Gayle Hardman was a homeless person when she died. She didn’t die in her car, which I was happy to hear, but she did die in a hotel without no one around who knew her, or cared. I’m glad she died, at least, warm and safe, because those were two things Gayle didn’t have a lot of towards the end. Gayle made cheap jewelry, but it was nice stuff, neatly made and beautiful. I’m angry there isn’t some sort of help for people like Gayle. I’m still mad about it, and Gayle has been dead for a couple of years now. I miss her.
Greg was someone I knew in the mid 80’s, and I still remember the day he told me he wanted to deal cocaine for a living. We were both working at Shoney’s as dishwashers, and it’s hard to explain to someone that dealing cocaine isn’t something you just start doing as a means of employment. Greg started a very, very slow descent into chronic unemployment. He would buy cocaine, sell some of it, but use the rest of it. The amount sold versus the amount used began to swing hard in the direction of use, and eventually, his roommates began to get tired of him. The drugs were one thing, everyone was young back then, drugs were common and accepted, but the lack of rent money wasn’t. Greg started stealing food from his two roommates and they put up with it for a while, but then they started missing other things as well. They began to torment him, the way young men will torment one another, and one day they hid the toilet paper from him and Greg had to go to a Hardee’s to wipe. I think that was a turning point of sorts. Greg had reached a zone of poverty, self inflicted poverty, that excluded the very basics of living. He had pushed people to the point they no longer cared about him.
When they kicked him out, Greg rode around with everything he owned in his car for a while. His bed sat in their front yard, near the street, and I think he actually slept in it until it rained one night and ruined it. Greg lived with his girlfriend, Susan, until she broke up with him, and then he lived in her mother’s garage until he held a yard sale one day, and sold a lot of her stuff while she was at work. Greg was homeless. Worse, he was unemployed, and Greg began a life of truly petty thievery.
I let him crash on my couch a few times, let him take a shower at my place, but things started disappearing. Greg once stole some sticky notes from me. I had a pad of sticky notes on my coffee table and he stuck them in his pocket before he left. Sticky notes. What was he going to do, pawn them? Yeah, I got these primo sticky notes here, can you give me a dime for them? But Greg was like that. If he could steal it he would steal it. It finally got to the point I wouldn’t let him in my apartment and he finally stopped coming around.
He showed up at Exit 16 a few times, I saw Susan at the YMCA and she and her husband tried to help him, and honestly, Susan was a saint and so was her husband. I remembered him from the 80’s too, and he hated me, and he hated Greg a thousand times worse. Yet he was willing to try, but Greg had disappeared again, likely arrested, and it was a while before I saw him again.
Greg was going to college when I first met him. He was dating Susan, who was a very decent human being, and very pretty, too. In the space of just a couple of years, he was living out of his car, and then, suddenly, he was on foot, wandering and stealing, and homeless. He did stupid things, got arrested often, and one cop broke his jaw. Greg mumbled after that, because he never got his jaw set right, and the last time I saw him he was selling gasoline at a gas station. Greg was upfront with me about how he conned people out of money. He would go to a gas station with a two gallon can and ask people for fifty cents worth of gas, a dollar’s worth, just to get his car going, his family was stranded, he told that worked really well, and then when he got a full can he would try to sell the gas for a dollar. He got the hell beat out of him, he told me, because he sold someone two gallons of a mixture of gas and water. He learned not to go back to the same places too often after that. Greg told me he passed out under an overpass one night and was attacked by fireants. He stripped off his clothes to get the ants off of him, and stood there naked by the interstate, picking ants off his skin. Did he see that coming? Did he realize at some point in time this sort of thing would happen? Did he not realize that there would be terrible things, awful things, inhuman things and worse, that would happen to him?
“Skeet me some gas in that can, boy,” the man says to me, as he puts a two gallon jug down beside me, and then he turns and yells at the people across the bay from me, and I can tell by the way they’re looking at him, and looking at me, that they have no idea who this guy is. It’s not Greg, but a younger version of him. He’s trying to simply barge his way into people giving him gas, and I can tell by the smell he’s been on the road for too long. Honest hardworking sweat isn’t offensive but someone who simply hasn’t bathed and has been walking the roads smells like it. It’s a chemical smell, devoid of humanity in a way, as if he’s replaced his blood with cheap beer and junk food. He’s pretending to talk to the other people, who are not responding, and they’ve given him enough gas to fill half the jug, so he’s doing well. I have no idea what his angle on this might be, and I simply do not care.
I start to put the hose up and he steps in like he’s going to take it away from me. “Hey, Boy,” he begins but I’m not interested. I squeeze the handle and gas gushes out, and all over him. “Get the fuck away from me.” I tell him, and I’m serious. He starts cussing like hell, but backs away from me, and he realizes that he’s a spark away from being a human Roman Candle. I’m mad as hell. I’m mad as hell that Gayle tried as hard as she did and died alone and afraid. I’m mad that Greg threw away his life on cocaine and petty theft. I’m mad as hell that this guy is running some sort of scam, and expects people to allow him to feed off on them. People like this are the reason people like me won’t help the homeless more than we do, and I am mad at myself for stereotyping homeless people because of people like him.
I pull away and he’s yelling and cussing but at least he doesn’t smell like the road anymore. It looks like it might rain, and he can stand out in it and get the gasoline off of him. I have this thought as I look at him in the rearview mirror. I smell like gas now, too, but I can let the windows down and it will pass. I will go home and shower. I have an insect bite on my leg that is oozing right now and I can feel it itching, but I have something for that, too.
I wonder who that guy is, and how he got where he is, and why, at the end of the day, I only made things worse for him.
I watched the movie, “My Friend, Dahmer” yesterday, and there was no way for me to know what to expect. I knew it was based on a book written by someone who knew Jeffery Dahmer in High School, and I expected that. I didn’t realize I was going to be walked through a serial killer’s life as he went through the four years of the hell that High School can be for some students. Dahmer graduated a year before I did. He and I were nearly the same age, and he graduated a year before I did, I in Georgia and Dahmer in Ohio.
