried to run only to be tripped.
I fell down again and again I was rewarded with another boot in my rib cage. I stood up and Georgie hit me hard, but this time I fell into him. I’d like to say that I planned it, but it would be a lie. Together we fell in the darkness. I landed on top of him and began punching him, screaming and shouting I pummeled him. I don’t know how long I hit him for, but I know that it took a while for me to realize that it had all been unnecessary. When we fell down the back of his head had landed on a rock. All I had done was make him more dead.
When I stood up I was shivering. Georgie was dead, Georgie was dead, Georgie was dead, Georgie was dead.
The thing was that Georgie had been like family to me. In some sick, twisted and perverse sense of the word he had been like my older brother, the guy hadn’t always been bad, he hadn’t always been this way, had he. I couldn’t tell, I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t even really sure that he was dead, maybe he wasn’t, maybe he was just hurt, maybe he was just unconscious, knocked out like one of those cartoons we used to watch.
Maybe it was like when Bugs Bunny stuck his finger in Elmer Fudd’s gun and he would sit up, his face covered in black dirt.
A Pair of Corpses
But I knew that wouldn’t be the case, knew that this time he wouldn’t get up. Part of me wanted that to happen so badly, even knowing that there would be one hell of a beating involved.
To this day I don’t know how long I lay there on top of Georgie, panting, shivering and in shock. My shirt and hands were sticky with blood, Georgie’s blood. I stood up and walked over to the Tree Man. He was still tied to the tree, but he wasn’t moving, dried blood marked his body and when I grabbed his head in my hands it felt cold and limp. I shook him, told him to wake up, demanded that he answer me.
His silence mocked me and I couldn’t deal with it. I was out of my mind, overwhelmed with emotion and I hit him in the mouth. I felt his head snap against my fist and then the tree and I could swear that he groaned. “Hey, hey asshole, answer me, say something,” I screamed, but no words came out of my mouth and so I grabbed him and shook him again. But again his silence mocked me.
“Georgie, you better stop playing,” I shouted and then I kicked him over and over, slapped his face and grabbed his throat and began squeezing it until I realized it wasn’t Georgie. Georgie was dead, his body lay a few feet away.
I started to laugh and shake, giant gales of laughter wracked my body. There in the dark I stood the world’s newest murderer. Life hadn’t been great, but now it was distinctly worse. Georgie’s death was an accident, it was self-defense. He had been trying to kill me, but the Tree Man, how could I explain that.
How could I tell anyone about this. Who would believe me? When they saw him they would look at me and that would be the end of it. I couldn’t imagine any scenario that didn’t end with me in a cage and that wouldn’t do, couldn’t do, it just wouldn’t.
That sick cackle that had been emanating from my mouth returned, bubbled forth like the hiss of air escaping a punctured tire and then it turned into sobbing. Beneath the moonlight I lay in the dirt and cried. A soft wind blew through the trees and the rustling of the leaves painted a picture of desolation. What else was there besides me and the two corpses, my world was destroyed.
And then I heard Georgie’s voice. Even in death he taunted me, ridiculed me for being weak. I could see him standing in front of me, grinning at my pain, the contempt he held me in apparent for all to see. Except that he was dead and I was alive and in hell.
But like so many times in the past the self-pity turned to anger and I stood back up, sucked up the anger and stuffed it back into the pit in my soul it came from. I had to go, had to get out of there and off of the mountain. Now all I needed to do was figure out what to do with Georgie and the Tree Man and go home.
In a past life Buck had been someone, but it was a little unclear who.
He was not dumb or slow although some took his reticence to speak as an indicator of such. In a different time and place Buck had been a son, he had been a husband and most importantly a father.
Buck reminded Tom of granite, imposing and forbidding he gave the impression that had he wanted to remain in the bar nothing could have made him move. Tom wasn’t real sure how they became friends or even if they were, but he couldn’t let him stay or maybe he wouldn’t have stayed.
Who really knew what or why Buck did what he did. The reality was that Tom had invited him out, had asked him to join him for a beer and so he felt responsible for the incident.
Their friendship had been a gradual process, not much different than watching a glacier move. Slowly it had evolved from grunts and nods to the odd word here and there. The bar they were currently walking away from had helped to push things along.
One day Tom had decided to stop and get a beer before heading home. Buck was sitting on a stool, alone as usual. It hadn’t been easy to approach him, but he had been afraid not to. So he had walked over and asked Buck if he could join him. An almost imperceptible nod yes demonstrated his approval and so he pulled up a stool and sat down.
For the first ten minutes he hadn’t even tried to speak to him, just sat there trying to figure out what to say. It was awkward and uncomfortable, but the silence didn’t faze Buck. And in truth it was Tom’s decision not to try and force conversation that caused Buck to speak first.
He didn’t say much, but for someone who tended not to say more than three words at a time this was a veritable Shakespearean soliloquy. “You could do better work if you slowed down.” It wasn’t said critically, there was no accusation, it was surprisingly friendly in tone and nature. “If you let the machine do its job you’ll do better.”
Tom suddenly realized that he had been holding his breath and exhaled deeply. “Thanks, I appreciate it.”
And from then on they had an unspoken appointment to share a pitcher of beer each week. Over time bits and pieces came out about Buck. He shared little things about his life, but the pieces of the puzzle were still hard to place. It became more than apparent that there was much more to Buck than it appeared, but still he was a man who did not offer much in the way of answers.
His name was Buck and he was built like a gorilla. It wasn’t an affectionate description, nor a term of endearment. It wasn’t that he looked particularly simian, it was his long arms. Had they been thin they would have been called gangly, they were not.
Those arms were connected to a body that resembled a fireplug and to a brutish looking face. Dark eyes hid behind thick black eyebrows and a nose that resembled a pear.
He would never be called pretty, handsome or complimented for his looks. But neither would he ever be teased as it was apparent to even the animals that he was not to be trifled with. It was one of the things that set him apart.
Dogs avoided him. Big dogs, little dogs, Rottweiler, Pit Bull, Schnauzer, it didn’t matter, they stayed away from him, as if they could sense the violence that lay just beneath the surface.
Tom had seen it surface a couple of times. They had finished their shifts and walked over to a local bar for a beer. A couple of locals had the misfortune of poor judgment. He had sneezed and knocked over their pitcher of beer. They immediately began berating him and when he didn’t respond they grew more aggressive.
They mistook his inactivity for fear or who knows what. Had they looked more closely they would have noticed that his large hands were scarred and callused. A person doesn’t get those marks, they earn them. And those that earn them have a certain something that they bring to the party.
Tom was surprised, really shocked was more like it with the speed at which things happened. The man closest to Buck grabbed his collar and demanded that he spring for a new pitcher of beer. One moment he was standing in front of Buck, hands wrapped in the collar of a dirty blue jumpsuit and the next he was writhing in pain on the ground, one arm dangling uselessly from his body.
The second man didn’t have time to do anything before Buck and picked him up and slammed him face first on the floor like a cheap rag doll. The only saving grace for him was that the impact knocked him senseless, would that his sense would have flitted over to the first man.
If it had he might have lay still. He didn’t, opting to grab Buck’s leg. Perhaps he did so unconsciously, perhaps not. It doesn’t matter what the reason was, because Buck fixed his arm so that there was a question of whether he would ever be able to feed himself again.
Tom looked at his watch. It was 5:37, their shift had ended at 5:30. It had taken at least five minutes to leave the plant and walk to the bar. How did this happen so quickly and what was he supposed to do now.
Buck was a bit of an enigma to Tom. The fury with which he had dispatched the two men has dissipated into the ether. It was as if it had never happened. The only sign of his anger were the broken bodies of the two men and a couple of rivulets of sweat upon his brow.
Beyond that it was hard to determine if anything unusual had happened. He wasn’t breathing hard and his behavior had reverted back to the passive state in which most people usually saw Buck. Tom knew that this wasn’t what most people considered normal behavior, but he also knew that Buck had not gone looking for trouble, it had found him. And he also knew if they stayed there until the police came Buck’s trouble would include Tom and he wasn’t willing to let that happen.
So he grabbed Buck by the arm, taking care to make sure that Buck saw that it was him and not some stranger and suggested that they leave. And so they did, their progress was unimpeded by the other patrons of the bar. They were not people who had a great love for the police, but they were people who appreciated having two functional arms and after what they had just witnessed no one dared to challenge their departure.
Back on the street Tom considered what he knew about Buck. When Tom began working at the plant Buck was a Chief Machinist. Not that the “chief” part of the title meant anything, but in the 10 years since Tom had begun working at the plant he had yet to meet another Chief Machinist. Nor had he met any other machinists besides himself.
It was kind of queer. There was room for at least another three full time men, plenty of work to go around. Best of his knowledge the company was making money, so it seemed strange to him. But he had learned not to ask questions, what another man did was his business and it was best to stick with people of the same pay grade as your own.
What he did know was that Buck never missed a day of work. He didn’t call in sick, he didn’t take vacations either. He came to work and he did what he had to do. But that still didn’t tell the story. He was fast at his work, but not in a flashy way. His speed was deceptive, he always appeared to be moving at half speed, yet his production was faster than Tom and error free. And as Tom had heard, Buck had worn out at least three other machinists.
Each one had tried to match his production and precision, but none could.
Tom didn’t know this because of Buck, you could say that he knew it in spite of Buck.
Buck didn’t speak much and when he did it never was about his work and rarely ever about himself. Most of the other employees at the plant avoided interacting with Buck, he had a look about him that made people second guess themselves, double check their self-confidence. The thing was that Buck didn’t try to make anyone feel anything, the feelings were just a response to Buck. It was part of who he was.
During the first few years Buck didn’t say a word to Tom. The only way he knew that Buck was even aware of him would be when Buck came to his position to exchange a part or check the inventory terminal.
Clad in blue coveralls and safety glasses he would shuffle over and sniff around for whatever it was he needed. Tom knew that it was a little unfair to describe Buck in terms best used for a bear or gorilla, but it was hard not to. Buck had repeatedly demonstrated that he was abnormally strong and while he may have shuffled while he walked it was deceptive. He was fast and agile, his movements were actually measured and precise.
Old Buck didn’t waste energy with unnecessary movement or gestures.
She came in through the bathroom window. The blackbirds outside the house announced her entry, but it didn’t matter, there really was no need because when she came in through the window the window came with her, glass and frame.
Her jacket provided some protection, at least it prevented major shards of glass from severing an artery or doing other serious damage. But it didn’t matter to her, the London Fog jacket she had borrowed from her last boyfriend had sustained mortal injury, grievous wounds made it apparent that it had purchased a one way ticket.
How silly it seemed, the fight that she had with her boyfriend. It was like so many other fights, battled over trivial things. Days later she wondered why his refusal to wear underwear bothered her so. What difference did it make, but it did. Something’s are not logical, nor rational, but they are important to us for reasons that we cannot always understand nor fathom.
The day of the final fight had given no indication that this would be the last day that she would speak with or look at him. One more act of impulsive behavior and one more place she would not be able to go back to, not even if she wanted to. But she never did, once she left she was gone. A traveler in the dark whose most important possessions were those that she always carried on her person.
