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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sweater Weather

Gene Dall eased himself down the front steps.  He shuffled across the courtyard in front of the apartments where he and Mom lived.  He carried an empty pizza box under his arm, whistling through his teeth - Camptown Races.  He enjoyed bringing the trash out to the dumpsters.  It was kind of like his job.  Sidetracked by something on the sidewalk, he bent over and picked it up.  Probably a coin or a button.  He put it in his pocket.

My mother and I sat on the porch together, watching my children fool around in the grass.

"There's still a bag of crap inside, you know.  I just changed their diapers."

"Let him make two trips," she said.  "It'll give him something to do."

My father continued down the path and disappeared behind the building.

"He's never gonna fit into that suit he has.  I guess I can always put him in a sport coat and a pair of slacks."

"Where are you guys going?"  An innocent enough question.

"I'm not going anywhere," she scoffed, her voice dripping with disdain.

Big Mare planned my father's funeral regularly, especially when she had a crank on.  Seems a shame she didn't outlive him.  She had everyone's clothes picked out.

"Why don't you just let him wear what he wants?" I asked.

"Please, Mary.  He couldn't dress himself if his life depended on it."

Gene Dall turned the corner, holding a filthy stuffed animal he must have found in the garbage.  He tried handing it to Desmond, who shook his head with a look of concern.

"Let's just ask him.  Hey, Dad.  What do you wanna wear in your coffin someday?"

"This is fine," he replied.

*******

Mom stood in the Women's Department at Kohl's, draping an unimaginative black turtleneck in front of her chest.  She rattled on about my father and how he went out of his way to make her life miserable.  How he anticipated her every action and planned his antagonistic rejoinder with laser precision.  It seemed as impossible then as it does now.  The man barely moves and only if there's a sandwich or something covered in whipped cream involved.

"Whaddya think of this?" she asked.

"It's nice.  How about a different color, though?  Everything you own is black."

"I know.  But this is for the wake."

"Don't you have one just like that at the house?"

"Yes, but it's too small.  And I can't seem to get rid of this gut."

She grabbed cruelly at her stomach, pinching the dense inner tube that encircled her waist.  My mother couldn't understand why her pants were so snug.  Her diet consisted mainly of coffee, tea and cake.

"You never know, Mom.  Grief is a powerful incentive.  You may find yourself without an appetite during whatever illness eventually kills him.  You could shed the weight, and everything in your closet will fit again.  What are even we doing here?"

''Don't joke like that, Mary Jane.  It's not funny."

She hung the shirt back on the rack and pushed past me into the aisle.

''C'mon.  Your father needs a sweater."

*******

I put Gene Dall in some new shoes yesterday when I picked him up for a visit.  I had gotten him two pairs in the summer, the same style in black and also, brown.  He only has use for one set at a time, and he wore the black ones until they were beat to shit.

"Let's throw these away," I kicked at my dad's foot while he stood at the bathroom sink, shaving and whistling through his teeth - Yankee Doodle.

"No.  They're still good," he said.

I held up the brown loafers so he could see them in the mirror.

"C'mon.  You have to change your pants anyway if you're coming to my house.  You can't wear those.  They have stains all over them."

"Where?"  He looked down.

"It doesn't matter.  Take them off."

He sat on the edge of the bed and did as he was asked.  He is slow about everything he does, but cooperative and pleasant.  I am lucky.  So I helped him with his trousers, socks and new shoes.

"Ready to go?" I patted his big leg and gathered his dirty laundry.

"I'm ready."

"Get your jacket, then."

Dad went to the closet and reached for the blue cardigan my mother bought him, the winter before she got sick.  It's an old man's sweater, but a nice one.  He's an old man, and a nice one.  Just so long as it's clean, he can wear what he wants.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Jive Turkey

He never asks for her anymore.  He used to, in the beginning.  When she first went into the hospital and for a little while after that.  Her illness changed his life rather abruptly.  Suddenly, he had his own room in a lovely place, an environment of kindness that made him somewhat uneasy.  He sat in a fancy chair in the common area with the other elderly folks.  Like a big monkey in a library.

"When is she coming back?"