Dahmer was a troubled young man who began drinking early in life, after his parents’ divorce. His drinking caused a deterioration in his school work and his already limited ability to socialize. The circle of friends he did have, including the man who wrote, “My Friend Dahmer” considered him to be a sort of living side show, their personal circus freak, and having no other socialization skills, this is the direction Dahmer took. The film shows a very slow descent into hell from a place slightly less worse than hell.
That was High School.
I hated every day of High School. I hated every moment of every hour of every day of all four years of High School. I would rather have to pee on an electric fence once a day for ten years than relive one year I spent in High School. The movie shows the niggling torments of upperclassmen, the indifferent girls who have their daddys’ money and a sports boyfriend, and the petty tyrants that some of the teachers became. It was like a walk through of my time there. It made me squirm with recognition.
Truant, tardy, absent, and excuse from your parents, lunch money, locker combinations, missed buses, and more that the film didn’t mention were implicit in the life of High School students. “Why were you tardy?” “Do you realize you were tardy?” “Do you have an excuse from your parents for your tardiness?”
How did any one of us stay sober when having to deal with those kinds of questions?
I started drinking before High School. I was smoking pot in the eighth grade. A girl named Candy was my designated Taxi if I passed out in class. She would drive me home and leave me in my car, semiconscious, and someone would pick her up. I lost about half my senior year that way, I think. I really don’t remember. There’s a scene in the movie where Dahmer is drinking out of a half pint bottle at the corner of a building, and that was me.
I’ve had people tell me the best four years of their lives were in High School. I’m more than a little skeptical about these claims, and I wonder if they wasted the rest of their lives doing something they hated. I was on the outside looking in, but I never saw anything in there that looked like it was life.
In the movie, one of Dahmer’s friends pretends to be part of the school newspaper, and goes to visit a former Homecoming Queen who, after graduation, still lives in her hometown. He asks her, “What is it like knowing your best years are behind you now?” And she slams the door in his face. But isn’t that what people are saying when they tell me the best four years of their lives were in High School? Isn’t that really what High School is all about anyway? It’s a social club where people can go and be social and know other people who are social. It’s where the same kids that played well on the playground play on the football field or the basketball courts, and the cute girls are cheerleaders and then suddenly, four years later, the doors open and they’re dumped on the street with the rest of us, who at worst, are acclimated already to a world where no one from a small town has any true meaning past their parent’s doorsteps.
So they have kids. And it starts all over again.
One scene in the movie shows a teacher with his head down on his desk, obviously out of it, drunk, stoned, but still demanding the students behave, and likely he taught their parents, and he might teach their kids. The teachers play their parts in all of this, and they never reach escape velocity either.
Dahmer kept drinking after High School, and started killing people. He was already killing animals. That was something I never did, and never will do, is harm animals. Dogs were my only real friends when I was in High School, and I think part of my love for rescue is the debt I owe them for keeping me as sane as I was. I knew I could be loved, if only by dogs and not by people. That was enough to keep me alive those years ago, and now I help keep them alive.
Are there those of us, Lost Souls, who cannot reach into the community of human beings, so we retreat, into books and into drink, pot and poetry, and we simply find other loves? Do we accept our fates and seek out those we see reflected in our own lives, strays, abandoned, cast away love, and those who never had a chance? Isn’t that what normal people do, when they have kids, is recreate a world they once loved, because the one they live in now no longer accepts them as special and brilliant?
I wonder if this, and this alone, the compassion for other living creatures, is what Dahmer was truly missing in his life, and if High School merely whetted his appetite for revenge against a universe that deprived him of a basic emotion of compassion? Deprived of humanity in the sense of an emotion, and bereft of humanity as a group of people, maybe Dahmer simply decided to create a world that devalued human life, and human bodies, and all things normal people hold sacred.
Me? I think I’ll stick to writing and saving dogs. Whatever happened to him in High School didn’t make Dahmer what he was, and it didn’t stop me from becoming who I am, either.
The war was long since over, and everyone knew it. We sat in the bunker listening to the Captain’s speeches about holding on and holding out and how every day we stood and fought was another day the enemy was weakened but we didn’t believe it anymore. There was nothing to believe anymore. Once we got replacement soldiers, food, water, a medical officer, and letters from home. Now, we got the speeches from the Captain, and nothing else. We had lost the island and we knew it. The bunker was all that we had left and all that remained of the army that once held the island. A dozen soldiers, seven of them too sick, too wounded, too far gone, too starved, too exhausted, or too weak to stand up lay in a row at the back of the bunker. There was no more water unless it rained, and five of those men would die in the next two days unless they were killed by the shelling.
A rifle shot ricocheted off the walls and we counted the number of times it bounced around the inside of the bunker. Twice only, this time, which meant the sniper was further away. He was toying with us, keeping us awake and afraid, but it no longer worked. What was there to fear, unless it was the fact that we were able to recite the Captain’s speeches word for word with him, like a prayer to a god we knew no longer existed.
We had to get permission to go outside now, and the Captain usually went with anyone who had to relieve themselves. But there was no water, and no food, so the body had little to release. The oldest man in the bunker was twenty-three yet we all moved as if we were ancient. Finally, in the middle of a speech about grinding the enemy down so the homeland could produce some new weapon that would win the war, I simply stood up, and walked out of the doors that swung back into the bunker, and I went outside alone.
A bullet cracked into the face of the stone cliff a few feet away and I knew then I was already dead. I didn’t flinch. I didn’t move. I was vaguely disappointed that he had missed, and I was slightly amused that he was likely surprised at the sight of his mortal enemy; a man who had lost twenty-five pounds since the first time he had stepped onto the island. It took a while and most of my energy but I finally was able to get on top of the bunker, and feel the sun on my body for the first time in weeks.
The sun. It was hot, enormous, and bright unlike I could remember. I slipped off my excuse for a shirt and stood there waiting for my eyes to adjust, waiting for the bullet, and finally, after what seemed to be hours, I could see again. There were ships, many ships, in the harbor, just barely within my sight, and closer to where the bunker overlooked a primitive road that once was the main connection between one part of the island and another, there were two or three ships ploughing through the blue ocean water. Our position had been fought for and men had died, then suddenly they didn’t need the road anymore. It was too narrow and twisted too many times for their trucks. Now they simply landed in one place or another, while we rotted away in places men had died trying to keep.