They had woken up and made love in bed and again in the shower. And for a brief time she had thought that she could ignore the problems that made her shake her head. She acknowledged her role, owned her feelings and admitted to herself that she was impulsive and that if she would let herself forget she could forgive. But she didn’t forget and so she couldn’t forgive.
Her exits were not dramatic or exciting. A simple “I am going out for a walk” in which she left out the part about never returning. As she grabbed her hat and keys he yelled out from the bedroom, “It is cold, take my coat.” And so she had taken the London Fog and ambled out the door.
The steps to the staircase down did not slow her progress as they had in the past. This time they encouraged her. Not withstanding the 30 seconds it took to tie her shoe and adjust the coat her exit from her old life had taken a grand total of six minutes. In all of 180 seconds she had evaluated the prior two years of life and found them lacking and so she continued striding down the hall, accompanied by the strains of Gloria Gaynor singing “I will survive.”
Following the Breakup
Some people don’t like the clickety-clatter of chaos and confusion caused by the end of a relationship. That had never been a problem for her. When it was done, it was done and she always knew. Some of the men had begged her to reconsider, professed their undying love and offered to change, but by that point it was too late.
It was dead and there was no second coming. She wasn’t like her friends, willing to ignore problems because of a fear of solitude. It wasn’t honest and she was honest, too honest. She knew it, but it wasn’t something that she worried about or focused upon. In her eyes there was a natural cycle for relationships, they began, developed and grew into something that would last a while, but were ephemeral in nature.
And so it was with the last relationship, at least that is what it had appeared to be. But like many things in life, appearances can be deceiving and she had learned that leaving this last guy behind was far more difficult than she could have ever imagined.
Initially she hadn’t thought twice about it. She just walked out and headed towards the bus station. She never shared her finances with her men. She was far too independent for that, insisting that she maintain her own checking account. It was part of how she maintained control and in part responsible for how she kept from getting too close to them. They could only get so far in her head before they reached the end of the line.
Inside her pocket she clutched a small purse. It contained a lipstick, a stick of gum, bank card, checkbook with a balance of $7,237.34 and the first and only credit card she had ever owned.
All of her clothes, books and music had been left behind in the apartment. She liked making a clean start and this was going to be just that, clean. She figured that she had enough money to start over wherever she ended up and just where that would be remained up in the air.
Once she got to the station she would purchase a ticket somewhere and during the ride she would consider her options. She might even go on a vacation, lounge around on a beach somewhere and enjoy herself. She was single and all things were possible.
A billboard advertising the “Simple Life of Country Living” led to one of her famous impulses and so it was she ended upon a mostly empty bus headed down South. Her father had a hunting lodge that he rarely used, it was quiet and comfortable and she knew where the caretaker left the spare key.
The Bus Station
Years ago her mother had warned her that if she spent too much time with the guys she would never find the guy. At the time she had blown it off, attributed it to a woman who had never known a man besides her husband. Married at 19, pregnant by 20 and the mother of three children by 24 she couldn’t possibly understand why it was important to experience life and to live a little. So she wrote it off to motherly advice and went about her business.
She had always liked men and they had always liked her. She appreciated all the things that made them different from women, strong masculine hands, rough hewn features, broad backs, thick hair and more. There were so many little things about men that attracted her and so many different men to choose from.
So she set off to prove herself right and her mother wrong. She dated a lot, but was very selective in who she gave herself too. Not everyone made the cut. She wouldn’t talk herself into liking a man strictly to have a boyfriend, she’d rather be alone than settle. Besides, those relationships never worked, they were train wrecks waiting to happen.
Her thoughts were momentarily interrupted by the bright lights inside the bus station. With the exception of a man sleeping on a bench and the woman at the ticket counter it was empty. The fluorescent lights made the faded yellow paint look even more washed out than it was.
The checkerboard laminate floor was raised in places, sticky substances pulled at her shoes. In a different time and place she might have taken that as a sign that she was supposed to stay, but for now it was just gross. She choked back her thoughts of what made the floor so sticky and headed for the ticket counter.
It was 9:30, the next bus didn’t leave until almost midnight. Five hours after departure it would reach Durham. Then it would be a matter of finding transportation out to the lodge.
That gave her seven hours of downtime. Seven hours of being with herself. Some people had trouble being alone, they couldn’t take the silence, couldn’t handle the lack of contact with others. That had never been a problem for her. Her brother had locked her in a closet and left her there in the dark for hours. He thought that he was punishing her. She merely closed her eyes and went to sleep.
The harder part of the trip would be contending with the other passengers. She wasn’t unsocial, but she was not inclined to spend the rest of the night sharing recipes, stories of home or being mauled by some guy who thought that he had found an easy way to pass the time.
For a moment she considered turning around. She could walk back and step right into the life that she had left. It was almost comical to her. He had no idea that she was about to run off into the night, no clue that she had decided that their relationship was dead.
And for a moment she felt badly about it. Men were not real observant. He would not have noticed that they hadn’t had a real conversation for weeks, would not have noticed that she hadn’t initiated any sexual encounters and even if he had, he would certainly not have realized that she was no longer present.
He wasn’t a mind reader, she couldn’t expect him to fix something that he didn’t know was broken. It would be easy to come back like nothing was wrong and to just pick up where she left off, but it wasn’t honest and she couldn’t have that, couldn’t live with herself.
The Girl Who Was
It was hot outside, so very hot. If you were dumb enough to sit outside you could watch the heat radiate off of the highway, could see it shimmering off of the blacktop. An old radio with a broken knob pumped out a live version of Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones.
“Oh, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away
War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away”
Yes, Mick could sing. She had never been one to chase after the older men, but he was different. In a past life she and her boyfriend had gone to one of the shows at the old stadium. Mick might have been old enough to be her father, but watching his shirtless body prance and strut around the stage she became intrigued. It was one of her many secrets, Mick was a boyfriend who would never be, but he would still be Mick to her.
It was a week since she had left the old life behind. Seven days ago she had been a committed woman on the verge of being committed. Seven days ago she had been living a different life, been a different person and now she was just starting to learn who she would become.
Her thoughts were interrupted as Mick left the stage to make way for another of her favorite artists. Rod Stewart serenaded her into a daydream about endless youth
“May the good Lord be with you
Down every road you roam
And may sunshine and happiness
surround you when you’re far from home
And may you grow to be proud
Dignified and true
And do unto others
As you’d have done to you
Be courageous and be brave
And in my heart you’ll always stay
Forever Young, Forever Young
Forever Young, Forever Young”
She missed the days when she could still believe that she would always be young. Her face and body still belonged to a young woman, but her heart and soul were much older. Too much baggage, too many scars to be the girl who could sit and daydream about the cute boy in her class, to kiss his picture and say that she was Mrs. Goodlookingboy.
Now she was more like Mrs. Robinson than a miss and it hurt. It hurt to be honest with herself, hurt to admit that she had been fooling herself for so long. When had she given up on feeling that crazy “high school love.” When had she decided that it was ok to not really feel anything.
The worst part was acknowledging her betrayal, not of another, but of herself. It is bad enough to lie to others but to lie to yourself is the greatest and most damaging lie of all.
But now she had an opportunity to fix that, to learn from the past and make it right. That was the great message of Hollywood, you can screw up and still make it ok. There were a million examples of it. Politicians, athletes and celebrities are celebrated on camera for admitting their faults and insecurities, lauded for admitting that they share the same human foibles as the rest of us. Everyone can get a second chance.
Hell, even Nixon managed to die as a revered elder statesman and not someone who had been run out of office.
A snort escaped her lips. She couldn’t quite believe the garbage she was spewing out, not that it mattered. She was the only one here. Aside from a couple of trips into town for supplies she had had almost no interaction with anyone else.
It had taken two full days to call home to say that it wasn’t home any longer. She had intentionally waited until the middle of the day, wouldn’t risk the conversation. Not because she was afraid of confrontation, but because she couldn’t think of a nice way to tell someone that she wasn’t in love with him anymore and probably hadn’t been for longer than he would believe.
There really wasn’t any point in hurting him like that. Just a short message to say that she was ok, was sorry that it had taken her so long to call and a request to donate all of her stuff to whatever charity he saw fit. No need to worry about bills or banking and just like that her present became her past, a story to be relived in dreams and journal entries.
And now out here in the sunshine there seemed little reason to look backwards, there was a big world out there and the only question was where to go and what to do. A pained sigh escaped her lips as she realized that she had fallen back into wondering where and what her place in the world should be.
She was comforted in knowing that the grey skies of Ohio were behind her, if she had to start over it might as well be in a place that had nice weather.
The Fall From Grace
“G-d struck down Lucifer and sent him spilling from the heavens and into the Earth. His wings were taken and his appearance went from fair to foul.” It was the first line of the story I had tried to write my sophomore year of high school. I fumbled around with it for a while, tried to find a voice that I could latch onto, a guide that would help me tell the tale.
I was almost sixteen years-old and an avid reader. I loved science-fiction and fantasy, wanted to be like Tolkien and Bradbury. It didn’t seem out of reach or impossible, all I needed to do was find the voice, catch the willow-of-the-wisp that would ferry me across the River Styx, my personal Charon.
Even now you can hear the echoes of the writers that influenced me in my youth. I’d like to say that I made the same mistake as Icarus, that I soared too high, that my flame burned too brightly to shine for long. It would be a lie. My life had long since lost that spark of hope that the youth of the world rely upon. I felt like I was nothing more than a broken toy that had once been shiny and new and now was buried at the bottom of the toy box. I could see glimpses of daylight, but I had no idea how to claw my way back to the surface.
Georgie might have been crazy. He might have been certifiable, but he was my lifeline into the world. He was the reason that I did more than just go to work. He was the reason that I didn’t just lie in bed or in front of the television.
A past love had told me that my affection for Georgie was equivalent to suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome.” She had said the same thing that many did about Georgie, that he would die a violent death and that he would cause nothing but pain to those around him.
I wonder if she would be surprised to see me now, to know that I was the reason he was dead. I wonder if she could recognize me, if any remnants of the love that we had shared remained or if I was nothing more than a dried up husk. Once I had been in love. Once I had felt alive and not dead inside. She wasn’t afraid to look at the darker places inside of me, didn’t think that I was broken, just lost.
And for a time her belief in me had made me feel like maybe she was right, like there might be a place for me, a chance to make something of myself. But that time was so long ago it was no longer real to me.
There is no question that her departure from my life corresponded with my own downward spiral, my own destructive nature took me to places I was afraid to be. The daylight was no longer bright and the sun was no longer warm. When she left it was abrupt and without warning.
She had told me that she loved me. She had promised to never leave me and I had believed her. I had tried to hold on to that belief, tried to convince myself that one day I would come home and find her waiting for me. But the days turned into weeks and the weeks became months and time never stopped moving, but my heart did.
A Broken Window
For the first time in what felt like eons she was free. It was easy to daydream, to lie in the sun and consider all the places she could go, the things that she could do, the people she could meet. After a long relationship it was easy to adjust to being single, to knowing that she could pick up and go anywhere, do anything.
But before she could do any of that she had to attend to a few things at the cabin. It had been late when she arrived and she had been very tired. The great escape as she liked to think of her flight from relationship land had been more emotionally draining then she had expected. It wasn’t that she missed him or that she was fearful about not finding someone knew, it wasn’t any of those things.
