Alzheimer’s

On Monday, I visited my Uncle Ralph, who is in a hospital in Maryville, TN, waiting for his kidneys to clear up and recovering from an urinary tract infection.   Then, he will undergo a heart catheterization procedure to see if his heart attack last week damaged his heart. A few weeks ago, he had finally put his wife, Polly, in a facility called Asbury Acres for people with Alzheimer’s disease. After seeing my uncle, I went to visit my aunt and here’s what I saw:

 

Yesterday evening, I was driving around Maryville seeing all the new subdivisions being built and I drove by Asbury Acres. Against my better judgment (I was still a little nerve-wrecked from visiting Ralph), I turned around and drove back to Asbury Acres. I walked into the retirement home and was told by the receptionist that Polly was in the medical center. The receptionist then proceeded to give me instructions about access to the building. Here is a summary of my visit:

 

I drove up to the medical center building, which is around the corner from the retirement home (from the entrance, the medical center appears to be a single story structure, although you can see there are what appear to be “underground” stories). I entered the foyer and walked down the hall past an interesting birdhouse to the elevator. Inside the elevator, I had to punch in a code on a keypad (*234) before the elevator floor buttons would become operational. I punched the first floor button, and the elevator went down.

 

Upon exiting the elevator, I turned to a door on the left, where I had to press a button on the wall in order to unlock the door. As I opened the door, I saw several people who seemed at least halfway coherent standing around or shuffling down the hall. A floor nurse (I’ll call her floor nurse #1) stood behind a counter and gave me instructions on how to get to Polly’s section. As I walked down the hall to Polly’s section, I observed two women looking at a picture of themselves posted on the wall outside a room. I stood at entrance to Polly’s section and watched the two women for a moment. One woman said to the other, “See, this is your room because that’s your picture. My picture’s there, too, so I must live in this room, too.” Floor nurse #1 kept yelling at me to press the keycode on the wall so I looked around and finally noticed a small keypad on the wall on the right side of the entrance.

 

I had to punch in the same keycode I used in the elevator in order to unlock the door. As I opened the door, I saw several people (who looked liked ghosts of their former selves) standing or shuffling along. My nervousness shot up a notch. I asked the floor nurse of Polly’s section (floor nurse #2) where Polly was. She told me that Polly had just been put to bed (it was around 7 p.m. Eastern time) and pointed me around the corner. I walked through another set of double doors (these doors were already open and did not need to be unlocked). Polly’s room, 132N, was on the right. At the entrance to Polly’s room, a woman in a wheelchair stared at the nameplates. She looked at me as if I was going to scold her and said, “Oh, I’m just looking at the names to see if it’s anyone I know.” I nodded my head and walked into the room.

 

I had seen Polly recently and already knew how thin she was. Laying in bed, she looked even thinner. Her eyes were shut and she was curling into and out of a fetal position, while talking out loud. From what I could tell from the words coming out of Polly’s mouth, there were several streams of conversations taking place. In one stream, a mother and her young daughter were talking to each other. In another stream, she was describing something she was seeing that I could not understand. In another stream, she was just mumbling. I stood by her bed for several minutes and listened to her, not knowing if I should speak because I couldn’t tell if she was in a dream state, in a state of delirium from drugs or wide awake. In any case, she did not know I was there so I looked at the pictures on the wall. The most touching picture was the one of Ralph and Polly from 1995 — they both looked very happy. I waited until my nerves could no longer take it and walked out (I almost ran out of the room). To calm myself down, I spent a few minutes talking with floor nurse #2 about the latest word on Ralph. She had not seen any of Polly’s family yesterday and did not know if the heart cath procedure was a definite thing; she knew that Ralph was very worried about Polly. I told her the heart cath was planned for this morning and asked her to pray for Ralph — she said she had been and would continue to do so.

 

After I left Polly’s section, I hurried to get…to get out of the next section but was blocked by a man in a stand-up wheelchair. He insisted on shaking my hand and was mumbling. Floor nurse #1 told me that he spoke only Spanish so I told the man, “Hasta manana”. He shook his head as if he wanted me to stay and talk with him. I nodded my head and repeated, “Hasta manana” and patted him on the shoulder. Floor nurse #1 gave me a smile of sympathy and pointed me to the exit. I punched in the keycode, opened the door and walked over to the elevator. When the elevator door opened, two women inside were as confused and nervous as I was and we could not determine which floor led to the building exit. The elevator moved to the third floor and a man stepped on who said he had been as confused as we were and had ridden the elevator up and down a few times himself. We figured out that the building exit was on the second floor.

 

We all stepped off the elevator with relief. I stopped to look at the birdhouse, which is like a glass aquarium except it has birds, mainly finches from what I could tell.

 

I got in the car and was ready to cry. I drove around Maryville some more and ended up at the old Kay’s ice cream store. I had a refreshing vanilla milkshake. I called my sister and told her about the experience. We decided that perhaps I shouldn’t tell Mom about the trip to Polly’s until after the outcome of Ralph’s surgery.

 

I can see why Ralph cries anytime he mentions Polly at Asbury Acres. I’m sure it was a tough decision to put her away, so to speak. I can also see why he’s able to get a full night’s sleep, if what I saw was Polly’s normal condition.