The next bullet whined by my ear and I stood taller, trying to give him a better target. The next shot came closer, but the wind was blowing harder here than where he was shooting from, I could tell, and I wondered if there was some way of letting him know. In unison, smoke billowed from the three ships and I knew what it meant. They were shelling the bunker now, and they meant to end us.
The first salvo hit before I was inside, and I felt emotion, fear, for the first time in longer than I could remember. We got the iron doors closed as the second salvo hit, and it occurred to me that both sets of shells had missed. They were firing too high. The next and the next and the next set of rounds hit, and I realized they were trying to miss the bunker. They were shelling the rock cliff behind us. They were expending more artillery than I had seen on our side in months just to toy with us. They were trying to bury us alive not kill us. They were trying to make us die even more slowly than we could on our own. We deserved their hatred, we had earned it, and we shared it. We had done worse things to them, and they now did what they could to us.
Dust and noise filled the bunker as a landslide took us. They shelled the bunker next, now trying to make sure we were dead, and I lay on the floor, made of cold concrete and old vows, and waited for the shell that would hit a port, and fill the bunker with hot, sharp, and merciful metal. My mind stopped. All thought and feeling stopped. All sound and sight, stopped, and I thought to myself that it was very strange that I could know that I had died, but if I knew that I had died, I could not be dead, could I? Did death work like that? I had seen so much death, I had killed men, I had seen men killed, I had done things to make men die, and I had seen things done to men I knew so they would die. But to each man, death is like his own breath; it’s personal and no one can feel it for him. I hid my face from the overwhelming dust and the world turned black.
There was a bird. It was a tiny bird, grey and black, and it had a twig in its beak. It flitting away and was gone. The air was a haze of dust, and I coughed hard. I heard someone else cough, and I knew at least some of us had survived. The Captain was sitting near the body of a man, and there was a knife sticking out of the man’s chest. The Captain was ending it all, for everyone, and I knew he would come for me. I found a rifle, checked to see if there was still a bullet left, and I shot the Captain in the head as he sat and watched me. He sat there, his face dirty and bloody, and he knew what I was doing but didn’t move. There was a small opening that showed daylight were the landslide had busted the doors in. There was nothing left to do but to try to not die in the bunker.
I clawed and kicked my way through the rubble and once slid all the way back down into the darkness, the death, and the tomb of many men. I wanted to die facing the sky, looking up into the sun, and so like a turtle stuck on his back, a tried and tried and tried. I took flight. I soared into the sky and I realized that two men, two men in uniform, the enemy, had taken me by either arm and lifted me up. I struggled enough to lift my head and looked into the face of a boy, not old enough to shave, with his helmet skewed to one side, and his eyes looked at me, not in terror or hate, but compassion.
They dragged me down the rubble where there were more soldiers, and some of them, I knew, were no longer boys, who even if they did not shave, they had seen things that we had done, and what would happen to me would be a lesson to be learned for those who did not know. So many of them, so very many, and I wondered how they all got here so quickly, and one of them sat on the ground nearby, looked up at me with boredom and contempt, and went back reading a book he was holding.
A book. I once worked in a library, for I never wanted to be a soldier. I wanted to live and die among books, shelves and rows of books, hundreds of them in the small library in the small town where I lived, but I wanted to work in a real library, with hundreds of thousands of books. I told them, tried to tell them, that I didn’t want to be a soldier, that I wanted a library, not a bunker, but I knew they couldn’t understand. They sat me down and one offered me a can with a liquid in it. Water! Until you have waited an entire day for a half a cup of water out of a rancid bucket you will never know how water really tastes when it is clean. They fed me small cooked cakes that were thin and crispy, but as I sat there I looked around and saw the detritus of war, the helmets on the ground, the torn uniforms that lay bunched and blooded, the spent shells, the broken gear, and the smell of death everywhere, and I knew this kindness might end suddenly, and with a bullet, if I was very lucky.
A woman came into the library, and she smiled at me, and told me she thought I was lucky to work in a library, and how special it must feel to be alone among all those books. I was too shy to ask her name, and she was too shy to offer it. They came the next day and took me away, and in two months I was in the bunker. Now, I was here, and drinking water, and eating the enemy’s strange food, and a man walked up to the group and barked orders at them. This was it. This was their Captain, their man who would give speeches to them, and one of them one kill me, and I would never know her name and I would never die in a library, but here, in the filth of war, and far away from home.
But four men came, two could have done it, for four was too many, but they loaded me onto a stretcher, and another soldier came up and he spoke to me in a terrible accent, and I could hardly understand him, “War over. War finished. Peace now. You understand? You understand?” And I did, but I did not. How could it end? How could there be a world without it? How could I have lived? How could I sit in a room filled with books and not still be stuck in the bunker, waiting to die?
“What book is he reading?” I asked, but I slipped into darkness before I ever knew.
For all the drama it creates, you’d think I have about a thousand acres in back of my house. The reality it that is a rather small plot, just over an acre, but it generates doggy drama like it’s the size of a small New England state. Early this morning, about five or so, the dogs were restless so I just opened the backdoor and released them into the wild. There’s a fence with two hot wires on it and none of the current dogs, no pun intended, seem inclined to test it.
I hear the doggie door swinging and Bud returns. Then Arco follows him, and then Wrex. I put Arco in the crate, and suddenly, I hear Lilith hammering away in the woods. Everyone heads for the door, and I go back to bed.
By now, the Coyotes have to realize that the Cousins are gone. Those two packed over one hundred pounds apiece and that’s a serious amount of dog. Size matters when it comes to dog fights. But Lilith is still a low slung powerful sixty-five pound Pibble with an even bigger heart. She’s backed by Tyger Linn, fifty more pounds of muscle. I doubt either of the boy mean a lot to the Coyotes; neither of them are pushing forty pounds, but there are two of them, which means at any given time you have to tangle with four dogs. Raiding over the hotwire means dodging it twice. The math is wrong for this to be Coyotes. The return isn’t worth the risk, unless they’re trying to make a statement to the naked ape who owns guns. Again, risk versus return tells me it isn’t Coyotes.