The end of some relationships stirred up old ghosts, memories of the past and things that had been. We all have our own baggage and sometimes when it is shifted around in the mental attic we call our minds it can wear you down a little. And it is never more apparent than when you leave something or someone behind, there is always a moment of doubt, some bits of regret.
In her case it was never enough to keep her from leaving, but it was enough that she spent time just thinking about what had happened so that she could learn from it and make a mental note not to make the same mistakes of the past.
The thing that made her saddest was knowing that in time it would hold less meaning to her, the memories would be there, but that special place that he had once occupied would be empty and his face would be harder to remember. It was both natural and normal, but it bothered her a little to consider that he might feel the same about her, to know that one day she would not be foremost in his thoughts.
She stood up and brushed herself off. The cute yellow sundress she had picked up during her last trip to town stuck to her back reminding her that while it was nice to be warm it was less pleasant to be warm and sticky.
More to the point back in the cabin there was a cold pitcher of lemonade calling her name and as a single woman with no encumbrances there was no reason why she couldn’t sit inside in her bra and panties and enjoy a cold drink.
To get to the kitchen she had to walk by the bathroom, the shards of glass from the broken window had been cleaned up and as a temporary solution she had glued a piece of cardboard to the frame. She knew that she had to get it fixed, but thus far it had not been a priority.
Now that she was considering moving on, leaving it in this fashion was not an option. It would have to be replaced. It was time to make a list of things that needed to be done and to more seriously consider where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do when she got there.
The Ghosts of Our Past
The ghosts of our past haunt us to our dying days. It is a common misconception among people to assume that this is a negative thing, that this is a something that hurt us. It can be, but only if you let it. We have the power to control our destiny. That is what I had told her, a promise of our future.
We were so very much in love. She was intoxicating, addictive, my favorite drug. I couldn’t get enough of her. Even now I can still smell her, the scent that never leaves me. Ok, it is not completely true, now it is more of a memory, but in my dreams she still visits me. In the dark of night she comes to stay with me and in the morning I wake up to the bittersweet realization that she has left me again.
Sometimes I’ll close my eyes and try to fall back asleep, hoping, praying that I can reconnect with the dream. In my mind there is no pain, no sorrow, no loss and no heartbreak. We’re still driving a convertible, her hair blowing in the wind, body pressed close to mine.
“Young hearts gotta run free, be free, live free
Time is on, time is on your side
Time, time, time, time is on your side
is on your side
is on your side
is on your side
Young heart be free tonight
tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight, yeah”
Young Turks- Rod Stewart
It was one of our songs, we loved the idea of just running away together. It was a plan of ours, to steal away in to the night and to find somewhere that we could live together for the rest of eternity.
You know what is like, the first love of your life. You have nothing to compare those feelings to, nothing makes your heart soar like they do. As a teenage boy you have to fight to not act like an idiot. You’d pick a fight with some guy just so that you could try and prove how brave you were. You’d do a million other stupid things like that, just because you felt like you had to show her how much she meant to you. There was a fire inside you that you swore could not be quenched, a burning that felt so good it ached.
Sometimes that passion you felt could get you into trouble. Sometimes you found yourself getting involved in things that were best left to others. Sometimes you got lost, got stuck with the wrong crowd and the wrong people. Sometimes you found out that your parents were not that stupid, that they knew something more about living and life than you did. Sometimes the lack of life experience could save you because you didn’t realize the amount of danger you were in and sometimes it was that very lack of experience that condemned you.
It was my fault that I lost her. It really was. Because I was an idiot who fumbled the best thing I had. Because my fragile male ego wouldn’t allow me to ask for help and by the time I was ready to the only people who would help me were the very people that I should have run away from.
When she left me it was because I was already gone. I had already left the relationship, the boy she fell in love with fell down the rabbit hole but there wasn’t a friendly rabbit waiting for me.
There was a creature with a smile like the Cheshire cat, a creature who was only too happy to take me on as their apprentice. She called him an asshole and a loser. She called him a leech, a thug and more.
I called him Georgie.
Tom knew that Buck wasn’t stupid, knew that those things that people said about him were not true. He couldn’t say how he knew this, it wasn’t instinct or an innate ability to read people. It could have been just a lucky guess or the application of the fortune from last night’s cookie from the Mandarin Dish.
Did it matter? Was there anything to be gained from this. Probably not. Tom was smart enough to recognize that brains didn’t mean that you had any common sense. More often than not the smart people got themselves into trouble because their egos made them think that they knew more than everyone else.
What it was, what it was that intrigued Tom was knowing that there was more to the company’s resident boogieman. He had always enjoyed mysteries and Buck was one hell of a mystery. If this was a movie he would find out that he had become friendly with the town’s axe murderer or the kind but misunderstood giant.
He took a deep breath because he could feel his mind racing. When he got excited like this it always moved like one of the spaceships in the science-fiction movies he liked to watch, it just jumped about at hyperspeed.
What confused him about Buck were the contradictions. Back in his high school football days his coach had encouraged his players to “bring the hammer down” on the opposing team. He realized that until tonight he hadn’t really understood what that meant. Buck hadn’t brought the hammer down, he had taken the whole toolset out and worked those two guys in the bar with it.
The thing that intrigued him, that scared him and frankly titillated his senses was that Buck hadn’t broken a sweat. He had acted like this was a commonplace occurrence, as if maiming two men was not a big deal. And then he hadn’t even made a move to leave the bar. If Tom hadn’t hustled him out of there he might still be there or be wearing cufflinks, the kind that the police stick on your wrists.
Someone who acted that way had to be a little crazy or maybe they no longer cared what happened to them. Tom knew that at some point Buck had been married, maybe even a father. Every now and then he had dropped hints of this past life into their conversations, but he never gave much in the way of details and Tom was afraid to ask.
A couple of months ago he had Buck over to his place for a summer barbecue. In truth one of the reasons for the invitation was in the hope that he might reciprocate. Tom was dying to see what Buck’s home looked like.
Some of the guys at the plant said that they figured it would be a meat locker in which there hung multiple slabs of raw flesh. It almost was believable, especially given the way in which Buck had acted. But again Tom reminded himself that this could not be the case. It didn’t fit his gut intuition. Tom smiled at the thought and rubbed his belly, the gut had rarely been wrong. It was a finely tuned instrument.
The thing to do was to just ask, to just come out and ask Buck a few questions about his past. He had earned the right to do so, hadn’t he. Hadn’t he helped get him out of the fix that he would most certainly have been in. Maybe yes, and maybe no. He made a mental note to be sure to be out of arm’s reach when he did ask him. Just in case. Buck wouldn’t hurt him for asking a question or two, would he.
In the interim he would walk back to the plant with him and pretend that he was going home to something more exciting, to someone special. Maybe that girl from the new television show could help put him to sleep tonight. Maybe she had a thing for a man who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, someone who could fix a broken sink or build a fence. Yes, that sounded like a fine idea.
Girls Love Their Toys
There was a time in her life when it had all seemed so much simpler and maybe that was just the way the world treated your first love. She had heard that there was no love like that of a mother for her child, but she wasn’t all that sure that was true. The boy that had stolen her heart had taken more than just that, he had grabbed her soul and run off with it.
She had given it gladly, willingly. It had been her nature to share herself with those she loved and it was something that she felt like she needed to do. It was almost an obsessive compulsion to try and show the boy that there was nothing that she wouldn’t do to make him happy. When he smiled at her the world stood still, but like so many boys he didn’t quite understand what he had in her.
It wasn’t that he mistreated her or that he didn’t care for her, but he didn’t quite understand what it was that drove her. He thought with physical actions and she thought with her heart. She had always felt that he had a tender side and that if he could get around the emotional walls that boys build so that they can become men she might be able to really share something special.
Again, it is not that it wasn’t special, it is, but there was a deeper level to it and she desperately wanted him to see that with her. If he could open his eyes he would understand that there was no reason for him to ever question her or wonder about the other boys.
Once he wrote her a poem. It was kind of silly, really rather foolish, but aren’t lover’s jokes just that way.
“Girls and boys have their joys, But The Girls just really love their toys.”
He had written it down and given it to her alongside a picture of himself, a picture in which a book hid his pleasure at the thought of seeing her. He never did understand that she loved the poem and the picture, that it was something that he had made and as such it was precious to her.
Her thoughts were shattered by a loud noise and the realization that she was thinking of a past that was long gone in terms of the present. It still made her smile to think of the poem and the picture, it was one of the few possessions that she still had, a thing that she had stashed away where it could be recovered. She giggled and said “My preciousssssss” and then got up to grab some paper and a pen. It was time to get organized.
Inside the bedroom she systematically took inventory of the possessions she had acquired since her arrival. Underwear, pants, bras, a pair of white Keds, pair of jeans, overalls, a portable CD player and three CDs. The Immortal Otis Redding, Johnny Cash- Greatest Hits and U2’s The Joshua Tree.
Those three CDs also traveled with her. They spoke to her in so many ways. At times it felt like Bono, Otis and Johnny were singing to her. She had sat at the dock by the bay, knew what it was like to have a ring of fire and The Joshua Tree, “With or Without You,” “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “I still Haven’t Found What I am Looking For” described her perfectly.
Sometimes it was still painful to listen to the album, to hear her life expressed so poignantly. Perhaps it was the music or the recent flight from her latest relationship, but she felt a little bit like crying so she switched on the player and suddenly she was a schoolgirl again
“I want to run
I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls
That hold me inside
I want to reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no name”
That said it all, yearning and desire to be with him, to run away and give up the trappings of society. If he would have asked her to leave she would have gone with him, but he never did. And in some ways that was best. If she had known what was going to happen she might never have begun dating him.
The changes that she saw were so hard to watch, it was just raw. And the hardest thing was that he couldn’t see how he was being used, couldn’t stop it, or wouldn’t stop it. It felt like watching someone slip into madness, it wasn’t that hard to watch Alzheimer’s take her grandfather because he had been a bastard. But the boy, he had been special.
And she had tried hard to tell him, to save him when he wouldn’t help himself, but he wouldn’t’ listen, brushed her off and told her that she was acting foolishly.
The next song came on and there the truth of what she had been looking for was revealed. She choked back the tears for a moment listened.
“I have climbed highest mountain
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”
Everywhere she went she still sought to find the magic of that first love, to recapture it and bottle it up where it could never escape her grip again. And try as she might it never quite happened.
Finally the third track came on and as Bono sang the first verse the sobs rolled out…
“See the stone set in your eyes
See the thorn twist in your side
I wait for you”
Deep, heart wrenching sobs that racked her body and left her tearstained face a mess.
“With or without you
With or without you
I can’t live
With or without you”
The boy was gone. The relationship was over and the time in which to mourn that loss had long since passed. The song ended and she forced herself out of bed and into the bathroom. As she washed her face she reminded herself that the future was ahead of her and not behind. Sentimental journeys were for the old and decrepit or the mentally weak. It was time to give this crap up.
Buck Was A Soldier
Once upon a time there was a man boy named Buck. He was like other boys in that he loved to build with blocks, to play cops and robbers, to ride his bike and to collect bugs and get into all manner of trouble.