"I wish I could tell you, Dad."

"What's the matter with her?"

"Cancer.  She's pretty sick."

"Oh, no."

I could hear the upsetment in his voice.  It was mild, but real.  It didn't seem like he missed her.  He might have, but I don't think so.  He just preferred when she was around.  She made the food and told him when to do things.  Like go to sleep and wake up, take the empty soda cans to the dumpster.

*******

"Where's that girl?" he asked a few weeks later.

"What girl?" I wanted him to name her.  To give a shit about who she was.

"My wife.  Mary."  He pointed to the photograph I'd put on his nightstand.

"That's my mother you're talking about."

"Okay," he laughed.  "Where is she?"

"She's at my house.  I told you."

"Is she coming back?"

"I don't know, pal.  It's hard to say."

At that point, the apartment had been emptied and her furniture, given away. Even if a miracle occurred, there really was no place for her to come back to.  But Gene Dall wouldn't understand that.  And I couldn't explain it to him, even if I tried.

*******

"A lady came," he told me one day, several months after Mom had died.  "She cut my hair.  Who pays for that?"

"Don't worry about it," I rubbed his shoulder.  "It looks nice."

"Thank you," he said.  "I'm a handsome guy."

*******

"Are you coming over for Thanksgiving?" I stopped by to see him on Monday.

"I guess so.  Are you making a turkey?"

"No.  A turducken."

I started to explain what it is.  A chicken stuffed inside a duck, stuffed inside a turkey.  It's hard to imagine.  I guess you really have to see it to believe it.

"I thought you were telling me a joke," he said.  "Will the boys be there?"

Rory and Desmond are ten and almost twelve.  My husband and I are happily married and live together in the same house.  Where the fuck else does my father think my children will be for the holiday?

"Do you want your grandkids there?" I asked him.

"Yes," he replied.  "They'll be happy to see me."

I believe it.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fanning the Flames of Love

Here's what the doctor suggested.  Get the stent installed.  Then, maybe she could eat again.  At the very least, it'd encourage the passage of liquids beyond the tumor that blocked her esophagus.  So we did what we were told.  We got the stent installed.

I brought my mother home after the procedure.  She was weak and far from optimistic.  I tried keeping my own expectations low.  I wanted her to enjoy a bowl of soup and a cup of tea.  It'd be so great if she could do that again.


"Let me get you something to drink, Mom.  Some juice."


"I'm not thirsty, love."


"I know.  But try and swallow something, just to see if it works."


"I'm afraid," she said.


"Me, too.  But you have to try."


"I'll try later."


I kissed her 'goodnight' and turned off the lamp next to the bed.  I checked on my children, dreaming sweetly down the hall.  I crawled under the covers and stared at the ceiling.


"She's not gonna make it," I said to my husband.


"You already knew that," David replied.


Several hours later, I heard her call my name.  I ran down the corridor and found her twisted up in the blankets, gasping for breath.  Her lungs had become resentful.  We called for an ambulance.


I followed the paramedics closely to Hackensack Hospital, wondering at every stoplight if she was taking her last few gulps of air in the back of that truck without me.  I wished she wasn't alone and I wasn't alone.  I wished a lot of different things.

By the time I parked the car and located her in the Emergency Room, she was resting more comfortably, with those little oxygen tubes up her nose.  I felt relieved.  And also, disappointed.  I didn't want Big Mare to die, but every day was so scary.  Her equipment was failing dramatically.  I found myself wishing God would take her.  But I guess He wasn't ready.  She's a big commitment.

"I smell gasoline," she said.

So did I.   The guy handcuffed to the gurney on the other side of the curtain reeked of it.  Despite the winter weather, his feet were bare and black.  The bottoms of his pant legs, torn and incinerated.

"I think it's him."  I pointed in the direction of a developing police presence.

"Who?  Where?"

"That man."

She propped herself up as best she could and gripped the sleeve of my coat.  The mere suggestion of criminal behavior bolstered her spirits.

"What's his deal?"

"I don't know, Mom.  I just got here."

"You have to find out.  And see if you can get me some ice cubes, will you, honey?  My lips are killing me."