Arco isn’t interested at all. I tell him to lie down and he does, inside the crate, and he doesn’t lift his head or voice again. He’s about got this thing figured out, where he gets to sleep inside, and he gets petted, and there is breakfast as soon as I get up. Hunger is a terrible thing, but it lends me a great tool for training purposes, even if I am trying my very best to eliminate it. Arco would learn to deal Blackjack and light cigars if he thought he’s get fed for it. Being silent in the crate seems a very simple thing to him. Whatever is out there, it does not give him breakfast. He is not interested.
Lilith Anne and Tyger Linn, in point of fact, are interested. I hear them both hammering away and whatever it is has to be inside the fence and likely up in a tree. Budlore Amadeus returns and Wrex Wyatt eventually follows, but they can’t seem to stick. One again, they hurry back to the sound of Lilith’s barking.
I drift in and out of sleep, mostly out, listening to Lilith’s voice and wondering what she’s found. Armadillo, likely, in one of the abandoned Cousin Caverns, perhaps, or maybe there were deer just in the other side of the fence. Either way, Lilith is lending her voice to the early morning stillness and everyone who is listening, and there are many listening, know her. Sixty-five pounds in this part of the world means she’s carrying more mass than most things that hunt for a living, and they do realize that Lilith is hunting. This may have a lot to do with this display. I’m not sure.
Ever else can be said about him, Arco Fenney isn’t interested in leaving the house to go bark at the dark. The other dogs can come, go, bark, not bark, but he’s good, thanks, and he’s content to sit this one out, whatever this one turns out to be. He likes to stick close to me when we’re out walking, but not to the point of being a Velcro dog. He’s happy in the kennel in the corner of the room when I’m writing. Arco is all about let’s see how long this regular meals thing is going to last here before we start asserting ourselves.
The first few days Arco stayed in a constant state of motion, trying to sniff everything, trying to figure out where he was and what was happening to him. It was difficult to get a photo of him because he was never still. But now Arco is beginning to get his feet under him. He knows the other dogs are not going to attack him. He knows I am not going to hurt him. He knows there will be food every day, and this is a concept he enjoys. Arco will put his paws on my shoulders while I am sitting on the back steps and allow me to pet him. Allow me? He’s getting pushy about it, actually.
This is the second dog since March I have taken in because they were dumped at the Humane Society building. We’re teaching people bad habits by this. But Budlore Amadeus lies on my bed asleep next to Tyger Linn. Bud was strung up by the collar to the building and left to whatever fate might bring. Now Arco. Another lost soul. Another abandoned dog. Another set of eyes looking at me through the grates of the kennel, wondering if there will be more heartache and more loss.
I make promises. I made promises to Bud, and I make promises to Arco. I make promises to myself, about how much I’ll invest in each dog’s heart. I make promises that I won’t take in another damaged dog, I won’t pick up a hard one, I won’t take in a dog that’s been wounded in some way. But that’s all there is. That’s all of them. That’s each of them. And in some way, that’s us, too. We’re all part of the society that shifts and bends things so dogs are left to die, or left without food, without water, without decent care, because we do that to our own, too.
I can hear the sound of Arco snoring gently from across the room. It’s the deep sleep of a dog who believes, despite all the evidence, that there is a human who will take care of him.
I promised him I would.
Take Care of them,
Being in a committed relationship with my home, my money, and my sanity, I decided long ago never to marry again. In the passing years, friends of mine, various and sundry married men, have arrived at my doorstep each with a sadder story than the next, and each one discovering that there are issues I have no interest in involving myself in, ever. The first is violence. Sorry, Charlie, don’t darken my door. Alcohol, is next, and also, nope, I drink, but it doesn’t affect my life and if you have a problem with alcohol then you won’t affect my life either. And lastly, infidelity. You’re married. Act like it or leave her.
I try to weed out those people who think moving into a house in the woods with a bunch of dogs and a Hermit is a good idea. If you’re on the run from something, chances are it’s yourself.
So a friend of mine arrives with a suitcase and a strange story; his wife has relieved him of his bedroom rights because he has a porn problem. Firstly, I cannot understand porn. I don’t indulge in it past Naughty Bits and looking up an occasional actress to see if she’s ever appeared nude. But either I have access to a woman willing to have sex with me or I do not. If I do, why porn? If I do not, truly, why porn? Do I need to be reminded I am without?
Sex issues are now on the list of things that will cause me to not let you sleep on my sofa.
The obvious question: You have a wife. Why do you need porn?
He explains to me that he has always watched porn and never thought he’s have to give it up when he got married. After all, she never knew about it before, why would she know about it now?
Any of you women want to field that one for me? I’m not sure I can get the anger level that high.
Worse than worst, he got caught sneaking around to have sex with himself. She fired up her cell phone app that lets her see what’s going on inside their house, and other than the cat sleeping on the kitchen counter, everything looks good. But then her husband arrives, opens his laptop and connects with the widescreen, and even though she can’t see what he’s watching, it is clearly something that excites him. She captures the video and then ambushes him with it later.
First, she goes asks him how many hours he put in for the week and he tells her that he’s missed a couple of hours here and there because of rain. Rain? Yeah, it rained yesterday on the project. Rained on the project so you lost some time, did you? And her tone of voice lets him know she’s got something on him, but he digs the hole deeper. Yes, lost time due to rain, you can call my boss. At that point, she is to understand he’s got help in getting off to get off, or at best, his boss will lie for him and he knows it. She files this piece of information back for a few moments.
She shows him the video and there isn’t much you can say, and honestly, he might have been able to salvage the situation, but he told her he was watching a video they had made together. Oh? And your laptop will reflect that you didn’t connect to pornhub at that time on that day?
Busted. Red handed, in a manner of speaking.
So now he’s in truly hot water and he ought to bail out and beg forgiveness but he tries to vamp his way through it. He’s been pretty good about clearing the history of his browser on his laptop and he shows it to her, thinking he’s slick enough to salvage the situation. Okay, I did that once, or twice, but it’s not like I do it all the time.
But this is a tech savvy woman who knows a few things about hiding things and finding things. The first thing she gets out of him is his password, and then she changes it while he’s trying to explain everything to her. Then she starts looking around at who he’s emailed, and sure enough, there’s an exchange between him and his supervisor.
