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
Helen of Kosciusko
(college adventures with my high school mate, Monica)
Published by Tree Trunk Productions 261 Mohawk Road Big Cove, Alabama USA 35763-9249 First Print Edition, May 2006
Second Print Edition, April 2008
First Tandem Jump
“Well, David, thank you for joining me for the interview today. I know you’ve got a busy schedule.”
“Tell me about your first experience.”
“With LSD or sex?”
“Well, LSD, I guess, unless it included sex, of course.”
“God, my first experience. There’ve been so many since then. I’ll tell what I think I remember. How about that?”
“That’s all I can ask.”
“There were a bunch of us at a picnic, eating fried chicken.”
“Interesting. Just like us today.”
“Oh wait, I am describing today, aren’t I? I’ve completely lost track of the concept of time, you know. Well, let’s see…my first time. It actually is…it was an outdoor event. We were hanging out at this guy’s family farm. We thought we’d go tripping in the woods. Just as we were passing the chicken yard, this guy started freaking on us, telling us about how he used to watch his grandfather slaughter chickens one-by-one in the chicken yard. He walked into the chicken yard and before we could say anything, he grabbed a chicken and twisted its head off.”
“Well, that must have been exciting.”
“Well, everything’s exciting. This was just downright new. We all walked into the chicken yard. So there I was, there and not there. Imagine me, eating raw chicken, blood tendrils and all.”
“Yes, quite. So tell us about not being there.”
“We all go ‘round with this…well, what do you call it? Our filter of experience? When you’re not there, it’s like…like lifting the veil. You see the vast consciousness…”
A woman from the crowd standing around them spoke up. “Then what’s the purpose of the ego if the vast consciousness is so wonderful?”
“The ego? Hmm…oh, well, the ego is our personal means of survival, our way of figuring out what it all means.”
“So you’re saying there’s meaning in it all, that you can derive something universal when you lift the veil and see the vast consciousness?”
“No, no, of course not. There’s no universal meaning. There’s only you. Or me. I mean, you see the world around you and the limitations of your mind. Then, you can realize that your limitations define the you from the rest of the egoless universe.”
“So, what did you see?”
“Wow!” The crowd laughed. “Yeah, exactly. I’m like this little dot of nothingness, this drop of water evaporating into the sky, then condensing into rain and falling onto a grain of sand. Bumping into each other and both of us saying silently to each other, ‘Oh, you’re like totally insignificant, too.’ Then seeing up close we’re totally unique. The infinite and the finite at the same time. So, I’m this drop of water but I’ve got this little bit of stuff in me, some chemicals I picked up while floating in the sky. My own personal acid rain concoction…” The crowd laughed again. “Which means I can only erode certain things I run into…”
“Like the grain of sand?”
“Exactly. So when I bumped into the grain of sand, we reacted to each other, reshaping each other, me taking a bit of him and vice versa.”
“So that’s what you saw?”
“Much more than that. But again, although I thought I was seeing the raw, unfiltered universe, I was really seeing the world through a mind polluted with LSD. My personality was still there. I was really just hallucinating, taking a joy ride through my brain synapses.”
“Interesting. So no ultimate nirvana, then?”
“Afraid not. We’ve still got to figure out who we are, which really means we’ve got to find a way to get our next meal and all that.”
“So that’s how you became a writer?”
“Yeah. I got fucking tired of the day-to-day job, even though I realized most of us get by on two levels, the day-to-day, put-bread-on-the-table job and the self-satisfying “hobby” of whatever we really liked to do. I just decided to try my hand at combining the two.”
“So do you still eat freshly slaughtered chickens?”
“God, no. Think of all the possible bacterial infections or diseases. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy diving in with my hands and ripping one apart again. That’s the real deal, you know, killing your own food. If you’ve never done it, then you don’t know where you came from.”
“I thought you were from the suburbs.”
“I am. I am. But my grandparents and great-grandparents grew up on a farm.”
“Well, I appreciate you telling us your experience but from what I’ve been able to find out, your first experience was something else entirely.”
“It was? Well, there you go. I have no concept of time. What was my first experience, then?”
“It was in Knoxville, wasn’t it?”
“Knoxville? Hmm…I suppose you’re right. So much happened in Knoxville…” David winked at the audience, garnering a few laughs. “Yeah, guess it had to have been Helen, my ‘friend from forever,’ my comrade in arms. Well, a comrade at least.” More laughs.
“Wow, it’s all coming back to me. I was walking with Helen and Paul from Paul’s apartment to his job at the convenience store, appropriately named Paul’s Market, but no relation, of course. At some point and…God, it’s been a long time ago…at some point, Paul started badgering us if we were tripping yet. He kept waving his hand in front of my face. I tried to get him to wave his arm in front of Helen but he’d decided to pick on me, instead. Eventually, I started seeing tracers.”
“Yeah, like leftover patterns of his arm just hanging in the air, like…well, like airplane contrails, I suppose.”
“That’s a pretty good description.”
“Yeah, well, it’s okay. The real tracers have color, some have sound, a mind of their own and some even talk back to you. Well, I guess you could say that tracers are like living shadows or ghosts…or, and I hesitate to say this because of all the religious crap that it’ll be generated in blogs for the next six weeks, but…well, tracers can even appear to be God.”
“Well, to some. Not to me, of course. Except for that one time when I realized that I was God. No, not GOD, like in capital letters. More like ‘oh god, not you again,’ seeing myself in the mirror and realizing that I was my own god, there’s no other god before me except myself and all that other rubbish.”
“Rubbish? What sort of rubbish?”
“Oh you know, the usual stuff. Seeing myself transform from me to my relatives – mother, father, sister – and then into more recently dead ones – grandmother, grandfather, etc. Nothing particularly profound, except to myself, of course.”
“Of course. So this was during your first time?”
“Oh, no. Had to have been ten or twelve times later, when I’d gotten used to the whole loss of reality thing and no longer needed a trusty companion along for the ride.”
“So, then, can you take us back to the first time?”
“Well, sure. But you know what? I want to take this to another level. Let’s dim the lights and I’ll just start pointing at the slides I’ve made for this presentation.”
“Oh, I didn’t know you’d brought a presentation with you.”
“Yes, well, I’ve done this once or twice in college courses so of course I’ve got this sort of rot already prepared. If someone would be so kind as to turn off the lights, I think that your engineer over there is ready to project the computer screen on the wall over there.
“Thank you. So we’re walking toward Paul’s Market…”
On the way to Paul’s Market
- Discussion of our investigation of LSD
Tripping on acid at Paul’s Market
- Talking about view of life being a tunnel
Travel through the tunnel of time back to high school
- Sitting next to each other on band bus trip (“Quit touching me”)
- David remembering Helen returning from her visit to grandparents’ house and her having blood on her tennis shoes from watching her grandfather embalm a dead person
- Automobile accident – Helen in coma for several weeks
- Prom night(s)
- smoking pot beforehand
- adjusting corsage on dress “What are you doing? Get your hands off me!”
- Flash back to story about Helen’s previous dates – mystery surrounding her being touched inappropriately
- previous boyfriend, who had a VW on which he could flash his backup lights to folks who had their bright lights on or were following too close
Return to Paul’s Market and discussion of the present
- Upcoming sorority formal
- Hanging out with Matt, crashing fraternity parties
- Going to see “The Wall”
- Going to see “Rocky Horror Picture Show”
Paul telling us to keep it down because the cops were walking in
- See and hear the oinking pigs
- Paul explaining to the cops that we were just being silly
- Paul suggests we go outside for a while
- Once outside, we wonder whether we should wander off – realize a cop is sitting in a second cop car and hearing us talking our acid-enhanced “baby talk”
- Paul steps out to smoke a cigarette, asking how we’re doing; gives us key to his apartment and tells us to walk back to his place because Paul overheard the cops say they are real suspicious and plan to return in a half hour to check on us
- With all sorts of visual hallucinations around us, we try to find our way back to Paul’s place
Back to Paul’s Place
Feeling lost, David and Helen decided to stop the next person they saw and ask for directions. They turned onto 22nd Street after they crossed Cumberland Avenue. For a few blocks, there was no one about.
At the top of the hill, they thought they heard a noise. “Excuse me,” Helen said to a guy standing in the shadows of a front door entrance.
David could see the guy was smoking. He wasn’t sure if the guy was smoking a cigarette or pot. “Uh,” he whispered to Helen, “maybe we should just leave this guy alone. I don’t think he wants to be bothered,” he said, his paranoia making him cautious about approaching someone who might not want company. David imagined the guy was holding a 9mm gun, contemplating whether to shoot Helen or David first.
“David, is that you?” the guy asked.
Helen looked at David. “Why didn’t you tell me you know him?”
“Yeah, what are you doing here? That doesn’t look like Amy. Don’t tell me you stopped dating Amy.”
“I’m not. I mean, I never was dating Amy.”
“Is Amy that friend of yours?” Helen asked, knowing that David would know which person he meant, another tenant in the old Victorian house on the corner of Laurel Avenue and James Agee Street, where David rented the basement apartment.
“Okay,” Helen replied with a sound of satisfaction in her voice.
“So, you guys wanna go up to my place?” Rajen asked. “I just made some curry and hate to see it go to waste.”
“We’re not hungry?” Helen said and giggled.
“Well, how ‘bout some beer? I bought some cheap stuff for myself. It’s not good but it’s drinkable.”
David looked at Helen for a sign. She just smiled at him, not indicating she wanted to go in, telling him in her noncommittal state that David would have to face the consequences of his decision alone. David knew that Helen was really saying she was unsure about going in to visit Rajen, taking a diversion from their intended path. She would go in with David if he wanted, of course, but would expect David to make the diversion worthwhile.
“Well…” David began, still not sure if he wanted to go in or not.
“Great! Come on in.”
“Well, how about if we sit outside?” David asked, thinking that would be the best way to get out of the situation if the conversation with Rajen was too boring.
“I don’t have any chairs on the first floor.”
“We could sit on the railing.”
“I wouldn’t do that – they’re pretty old.”
“Weren’t you sitting on it when we walked up?” Helen asked.
“I don’t think so. I was just standing here smoking.”
“Oh yeah!” Helen said, with a burst of laughter. “The smoke was just sitting here.”
Rajen looked at David, slightly confused. David didn’t know whether to tell Rajen that they were tripping. Rajen did not approve of drugs, even though he smoked cigarettes and drank beer. David had tried to explain to Rajen several times that nicotine and alcohol were drugs but Rajen always disagreed.
“Are you…” Rajen began to ask.
“Are we what?” Helen asked.
“Are you guys okay?”
“Why? Shouldn’t we be? We aren’t the ones who’re smoking.”
“Mmm…sure. Okay. So do you want to go up? I’ve got chairs on the second floor balcony.”
David looked at Helen again. She shrugged. “Well, we…we just left Paul’s Market.”
“Okay,” Rajen said, beginning to realize that David and Helen were on something. “So does that mean you can or cannot go in?”
“We’d better not.”
“No, I mean, we’d like to but…” David continued.
“You can’t. Yeah, I understand. So what are you guys up to?”
“About five feet, four,” Helen said.
“Okay. Other than that?”
“We’ve been carving a tunnel,” Helen added.
Rajen laughed. “Yeah, I can see you don’t need any more beer. Or have you been drinking?”
“Drinking?” Helen asked, and turned to David. “Have we been drinking?” she asked David and laughed. “Yeah, I think I had a Pepsi a while ago.”
“Is that what’s in your hand?” Rajen asked.
“Oh, that’s where I put it,” Helen said. She extended the bottle to Rajen. “Want some?”
“No, thanks. I’m afraid to ask. What’s in it?”
Helen held the bottle up to her face. “Air bubbles. There’s a big one on top of the Pepsi. See?” she asked, pushing the bottle in David’s face.
David knew she meant the empty space above the liquid. “Well, that’s not exactly a bubble.”
“Yes, it is.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Cause a bubble’s like air encased in liquid.”
“Well, this air’s encased in liquid.”
“No, it’s not. It’s just the empty space inside the bottle.”
Helen shook the bottle. “Okay, look. There’s liquid all over the inside of the bottle. So it’s a bubble.”
“Okay, you’re right, it’s a bubble,” David said, rolling his eyes.
“You don’t believe me?”
“You just agreed with me. You can’t take it back.”
“Okay,” David said with a sigh.
Helen turned to Rajen. “See, it’s just an air bubble.”
“Ri-i-ight. I still don’t think I want to try it.”
Helen nudged David. “Ask him.”
“Okay. Rajen, do you know how to get to Paul’s place?”
Helen nudged David again and jerked her head to one side, indicating to David he’d said the wrong thing.
“I mean, do you know the way to the Highland Terrace Apartments?”
Rajen looked at them with a mischievous grin. “Highland Terrace?”
“Yeah, up by the World’s Fair site.”
“I don’t know. I think it’s gone.”
“Yeah, I think they tore them down a while ago.”
“Uh, I don’t know what you mean. We were just there like an hour ago.”
“Are you sure about that?”
David looked at Helen. “It is Highland Terrace, isn’t it?” Helen nodded.
Rajen tried to keep from laughing. He’d heard that David was interested in doing drugs but he’d never seen David on drugs. Rajen had never wanted to take drugs because he knew people did stupid things on drugs. He saw that David and Helen could be easily confused. He decided to have a little fun to see just how much he could confuse them. “Yeah, I’m sure they tore them down several years ago. Yep, like years after I finished my PhD.”
“PhD? I thought you were working on your master’s degree.”
“Oh, I finished that a long time ago. David, are you sure you haven’t been drinking?”
“Well, we had a little bit a while ago.”
“You act like you’ve been out of it for the past few years. You aren’t astral projecting like Amy, are you?”
“Astral projecting?” Helen asked David.
“Never mind. I’ll tell you about it later.”
“Tell me now.”
“Oh, okay. Amy believes in astral projecting.”
“Traveling outside of your body.”
“But really, all Amy’s doing is dreaming.”
“I don’t know about that,” Rajen said. “My grandmother in India has talked with people who saw stuff when astral projecting that they couldn’t write off as just dreams.”
“You’re from India?”
“Oh, I just thought you had a sunburn,” Helen said, laughing.
“Is she always this funny?”
“All the time.”
“Well, maybe my grandmother was right. Maybe somehow you guys have astral projected into the future.”
Helen grabbed David’s arm. “We better get back.”
“If we’re in the future, I wanna see if I passed that test I was supposed to take,” she said, squeezing his arm.
David got the hint. “We better go.”
“Okay,” Rajen said. “Think you can stop by with Amy tomorrow. I’ll save some curry for you guys.”
“Amy? You think she’s still around?”
“Well, of course. Why wouldn’t she be?”
“If this is the future, I figure she’d be dead by now.”
“Oh, yeah, I see what you mean. No, I think she’s all right. You guys might even be living in the same apartment.”
“That’s a bummer. I was really hoping to be out of there in a year. The roaches are terrible.”
“No, I mean you two are sharing a different apartment together.”
“I thought you said you weren’t dating Amy.”
“He’s not. He’s living with her.”
“But I thought we were together.”
“But if you’re living with Amy, you’re not with me.”
“Yes, I am.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Then what are we doing right now?”
“This is different.”
“We’re not living together.”
“I can see that.”
Helen started walking off the porch. “Well, I gotta get back.”
David turned to Rajen. “Seeya.”
“Yeah, you guys be careful.”
David caught up with Helen on the sidewalk. He decided to try to change the subject. “You think we’re really in the future?”
“I don’t know. You’re living with Amy.”
“No, I’m not. I’m with you.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Yes, I am.”
“We’re not dating.”
“What if we’re married?”
“I mean, what if this is the future and we’re married?”
“Of course not,” she replied. “We’re already together. Why should we get married?”
“Aha! See, we are together. So that means I’m not living with Amy.”
“Okay,” David said, as they continued to walk up the hill toward the summit of Fort Sanders.
They walked in silence for a couple of minutes.
“Well,” Helen said, breaking the silence, “if we’re in the future, then I’ve finished my degree.”
“Well, that would mean I’ve moved out of the dorms.”
“In that case, where do I live?”
“Where did you plan to live?”
“Do you think I’m a mortician?”
“Yeah, I was planning to get my…I mean, I planned to get my mortician’s license. How many years has it been?”
“Been since what?”
“Since we traveled to the future,” Helen said, looking at her watch. “We left Paul’s place at six o’clock and it’s now nine.”
“We’ve traveled a whole three hours.”
“Do you think hours or minutes translates into years? Maybe it’s one week per minute. How many is that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do.”
David knew that meant Helen wanted him to figure out the math. “Umm…three hours. That’s 180 minutes.”
“I know that! How many years is it?”
“Well, it’s gotta be close to three years.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well, just think about it. There’s 60 minutes in an hour and there’s 52 weeks in a year. That’s pretty close to the same thing.”
“No, it’s not. One is 60 and the other is 52. How much is it, exactly?”
“Okay, okay. David imagined a whiteboard in front of him. “Let’s see. 180 divided by 52 is 3. 3 times 52 is…3 times 2 is 6. 3 times five is 15. That’s 156. 156 from 180 is…”
“Okay, okay. Where was I? 180 minus 156 is 24. 24 is like half of 52. So say, that’s like three and a half.”
“Three and a half years?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“Three and half years…I’ve finished my mortician’s license then.”
“That’s great. How’d you do?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember.”