Three uniformed officers lingered in the lobby.  One dragged a chair from the reception area and sat in the doorway, talking into a duplex radio.  My mother attempted to decode the conversation between the patrolman and his dispatcher.

"There's been a fire," she translated.  "He's involved."  She gestured toward the burn victim.  

I grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser and filled a plastic cup with cold water.  Big Mare no longer took any food or drink by mouth.  What nutrition she could tolerate was introduced through a feeding tube in her stomach.  I moistened the napkin and dabbed at her lips.  They were so dry and cracked.  My poor mom.

"I love cop shit," she whispered.

The two remaining officers had a lot of questions for Eugene, a fifty-year old caucasian man who, based on his inebriated condition and scorched lower extremities, was having a fucked up Saturday.

Here's what we knew, so far:

Eugene was upset with his mother.  She was upset with him.  He'd lost his job at the Dollar Store, and she'd asked him to leave the house.  During the course of the previous evening, he'd gone downstairs to the basement and drank most of a large bottle of Rebel Yell.  As the sun rose over the hills of Oakland, New Jersey beyond the small cape cod-style bungalow he grew up in, he emptied the remainder of the whiskey all over himself.  He reached for a convenient container of gasoline that he found under a work bench and poured the contents over a pile of his dirty clothes.  Then, he lit a match.

"If she wanted me out so bad," Eugene began, "she could have just said so.  She didn't have to call the cops.  That bitch knows I got warrants."

"Oh, he's too much," Big Mare sighed and adjusted her nose plugs.

"You need to be quiet," I reminded her.

The interview continued with cordial precision.

"Your mother owns the home, and she didn't want you there, Eugene.  You should have left.  Perhaps stay with a friend until things blew over.  But you refused.  And you did something really stupid.  Now, you're in a lot of trouble."

Officer #1 was good at laying out the details of the situation.  But Eugene was not so good at understanding the consequences.

"Yeah, okay.  I get that.  And I appreciate what you're saying.  But you don't know everything.  I got a complicated history with that woman.  She can't just kick me out.  It ain't right.  I'm her son."

"Had she requested you vacate the premises before?" Officer #1 continued.

"Sure.  A bunch of times.  But I didn't think she meant it.  Besides, I got nowhere else to go."

"Not a problem anymore," Officer #2 assured him.  "As soon as they patch you up here, you're heading to jail."

"But don't you see?  Running away ain't gonna solve nothing," Eugene insisted, as if he had a valid point.  I'm sure he truly thought he did.

Officer #1 crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head.  He glanced over at Big Mare and I.  She waved, and he waved back.

"He's handsome," she gushed.

"Eugene, I'm gonna share something with you, man-to-man.  I have a tense relationship with my mother, too.  She doesn't care for my wife.  She thinks she's lazy.  I married her anyway because she's beautiful.  Whenever we argue, I get the feeling my mother may be right.  But I know better than to go back there and burn her house down.  It's a crime."

"But I didn't know."

I looked at Mom and repeated, quietly, "He didn't know."

"Oh, he knew," she wheezed.

A nurse came in and checked on Big Mare's vitals.  Then, a doctor.  She was stable, but going forward, would need oxygen.  Her pipes were shot. 
 
"I've got a question.  Do you remember calling the cops on me the day I moved out?"

"No," she said.


"Yes, you do."


"Why ask me if you already have the answer?"


*******


I stood on the stoop, waiting for my ride.  I'd made arrangements with a friend to stay with her family until the room I'd rented was ready the following week.  I had to make a break for it.  I couldn't stay, not one minute longer.


My mother didn't understand me.  She wanted to control everything.  She was trying to ruin my life.  My situation was so unique.  Besides, she had her own problems.  And she wasn't supposed to be hitting me anymore.  I was 20 years old, a grown woman.


I stood on the porch, clutching my worldly possessions.  Two pillowcases filled with clothes and shoes, a few stuffed animals in a black garbage bag.  I left the rest of them on the bed upstairs, the ones I didn't like as much.  A smiling banana from Rye Playland and the Easter bunny I'd gotten from a young man who switched to boys after we dated.


