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Jonah stares over my shoulder, suddenly quiet. He holds his coffee close to his mouth but doesn’t drink. He looks troubled by something, like he’s made the worst decision of his life. I don’t know what to say so I just stare at the girls’ table, at Lindsey stealing glances at us and laughing with the others like we’re in the high school lunchroom instead of being locked in a mental hospital, in some story we don’t fully understand but know will define and direct the course of the rest of our lives.
You didn’t want to make her uncomfortable by smoking in front of her, or subject her to secondhand fumes. You huddled in your bedroom with your stash, emerging when the coast was clear. Still, the smell should have been a tip-off. Not to mention your red eyes and dilated pupils.
And so I often find myself wandering through a hollow house alone, as he adventures to the tool sheds in the far corner of a backyard. I sift through the trinkets, the decorated knives, commemorative postcards, and wonder – who held these before me? I find a binder full to bursting with buttons of all types and sizes and colors. What hands carefully sewed each into place?
Twenty-nine years ago I was an off-off Broadway playwright clerking in a chi-chi toy store for grown ups on the Upper West Side when in walks Robin Williams. I was speechless. He smiled and nodded at me before exploring the various aisles. I knew he was in rehearsal at Lincoln Center for Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting For Godot, so as I sneaked peaks at his inspection of the store, I tried to think of what I would say to him should he approach my register.
After each practice, I would get out that Glovoleum and tenderly apply it to the mitt. Somewhere in my heart, I knew I was out of step, that this love for playing baseball would have to stop at some point. All us girls were approaching adolescence. The social pressures to be girly and adapt to the cultural norms were overwhelming.
The minute the lone young gunman, who hated himself, used his mother’s revamped gun against her, he entered a state of utter automatism. He unconsciously, projected his despair upon the gun and identified with it totally just like he had with Enos, the conditioned chimp. He had, in turn, been unconsciously conditioned by his mother who, unrealistically, wanted to educate him first at home, then, in a normal school. They both suffered from excessive guilt.
In an hour, I will go across the street to Subway for a six-inch vegetarian sandwich. I’ve heard the buns are made from the same chemicals as yoga mats. However, this could be an urban legend. I’m hungry and inclined to take chances with my health. Also, I’m an optimist. There is no way a pessimist could be out on this highway.
I knew I was an excellent candidate, as they cheerfully say in medical circles, for sudden death. Most everyone on both sides of the generation before mine had suddenly dropped dead before the age of 60. Some had lingered due to repetitive strokes. Fortunately, I had passed the age threshold, but I wondered how much longer I could defy the odds.
It’s a typical Saturday night at the Java Jive. The bar is a Tacoma institution, a one-time home to two pet monkeys appropriately named Java and Jive. The monkeys are dead now, and so is your marriage. You’re singing karaoke because you’re trying to forget everything. You’re a lonely 41-year old single mom with two kids and a decaying house on the north end of town, and you know what it feels like to have your thrills vanish. So you’re singing your lungs out, and some guy bites your foot.
Senior year my mother did two months for larceny. That August she tried walking out with two carts full of groceries. I lived noir. I managed a story that became my first published in the school magazine. She was still in prison that October when my birthday rolled around. I woke up at three-thirty in the morning and read James Thompson’s Snow Angels until I left for the bus.
I have killed her in my head more times than I can count. I have attended her funeral. I have wept on her grave. I have cried alone in a room littered with pill bottles and years of filth because I wasn’t there to save her. Every unknown number from Connecticut is her final plea for forgiveness before she swallows the pills or slices the blade across pale blue-veined wrists. I am a bad son. I let her do this. It is all my fault.
For ten hours on a few Sundays I had the chance to sit and talk with Louis Tindle Dees. I normally found him enthralled in a thick book about Winston Churchill, watching the latest news, or working an intricate puzzle with pieces too numerous for me to even attempt at age 29. He had just turned 92 years old.
It used to be a very simple task to purchase a light bulb. Check the wattage on the dead bulb at home, go to the store and pick a similar one from the display shelf, take it home, remove the burned-out bulb from its socket, replace it with the new one, wrap the old bulb in some newspaper, and toss it in the trash.