In short Buck was like every other ten year-old boy in all ways. Well, almost all ways. When Buck was eight he watched his mother and father die in front of him. They were robbed on a street corner. For less than twenty dollars a man stole their lives and profoundly influenced an impressionable little boy.
At first Buck went to live with his grandparents. He was happy there and for a time it began to appear as if the chaos that his life had been thrown into would be erased. His grandfather still worked as an accountant and his grandmother continued to be a housewife. In many ways it was very similar to the life he had been living with his parent.
But life has a way of not allowing you to grow too comfortable. Become too happy and some supreme being decides that you are ready to be tested or messed with. It doesn’t really matter why, all that matters is that it happens and you have to act or react to it.
In Buck’s case the second great tragedy of his life came when his grandmother had a heart attack and died. It was a natural death, she was 74 years-old. Buck sobbed through her funeral and alongside his grandfather he enjoyed a very somber ride back to the house. While in the Hearse his grandfather explained that it was time for him to grow up and that this would be the last time he could cry in public. If he wanted to be a man he needed to show the world that he was tough. From now on he had to be a soldier, he had to be like G.I. Joe.
And that meant that he had to listen to the orders of the General and there was no misunderstanding who the general was or why he was in charge. Before his grandmother had died he would come home to a warm house in which someone was glad to see him and interested in his day. Not to mention the many occasions in which she surprised him by having baked cookies. The house always smelled great and years later the smell of fresh baked cookies would always make him think of his grandmother.
Now he returned to an empty home. It was dark and uninviting, a cold home that had once held so much warmth. Buck couldn’t blame his grandfather, it wasn’t like he didn’t speak to him or act uninterested in his life. Grandfather was always careful to inquire about school, to offer his assistance and to try and be a father. But in the best of times he had as much warmth as a porcupine and so it was that a little boy in dire need of affection never really got what he was looking for and so desperately needed.
Time passed and the months turned into years. Buck was no longer just a boy, not in any sense of the word. By the time he was fourteen he had grown into a very solid young man, while not very tall he was quite broad and quite strong. Not to mention that he had a very heavy beard and dark hair peppered his chest. And so it came as no surprise to anyone who knew his story that he found himself getting into trouble.
His grandfather still worked an eight hour day, but it was becoming clear that he would not be able to keep that up for much longer. The death of his wife had aged him as had taking on the responsibility of raising a child. Still grandfather kept on moving. He didn’t know any way to live other than how he had for years. So he trudged into his office and in darkness he returned home.
It was an autumn day when life punched Buck in the mouth again. There was a chill in the air and grandfather had decided to split some wood. It was one of the simple pleasures in life he took. He would tell Buck that there was nothing more rewarding for a man than working with his hands.
Out in the crisp clean air he pulled on his gloves and began to prepare firewood to be used on the colder nights. He hadn’t been working very hard or for very long when his heart gave out. Grandfather died of a massive heart attack. Again it was a natural death, at the ripe old age of 83 he left the world and went to wherever the body and soul go after death.
Buck was 17. At the funeral he remembered his grandfather’s words and like a good soldier he shed no tears.
The Past Is The Present
Some people never develop any coping skills. The wounds of their past never heal, scabs and scar tissue build up and momentarily halt the bleeding, but it is a temporary fix. And like all such band-aids are prone to being ripped off. Sometimes the exposure to air is good for such hurts and sometimes they remind you that the pain is never far from the surface.
Physical pain can be debilitating, but it never will hold the same sway as mental pain. Mental pain hangs over you, a banshee whose wails of pain and sorrow remind you of past failure, the scream a bitter reminder that there are times when you just didn’t get it done or that sometimes your best just wasn’t good enough.
So the question comes down to how you deal with those moments. Can you accept your shortcomings and move ahead or do you get bogged down in the what-if moments and spend time replaying the moment in your mind searching for a better outcome.
The greatest professional athletes learn how to overcome this. The Michael Jordans of the world don’t remember the shot that they didn’t make or the play that fragmented. They live in a space in which the rarified air they breathe doesn’t allow that. Supreme confidence that they will change the outcome to one that is more favorable allows them to move past the failures and they do fail.
Jordan’s dream of becoming a professional baseball player didn’t quite materialize. Only a few remember Nick Anderson stealing the ball and the eventual loss to the Magic in the playoffs. It was a momentary setback, but one that spurred more work and more effort to reclaim his spot at the top of the pyramid.
But there is a reason why the world is populated with fewer Michael Jordans and more ordinary people. Before Georgie I had been much more like Jordan able to just move on and forget. But that was the past and now I lived in a world that was not so bright, the light was much dimmer and the prospects less interesting.
I live in a place in which I yearn for instant replay, the prayers in which I beg for a referee to come out onto the field and penalize the other guy for an illegal play. A chance to gain yardage that was unfairly stolen from me. An opportunity to ignore Georgie’s advances and to take the other path.
It never happens, even in my dreams, even those moments in which she is still by my side I always witness her departure and relive her loss.
And it is all because I let myself be taken in by that asshole Georgie. Georgie who stole all that was good and holy in my life and replaced it with shit. In the fantasy books of my youth Georgie was the demon whose magic made him appear to be beautiful but to those few who could really see he was always a hideous repulsive maggot eaten mess.
The long arm of Father Time eventually wraps us all in his embrace, but it is a hug that is neither tender nor loving. The claim that time heals all wounds is a myth, it merely dulls the pain.
A Soldier Follows Orders
Just prior to the start of the funeral the family was invited into a private room to say their goodbyes. Artificial lighting shone upon faded blue paint and bad artwork. Couches that had seen better days and lamps that looked like garage sale rejects added to the sterile ambiance.
Buck found himself standing next to an open casket, his grandfather lay before him. He was clad in a black suit. A cigar was in his coat pocket and his arms were laid out alongside the body. Whoever had prepared him had taken the time to add a little color to his cheeks. It was done to make the body look less dead but there is a reason that corpses are described as being pallid and once the light is extinguished it is gone for good.
After a few moments the director of the home quietly interrupted Buck and asked him if he expected any more family members to arrive. A short nod was all it took to indicate that Buck was it. Outside in the chapel there were only a handful of people there to bare witness to the interment of Buck’s grandfather. None of them came back to the house and only one or two of them spoke with Buck. It wasn’t clear if they were trying to be courteous or considerate of privacy. But it was very clear to Buck that he was finally completely alone.
The house was paid for and as the sole heir the title was given to Buck as was a very modest inheritance. It wasn’t much, but it was enough money to cover his needs for a short while, especially given his Spartan lifestyle. Many teenagers in similar circumstances have found it to be overwhelming, not Buck. For all intents and purposes he had been living on his own since the death of his grandmother, if not his parents. So he had become accustomed to solitude and had long since developed a tremendous work ethic.
The combination made it easy for him to adjust to his circumstances. In fact, he preferred to be by himself. Crowds and large numbers of people made him uncomfortable. He didn’t enjoy small talk and if forced to socialize would find a corner of the room in which he would sit quietly, dark eyes impenetrable but observant.
A short time after his grandfather’s death Buck received a letter from the local draft board informing him that Uncle Sam was ready to receive him as the newest member of the armed forces. In some ways this was one of the best things that could have happened to Buck. He hadn’t been much of a student and did not have any ideas on what kind of profession he was interested in.
Military life suited Buck. He liked the discipline and the sense of purpose it gave him. He made it through basic training without any major issues and in time was shipped overseas where it became apparent that if he had been a man of faith he either would have lost it completely or become a devout zealot.
Thanks to shithouse luck Buck had become acquainted with death at a young age, but it wasn’t until his squad inadvertently stumbled upon an enemy encampment that Buck learned about death first hand. If you were to ask the survivors how it all happened none of them could tell you how, but they could answer the what, at least when it came to Buck.
People react differently during moments of trauma and great stress. Here is what we know about Buck. The expression on his face hardly changed. Bullets were flying and he looked like he was playing poker. While returning fire his rifle jammed, but he remained nonplussed by it. There are stories of men who during moments like this charge the enemy in a suicidal rage determined to take as many out as they can.
Buck got up and just began walking towards the men who were firing at him. His steps were measure and with purpose. It was clear to those who saw him that this was not battle fatigue or a manifestation of a mental breakdown. He knew what he was doing. Somehow he got to the other side without being hit. This is the point at which the stories of the other men conflict with each other.
Some say that he grabbed an enemy soldier and cut his throat. Others say that he beat him to death with his rifle. The one thing that they all agree upon is that Buck killed a man and then took a moment to remove the head from the body and he did it without a smile, a grunt or any indication that he felt anything at all.
When asked about it later he had refused to discuss it and so no one really knew why he had done it, just that he had.
She liked to tell me that she was certain that we had passed each other in the hall. She said that I looked familiar and she wondered if we had swung on the same swing set at the park or if our families had eaten at the same restaurant on the same nights. It was all possible, we did grow up a few miles apart.
Of course it might as well have been ten thousand miles because I really didn’t know a thing about her. If I hadn’t decided to take a biology class instead of life science I might not have ever met her, and even then it took a push from someone else to make it happen, namely the teacher.
Mr. Constantine liked the lab partners to be couples his term, not ours. He said that it made for less fooling around in class, that the boys were less likely to try and impress the girls by doing something stupid if they were paired with a girl. During our first lab she was all business. I can’t remember anymore what it was. Again if this were some kind of movie I’d say that the reason for my memory loss was because I was too busy staring at her. But that is not the case.
I don’t remember because I didn’t much like the class and I spent as much time as I could day dreaming about other places. She didn’t appreciate the lack of attention and made a point of telling me that she expected me to carry some of the load because she wouldn’t accept my getting the same grade as her unless I did some work.
That was the day I learned that I was insouciant. Of course I didn’t know what the word meant, but she was happy to tell me. I suppose that she knew what her feelings were for me long before I realized that I was interested in her. I was a goofy high school kid who couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be tough and cool or just tough, or just cool. That is the beauty and the curse of high school, the chance to become someone or something.
If you asked me to tell you when it was that I noticed her I couldn’t tell you that either, at least not specifically. However I do remember when I realized that I was attracted to her. She was wearing a skirt with boots, black boots and some kind of top. Her black hair was in some kind of feminine hair torture device and she smelled amazing. It was awesome and scary.
Scary because as I realized that I was attracted to her I got the normal teenage boy response and didn’t know how to hide my attraction and excitement at being close to her. I must have turned red because she asked me if everything was ok and I really began to feel a little sick. I was sure that she could see that she had gotten a rise out of me. We were standing at our lab station and I did everything I could to try and hide behind the desk, not that it mattered. I felt naked and exposed. So I did what teenage boys do and tried to be cool as I launched a spitball at the guy at the station next to me.
I don’t have to tell you that she didn’t think that it was cool and that her disdain only made me feel worse. The boy that was on the receiving end of the spitball returned fire and I threw a book at him. It wasn’t his fault, but raging hormones made me act like an idiot. It wasn’t the last time that I acted the fool because she was close to me.
Constantine made it worse by grabbing my shoulder and trying to spin me around to get my attention. Since I was already in full blown idiot mode I threw him off of me and stormed out of the classroom. As a thank you the school gave me a two day vacation and detention.