Big Mare came to the screen door, a half crazy look on her face.


"Get back in this house," she growled.


I said nothing.  I didn't even turn around.


"Bring your ass inside, you stupid son of a bitch."


I ignored her, bracing myself as she reloaded her cartridge belt of condescending remarks.


"Go ahead, then.  Run away!  But if you ever come back here again," she warned, "I swear to Christ, I'll kill you."


"I'd rather kill myself first!"  I grabbed my stuff and started walking toward the corner.


*******


"What'd you think the police were gonna say?"


"I thought they'd make you stay.  But they told me there was nothing I could do.  You weren't ready to be in the world, and I didn't want anything to happen to you."


She paused and almost started to cry.  She never cried all the way.  It's how she managed her sorrow.


"Everything happened to you anyway, didn't it?"


"Yeah.  I guess."


"I was so tired of beating the shit out of you."


"I'm sorry, Mom."


"I'm sorry too, honey."


I watched my mother's eyelids grow heavy and drop to her sunken cheeks.  I took her hand and rubbed the loose skin that gathered at her wrist.  I listened to the machines that lulled her to sleep.  
I thought about who I used to be and how I got to where I was.  What I'd be like once she was gone.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Spirit in the Sky


I sit on the landing at the top of the stairs.  Mommy told me you'll be home soon, so I will stay right here.  Today is my birthday, and you said you would bring the little radio home for me to have.  I don't care about anything else right now except the sight of you walking through that front door, carrying the present you promised.

I've seen transistors before.  Some of my cousins have them.  I can't wait to get one of my own.  Then I can listen to music all the time.  If a song comes on that I do not like, I only have spin the dial and switch the station to something else. Finally, I will figure out the words to "Spirit in the Sky."  It feels like my entire life's about to change.

I imagine a big celebration where the whole family is together.  Aunts, uncles and all of us kids.  Someone whistles and yells, "Shut up, you clowns!  Little Mary's gonna sing."

The room will get quiet as one of the grown-ups lifts me onto the table.  I step between the ashtrays and half-empty glasses of beer, taking requests throughout the night.  It is a dream of mine to be everyone's favorite.
But right now, I feel like I have to pee.  Mommy let me have some ginger ale with my lunch, and I drank the whole can.  I go back inside the apartment.  The door to the bathroom is closed.

"I have to make," I call from the hallway.

"I just got in here," Judy informs me.  "You'll have to wait your turn."

My sister likes to read books while she's on the toilet.  At this rate, I'll never get in there.  I return to my perch in the foyer and cup myself with two hands as I sit back down.

I can smell the dinner Eleanor is preparing for her children on the first floor.  My mother can't stand the folks who live downstairs.  They are quiet and keep to themselves.  They complain to the landlord whenever we have company.  The parties are too loud.  Plus, there's always fights.  It's scary when somebody falls down the steps.

I hear a key in the lock of the outside door and see a shadow in the hallway.  It's Eleanor's husband.  He is tall and seems nice.  He and his wife hold hands in church.  I bet he doesn't drink.

Last week, he taught his youngest boy how to ride a bike.  I watched them from my bedroom window.  The father ran alongside, up and down the street.  Barely holding the seat and then, letting go.  He never once raised his voice, except to shout, "Good job, son!"

I shared the news with Mommy.  She was in the kitchen, stabbing some tuna fish to death with a fork.  "Gregory's training wheels are off!  He learned how after just a few tries."

"That kid's got something wrong with him, you know."

Gregory.  Mom caught him on several occasions, scratching his bare hiney across the bricks in the alley.  The last time, he gave her lip when she scolded him.

"Mind your own business, lady.  You ain't my mother."

She dragged him along the sidewalk with his pants around his ankles.  He hung suspended by the collar of his shirt while she rang the doorbell.

"He's lucky he doesn't belong to me," she warned our neighbor.  She dumped his half-naked behind at
Eleanor's feet and stormed upstairs.

Sometimes, I can't decide if Mommy is a hero or a monster.  I think maybe she is both.  I stand up and try to readjust my discomfort.  Now, I really need to pee.