“Whatcha doin’ now?”
“I guess I’m working at my grandfather’s funeral home.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“So, uh…I guess you’re just visiting me right now, then, huh?”
“I suppose so.”
“Well, what do you want to do?”
“I don’t know. Do you think I’m married by now?”
“How should I know?”
“Well, you SHOULD know. We’re together right now, right?”
“Then how can I be married?”
“Because you met someone you liked.”
“He asked you to marry him?”
“What’s his name?”
“Okay, then, what does Gene do?”
“Marry you, I guess.”
“No, you know what I mean.”
“Oh. Uh, he’s a manager at a file cabinet factory.”
“Yeah, of course he is. He’s just like your father.”
“You think so?”
“He has to be.”
“No, he doesn’t.”
“Yes, he does.”
“Yes, he does.”
“No, he doesn’t.”
“Okay, fine, he doesn’t have to be like your dad.”
“Yes, he does.”
“So now he does?”
“Because you said so.”
“Sure, now it’s because I said so.”
Helen just smiled.
“That still doesn’t tell us how to get to Paul’s place.”
“Are you still worried about that?”
“Well, we’ve got his key. How’s he going to get into his apartment without his key?”
“Who cares? We’ll get there. We always have.”
“We have, haven’t we?” David said, smiling to himself, knowing that that was Helen’s way of saying she loved him in her special way.
They turned east on Laurel Avenue.
“You know?” Helen said, looking at a handmade sign stapled to a telephone pole, knowing David would know what she meant. He spent so much time paying attention to her every movement and hung on every word she said, so she usually only had to say a few words for him to know what she was talking about. She always hated it when he acted like he didn’t know what she was talking. It meant he wasn’t paying attention to what she was really saying.
“Yes,” David responded, knowing Helen was reminding him he’d promised to go with her to see a performance of the local band whose sign was posted on the pole.
“I thought so.”
They stopped at the corner of Laurel Avenue and 17th Street, watching the traffic go by.
“You really think we’re in the future?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
“Me, neither. I mean, look at these cars. None of them look modern and new. You don’t think we’ve gone back into the past, do you?”
“I hope not. No, I’m sure we haven’t. That’s the new Pontiac.”
“Oh, really? When did you suddenly become a car expert?”
“Very funny. Seriously, I’ve only seen the car ads a thousand times.”
“Let’s cross somewhere else.”
They turned and walked further north on 17th Street.
“Are you thirsty?” Helen asked.
“A little. How about you?”
“Yeah. How much money have you got?”
“You finished that Pepsi?”
“Huh? Oh, I forgot about this,” Helen said, looking at the bottle. “It’s too warm. Besides, I’ve shaken it up.”
“You mean, all the air bubbles have come out of the liquid?”
“Yeah…wait a minute, you’re making fun of me.”
“No, I’m not.” David looked at Helen and saw her smirking. “Okay, maybe a little.”
Helen threw the bottle at him. “Well, you can drink the rest of this.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Then YOU get to throw it away.”
David rolled his eyes, knowing that Helen had done that on purpose. “How long have you done this?”
“Given me your empty bottles.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You do, too.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Okay, you remember the first time we met?”
“I was standing next to Sandy Graves in the junior high band room.”
“How does that prove I gave you my empty bottles?” Helen asked, challenging him before he got to the part she knew he was going to mention.
“I haven’t finished the story yet.”
“I didn’t tell you to tell me a story. I told you to prove I gave you empty bottles.”
“I’m trying to.”
“No you’re not. You’re telling me a story. If you’ve got proof, show me.”
David held the Pepsi bottle in front of her. Helen started to grab it and then said, “You’re not going to pull that trick on me. That’s your bottle.”
“No, it’s not. It’s your bottle.”
“It’s got your DNA all over it.”
“Yours, too. Anyway, I want to finish my story.”
“Okay, but that’s your bottle.”
“Fine. Anyway, I was talking to Sandy, having a nice quiet, private conversation with her before band class. You came bounding up and just took over the conversation.”
“Yes, you did. And then, you asked me where the trash can was. I pointed to the can in the corner. You handed me your Coke can. I took it and asked you, ‘What’s this?’ You said, ‘It’s your can. You can do whatever you want to with it. The trash can’s over there if you want to throw it away.’ I don’t know how many times I’ve fallen for that trick since then.”
Helen smiled. “’S not my fault you like to throw bottles in the trash.”
“Funny, ha ha.”
“But are you still thirsty?”
“How about we go in there? You can buy me a full bottle this time. I won’t even make you throw it away.”
“I thought so.”
David held the door open for Helen at the 17th Street Market, a rundown corner grocery store that had been there as long as David could remember, even when he was a kid and used to attend UT football games with his father.
“Hello,” said the fellow behind the counter.
“Hi!” Helen shouted. She turned back to David. “I remember meeting you a different way.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Sure you do.”
“I thought so.”
“You’ll just have to trust me.”
“That’s a challenge.”
“You better be.”
“Are you all going to buy something?” the guy behind the counter asked. “’Cause if you aren’t, I’m not supposed to let you hang out in here.” He pointed toward an overhead video camera. “If the owner sees I’ve let you hang out without buying something, I’ll get in trouble.”
Helen stuck her tongue out at the camera and then turned to David. “Well, buy me something.”
“What do you want?”
“That’s for me to know and you to find out.”
David slid open the door to the cooler and pulled out a Coors.
He put the Coors away and pulled out a Gatorade.
He traded the Gatorade for a bottle of “pure spring water”.
David swapped the spring water for a Dasani. “Here,” he said, “this is it.”
“How did you know?” Helen asked, snickering.
“Oh, call it my power of observation.”
“Okay, your power of persuasion,” David said, paying the clerk for the water.
“Thanks, guys. You don’t mind drinking that outside, do you?”
“Anything you say.”
Helen stood at the door and waited for David to open it. David put the change in his pocket and turned to see Helen standing there. “Didn’t you hear what he said? We can’t wait in here.”
Helen didn’t move.
“Oh please, let me open the door for you.”
“Thank you,” Helen said, smiling at David, as she walked through the door.
Seeing no cars coming, they ran across the street.
“Which way do we go now?”
“You know the way.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do,” Helen said, flashing her eyes at David.
In his mind, David could suddenly see the route to Paul’s apartment. Had Helen just sent the map to him via ESP? That’s what he liked about being with Helen. Although they had some communication errors, they seemed to read each other’s thoughts most of the time. Or was it more than that?
“Weird,” he said.
“No, it’s not.”
“You don’t think so?”
“What’s weird about it?”
“Oh, you mean that? Yes, I guess it’s not really weird.”
“I told you.”
“Then what is it?”
“You tell me.”
“Then it’s not weird.”
“I told you.”
“But if it’s not weird, what is it?”
“Does it have to be anything?”
“I mean, I suppose not.”
“Okay. Are you leading the way or are we just wandering?”
“What time does Paul get off?”
“I don’t know. 10…or maybe 11. What time is it now?”
“You’ve got a watch on. Why don’t you look for yourself?”
“’Cause you’ll look for me.”
David looked at his watch. “It’s 9:30.”
“So, are we going to Paul’s or are we wandering?”
“I don’t know. What else do you want to do?”
“Whatever. But you said you wanted to return Paul’s key.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot about that.”
“Well, I guess we better head over to his place.”
“If you say so.”
“Then what else do you want to do?”
“We could stop at your place.”
“And do what?”
“I don’t know. It’s your place. What is there to do there?”
“You still seeing tracers?” David waved his hand in front of Helen’s face.
“What’d you do that for?”
“I said, are you still seeing tracers?”
“That’s why I waved my hand in front of your face.”
“You don’t need to wave your hand in front of my face to see tracers.”
“You can wave your hand in front of your own face.”
“Okay. So you wanna go to my place?”
“Sure. We can sit on your front porch.”
“Well, we’re almost as close to Paul’s place as mine.”
“Well, what else do you want to do?”
“You know what. Let’s go back to my place.”
“I’m not so sure I want to do that now.”
“Your tone of voice.”
“My tone of voice?”
“Yeah. Now you sound excited to go back to your place.”
“Why are you so excited to go back to your place?”
“I just remembered. I wrote some poems I want you to read.”
“Are you sure?”
“In that case, I don’t want to go back to your place. Let’s just go to Paul’s.”
“I don’t understand.”
“No, you don’t.”
“I thought you liked my poetry.”
“I do. It’s not that…”
“What is it, then?”
“I’m sorry, I might sound excited when I say this but what if I insist we go back to my place?”
“I can go to Paul’s by myself.”
“No, you can’t.”
“Yes, I can.”
“No, you can’t.”
“’Cause you’re tripping.”
David blew a loud puff of air out of his nose. “What?” Helen asked.
“Okay, then let’s go to your place then.”
“I don’t know if I want to go now.”
“David, I would go to your place to read your poetry but I can’t.”
“Because it’s too hard to read right now.”
“Well, what do you want to do?”
“Let’s go to Paul’s. I can read your poetry tomorrow.”
When they got to Paul’s apartment, they could see through the apartment window that a party was taking place inside. Rap music was thumping the air. David decided to knock on the door instead of opening it with the key.
The door opened a crack “Yeah?” a girl asked.
“Is Paul here?”
“Well, I’m Helen, a friend of Paul’s. We’re supposed to meet him here.” Helen nudged David. “We’ve got his apartment key.”
David pulled the key out of his pocket and showed it to the girl.
“Okay, if you’re a friend of Paul, come on in.” The girl pulled the door on open. She looked to be about 16, wore a green and yellow striped halter top and low riding shorts. “HEY KYLE,” she shouted, “SOME OF PAUL’S FRIENDS ARE HERE.”
Several people in the room turned and looked at David and Helen. Helen waved at them and they waved back. David saw a mirror sitting on the sofa table, with three lines of coke ready to be snorted. The girl followed David’s stare. “Oh, you guys are cool, aren’t you?” She sat down on the couch and picked up the mirror.
“Cool. You want some?”
David shook his head. “No, thanks. We’re tripping.”
“Sweet,” said a guy on the couch. “How long have you been tripping?”
“A few hours. Why?”
“Oh, we’re tripping, too. I’m Tom Pippet,” he said, sticking out his hand.
David shook his hand. “David Colline. And this is Helen Nguyen.”
“Hey, Tom,” Helen said. “Is this your first time, too?”
Tom laughed. “First time? Not even close? So this is your first time? What’d you take?”
“Cool. Did you get it from Kyle?”
“I guess so.”
“Paul probably got it from Kyle. You started a few hours ago?”
“Man, you’ll be tripping all night.”
“That’s what we understand.”
“You got anything special planned?” Tom asked, nudging the girl with the coke and putting his arm around the woman on the other side of him. The woman kissed Tom on the neck.
“Well, if this is your first time, I know one thing you really ought to do. There’s no comparing anything to sex on acid.” Tom winked at David. “If you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I get your drift.”
Helen looked at David. “What’s he talking about?”
“I think he knows what I mean,” Tom said.
Helen kept her eyes on David. “Do you?”
“Explain it to me, then.”
“I don’t know.”
“I thought so.”
“Anyway,” Tom said, standing up, “they’ve got a laser show going in the backyard. You guys wanna check it out?”
“Sure,” David said, glad for the interruption.
“So you’re Paul’s friends?” a heavyset fellow asked, stepping into the living room from the hallway.
“Paul didn’t mention you guys coming by.”
“Well, I don’t think he planned on it.”
“That’s cool. So what can I do for you? Paul’s not here right now.”
“Here’s his key.”
“Cool. Just put it in his room.”
David and Helen walked back to Paul’s room. David put the key on Paul’s dresser. On the way back to the living room, he glanced in Kyle’s room and noticed a huge open foot locker at the end of the bed. David could see several large containers of pills. He quickly walked back into the living room, with Helen trailing behind him.
“You know if he’s coming back tonight?” Kyle asked when they returned.
“He’s supposed to get off work pretty soon. I guess he’s coming back here. He told us to meet him here.”
“You didn’t say that. In that case, you can wait here. I’m just having a few friends over tonight.”
“Help yourself to whatever.”
Helen pulled on David’s shirt sleeve. “Let’s check out the laser show.”
“Want some lip balm?” she asked, pulling a plastic tube out of her pocket.
“Think they’ve got something to drink here?”
David turned to Kyle, “What have you got to drink?”
David looked at Helen. She looked up at him through her blond, curly bangs and smiled. “Anything’s fine,” he said.
“There’s a keg in the back courtyard. I think they’re mixing drinks in the kitchen. Knock yourself out,” Kyle said and then sucked a line of coke into his right nostril.
“Thanks,” David replied and walked out of the living room into the small apartment kitchen. Standing next to the refrigerator were two skinny girls looking at photographs stuck to the fridge door.
“Whatcha looking at?” Helen asked them.
One of the girls turned from the refrigerator to look at Helen. David could see the dark circles under the girl’s eyes and the sunken-in cheeks, the telltale signs of a coke head. “Oh, not much. We’re trying to figure out if we recognize anyone.”
“Well, do you?”
“Then why’re you standing in front of the fridge?”
“Why aren’t you eating something? You look like you’re starving.”
“What was that?”
“I mean it. Are you a model or something? ‘Cause if you are, you ought to quit your two-cracker-a-day habit and eat a cheeseburger.” The girl put her hands on her hips. Helen took that to mean the girl was interested in what she was saying. “If you…”
“Did you just call me a cracker?”
“Did you just call me a cracker?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. Anyway, you’re black. Only white people can be crackers.”
The second girl laughed. “You are one funny chick. You go to college?”
“’Swhat I thought. Well, Chinese checker, we can stand in front of this refrigerator if we want to.”
“Okay. Well, are you mixing drinks, then?”
“What was that?”
“Are you mixing drinks?”
“What? You think we’re mixing drinks ‘cause we’re black?”
“No, I just wondered if you plan to hog the refrigerator because you want to control who mixes the drinks.”
“The blender’s right there.”
“Oh, yeah,” Helen said and nodded at David.
David picked up a plastic cup and poured the red mixture from the blender into the cup.
Helen tasted it. “Mmm. Strawberry daiquiri. Want some?” she asked one of the girls.
“Oh no, it just wouldn’t go with that big, fat cheeseburger I’m going to go eat,” she replied, laughing, and pushing her girlfriend out the kitchen with her.
Helen turned to David. “Now, that’s weird.”
“Are all models like that?”
“I don’t think they were models.”
“Yes you do.”
“No I don’t. I think they’re hooked on coke. Seems like everyone here but Kyle is this big around,” David said, holding up his pinky finger.
“Yeah, but they’re not all as good-looking as those two.”
“You’re right about that,” David said, musing about the two African-American girls’ bodies. “Two skinny and too young,” he thought to himself. “But I don’t think every good-looking coke head is a model.”
“Well, if I was good-looking and skinny, I’d be making a lot of money as a model.”
“But you are…” David said and stopped.
“But I’m what?”
“I’m fat. Is that what you were going to say?”
“No, you’re slim. I mean, you’re practically skinny.”
“Practically skinny? That’s like calling me fat.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Yes, it is.”
“I give up,” David said, raising his hands up above his head and walking over to the back door.
“Where are you going?”
“To see the laser show.”
“You’re not getting away so fast.”
“Fine, then you go see the laser show, too. Only I don’t think you’re fat.” David opened the door for Helen.
“No, you go ahead. I’m going to drink some more of this daiquiri, especially since I’m already fat, it won’t matter how much I drink.”
“You’re not fat. Besides, that’s not what I was going to say.”
“Yes, it was.”
“No. I was going to say you’re good-looking, too.”
“Then why didn’t you? It was because you realized you thought I was fat, right?”
“No,” David said and walked out the door.
David closed the door and let his eyes adjust to the dark.
At first, he couldn’t see anything. Then he realized that there were several people standing together and staring back at the apartment building. David looked around himself and saw that there was a stream of patterns being projected onto the back wall of the apartment building.
David walked out into the yard toward the group of people.
“David?” asked a woman’s voice.
“Yes,” David said, not sure who it was or where the voice was coming from.
“Dave, it’s me, Caroline,” Caroline said, walking up to David and giving him a hug. “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Hey, don’t worry. I’m not upset that you stood me up on that last date. I’m seriously over it. I knew you didn’t want to date me.”
David took a sigh of relief. “That’s good to know. I kinda worried about it.”
“What, did you think I’d beat you up?”
“Something like that.”
“Well, you’re like what? Six feet tall? I’m five, two. Even if I wanted to beat you up, I’d have to get a ladder to it and then that would spoil the whole surprise thing.”
David turned to look back at the building. “You enjoying the show?”
“Oh yeah, but not as much as you and I did that time.”
“Yeah, that was cool, wasn’t it?”
“Uh-huh,” Caroline said and gave David a hug around his waist. “It was fun. You still sniffing Locker Room?”
“I thought you were the one who was doing it.”
“Never. Except for that one night, of course. You mean that wasn’t yours?”
“No. In fact, you handed it to me.”
“You know, you’re right. I did hand it to you. Well, someone must have given it to me at the party. Do you still hang with that band?”
“No, the lead singer went legit and joined some band that drove to Austin and started an indy label.”
“That’s great. Too bad they’re not here tonight. It’d really make this laser show a lot more fun.”
“Yeah, me too. Me, too…” David said, starting to get lost in the patterns dancing on the wall.
“So, whatcha doing these days? You still hanging out with Helen?”
