These Days I Can See it Coming
Part 1: Teeth
She had very small teeth and huge eyes and there was a warmth that came from her body when my hand was laid across it that seemed more vibration than temperature like a disquiet inside all wrapped up under a thin layer of flesh. A disquiet that could hiss from between her small teeth and plume into venomous curses that reddened her eyes whenever the sight of me was laid across them.
That warmth was the moment. That vibration. That extremely sexy disquiet. That was the moment. The elongated space between breathes. The soft, childish flesh surrounding the white knot of scars. The kiss was suspension of disbelief. This could all be real. Just this moment. All that lead up to it a faint breeze already passed.
This, I can put in order.
This, I can feel in my hand.
This is not that.
This, somehow, is me being right.
This is a victory.
My body alight.
My body on fire.
Moving from me to you, THIS is right here and now and ...
...In actuality, our life together was like falling off a cliff. Sure, we jumped together, and it was a long craggy slope over which we tumbled. We tried to never admit it, but from day one we had fallen.
First thing I thought when I saw her through the little window laced with chickenwire was she was broken and all our life was over and done with.
The word I got was that she was taken out of the house strapped to a gurney kicking and screaming because she had attacked her sister.
What I saw through that tiny window was her sunken into herself and lost, but then later I saw her glasses on the floor in the dining room with one of the lenses missing which I found under the curio cabinet that held all her mother's china.
What I saw, between the house and the hospital and her eyes, was the battlefield between her self and the world all around her. I saw her, the fiercest, loneliest woman I had ever met pitted against an endless universe that surrounded her, that she could not define or make sense of, that seemed to have let her down at every moment.
It's a shame the marriage lasted another three years after that.
It's a shame we have to just keep going on and on…
I looked through the little window and saw her and I rang the bell by pushing the little white disc mounted in the wall like a doorbell. I kept my eyes on her until a squat little lady came up and pressed a button on the other side of the door and said: "Can I help you?"
Can I help you? like it was a fastfood restaurant or a convenience store. Like I would have simply wandered down the mile and a half road that went nowhere but to the hospital and happened through the guard station and then through the front door and intuited my way down the maze of dusty linoleum hallways and through that particular door, that particular button to summon that particular numerical government worker.
As if I was a burden.
I'm here to see E, I said and she may have said something in reply but she didn't push the button and she turned away so I only think I saw her lips moving.
The first time I saw her I don't remember. There is a picture she has of her daughter riding a horse along a lake and to the side I am sitting on a bench and we just happen to be in the same place, but I don't remember. It was a party and we have mutual friends.
The second time I saw her she was in my house visiting my roommate and she came into my bedroom where I hideout when there are too many people around or my thoughts won't click off and allow the world within me to contain more people than just me. She came in and asked me if I had a light for her cigarette and lit it and then asked me if I minded if she smoked.
She is beautiful.
Of course I don't mind.
She sat in the window by my bed and a very cool, blue/orange light of November afternoon filled up everything there was to see. Her forehead pulled back of hair that was short and the way red hair fades to brown in yr later thirties and she had a skirt on and legs that sprouted thin and muscular from under it. The licentious way she raised the cigarette to her mouth as she kept her eyes on me and there was a frantic, vibrating nervousness about her that surprised me. The way her lips curled around the cigarette. The way I wanted a cigarette but was trying to quit again. The way the bright sun-filled room still seemed cold and you could breathe deep of it.
She was aggressive and unpleased in her eyes and in the movements of her head. Jerky and swiveling slightly and her eyelids popping up like a cartoon window shade, like she didn't believe a damn thing I said. Like a capricorn. Like scars that don't fade.
I felt like I was trapped in some pit deep in the earth and she sat along the rim interrogating me and coming on to me and deciding from each moment to the next that I was not to be released.
"Where are you from," she said.
and, "What do you do?"
"Have you published anything?"
"So what do you do?"
"I work in a restaurant."
"Ah, well I am a painter, and I love to dance."