And then just to rub salt in my wounds when I returned from my suspension she tried to switch lab partners, said that she couldn’t work with someone who was so childish. I don’t think that Constantine ever forgot or forgave me for my part in embarrassing him in front of the class so he refused to move me. I think that he thought that she would be a bitch and punish me, or maybe not. Who knows, it really doesn’t matter anymore, does it.
All I know is that I spent my suspension dreaming about her and fantasizing about asking her out. At last school had a purpose, there was a reason for me to attend. Now I just needed to figure out how to get her to go out with me. And that was something that I had no clue how to make happen.
But I figured that a boy who was insouciant had to be of some interest to her, didn’t I?
A First Love
I’d like to say that I came up with some kind of well scripted, beautifully executed plan. Everyone wants to be the cool guy, to look like the hero and I was no exception. I spent untold hours considering how to make this happen. It felt to me like nothing of this magnitude had ever come into my life. This was a decision that could impact my life forever.
Now I chuckle at teenage naiveté because who the hell really knows anything at that age. I was an ignorant fool, but ignorance is bliss and that is where I was heading, towards endless bliss. It sounds crazy, it sounds stupid, but that is where I would find myself, but I am getting ahead of myself.
High school students are not known for being well heeled and where I came from there was no question about it, money was a commodity that I did not have a whole lot of. And as I was relatively nervous about what to do and where to go I decided to go with a very simple plan. I would take her to the zoo. I didn’t know what I was going to do there, not one clue for how it would work.
All I knew was that I desperately wanted to be her boyfriend, to end the misery of watching her and dreaming of the day when she would call me on the phone, walk through the halls holding my hand, wear my jacket and do all those things that I had seen other couples do.
I even had a goofy thought for how to kiss her.
As I look back now it makes me cringe to even think about it. Basically I hoped that some of the animals would engage in some kind of sexual behavior and that this would give me an opportunity to try and start something. From the perspective of time and distance it is easy to say that I was an idiot. What the hell was I thinking. It is not like I could count on the chimps to suddenly begin an orgy.
As it worked out I didn’t need the monkey’s help, my own nervousness did the trick. I kind of tripped over my own feet and knocked her into the wall. Fortunately I also fell into her causing an unexpected but altogether pleasant embrace. We shared our first kiss near the elephant’s habitat. Another thing that I realized later on was that she was as interested in me as I in her because that area of the zoo stunk. It smelled like the zookeepers had been feeding the elephants something putrid and rotten. I suspect that in other circumstances I would have gagged. But not that day.
Her lips brushed against mine and I could smell her gum and an amazing scent that I couldn’t describe now or then. But every so often I catch a hint of whatever combination of shampoo, perfume and her on the wind. It always catches me unaware and it always leaves me with a bittersweet taste. There is something sad in knowing that the greatest love of your life was the first and that now all it is a memory of a life that once was but is no more.
“But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more”
IN MY LIFE- The Beatles
A Plan Develops
“Sentimental journeys were for the old and decrepit or the mentally weak. It was time to give this crap up.”
She smiled to herself as she realized that from out of the past the boy spoke to her. This wasn’t really her own thought, it was something that he had repeated over and over. Not unlike so many other teenage boys he wanted to be tough, to be viewed as a man. This was just one of those things he said and did to try and prove his manhood to the world.
Well the repetition had worked, at least she apparently had come to believe it. She wondered if he still did. He had tried so hard to be tough and she had tried to support him in this effort, even though she knew that he was not. He had a soft and tender side that would sneak out without warning. It was part of what attracted her to him, especially the fact that he wasn’t even aware of it.
She was always careful not to let him know what she really thought. It wasn’t that she thought badly of him, she loved that part. It made him more real, more human and less like some of the other idiots they went to school with. No she hid her true thoughts because men have fragile male egos and she would have been quite upset to have hurt him.
The light in the bathroom was less than perfect. It cast funny shadows on her face, making her look older than she really was. She spent extra time staring at herself trying to figure out if she really looked that old. Her body was still tight and lean, no children had come from her so nature had not done all that it could have to age her, at least not physically.
Overall she was pleased with what she saw. She wondered if the boy would still find her to be as attractive. Would he still be consumed with passion. Would he still desire her.
Back in school his desire had always been obvious. A man’s body had a way of betraying his thoughts. She had taken great pleasure in finding ways to make it hard for that not to happen. It was a bit of an ego trip, but a little positive attention never hurt and for certain it was a lot of fun to try and make him a little flustered. Ruffle his feathers and keep him off balance, why not.
In the Internet age it was easy enough to try and track someone down. Type their name into Google and a couple more search engines and you could often find a vast wealth of information. It might be kind of fun to try and locate him, play the voyeur and see what he was doing with himself these days.
Although the truth was that she was reluctant to find out what his present status was. She didn’t want to learn that he was married or find pictures of a family. Even though it had been years since their last communication it felt better to her to think of him as being single and available. There was some comfort in knowing that there might be a possibility of their being reunited.
Reunited. The word made her laugh. Once while waiting for a doctor she had read a trashy romance novel in which the hero had come for his love. The author had penned the classic line “their love was rekindled and reunited like East and West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
It was so bad that she had to laugh. But maybe it wasn’t that far fetched or silly to think of it in terms of the fall of communism. They had a bitter fight. It was long, protracted and towards the end very nasty. A lot of hurtful comments had been exchanged and even years later it wasn’t unrealistic to think that he could be angry. Or maybe she wanted him to still be angry because it would help to validate the feelings she had about their relationship.
The truth was that there had been something very good and special about their love. There had been a passion and a level of trust that she thought she would never experience again. The men who had followed the boy would have been shocked to have seen her then, or should she say they would have been surprised at how open and laid back she was.
That is not to suggest that she was cold and distant, but since then she had become far more controlling of who and what gained access to her heart. She had been in love at least a couple of times, but the soul piercing, time stood still, kind of her youth hadn’t come back. So maybe it made complete sense to wonder if the line from that book was applicable to her. Maybe, just maybe if she found him they could describe it as being similar to ““their love was rekindled and reunited like East and West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
But that was best left for a different day, the truth was that she really did need to figure out what to do with herself.
More About Georgie
If you were to ask me why I started hanging out with Georgie I wouldn’t be able to give you an answer. I don’t know why. It is the kind of answer or should I say non-answer that used to infuriate my father. When I was a child I could never have gotten away with explaining that I didn’t know why I had done something. An answer like that would not have been acceptable to him.
Of course like most teenagers I had responded to most of his questions about what I did or didn’t do with the very thing I just mentioned. It is part of a rite of passage to try and irritate your parents and I was a master at it. One of my father’s favorite movies was Cool Hand Luke.
Maturity is a wonderful thing as it allows you to look back and see what a jerk you really were.
All those times you thought you were being cool, all those moments when you thought that you were just like James Dean have a way of being colored by time to your advantage. But if you stop and think about it, if you are honest and truthful you find that most of the time you weren’t that cool and you might have even been a complete asshole. Maybe I am being too egocentric, but I suspect that I am not the only one who sees their past this way.
My father worked hard at trying to maintain a relationship with me. He tried to be my friend and to stay involved in my life. I hated it. The simple questions he asked me felt like an interrogation so I did my best to be difficult so that he would stop.
Often when he would try and speak with me I would quote Strother Martin’s famous line:
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach, so you get what we had here last week which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it.”
After all if you are going to try and aggravate someone you might as well take something they love and twist it, offer it to them in some perverse distortion of itself. And it worked. After a while my father just stopped speaking with me. He gave up and I got angry. It is kind of silly because he was only doing what I wanted him to do, but all it did was piss me off.
Maybe that is what pushed me towards Georgie. I didn’t have any older siblings and without my father there was no longer any sort of male role model in my life. Not that Georgie was any older than I was, but he did have some life experiences that I didn’t have and he had a certain kind of charisma. I can’t explain it, won’t even try other than to say that he had a magnetic personality that attracted people.
And he was confident. Lord was he ever confident. Georgie walked like there was nothing in the world that could stop him from going wherever it was he was headed. He moved with an attitude that radiated from all sides of him. Mean, nasty, arrogant, cocky, bold and confident. He was all of those things and proud to be described that way.
If you asked Georgie if it was better to be feared or respected he would have picked feared without hesitation.
Georgie’s reputation for violence was earned and well deserved. You already know about Georgie and the Tree Man. I’d like to say that you have seen Georgie at his worst, but it wouldn’t be true. There were moments that matched or exceeded the treatment that the Tree Man received. There were many times that Georgie made it clear that he had more than just a mean streak.
A streak makes it sound like a little thing, but that is just not accurate nor true for Georgie. He should have been the model for some Country-Western song, the kind that tells you a story. But the reason why he couldn’t is that those songs almost always have a happy ending and stories about Georgie almost never did.
She knew long before I did that my friendship with Georgie was going to be a problem. She knew me so much better than I knew myself, but the problem I had was that I was young and male. My ego wouldn’t allow me to listen to her. The woman I loved so desperately knew that I was in trouble and I was too stupid to listen to her.
The thing about Georgie was that not only did he have that magnetism, but he was both shrewd and clever. He manipulated the situation so smoothly I didn’t have much of a chance. As he started reeling me in I began to hear bits and pieces about a woman’s place, her role in a man’s life. And it wasn’t as his conscience.
So when she started asking me to back off and find someone else to be my friend I took it to be demeaning, controlling and obnoxious. I wasn’t about to allow some woman to have that much control over my life. And I told her that. I let her know in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t have it. I was the man and if she wanted to be with me she needed to just shut up.
We had a few fights, some disagreements before this, but never like this. I had never told her to shut up with the kind of venom that lay behind those words. I had been poisoned and I was too dumb to recognize it. If I think back I can see the hurt in her eyes and I can feel the pain I caused her. When I spit those words out at her she flinched and actually drew back from me. And it just got worse from there.
For a moment I was sorry, so sorry that I had hurt her. I wanted to take her in my arms and just apologize for hurting her. I wanted to make her understand that I hadn’t meant any of it, but I couldn’t do that. I didn’t know how because I couldn’t figure out how to apologize and still show her that I was an independent and strong man.
The confusion and guilt only made me get more upset. I became even angrier that she had brought this up. I was furious with her and started screaming. For a moment she stood there and just looked at me and then she just left. She didn’t say anything, didn’t yell or scream. She just gathered her things and left.
There was a definite roar, but the silence was deafening. And if I had been a real man I would have stopped her from leaving. I would have insisted on talking it out and made amends, but I didn’t. Instead I let her go and allowed three days to pass before we spoke again. And when we finally did I didn’t mention it and neither did she.
It was the elephant in the room that neither one of us would forget or ignore, but could not speak about. It was the beginning of the end of something special and dear, the first of many cracks that would eventually cause us to shatter and split. Where there had been nothing but good there was now an ugly bruise that just ached.
And like so many other couples it was only a matter of time before the topic reared its ugly head again and the bad feelings came back to the surface. Another fight, another argument and more pain. It became a pattern. We would fight, make up, fight and then make up again.
Eventually I tried to do the right thing. I tried to break free of Georgie so that I could prove to her again that I loved her, but the problem was by that point in time there were so many nasty remarks, so much bad blood she couldn’t just believe me. I wanted her to believe in me again, but I couldn’t bridge the gap.