“Uh, Davie, you with me right now?”
“Are you trippin’ on me?”
“Well, why didn’t you say so? Want me to leave you alone with the lights?”
“Uh, I guess so.”
“Okay. I’ve got to refill this drink anyway. You want something?”
“Well, I don’t have a cup.”
“No prob. I’ll getcha something. I’m just glad I saw you again. I really hated us to end up on bad terms.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Caroline hugged David again. “You’re the sweetest. You know that? Any other guy would’ve turned and walked away. But you…you just stand here and talk with me like nothing’s happened. That’s great. That’s just great… Well, I’ll be back in a few.”
“Okay,” David said, hoping that Caroline would walk away.
“Well, don’t go away,” Caroline said, walking toward the building.
David walked over to the guy holding the laser show machine.
“Hey, I’m David.”
The guys cradled the machine in one arm and stuck out his hand. “Steve.”
“That’s a pretty cool machine you got there.”
“Thanks. I got it off my previous roommate. He was in a band or something and sold it to me ‘cause he needed the cash.”
“Yeah, pretty cheap, too. Got it for $200.”
“Is that so?”
“Yeah, I hated to rip him off but he was desperate.”
“What band was he in?”
“Yeah, pretty shitty name, huh?”
“No,” David said, trying to control his laughter. “I know the guy you bought that from. He got it off ebay for $50.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, that sumbitch. No wonder he exaggerated how much he hated to part with it. He…he really suckered me.”
“Hey, it’s still a cool laser show.”
“But it would be a lot cooler with music.”
“Music? Oh, you missed it. Kyle stuck a speaker out the back window but some old lady called the cops on us for bein’ too loud so we had to cut it out.”
“Yeah, too fucking bad. Hey, you mind holdin’ this thing for a few minutes. I gotta take a leak.”
“Just hold it by the bottom frame piece here. It’s just a little hot around the transformer. And don’t drop it.”
“Yeah, Steve, I know. You paid $200 for it,” David said, and snickered.
“Don’t remind me.”
After Steve walked inside the apartment, David started pointing the laser light into apartment windows. The guys standing behind him made affirmative sounds. Encouraged on, David turned in a circle, shining the light into the windows of the houses at the back of the courtyard.
“Cut it out,” one of the guys said. “You’ll get the fuzz on us again.”
“Okay,” David said and turned back toward the apartment building. He held the machine for a few minutes and was quickly bored. He just couldn’t get into the dancing patterns of light while also worrying about dropping the machine and owing Steve $200 for something only worth $50.
Helen walked out of the apartment. “David,” she called out.
“Where are you?”
“Over here by the laser light.”
“Why don’t you come back inside?”
“I can’t. I’m holding the laser light machine.”
“Well, put it down and quit playing with it. The cops are on their way. We’ve got to get out of here.”
“See, man,” the guy behind him said, “you’ve done it now. You better put that out.”
“Hit the power button.”
“I can’t see a power button.”
“Well, unplug the thing or something. You don’t want to have that thing on when the coppers get here. They’ll arrest you for sure.”
David set the machine on the ground and ran to the apartment door.
“What were you doing out there?” Helen asked.
“Yeah, not much anyway.”
“Well, your friend Caroline is here and she’s talking about you again. Are you sure you aren’t dating her?”
“I told you. We never dated. We just showed up at a couple of parties together.”
“Well, unless I’m missing something, that’s called dating.”
“No, I mean…”
“I mean, we met each other at the parties. I didn’t drive her there.”
“No, you just walked her home.”
“Hey, sorry, I’m a gentleman.”
“And gentlemen always have to kiss a woman goodnight.”
“Okay, so maybe it was like a date. What’s the matter with that?”
“So you’re saying we’re not together?”
“No, I’m saying that I’m not dating anyone right now.”
“Then you’re saying we’re not together.”
“No, I’m NOT saying that.”
“Well, you figure out what you’re saying and then tell me later on. I’m going to tell Caroline that you all are dating.”
“Just kidding,” Helen said, turning around to give David a mischievous smile. “You really are just too much fun to play with sometimes. You know that?”
“I wondered what you were doing.”
“Like I said, we’re not dating. We’re just together right now.”
“I thought so.”
“Still, you oughta go see Caroline. She’s telling stories about you that sounds like she’s making stuff up. Unless, of course…”
“Don’t worry, I get the picture.”
“Don’t be gone too long. We’ve still gotta get outta here pretty soon.”
David walked out of the kitchen into the living room. He could see Caroline had cornered Tom and was engaged in animated conversation. From her rolled-up sleeve, David knew that Caroline was talking about her body building hobby and was probably far from any conversation about him. David turned around and walked back into the kitchen.
“But you didn’t have time to say anything to Caroline…”
“There’s a way out the back. I saw a gate at the side of the courtyard.”
“But don’t you want to say something to Caroline? I mean, she could be saying anything about you.”
“Not right now. Not if the cops are coming.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. Well, lead the way.”
David opened the door for Helen and followed her out the door into the courtyard. He put his hands on her shoulders.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m leading you to the gate.”
“No you’re not. You’re pushing me.”
“Okay, I’m pushing you to the gate.”
Helen leaned her shoulders down. “Well, get in front of me and walk to the gate. I’ll follow you.”
“Whatever you say.”
David walked around Helen and remembered an event from earlier that month.
They had gone to see Rocky Horror Picture Show, taking a friend named Amy Elliot with them. Amy had come running up to David at one point and said, “Did you know that Helen just kissed the guy playing Rocky Horror?” [David couldn’t tell what she was trying to get across. David assumed she was gauging whether he would be jealous.] When he didn’t show much response, she said, “I mean she really kissed him, French kissed him and all.” David still didn’t show much reaction (could have been the alcohol, of course) and it seemed to bother Amy.
David wondered why it was that Helen had no problem being intimate with other guys and would spend only a brief time with them. Yet, she was never intimate with him and she spent a large portion of her time with him. Was it Helen or was it just women in general? He couldn’t figure it out.
David opened the gate for Helen. At that moment, they both heard sirens and started running.
David stopped running after they got to the end of the alleyway. “Wait, which way do you want to go?”
“Let’s go to your place.”
“No, let’s head for the World’s Fair Park.”
“Yeah, and darker. Besides, I’m getting tired.”
“Okay, we can go to my place.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“How about you just walk me back to the dorm?”
“That means I’ve got to walk across campus.”
“So? Then I’ve got to walk all the way back.”
“You did it for Caroline.”
“Yeah, but that was different.”
“What was different? Either you’re a gentleman or you aren’t.”
“Well, it’s still different.”
“It just is.”
“Prove it to me.”
“Well, what about what Tom said?”
“Yeah, the guy back at the party.”
“What about him?”
“Well, it’s our first time on acid.”
“I know that.”
“Well, Tom said we should make love on acid.”
“No, he didn’t.”
“Yes, he did.”
They walked for a few paces in silence.
“So how is that different?”
“What do you mean?”
“How is what Tom said different about you walking me home instead of Caroline?”
“How is it different?”
“Yeah. Have you taken acid with her?”
“No, you know I haven’t. This is our first time.”
“Okay, then. How is it different?”
“How ‘bout we stop at the 13th Street Deli?”
“You’re not going to avoid answering my question.”
They walked for a minute or two in comfortable silence, both of them looking across the street as they crossed over to the 13th Street Deli.
“You’ve been thinking. Time’s up.”
“You think they’d let me in the dorm?”
“Well, what if we made love?”
“What if we made love like Tom said?”
“Why would we want to do that?”
“Well, I even read it before I heard Tom. Everyone says sex is better if you do it the first time you take acid.”
“Well, which is it?”
“Which is what?”
“First you said making love and now you’re saying having sex. Which is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Well, it depends.”
“Depends on what?”
“Depends on who it’s with?”
“Well, who else are you talking about?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you not talking about us?”
“Well, yeah…I guess I am.”
“Then, which is it? Are you talking about us making love or are you talking about us having sex?”
“Does it matter?”
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
“In that case, making love.”
“I thought so.”
“Do you want to make love?”
They stopped at the entrance to the deli. A skinny fellow with long, stringy yellow hair was smoking a cigarette while leaning against the door.
“Fast Eddy!” Helen exclaimed.
“Hey guys. What’s up?”
“That’s great. Hey, you guys got any change? I’m a little short right now.”
“You still owe me change from the pot I bought from you the other day.”
“Oh yeah. Well, can I owe you some more then? I just want some cigarettes and a beer. I’m starving.”
“If you’re starving, why’re you getting cigarettes?”
“Is she some kind of joker or what? Little deary, cigarettes are a meal to me.”
“Like steak and potatoes?”
“Yeah, or anything else you’d want to actually eat.”
“Is he saying I’m fat?”
“No. I think he says he’s skinny.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Yes, it is.”
“So, are you kids going to sit there and argue or are you going to loan me some money?”
“I didn’t bring my purse.”
“Well, you don’t need a purse to loan me any money.”
“I do if the money’s in my purse.”
“Okay, how about you, David?”
David reached into his pocket. “I’ve got…like…umm, I can’t count it.” He hadn’t his pocket change to Eddy.
“Man, I don’t need your change.”
“But you said…”
“No, man, I want actual cash. You got any dollars?”
Helen reached into her back pocket and pulled out a five-dollar bill. “You promise to pay us back?”
“Yeah. Or wait. How about if I give you a nickel bag for free next time you stop by my place?”
Eddy took the fiver and turned to grab the door. “Oh shit, I forget they closed a little while ago.”
David grabbed Helen’s arm. “What are you doing?”
“Let’s go on.”
“Wait a minute.” Helen walked over and gave Eddy a big hug. “Thanks for being such a great friend.”
“Huh? Oh sure. You want your five spot back?”
“No, you keep it. You need it more than I do.”
“You’re not shittin’ me there. See you guys later.”
David and Helen walked on down 13th Street and turned on to Clinch.
David started to speak a couple of times but could see Helen was deep in thought. He looked up at the street lights. He darted his eyes back and forth. The tracers were pretty much gone but the street lights still seemed to be dazzling brilliant, arcing with artificial starlight patterns.
Helen finally broke the silence. “What did you ask?”
David stopped walking. Helen took a couple of steps and realized David had stopped. “What are you doing?” she asked.
David put his hand on Helen’s shoulder. Helen naturally turned around and looked up at him. “Do you want to make love?” he asked earnestly, with only a slight tone of apprehension.
“You know, I’ve been thinking about that. I think we’ve already made love, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t.”
“I mean, don’t you think we’ve made love in more special ways than anybody else?”
“No, you’re not. You know what I mean. We’ve made love with our minds. That’s better than any physical love. Besides, I’m tired.” Helen started walking again. “Aren’t you going to walk me to the dorm?”
“Well, I guess I’m tired, too.”
“Then don’t walk me to the dorm.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“I know what you mean. If you’re really tired, just go on home.” Helen started walking again and David joined her.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Oh, you mean am I sure I don’t want to make love? I don’t think it would be a good idea. Do you?”
“I guess not.”
“You sure about that?”
“Yeah, I see what you mean, I think.”
“I thought you would. Well, good night.”
“You, too. Wanna do something tomorrow?”
“I can’t. I’ve got to study for that test that I took but didn’t take,” Helen said with a light laugh.
“Oh yeah. Well, if you graduated already, then you don’t have to study for it!”
They both laughed.
“I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“You mean later today?”
“Oh yeah. It is after midnight, isn’t it? Okay, I’ll call you later today.”
“Make it much later.”
“Will do. And thanks.”
“Thanks for what?”
“Thanks for seeing us for what we are.”
“Oh, okay. And what’s that?”
“You said it yourself. We’re just together.”
“Yep. Okay, good night. Bye.”
David thought about walking back to his place. His body felt worn out yet his mind was still racing. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do but he wanted to do something, talk to somebody, anything but walk in silence back to his apartment. He decided to head over to the Falafel Hut to see if anything was going on.
Sure enough, sitting on the corner was Amy. If Amy had nothing better to do, she would either sit on the roof of the apartment building or hang out at the Falafel Hut.
“Amy!” David shouted with excitement. “Am I excited to see you.”
Amy stood up and turned around to face David. “Boy, aren’t you in a mood. What’re you up to?”
“Would you believe I’ve been tripping?”
“You? Mr. Boy Scout?”
“Yeah. Weird, huh?”
“Are you still tripping?”
“Maybe a little.”
“Whatcha been doing tonight?”
“Not much. Walking and talking a lot.” David waved his hand in front of his face.
“Still seeing tracers?”
“Just barely. Either that or I’m really tired.”
“Oh, don’t be tired.”
“Why not? We’re close to the apartment.”
“You’re always bored.”
“Yeah, I know, but Tim’s out of town again and I wanna do something. Hell, I’d even fuck you, if you wanted.”
“Okay, I’ll take that as a maybe. Would you want to trip some more?”
“Oh, gosh, I dunno…”
“Oh, come on. I’ve got some ‘shrooms back at the apartment.”
“Mushrooms? I’ve been meaning to try those.”
“They’re much milder than acid and they’ll only last a few hours.”
“Well, I should get to bed sometime. I’m supposed to study tomorrow.”
“You don’t need to study.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Well, ready to go?” David asked, extending his hand to Amy.
Amy grabbed the mushrooms from her upstairs apartment while David took a leak in his apartment. They met on the front steps.
“Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know. Let’s just take a walk and we’ll see. Here’s your buttons. I’m only giving you a couple of them to eat since you just took acid.”
They walked a few blocks and sat down on a set of old concrete steps that led up into a yard where a house used to exist but where only rubble sat behind them at the time.
Amy wasn’t sure if she wanted to do mushrooms with David. “How are you feeling?”
“’Cause if you’re in one of your down moods, I don’t want to have to deal with it. Besides, I’m on the rag, too, so there’s no telling what kind of mood I’ll be in once we get started.”
“I can deal with that.”
“Okay, then, let’s eat up.”
They each ate their allotment of mushrooms. Amy took a swig of the beer she’d brought with her and handed it to David.
“You better wash them down with this or you might puke.”
“Uh, okay.” David took a couple of long sips.
“Hey, not all of it.”
“Okay,” David said, and handed the beer back to Amy. “Hey, I was telling some folks about your astral projecting tonight. Rajen said that people do that back in India, too.”
“Yeah, don’t you remember?”
“When we went over to Rajen’s for curry.”
“We did? Oh yeah, we did, didn’t we?”
“Well, you were pretty drunk.”
“Seems like you were, too.”
“Yeah, but I handle my liquor better than you do. You sure you’re feeling okay? You look funny.”
“Don’t pull that maybe shit on me. You’re not getting depressed again, are you?”
David told her that he was unhappy, because he wasn’t doing whatever it was that he was supposed to be doing in his life.
She asked David what he thought he was supposed to be doing.
He told her he didn’t know. That’s what was making David even unhappier.
Amy then said, “No one’s happy like a goddamned idiot!” She proceeded to tell David about her latest friend, who she was thinking about making her next boyfriend. He had been turning her on to carving thin lines on her body with shards of glass. “Not enough to get you bleeding real hard – more like a long cat scratch.” She told David maybe really all he wanted was his life to be different than what it was and if so, she asked, then why didn’t he join her and carve a design in his arm with a piece of glass she’d picked up off the ground.
He looked at the glass and thought about how dirty it was and whether it would cause an infection. Amy could read his thoughts well because she and he had eaten and smoked plenty of good stuff together. “Here, I’ll show you it’s all right,” she said, and grabbed his arm. Before he could stop her, she made a small mark on the top of his right hand, accidentally going too deep at the end. He automatically jerked his hand away in pain. She told David it was better if he did it himself because he could go by feel better than someone else carving on me. He told her he wanted to see how the mark she made would heal before I’d do any more.
She rightly told David that he acted like he was all about new adventures but was so wrapped up and covered with inhibitions that he’d have to live the rest of his life on drugs if he wanted to have any fun. She hit the head on the nail! He spent the next year and a half experimenting with drugs, having all sorts of adventures (some of which he can actually remember).
A lot of people call those adventures “the college years”. Certainly, after he graduated from college, he dropped out of that drug scene and married Karen, living a fairly straight, drug-free life since then, a life he felt that has kept the most people in his family happy that he can expect, disregarding his happiness for the most part, satisfying himself with tiny, little adventures of happiness along the way, including these blogs to you.
So he agreed with Amy – he knew he’ll never be happy like a goddamned idiot. But can’t he live a happier life? Or is he pursuing the wrong thing? Misery certainly had driven David to the written word, his main source of happiness. Could it be that he realized he got an internal “high” from feeling down and then writing about it? Of course! He figured that one out a long time ago. But he also got a high from living an adventurous life and then writing about it. It’s just that he spent more time feeling down (a more quiet, lazy sort of living) than finding exciting, daring ways to live.
David wandered back to his apartment, deciding that he wanted to experience the kind of flashback he’s always been familiar with – old journal entries, now called blogs, of course.
3 September 1979
I’ve learned a lot this summer before my senior year. I have taken a full course in American History and have become a full-fledged member of Sing Out Kingsport. I’ve marched through Kingsport and Blountville on July 4th, gone through a week of band camp and a week at Cherry Grove Beach, all of which boiled down to leaving me approximately 2 weeks of “nothing” to do (i.e., mow lawns, trim bushes, go to band practice, and go to Sing Out practice – things I do enjoy).