At that point, things got really out of hand, no pun intended.
Seems that in their five year marriage, because he really likes porn, they’ve made some “wife-porn”. She was agreeable to it, why not, and she knows there’s more than a few videos of the two of them in various sex scenes together. But he’s traded videos with his supervisor. And co-workers. And friends. He’s been watching wife porn of other men’s wives, and other men have been watching his wife porn.
Hence his arrival at Hickory Head, and his debut to homelessness less than an hour later. If your wife cannot trust you I will not.
Okay, I’m in the clear with this one. He’s been handed off, no pun intended, to someone who will let him crash for a few nights, and I can distance myself from this entirely simply by not answering my phone again.
Then she calls me. My curiosity gets the better of me and I answer. She’s madder than any woman I’ve ever pissed off, which is a remarkable feat, I must add that, and she’s ready to start legal action. Worse, infinitely worse, she wants to make sure that he understands how mad she truly is. “Tell him,” she says in a tone of voice that can only be described as venomous, “that I still have the video with the two headed monster in it.” And then she hangs up.
Unfortunately for me, I have a very morbid curiosity. I call him up and as he answers it pops into my mind to say, “Your wife just sent me the ‘two headed monster’ video” and on the other end of the line is total silence for about five seconds. Then he says, “Please, call her back, tell her I’ll give her the house, she can keep it, okay?”
A minute later I call her up and tell her what I’ve done and she screams with laughter.
“Call him back,” she purrs at me, “and tell him if he doesn’t sign the paperwork handing the house over to me tomorrow I’m sending the video to his mama.”
“Are you really going to do it?” I ask.
A couple of days pass and I hear nothing from the two of them. Then I get a text message from her with her holding a house key in one hand and a jump drive in the other. She’s grinning. In the reflection of her sunglasses I can make out someone taking the photo, but not who.
When someone you just met tries to sell you a handgun, then it’s time to think about what you’re about to do and why. On one hand, I had just met the guy; he had moved into the apartment next door to me. He seemed nice enough, at first, but that was my first impression, that he would be one of those people you liked just one time. Less than a week went by and his car was repossessed. Soon afterwards he offered to sell me his .38. Really cheap. At worst, I thought, I would have a gun and he wouldn’t. Think about that one for a few minutes.
During the next few months his life got sketchier and sketchier. His girlfriend, who was a great deal younger than he was and a little crazy, went shopping with a friend of mine, a sort of girl bonding thing. His girlfriend shoplifted a ton of jewelry from the store, effortlessly and cleanly, and so we knew it wasn’t her first time around the block. It was scary, in a very real way. Then he started loading up on roommates. He had a two bedroom place and at one time there was eleven people living there, each one of them a little stranger than the last. The young girlfriend left and was replaced by a harden woman about his own age, whose first act was to come up to my apartment and try to borrow five bucks from me. I handed it over instantly. I knew damn well I would never see it again, but how often do you get to get rid of someone that cheaply? She was a grim faced woman who rarely smiled, and cooked a huge meal once or twice a week, and charged the renters five bucks apiece for all they could eat. It was usually soup or spaghetti or something that she could water down, but she did make it smell good.
After a few months of the normal residents raging at the landlord about the lack of parking spots, he did an inspection and discovered the population of a small town living in one of his apartments. Everyone there got evicted. And it was about this time, I started dating a woman named JoAnne, who knew this guy very well. The first time she came over and he saw her it was like one of those movie moments where you hear dramatic music in the background.
I had no idea this guy was a wife beater until Jo told me, but then a lot of things he said suddenly gained clarity. This was a guy who was always right about everything and was a wealth of advice, unasked for and unwelcomed, on nearly every subject. I was running every day, and he smoked, which led him to tell me that he thought running was as bad for a body as smoking. Fortunately, I didn’t let smokers in my apartment and was more than willing to accept the idea I shouldn’t be in his. Anyway, JoAnne knew this guy.
Apparently, his now ex-wife was a nurse, and he didn’t like the idea that he was making fifteen grand a year and she was making twice that. Worse, she began to put money away in stocks and things like that, while he invested in beer. He became the local drunk, violent, and one night, he beat the hell out of his wife and both his kids. At the ER her friends took a lot of photos. Wife Beater was tossed out of his house, had to petition the court to see his kids, and was broke as hell to boot. She took him for a well deserved ride.
Wife Beater seemed to realize Jo would tell me the truth, and if he outright called her a liar I had a gun and he didn’t. But he tried to spin the story, saying his wife was the violent one, and she had set him up. I had lived close enough to him to realize that he wasn’t just your average overdrinking liar. He was actually lower on the food chain than that. A lot lower. It wasn’t long before eviction became a reality, and I was pretty sure I would never see him again. That was in the late 1980’s.
Then back in about 2014, I saw him in Starbucks; I would go there to write and he would be there reading a newspaper and drinking coffee. I’m pretty sure I look a lot different now than I did back then. I’m thirty pounds heavier and I’m bald. But he has the same haircut and the same moustache. He never seemed to notice me, and honestly, I’m perfectly fine with it. I like to write on the laptop in Starbucks. It’s the energy of the place, the action going on, and the smell of coffee. I stopped going when they started a new rewards program that minimized my rewards, so once again, I lost sight of this guy.
Yesterday, my second day at the YMCA in a year or so, there he was. He looks a lot older than he did four years ago, and you have to wonder if he’s repeating the same mistakes he was making back in the 80’s. Once, I had a smoker tell me she knew of people who never smoked who still came down with lung cancer, and this is her excuse to keep smoking. I wonder if the wife beater still justifies behavior that, most certainly, in the end, will lead to destruction very much like smoking usually does.
We were both in the locker room at the same time, and I kept my back to him. I waited until he had left before I did, and when I did leave, he was just making his way towards the door. I stopped and hesitated, not wanting to see him outside of the entrance. He got into his car and looked back towards the building but he couldn’t see me. Maybe he does remember me. Maybe he thinks that if he makes friends with someone who knows him that will mitigate in some way who he once was, or still is.