“We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much baby
Why can’t you see
What you’re doing to me
When you don’t believe a word I say?
We can’t go on together
With suspicious minds
And we can’t build our dreams
On suspicious minds”
Suspicious Minds- Elvis Presley
After it was over I can remember kidding around with Georgie that once the trust was gone in a relationship it wasn’t fun lying to your partner any more. We both laughed, but my laughter was hollow.
Two Kinds of Pain Revisited
There are those who live on pain. They nurture and care for it, building a tiny garden of thorns that they tend, occasionally pricking themselves because without their pain they no longer know how to feel. They are everywhere. They live among us in places and in bodies that look like our own, but with minds that know no joy. The sun that shines is cold and unforgiving, the sky in their world is dark and forbidding.
Fear and uncertainty have become their most reliable companions. Trust is an infrequent visitor, a commodity that has become far too expensive to be purchased. And the biggest challenge of all is that it is the keystone of their arch of pain. Without it they lack the ability to pull themselves out of the warrens of darkness they have constructed, so they run.
Many people run from pain there is nothing uncommon about it. We often run from our fears. Like children who are afraid of the dark we flee the battlefield in search of a less frightening confrontation. But it can only go on for so long.
There is a limited time in which a person can run before they must turn around and decide to stand or fall. One can only avoid making that choice for so long before you lose the ability to make the choice.
The problem with pain is that there is only so much that people can take before they just crack. We all have our breaking points. Not unlike a dam, fissures develop and the pressure builds until we just lose it.
And some are stronger than others. Some can withstand incredible amounts of pain. They take whatever life dishes out and roll with the punches. They are kicked, beaten and pummeled, but they keep moving. It doesn’t really matter what happens because they have figured out how to cope, or so it seems.
They bleed so that they may feel human, so that they can feel alive. The problem was that this described Georgie perfectly, he was an emotional vampire who thrived on draining me and everyone else he encountered of our happiness. He instinctively knew that the only way that he could keep me around was to feed my fears and insecurities and so he did.
He fueled the fire and helped me resolve to forget her, to ignore the past and pretend that it help no meaning, no significance to me. By trashing the past I was proving my strength and creating a brighter future. I was in so much pain and so hurt that like a moth flies into the flame I kept listening to the poison he spewed. I was so very young and so very incapable of admitting that I was wrong.I had three things working against me. I was young, male and stupid. It was easier to pretend that I was whole than to admit that a gaping wound had torn my soul out of me.
In time the pain began to take on a familiar look to me. I woke up expecting to be cloaked in its embrace. As the empty feeling gradually took over I stopped remembering what it was like to be happy and turned inward. Had I been smarter I would have recognized that I was classically depressed and done something to try and work through it.
When you are dead inside the world is a place that lacks colors. There is little to no distinction between night and day. Without a way to distinguish between dark and light the days run into each other, a blur of activity, or in my case inactivity. At least I think that there wasn’t much, I can’t really say because I just don’t remember anymore.
Truth be told I don’t want to remember. Those were dark days that are best left wherever my mind stashed them. I sometimes think that if only I could truly forget them I might be happier and that the scars might heal faster, but maybe that is nothing more than a search for fools’ gold.
The Day She Left
There are people who speak of being able to sense a change in the weather. The slower among us take that at face value, as being a literal comment about the elements. But it is much more than that. Some are blessed with the ability to sense things about others, they recognize the signs that we share with the world and act accordingly. And then are the people who cannot see what is so obvious to the others and all that they do is react to what happens around them.
By the time she had made up her mind to leave me I was so far removed from reality that I fit into the latter group. I had been stripped of my ability to empathize with others, sympathy for the common man was a weakness that Georgie had helped me evolve beyond. Remove emotion and you become incredibly powerful.
Because once you stop caring about yourself and those around you there is an incredible sense of freedom. It is a cliché, but my heart was rapidly turning black, inside I was terminally ill. I eagerly consumed all of the poison that Georgie spewed out all in the name of personal growth. That is the term I used to fool myself into believing that what I was doing had meaning and value.
The end is what you would call a long time coming. Our relationship had died months before we acknowledged it. By the time we admitted it there was a definite stench and something that had been beautiful was deformed and misshapen. We were like the Black Knight in the Monty Python movie about the search for the Holy Grail. Every time we were together another part of us was lopped off and yet the body kept fighting.
She had called me and made arrangements to go on a real date. It was something that we hadn’t done in months. I couldn’t remember the last time that we actually planned a night out, or done anything in which we dressed up for each other. I was going to pass on it, was ready to push it off to a different date, but she wouldn’t have any of it. Inside she knew that this was it, make it or break it.
I remember showering that day and for a moment getting lost in memories of past dates with her. There were weekends away, sunsets at the beach, a million quiet moments in which we did nothing but get lost in each other. And for a moment there was a brief ache in my heart. Inside a piece of me realized that this was going to be different, but I was too busy evolving and I stuffed that shred of sentiment back into a cage and tried to forget it about it
It was a quiet dinner, but not the kind of comfortable quiet that you share with someone you love. It wasn’t quite an awkward silence either, it was something in between. I think that we went to a movie, but I am not really sure. Or maybe we went window shopping, it is really a bit of a blur to me.
She tried to reach me a number of different times, reached out in all the ways she knew how but I wouldn’t let her in. And each time I rebuffed her I could feel the hurt in her build. But she was tough and determined not to let go without a fight.
Eventually we made our way back to her place. I walked her upstairs and sat in a chair while she sat on the couch. Earlier in our relationship there never would have been this distance between us. Back then it was too painful not to touch each other, too hard not to at least hold hands.
We opened a bottle of wine and gradually made our way to each other. When I undressed her I was rough, but not in the way that I had once been. It wasn’t a case of my being so turned on that I couldn’t wait to have her, now I was careless and selfish. The goal was not to make love, but to fulfill a need.
The beautiful thing about hindsight is that it permits us the opportunity to look back and see what fools and asses we were. It wasn’t lovemaking, but sex and she wasn’t an active participant. True she did it willingly, but not lovingly or happily. She didn’t give herself to me, she didn’t surrender, she just let me do what I needed to do because she couldn’t believe that something so good had become so bad.
When it was over I got up out of bed and got dressed. There was no hug, no kiss, no words, just a cold feeling that made her pull the covers over her naked body. I was at the door when she asked me if I had anything to say.
“About what?” I replied. “Tonight, is there anything you want to talk about.” It wasn’t a question so much as it was a statement.
“There is nothing to say. I am tired and going home.” If life was like a cartoon there would have been smoke coming out of her nostrils. I knew that she wanted to talk, but I wasn’t interested.
“We need to talk,” she said.
“No, you need to talk and I am not interested in being nagged.”
“That is unfair and unreasonable. I have done nothing but be good to you, I put up with a lot of crap and you owe it to me to be a little decent.”
She was right, I should have been nicer. I should have sat back down and spoken to her, but I was too far gone. Instead I told her again that I didn’t want the lecture, that when I wanted to be nagged I would tell her. And then things got ugly in a hurry.
I don’t remember what she said to me, but I remember calling her stupid and asking her when she had turned into a bitch.
She didn’t yell. She didn’t cry. She didn’t do much of anything. She bit her lip for a moment and then asked me if I had any stuff in the apartment that I wanted. I said no and she said “Fine. We’re done now, please leave.”
It was a six word epitaph for our relationship. “Fine. We’re done now, please leave.” I smiled at her and winked and then I left. After the door closed I thought that I heard sobbing and for a brief moment I thought about going back in, but instead I walked down to the corner liquor store and picked up a case of beer and a cheap bottle of scotch.
When I got back home I opened a beer and turned on the CD player
ALWAYS ON MY MIND (Elvis Presley)
“Maybe I didn’t love you quite as good as I should have,
Maybe I didn’t hold you quite as often as I could have,
Little things I should have said and done,
I just never took the time.
You were always on my mind,
You were always on my mind.
Maybe I didn’t hold you all those lonely, lonely times,
And I guess I never told you, I’m so happy that you’re mine,
If I made you feel second best,
I’m sorry, I was blind.
You were always on my mind,
You were always on my mind,
Tell me, tell me that your sweet love hasn’t died,
Give me, give me one more chance to keep you satisfied,
If I made you feel second best,
I’m sorry, I was blind.
You were always on my mind,
You were always on my mind.”
It took a while and an unknown quantity of alcohol, but when the tears finally fell they came hard and fast, salty trails down my face. Only this time there was no one there to kiss them away, no one to hold me and let me know it was going to be alright. And I knew that if I was going to survive I was going to have to let these be the last tears I shed, emotion was a commodity I could no longer afford.
It was spring and my father was driving home in our old Buick. It was a boat, but my father loved it. He loved to be the “captain” of his ship. That car was older than I was and if ever my father loved something the way he loved my mother it was that car. After dinner without fail he would go to his garage and spend a little time with the car. There was always something to polish, to adjust, to tweak, always something to do.
It was almost 6:30 and I was perched in front of the television set absentmindedly watching ESPN. In moments I expected to hear a familiar honk followed by footsteps. My father would walk in and I would pretend to ignore him. It was a childish game, but teenage boys are just that, teenage boys.
Instead I heard the roar of an engine followed by the squeal of brakes and then the whole house shook as if a giant was shaking it. I ran outside to see what had happened.
A motorcyclist had cut my father off and in his attempt to avoid him he had slammed into the side of our house.
When I close my eyes I can hear my mother screaming. My father had been thrown partway through the windshield. There was blood pouring from his nostrils and a bone sticking out where his shoulder was supposed to be.
I was stunned. For a moment I stood there and stared. My mother was still screaming and I think that there might have been a few neighbors running around. Things get a little fuzzy around this time. I know that my mother and I rode together in the ambulance and I know that I must have gotten some of his blood on me because a nurse gave me a pair of scrubs to change into.
But some things are not so fuzzy. I can hear the gurgling noise my father made as his lungs fought to gather air. If I close my eyes I can see his eyes try to focus, see the fear and it doesn’t take any effort to remember that he died looking at me.
There were no last words, no gestures, looks or any sort of sign that he knew we were there. We might have been there alongside of him, but he died alone.
I don’t much like remembering that time because it is just too painful. And in some ways it is worse now because I can see now that even in spite of how bad things were, they still were better than they are now. Because then I still knew what it meant to love and to be loved. I wasn’t yet an outsider, I hadn’t started living on the fringes
On the nights when I stay sober I can see clearly. In the still of the night I look out into the dark and I remember that I used to be somebody. I used to care, used to love and was loved. But the thing about life is that it is not a movie and shit happens only there is no silver lining. Some of us just get screwed because that is what happens. You are born, you live and then you die. That is it, nothing more to it.
If you think that I was bitter and angry you would be right. And if you think that I was unaware of that you’d be dead wrong, but I just didn’t care. I was so caught up in my own pain that when Georgie suggested we start hanging out together I didn’t say no.
Sliding Sliding Sliding
It felt like I was in the middle of an avalanche there was a loud roar, and then I was lost in a cloud of white, careening madly down a hill that I could not see at breakneck speed.It is a school day but I don’t bother going to class.
I show up on campus long enough for Georgie to pick me up. He hands me a bag and says that my gift is inside. It is 40 ounces of malt liquor and a fifth of whiskey.