I scoot toward the bathroom a second time and jiggle the knob.

"Judy, open the door.  I'm gonna have an accident."

"You are not," she says.

"At least, let me go in the tub."

"No.  That's disgusting."

I attempt to get my mother's attention.  She is on the phone, engrossed in a conversation that could last the remainder of my lifetime.  I'll have to keep the details brief.

"Judy hates me," I tell her.

"Quit breaking your sister's balls."

When I head back into the vestibule, I try to pinch my cooter closed so the water will stay in.  It's no use. I feel the warmth spreading beneath my seat.  I am emptying my bladder into my pants.  The pee soaks right through my clothes to the carpet on the top step.  My socks and slippers are drenched.  It takes a few seconds for the whole thing to be over.  I am momentarily relieved.

I sit there in the growing darkness.  In one hot, wet minute, my six-year old life has taken a dreadful turn.

And then, there you are.  I can tell immediately that you're not right.  It takes you forever to find your house key and open the door.  Holding the walls as you climb the stairs, you lurch toward me.  Pausing midway, you sigh.  I'm afraid I will startle you, that you'll fall backward and break your neck.

"Daddy, I'm here," I whisper softly, as if I were trying to pet a stray cat.

You stop and look toward my voice.  You manage a smile.  Now, I know you're drunk.  You seldom smile otherwise.  I've grown to hate that look on your face. Loving you is difficult.

"Did you remember?" I ask.

You say nothing.  You have no idea what I'm talking about.  I move closer to the railing so you can pass.  You lean on my shoulder and push yourself through the narrow space.  I can hear the squish of the wet rug as you press beyond the doorway and into the living room.  Mommy starts to holler.

There'll be no little radio tonight.  I cover my ears and start to sing.  I make up my own words to "Spirit in the Sky."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I Want To Make It Right

The last thing I ever stole was my copy of AA's Daily Reflections.  I could have bought it.  I had the money.  But I was too afraid to ask anybody about the literature on display at the meetings.  I wanted that little book very badly.  I imagined myself reading it and not having to get high anymore.

I guess I was clean about a month.  I was going to meetings daily and sometimes at night.  I'd gotten myself a sponsor, a nurse named Renee.

"Here's my phone number," she said.  "Don't lose it."

"When's a good time to call?" I asked.

"You tell me.  I'm always available to talk."

I was terrified to have a conversation with this person I didn't know.  We weren't friends, and I saw myself as a nuisance.  She assured me that wasn't the case and encouraged me to volunteer for a service commitment.  I signed up to make the coffee on Saturday mornings.

My husband came with me the first couple of times, just to make sure I went.  We'd stop at the supermarket to get supplies - big canisters of joe, milk and a few packages of Oreos.  I saved my receipts and was always reimbursed for whatever dough I spent at the store.

No matter how simple the task, my brain was filled with anxiety.  What if they hated the cookies I got?  How much milk did we need?  Who in their right mind drinks decaf?

Occasionally, the assembly hall was locked.  I'd have to walk next door to the police station and get the key that opened the door to the little building.  Depending on the state of my delicate ego, I couldn't decide if it felt like responsibility or punishment.

I liked being there in the kitchenette before the other folks came along.  The room reminded me of the house I grew up in, preserved in time by wood paneling, years of simultaneous abuse and neglect.  The formica countertop and greasy pepper shaker, a handful of mismatched utensils and a small radio with a busted antennae.  Like life on an old boat, abandoned at sea.

I turned the lights on and adjusted the thermostat.  David and I rinsed out the big metal urns and packed them with leaded and unleaded.  The comforting smell of Maxwell House filled the room.

"I'm gonna go now," Dave suggested once the coffeepots were under way.

"I wish you'd stay."

I wanted him to have this problem with me, as if he didn't already.

When he left, I fussed over my preparations like a twelve years old, fretfully awaiting the arrival of unfamiliar party guests.  I wondered what would happen if I just didn't show up.  I envisioned the locked door, the empty percolators and unwrapped stacks of styrofoam cups.

"Where is she?" someone might ask.

But probably not.  They'd know.  And quietly have to get on with things.