I think that might be it, actually. If someone else can accept what he’s done then he can justify why he accepts it. He’s looking for some sort of support group, of one, to forget the past and move on, perhaps. Women are fools if they think they can change this sort of person, or if they think he’s going to change, as long as she keeps coming back for more. I have no reason to associate with him, ever. A man who will abuse his children won’t hesitate to use violence against anyone else, thinks I.
I’m keeping my distance.
I don’t remember all of my dreams but I do remember a lot of them. Some of them are unformed, not really defined as events or people, but they’re just thoughts or ideas that were pulled out of the oven too soon. I’ve woken up feeling afraid, or sad, or elated, and the remnants of a dream be just out of memory’s reach, like a lover who gets out of the bed, and your hand misses hers by an inch. I dozed off and was jerked awake by something that was nearly a dream, somewhere in my mind, but it’s gone now, and asking me to describe it would be like asking me to tell you who was driving the car that just passed in front of the house, a third of a mile away. I can only tell you I think I heard a car go by, and nothing else.
Budlore was sick last night, into the early part of the morning, and I stayed up with him, cleaning puke up off the floor. I dozed a couple of times, and saw images, at least twice of charcoal drawings, of faces, contorted as if someone sketched out Pompeii’s last moments. Where did this come from? I didn’t recognize the faces. They were just human forms yet not entirely finished, like the dreams that aren’t quite there yet.
Bud is usually energetic and exuberant. To see him down and out is disconcerting. This is the first time he’s been sick since he arrived and it’s disheartening. I can only sit with him and clean up the puke, and wait for this to pass.
I drift off to sleep and the dreams are fragmented and disconnected. It’s like trying to read the pages of a book as they are spewed out the end of a wood chipper. The scene and people change quickly, erratically, and there is no transition. The faces in the drawing are back, and I can tell gender, but that’s all. They seem to be colored in black, as if in shadow or night, and they all seem to be in some anguish.
I get up because Bud is hacking again, but he seems to be less sick. I sit on a blanket on the floor and hold Bud, and this might be the first time in his life someone had held him when he’s been sick. I lie down with him and he sleeps. I drift again, and the dreams do not come, but stay just out of reach, like someone speaking on the other side of a restaurant.
There’s a story here, where a person sees faces that have been drawn and that person doesn’t know why. Let’s start out with a female lead character, a very young woman, who isn’t an artist at all, and she’s trying to figure out what these visions she has means. They begin one night after she’s been drinking, and she wonders if she has a problem.
The woman’s name is Tory and she works for a lawyer. She has to serve an eviction notice one day and the man about to be dispossessed is an artist living in a terribly shabby and totally dark apartment; he’s blind. Sure enough, when she’s inside she see one of his drawings and it’s one of the faces she’s seen, she thinks, but she cannot be sure. The next day she tries to find him but he’s gone. The dreams become more vivid, the faces more clear, and Tory is convinced the man drew one of them, and perhaps more. She finds him by accident, near the river, about to jump. She looks at his drawings and realizes that they are the faces she’s seen.
She lets him stay at her place and he draws. The energy between them sharpens the dreams, and his drawings. At work, her employer is working on a missing person case, and setting up a substantial reward. The photo of the missing girl looks exactly like one of the faces in the dream, and one of the drawings.
They sit and wonder what the connection is between the two of them, and the people in the drawings. Is the girl alive or has she been murdered? Tory looks at the drawing and realizes the girl looks as if she is still alive, and she asks the artist, Archer, if he will try to draw the missing girl again.
Tory asks her employer about the girl, and he tells her that he was contacted by the girl’s mother, who believes her ex-husband has taken their daughter, but she doesn’t know where he is. Tory goes in search of the woman, but finds her dead. She returns to her home to find that Archer has drawn the woman’s face.
They both are at a loss as to how this is happening or why. They do not understand why he draws what she sees in her dreams. They make love on the floor, passionately, nearly accidentally, for they both fear the passion they’ve kept secret. Unleashed in this is a melding, where she can speak to him of her visions, and he understand now how to draw them. They sit on the floor, an invisible steam rising from their bodies from the heat, and they speak in whispers, seeking the girl, seeking her fate, looking for a connection, and finally there is a building, a home, where she might be held, and the woman had seen this house before. She asks Archer to draw a face, the face of a man, and she closes her eyes and allows her vision to take her, and she sees the girl chained to a bed, and she knows the man is near, he is coming down the steps, and he means to use her for his gain, for ransom, and his evil is plain and finally, Archer tells Tory to look up and he had drawn the face of her employer, and they realize what he is.
It’s been dozens of years since I ever heard the name, and there was no reason for me to hear it. Even in a very small town and a very small county, there are people you’ve got so little in common with that spending twelve years in the public school system means you discover there not only is nothing in common but likely never will be. His name was Van, which was short for some family name, and to me, family names are just a lack of imagination. Family names once meant something with titles or things like that, but seriously, I think names ought to be legally binding for five years and then everyone ought to have the option of changing. His name, though might have sounded Dutch, he said it was from a family from the English moors. I had to look it up, to find out what a moor was.
The schism occurs somewhere around the seventh or eighth grade, maybe earlier, but there were those of us who destined to drink, and smoke pot, and do those things they had tried to indoctrinate us against, and there were those who were not going to do those things. I was the standard bearer of the drinkers, the smokers, and those who were going to try the things that terrified the others. Van was on the other side, soundly, and definitively. While I was going shots of tequila on top of the school on a Saturday night he was a youth counselor for a local church. If I kept a bag with the words he and I exchanged in it I wouldn’t be able to make out a decent grocery list of the contents. After High School he joined the military, I cannot remember which branch, and I never thought I would see him again.
I started seeing a woman, named Kerri, who was a nurse, and she worked some in Hospice, and one day she asked me, tell me where did you go to High School again? What was the name of that little town? What year did you graduate? I was nearly fifty years old and those questions slowly faded away from conversation decades ago. “There’s a man in Hospice, dying of cancer, and he told me today that he went to your school, and graduated the same year.” Kerri looked at me with a very odd expression on her face, “He asked me to ask you if you remembered Lacey Warren.”