It wasn't until our third meeting that I heard about her husband, so we didn't have sex that night. We waited til the fourth meeting. Out of respect.
The room on the other side of the chickenwire window was lemon flavored with a dusty sweat that pestered the nose. I could see it in the faces over there. I could see it in the air. A thick yellow air coming from the yellow walls and the windows that let through light and nothing else whatsoever.
There was a long, plastic table that was supposed to look like wood surrounded by plastic chairs that were supposed to look like plastic. That was where the patients sat, staring off into different directions waiting for something that was never going to come. I couldn't hear them but the rambling spilling from some of their mouths fell loose and jangly over their chins with the grave nausea of medication and scar tissue. Opposite was the desk where the orderlies shuffled about and condescended their wards.
She was thin and long at the table. I watched her for a minute longer as the lady went to process my request to visit, but then there was a sadness that drenched her and wetted me in my heart and squeezed and I knew it was the same pitiful sadness I had felt ever sense we had split apart and here I was at that tiny chickenwire window prying open a wound I begged for. I had been begging all my life and how could I cry when the knotty welt arose.
I had to sit.
These days I can see it coming. Like a knife flash in the sun, plunging for my heart. I can see that dissatisfaction and I can see that certain rolling of eyes saddled somewhere between confusion and aloofness and inefficacy that my masochistic heart invariably slobbers over.
LovemeLovemeLoveme, it says.
Silently, of course. Just with the eyes. Just with the way I will follow her around and say nothing but yesyesyesyesyes…
… and silently with acceptance of her lack of heart and silently as the scar gets thicker and there is less and less skin. Only the knotted ropes of my inability to do one goddamned thing that is the least bit good for me…
… oh, how I crave the slice of that hot blade…
…but these days I can see it coming. and these days, I am afraid there is that impossibility of pleasure. For the white hot slice, the dripping blood of my soul, the cuts that ran so deep, that left me hungry for the boot, they only leave me nauseous now and shellshocked and the blind yesyesyes has transmogrified into a blind nonono and really does my body know any other way to taste the sweet? If I am not choking on her dust, how can I breathe?
I promise you I am not that pitiful. Not anymore. Now, I am thick with keloidic layers.
These days I can see it coming.
The first thing I did was I shared my whiskey. The second thing is I kissed her.
That is a moment most people call love, but really its just a form of amnesia, because all is forgot. Boiled out by that heat. Shook loose by the vibration of skin.
How is beauty such that it forgives everything else?
How is a voice and a touch such that it drowns out perfectly good logic?
How is it that intelligent, reasonable people continue to beg for the whip?
First thing I did was I shared my whiskey. Second thing is I kissed her.
What was an argument turned into something else and then something else more. It was because she had been drinking that she passed out in the bathtub and it was when I had to wake her up and pull her out and dry her off and all the mean, spiteful things she was saying in between it all that I got the first hint that our marriage was over, barely after it had begun, but not in the way it all actually took place.
Mostly what I felt that night was scared. Scared looks a lot like anger and all we did was yell and try hard as hell to knock each other back. We were both the enemy and it was all we could be and all I felt like was get this shit over with. I felt relief when she said fuck you, and I'm taking a bath. Still, when she slammed the bathroom door and I heard the water come on in the tub, I wasn't thinking of her as being drunk because to admit she was drunk and couldn't control it and had to have it to get by was to admit that I had married someone...
Instead I just went to bed and pretended like I was sleeping. Letting the feeling of futility drift away and then I really was sleeping.
Even though I wouldn't admit it I knew she was drunk. You can see it in her eyes. The way they don't seem to focus quite right. She blinks and rolls her head around just a little trying to make them. The way she sways. Looks a lot like movie drunk. Like play drunk acting but she isn't acting. That's really how she is. Its not beer that does it. Its wine and its whiskey and that night she had been drinking whiskey that she kept under the kitchen sink like no one would know it was there. But that's how it goes. As long as they believe the lie, everyone else will too.