 

 

so, b, you’ve seen the world — what’s it all about? i feel like we’re just supposed to live our lives and hope we aren’t too much of a burden on others. but what’s the definition of a burden? if we do something for someone out of love for that person, no matter how much we suffer in the process, should that be considered having a burden placed on us by the loved one? no. then i guess we’re supposed to live our lives and hope we’ve generated enough love that others will want to take care of us at our worst. but what is love? love is many things to many people, of course, but in this case, love is the…the biochemical attraction that makes us go crazy when we’re not with the other person, that makes us do what it takes to keep that other person with us…a mutual attraction…a positive reinforcing codependency, of sorts. so why do some humans have this love for one other human and some do not? if we’re just here to procreate, then this love would be beneficial to the whole species (and seems to be so for other species, as well). why the disparity between members of our species? in the end, when i’m sitting in some nursing home pooping in my pants, will anything i have said really matter, even if i have said something that has benefited our species? after visiting my aunt and seeing the unnamed faces in the hallway, it sure didn’t feel that way. but that’s just me, of course, i always look for ways to feel depressed, a kind of euphoria that’s down instead of up, a kind of emotion that’s addictive in ways that are detrimental to my daily living, a habit i have to constantly ensure i’m not picking up again, like some kind of ex-druggie surrounded by pushers i have to keep saying no out loud while inside i’m saying yes.

 

enough already, i have to get ready to go see A Mighty Wind.

 

– 28 May 2003

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Pilgrimage to the Carousel of Progress

Couldn’t make hay but hey the sun was shining so I worked on the lattice slat art piece, including support frame made of furring strips

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Then, with electric brad nailer in hand, I began the artistic placement of weathered lattice slats…first two in place:

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Dozens more to go!

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Maybe this week I’ll finish? [Fingers crossed]

After all, our 28th wedding anniversary is mere days away and this is the only gift I have for me loverly bride.

Papa’s Delicatessen Condiments

I joined a gang at age 9.

The gang leader, Mike Martin, was, as I mentioned, adopted by parents from, his adopted mother told him in a fit of impatient rage, a drug-addicted prostitute.

Mike and I dissected dead birds, started a tunnel to China, smoked his mother’s cigarettes, robbed stores and looted/vandalised suburban homes for two years, joined by others as Mike saw fit to let them in his inner circle.

Mike taught me the fine art of loose cannonism.

Once, while playing with Army men in his room, Mike said he had to take a dump.

Out of curiosity, to see how much he could push his leadership role, he told me to go to the bathroom, grab a wad of toilet paper, come back to his room and catch his dump in mid-air.

Seriously.

He had a scatological obsession that I wouldn’t doubt extends to this day, wherever he is.

But I digress.

Mike’s most important lesson to me in the two years I hung out with him (and I try to learn at least one thing from every person I meet): assess all situations ahead of time as much as possible and predetermine who will take the blame if higher authorities seek a culprit for a perceived breech of trust between parties involved.

I have applied his lesson to every moment of my life, expanding in number and degrees the people/places/things upon which I transfer any guilt which lays upon my person, even if only in my imagination.

As I may have told you, my parents forbade me seeing Mike again after the neighbourhood gossip network spread word to my parents that I was seen with a known vandal.

My parents confronted me and only wanted to know if I had been with Mike when a house was vandalised.  They wanted no more details.

I said yes (although I had initially lied to my mother when she asked where the latex paint stains on my jeans came from, making some lame excuse she knew was false but didn’t want to know why (Mike and I had split open a can of paint and splashed it on windows and doors amongst many other destructive actions that Mike egged on as we kept following his crazier and crazier ideas without question)).

They made me pay from my lawnmowing money the estimated cost of repair the house construction foreman gave them, because I decided to shoulder the blame myself — a torn screen door, a section of broken sheetrock and a shattered window pane — a total of $25, which to a boy in 1972 who earned $2.50 a lawn was more money than I kept in my piggy bank.  The foreman said the spilt paint damage he could clean himself after my parents offered me to help.

Why do I bring this up now?

After all, I paid my dues.  Plus, my parents recognised my desire to clear my conscience by paying for all the damage, something they had not desired of me, wishing to remain ignorant of the specifics, hoping I would put all the blame on Mike and prove my innocence.

What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.

What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.

I bring this up because the delicate balance of passing the blame and shouldering the blame has worked in my favour, for the most part.  As a business leader, I never blamed my employees for a mistake, chalking it up to a training issue that would solve the problem the next time.

I need remind myself of this fact when I’m feeling down and want to blame myself for not having taken easy measures to prevent detrimental actions of others.

I remind myself now because I sense I want to leave this blog and create a new one, leaving no pointer toward it, set aside a space for myself where I can let my imagination roam sunny skies and dark back streets without influencing a single reader’s tiniest thoughts.

By knowing I have active readers, my ego gets in the way.  I, I, I becomes a dominant word, much more than I’d like to appear here.

If this is the last entry in this blog, you’ll know what happened.

I can’t with a clear conscience give other characters in my oeuvre the opportunity to wickedly blossom on this page without worrying I’ll trigger real-life imitators.

I have fuller, richer stories to tell that I don’t want to parallel real life in any sort of “see, this guy here back in 2014 predicted [xxx] would happen before anyone else.”

I just want to entertain myself and come back to read the output of my set of states of energy when my thoughts are too idle to write and I don’t have others’ works to light up my synapses.

And so it goes…

Where does innocence end and guilt begin?