We went to see Van the next day and I wasn’t sure it was the same person. Over thirty years had passed and the disease that raged inside of him had changed his facial expression as surely as three decades had changed his body. He was always tall and thin, but now he was a Death Camp prisoner, inside his own body, and it was not long at all before his execution. The tubes had been removed. All attempts to keep life in shell were abandoned and only pain medications were being given.
“I retired here,” Van said without bothering with introduction, “and I spent my entire life trying to become the person you never thought about being.” He laughed and started coughing. “But now, after getting morphine and OxyContin, I wonder if you weren’t right. I understand the draw now. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? You can be alive and not feel pain. I had no idea such a thing was possible.
When Lacey disappeared, I prayed that I would be the one who found her. I wanted to be the hero. I wanted to be the one who carried her to her parents. I thought it would be something that proved that God meant for me to good things, and that people would see it in me.” Van coughed hard, and then closed his eyes. Briefly, I thought he might have died.
“You were there,” Van opened his eyes and they were filled with hate, “and you were going to ruin it for me. How could someone like you be part of God’s Plan? I spent my night in prayer and reading the Bible and you stole all the baseball equipment the day before the playoffs. We forfeited that game. I know you did it. Everyone knew you did it. But it all reappeared the day after. I have to know, how did you do it?” He coughed again, and once again, I thought he was dead. His eyes opened again. “Tell me,” he rasped.
“I used a bench as a ladder, and I hid it on top of the ceiling tiles,” I told him. “It was hanging over their heads the entire time they were looking for it. They wouldn’t let me play, so I decided not to let them play.”
“That’s defined your mindset,” Van tried to sneer at me, “you were a vengeful and demonic young man.”
“What happened to Lacey?” I asked.
“I found her,” Van said. “There was an old shed, you remember the old shed don’t you?”
“You and those potheads you led around like zombies where right there, and I found here, but I knew you and the others would claim you helped find her so I didn’t say anything. Your selfishness infected me. I didn’t want you to have anything to do with the rescue. I thought she was sleeping so I didn’t say anything.” Van coughed hard and tears came out of his eyes. “I went back. It was no more than an hour later, and Lacey was gone.”
“Van, it’s the morphine,” I told him, “Lacey was found miles away from that area, I remember that, she was found in Seminole County, it was an hour away. A six year old isn’t walking that far.”
“She was left in that shed, and it was there she was murdered,” Van said. “Our Pastor, Billy Womack did it. He moved the body. You remembered he killed himself? When we left the shed that day I told him we didn’t find her, and I saw something in his eyes, I didn’t know what it was, but he lingered around where we parked. I left and came back and he was gone. Lacey was, too. I went through the shed, and the woods, and I thought it was my fault she was dead. The next day I sought out the Pastor to tell him what had happened, and he thought I came to confront him. He confessed to me and then shot himself.” Van was shaking with tears and a sound came from his soul, the sound of a dying man whose pain could not be slacked anymore. “You’ve never feared Hell, have you?”
“No, it doesn’t exist.” I said.
“I have discovered the solace of drugs and atheism,” Van laughed, “in the final moment of my life. Tell Lacey’s parents to forgive me.” And he his eyes remained open, fixed, but his breathing had stopped.
“Are you going to tell her parents,” Kerri asked me as we drank. She told me she never drank after a death, but in this case she would make an exception.
“I’m not sure,” I replied.
“Van was telling the truth when he said that I was there, at that shed, and I remember him saying there wasn’t anything inside of it,” I told her, “and we tracked north, towards the river to look for her. But Womack didn’t stick around after we searched that area.” I told her.
“Are you certain?” Kerri asked.
“Yep,” I replied. “Womack was a closet pot head and I was his connection. He gave me a ride home that day, and we took the scenic route to burn a joint or three. Van was lying about Womack moving the body, and I think he was lying about everything else, too.”
“You think Van killed her?”
“I think Van killed her, and then hid the body in Seminole County.” I said. “And he went to Womack for spiritual guidance and whatever Womack told Van it was bad enough for Van to kill him.”
“Damn.” Kerri took a hit off the bottle and handed it to me.
It was odd seeing you naked, and I shouldn’t have looked, but I did, and perhaps it’s an inner failing of mine I never regretted looking, yet now it’s too late to ask you if you wanted me to, and if that’s why it happened. You left the door partially open, just enough for me to see, but not enough for me to think it was intentional, except for these years later. I remember watching you getting ready to get dressed, for longer than I should have, your back to me, your face hidden as you searched a drawer for something or you pretended to, and the mirror reflecting your breasts. After three kids your body was still young, still taut, still firm and only a slight spread at the hips hinted at motherhood. I wish I had not look, not seen, and not begun the desire.
It was easy to stay away from you. Yet there were times I would come by, always when your kids or husband was home, and later you told me you realized what I was doing, and how I was doing it, and it was so subtle that you often wondered if this was your fantasy alone, if you were imagining this for your own entertainment. I wish I had never been as close to your husband as I was, and I wish that he had been a better father to your kids, and a better partner for your life, and I wish that he had not started down the road of addiction and abuse. I wish that I could have stayed at the periphery of your life, and the lives of your kids, forever.
We both knew what we were doing when we met for lunch after you left him. We were both far too nervous for it to have been anything but a meeting to explore the possibility of an affair, and it would be an affair even after the divorce because we both knew we should have never started something that couldn’t have ended well. We both knew that. We both could have agreed on it before we ordered, before we got our iced tea and napkins, before we both made small talk about the waitress being nice and the aquarium being fascinating, and the candle on the table, we could have simply said, “This will end poorly,” and left.
You had been over at my house dozens of times, but never alone, and we finally dragged it out into the light, opened the door, and I remember the look on your face. You looked terrified, the divorce wasn’t final, my house was too close to someone you knew, there was no way to park your car in my driveway, and then we got down to business of how we would begin and where. Let’s meet out of town, leave my car in the parking lot of a store, you pick me up… You had already thought about it. You had a plan. I was more than a little aroused at the idea you were thinking about it, too.
