Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cindy's Second Coming

My wife Linda is thoroughly entertained by my past. It is a life she can’t even imagine, her suburban self far more aware of teen angst over pizza toppings and being grounded than sleeping with winos and traveling with a murderous cohort. She’s particularly intrigued by the phone calls I get, though I must point out I only receive perhaps 4 calls per year from anyone but telemarketers and coworkers. Still, those 4 calls can be entertaining. Like the one that happened at 4:15 AM some years ago. A girl I’d known some 35 years before and hadn’t seen since was trying to remember the full name and number of a man we’d known mutually, and when his didn’t appear in neon lights over her head, she recalled my Christian name, looked me up in the book and... “BRING BRING!”

“Dude?” She was one of a few still alive that once called me Dude.  I have to admit considering the quantity of narcotics I’d seen her ingest those many years ago, I was stunned she’d remembered her own name much less mine. (In fact back in the day I am positive she forgot her own name more than once)

Well, as I am a hopelessly nice guy at times, I entertained her request and tried to remember the facts she was looking for. But no matter how hard my rem sleep addled brain would spin, I couldn’t get past the truth that his nickname was Little Goose, younger brother of Big Moose. What the hell his real name was… not a clue. “Night Yvonne” I said, “call again in another 30 years if you like.” She hasn’t, but she’s due; and I won’t be a bit surprised.

The call at the base of this story wasn’t like this at all. It was daytime, a Saturday morning, and while the voice sent chills down my spine I knew I would not walk away from the conversation easily. It was Cindy, the woman I wrote about only four months earlier after not having seen her but for one funereal moment, for more than a decade

The year Cindy attempted suicide was a difficult year for me. My mother and brother had died, a cousin had been murdered, my wife of the moment had taken her leave, my career was caught on a cliff… my interaction with her craziness that night was, in the scheme of things, almost ordinary; but it made a big black mark on my soul that’s never dissolved. So when she said, now 15 years later, that she wanted to see me, in a public place, with others in attendance, what could I say but “sure.” After all… I am made of Jell-o.

We had dinner, Cindy, her sister and I, a group who’d all known every intimate detail of one another decades earlier, and a group now far worse for the wear. We were all veterans of the life wars, all constantly struggling in one way or another, all dealing with personal deep tragedy, hard labor and the depressions that transport it all from black hole to black hole. Cindy though had special issues; issues that became obvious immediately when, after I’d used the word “unique” in a sentence she’d pulled a dictionary from her pocket so as to look up and understand what I’d meant.

It took hours to lay out the whole story. She spaced it between small bits of glory day web spinning, most of which was done by me as I had always been the group’s “Mr. Fantasy”, (as Stevie Winwood would say) and so was obligated to fill the gaping holes in her trains of thought. But eventually she’d set her recent history on the table in its entirety, as matter of “factly” as if she’d set out a grocery list for us to peruse. I’ll cover the highlights.

A few months before she’d taken a nasty spill down her apartment hallway stairs. By her descriptions I’d venture she and her abusive boyfriend of the time were drunk beyond walking, they got into a fight, she stomped out her front door and onto the second floor landing, he followed and gave her a shove to show her who was boss. Can I prove any of that? No. After years of listening to the few abused women I’ve known and comforted I’ve encouraged an inner talent I guess; one that sees what isn’t shown, one that hears between the lines.

In any case her skull was opened, a crack a few inches long, subtly exposing her brains to daylight. She cried, then found her way into bed and passed out. Neither she or her loving mate called for assistance, they just slept off their drunks.

Six days she lay in bed, only moving for food and toilet visits. On the seventh she decided she felt good enough to get up and eat breakfast in the kitchen. Somehow while there her neighbor spotted her, hair and face still caked with blood, and called an ambulance.

Cindy was livid of course. “It’ll heal, it’ll heal” she muttered. She had no health insurance, lived in poverty… how would she ever pay for hospital time? Paramedics don’t care about all that, bless their little hearts, and against her wishes they strapped her in and tossed her in the truck. Sadly, the small town hospital they took her to was far from able to handle the severity of her injuries and she was helicoptered to the big city.

She never said how long she’d had to spend with the healers. She did though explain that she’d suffered brain damage, mostly memory loss, manifesting itself in her loss of language.