I must admit, as an investor in many global funds, I am guilty of contributing to atrocities (whether I know it or not) as a full-fledged member of the modern capitalist era, just as guilty by proxy as retired California public employees.

Is there any way to separate the benefits of life from the costs?

Asking “what if” does not wish away what I cannot see but guess is happening in other parts of the world (or even close to home) — child labour, slave labour, genocide, mass extinction, etc.

How do we reach out to those who are committing the atrocities to find a workable/livable solution for everyone?

Can we?

Are we such a hierarchical, social species that abuse and inequality are acceptable until we’re made aware (through guilt or shock headlines)?

Cafeteria Plan

I sat down at the cafe table, a four-topper, and planned to eat lunch by myself.

A quiet nighttime walk through the cow pasture next to my parents’ neighbourhood the evening before had cleared a space in my thoughts, a hint to myself I had a blank slate on which I could compose a poem.

Usually, I drove back and forth to class writing little rhyming ditties outloud to keep me awake and avoid the chaotic wellspring of thoughts that flowed from the unexplored abyss somewhere within the inner universe I created to map myself onto the real universe for protection against losing myself in full-fledged mental fantasies.

The abyss was like the ebbing and flowing springs near my girlfriend’s childhood home, flowing in greater quantities at times, but like something else altogether, for it sometimes sucked the life out of me, leaving me mentally gasping for air.

The cycles were mostly small enough that I functioned normally, none the wiser amongst those who knew me.

I opened a notebook, pulled a pencil out of my daypack and started scribbling squiggly lines, my meditative way to focus my thoughts on nothing in particular to clear the morning’s class lectures from my readily-accessible conscious pool of words and phrases for poetic practice.

Finished doodling, I ripped out the page and wadded it up.

I pulled out a pen and had four or five lines I composed in my thoughts ready for transcription…

“Lee!”

“Oh, hey.  How you doing, Frances?”

“Great.  I hear Sarah’s going out of town.”

“Yeah, she’ll be gone for all of spring break, I think.”

“You two are quite the pair.  Bet you’ll miss her.”

I looked down at the notebook paper, my poetic thoughts erased.  Rats!  “Uh, yep.  Sure thing.”

Frances gave me a curious look and stood there with a lunch tray in her hands.  “You got room for me?”

“What?  Oh, yeah.”  I closed my notebook and pulled the daypack off the table.

Sarah walked up behind me, kissed me on top of my head and joined us.  “Frances says she’ll keep you company while I’m gone next week.”

“She did?”

Frances nodded.  “If you want, we can go skiing.  I hear Ober Gatlinburg still has a couple of slopes open.”

“Sure.”

We ate our lunch and took turns exchanging funny smiles between the three of us.

Frances was Sarah’s best friend.  They had met earlier in life and renewed their friendship at Walters State.  Sarah trusted Frances with everything, including details about our relationship I had shared with no one, not even my father, who had quizzed me about why I was hanging out with an older, married woman (“if you live in this community, son, you’ll have a reputation to keep…people have long memories when it comes to out-of-the-ordinary friendships like this…rumours get out of hand…just something to keep in mind).

Sarah gave me a level of confidence I wish I had recognised was too high for my pers0nality.

The confidence she gave me…hmm…I haven’t thought about it very often but I can still picture my set of thoughts from that time.

Sarah made me believe I was a good writer, I was a good lover, a good listener, a good father if I wanted to be.  She had already talked about her post-divorce life, wanting to take me to Europe with the surplus money Mike had offered her and then…well, she hinted she was up to starting a new life with me.

It was all so new.

Sarah had to get to class so she left me alone with Frances again.

“Sarah says you still talk about your old girlfriend.”

“I do?”

“Yeah.  She won’t tell you because she’s afraid she’s up against a rival she hasn’t seen or met.  It gives your old girlfriend an unfair advantage.”

I shook my head.  “She said that?”

“No.  But I know it’s what she’s thinking.  It’s what any woman would think in a situation like this.”

I finished the last sip of my carton of milk and pushed against the table to scoot myself out from the table.

Frances reached out and grabbed my hand gripping the table.  “Do you love Sarah?”

We looked each other in the eyes and couldn’t help laughing all of a sudden.

“No, seriously, you’ve got to tell me.  Sarah needs to hear you say it.”

“Love…hmm…”

Frances laughed again and stood up.  “You philosophical poets.  Love is just a game to you, isn’t it?”

I shrugged.

“You ARE going skiing with me.  You can’t say no.  And you’re going to tell me all about your feelings for Sarah AND your old girlfriend.  You know that, don’t you?”

We both laughed as she left.

The next few days Sarah was desperate to spend every minute with me she could, taking me with her to interiour decorating shops, and to clients’ houses, paying me as her assistant so there were no questions asked.

Of course, we played it cool on those visits, no PDA.

But as soon as we got back to the car or van and out of the driveway, she would wrap around me and do everything I thought she could to try to get us to wreck.

The day she left, an early Saturday morning, she gave me Frances’ phone number and made me promise to call her to make sure Frances kept me from getting lonely.

All the feelings I had at the start of our relationship resurfaced, except instead of thinking Mike was setting up a trap, I wondered if Sarah was trying to trap me with Frances (she wasn’t).

I called Frances that evening, hoping she would be out with friends and not at home.

I also knew Frances worked as a waitress in Gatlinburg and Saturday nights would be a pretty busy night, increasing the odds that she’d be away from her house.