But she wasn't just drunk. I didn't know it, but she was losing her mind too. There was medication she had stopped taking.
There was childhood trauma and those scars.
When I awoke deep in the dark of our bedroom I heard her snoring and I heard bubbling water.
I could feel my stomach drop when I saw the look in her eyes when I woke her up and told her she had to get out of the tub.
"I don't want to", she said, and, "I'm fine."
"You can't sleep in the bathtub," I said. "You'll drown."
She kept protesting but finally I just pulled her out.
"You hate me", she said as I dried her off. "I might as well just die."
"What about the kids?"
"They'd be better off without me. They don't love me. I'm a horrible mother."
Still, quietly, dutifully, I dried her, holding her up by wedging her tepid, wet thigh between my cheek and my shoulder and holding on to her other thigh with one hand while I rubbed her dry with the other.
"This is the most attention you've showed me in a long time."
"That's not true. "
"You must really hate me."
The next day she begged and pleaded for me to forgive her and it dawned on me how I had been begged and pleaded with to forgive a lot. I told her I didn't think I could. Before I had my clothes in a duffel she was on the phone telling someone she was getting a divorce.
A month later and she was dressed in an outlandish, purple, furry coat, her hair streaked purple but not purple like the coat. Purple like the purple women get in their hair when they try to make brown hair red hair again.
She looked all around like she was in a crowded room and there were people calling out to get her attention. Like there was a party going on. Like I was an acquaintance at that party but not the person she had come to see. She handed me an empty bag that was supposed to hold some things I had left behind saying, Yeah Yeah, off to the side and not looking at me and breaking my heart.
"I am a phoenix emerging from the flame," she said. "I am a goddess. I am rising from the ash."
"Are you alright?" I ask.
"Oh yeah. Yeah yeah. I am glorious," and she launches her hands in the air out wide as if she was receiving manna from heaven. "I am a goddess," she said again, and, "I am rising from the ash."
It was like seeing your mother naked.
It was like seeing your father cry.
It was like seeing someone murdered and knowing you are probably next.
Your grandmother drunk and she thinks she's back in the USO.
The feeling started in my thighs like they were filled with warm water. Filled with menthol. When she leaned in close to me, close enough for me to smell her lips and her clean skin and the whiskey, the feeling went into my crotch and coldwater prickle. When she put her hand on my chest I stopped being scared.
"I am fine. I am going to be alright. And you're going to be alright. We are gods. We are what they all pray to."
And when she put her hand on my crotch and gave a little squeeze and she said "You have a great cock," I forgot just where we were and what was going on and gave in to the thing I wanted to get away from.
"You have a great cock and you will be just fine."
I put my hand on her breast and tried to kiss her and she backed away. Said, No.
"What is going on?"
"I'm fine, baby. I am a goddess."
And then she disappeared into the darkness outside my door.
The next time I saw her she was barefoot and her glasses were missing and I was watching her through the tiny chickenwire window in the middle of a door. She wasn't watching me. We were both waiting for an orderly to come and unlock the door.
These days I can see it coming and I feel embarrassed that I know what it looks like.
Part 2: Tongues
Its a long drive out Hamm Road to the hospital. A lot of time to think, to feel the fear and the sadness and invent all the things you think you are about to see. You pass the waste treatment plant and smell that shitstink so thick and syrupy and everywhere it doesn't matter whether you roll the window up or not. Then there is the golf club and the driving range and still the shitstink and then the long, horrorshow stretch of woods that cuts off the sane from the insane until you break from the woods and there is the three-story institutional brick edifice that looks like an insane asylum in a movie that you wouldn't believe was real.