What is really on my mind, though, is a certain female (woman?) who is of great interest to me (and IS great herself!). Should I also mention the fact that I think of her constantly, or that I writhe in agony when I’m not near or with her? I guess not, but I need to tell someone, especially her. In case you don’t know who I am referring to, her name is Helen Prudence. She is a little bit over five feet tall, has blondish brown hair, pretty light blue eyes and a very magnificent body. (She says she’s fat, but what girl doesn’t? I see no one complain about her figure.) Everyone loves her, for her personality is unmarred by perversions or such, and she radiates happiness and love.
There are many things that we have in common: being crazy, bugging Katrina or any of the Sing Out leaders, writing notes in band, and being able to see E. Slot Nunski.
I really like her a lot. Back in March sometime, I was in a wreck with Helen, John Marsden (who drove) and Kim Jernigan. John and I sustained little injuries (except for some mental scars), but Kim had her jaw broken and Helen had a pretty bad head concussion. That week was pretty bad for everyone, me included. People feared for Helen.
I liked her even then (in fact, I’ve like her since ninth grade but things have happened in between), so why my built-up interest in her for the last few months? For one thing, I have seen more of her this summer than in the past school year. I saw her everyday at school, but it was a slow buildup of feeling. As I think about it, I feel the same way now as I did then, but the feeling was hidden or covered up by other feelings. I guess seeing more of her and talking more to her uncovered my feelings toward her at a colossal speed.
So you see, I’ve like her for quite a while. BUT, time has no meaning. It is only relative to whatever I place against it. I shall rephrase myself. I have very strong feelings toward Helen which I know will not abate unless forcibly stopped (killing the world, for instance) by some outside stimulus.
Now, the other side of the picture, story, etc. What does Helen think of me? How does she feel? The answer to these and many other questions will be seen tomorrow, the same bat time, the same bat channel. But truthfully, how DOES she feel about good ol’ me? It’s hard to say. I know she likes me as a friend (that being our relationship toward each other right now), but what bugs me is the fact that she gives me the feeling that she likes me more (to paraphrase a famous quote – there cannot be a one-way love, the feeling must be mutual), and at those times, I become shy and back away, because it’s hard to believe that she likes me as much as I like her.
Usually, though, we just talk and laugh and play games together like goofing off during Sing Out practice or playing Mad Libs (noun). It doesn’t bother me that she likes me. It would be a relief to find out that she does. But for now I will be satisfied that we are friends and until such time as I am flat out told that she likes me as more than a friend, I will stay her friend and will work on convincing her, in her mind, how much, much, much…how much I like her. When more details arrive, I’ll let you (whoever you are) know. It’s good to have someone to talk to.
A Short Story
As I descended the stairwell, a fly landed on my shoulder. The touch of his small, rough feet was barely felt. He looked at me through his faceted eyes as if I were the inferior being and he the suppressor of mankind. I looked at him once more before I began the descent, leaving the fly to go on his way.
Friday, 14 September 1979
Well, more details have arrived. I shall say that life is glorious and if I should die tomorrow, I will not regret anything that I’ve done. For the past few days, I have been floating in an ether world of another lifetime. Why? It is because of one person – Helen. She always lights up my day. One funny thing I’ve noticed (that I’ve mentioned previously) is the way that she acts (according to the way I see it). When I go out of my way to be friendly with Helen, then she…acts differently toward me. What I mean is that she backs off. But, if I don’t try for her, so to speak, then she is more open. I’m not sure if it’s me or not, because I’ve noticed that she is this way with all guys. I’ll write again later. It’s now 15 September 1979, 12:37 a.m. and I’m tired.
Well, it’s around 8:30 p.m. and I will say that I’ve had a super day again today. There was a Sing Out party at Tracy Pendleton’s parents’ lakehouse. It was fun!!!! We (Helen(!), Abe(?) and I(?!)) climbed on rocks and played Mad Libs. Then Helen took some people to her place on the lake to get innertubes. At that time, everyone that was there went swimming in the low, muddy, slippery, sharp lake. George Flannery cut his foot on a rock in the lake (he left footprints on the dock in blood). Then, I went down on the dock, after I had wandered through the yard, and started playing cards. It was then that Helen came back, along with Kim Jernigan and Gina Lockhart. They sat down on the dock to watch me play but Helen sat down beside me. Kim tried to get my attention by teaching me how to play a type of Solitaire. I watched some but I also turned around to talk to Helen. Kim didn’t really like that. When Helen tried to figure out the game as Kim was teaching me, and she said she couldn’t, Kim told her specifically that she was teaching me, not her.
After I figured the game out, Helen helped me play it and we figured out how to play doubles. Then Kim taught me how to play a different game and then Kim had one deck, and Helen another deck, and Helen told Kim that she wanted the other deck. Gina asked me if she and Kim could play with the cards and Helen looked at me and told me to say no. Why does it always happen to me? I didn’t say anything but put my fingers in my mouth. Then Helen plotted to get the other deck. Gina did the same thing. Gina took the jokers from our deck (that of Helen and me) so Helen said that she would trade decks. I said for them to both grasp each other’s deck and to pull as hard as they could. Each got the other deck. Then Gina said that she still had our jokers, but we told her that the jokers were hers since we traded decks. Then the four of us played I Doubt It and Helen cheated more than normal, but we all did. Supper time came around and we stopped long enough to get our hamburgers and we went back on the dock and played I Doubt It again, this time with Abe Abercrombie and George, somehow or another making it five players and had fun.
After that, it was about time to go, so everyone pitched in and helped to clean up. Then we left in Ellen’s boyfriend’s car with George, Helen, Abe and I in the back seat, in that order. Helen and I tickled Abe and really mussed him up. We “looked through his ears” and saw cobwebs and spiders, and shoved the spiders back and forth through his ears for a while. In general, we had fun!!!!
I can’t wait till Monday (which is tomorrow, because I’ve written part of this on Sunday, which is today).
Brian came over last night and I told him all about what had happened that day. We talked about old stuff and present things and future happenings, such as the ballgame this coming Saturday at UT. Mr. Bender, Brenda’s father, is taking Brian and me to see UT play. Brenda will be marching in the halftime show.
Brian has Brenda, but who do I have? Do I need anyone? I’ve thought about that and I really don’t know. I don’t have anyone now and I’m perfectly satisfied. Besides, who could I have? “Helen, of course,” you might say, but it’s not that simple. I like Helen really well, a whole lot, bunches, etc., but I don’t know how to approach her, so I’m not going to worry about it (not too much, at least. I will think about it, though, a lot). I have new friends – Abe, Mona, and others – and I will grow in their friendship as much as I’m growing in the friendship of my oldest friends – Brian, Bobby and Terry. So, until later, I’ll gather more info into my life.
Wednesday, 19 September 1979
Guess who feels superbly, magnificently, tremendously great?! Me, that’s who!!!!!! I’m in the best mood! School is just fine, the weather has been nice, I’m fairly popular according to Brian and I “have the hots” for Helen. I know she likes me, too, but I can’t say how much for sure. If only I could find out, then it would help me. It’s not as important as it should be, because I know myself that we’re good friends and that’s all that counts for now.
“‘For now?’ That seems to imply something, David. Uh, what exactly did you mean by ‘for now?'”
Well, I meant that there are chances that things might change. For instance, I might have my head chopped off, and who likes a headless person?
“That’s not what you meant.”
I know, but as long as I know what I meant, then unless someone else can see the obvious, then I don’t have to worry about it.
Thursday, 20 September 1979
I have found out something great by overhearing what I was supposed to hear and I heard it! Linda Jones was telling me that she wrote in Helen’s Algebra II book in ink everyday. She said that she wrote Helen plus somebody equals love. Then she turned to Helen and asked her if she should tell me who that somebody was. Helen said to go ahead because it was not true. Linda said that it was true and told me that somebody was ME (how could I ever guess). Then Helen quickly said that it was time to leave the table (we were in the commons area eating lunch) and so we got up and left (after some discussion about Rebecca Joiner who had just popped up). Isn’t that exciting! I could hardly do my work for the past two periods because of that and I had a test in Physics which made me think more about Helen than the test.
Saturday, 22 September 1979
I wonder if I’ll ever write about sad things? You’ll never guess what kind of mood I’m in!!!! I am in a SUPER, GREAT, ALMOST INDESCRIBABLE, HAPPY, GLORIOUS MOOD!!! Tonight, I had a party that lasted from 7:00 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. and it was terrific. I won’t go into too much detail, because there is too much and too many things to tell.
First, I picked up Brian and brought him to the house. We looked at a book my parents had given me when I was several years younger about different games to play. After a while, at about 7:00 p.m., Marilyn and Sherry Whitehead came. Then, a little later, Steven came, then Bobby, and I believe Linda was next. We all sat around and talked and joked in the living room. We played a game called “Who is it?” where a person has to guess who has been picked in a group, but each person describes the person on his right, thus confusing the guesser. Bobby was the first “victim” and he couldn’t figure it out. Then we threw a sheet over his head and told him to take off the least important thing on him and he took off his shoes and socks, glasses and his credit cards. He finally figured that it was the sheet.
Helen came, along with Abe, which to me was the highlight of the evening to see Helen, but there was more to come. We played Squeeze, where people pass squeezes around a circle and the center person has to try to catch them.
Earlier, I had asked questions from the trivia section of the game book. Then, Mona came and we had her play “Who is it?” When Helen first came, she played “Coffeepot,” where she tries to get us to guess a word by replacing the word she’s thinking of with the word “coffeepot.” Theresa Foxton and Candy Pendleton stopped by for a while; so did Gina, Kim, and Marsha with two boys – Nick and Jimmy. Then, later on, Jonathan Staples, Janice Beckett, Carla Fleischmann and Michael Hershey came by. Jonathan was the only one of those to stay permanently. Gina and company had only stopped by to say hello. Theresa and Candy stayed for about 20 to 30 minutes. Sherry Whitehead and Mary Palusi had left earlier and Marilyn did later on.
Now, my personal feelings about the party. For one thing, I can tell you who was on my mind all the time and I hope she thought about me (she looked at me quite a number of times, and she told me the different games to play like “Candleholder” and others).
How do I tell Helen that I like her without really telling her but making it understood? How can I know if she likes me? Maybe she has tried to tell me, but I didn’t fully understand. Complications, always complications. Why do I do this to myself? I like Helen lots and lots and lots and…WHAT DO I DO? (age old cliché)
After a while, we played charades and Helen yelled, “I want to be on David’s team.” You tell me, what does that mean? Linda and Brian left around 11:00 p.m. and we played some more. We no longer had teams, but played individually. After that, it got tiring and we decided to go outside and play “Mother, May I?” but Bobby said it was time to go. Everyone agreed and all departed to go their separate ways.
Here, I will mention the fact that when Helen played charades, I shared the bigger part of the time as her audience. When others got up, she crowded in on the couch with me. There were four of us on a 3-person couch. Though I want to write more and more about Helen, I will stop and bring up another subject: Bobby. Steven (Winchester) and I decided that Bobby is really perverted. He seemed to get a kick out of Helen sitting on his knees. He placed his hands on Helen’s legs and she kept pushing them off, but Bobby kept dropping them back on. Unusual? Who knows. He did more odd things like that, but I’m tired (Hi, tired!) and I should go to bed though I’m still in a TREMENDOUS mood.
Sunday, 23 September 1979
I went to Knoxville yesterday and came back at 5:00 p.m. today. I had left at 10:00 a.m. yesterday. I saw Brenda, met her friends – Suzanne, a sax player in the band; Deb (Debra), her roommate; Liza (Elizabeth), her suitemate; and Susan, a friend from across Brenda’s room – and they’re all great. I’ll write what all happened.
First, Mr. Bender, Brian, Brenda, Suzanne (I think her last name is Shoop), and I went to S&S cafeteria for lunch Saturday. Suzanne is real nice (don’t forget that I am absorbed by Helen, Helen, Helen!). She was drum major at Rye Cove (near Stickleyville, seriously!). We talked there for a while and went on back to Brenda’s dorm room. There, we – Brenda, Brian, Deb, Liza, Don (Liza’s friend from Chattanooga), Mr. Bender, and Susan – all talked and joked around about everything. Liza (or was it Deb?) asked me (I think it was Liza) why I didn’t talk much. Brenda told them I was a philosopher and when I uttered a sentence, it had to be important. Then Liza asked me what I was and I told her I was a senior. “A senior?” the whole room (the college people) gasped. I laughed (realizing that they believed I was a senior in college; I should have played it through) and told them that I was in high school.
We talked some more and then Mr. Bender and I left to get ready for the game, going to the motel. I wrote a letter to Helen, then we left. The game was good. Tennessee won 51 to 18 against Utah. I went to the band room after the game and saw Tim Feiper, Fran Thompson, and Linda Gottfried – all former members of my high school band – while looking for Brenda. I also saw Suzanne.
We – Brenda, Brian, Mr. B, Liza, Don, Debbie and Suzanne – went to Mr Gatti’s, a pizza place. We ate pizza, laughed, talked, and watched Saturday Night Live. I drank a glass and a half of beer. YUCH! I shouldn’t have, but Mr. Bender ordered a pitcher and didn’t want to drink it all himself. As we left, Liza, Don and I stopped to watch a Saturday Night Live skit. Liza looked at me as much as she looked at the screen (Psst! FOREBODING!).
We went to Brenda’s dorm after that. Brenda, Brian and I went up to her room for a while. Then we went to the “Passion Pit,” a room above the lobby with couches all around. Brenda, Brian and I lay on a couch with our feet propped on a chair. Suzanne lay in a chair. Liza and Don were spread out on a couch until he left and then she came over to us and sat beside me on the couch. She slowly moved up against me and we had our heads on each other when Brenda woke up (she and Brian had fallen asleep) and said that it was about time everyone went to sleep. It was nearly 3:00 a.m. I “had” to help Liza up and supported her to the lobby and the elevator. The next day (today), Brenda, Brian, Mr. B, and I went to Cracker Barrel to eat, then went to West Town Mall and shopped around. Then we took Brenda back to the dorm. I drove all the way home from her dorm to my house. It was fun.
28 September NOTE: Brian got a letter from Brenda this week and Liza wants to date me. Now if I could only say the same about Helen (I believe it’s true, but it just hasn’t been verbalized).
Sunday, 30 September 1979
Much has happened lately. First of all, I’ve found out Helen’s middle name – Laura. She made me promise not to tell anyone. Sharon (my sister) found her middle name by looking in the school’s student files.
Now for some really interesting notes. If you’ve been keeping up with the past few weeks, months and days, then you know how much I like Helen. Okay, I’m not trying to get Helen to go with me (unless I’m told to by her). People from the outside label us as a “couple.” Whenever someone tells us that, then Helen says otherwise. Today, for example, there was a Sing Out show at a church. Before the show, Helen and I were talking, sitting next to each other, in one of the pews. Tracy Pendleton was supposed to sit in between us, but she said she would leave us (alone) to talk. Of course, it was obvious that she was assuming that Helen and I were “together.” Not so, says Helen…and I. Why? We never said we were coupled up, so why should we let someone else tell us that? (“For your own good, David!” you say. Bull, I say.)
Then, after the show, Neena Wells (a Sing Out member from Dobyns-Bennett) said that we were a perfect couple (I’ve heard that enough. Tommy Dodd told me the same thing one day on the bus after Helen got off the bus. Tina Jelton said I should date her. Isn’t it nice to get outside opinions when you don’t ask for them?) and Helen said that we weren’t a couple; she was one person and I was another. She said if we were a couple then we would be a quartet (interesting joke).
Now for the news of the day: I’m not pregnant! I am sane, though (meaning I’m crazy, of course). Yesterday, Jonathan Staples had a party. Fact #1: Everyone there had at least a sip of liquor, except Bobby. Fact #2: Many people got drunk. Fact #3: Among those drunk were David Colline (me), Helen Prudence, Jim Thomas, Patricia Clayton, Mark McCafferty, Russell Helton and many others.
First of all, earlier that day, there was Sing Out practice and I had fun as usual!
At approximately 6:07 p.m. (ha!ha!), I went to Helen’s house. Her parents left for a company party and Ellen left with her boyfriend (wonder why he doesn’t get bored). So Helen and I went inside to wait for Anna Lawrence. We talked about shampoo and toothpaste and other interesting and sensible subjects. Anna came and we went to Jonathan’s house in her car. When we got there, we played charades for a little while, and then played I Doubt It. Helen cheated every time (almost, not every single time, of course; she is honest; it was really me who cheated) and when she did, she looked at me and I looked at her and then she asked me why I looked at her and told me to stop (I’m not sure if she told me to stop or not).
It’s 12:10 a.m. (meaning it’s Monday) and I need to get some sleep. I’ll write later on today (meaning that there’ll be more to write. Oh boy!) Abe will be there today, so there will be the triangle – Helen, Abe and I. There is after-school band practice for a contest this coming Saturday.
Monday, 1 October 1979
I shall continue about Jonathan’s party. While we were playing I Doubt It, more people came in. Some of them brought liquor. Jonathan had mixed an orange-pineapple drink and Anna had some. Helen asked her for sip (my first thought was both of shock and “what shall I do?”) and turned to me to say how good it was. Of course, I have a habit of tasting things and I tasted it. It was good! I went to get Helen and me some Nehi Peach drinks, thinking we wouldn’t be drinking alcohol anymore.