I was wrong (or lucky (or unlucky?)).  One of her kids was sick and it wasn’t her ex-husband’s weekend to take their two boys.

Frances gave me verbal instructions to her apartment outside Cosby and told me to come on over.  She could use the company.

I threw together a couple of changes of clothes, told my parents I be away for a day or two and left for parts unknown.

After her divorce, which was adversarial, not amicable, Frances was left with little in the way to support herself.  Her ex-husband had fallen in love with a wealthy, ambitious woman and wanted to ‘trade up,’ as he said, from a local gal with no ambition.

Frances found a subsidised housing complex that only charged her $78 per month for a two-bedroom flat, as long as she was working and going to school.  The deal was only for two years, so Frances pulled herself together and decided to get a two-year associate’s degree as an LPN, sort of an assistant nurse, with jobs available in the area at nursing homes — she figured she had seen enough poop and vomit in her kids’ lives and wasn’t getting paid for it that she could put up with the same body fluids from old people for a salary.

When I got to her flat, she welcomed me with a warm hug.  She was thrilled to have a man in the house and treated me royally, giving me a late-night dinner of leftovers (actually, her TV dinner that she hadn’t eaten) and a tall glass of Jack Daniels whiskey from a bottle the bartender at work had given her in place of a tip for helping him at the bar.

Three or four candles lit the small living room.  Her boys were both sick by then and she had put them to bed early.

I sat on a wornout high wingback chair and she spread out on the sofa, which was covered with a bedsheet because she decided to put her youngest son in her bed for the night.

“What kind of music do you like?”  She pointed toward the crate of LP records on which a turntable sat.

“Just about anything.”

“Do you and Sarah listen to music together?”

“Sometimes.  Not very often.”

“And why not?  I thought you two were lovebirds.”

“Her taste in music is not the same as mine.  How about that?”

“Yeah?  Like what do you mean?”

“She likes the Dave Clark Five.”  I slid off the chair and squatted in front of the crate, which divided the chair from the sofa.

“I can see that.  A little square for me, but I could dance to it, if I had to.  You don’t like it?”

“Umm…I’m more into punk.”

She coughed and spewed a little whiskey.  “Punk?  You?  Mr. All-American?  I figured you for the Bing Crosby and Carpenters type.”

I twisted my head around and stuck my tongue out at her, pulling a random album cover.  “Moody Blues.”

“Yeah.  You wanna put that on, go ahead.”

I pulled the LP from its sleeve and carefully placed it on the turntable.  Even in the dim candlelight, I could see the surface was dusty and scratched up.  “You got something to clean this with?”

“You serious.  Man, you are a little square, aren’t you?  Just play it.  I don’t care.  Besides, these speakers are crap.  You’re not going to hear audiophile equipment on my budget!”

I set the needle down and started to the music play.  Frances coughed.  “Before you play that, see if there’s anything else you want to play first.”

I kept looking through her albums, curious about her tastes versus Sarah’s.  Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin…

She bent over and held my arm.  “You like Joplin?”

“I guess.”

Carole King…  Frances started swaying.  “I feel the earth move under my feet…you like her?”

“Maybe.”

“Okay.  Boy, you sure are talkative.  Just play the Moody Blues and sit back.  You’re going to trip out.”

I started the turntable and sat back up in the chair.

“No, over here.  Sit next to me.”

She crossed her legs underneath her and sat upright against an arm of the sofa, nodding her head for me to do the same.

I sat down.

“Close your eyes and listen.”

I closed my eyes, a tingling sensation in my nose telling me I drank half a glass of whiskey a little too fast.

“Now, keep your eyes closed and tell me what you’re thinking.”

“I drank too fast.”

“No, not that.  What are you thinking about us, right now?”

I opened my eyes a little.

Frances had her head held back, her hands folded in her lap.  She was completely relaxed.

“I’m…I’m wondering if your kids…what they think of their mother if they could see her right now.”

“Uh-huh.  Deeper.  Go deeper.  Can you feel my energy?”

I closed my eyes and tried to relax but was feeling a little dizzy.  I took a deep breath.  “I feel warmth ahead of me and cold behind me.”

“Good.  What am I thinking?”

I almost laughed but felt she really wanted to take this seriously.

“You have a man on the couch with you.  He’s your best friend’s boyfriend.”

“More.  Keep going.”

“You know you’re older than he his but you want something from him.”

She tapped me knee.  “Open your eyes.”

She was smiling at me.  “That was cool, wasn’t it?  Did you feel the vibes I was sending you?”

I nodded.  I also knew I was playing the odds, expressing what was most likely to have passed through her thoughts.

“You smoke?”

I lifted my eyebrows.  I knew Frances was Sarah’s best friend but I was always aware that we carry more than one role with us.  She could be an informant I hadn’t sniffed out yet.

“Oh, don’t act shocked.  I know you are.”

She stood up and lifted the sofa cushion on her side, sticking her hand into a small tear in the seat of the sofa and pulled out a bag.

“Sarah ever talk to you about the tree?”

“Which tree?”

“You know, the one that you both see but isn’t there?”

“Yeah.  It’s a philosophical question.”

“Well, I presented her with my own idea that she thinks is crazy.  You up for it?”

What did I have to lose.  “Okay.”

She lit up, inhaled deeply and handed the pipe to me, holding her breath for a few seconds.

As I breathed in, she exhaled.  “I think if two people sit and face each other and concentrate their thoughts enough, they can line up their wavelengths.”