A couple of months ago a few sips would have made me sick, now it is just barely enough to numb the pain. In short order I am drunk, but I am not a happy drunk.I am rude, belligerent and alternate between extreme bouts of anger and sadness.
My mother is lost in her own world. She is so wrapped up in her grief that she has nothing to give to me and doesn’t even notice that I am hardly home.
During the time I am around she sits on the couch staring off into space or absentmindedly playing with her hair. The man she loved is dead and the boy she still has is trying to slowly kill himself. It is shithouse luck, but the family that was is barely functioning if at all.
Guilt permeates my periodic bouts of sobriety. I know that I should try to help her cope, try to help her get beyond this but I am too weak emotionally to take on her pain. I can barely hold myself together.
Georgie is a constant companion. He is the one person that seems to understand my pain, the only one who can help me stay numb.
My girl is supportive and trying to do everything that she can to help me but I don’t want to feel anything because the pain is unbearable. I just want to finish becoming the hollow man, empty and devoid of feeling.It has been a while since I could hold her and smile. It has been longer since I could tolerate being held. The comfort she tries to give is killing me.
I know this because Georgie has been schooling me in how to stuff my feelings back down into a place where they cannot hurt me.For a short while she allows me to use her body to assuage my pain but this can only go on for so long before she and I begin to fight. She craves intimacy. She needs to love me and to hear me say I love you back.
But I am too focused on the life lessons that Georgie is teaching me. I am too busy learning how to take what she has to offer and give nothing in return.
I don’t know if it is because my teachers feel badly for me or if it is due to something else, but the semester ends and somehow I pass all my classes. Summer is my favorite time of year. I love the freedom and the feeling of the hot sun on my back, but most of all I love having nothing to do but drink or kick around with Georgie.
Summer brings a new twist to my descent into the pit I was sliding into. I have learned to enjoy the sound my fist makes when it meets flesh. I like being hit and I like hitting people. When I fight I let my anger go and I feel nothing but black rage. I am bigger and stronger than most of the people I meet. I give as good as I get and often better. I am not quite a bully yet, but I am close.
It doesn’t take much for me to get into it and thus far I have been lucky not to be seriously hurt. But that doesn’t last long.
It is Saturday night and Georgie and I are just cruising around town. We stop at a burger stand to get some food and he decides that he doesn’t want to wait in line. He doesn’t care about the people that are there because he knows that most of them are in his words “stupid sheep” and they won’t do a thing.
Tonight he is wrong.Tonight we are introduced to the pain a broomstick handle can inflict. The four guys we cut in front of are not satisfied with just kicking our asses, they want to hurt us. Had it not been for the police we both might of ended up paralyzed or worse.
The next day she comes over to see how I am doing. When she sees my back she begins to cry. I cannot see it, but I know from the way that I feel that it looks bad.
For the next three hours she begs and pleads with me to stop hanging out with Georgie and to try and get my life in order again. She swears that it is not too late and that if I let her help me we can fix things.And for the first time in a long while her words carry weight with me.
I nod my head and agree to try.
Last night scared me and the fear is enough to motivate me. For a short while life will go back to some semblance of what it had been and for a short while I try to let myself feel because deep inside I know that if I let myself love her I can begin to heal.
In the end it doesn’t matter because I just am not strong enough. I can’t take the pain and more to the point, Georgie is too good and manipulating me. In time I am going to fall down again and he is going to be there to kick me back to the curb.
It Gets Worse
Each time I wake up I am breathless and covered in sweat. I lie in bed shaking and sore. I feel like someone has beaten me up. I get out of bed and cannot help but check for bruises. I know that they are there, but they are located in a place that I cannot see.
I am broken. I am damaged and I am well aware that things are not right inside my head. The only thing that keeps me from completely losing it is her. She is holding on to me so tightly that I cannot fall over the edge. I want to. I want to. I want to. I want to let go and roll off of the cliff because I am so tired that I cannot keep this up any longer.
She has wrapped me in a protective love that is so strong I cannot break its grip, but I will soon. I won’t want to, but there is a demon inside me and he is starving. He is not alone. He has an ally who is tough and determined. He has a friend who waits patiently. Georgie is crafty. He has street smarts and he understands that it will not take much to push me back down into the pit. He knows that if he pulls hard enough it is all going to come crashing down.
I haven’t seen Georgie in quite some time and I am not smart enough to realize that it is his absence that has given me the strength to begin to crawl back into the light. She knows that he is the cancer that is killing me and she does all that she can to fight it. But we all get frustrated and sometimes it is our frustration that is at the root of our greatest pain.
Georgie wants to go hang out, kick around a bit. He doesn’t have any specific plans other than a simple request to do this with me. I might not have gone. I might have stayed in that night but for her comments. She calls me a fool.
“You know going out with him is a mistake. He is a jerk.” I look at her in silence. She takes my lack of response as encouragement to continue.
“Georgie is an asshole, is that who you want to hang out with.” The truth hurts. Her words bite and sting so much so that my ego is bruised.
I am not kind or gentle in my reply, “What are you my mother. I’ll see you later.”
She blocks the door and tells me that if I leave I shouldn’t expect her to hang around waiting for me.
We exchange some more words but none of them are the kind that provide room for reconciliation. And by the time I catch up with Georgie I am looking for trouble. I am angry and he knows it.
“Dude, why do you let that bitch tell you what to do.”
If he had said that to me a few months earlier I might have tried to remove his head from his body, but not now. The anger is in control and I have left my self-control and judgment somewhere else. Trouble is coming and I am racing to meet it. Now I sit silent and stew in my anger.
Georgie is driving. I haven’t any idea where we are going because I am too busy with the six pack in my lap. By the time we got to the parking lot I had finished the four beers and had discarded the two orphans for whiskey. I hadn’t even gotten out of the car when I hear Georgie cursing at someone.
I didn’t bother to find out what was going on. I walked around the side of the car and punched the first guy in the mouth. He fell down but that didn’t stop me. I started stomping and kicking him. I wasn’t able to do too much damage because someone grabbed me from behind.
They didn’t realize what a big mistake that was. I was too drunk to feel any pain and too numb to care about the pain I was handing out. I used my legs to push off of the car in front of me and slammed him into the car behind me. He gasped and crumpled to the ground.
There is a full fledged melee going on around me. I am swinging at anyone that comes close to me and trying to get to those who do not. I am screaming incoherently. No one is close enough for me to hit so I start kicking cars and punching the windows. If ever there was an indictment of the police and their response time, it is tonight. I should have been arrested but they must have been busy elsewhere.
My hands are bloody and bruised but my anger is not sated. I grab Georgie and we get back into the car to go looking for more people to take it out on. I have time to take a couple more sips of whiskey. The cowards secret sauce is warming my insides when I notice her standing outside a restaurant talking to some guy.
“Georgie, stop the fucking car” and let me out. I don’t bother waiting for the car to completely stop before I get out and charge the man speaking to my girl. I am like the bull going for the matador. My head is down and I will not stop until I have my prey upon my horns.
It is not a fair fight. He doesn’t see me coming and hasn’t any idea that in a moment he is going to lose the ability to chew solids for the next few months. Fortunately for him there are at least three other valets and they are able to pull me off of him before I can kill him because that is what I want to do. I am drunk and I don’t care about the consequences.
But the valets are friends and they are not willing to let one of their boys get hurt without exacting their own payment. The last thing I see is a boot coming down on my face. As I pass out I can hear her crying and screaming at Georgie. He still manages to get the last word in.
“I told you that she was a bitch.”
But it just doesn’t matter because it feels better not to feel. It doesn’t matter because when you don’t care about yourself or anything else you reach the point at which you are hollow. And for a person who is in pain that hollow point is a magnificent place to be.
I remember watching a movie in which the characters swore to live life. They wanted to do everything, try everything, experience life in the fullest sense of the expression. It was very dramatic and there was a climatic scene in which one of them made a speech about nursing on the very marrow of life.
The marrow of life. It makes me chuckle. What a crock. Just a couple of fools speaking about things that they do not understand. I suppose that it is only fair to say that I used to be one of those ignorant morons who didn’t have enough common sense to realize that fairy tales are called fairy tales because they are fake.
The day after the incident with the valet I almost didn’t bother to get out of bed. I suppose that I had a secret hope that I would wake up and find her waiting patiently for me. She wasn’t there and neither was Georgie. The only thing that greeted me was the obsessive honking of my neighbor and a throbbing feeling that radiated throughout my entire body.
Outside the honking was replaced by the deep boom of bass emanating from a car. You would think that the experiences of the night before would have helped to teach me to think twice before acting, but that would be a lie. I was furious at the jerk who was playing his music so loudly. I jumped out of bed and screamed at him from the window.
It was useless. The booming noise prevented him from hearing my protest. This enraged me and without thinking I grabbed a baseball bat and was about to fly down the stairs when the hangover hit me. I didn’t even have time to make it to the bathroom. I was sick everywhere and unable to stand. I must have passed out because I woke up with my face lying in my own vomit and so disoriented that it took me some time to recognize that I was home.
The trouble I had been searching for had found me and now I was being made to pay for it. A smarter and more mature man would have stumbled to the phone and called for help, but I was too proud. Not that it would have mattered, she was too angry to help. Had I even managed to call she wouldn’t have responded.
The realization that she was too angry to want to help upset her in a way that she couldn’t begin to explain. There had never been a time in which she had felt this way about him. It had never occurred to her that her love for him could be challenged this way and it shook her up.
For the first time she began to wonder if their relationship had run its course. She cried that day. It wasn’t the first time that she had cried because of a disagreement with him, but it was the first time she had been afraid that the end was near.
Will The Sun Shine Again
It was more than love and more than trust. There was a connection between them that she couldn’t verbalize or explain to anyone. She loved to watch him. He didn’t have to be doing anything in particular, it just made her feel good to watch him. There was something mesmerizing about him and it wasn’t any one thing.
When her friends would ask what she found so attractive she would stumble and stutter because she didn’t know how to empty the contents of her heart, how to share the things that you feel but cannot say.
So she would speak of his eyes and his wrists. She would talk about the way his lips felt on hers and how when she hugged him she felt never felt safer. She told them about how he looked at her like she was the most beautiful woman in the world and that when he put his hand on her hip she felt electricity.
Sometimes she wanted to say more. Sometimes she wanted to tell them everything that she felt because it seemed selfish not to share something so amazing and wonderful with them. And in some way it was so hard not to try and bond with them over something so important to her.
In the end she never did share any of that with them. She came close one day but faltered when her girlfriend suggested that all girls felt this way about their first. It bothered her because she felt that it cheapened and degraded what she had so she just smiled and said nothing.
The end of their relationship had damaged her. It had broken her in ways that she didn’t really understand until many years later. The men that followed the boy were measured against his memory. At first it was conscious, but subconscious. That is, she couldn’t help but compare them and though she knew it was unfair she persisted in the unconscious search for the one who would make her forget the pain and the empty feeling.
It was an empty hollow feeling. There was a sense of things having been turned upside down. It reminded her of something she had seen on a field trip she took in second grade. They had gone to the zoo and were in the reptile house looking at turtles. The zookeeper turned his back and one of the boys took the turtle and flipped it upside down.