Sometime after that someone (as a matter of fact, it was Kim and Marsha) had a mixture of Coke and Jack Daniel’s (whiskey?). Well, Helen and I both had some to drink. We then mixed it with the Nehi Peach. It was good, also. Marsha (or Kim) filled my Nehi can almost all the way full with the Coke and Jack Daniel’s. Helen’s can tasted more like Nehi Peach, but she tasted mine and drank more of it than of hers. As the night progressed (it was only about 8:00 p.m.), I got Helen and me orange drinks (from an alcohol-laced punch bowl) and more orange drinks all night long.
After a while, Helen talked about falling asleep. Then, when she put her head in a pillow, and I would tell her to wake up, she would say that she was wide awake. So be it.
Eventually, we made our way upstairs and started playing charades again. During the game, Helen said she wanted more orange drink (it could be said that Helen and I were drunk by this time). So, like an idiot, not realizing what I was doing to both of us (getting us more drunk), I went after Jonathan and got two glasses of the drink.
When I came back upstairs (Jonathan would not serve drinks upstairs at that times, although he later served Sloe Gin Fizzes, chocolate wine and muscatels), Bobby and Clark were trying the “power of suggestion” on Helen, trying to get her to do something. They asked her a number of questions like, “Do you love your father/mother/sister/brother?” and “Do you love Steven?” who sat nearby. She said that she loved him but she wasn’t in love with him. When I noticed that they were up to something, I asked Bobby not to do anything bad. He responded by saying, “Would I do something bad, David?” in his most sarcastic voice. Then, when they kept going on, I whispered to Helen (SWEET NOTHINGS! That’s right, nothing sweet. Ha! Ha!) that we should go downstairs. So we went downstairs.
To keep Helen going (she pulled the “I’m asleep – I’m wide awake” thing; it was getting close to 11:00 p.m., though), I got her to do the dance for Rio (a song in the band field show). We had still been drinking through all of this, though we were slacking off a bit. After the dancing became old, we went back upstairs. I told Helen not to listen to anything Bobby or Clark said. Sometime, we went outside with Anna on the front porch and did the dance again. When Helen talked about sleep again, I mentioned the fact that we should wait for Cherry (she probably brought it up first, but I used it to keep her awake). When it got close to 12:00, people started leaving and Jonathan started cleaning up (he had help from Steven). So Anna said she should get home. Helen and I got in the car (where she marked me up with a felt pen!) but got out again to wait for Cherry. Mrs. Pope had come to pick up Barbara and Helen walked up to Mrs. Pope and asked her if she was ready to go Girl Scout camping. I don’t remember Mrs. Pope’s reply.
When we got back to Jonathan’s house (Helen had to be directed which way to go; she kept talking about walking into the creek), Jonathan, in a few words, said the party was over. So, I got my things and walked Helen home.
Here, I’ll stop and say a few words about the situation. It was dark outside, Helen and I were both drunk, we were alone on the road, and I’m David Colline, the gentleman/companion/brother. It seems to me (from what I’ve heard from Susan Esterhaus about other boys) that some boy, besides me, would have taken advantage of the situation and provoked sexual activities.
If you are not familiar with David Colline, he is, first of all, from a decent family. Secondly, he wouldn’t know what to do if a girl stood in front of him naked with an instruction manual. Thirdly, he may bring up these types of ideas on paper, but he has no fantasy to fulfill them. Fourthly, if he was so tempted to turn to such low down animal drives, he likes Helen enough to control himself. The question is: is he smart, stupid, ignorant, or pitiful? It’s up to you to decide.
Some people find sex a great thing during high school, while others find it interesting, but not an obsession, and I happen to be the latter. Unless I’m flat out told to do something, I’m often “blind” to body language. In cases of people like Diana Scribner, who loves to come on to guys, I play dumb just to save myself.
So I simply helped Helen get to her house. She wanted to stop at Mona and Abe’s house and sleep on the mailbox. I pulled her away. She tried that at a couple of different mailboxes, but I kept her going. How we made it, I’ll never know. Lance Reynolds drove by, but we waved him on.
When we got to Helen’s house, Helen’s mother knew that Helen (and I guess me, too) was drunk (I talked to Helen on the phone tonight for almost an hour(!!) – she is supposed to talk for 5 minutes but her father wasn’t there) and her mother had told her today that she shouldn’t do that. Helen knocked over a picture lying on a table and I picked it up for her. Her mother said that we were both too loud. I stayed at her house for about 30 minutes, and then Helen had to go to bed and I left to go home. I stopped at Jonathan’s house and picked up my records. I helped him clean up.
When I got home, Dad was up and he talked to me until 3:00 a.m. He analyzed me and told me about his high school and college years when he had no one to talk to, so he confided in me. He told me about how close our personalities matched and how he had the same feelings that I did when he was young, except he didn’t really drink until he was in college. So much for matching personalities.
It has been a long time since I’ve written about my philosophy of life. Today, Bobby and Clark discussed what is important and what is not important in life. They called it the “Fort Henry Mall syndrome,” meaning that some things were trivial like window shopping at a mall or asking questions like “Did you see Mork and Mindy on TV last night?” I agree with them totally, but in life I feel that to enjoy things, some people need these identity conversations to function properly. To me, I feel that all things are trivial except God (I will talk about this at a later time). On occasion, I start thinking that I’m important, more so than others. I don’t tell anyone if I can help it, but I feel that this life is like a dream – a good one, mind you – but a dream all the same, and it is only a waiting station for a better life beyond.
I slipped and told Dad that I didn’t really care about anyone, though it was Mom that was the subject. He slapped me, the first time in years, and apologized later. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut since, though Dad thinks I’m open with him. So far in life, I haven’t been able to tell a single person about my view in life. I think there is one person I could trust – George Flannery – but I rarely get to see him. I think I’ll call him sometime.
Wednesday, 3 October 1979
Well, (I wonder why I like that beginning. I think I’ll start it again)
Have you ever been “hit in the face” with something you knew, but either weren’t sure or didn’t want to know? The former happened to me today. All along, for the past week or so, Helen has been referring to “we” as she and I and excluding Abe (as I’ve already mentioned, but I’m repeating so I can piece together everything myself). Today, as Helen, Abe and I were in the band room talking, Helen turned to Abe and said something to the effect of, “Abe, we’re going to lunch. Understand?” (I felt good about that!) Abe caught on fast (for him, at least) and said, “Well, may I go with you to lunch?” That should have told me something, but I guess I wasn’t thinking at the time. All this week and last and a little before that, people have either asked me if I’m going with Helen, dating her, or if I like her (only one of which I say yes to; I’m not going with her, and we’re not really dating – I take her places and she takes me places, but they aren’t “dates,” to speak of, though they have the essence of dates).
In fact, today, Mrs. Crete and I talked after school. One of the subjects we talked about (it might have been the first) was Helen. Mrs. C asked me if I was dating her. I said not really. Then she asked me if I was going with her and I said no. She said that she thought I was since she saw us together at lunch everyday. She said I ought to date her and went on about how Helen’s real nice and cute and “made for me.” She told me a professional secret about Helen’s journal (a no-no for Mrs. C, but she said she felt it was all right to tell me; she rarely if ever tells anyone about her students’ journals so I knew it must have been important). She said that Helen had mentioned going to a party with me, so either Helen had more than just “mentioned” it or she had written it in such a way (so as to have Mrs. C remember it) that it was mentioned, but strongly emphasized.
I started out about the slap in the face thing and here it is. At the dinner table tonight, I brought up what Mrs. C had said to me today to Mom and Dad. I said that I was glad to hear it and Dad said that why didn’t I realize the fact that Helen likes me just as much. Mom said that (first, let me make you understand Dad thinks of my relationship in such a way that he thinks I ought to open the door for Helen, walk her to her door, and carry her books (I do do that) and I agree, but I’m so out of practice that I forget to. Now, about what Mom said) wherever we go (she was referring to last night) that Helen would get out of the car and get into the car without my help, and she went inside her house without me walking her to the door. Dad said, “A state of nonchalance, huh?” It wasn’t until then that I was “hit in the face” about how much Helen likes me (by the way, Dad was being sarcastic and Mom was poking fun at me).
Sure, I know she likes me, but it didn’t dawn on me, really knock me over, until today. I feel great, and I look forward to tomorrow when I’ll get to see Helen!
Also, I was elected president of Speech and Drama Club today. It’s my second year as president, but since I’m a senior, it’s different; Brian is vice president. How about that, me and my best friend president and vice president!!!
I spoke of “trivial” things the other day and I said that I felt that all things were trivial except God. Well, when I read that it didn’t sound right. What I meant is that God is very important to me, but there are other people who are important (very much so) to me: Helen, my family, Brian and others.
I told Helen on the phone about the way Bobby really was and that Steven was a little bit like him. I explained to her why Bobby likes to tickle her and put his hands on her (a perfect example of stimulant substitution due to sexual deprivation). She considers him a pervert now and when he’s near, she practically (and sometimes literally) runs from him. Now, instead of tickling her, Bobby is just satisfied with touching her. When Helen said that she didn’t want Bobby to touch her, he said that she was polymorphously perverted (meaning she gets orgasms from being tickled). He reverted to the use of big words to confuse Helen so she wouldn’t see why he tickled her, but since I told her why he does it, she knew what he was doing.
Tuesday, 16 October 1979
I don’t know what it is, but I’m happy and confused at the same time. I’m still “head over heals” about Helen (don’t know when I won’t be either; maybe it’ll stop in a decade or 20 decades). I’m so confused, I’m babbling. [Goo! Goo!] and I can’t concentrate on anything. Today at lunch, Helen was upset(?) about something and I can’t figure out what. She threw things at me, and got angry when I mentioned the fact that she “looks” (stares, whatever) at things. I’ll write more later. Today is Kiddy and Pajama Day at school.
I talked more to Helen and I found out why she was upset. It was because people in band weren’t taking MBA (Marching Bands of America, a national band contest) seriously. She calmed down toward 7:00 p.m., though she was ready to bite someone’s head off after Youth Orchestra practice around 9:00 p.m. We about wrecked. Helen started to pull into the other lane and there was a car diagonally beside us. The driver slammed her brakes and screeched to a halt. We continued in the left lane.
This is Homecoming week and each day is something different. Yesterday was famous character and hush day. I dressed up in my bicentennial outfit and I got a hush button from a girl who talked to me (she said hello). Helen had lost hers so I gave her the one I had gotten. Today I wore pajamas, slippers, housecoat, and carried a lion, a fuzzy creature, and “TV” that played tunes, a big lollipop and a toy that is pulled on the ground. It looks like ducks in a row and it quacks. Tomorrow is twins day and glory of all glory, greatness of all greatness, glory of all greatness, and greatness of all glory, Helen and I (me) are dressing the same. Isn’t that merry? Isn’t that keen? Just me and my little racing machine (a cute rhyme). See what a !!! mood I’m in. I’m going to have to step down off of Cloud 2,000,361,276,524,985 and at least come down to Cloud 9. I’m floating so high it’s ridiculous, but I love it. I can’t help it anyway and if you have any brains whatsoever, you’ll see that I don’t want to stop feeling this way (it sounds like I’m apologizing). Thursday is 50s day, but Youth Orchestra is going to Greeneville, so I get to be with Helen the whole day!!! Oh boy!!! I can’t wait to see tomorrow (it’s Helen who I want to see).
Wednesday, 17 October 1979
Helen’s still in a destructive mood and I can’t figure out what it is or I’d prevent it somehow. She wanted to destroy the dashboard in the station wagon tonight. Today, Helen and I dressed up alike. We wore red and white striped shirts, blue jeans and brown tennis shoes. We were “cute,” according to others. I’m in a superbly, wowy, yonkerish, neato mood and there’s not much I can do about it.
Sunday, 21 October 1979
I went to a movie with Helen last night. It wasn’t what I would call a date, though. We saw, “When a Stranger Calls,” a movie about a babysitter ravaged by an estranged killer. We went to McDonald’s afterwards. I learned something I’m glad to find out about Helen. I really knew it because she had mentioned it before but she was more direct this time. She said she went to a movie with a boy (who she went with last school year and broke up with after a couple of weeks; he is still “madly in love” with her and she does not want to hear from him; he writes letters which are a little bit suggestive!) and she had been forewarned that he might try to hold her hand during the movie. She shuddered at the thought. That’s what I’m glad to find out about. I’ve always been around girls in the past who’ve given the appearance of wanting me to do something with them and I’ve been hesitant and scared to give the same thing in return because I’m not that kind of guy. Now I don’t have to worry about that with Helen. I never did before, but now I have reasons for not worrying.
Monday, 22 October 1979
I thank God for all I have. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s the truth. My parents provide me with adequate (they spoil me) food, clothing, etc. I can trust them and they aren’t harsh or cruel for they love me very much. I have friends aplenty. The only reason someone is not my friend is because they don’t understand the way I am. To most, I’m just a weird, and crazy, but lovable guy who does odd things. That may be true but I’m also an intelligent, thoughtful, philosophical and meaningful person (man, if you wish). When I tell someone I like them, I mean it with my heart and not just my head. Speaking of liking, there’s Helen!!! The bell’s going to ring so I’ll write more tonight. I love writing.
At lunch, I discovered that Mary Jane Creekmore is going to have a party Thursday night and so far, I have not been invited. I hope it is only because I haven’t seen Mary Jane yet. If it’s because she doesn’t want me to come, then I’d be hurt. But I have two days to find out so I won’t fret (though it does give me butterflies in my stomach) but I do want to go because I love parties and Helen will be there.
I like Helen but there seem to be things lacking in our relationship and I’ll write them out to see if it’s just me. Let me think of them first. Well, we don’t always agree on everything but that’s the brother/sister part of the relationship. One thing we have done but not much (since we don’t have much of a chance) is discuss serious matters. We have talked about people we like and dislike. That’s something. One thing that stays on my mind is how Helen exactly feels about me. What is our relationship in terms of friendship? We aren’t really close friends, but we are good friends. I feel I can (am able to) trust her with my deep, dark secrets though I don’t think I have. One day I would like to sit down and have a long conversation with her. I’d like to know more about her if only to learn why she does the things she does, some of which are very interesting like her obsession with being touched, why she doesn’t take things seriously (she doesn’t worry is her reason), and little things such as her shaking her leg up and down when she’s seated at a table (more than likely, a show of hyperactivity). I like her and see her so much that on days that I’m not with her, I don’t know what to do. I’m lost without her (cliché time again!).
Going off the subject (obvious by the start of a new paragraph), I have found that I can float in another world by going into a partial trance at school. It helps me rest and concentrate my thoughts without interference. I’m not annoyed if I’m interrupted, especially by Helen. I hope to sit with her in the bus ride to Harrisonburg for the MBA contest.
Sunday, 28 October 1979
This has been quite an eventful weekend. We (the students) got Thursday and Friday off because the teachers had meetings. Thursday night, there was a bonfire. I don’t want to write anymore. I might regret not doing this 10 years from now but WHAT DOES IT MATTER?
Wednesday, 31 October 1979
Today is Halloween. I took a number of people (including Helen) to Bobby’s house (the new one that looks like a castle) and “we” watched horror films. I got bored and went up the elevator (yes, Bobby’s house has an elevator) to play Steven’s violin in the living room. I then went upstairs to the third floor and played the organ. Bobby came upstairs and told me that I was missing “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide” (thrill! thrill!) so I went back to the den and watched for thirty seconds. I was BORED, BORED, BORED! I left and went outside for a while. I should have stayed and tried to have fun but I wasn’t in the mood. Eventually, I did come back in and watched the end of the film. I took the people home.
On the way home, Carla mentioned that Regina and I should have been Raggedy Ann and Andy like we did last year. That refreshes my memory. I miss Regina. She was someone I could talk to, cuddle up with or just sit and look at without a care in the world, but we broke up a year ago coming up on November 17 (which happens to be Helen’s birthday – I don’t know what to give her). The more I think about it, the more I want to cry. I enjoy, adore and have fun with Helen, but……….I wish she would be more mature. Even I have an adult streak in me. She does too, but it doesn’t show as much. She is intelligent, that I know. That’s not my problem (worry?). It’s just that I find it hard to be serious with Helen. Perhaps I will find out on the way to Harrisonburg (we are riding on the bus together).
I guess I’ve written my main thoughts for tonight. I have more but I want to let them roll around in my head to keep my mind going because when I write something, I tend to forget it (probably on purpose) and imagine things differently.
Friday, 28 November 1980
Almost two years, that’s quite a long time. To catch you up on the main points of my life since then, I graduated from Central High School and am now going to Georgia Tech (the Georgia Institute of Technology). Basically, I haven’t changed. I still pretty much think the same thoughts, write in the same sloppy handwriting and wear the same clothes. One thing, however, has changed: I no longer like Helen, I love her! Fortunately, the feeling is mutual. Putting our relationship on a graph of time versus getting closer, I guess it would look like a gently sloping curve. I will explain.
Up until a little over a month ago, I did not know what Helen thought (thinks) of me. In an exchange of letters, we told each other that we love each other. I should define love – the mutual feeling of two people wanting to satisfy each other’s happiness (that should suffice for the definition). Helen and I both seem to be happy with each other so it must be love.