I nodded as I held my breath.

“Well, what if they both thought about making out together?”

I exhaled and coughed.

“Yeah, crazy, huh?”

I handed the pipe back to her.  The record had stopped playing.

After she exhaled, she set the pipe down.  “Flip it over and play ‘Nights in White Satin.’  Before you do, I want us to get ready.  I believe if we let this song pull us together as one, we can orgasm without touching each other.  Whatdya think?”

I accept that reality is not real.  Most of the time, the tree we see is there if we walk up to it and touch it.  But didn’t we as kids believe the movies we saw?  Didn’t the first people to see a moving train on film flinch when it headed toward them?  Therefore…

I set the needle down on the LP and quickly got back into my lotus position facing Frances.

She swayed slightly, making me woozy.

I let my thoughts bounce around randomly, my vision erasing everything around Frances, then erasing her body, all but her eyes.

We found ourselves swaying gently in the same back-and-forth motion.

Happiness crept up my back and flowed over the top of my head.

The room starting going white.

Frances turned into a Cheshire cat smile with a fully clothed female human body but broadcasting the image of complete nudity.

The song ended and my vision slowly returned.

Sarah uncrossed her legs and bent forward, half-expecting me to do the same.  When I didn’t, she closed the distance between us and kissed me lightly on the lips.

“Heavy, huh?  Did you feel it?  You must have because you are radiating love.”

She stood up and took our glasses to the kitchen, refilling them.

“How much longer can you stay?”

“I don’t know.  You want to go skiing tomorrow?”

“Well…bad news.  I don’t have the money to go skiing.  My kid getting sick means no tip money for tonight.”

She handed me my glass.  “To love!”

We clinked our glasses together and took a gulp.

My father had given me some extra spending money, for gas or other emergency.

“I can pay for you.”

“Naw.  You don’t have to do that.  We can take a raincheck.”

“Well, if you say so.”

“Are you spending the night?”

“Am I?”

“You can, if you want.”

“What about your son?”

“Oh, I can carry him back to his bed.  Besides, they’re so zonked out on cold medicine, they’re going to sleep late tomorrow.”

“Okay, then I can sleep on the sofa…”

Frances blew air through pursed lips.  “What?  No!  You’re going to sleep in my room.”

Over the next few days, I would discover that Frances was what I wished Amy had been but wasn’t.  She always told the truth and she cared for other people.  Like Amy, she had been a child raised on free love but Frances’ parents had been beatniks, not flower children.  Frances would probably have been Amy’s older sister, wiser and more to the point, trained to be a caretaker.

I tried to sleep on one side of the bed, as close to the edge as I could, breathing in and out regularly.

Frances reached over and tickled me.  “Oh no, you don’t.  You aren’t going to crawl into bed with me and pretend to be asleep.”

We tickle fought for a long time.  It was great fun.

After an hour of wrestling around like children, I pinned her hands on the mattress up above her head and locked my legs around hers.

“Say ‘uncle.'”

“Uncle?  No way.  You are not my uncle.”

“I won.”

“You?”  She laughed.

I could barely see her face in the ribbon of dim light that trailed from the hallway — she kept the door open to her boys’ room and her room so she could hear in case one of them starting a coughing fit (her youngest son had asthma).

The look on her face told me who had triumphed.

“What am I thinking?”

“You got me to bed with you without even trying.”

“Bingo.”  She tickled my left palm with her right index finger and my arm buckled.  I tried to turn my head and smacked my right ear into her nose.

She bit on my earlobe and whispered.  “You can’t say you don’t like me.”

“No, I can’t.”

“What are you thinking right now?”

“That…” that I realised I trusted her in ways I didn’t trust others.  “That I might have multipersonality disorder.”

She kissed me on the neck.  “I know.  What do you think I am?”

I rubbed my cheek along her nose until we were nose-to-nose.

My friend, Monica, and I had tripped together many times a few years before and agreed we had made love to each other in a much more meaningful, “forever” way than two physical lovers.

Frances and I looked at each other.

Once, after drinking mushroom tea by myself at the flat on Laurel Avenue, I stood and stared at myself in a full-length mirror for two whole hours, watching image after image, personality after personality, flip through my thoughts.

Frances and I did the same thing together.  She would become a man and I would become a woman, then we’d kiss.  She would become a damsel in distress and I would become the cowboy to rescue her, then we’d kiss.

I don’t know how long this went on.

[I have experienced moments like this with my wife, but she essentially stays the same character while I shapeshift in her presence.]

We were content to play this game forever, it seemed.

Until a hacking sound echoed down the hall.

I let go of Frances as she leapt out of bed and headed to the other bedroom.

I got up and rearranged the bedsheet and quilt that had been tossed around while we tickled each other.

A few minutes later, just as I was coming down off an adrenaline high, Frances walked in with her son in her arms, his head draped over her shoulders as she gently patted him on his back.

She handed him to me and I, for the first time, held a child in my arms, completely asleep and unaware at my awkwardness trying to figure out how to cradle a living being while Frances grabbed a couple of pillow off the floor and added them to the headboard for her to lean back against.

After she sat back in bed, she motioned me to get in bed with her.

I crab-walked across the quilt and tried to turn without waking her son as Frances held her hands up to steady me joining her in an upright sitting position.

She put her lips to my ear.  “You don’t know what this means to me.”