She remembered watching the turtle flop around, legs kicking in the air as it tried desperately to right itself. And it occurred to her that she felt a little bit like the turtle. In some ways her world had barely changed and in others it had been turned upside down.
After the breakup it was months before she let another boy kiss her. It was horribly awkward and uncomfortable. He grabbed her and shoved his tongue in her mouth while his hands roamed all over her body. She wanted to push him away and run but she was tired of crying herself to sleep and thought that if could endure this it might help her move on.
It did not.
And neither did the boy who came along that summer or the three that followed him.
The problem was that subconsciously she was still looking for him. When they kissed her she would close her eyes and try to lose herself in the moment but all of the little details made it clear that they were not him. They smelled differently, their breathing had a different rhythm and their touch was not quite right.
It was a long time before she allowed any of them to do more than kiss her and that was only because she forced herself to. It had been almost two years and she had decided that her university life had to have something more to it than studying and casual dating.
For a time it worked. For a time she felt like things were better and that she might be able to fall in love again. And in a way she did. The cloud that had followed her lifted a little and the sun began to shine again.
But in her heart she knew that it was never quite as sunny and that the skies were not quite so blue as they had been. The jagged hole didn’t hurt the same way it had used to and the familiarity of the pain was replaced with something else.
Now with the grace of time and distance she was finally able to see that the relationships that followed had all been doomed because she had been unwilling to let them work. It made her nervous and she wondered if she had spent so many years teaching herself how to be more detached that we would never be able to really give herself to someone again.
“She put him out like the burnin’ end of a midnight cigarette
She broke his heart he spent his whole life tryin’ to forget
We watched him drink his pain away a little at a time
But he never could get drunk enough to get her off his mind
Until the night
He put that bottle to his head and pulled the trigger
And finally drank away her memory
Life is short but this time it was bigger
Than the strength he had to get up off his knees
We found him with his face down in the pillow
With a note that said I’ll love her till I die
And when we buried him beneath the willow
The angels sang a whiskey lullaby
The rumors flew but nobody knew how much she blamed herself
For years and years she tried to hide the whiskey on her breath
She finally drank her pain away a little at a time
But she never could get drunk enough to get him off her mind
Until the night
She put that bottle to her head and pulled the trigger
And finally drank away his memory
Life is short but this time it was bigger
Than the strength she had to get up off her knees
We found her with her face down in the pillow
Clinging to his picture for dear life
We laid her next to him beneath the willow
While the angels sang a whiskey lullaby”
Whiskey Lullaby- Brad Paisley
Watching and Waiting
Most of the time her departure would be followed by bouts of clubbing. She’d find a nightspot where she could lose herself on the dance floor. She didn’t have any preference other than some kind of odd techno beat that drew people like her. She wanted to get lost in a writing mass of bodies that shared a love for a beat.
Sometimes she’d dance with a boy but most of the time she just danced by herself. She really didn’t want to talk to anyone. She had not interest in being picked up and didn’t feel the need for company. These nights would end in similar fashion. She’d come home drenched in sweat and exhausted, far too tired to shower but too revved up to speak. But they never stopped the voices in her head, that whisper that asked if she was broken so badly that she’d never be able to fall in love again.
The real problem in her life was that she had experienced a love that was so potent and so piercing that she couldn’t stop searching for it. She felt like a heroin addict who knew that she could never go back, never experience that amazing high again but would always remember what she had lost.
Sometimes she’d just lie in bed and shiver. Invariably she’d push beyond this and her attitude would improve. In reality it wasn’t that her attitude was improving it was just that she had managed to find a way to stuff her feelings down again. Push them, beat them back, make them go away because if you cannot feel you cannot get hurt again.
When she was younger her father had taught her that life wasn’t fair. It was one of his favorite sayings. She’d ask for something, a toy, shoes, whatever only to be refused. When she tried to convince him by telling him how many of her friends had whatever it was she wanted he always said “life isn’t fair.”
Daddy was right, life isn’t fair and she knew it from firsthand experience. There was no relief, only occasional interludes during which the empty feeling didn’t overwhelm her.
This time she was trying hard to break the chain. Determined not to follow the same pattern and path she had made a point of taking the bus to her father’s cabin. It meant that she would be forced to do things differently. The frantic dancer was not going to be allowed out of her cage. This time she was going to find a way to feel good and to enjoy life again the way that she used to.
Some people argue that a person’s greatest strength is also their greatest weakness and there is something to be said for that, but not here for philosophy is better left to others. Yet if you apply that line to the monkey you would find a man of great will and obsessive in his desires.
In some respects a better nicknamed for the monkey would have been “Gollum.” Not in tribute to Tolkien but in recognition that the monkey shared those same snakelike mannerisms. He didn’t walk, he slunk from place to place, always operating in the shadows.
But none of this would be an unexpected revelation to anyone who knew the monkey. The only person who would be surprised would have been the monkey. Not unlike so many others he failed to really see himself as he was an instead had a very twisted and distorted view of himself and his importance to others.
If there was a need to hold a class on failed relationships the monkey would be a good instructor. He was just smart enough to hold a conversation and just well read enough to convince his date that he had an education. But without fail his temper and petulant behavior would surface and things would end. It didn’t take much to send him into a rant. He was forever convinced that the world owed him more.
I never believed in fate or destiny. There was no such thing as predestination and if you asked me about a deity that watched over humanity I would have chuckled. That is the kind of thing that the weak need. I didn’t need that kind of crutch. I never did and expect that I never will. But even I had to admit that sometimes life had some funny moments in which your path crossed someone else in a funny way.
Several years ago a man was convicted of murdering his wife. The jury foreman said that they had found the defendant to be lacking in remorse and that he had not acted like a man who had just lost his wife should. The foreman said that it was this inconsistency in the defendant’s behavior that had really sealed his fate and that if he had shown some emotion and acted more like a human being they might have voted differently.
That bothered her because she knew from experience that they could not know how to act, would not know what a normal response would be because there was no normal response to death, especially something that was sudden or unexpected.
What you see on television or in the movies is not necessarily what happens. The fainting, screaming and or wailing is good drama and it makes it easy for a screenwriter to cheat but it still doesn’t mean that it is real. And reality is the point of this.
See the issue is acceptance and all too frequently the mind refuses to reconcile the truth that is placed in front of you with reality. “He is dead” is not something that you automatically digest and consume. The mind has numerous methods of protecting us from things that might harm us and one of those little items is need to process the information, to sort through it and absorb it.
Or maybe not. Maybe it is all a lot of crap that they try to sell you so that psychologists can make more money. Back in college in my basic psych course she had studied this guy named Festinger who had coined the term “cognitive dissonance” as well as some kind of “Cognitive Consistency” theory. Basically they referred to behavior that was either inconsistent with your stated beliefs or some kind of B.S. that said your attitude adapted to adjust to your behavior.
Whatever. It really didn’t matter what she knew for certain was that people would justify their behavior no matter how heinous or how nice. People would always rationalize their actions and few would think twice about what they had done.
Under the bright blue North Carolina sky it was easy to remember the day they called. She was confident that her mother had made the arrangements to call her and to tell her that the boy was gone. She would have done it with love and affection with the sole intent to help her little girl move on but it was one more foolish mistake in a series of missteps between mother and daughter.
Unlike her mother she did not accept life at face value and did not believe everything that was handed to her. At one time she had been that innocent and there was a certain joy in holding onto that kind of naivety. But she had been stripped of it.
The boy was responsible for that. It was hard to love and care for a drowning man and not change and she had. That period of her life had forced her to learn a number of hard lessons and one of them was that people lie. They deceive, they dissemble and they manipulate things to fit their reality.
So when the call came it was easier to just listen and not react. Because what do you do when your biggest nightmare walks out of the closet and into the daylight. Even so it still felt like someone had kicked her in the stomach and for an untold amount of time she had laid on the floor listening to angry cries of a busy signal from a phone that had not been hung up.
It was the incessant beeping of the phone that made her get up and move. The call had left her feeling completely unsettled, but it hadn’t made her forget the hell that the boy had put her through or the anger. And that anger made her determined not to waste any more tears on him until she had details of what had happened.
Two long distance phone calls to old friends were it all it took to confirm that the boy was still alive and that the phone call was fake. In spite of the good news and her vow not to waste any more tears she still found herself staring at a tear streaked face. The call had done nothing to help her move on. If anything it reminded her that sometimes our past can still reach out and hold onto us in the present and that was not a lesson she was prepared to learn.
Sometimes the hardest part of life is just living
There is a reason why some people suffer a complete breakdown. There are explanations for going catatonic. The sheer horror, the magnitude of these situations is just too much to take and so the mind shuts down. I rather imagine there is a little person inside the brain that flips a switch and closes the blinds. Sorry, we just liquidated our entire inventory–the warehouse is dark and empty, the shop is closed.
Whenever I think about this I can’t help but envision empty streets and a gray skyline punctuated by stale air and the feeling that there is something rotting away nearby. The carcass of a large animal. I can almost smell it. Little hints, whiffs of vapor that tickle my throat and make me want to gag.
When you live life veiled in shadows and darkness it is just that much harder to be happy. You fake a smile and force yourself to laugh, but the smile is strained and the laughter is hollow. A sad empty feeling. Look in the mirror and you can see the shell of someone who once was.
Once upon a time there were tears that could be shed over the loss of so much. Tears to be spilled over the passing of friends and family and tears that cascaded down his face over lost love. There was a time when the reason for the tears made sense to him. A moment when he cried about unfulfilled dreams and potential that would never be realized.
Forlorn and lost he wandered the streets searching for something, but he never did know what that something was. It was an enigma to him a mystery that he couldn’t quite figure out. At times it felt like he was right on the verge of figuring it out. It was like those first few moments after you wake up when your dreams mixed with reality. And just for a moment you felt like it made sense and then the moment was gone. A second before you remembered your dream with perfect clarity and then poof.
That was a neverending source of frustration. It always felt like the answers were in reach. If he just tried a little bit harder. If he stretched a little bit farther he’d finally grab that brass ring and gain all that came with it. In the end it never worked. It was like trying to grab a handful of water. The tighter he squeezed the faster it dribbled out between his fingers.
Maybe that is why he started drinking. Maybe that is an explanation for why someone who could have been something more decided to become something less. He once told me that there was honor in being a drunk. It was a profession of the world and the common man and something that all people could relate to. I think that he wanted, that he tried to make it sound noble. I think that for a moment I saw a light in his eyes turn on and then just as quickly it was extinguished and he was just one more person beaten down by life.
If you never have experienced the harder side of life it is not easy to relate. It is much easier to pretend that people like him don’t exist. Most people prefer to watch the movies in which the boy gets the girl and the villain goes to prison. They don’t want to watch that same boy die a long and painful death. There is no desire to see the wreckage and pain caused by unexplainable loss. They can’t stand the pain anymore than the walking invisible.
You might be surprised at how fast you can shed your own humanity. The things that you never could have imagined doing are quickly rationalized and forgotten. The indignities are things that you do because that is how you have to live and you don’t have time to pretend otherwise. It doesn’t take long for life to age you so that you look far older than you are. You needn’t spend years on the street to obtain that weathered look. No, that is a gift that the lucky gain in far less time than that.