Inside it is nothing like I thought and everything I thought. There wasn't fear. More like sickness. Not sure if it is really as metaphysical as it seems but just walking into the place and I knew it wasn't a place I wanted to be. It ran through my body like it was in my blood, cold in the veins and draining out of my head, through my eyes, and it froze up in the muscles in my legs. It settled in my stomach, a cold, sour ball. Made me sleepy and there was something in me, in my mind I had to chase off because that thing wanted to make me believe this it was all a dream. Some scared old thing inside me. Old and huge like stars and universe. Wanted me to think this was not real. A demon trying to trick me. Don't worry, it said, You can wake up any time. You can turn around. You can walk right back out those big double doors and you can drive back to town and you can forget all about it. She kicked you out of the house. This isn't your responsibility.
But then there was the time after we first got together. There was the time I walked into the house and she was crying. She saw me like I was all the world coming to help her. She ran to me and put her arms around me and all I had to do to make her feel better was be there and hold her back and I didn't know what was wrong for a half-hour because it didn't matter. And there was the time she wrecked the car and she didn't know what to do and the old man she hit was all over her and I got there and like I was the whole world coming to help her. The look. Her arms. And also there was the time she drove an hour on new years eve just so she could be with me and kiss me at midnight, and like I was all the world. That look.
I had to be there.
The ball in my stomach.
It grew and it bubbled as I walked the hall with its exposed pipes and the smell of lead paint swollen with steam and the click of my shoes on the dusty, flecked linoleum. What I was going to see. What I was going to hear. My wife.
In the room beyond the door I could see her. I could feel my heart breaking. I could feel the ball in my stomach getting colder. Muscles liquifying under hot, embarrassed flesh. In the room beyond the door she sat staring out of the window. Her glasses were gone. She didn't move. And more than anything she looked like she shouldn't be there.
This was a mistake.
Demon in me again that this is not real, could be walked away from.
She was a skinny girl. Skinny like a stick. Her hands fit into mine like a child. To me she was nearly weightless.
She would cry at the drop of a hat.
In the room beyond the door never had I seen her more frail. It had been weeks since I had seen her last. Somewhere in that time, my wife had been sucked out of her. There, sitting at the table beyond the door, staring out into the world beyond everything, a lost girl, ghost of E, phantasm of my fear, broken promise, thing I could not fix. In the weeks since I had been banished from our house there had been doubt. There had been weakness in me. Not just as man and husband but as man and husband and human and a salty sea of things I could never describe until I was there that day after the call and I am looking into that room beyond the door and it is my wife so weak and lost and staring into nothing. And I could not fix it. I could not walk away and I could not be there and none of it was real and the ball in my stomach the only real thing in the world.
Then there is a face in front of me, just on the other side of the window. The face is pale and grey and its hair white. Big plastic-rimmed glasses of noncolor around shiny eye lids crowded with liverspots and gray eyes and few wrinkles.
She raises her hand and presses a button I cannot see and the white, plastic speaker beside the door rattles. The disjointed, distant voice asks if it can help me.
"I need to see E", I say. I figure E is close enough to hear what is coming though the box on the other side so when I say her name, our name, I watch her and hope to see her see me and smile and hop up and come to me like I have seen her do before but she doesn't. She doesn't move. She doesn't flinch.
"Are you family?" the voice asks.
"Yes", I say, and, "I'm her husband."
"Just a minute," she says and she walks away.
I take a seat. From the chair the bodies passing in front of the door were only shadows barely shown through the glass and chickenwire. No matter how much I tried to not notice and not see every time one of those faint shadows passed by mapping out the details of the little courtyard outside, I could still see them in the corner of my eye and I felt a little surge of fear in my chest every time one passed, and in my knee caps in that strange way I do. Like someone is dropping ice water on them. Phantom cold and phantom wet.
Then the door opened and I almost didn't recognize her at all. Not just because she wasn't wearing her glasses. I was used to that. But she looked thinner. It was all in her face. Like long stretches of sinew running through her cheeks. Her eyes bulging and lids sunken. Her neck barely thicker than my own forearm. And she was grey. Something was drained out of her. Something was gone, or dosed out of her.