I entertained these new thoughts while referring to the old ones.  I was really tired of feeling like a failure.  I didn't want to be the cause of any more disappointment.  I was fresh out of ideas and excuses.  I had nowhere else to go.

So I kept coming back.  And making the coffee.

*******

Now, about that book.

Between meetings, AA literature was stored in a large tupperware and kept in the kitchenette closet.  Whenever I was done preparing beverages and setting up the chairs, I liked to arrange the CDs, paperbacks and pamphlets on the card table at the front of the room.

The Daily Reflections looks like a prayer book.  Maybe that's why I zeroed in on it. I wanted to rediscover how to talk to God and have a sincere relationship with Him.  I didn't feel capable of making that happen by myself, and I thought the little book would help.  But making a purchase would involve asking questions, and I wasn't confident I could do that either.  Not without crying, anyway.

So, I stole it.  I slipped the missal into my jacket pocket and brought it home.  I even cleared a spot on the corner of my nightstand and set it there.

Despite this crime and my fragile sobriety, waking up became easier.  I reached for a Daily Reflection first thing every morning.  I started to understand the hope in each passage I read.  For the first time in many years, it felt like my mind and heart were cooperating with one another.  I was thinking before I spoke and making small, sound decisions.  I'm pretty sure this was prayer.

In no time at all, I was turning to God directly and often.  I looked forward to meetings and felt more comfortable sharing with the group.  I listened to the stories of other alcoholics and addicts.  I shared my own.  We discussed our progress and plans for survival in a world without drugs or alcohol.

Several weeks later, I approached one of the gentlemen who ran the Saturday session.

"I stole a book from that pile over there, a few weeks ago."  I pointed to the table.  "I want to pay for it."

I wasn't sure what he would say when I admitted what I'd done.  Even though I was embarrassed, it was exciting to tell the truth.

He looked at me for a long minute and turned to the old guy next to him.

"This one lifted a book, Walter.  And she wants to make it right."

Walter removed his glasses and positioned them on top of his head.

"Just put what you can in the basket when it comes around.  Think you can you do that?"

"Yes."

"Okay, then.  You the one making the coffee?"

"I am."

"I thought so.  Keep up the good work, kid."

Saturday, November 8, 2014

I'll Do Anything


Despite a strong program of recovery, there will always be moments in time that have the potential to turn unprotected thoughts into shitty decisions.  They can jeopardize the happiness and peace of mind I've come to recognize as my beautiful life.  It doesn't matter how much sober time I have.  I need to always be mindful of these moments because they are very real.  And quite dangerous.

Compared to the complications of addiction, recovery is a piece of cake.  I am present and focused, contributing to the world in positive ways.  My mind is open. I remember things.  My heart is available to experience the most extraordinary feelings.  I'm able to see with great clarity the improvements I am making in my life and identify progress as it develops and unfolds.

But until the day I die, there's always gonna be that something inside of me. Something destructive and reckless.  Something that wants to pick up a chair and throw it through a fucking window.  Maybe head outside and lay down in the grass for a while.  Take it all in.  That's the part I can't explain.

Of course, you'd never think it to look at me.  But really, how would you know?

Everyone's triggers are different  They may not resemble anything harmful or familiar.  They're dressed just like regular details in the day.

Let's say I'm driving along.  The kids could be with me when it happens.  A super sunny afternoon or a cloudy one.  Weather is everywhere.  Some music on the radio.  A tune that reminds me of a person, place or thing.  Maybe I slept poorly or had too much coffee.  These are merely moments.  They're brought about by microseismic shifts in my brain that occur when I least expect them.  Moments that can dump my world on its ass and drag me right back to where I started.

"Listen carefully.  I'm locking this door, and I want you boys to stay in the car.  I'll be right out."

"Where are you going?"

"Just up those stairs real quick."

"Why?"

"Mommy's friend has a present for her."

"Can we play our i-pads?"

"Yes.  But keep these doors locked.  Do you understand?"

When I return, they are both engrossed in their little games.  It's almost as if I never left.  I check my mirrors, pull away from the curb and head toward the house.