Pour in compliment, stir in a tone of comforting love, create instant father.

Again, a sensation I haven’t experienced before or after.

I had turned her son so that his head was cradled against my shoulder — he automatically wrapped his arms around my neck.

Frances leaned her head against her son’s head and my shoulder.

We fell asleep.

Sometime in the night, Frances returned her son to the bedroom with his brother.

She crawled back into bed with me and said we made out while I was half-asleep — she was right when she told the half-asleep me I wouldn’t remember anything in the morning.

I woke up with Frances draped across me.

We were fully clothed, with the bedsheet covering the lower half of our bodies.

Sensing another presence in the room, I lifted my head high enough to look over the back of Frances’ head to see a young boy sucking his thumb, a big smile on his face.

Frances drooled on my chest in her sleep, her face glued to my chest hairs like pine tar (it’s funny now but then it felt gross).

I fought off my desire to break down the situation into an infinitely-expanding series of “what if” statements, all designed to explain to unknown people a rational purpose for the situation from multiple angles.

A taller boy walked up behind his brother.

“Are you supposed to be our uncle?”

I nudged Frances.

“Oh, hey boys.  This is Lee.  You guys hungry?”

We both sat up and stretched.

The little boy ran over and grabbed my hand, pulling on me to stand up.

For one brief, wonderful moment, I was a father with a son who loved me unconditionally.

The rest of the week we stayed there, the younger son followed me around.  He even called me Daddy a few times.  He was younger than eight, old enough to know better than to suck his thumb, which his mother gently reminded him to stop.

The older boy was always a little distrustful.  Once, when we were standing alone in the kitchen, the wise 12-year old told me, “I’m not going to call you ‘uncle.’  I know what’s going to happen.  You’re going to leave my mother and us and never see us again and I’ll have to tell my brother why his new daddy doesn’t love him anymore.”

“I’m not your uncle, I promise.  I’m just a friend of your mother’s.”

“Well, why are staying with us?”

“Because your mother asked me to.”

“I’ve had other uncles, you know.  And they gave me things.  You gonna give me anything?”

Smart kid.  Probably head of Mergers and Acquisitions for a small corporation by now.

“Like what?”

“Come on.  I’ll show you.”

We went to his room where he showed me a new football, a pair of basketball shoes, some baseball cards, and a couple of Transformer toys.

I told him I’d do what I could but he didn’t have to call me uncle, no matter what.

We found a neighbour who kept the boys while Frances and I went skiing.

At the ski resort, we ran into a friend of Sarah who figured out what was going on — I knew this was too good to be true but hey, it was all new to me — I wasn’t seasoned enough to give a reasonable explanation except to say Sarah knew that Frances was going to take care of me while she was gone.

I spent the rest of the week with Frances, so wrapped up in the moment that I forgot to call my parents.

In that week, I acted the role of husband/boyfriend to Frances, who really wanted a little stability in her life, if only for a week, and father to the boys.  By the end of the week, both boys had grown used to me, the older one still distrustful but accepting of my genuine friendliness toward all of them, especially his mother, for whom he felt a big brother’s protectedness.

One evening, when I expected Frances home from work, she was late.

When she arrived at the flat, her face was flushed.

I noticed but didn’t say anything while she motioned me back into the bedroom with her.

She sat us down on the bed.

“Look, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.  If you have to work late, I don’t mind.”

“No, it’s not that.  My car wouldn’t start…”  She pressed her hand on top of mine.  “…and one of the guys from the kitchen offered me a ride home for gas money.”

“Cool.”

“It was a slow night.  I split my tip with a busboy and didn’t have anything after I paid for a drink at the bar after my shift.”

“Do I need to loan you money to pay him back?”

“Naw.  I’m sure you won’t mind but we had sex in his car just now.”

I knew there was something she wanted me to say but I couldn’t quite visualise it.  “Hey, we are…I mean, we aren’t, uh…you know…”

“Yeah, I thought so.  I just wanted to let you know.  I’ll try not to let it happen again while we’re together.  I think it’s only fair.  Besides, you’ve got two girlfriends yourself…”  She winked at me.

We laughed.

The uneasiness passed quickly.

I think that was a Wednesday.

On Friday, her ex-husband and his wife showed up to get the kids.

His wife was definitely high maintenance.  Plastic surgery had done her well — boob jobs, face lift, maybe even a tummy tuck and butt cheek implants.  She wore three big rocks on her fingers — big, fat, shiny diamonds.

The whole time they were there, he belittled Frances and her loose lifestyle.  The wife kept asking the kids in front of me if I had ever been mean to them.

I admit I was a little heartbroken when the little boy ran up to me to hug me goodbye and wouldn’t let go until his father told him to.

The wife huffed.  “Well, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen THAT!”

Frances smiled.  “See. I do have friends who are good to my kids despite what you think about me.”

After they left, she explained that the wife wanted to get her husband to change the divorce agreement and make the kids hers.  She constantly bribed them with new clothes and trips to amusement parks and tried to get the kids to believe hateful things about their mother but they wouldn’t.  She also tried to convince Frances’ ex-husband that Frances abused the kids with her open relationships and was always looking for one guy in Frances’ life to have whipped or hurt the boys in any way.

Frances had long shifts on the weekend so she thought it best that I leave so she could get back to her life.

She wanted one more day with me so after she put on her work clothes we drove our separate cars to Gatlinburg where she introduced me to her coworkers, one of whom was Barry with whom I’d tripped when I camped with Sarah’s philosophy class.