I saw you in the store before you saw me. Years ago, I had watched you dress, or pretend to, and now you were pretending to shop. I had the key to the room in my pocket, I had already gone in, set flowers for you, made sure the room was clean, and now, I approached you, startled you, and for a minute, maybe more, we hesitated, talked about something you had just found, then I remember saying, “Are you ready to go?” and my voice sounded odd, even to me, and you smiled, and say, “Okay”.
There’s a difference, very subtle difference, between “okay” and “yes”. Okay means you are willing to go along with something, you’ll acquiesce to it, agree, but there’s some hesitancy, some sort of near reluctance, and more than a little fear. We got out of the truck, and walked quickly to the door, it opened without drama, and suddenly, we were alone, together, in private, for the first time in our lives.
You brought tequila. You hated the stuff, couldn’t stand the smell of it, but you liked doing shots of it. You pulled it out of your purse, and two shot glasses, and your hands shook as you poured. We stood close together, my hand on your hip, and you made a toast, “Salute!” and we both downed our shots. You put the shot glass down, deliberately, without hesitation and asked me, “What are we doing?” and that question covered so much territory, so many things, so many thoughts. We kissed. You let my hands wander your body, and I could feel the fire beginning in us both. You let me push you down on the bed, and you wiggled away and said, “I have to pee” and got up. Longer than it should have taken you came out, wearing nothing but a towel, and you got into bed, and told me to cut the lights off, to make sure the door was locked, and I did.
Gone were all questions or reluctance. Gone were the moral or ethical issues. Gone were our clothes and our thoughts of stopping this, or slowing down, or trying to figure out what it was. There was a mad fire, an insanity fueled by so many emotions we couldn’t have discerned which one drove us harder. Then, the aftermath, the breathing hard, the sweat, the mutual heart pounding receding and you said, “Well, we’re sexually compatible” and I agreed.
The clock drove us to “one more time” at the end, and afterwards, you told me, “This is the first time I’ve had sex in three years, almost.” And I could tell you instantly regretted saying it, because there were so many questions to ask as to why. And we rode in silence and finally I asked, “When are we going to see one another again?” and we made plans.
The basic were there, but there was so much you had never tried, never been asked to try, and I was surprised at how much I took for granted that you had only heard of before. “He’s pretty much one position, on the bed, and two minutes later,” you told me, and I knew you hated yourself as soon as you said it. There were a lot of things we both said that we regretted, yet at the same time, you had to explain why you were doing this, you had to let me know you hadn’t done this before, and would have never done it with anyone else, and at the end of the day, wished things had been different a long time ago.
“Before we moved here,” you told me one night, when we finally had some time together, more than a few stolen hours, “we were really broke, and neither of us had a job. I was pregnant, barely, with the youngest, and managed to get a job waiting tables. He would come to the restaurant and sit, and drink tea, and just watch me. Four, five, six hours or more, he would find someone to stay with the other kids, or he would drop them off at a friend’s house, and come watch me work. I asked him why and he told me he didn’t feel right with me being there alone, with all those people, and even though we were broke I had to quit because the manager didn’t want him there taking up a table. He couldn’t keep a job, wouldn’t work at anything very long, but didn’t want me to make a living. I hated that in him. I hated that he could get a job and stay with it long enough for us to pay off the credit cards and finally put the kids into some nice clothes and then he would get busted on a piss test or start laying out drunk.” All of this came out of you in a rush, as if you had been holding it in for years, and suddenly, at that moment, I knew you were thinking about what it would be like to be with me, longer than a few stolen hours, longer than it took to get this out of our systems, and I wondered, too.
If I had to name one thing that separated us more than anything else it was my atheism. You never could come to terms with it, and you confessed you had asked him to keep me away from the kids when you first found out. When you first got married, because the first kid was on the way, you went to Sunday school every Sunday, and even after the first child was in school there was the Sunday morning ritual of going to church. He started sleeping in, and then the oldest started wanting to sleep in, and finally you gave up on having a family of church goers, and it wasn’t my fault, and you knew it.
“I don’t believe in sex outside of marriage,” you told me one night. “I think this is wrong, sometimes, but I can’t stop.” And you surrendered to me right after you said that, you allowed me to set you ablaze in desire, and it didn’t matter what I asked you to do because we both knew you were going to do it. I think this was your way of confessing to me that you were flawed in what you believed, yet were still capable of that belief, and you wanted me to join you, and by joining me it was an invitation. And you never turned down an invitation from me, ever.
“Please don’t make me talk like that,” you would plead with me, “don’t make me say those things.” But when I did extract from you words you had never used before, in ways that you would have never done so freely before, it always pushed you to a level of heat like nothing else we did. Your innocence was refreshing, and I’m sorry that I watched it die.
Two or three times, I remember having the thought, I was going to ask you if you meant for me to see you naked, to watch you, and each time something else happened, and the thought was pushed away.
Affairs never grow up to be relationships. The strain of trying to keep the fire from burning through so others could see it damaged us both but mostly it damaged us. Even after the divorce was final it still felt like an affair and eventually there was a month we didn’t see one another, and then there was another, and then there was a time we were mad at one another about nothing at all and we stopped speaking for a while.
Finally, one day, you showed up again at my house, and this time I was far away, and you told me that you were getting married again. You wanted to see how it felt to be in the same room with me again, just to make sure the fire was really out, and I had started seeing someone else, too. It felt wrong this time, and it was wrong, this time, and I felt bad for talking you into it. You couldn’t stay, wouldn’t, and when you left I knew I would never see you again.
Your youngest finally graduated from college, and she looks a lot like you. You called to tell me I was invited, if I wanted to come, and that was it, that was the last time I heard your voice. Someone from High School looked me up, found me in my hiding under writing name, and we talked for a while before he asked me if I remembered you, and yes, I do, I do remember her, and he said, “She’s dead, she died in a car wreck in ’16, or ’15, I think it was ’16, and did you know that the Coach’s daughter is a lesbian now?” And then the obligatory homophobic rant.
Really. I didn’t know that. Hey, thanks for calling, but you know, I buried my past under another name, and I wish you wouldn’t call me back, okay? Thanks. Bye.
I hope you died quickly, and painlessly, and I hope that you were right about your religion and your god. I wished I had told you I loved you, because in some odd way, I always did.