It was three hours at the table before we’d said our goodbyes. In the end she’d asked me for help; help of a sort I thought I could provide though hadn’t a clue as to how considering our geographic distance from each other. (130 miles) But I agreed to do what I could, as is the custom. And that halfhearted promise may well have led to our collective demise.

She began calling the following week. Every few days the phone would be picked up in my studio and spend a few hours on my shoulder as I talked her through words and concepts and general language usage. Always there would be added material; stories about her day, assorted gossipy tidbits, calling on the ghosts of our pasts. But in the main the time was spent relearning how to speak and listen, or so I was given to believe.

I wrote a poem about her one night; one I never told her about, one that just came, as most do, while I was sitting at my keys and wondering what to write about to soothe my nerves. It was the first of a few. It went like this…

Bloody Camisole

A crack upon her weary skull laid waste to words long memorized
I'd venture it was man or beast that shoved her down that stair
And while she lay with ill advice, he, inattentive to her cries
her life poured forth, the years remaimed, into her raven hair

She calls me lately on her whim, though decades past I loved her once;
I need to spell my words to her that she might find their mean.
I weep inside though she's immune, she hears no teary eyed affronts
but laughs at tales too soon retold, at life too seldom seen

I long ago reclaimed her from the gates of never come again
she, giving in to demons that seemed out of her control
I'd hoped for more, but as it is she's made her life a specimen
A scroll of unrelenting pain, a bloodied camisole

If I were king I'd have her here, she'd own one wing within my manse
but in my dreams is where my kingdom has its castle bright
my heart's worth little so I'm told; not warmth, nor calm, nor sweet romance
but as it's all I really own, my heart is hers this night.

I have to admit here I have my own demons, my own baggage; in fact I own an entire train of thought whose baggage cars are filled to overflowing, some of which oozes out now and then and develops into quicksand so as to suck innocent bystanders into… Let’s just say now and then I get depressed. And when that happens I have a hard time carrying someone else’s baggage along with my own. I knew this going in, deep down I really didn’t want to get involved, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to live up to my promise; but as always I leapt onto the bascule, stretched out my neck across the lunette and waited for the guillotine blade to happily zip free what I could never control.

I guess I am quite naive at times. I honestly never expected to hear that we should be lovers. I truly believed we were past all that and that we could deal with each other on a totally platonic level. It didn’t make me nervous; I had no doubts about myself. But it did annoy me; in fact over time it made me quite angry. It was like she was “taking advantage” of the situation, that she was blowing off what I was willing to give in hopes for what… what she really wanted? What she’d fantasized? Anything that was better than being physically and mentally abused every day of her difficult life? I wasn’t flattered, I have no illusions that she wanted what I am in any case; she wanted out of what she had and as always, I seemed a reasonable alternative, nothing more.

It soon came up in every conversation; the more I tried to “help”, the more she’d flirt, the more she’d dig at me. I fought with myself for weeks. Some people can’t be helped, you have to know when to fold em, I owe her at least this, just ignore it, I can do this and on and on. It was overwhelming me, I was obsessing about the complexity of it all, attaching a far greater importance to it than it likely owned.

Then the language conversations stopped all together, replaced by long whines about family members and poverty and wills and Jesus, Mary and Joseph (as my Irish Monsignor used to say when he thought I wasn’t listening) it went on and on and I’d banter and then I’d argue and then I’d shout and finally I’d hang up and then for an hour I’d sit there, heart pounding, wondering what the hell I was going to do. If I kept at it I would surely sink into despair which wouldn’t be good for anyone near me, surely not my poor wife who said she loved me for my kindness but had her limits as to my demonstrating it with others. If I cut it off I would prove that my benevolence, my compassion existed in word only, and what little self worth I clung to was nothing more than badly written fable.

A few weeks passed and I survived by burying myself in fantasy. Every moment I wasn’t on the phone dealing with the next “emergency” I played games and read books and immersed myself in film and wrote prompt fiction until my fingertips bled from pounding the poor plastic keys of so many ruined keyboards. And then, one day, when I was swimming in quicksand and wondering if I’d be able to keep my head above the horizon, I folded and said it was over, that I could do this anymore, that she couldn’t call my number, that I had no help for her after all, that no, we weren’t friends anymore, that she needed to stop crying because it wouldn’t change anything, that I was going to hang up now. And then I did.

1 comment:

  1. What a sad piece. We all have to draw the line somewhere.