Now that I know she loves me, what does she think of me? In other words, on a broader spectrum, I would like to know things like would she go with me if I asked her, does she even think the possibility exists, and where does she think our relationship is headed? Hopefully, I’ll get to talk to her soon and find out exactly where we stand. I have remotely considered asking Helen to go with me but I’ve yet to find a reason to, except to show the outside world how close we are. We certainly aren’t as close as Helen’s sister and her boyfriend. In fact, except for putting our arms around each other for the prom pictures and for a few slow dances, we haven’t really touched. I can’t say whether I’m put back by this fact or not. I’m sure if I tried to hold Helen’s hand I could find her position on the subject but I’m too shy to try. I shall wait and see what tomorrow will bring.
David woke up. Where had he been? Where was he now? Odd, how in an instant, the years fly by. One moment, he’s sitting in an apartment in Knoxville. The next moment, he’s married and living in a house outside of Huntsville. “Oh well,” he thought, “since Helen’s on my mind, I’ll write her a series of letters to see if the years slow down.”
Tuesday, 17 Sept 1991
Hey. I’m sorry I missed seeing Connie. Somehow I feel I’m not supposed to see her. I imagine she’s a cute baby, especially considering the mother and grandmother she has.
Do you have a moment to listen? I hope so. I want to talk to you in person but that hasn’t been working out lately so I’ll revert to my next favorite form of communication with this letter.
We’ve been friends for 12 or more years and in that time we’ve shared ideas and philosophies that not everyone wants to hear or is willing to discuss. I don’t know if you’ve discussed your past in much detail with James or if you want to. Karen does not care to hear about my drug days and does not like to discuss religious issues with me. I realize that no two people share the same thoughts, yet…
Over the last couple of years I have pondered the possibility of planes of existence outside the physical plane we know here on Earth. I have watched other humans hypothesize about an afterlife – preachers praising heaven, professors proclaiming reincarnation, atheists announcing nihilism – and I’ve waited for my own inspiration. I continue to wait. Oh, I have reduced others’ religious beliefs
into mere justification for living a life of pain. Meanwhile, I live a life of pain without any justification for my pain. I simply exist in a bored state of observation.
The society we live in gives us the opportunity to acquire any material good we want. For the most part I have breezed through our society purchasing the goods I want without any consideration of the price others are paying for me to have these goods. I am no different than other members of our society. Such irresponsible consumerism, however, will soon disappear. Our society has initiated a checks and balances system we call recycling that teaches us to consider what our material acquisitions truly costs in the form of ecological destruction. Our federal government has instituted laws that require companies to provide employees a safe workplace and a minimum wage. We humans have come a long way from our hunter-gatherer days.
As our society progresses, I wonder where we are headed. Are we trying to create a minimum standard of living for all humans with no war, famine, or other catastrophic suffering or are we all just combining our will to live in a chaotic manner with no consideration of the outcome?
In the meantime, I live my life quietly, participating in the latest trends in recycling, clothes, cars, and houses. I do not expect to change the world but I imagine I will have an impact on the future of our society.
Right now, I sit here, a human being who has walked the planet Earth during approximately 29 cycles around the Sun. I see myself sitting on a chair. I look out the window and see the tops of some pine trees sticking up from behind the next building. Through the haze and humidity I see some clouds in the distance. The temperature inside my office is about 75 degrees F. The temperature outside is 97 degrees F and the time is 4:19 p.m., according to the local time/temperature phone service.
I want to draw a conclusion from all this. I want to write a sentence on paper and say, “See, this is life.” Instead, I feel like I’m sitting still and doing nothing but allowing entropy to reduce my body to worm fodder. I don’t mind the entropy so much but I wouldn’t mind finding something worthwhile to occupy my bored mind in the interim.
I assume your job and Connie keep you occupied so that you don’t have to find ways to keep yourself entertained.
Thursday, 26 March 1992
A few weeks ago, I believe on a Monday evening, I felt a compelling need to tell you I love you. Do you know what I mean? In that moment, I knew that miles nor years will diminish my, no our friendship. Of course, we won’t have the same thought patterns because of our diverse lives but the love remains, a love beyond romance and other trappings of the body.
You have watched me attempt to replace you to no avail. Oh, I have found people who listen kindly but none who understand what I say. I thought Brenda, because she’s a professional writer, would see me through my eyes when I sent her my writings during my last suicidal episode but she said my words went over her head (and asked me not to involve her again which I respectfully understand).
Now, I spend days wandering the borderlands of insanity, keeping a job by day (barely so, it sometimes seems) and surviving the evening with the woman who holds my bodily attention – Karen. I wonder what I’m doing living an imposter’s life, carrying on the traditions of my parents while seeking my own existence like so many other lost sheep in our society.
Hazel Barber once told me to change if I don’t like what I’m doing but I don’t know if I’m willing to pay the consequences or if I’m just a whiner. Ah, life is pain broken by the sounds of laughter. Will I ever write you an uplifting letter again?
Wednesday, 22 April 1992
How far have we come? Better yet, where are we going? I wonder sometimes, more often than necessary, but not enough to impair my normal social functions, whether the direction I find my life taking has a life of its own, that with conscious insight, would give me comfort that order can be found in chaos.
You are my “friend from forever,” as you first coined it many years ago, and will remain my friend in and out of time. We have seen time running like a tunnel down the aisles in Paul’s Market, a convenience food/gas market that no longer exists. We have seen each other grow into adults (that word still makes me shudder when I remember my imaginings of that Establishment word as I grew up). We are still here to see.
Do you recall my announcement of atheism? Of course, you saw it coming and said so. At the same time that I question how you would know, I know that you knew because we have made mental connections that give us insight into each other.
With those paragraphs aside, I want to lay down some words that expose my soul to you. In my travels I have observed (and been observed participating in) the human process – the daily struggle for nourishment of body, mind and soul (our Western reference to the Judeo-Christian trilogy) – and have drawn conclusions through rationalization, contemplation, and for lack of a better word, faith. Despite my earlier shedding and shredding of my childhood religious upbringing, I still consider my mental musings connected to other humans; either that, or coincidences occur frequently between humans of similar backgrounds. In my wonderings and doubts, I tell myself that this is a natural world – what we see is what we get. Somehow, though I contradict my natural world thinking, my heart says…well, I correctly labeled this earlier as faith…if I don’t believe in something, then I don’t exist. What do I believe in? Good question.
I believe in our friendship, for one thing. I believe in my friendship with Karen. I believe, too, that I do not know, understand, or will ever perceive everything necessary to avoid conflict in my life. I believe that perfection, like zirconia, will crack under pressure. In other words, I will say things to you and Karen that will cause conflict regardless [of] how hard I try to keep a perfect friendship with the two of you.
You learned many years ago that Rome wasn’t built in a day; that is, you know that life is a journey toward, not the achievement of, a goal; that this makeup of specialized cells we call a human is not separate from the thought processes we call the mind or the unanswered questions of life we call the soul. No matter who made us or where we came from, we are here at this moment in existence. I, you, him, her, them, us – every individual chooses what to do -words, though used to label us, are just words. We are not controlled by others or their words; however, we can let outside influences encourage us to take actions we would not take ourselves.
You and I grew up together for several years. In those years, I recorded thoughts and words we shared with each other and our friends. I destroyed many of those records when I threw my writings away several years ago. I regret that action and cannot recover the writings but have learned a lesson: when feeling suicidal, give my writings and myself to someone else. Anyway, some of our times together have survived in writing. [I plan to use part of them in a story I’m writing about a guy who walks the edge between accepting his life or taking his life. In fact, I’ll include that “chapter” for you to read after this letter.]
As I said in an earlier letter, I felt an urgent need to tell you I love you several weeks ago. I resisted calling you because if I found you could use that information, then my system of beliefs would stand on its own and I would have to accept that we can influence others through prayer and meditation. I apologize for being so selfish. No excuses, of course, but I was thinking about you, if that helped.
Well, I’ve spent the past few days typing old journal entries into a computer. As I typed and read the notes, I returned to our high school days and mentally relived many moments (as you’ll see in the excerpt I’ve included). Last night we met in a dream where we understood that our meeting in the dream world was ours to do as we pleased and discuss what we wanted. I woke up feeling that we really had met. Now, I could just say the dream was a result of my reliving old times but here I am almost 24 hours later and I still believe we met in that dream. Oddly enough, I feel like I shouldn’t mention the dream just like I didn’t want to contact you the other night. One shouldn’t question one’s faith, I suppose.
You know very well that the closer I get to accepting my faith in the network of human mental connections, the less I want to consider ending my futile life. After all, if I were to leave too soon, the network would suffer. Continuing on this network theme, I consider you and Karen my closest nodes in that network.
In my last letter, I asked if I would ever write a happy letter again (or something like that). For the record, this is a happy letter. And by the way, although I’m a few weeks late in saying it, I do love you and miss you. I hope everything’s all right. Not hearing from you, I wonder how you’re doing. If you need me, I’m here for you and by the same token, I couldn’t live without you. Thanks for being a positive influence even when I didn’t ask for your help.
Give James my best. I guess he hasn’t been able to listen to Mississippi State baseball this year. I (and with Karen, I say we) plan to send you another savings bond for Connie’s birthday. Will she really be two years old in a few weeks? You’ll be handing her lunch money before too long (or will she carry her lunch to school like her mother did?). I know one day I’ll regret not seeing her grow up.
With a smile in my heart for you,
P.S. As you read, “Memoirs…”, keep in mind that I never knew how to get over the excitement of having you as a friend, and I never knew how to tell you without sounding like one of those other boys I didn’t want to be associated with that seemed to bother you; therefore, my excitement came out in my notes. If you can find the time, I would enjoy hearing a response.
19 Dec 2003
Got your Christmas card last night. Thanks for saying that you remember me at times other than holidays. Speaking of remembering folks, I got an email from Mike McGinty the other day. He finally told me he was gay. I told him that Annette Spence had figured out that he was gay when he was in high school and told Karen and me in ’87 or ’88, so I was not surprised. Mike also told me that Joey Francis’ mother has Alzheimer’s and is living in a managed care facility in Kingsport. I contacted Joey (who prefers to be called Joe) – he gave me his mother’s phone number and told me to feel free to call his mother because she’d love to hear from us. If you get a chance while you’re in Kingsport, give her a call. Her phone number is 239-3666. By the way, Joe is now the Senior Director of IT Business Process Management for Hewlett Packard and chairman of the Supply Chain Council. We all knew he’d go far in life.
I’ve included some of the recent poems I’ve written.
Hope you had a good holiday with your family.
Equal and Opposite Reaction
I am sure that I operate from a reactive standpoint;
that is, I am not self-motivated —
instead, I am motivated by the anticipated reactions of others
or by my immediate reactions to demands/requests of those around me.
I often see something that I think is a good idea to implement
but I am more excited about the idea as a concept than as a reality
and am quickly satisfied by implementing the idea in my head.
What causes me to be reactive only?
Now that I am a full-fledged middle-aged guy,
I should have a full understanding of what I want to do with the rest of my life but I don’t.
Karen and I watched a movie called “About Schmidt” the other day and I could definitely relate to the character —
he had progressed through his life doing what he was supposed to do at work,
even though as he started out he thought he would be a great mover/shaker but only progressed up the corporate ladder through seniority/age.
His life had been all about the job and he thought that his replacement / company would continue to use his life’s work.
Instead, he finds that his files have been boxed up and put away for storage/disposal.
I have already experienced that sensation twice through two layoffs
where I found the stuff I had worked on had no future use and thus was thrown away before I even left the company.
So now that I have no illusions about my life’s importance,
now that I no longer have to pose the question, “Why am I here?”,
now that there is no worry about having a purpose or meaning in life,
what am I to do?
I can see why this period of a person’s life is called the middle-age crisis.
Life has slowed down through the perspective of age but I still have the possibility of living my years of life again.
Can I endure 40 years of doing something “for a living”,
watching television at home,
going to the movies occasionally,
going to football games,
dealing with strangers who I do not care about or who annoy me,
eating food I have eaten a thousand times before,
driving roads I have lost count traversing,
more and more losing interest in new scientific discoveries and new literary/artistic creations,
all while contributing to a human society I do not know if I want to support?
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” — Newton’s Third Law of Physics
— David Colline, 22 July 2003
Today is Tomorrow
Just a moment to write a quick note while sitting in the car on a warm, late November in Huntsville,
watching flocks of birds fly over the fields and parking lots of Cummings Research Park.
Dozens of insects take advantage of the warmth in the grass,
flying back and forth for reasons known only to them.
On the radio, piano music streams forth from the NPR station.
Some people stand in the parking lot, talking on cell phones.
A Chick-fil-A sandwich is being digested in my stomach.
What am I to make of this day that’s half gone?
Not much —
an email to a friend,
some instructions to my employees,
this note to you —
a small blip on the radar screen of life.
“there’s a graveyard full of people who would love to have this day.”
Some would take this day to see loved ones.
Some would do what they never did before.
Some would try to avenge their deaths or do something to prevent deaths like theirs.
I will not have this day again, so I choose to record the weather and this scene I’m in.
I will take a moment to reflect on who I am, where I am, and where I want to be.
I have wished for things I cannot have
preservation of all species (which requires human expansion to stop),
There is no “I” that corresponds to an answer to “Who am I?”
There is no core inside the layers of onion.
There is only this reactionary human who adapts to situations around him to ensure his safety.
“Fear is the key to your soul.”
Physically, I’m 41 years old, 202 pounds, 6’1″ tall, near-sighted, gray-headed.
I could just as easily be 61 or 81 years old for there is nothing in particular I want between now and then
which makes daily living and plans for the future border on chaos/mediocrity.
Yet, I continue to follow daily, weekly and yearly routines.
“Today is the future.”
Where do we go when we are nowhere and everywhere at the same time?
— 20 Nov 2003, David Colline
What am I to make of this day?
What am I to make of this day?
What shall I do to improve my lot?
There is the small picture (my life)
and the big picture (humanity’s chance for survival).
I can do little about the big picture except live my life as if I care about humanity.
What if I don’t care?
Well, what if I’m not aware enough to care?
Is there such a state as “not caring enough”?
Is there such as state as “not caring at all”?
Then surely there is a state of “caring too much”.
All I’ve ever wanted to do is have fun but there’s always this nagging part of me that says not to have too much fun
because of all the starving children in Africa,
because of all the forests burning in South America,
because of all the fish being killed in the ocean,
because of all the air that’s being polluted,
because of the ozone layer,
because of the spotted owl,
because of the…
well, you get the picture.
I focus too much on environmental news stories.
Yet, I still waste food, waste wood, eat swordfish, and drive a car.
I buy frivolous stuff.
I watch a lot of television.
Like a lot of things in my life,
I feel the pain of the destroyed environment when I take time away from all the distractions
but I feel inadequate, unable to do much to save the planet from the spread of my species.
I have chosen not to have children but I’m still here consuming, thus destroying.
What am I to make of this day?
I have driven my car to work,
I have sent a letter via express mail in order to enter a New Yorker cartoon contest,
I have turned on lights to keep plants alive in my office,
I have written several emails,
I have drunk two mugs of coffee.
I will drive to eat lunch with my wife,
I will send more emails,
I will fill my car with gas,
I will buy candy for my Christmas jar at work,
I will work on Dad’s laptop computer,
I will drive home for dinner,
I will watch television.
I will do little to keep humanity’s spread in check.
I shall not improve my lot.
— 11 Dec 2003, David Colline
Can you have what you do not want?
Can you want what you do not know?
Words in front of me at this moment in a Holiday Inn Express –
“What made [them] think that this historical hokum would translate to compelling theater?”, USAToday;
“Every Morning we offer a delicious FREE breakfast bar for our guests.”, Guest Services Directory, Holiday Inn;
“These were the potters, and those that dwelt among plants and hedges: there they dwelt with the king for his work.”, I Chronicles 4:23, Holy Bible placed by the Gideons in memory
Yesterday, I enjoyed another relaxing morning by getting up at 8:30 a.m.
I drove in a two-car caravan (my brother in-law driving his family minivan and I our sedan),
leaving Huntsville around noon and arriving in Cordova around 4:45 p.m.
There, we encountered the wry (rye? 😉 ), sly, sleek, slim trim fantasy called Faye.
And that’s just the superficial observation.
On another level, from another perspective, well…
it’s like trying to break through the ice I’m skating on to see the wonderful tropical reef below.
Do I continue to enjoy slipping and sliding on ice or do I dive into the warm water?
Let’s see…uh, sharks, barracudas, sea urchins, stingrays…the water’s full of danger.
Or so it seems.
There’s no harm in flirting.
There’s no harm in admiring.
That’s the secret to the enduring beauty of the tropical reef –
look but don’t touch.
Anemones will keep hosting clown fish (e.g., Nemo),
mammals will still inspire (e.g., Flipper),
reefs will keep dying because of non-human reasons.
But where does that leave me?
Always the observer, I suppose.
That leaves you as the observed this time.
Only this time I sit in my office, not in a hotel room.
Only this time I’m listening to Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band, not an NFL game.
I also have the perspective of another day’s passing,
with stories of Patrick’s sniper training,
subplots defined by the body language between Patrick and Gina,
Ken and Lisa, and Karen and me.
The older I get, the less I’m chased by my fears.
No one (except for the constant inner voice)
is going to chastise me for not doing enough in this world.
And so it is that I find myself here once again,
wondering about this world of mine by observing yours,
the world of the well-kept woman,
the woman whose feet are firmly planted in her world,
never dipping her toes into the waters of other worldly ways
(never having to, in fact).