He was more than impressed that I was dating Frances (not knowing about Sarah) and introduced me to his supplier who was the kitchen manager.  Small world and just one more node in the network for me to map out, handed to me for free.

I drove home that night.

My parents were upset that I’d been gone all week without telling them (oh, the freedom of those pre-mobile phone days!) but reconciled themselves to the fact I was an adult after all, asking me to call them collect next time just to let them know I was okay.

Lying in bed, alone for the first time in a week, I examined my thought patterns and saw scar tissue from mental wounds I didn’t know were there, a tear in the fabric of my being, ripping apart the layers of subcultural training that had been stretched over my inner self.

In less than two months, I had given myself over to the people pleaser in me with authentic rather than feigned pleasure.

Who was I?

I thought I was a writer seeking new material.

Is a writer a murderer?  A polyamourous lover?  A cafeteria plan religious adherent?

Yes, no, all of the above, none of the above?

The luxury of a few short hours before I fell asleep!

Sarah returned the next day and would want to see me right away so I knew I had to face her.

I had to talk to Karen, too, because I had unresolved feeling about her.

I began to think that maybe I wouldn’t survive myself, just the tiniest hint of an idea in the back of my thoughts as my consciousness melted away into peaceful dreams…

For one last night…

CSPAN Night

Book authors share their stories/ideas:

 

Faustian Bargain

I perfected the art of lying when I was six years old.

The earlier you learn, the easier it is to work for your handlers, jointly developing with them a back story, data points in your life that are fascinating enough to entertain others, whom you don’t really care if they believe you or not; in fact, the more fantastic your tales, the less likely they are to believe it when/if they discover what you are.

In Ft. Sanders, my job was easy — lay low, infiltrate the drug dealer pipeline and, using both investigative techniques and my highly-tuned intuition, map the network of drug dealers, pimps, petty thieves, and other outlaws in the area.

I could not even divulge my identity to the narcs who were on the payroll of various governmental agencies in exchange for…well, should I tell you that some of your friends and family intentionally spy on you in hopes of earning enough money for a fancy sports car, second vacation home, or skybox seats at their favourite football stadium?

Thing is, I don’t care about money or prestige.

I want, yet I don’t want, the pain in head to go away.

My parents told me I always thought too much and my father slapped me more than once for saying what I was thinking.

They couldn’t see I was only exposing the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Plus, I am the product of their lovemaking so my thinking “too much” is their fault!

Were they punishing me for being alive?

I learned the hard way to keep my mouth shut and to pretend to go along with everything they requested of me, even pretending to love them when, deep down, my regret about being alive burned a hole and finally destroyed my heart.

So it is I find myself here trying to weave a facsimile of a heart — trying to emulate the behaviours of people around me who are considered successful in their niches of society.

Including ones who see me as a pawn in their games, playing them against one another for my own entertainment.

I am heartless but I am not completely mean and cruel.

I can feel.  Boy, can I feel!

The pain in my head I have tried all but suicide to get rid of.

Being rational, I won’t perform crazy stunts like put a drill bit to my head, knowing that the pain is an amalgam of synaptical connections that use the idea of timestamps in the form of place-based snapshots we call memories, the very essence of being alive.

I have practiced meditation techniques that divert me from the pain for extended periods of time.

I tried psychoanalysis on a one-to-one and group therapy basis.

I concluded that living with the pain is my cause célèbre if not my raison d’être.

Only later would Sarah come to understand this.

She stood up off the sofa and walked over to the pool table where several bolts of fabric were rolled out.

“Do you like these together?”

She held up a mauve paisley pattern and placed it next to an ivory and gray striped pattern.

My brain does not process colours well.  When I see colours, I see emotions that tend to cancel out my thoughts.

“Well…what about the blue?”

Sarah reached across the table and picked up a swath of cloth covered with interlocking white rings on a royal blue background.

“With which one?”

“The stripes.”

“They do go together well but it’s not what the customer asked for.  However…”

Her eyelids widened, she dropped the material and skipped back to the sofa.

“I LOVED the way your eyes looked when I held up that blue.” She jumped and sat down in my lap, bumping our foreheads together.

I leaned back.  “Ouch!”

“Sorry.”  Sarah kissed my forehead, then the bridge and tip of my nose and planted her lips on mine.

I mumbled as we kissed.  “I love the way your eyes look when you hold your lips to mine.”

She nodded and kissed me harder.

I am not a Don Juan.  Before meeting Sarah, I think I kissed two women intimately, so my experience and my technique were rather limited.

Sarah kissed my chin, then my neck and started unbuttoning my shirt.

I had no idea what she was thinking as she pulled my shirt out of my pants.

She leaned back and looked up at me.  “Mike makes me do this all the time but with you I WANT to do it.”

‘Do what?  Kiss my chest hairs?’  I thought maybe Mike had a fetish I hadn’t heard of before.

She started undoing my belt and I put my hand on hers.  “Umm…”

“Don’t worry. Mike’s not due for a couple of hours and the kids have after school activities today.”

Sarah leaned down and put her mouth where no mouth had been before.

To be honest, it looked demeaning to me and I protested that Sarah didn’t have to do what she was doing, my thoughts associating her actions with abusive male dominance, not something that a woman would actually enjoy doing.

Oh, Lee of little experience!