"What did they get you?" one of them might ask.

"Whaddya mean?"

"The present.  Where is it?"

*******

Sometimes, I practice trying to break my own heart.  Not because it feels good to be sad.  I don't enjoy the torture.

It's just that I'll do anything to stay clean.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Bridge The Gap

I turned to Desmond as we waited in line to ride the go-karts at Adventure Landing.

"Somebody lost their teeth," I said.

"What do you mean?"

"Over there."  I pointed into the pit, right below where we were standing.  "See them?"

"No.  Where?"

"Forget it."

"C'mon, Mom.  Show me."

I cupped the sides of his head with my hands and pointed it in the direction of the full upper bridge, just lying there quietly in the dirt.  A little pink and metal bracket with perfectly shaped molars and incisors, so lost and alone amid the grit and asphalt of the track.

"Straight ahead," I instructed him.  "How about now?"

Desmond is almost twelve.  He is a sensitive soul.  I could feel the muscles in his neck relax as his eyes adjusted to the dentures in question.

"That's the saddest thing I've ever seen," he whispered.

"I don't know about that, honey.  But it's probably right up there."

I thought briefly about the person who might have left these important food processing tools behind.  I mean, consider the troublesome pork chop or corn-on-the-cob.  What a nightmare.  Truth be told, I've walked away from lots of things so I realize it's possible.  But teeth are a big sacrifice.  I would have torn the place apart until I found them.

We turned to Rory, who at ten years old had never driven a motorized vehicle before.  He positively vibrated with excitement.

"Hey, Bro.  Look over there," Des suggested.  "See anything strange?"

It took the younger boy a minute to figure out what he was gaping at.

"Wow.  Somebody's teeth!  This is gonna be great!"

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Funambulism

There she is again.  That girl.  She wanders around the neighborhood near my job. There's lots of them actually.  They come and go with no routine or pattern.  They pop up between cars, emerging from the stairwell of the parking garage.  They are mostly interested in the men with whom they can make eye contact, the coach buses and tractor trailers that linger at the light on 10th Avenue.

This one has been around for a while.  A few months, at least.



I work for a sports and media production firm on the West Side.  I have a loose grasp of what that means.  I answer the phones and do clerical things.  The folks in my department are fun.  Beyond that, I'm not really interested and I don't feel as though it's important.

I live in Queens.  Every morning, I drag myself up the subway stairs and walk across Times Square to the office.  I am always hung over and sometimes, still drunk.  I am awake most of the night.  I drink and snort whatever I can find and afford.  Over the last few years, these occasional hobbies have steadily become my thing.

My life is an illusion of pretense and secrecy.  I wobble along on a tightrope between two worlds.  Each performance lifts my high wire act further and further from the ground.  Whenever I look down, it throws off my balance.  So I stare straight ahead into the glare of my own self-destruction.

*******

I see her as I get closer to the building.  She has not slept either, I'm guessing.  She pretty much keeps to a four or five block radius.  Always wearing the same pair of acid washed jeans and a denim vest.  I've watched her change her shirt right here on the sidewalk.   Take the old top off, stuff it into a garbage can and put the new one on.  She seems to live in a disposable world.

Today, she has a big stain on her pants.  I wonder if maybe she sat on a wet bench or in the grass.  But based on the location of the dark patch between her legs, I realize it's probably pee.  Or spooge.  And now, it is drying.

She pulls the comb out from her back pocket and stops in the sideview mirror of a van parked at the curb.  She pushes her cheek against the window so she can check her makeup.  She is pleased with what she sees.

"You look good,"she says to herself.  "Real good."

If you saw her, you'd know something is wrong.  From a distance, she appears to be intact.  Just a girl walking down the street.  It's only when you get closer that you realize everything is fucked up.  There are cuts all over her face, her outfits are torn and filthy.  She might be hobbling along on a single flip-flop.

At lunchtime, she is at the deli.  The girls aren't allowed in the store, generally speaking, but the men behind the counter at Smiler's let them use the bathroom if they buy something.  Ice water is free, but the cup is a nickel.  Her cup is pretty beat up.  I never see her eating anything.