Her children are grown up,
the natural progression of her life leads to grandchildren
but no grandkids are in sight.
What’s she to do?
I cannot say because I only know of her –
the house she’s decorated, the books she’s read –
I do not know her.
Thus, the dilemma that faces us all.
We barely know ourselves at times,
hardly know others,
yet we can readily predict the behavior of most everyone we see.
Another twist on “knowing is doing”?
I’ve recently been singing the tune of middle age,
memorizing the lines about lines –
laugh lines, crow’s feet, brow lines;
words about white hair;
beats about sore, aching feet.
My wife is tired of me singing this song but I approach these late summer days with sadness.
My days of mourning my loss of youth will be long, I figure.
She’ll have to hear my wails a bit longer.
When next we meet,
when the greetings are complete,
when the cordialities are served as cordials,
and the pause
(the silence after the opening measures),
opens up possibilities for new tunes,
I hope the song we sing will still contain hints of our youth.
Despite the presence of the children or grandchildren.
Despite the addition of ailments.
Despite all the years that will have passed.
— 28-29 Dec 2003, David Colline
Oh, Helen. Why Bother?
20 April 2004
Is it possible to record one’s state of mind using only typewritten words? For decades now we have had the opportunity to copy the “stream of consciousness” style often attributed to James Joyce so that we could both sound normal (ability to use someone else’s literary style) and crazy (recording one’s random, streaming thoughts) at the same time. Our thoughts, although occurring in a timely order, are usually composed of a mix of past, present and future thoughts and actions. And so it is that I come to you today with the thought that I’ll record my state of mind, no matter how bizarre it may seem or be difficult to read…
Listening to Claude Bolling’s Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano from a CD recording. I owned the record when I was a kid (except the record had Rampal as flute player and this CD has Jeanne Baxtresser as flute player). Think I loaned the record to Kim Lewis one time in high school and never got the record back. Also loaned her a Bible that I never got back – she wanted the Bible in order to have one for her Bible as Literature class at Central High School.
Sitting in my office writing this while my workers do whatever it is they’re doing to accomplish the tasks I’ve assigned them for this week. Our manager is out of the office the rest of the week on a golfing vacation. I still can’t believe I have people working for me yet I know I am capable of managing a lot more people, as long as they’re not like one employee I have who burns his candle from both ends – work, work, work, constantly badgering me for more work, becoming mischievous if I didn’t keep him extremely busy – and ended up in a car wreck a few years ago, suffered seizures on-and-off for a while and now is on medical leave. A classic example of “20% of your employees cause 80% of the problems.”
Woke up this morning several times. At one a.m., it was relatively dark, except for the street light at the top of our neighbor’s driveway that lights up the woods behind our houses. A good nightlight for us when we decide to sleep on a camping mattress on the floor of the sunroom this time of year (there’s no us this night, Karen’s out of town on business so I have the camping mattress all to myself…well, cats included, of course). Erin, one of our Cornish Rex cats, wanted to be fed. Stumbled through messy house to feed cat. Take time to pee. Back to bed. Dreamt a bit. Back up at four a.m. to feed cats again, pee again. Alarm went off at six a.m. Set to 6:45. Woke up at 6:45 to sound of alarm, turned it off and sat in bed thinking for a few minutes. Put on glasses. Watched birds at birdfeeder. Remembered feeling from night before of not accomplishing anything in the past 24 hours. Wanted to talk to someone but whom. Then heard remnants of song in head, “Jesus is just alright with me” by the Doobie Brothers. If I believed my sister right, that meant someone with a Christian mindset was thinking about me. Who could it be? My friend, Marsha, who sent me the following email yesterday?:
I don’t know much about Muslim faith – maybe there are diversions as in all faiths – but for what it is worth – I share this….
~have a nice day!~
—– Original Message —–
Subject: Fw: FW: Allah or Jesus?
Allah or Jesus?
by Rick Mathes
Last month I attended my annual training session that’s required for maintaining my state prison security clearance. During the training session there was a presentation by three speakers representing the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths, who explained each of their belief systems.
I was particularly interested in what the Islamic Imam had to say. The Imam gave a great presentation of the basics of Islam, complete with a video. After the presentations, time was provided for questions and answers.
When it was my turn, I directed my question to the Imam and asked:
“Please, correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that most Imams and clerics of Islam have declared a holy jihad [Holy war] against the infidels of the world. And, that by killing an infidel, which is a command to all Muslims, they are assured of a place in heaven. If that’s the case, can you give me the definition of an infidel?”
There was no disagreement with my statements and, without hesitation, he replied, “Non-believers!”
I responded, “So, let me make sure I have this straight. All followers of Allah have been commanded to kill everyone who is not of your faith so they can go to Heaven. Is that correct?”
The expression on his face changed from one of authority and command to that of a little boy who had just gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He sheepishly replied, “Yes.”
I then stated, “Well, sir, I have a real problem trying to imagine Pope John Paul commanding all Catholics to kill those of your faith or Dr. Stanley ordering Protestants to do the same in order to go to Heaven!”
The Imam was speechless.
I continued, “I also have problem with being your friend when you and your brother clerics are telling your followers to kill me. Let me ask you a question. Would you rather have your Allah who tells you to kill me in order to go to Heaven or my Jesus who tells me to love you because I am going to Heaven and He wants you to be with me?”
You could have heard a pin drop as the Imam hung his head in shame.
* * * *
Needless to say, the organizers and/or promoters of the ‘Diversification’ training seminar were not happy with Rick’s way of dealing with the Islamic Imam and exposing the truth about the Muslim’s beliefs.
I think everyone in the US should be required to read this, but with the liberal justice system, liberal media, and the ACLU, there is no way this will be widely publicized. Please pass this on to all your email contacts.
This is a true story and the author, Rick Mathes, is a well known leader in prison ministry.
Of course, I had to reply:
Date: Mon, 19 Apr 2004 09:55:44 -0500
I appreciate your wanting to discuss the merits of those with different religious beliefs, especially the contrast between the Christian faith and the Islamic faith. Personally, in order to clear up confusion, I believe it would be better to compare and contrast parts of the Bible (mainly in the Old Testament) versus parts of the Quran (the jihad verses) when it comes to the argument of answering to a vengeful God.
Then, take a moment to look at the loving God featured in the Christian faith and the Islamic faith. For Christians, the teachings of the New Testament are less about survival-oriented organization of particular tribes that one reads in parts of the Old Testament and more about organizing love-centered, extended family congregations. Of the billion or so Muslims, many more are raising loving families than fighting in the name of jihad.
I have several friends who follow the Muslim faith. None of them are Islamic fanatics but practice a more civilized, practical form just as there are two extremes of Christianity — Christian fanatics and those who practice a more civilized form of Christianity. One Muslim friend of mine completes his five daily prayers to Mecca in one sitting at home before he goes to work in the morning.
As with most faiths, it seems the poor/ignorant among humans tend to more blindly follow their religious leaders, no matter what the label (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hindu, Buddhism, Wicca, etc.). Religion gives everyone a feeling of consolation, and who needs consolation more than the down-and-out?
As far as the “true” story being circulated by Rick Mathes, it appears to be a bit of stretched truth, somewhat of an urban legend, even:
I don’t know Rick Mathes personally so I cannot tell if the alleged email story is something he would really have said; therefore, I do not want to accuse the man of spreading lies. I can say that I have met so-called Christian leaders who spread lies about and misinterpretations of other religions in order to “fire up” their congregations. I don’t tolerate them any more than I can tolerate the bin Ladens of the world who use religion to spread their own fame and fortune. Remember that universally any action of followers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam is to glorify God, not themselves. Too many synagogue, church and mosque leaders tend to form personality cults. I would rather walk out of a church with a better understanding of a particular Bible verse than to be in reverent awe of the
person who preached.
For an interesting discussion of jihad, read:
Thanks for listening,
I tried thinking thoughts to Marsha but I wasn’t satisfied with the message I was sending – I felt too mixed up inside this morning to be able to get a clear message through to her. Then I wondered if I getting into my sister’s beliefs too much and decided to simply think about whom I would want to talk with this morning. Well, guess whose name popped up? Yours, of course! So that’s why I’m here anyway.
A few days ago, Anne and I exchanged ideas about intuition…
Sent: Wed 4/14/2004 2:22 PM
To: Merriman, Anne; Karen
Subject: Something to read when you want an insight into intuition
From: “Merriman, Anne”
Subject: RE: Something to read when you want an insight into intuition
Do you feel like you are very intuitive? Where did this list come from? I am forwarding it home, because I would like to look into this when I have time. I have several books on intuition and can share some things about me sometime, if you want to hear them!
The greatest inhumanity that can be ascribed to men is having the opportunity for doing good to others and doing nothing.
Fulton J. Sheen
Sent: Wed 4/14/2004 4:06 PM
To: Merriman, Anne
Subject: RE: Something to read when you want an insight into intuition
The list came up during my search for a book I used to own called “Knots” by R.D. Laing that Annette Spence and Mike McGinty gave me in high school. I thought you’d get a kick out of reading some of these people’s verbalized beliefs.
As far as intuition goes, the older I get the more I realize that my intuition is nothing more than applying experience to perceived states of emotion. In other words, I see a person is visibly distraught and I search my memory for what could be causing that person’s distress. I then try to calm that person down by talking about what I perceive is causing the problem. My hunches/intuition are wrong as many times as they are right (I guess that means I could be a weather forecaster!). In the end, I do not believe in the mystical side of intuition — it falls into the category of ESP, parapsychology and other feel-good ideas that we fall back on when amazing coincidences occur and/or when we can’t readily explain what we see/hear — but I do believe in the type of “here and now”, physical/mental intuition where we human creatures can readily assess the conditions of fellow creatures (human and otherwise) and help each other out.
From: “Merriman, Anne”
Sent: 04/15/2004 10:49 AM
Subject: RE: Something to read when you want an insight into intuition
It’s interesting how I feel like we have flip-flopped in lots of ways: the older I get, the more I tap into my intuition and the stronger I feel it is, whereas for you, it seems to be the opposite. I opened a couple of these interviews, and skimmed thru them. I have read some books of some of these authors (Shakti Gawain comes to mind).
I feel that we, as humans, have “information” available for us, if we just tap into it. Whether you consider it the “collective unconscious” or whatever, I believe that each of us has knowledge, if we just trust ourselves to use it.
I just got in from a two day training on using restraints–strange thing, when I first went into counseling, I did not think that I would need to use restraint holds on other people, but now I KNOW that we do at times. I’ll need to practice on my kids to keep these holds “fresh” in my mind!!
Intuition. What is intuition? Well, there’s always the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition:
Main Entry: in·tu·i·tion
Pronunciation: “in-tu-‘wi-sh&n, -tyu-
Etymology: Middle English intuycyon, from Late Latin intuition-, intuitio act of contemplating, from Latin intuEri to look at, contemplate, from in- + tuEri to look at
1 : quick and ready insight
2 a : immediate apprehension or cognition b : knowledge or conviction gained by intuition c : the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference
– in·tu·i·tion·al /-‘wish-n&l, -‘wi-sh&-n&l/ adjective
“Quick and ready insight”? I guess that’s as good a definition as I need. Anne thinks of it as a ready source of information for us to tap into. I do not want to attribute religious overtones to the concept of intuition. So I guess I could say that intuition to me is simply trusting your feelings/thoughts and responding accordingly. This morning, I felt like talking to someone who would understand my current state of mind and I trust that my gut feeling that person is you is correct.
After contemplating Anne’s observation that I appear to be the opposite of Anne when it comes to intuition, I decided to do a little research about my past thoughts on this matter. I remembered that when I was in high school I received a book from Annette Spence and Mike McGinty called “Knots”. I turned to the handy dandy ready source of information called the Internet and found a website devoted to R.D. Laing, the author of “Knots” – The Society for Laingian Studies at http://laingsociety.org/index.htm. I found some interesting reading there, as well as links to other websites such as:
- “Disinformation:: The gateway to the underground – news, politics, conspiracy and weirdness”, http://www.disinfo.com/site/,
- “Erowid Entheogen Vaults – Entheogens, Spiritual and Traditional Use of Psychoactives”, http://www.erowid.org/entheogens/entheogens.shtml
After looking at the last website late last week, I of course simultaneous remembered the last letter I sent you and the experiences we’ve shared. Over the course of the past few days, I’ve thought about the role of psychoactive material in my life – an influence on my decision not to have kids, the insights into life I wrote off as psychoactive side effects – I’ve wondered about the experiences you and I shared that I’ve forgotten about because of the strong memories associated with our use of psychoactive material.
I took a few minutes to go over what I’ve just written and temporarily lost my train of thought…
It’s lunchtime and I’m debating whether to take a break and eat or to continue typing…
I’ll continue typing for a few minutes more, at least…
You and I were close companions for a period of time in high school and college, so being male and female we were assumed to be a couple with all the implications of intimacy. Of course, we were never physically intimate which reminds me of an incident in Knoxville, by the way. We had gone to see Rocky Horror Picture Show (we being at least you, me and Amy Ness). Amy came running up to me at one point and said, “Did you know that Helen just kissed the guy playing Rocky Horror?” [I couldn’t tell what she was trying to get across. I assumed she was gauging whether I would be jealous. I also can’t remember whether this was before or after Amy and I dated for a while but I guess it was before.] When I didn’t show much response, she said, “I mean she really kissed him, French kissed him and all.” I still didn’t show much reaction (could have been the alcohol, of course) and it seemed to bother Amy.
Ah, I remember my train of thought from a few minutes ago. We’re both happily married, happy as people get, I suppose, including the usual momentary disagreements, and will continue to be so until death. Isn’t it funny to look back on the road you’ve traveled – Colonial Heights, Knoxville, Kosciusko, Jacksonville, etc. – and realize that we’ve reached our middle years; barring anything bad happening to us, we have the same number of years to live again? Except this time, instead of starting out holding your parents’ hands, you now have children holding your hands at the start of your second half of life. Somewhere along the way, you’ll have the joy of your children holding their own children’s hands. Somewhere along the way, you’ll no longer be able to hold your parents’ hands because you’ll be closing their caskets. As their caskets are lowered into the graves, all the little things will seem insignificant and overly important at the same time.
So it is with the memories we’ve shared. They are insignificant at times – who’s going to remember an imaginary friend named E. Slot Nunsky after we’re dead? They are overly important, too – I could not live my life and share my life with others without having shared part of my life with you. Our friendship becomes part of the fabric of human life, melds into the wealth of information available to all humans – the “collective unconscious” as Anne remembers it being called – becomes part of the act of intuition.
So here I am at the end of this letter, recalling many moments we’ve shared, and wonder if Christy has run into her version of Mom’s friends named Joey Francis, Laura Buchanan and David Colline. Will she intuitively know it when she does?
Something to think about…
Talk to you later,
P.S. You once mentioned to me that I never talked about Karen when I wrote to you. For the longest time, Karen believed that you were deadset against our getting married and would do what you could to come between us. I never understood Karen’s thoughts about you (and still don’t) so that’s why I tended not to talk much about her because I felt I could not mention Karen without mentioning her apprehension about our friendship. She finally reconciled herself to the fact that I married her, not you and you married Dean, not me.
3 June 2004
You appeared in one of my dreams last night. In the dream, we both attended a kind of high school reunion. I was hoping to spend time talking with you but you insisted you were too busy helping with the party. I woke up from the dream feeling that you had distanced yourself from me. You, or my impression/vision of you from the dream, seemed like one of the Stepford Wives. I guess my fear of losing your friendship coupled with my recent viewing of the trailer for the upcoming movie of “The Stepford Wives” created the basis for the dream, which was almost like a nightmare for me.
By the way, a group of us were informed on 26 April that our last day of work here is 2 July so I’m looking for a new job. I’ll keep you informed. From your last letter, it seems like Dean is doing well and I’m sure that’s providing more for your family. Hopefully, you’re building a good nest egg for the kids after high school.
Hard to believe I’m 42. That means I’m twice as old as 21-year olds and three times as old as 14-year olds. Such is life, I suppose. We can’t stop the clock.
As much as I hate to see blank pages go to waste, I don’t have much more to say right now so I’ll just have to let the blank space below go unused (maybe).
Talk to you soon,
P.S. Hope the fires in your area didn’t affect you. The news made it seem the fires were in a swamp somewhere near Jacksonville.
P.P.S. My parents sent me an obit of Jeff Fleischer. He died 9 May 2004.
6 Mar 2005
I can’t remember the last time I wrote you or what I said in my last letter to you so this won’t necessarily continue a previous train of thought. Right now, I sit in Room 131 of a Marriott Courtyard hotel in Plantation, Florida (near Ft. Lauderdale), having just watched the Lady Vols beat the Lady Tigers of LSU in the women’s SEC championship basketball game. I type this letter on a laptop computer which is playing the MP3 file, “Blue Moon of Kentucky” by Bill Monroe, over the laptop speakers.