She didn’t stop and I learned another lesson.

She had me very excited, so much so that I wanted her to enjoy herself, too, so I reached over, slid my hand down her sweatpants, grasped one of the cheeks of her buttocks and squeezed.

She grunted approval and wiggled her behind.

I wasn’t sure what to do so I massaged the inside of her leg.

At that, Sarah stopped what she was doing and sat up, looking me straight in the eye.

“I didn’t know you were ready for that.”

“Ready for what?”  If she wanted me to do what Amy’s boyfriend liked, I was definitely not ready for that.

She stood up, grabbed a belt loop to pull my pants back up and lifted me to my feet.  “Come on!”

We walked out of the den, past the guest bedroom, down the hall and up the stairs to the master bedroom on the left of the landing.

She continued to drag me to the bed.

I know I’ve told you this story before, haven’t I?

Well, my father’s first lesson to me, when my high school girlfriend asks for suggestions in case she wanted to make out with me, was this: always keep at least one pants leg on.

As Sarah and I positioned ourselves on the bed, I did indeed keep one pants leg on.

Sarah thought it odd but not odd enough to stop her from getting me to climb on top of her and make her happy (I was too nervous for any climax on my part, let me tell you, but again I’m getting ahead of myself).

As she reached her happy place, she widened her eyelids and I thought maybe this is what love is supposed to be.  I wasn’t sure.

“Wait.”  She moved her hands from my hips and moved them to my shoulders.  “Stop.”

“Am I hurting you?”

“Shh.  No.  Listen.  Can you hear that?”

My heart was pounding in my ears (well, yes, I still have that kind of a heart).

I whispered.  “What?”

“The garage door.  Yes, it’s closing now.  Quick!  Get up!  I can hear Mike!”

Sarah, completely naked at that point, pushed me aside and ran to the bedroom door, slamming it shut just as Mike was walking up the stairs.

She clicked the door lock just as he grabbed the doorknob.

“Sarah, you in there?”

“Yes.”

“What’s going on?”

“I just took a shower and I don’t want you to see me.”

“What on earth?  I’ve seen you naked plenty of times.  Let me in.  I need to pee.”

“Use the hall bathroom.”

“No. This is my house and I’ll use my own damn bathroom, thank you.”

By this time, I had buttoned my shirt and pulled my pants up.

“Just a second.”  Sarah motioned me to the closet as she grabbed her panties and bra and put them on.

I know I’ve told you this story before.  I can distinctly remember trying to emphasise which details to write down rather than all the details I took in as I saw my life flash before my eyes.

Sarah let Mike in and he stomped his feet as he trudged past the closet door and into the bathroom where, surprise, surprise, the L-shaped closet I was in opened up toward.

I turned my head to have a direct view of Mike’s backside as he peed.

After he zipped up and turned around, I swore he looked straight at me as stomped in my direction.

I was half a second away from letting go of my belt buckle to keep it from making a clinking metal sound and bolting out of the house.

Then, Mike, unaware of my presence, walked into the bedroom and mumbled something about his crazy wife.

“I skipped lunch and came home early.  If you’re going to get a shower, I’m going to fix myself a sandwich.”

“Suit yourself.”

“Taking a shower in the middle of the day…  You’re going to spend all our money, aren’t you?”

“Whatever.”

As Mike left the room, Sarah locked the door again and got me out of the closet.

She hugged me and sighed.  “That was too close.”

I zipped up my pants and clasped the belt buckle together.

“What are we going to do now?”

She kissed me on the lips.  “He might stay until his basketball game.  We’ve got to get you out of here somehow.”

She looked at the sliding glass doors.  “The balcony.”

“Huh?”

“It’s not that far to the ground.”

“What?”

“Come on, I’ll show you.”

She quietly slid open a door and motioned me to follow her outside.

The ground sloped down from the back of the house past the balcony but up against the house were some bushes about eight feet below.

“Can you jump?”

“Uh, this is crazy.”

“The bushes will catch you.”

And they did.  However, holly bushes catch you and then scratch you for a bit of fun.

Not wanting Mike to know I stopped by on Monday in addition to Tuesday, Sarah had me park in a hidden pulloff about half a mile down the road and rode with her to her house.

She kissed me and wished me luck as I jumped.

I ran as fast as my clumsy self could go through the woods, guessing where I’d come out at the road as far away from the house as I could, in case Mike or someone he knew drove by.

The next day in CAD class Sarah was as unattentive to me as CEOs are to their workers, playing up our old relationship as if nothing had happened.  And, from a conversation I had with a fellow CAD class member when we were at East Tennessee State University a few months later, nobody knew the passionate affair Sarah and I shared.

When I met Mike at his house, he was ready for a serious game of street ball, no holds barred.

I think I still have some bumps on my ribcage where Mike slammed an elbow into me as I went for a layup.

More importantly, Mike confessed that he had few friends, especially someone who could understand why he had to tell me that he loved his wife more than life itself and couldn’t, for the life of him, understand why she wanted a divorce.  He was sure she had fallen in love with someone else but didn’t know who.  He had gone over all the friends they and none of them made any sense that she’d be interested in one of them.

He asked me if I had noticed any guys at school she might favour.

I shrugged.

“Well, Sarah says you’re an Eagle Boy Scout.  You have a keen eye.”

“Umm…”

“But you’re probably too clean cut to see a torrid affair.  Am I right?”

“If you say so.”