My co-workers and I stand in line behind her.  She can be erratic, so we keep a little distance between us.  I can't help but stare.  She is like a toothless jack-o-lantern hollowed out on the inside, with only the dimmest flicker of light behind the triangles where her eyes used to be.  I wonder what her life was like when she had one.  I buy my juice and chips, and we leave.

"I feel so sorry for her," my friend, Agnes says as we head back toward the building.

"I don't," adds Catherine.  "I've seen how mean she can be.  She punched a guy in the ear outside the hardware store."

"Where do you think she lives?" I ask.

"Nowhere, I guess."

*******

I followed this girl for a little bit one day, just to see where she scores her rock. There's a dude in Kew Gardens that I go to and another closer to the house, but it's good to have resources just in case somebody's not around.  One dealer is very friendly.  He is married, and his wife is nice.  But he isn't always there when I ring the bell.  So I really have to get with other people.

Her guy is young and Spanish, with a sweet face and a sinister hairstyle that turns his look evil.  It is pointy in the front and slicked back on the sides.  He hangs out in one of two doorways near the park.

"What you need?" he wants to know.  Zero small talk.

"Topo," I tell him.  It's what they call the crack.  So that's how I ask for what I want.

"How many?"

Four costs twenty dollars.  It is a quick swap and while I walk away, I start thinking of excuses to leave work early.  I try to count them, separating each vial with my fingers without taking my hand out of my pocket.  I never go back to complain if there's less.  Only to get more.  Once he gave me five by accident.  I do not check to see exactly what I have until I'm in the bathroom at work.  Then I can admire my accomplishment.

*******

I sit in my boss's office, completing a project on her computer.  She is in a meeting at the end of the hall.  When I'm certain that no one is looking, I reach below her desk and remove ten dollars from her billfold.  I drop the wallet back into her purse and tuck what I've stolen inside my shoe.  I rifle through her top drawer and palm some quarters.

I make a nice salary, but there's never any money left over.  I have no savings, and I am always broke.  I know in my heart what I'm doing is theft, but I try to convince myself it is merely an opportunity to improve my unfortunate situation.

My boss is a lovely woman.  She is bright and successful.  She'd never suspect me of ripping her off.  It almost makes me feel protective of her.  She can be so naive. One time when we were in the elevator together and it was very crowded, I pulled on the arm of her jacket.

"You need to zip your bag," I whispered.  "Someone could reach right in there."

*******

They are installing a security system in our building.  Right now, we have a buzzer and after hours, a doorman, but he is unreliable.  Plus, he lets the girls come inside when the weather is cold or he needs a blow job.

This evening, she is laid out on the tile in the lobby, the one I told you about.  It is upsetting to see her like this.  She doesn't appear to be hurt, simply unconscious. She is wearing just a bra and sweatpants.  No shoes, and the bottoms of her feet are black.

As our group spills into the hallway from the stairs, we step over her to get out the front door.  We stand on the sidewalk for a minute, trying to figure out what, if anything, can be done.  I personally have no idea, and besides, I am afraid of her.

"Maybe she's dead," one of my co-workers says.

"Somebody really needs to put her out of her misery."

How weird.  It sounds like we're talking about a dog, an animal that is no longer viable.  I peer back into the foyer at her motionless body.  People really do get sick of seeing this shit.

I could try to help if it was a dog, I think to myself.

Two more people exit the building.  They work in the office on the first floor.  One of them goes back inside to call the cops.  With help on the way, the excitement is over.  A few of us begin to walk toward  the avenue.

"Hang out with us," Catherine suggests as we stand in front of the bar on the corner.

"I better not," I tell her.  "I got a lot of stuff I need to do."

I create some fake important tasks and events that require my attention this weekend.  I don't plan on doing any of these things.  Instead, I will be fucked up both days.  Beginning right now.

"All right, then.  Just one drink."

We order a round and sit at a table near the window.

Someone makes a toast.  "Here's to one less crackhead on the block!" and we all raise our glasses.

I look out the window.  It's starting to rain.  I see the boy with the devil's haircut. He is walking with a girl.  They cross the street together, headed toward the park.