So Christy’s what, 15 years old this year? Seems like she was born in May so I guess she’s still 14 right now. Simply amazing. I guess you’ve enjoyed raising her and her brother, doing all the things that a good set of suburban parents do. Is Christy a freshman in high school now? My goodness – high school. I suppose you’ve talked with your kids about the consequences of experimenting outside the socially acceptable norms – drugs, sex, reckless driving – but then what are the socially acceptable norms these days? So much of what we see in the mass media distorts our local social norms that I wonder how well parents do when they try to explain the difference between behavior that should guarantee a continuation of middle-class success versus behavior that will place a person in other socioeconomic categories. Have you chosen, instead, to talk with your children about doing what they feel is right in their hearts/heads? Seems like telling kids to follow a “norm” is not exactly the best course of action.
Anyway, I’m sure you’ve done well. You survived our somewhat interesting high school/college life so I know you have found the path that allowed you to “follow your bliss” (a saying popularized by the philosopher Joseph Campbell).
I have not always followed my bliss. At times, I thought the life I was living and the future course my life was taking meant that life was not worth living. The life I was living (or pretending to live) – the bourgeois middle-class lifestyle – was not worth perpetuating because it was in direct opposition to the thoughts in my head, thoughts that have been with me for as long as I can remember, at least as long as I have been able to think and write. Because I could see no way to express the thoughts in my head without offending friends and family, I allowed myself to be manipulated and used by others because I felt that I could blame them for my poorly-lived life.
I’m tired of pretending to be the Eagle Boy Scout, the church choir member, the friendly neighbor who’s always there to say, “We’re praying to Jesus for your wellbeing.” Doesn’t mean I’ll give up being a decent fellow. I still have positive social behavior. I still participate in this economy – I am an engineering manager responsible for the lives of about 10 people and the flawless design of a dozen or so product lines – the pay is good, I get bonuses every year and stock options to pay for my BMW. I’m not stupid.
At age 42, I have decided that I can no longer allow others to define what my behavior should be.
Oh, I don’t plan to change my life radically. I am simply devoting my life to expressing my thoughts by writing them down, even if they will not pass the Sunday School test.
I have held back the floodgates for too long. I want to let loose the overwhelming flow of ideas I have. In fifth grade, I realized I had the capacity to compose narratives, stories with dialogue and plot. The characters in the narratives are not always nice people. They cuss, fight, cheat, steal, lie, and even kill sometimes. Basically, they do what they feel is right for the moment with only a half-closed eye focused on the consequences of their actions. Sometimes, they’ll buy flowers but it might be only to put the flowers on the graves of their mothers whose bodies have long since been rotten and forgotten.
Most of my narratives have turned into short stories. In the last several weeks, I have been working on my first solid idea for a novel. The storyline: we watch four college guys starting out on spring break, see their behavior and actions while on spring break and then follow them back to college to see the consequences of their actions. The book does not condemn their behavior, only observes it. So far, I have written 359 pages. I have a few more scenes to add and plenty of editing to complete. Being sort of a blog-based novel, the book contains over 100 pages of non-original material, so to get the book published I would have to obtain permission to use the other writers’ material, write my own material that gives the same essence of the other writer’s material or edit out the passages entirely (or some combination thereof).
Regardless of the publishing potential of the novel, I have thoroughly enjoyed writing it. I have returned to my center, found my bliss, so to speak. I have become comfortable with who I am! And gee, at only 42 years of age, too.
So you see, for me, my parents’ advice to “stick to my principles” was true for me in ways not intended by my parents. They were more inclined to think our principles were ones that should keep us from worrying about what the neighbors thought. In fact, my parents worried what their neighbors thought because they participated in the social circles of Kingsport and Colonial Heights. Plus, they worked in that society. Their livelihoods depended in part on the image they projected.
By and large, Karen and I do not actively participate in the social circles of Huntsville. Sure, I started the Huntsville Christmas tree recycling program but that was back in 1990. Since then, Karen and I have been pretty low-key, mainly just engaging in work-related activities such as the annual Christmas parties and summer picnics. Oh, we did help organize a revival at our church in 1995 but have hardly attended the church since. Otherwise, we’ve been free of the need to worry about what our neighbors think. After all these years of wondering when I should stop worrying about what the neighbors think (I give my parents credit for a good brainwashing there!), I finally realized over the past two years that I don’t know my neighbors. In other words, I am free to walk out of the self-imposed cage of social normality, if I choose.
Well, this letter is longer than I intended it to be. I wanted to tell you something but went off on a related tangent, instead. Here’s what I wanted to start off with… I have been thinking about you over the past few days after re-reading some of my writing from high school and college. I wanted to sit down and write you a short note letting you know that I still think about you but haven’t had the opportunity until now.
In times past, I wondered what a life with you would have been like. After reading my old writing, I realized that of course we were never meant to have a life together. To begin with, you were never in love with me. I was your companion of sorts, if nothing else. We were playmates, not lovers.
Now, when I think of you, I think not of what might have been but wonder what we were and if there is anything to be gained from revisiting the past when the present makes such a demand on our time and the future holds such potential. Despite the overwhelming influence of the here and now (“Mom, I’ve got to go to soccer practice,” “Honey, think we can have dinner a little late tonight?” et cetera and so forth), you have stayed here with me in some period of time while reading this letter so if nothing else you are living in what is now my past, my having finished the letter and mailed it to you, going on about my life while you read this letter. So I hope you’ll pardon me when I say I might not be thinking about you while you’re reading this. At one point in my life, I believed in the capability of a person’s thoughts being so strong that if that person thought about one person then that one person would start thinking about the other, too. In other words, I believed in the power of nonverbalized thought (i.e., prayer). However much the existence of a god and the power of prayer would make life simpler, I have come to the realization that the world is still a beautiful place to live in even if there are not hidden mysteries such as prayer or ESP. Writing you this letter takes more concentration and energy than any thought or prayer I could send you. Yet, I doubt you are thinking about me at 10:35 p.m. on a Sunday evening in early March. If you are like your father, you are already in bed, not accepting any phone calls, so you can get up early and go running.
Despite all these words, I still have not said what I wanted to say (well, I have expressed part of what’s on my mind)…
Even though we were never boyfriend and girlfriend, I still feel an affinity toward you that goes beyond any breakdown of a psychological need to rekindle an early childhood friendship. You were never a substitute for my early bonds with my mother. You were never a substitute for my sister. You were not the substitute for Renee Dobbs, my school playmate from 3rd to 5th grade. Our friendship was and is unique. We never had to generate a boy/girl relationship. How special is that? I don’t know. I do know that I never desired you physically and still don’t. I can see that you are a female/woman but that does not mean I see you that way.
So…even though we won’t be thinking about each other at the same time I’m writing this letter or the same time you’re reading it…even though you aren’t a neighbor of mine…I still value your opinion of me as I once again “follow my bliss” because you were my playmate, maybe even my soulmate, during some of the times when I was truly myself and following my bliss (for it is difficult not to be one’s self when visiting Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds). I say I value your opinion but I’m not sure what that means because if I send you some of my new writing and you don’t like it, I can tell you now that I would not stop writing. No, I guess by valuing your opinion, I mean to say that I value you as a person and if you do not want to receive any more of my writing, I respect that and will stop sending it to you.
I had considered sending you a draft copy of my novel with this letter but have decided to further polish it a bit before sending it on. When I do send you a copy, I hope you can find the time to read it. Although you do not make an explicit visit in the novel as a character, your personality is prevalent throughout as it is reflected through your friendship with me. I can find no better way to say thank you for the times we spent together and the thoughts we share out of time than to say that without you I may never have found the courage to be myself, even if being myself means the material I write will not make it on the list of books at your children’s library.
Well, time has flown by while I have thought over these words, wondering how I could let you know that the love two people share produces more than just babies. The love we shared is more special than I would or could ever put into words and unique enough that I know that neither Dean nor Karen need never have been jealous (but envious, perhaps).
I hope that your children find friends who can remain special throughout their lives, even if they may never see them again. As you know, friendships plant seeds in our lives that grow into all sorts of different entities. Friends who become lovers may grow sentient beings. Friends who are not lovers may grow books, instead. Or book clubs. Or sewing clubs. Or car clubs. Or joint club memberships. The list is endless…
It is 11:28 p.m. Eastern time and I choose to prepare for bed at this time rather than further embellish and edit this letter. Hopefully, I can find a place to print this letter tomorrow and mail it to you.
P.S. (8 March 2005) I’ve decided to go ahead and send you a CD copy of the story I’ve written so far. I also hope I’ve found a place to print this letter!
23 Mar 2005
I don’t know if you already started reading the story on the CD I sent you. I’m sure your life is very busy, probably too busy to sit in front of a computer and read hundreds of pages.
In any case, I thought about it and decided to send you a copy of the story on paper.
If I ever get it cleaned up enough and the courage to submit it to a publisher, it might end up on a bookstore shelf where you can see it and then say you got a pre-published copy!
Talk to you soon,
David looked down at the page. “Who’s typing these words?” he thought to himself. “I suppose it’s me, but like all writers, I exist in two simultaneous worlds. Nothing wrong with that and never will be. Say good night, Helen.”
Helen looked up from putting dishes in the dishwasher, thinking she heard David’s voice. Why would she suddenly hear his voice?
“Say good night, Helen,” David repeated, realizing Helen could barely hear him.
“Good night, Helen,” Helen heard herself think.
“Good night to you, my friend from forever,” David said in return, pressing Ctrl-S on the keyboard and closing the story.
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.
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…
History is never how we remember it…
[ Personal or Collective ]
Before I go on, a nod to the folks in Napa Valley; seems not that long ago my wife and I toured the wineries there and in Sonoma, riding in a limousine, our driver a retired radio DJ who entertained us to no end (but sometimes a volume control knob would have been nice…lol); our limo partners were a female computer programmer for Gateway Computers (in South Dakota?) and her husband:
Who invented the submarine?
Who invented a lot of things your culture calls its own?
I want to write today but the noise in my head is excruciating (symptoms we call tinnitus, which I directly attribute to the five cans of Monkeynaut Ale I consumed at the Three Caves Concert Saturday night). In its place, I study history, the jointly agreed-upon fable we call the narrative of our lives together as one species (before we branch out again):
Part of my training, the part I didn’t understand in the beginning, was assisting our fellow friends, not just those who served IN but also those who served FOR the military.
During my freshman university year in Atlanta, I passed an interview for a special assignment using my NROTC unit as a cover.
“I am willing to…”
I still cannot completely say what I was sworn not to repeat, ever again.
But I was never explicitly told not to repeat what I personally did.
Because I operated outside the official channels of any U.S. government department, reporting up a chain of command that had no office, no paper trail, I was purposefully encouraged to think like a loose cannon, trained to dissociate specific actions from personality traits built by years growing up within a tightly structured subculture.
“At the first stroke, it will be 10…”
My trainers knew my childhood subcultural training was strong in me, considering the results of my psychological profile that said I had the classic symptoms of a dissociated personality but didn’t show it very much.
Only later would my mentor hone my skills as a chameleon.
In the meantime, I had a single school year to decide if I wanted to stay in the U.S. Navy.
If I chose not to, the options available to me would change radically.
Part of my NROTC program included regular physical training or PT, supplemented with off-the-book training exercises by a group with no name.
I distinctly remember the first time our NROTC unit went out for a run through downtown Atlanta.
At first, we ran by squad.
Then, our assistant PT leader called out names as if by random, pulling a few midshipmen from all age groups, both upper and lower classmen, verbally chastising us in front of our squads, instructing us to drop and give him sixty pushups while the squads were told to keep running.
He had stopped the six of us in front of a convenience store whose windows and doors were boarded up, covered with graffiti and plastered with adverts for local nightclubs, no one within earshot and most likely not within view of any video surveillance equipment.
“From this point on, we are going to test your resolve. Along our route, we normally encounter a regular entourage of characters who inhabit street corners and doorways. When we spot one, we will listen for a call sign you will not know ahead of time. I will shout the name of a midshipman to identify ‘yes’ or ‘no’ that he is certain what we heard was a call sign. If he is wrong, we will send him back to address the issue.”
We picked up our running pace again, on the lookout for what we didn’t know we were supposed to find.
Two blocks up the road, three women in provocative clothing called out. “Hey, big boys, if we catch you, we’re free!”
“Sir, no, sir!”
We ran a few more blocks and spotted a prime example of a man who had hit bottom on skid row, wearing a dirty green denim jacket and carrying a large bottle in a paper bag. He saluted as we approached. “Good to see you gentlemen serving our country.”
“Sir, no, sir!”
“Incorrect. Report back to campus, NOW!”
I jogged the shortest route to campus I could pull out of my memorised roadmap, back along Peachtree Street until I eventually wound my way to North Avenue.
At the NROTC building, a man I hadn’t met before pointed me to a tan-coloured car. I followed him and sat in the front passenger seat after he unlocked the door.
“Do you understand what you have to do next?”
“I believe so.”
“You will put on these gloves, mask, shoes and clothes, unmarked and untraceable. Go ahead, get in the back seat and change.”
After I changed, the man handed me a rusted knife fashioned out of an aluminium soda can and drove us within a block of the spot where the drunk guy had spoken to us.
“Remember, out of sight. And we want you to find a route to campus that enters from the west side where your PT clothing will be given back to you.”
“Sir, that adds a few miles…”
“Is that a problem for you?”
“Good. You will succeed. The first time is never easy but we know you have the desire and the motivation to serve the greater cause.”
“‘Observe and report.'”
“‘Observe and report.'”
“Report at oh six hundred hours for debriefing tomorrow. I will pick up at the same spot.”
“Good. Now go. And good luck.”
I found the drunk hobo digging through a dumpster at the back of an office building.
I stood in the shadow of the building, observing all the windows and doors that faced the dumpster.
I looked for movement. I smelled the air, testing for telltale signs of perfume, cologne or body odour not mine or the drunk’s.
Nothing stirred except the bum and his sifting through office reports and discarded lunch bags.
I took a deep breath and crossed the 20 feet from the building to the dumpster, jumped inside, grabbed a piece of paper and swung round to cover his mouth, then ran the knife into the side of his neck, severing an artery.
I held him while he fought the urge to stay alive and eased the man down into the dumpster, slipping the knife into the man’s open hand.
I climbed out of the dumpster, closed the top and slid the metal door shut.
In 1980, I had not been sensitised to crime lab testing methods later made popular by a series of shows on the tellie using the acronym CSI as a selling point.
Fibers from the gloves and clothes I wore were spread throughout the dumpster and on the dead homeless man. There might have been saliva of mine coughed out as I gasped while completing my first assignment.
No fingerprints or sign of a struggle would be found.
Just another statistic of a man who’d burned out while a soldier in Vietnam and slipped through the cracks, ending his life all alone.
“Minimum distance from the Sun…”
Over the next few years, I would find myself assigned to similar mercy missions.
Sometimes, as our organisation branched out into civilian projects during the move to totally privatise the operation, I would find myself one step away from news headlines.
“Albedo zero point three nine…albedo zero point three nine…zero point three nine…”
Thus it was, when my advancement up the chain of command took me to east Tennessee, my double cover as forward scout and perennial college student intact, I met members of a drug network who ran illegal moonshine stills, connecting me with a famous character named Popcorn Sutton whose operation led me to uncover corruption in political and corporate circles (but I’m getting ahead of myself again…I’ve got to stop that habit), circles that had eyes on reducing the readiness and effectiveness of our dedicated military personnel, on and off duty — that simply will not do!
I didn’t know then that Sarah’s simple introduction of the meaning of an empty Mason Jar on a convenience store checkout countertop on a side street in Newport, Tennessee, would lead me to assign one of my understudies to assist Popcorn Sutton saying goodbye to life on this planet.
You may not agree with what we do but we consider it a legitimate enterprise, volunteering our services to those in need whether they can pay us or not.
We take the request for assisted suicide very seriously.
We offer unconventional counseling techniques that include brain and body scans to ensure that we are dealing with true end-of-life situations and not brainwashed suicide attempts (you’d be amazed how a person can be subconsciously hypnotised by family members to kill oneself, especially an elderly person with plenty of good years left but even more plenty of money that unscrupulous relatives want no matter what).
We give special preference to military veterans and those who have assisted the military — police, politicians, medical personnel, entertainers, firefighters — because we know for a fact that PTSD is one of the toughest mental challenges to face alone; it creates secondary sufferers as surely as cigarette smoke.
We don’t see ourselves as murderers or playing God.
We are serving the greater good for humanity.
Our organisation has existed since civilisation began.
We walk amongst you everyday, looking for call signs, using doublespeak in public, listening for what people don’t say that tells us a whole lot more than what they pretend to mean when they speak or try to communicate their deepest thoughts against the pushback of all the superficial training that prevents a honest conversation with yourself and those around you.
We want you to live a long and productive life.
We provide counseling and financial assistance, expecting nothing in return, giving away our accumulated wealth anonymously for those truly in need.
But if life is no longer a viable option, we will walk you through the euthanasia process, honouring your last wish for how you want to die, no matter how horrible it may look to others — assassination, suicide, automobile smashup, accidental drowning — the choice is yours and yours alone, after all.
For those who want it, we have religious scholars on call to answer any questions you have about the afterlife implications of your decision.
Just so you know.
Have a great day!
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…
“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.”
Frances nodded. “If you want, we can go skiing. I hear Ober Gatlinburg still has a couple of slopes open.”
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.”
“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.”
Frances laughed again and stood up. “You philosophical poets. Love is just a game to you, isn’t it?”
“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?”
Carole King… Frances started swaying. “I feel the earth move under my feet…you like her?”
“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.
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?”
“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?”
“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.
“Uncle? No way. You are not my uncle.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.
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…