I stood when I saw it was her and there wasn't much of a reaction in her. Like she didn't quite recognize me. Or she knew it was going to be me all along. Or like she was embarrassed. Seeing her I was about to cry. I could feel the heat in my eyes and the lump in my throat. I was about to cry but I didn't want to. Not there. There was that thing in me that I was supposed to be strong. Not only because she looked like the weakest, frailest thing in the world, but because I was a man. I was the husband. I was the one not locked up in this place. All those things you are supposed to be, but no one really is. Even though I knew that, that that idea was in my head even right then and I knew that I was going to cry and it was ok, I still didn't want to. All that male, social, culture bullshit was stronger. When it came down to it, it was the thing I actually trusted. And I just flat out was not going to cry so to keep from it I walked to E and I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed and told her I loved her. Slowly she put her arms around me but didn't squeeze back until she started to cry and then she squeezed as hard as she could and that was when I had to cry too.
The room was empty but for us and we filled it up with our tears and our squeezing and I Love You and all that other unspoken intertwining that can be done with people who truly love each other and have been exposed to each other for years on end. Always naked to those kinds of people. Always unprotected. And I remember thinking all wrapped up in her and crying that right then I was going to go back to her. I was going to do anything and everything I had to to get us back together because she needed me and I needed her and never ever would I be this close to another human being and how could I not fight tooth and nail for that.
That was when we pulled apart and she looked up at me with big wet eyes and she says, how could you do this to me?
"Look at me," she said when I could not look her in the eye. "Look at where I am. How could you?"
The warmth ran out of my body like it was a liquid filling me up. I had to sit. My heart and my mind had taken a U-turn on its path to reconcile this whole mess.
That was when my stomach problems started too. Not in the visiting room there, but later at the house trying to find her glasses.
In the little grassy courtyard we sat at the bench in the center. I lit us both cigarettes and we sat and we smoked and I tried very delicately to find out what happened. "My sister is a complete bitch," is about all I could get out of her. "She's a bitch and I bet you all did this together."
"Who is 'you all'," I asked.
"You and Terrance (her second husband) and that bitch of a sister. You all set me up. Are you happy? Is this what you wanted? Are you happy?"
"Rhoda said there was a fight and the cops came."
"She didn't have to call the police, she said. She totally overreacted. I was fine. She couldn't just drop off the kids like I asked."
"Are they with Terrance now?"
"I told her not to come in the house. I told her to just drop them off and not come in. If she had just done what I said…," and she ventured off into tears and trying to catch her breath and smoking.
How could you do this?
"E," I said finally, "I didn't have anything to do with this. I didn't know about any of this until I got the call that you were here. You haven't talked to me in weeks."
"You don't think I know that?" she sobbed. "You think I am stupid? You think I am crazy just like they do," and she threw her arms out toward the building and all the machinery contained within it.
"Do you need anything? Clothes or where are your glasses?"
"I don't know," she said. "I think the police took them."
"Well, how about clothes?"
"I'm very cold here. I need a coat. My black coat and my tennis shoes."
That is when I think I noticed she was barefoot. I walked behind her as we went back into the waiting room and I noticed the scraggly knots in her red hair. Her wrinkled clothes and the way she slouched and walked all wobbly because the drugs they had her on. They put a slack in her that wasn't there before. Someone or something had broken my wife, and did a really sloppy, shoddy job of trying to put her back together again.
Despite the circumstances, I did feel happy to be pulling up in front of the house again. As I got out of the truck and stood in front of it in the driveway looking over the place I hadn't seen in nearly a month, a nostalgic happiness came over me like a tonic.
I had three hours before it was too late to get this list filled and back to E. I considered crawling into our bed and taking a nap. Just to smell the smell of her pillow which smelled like her hair which was plantlike like sage and sweet like fruit. And I wanted to feel my naked skin against the sheets where she had been naked and they would smell like her naked skin, sweaty and powdery and unlike anything in the world but her. I wanted to lay in the silence of the place. Its own silence. Floorboards creaking as the sun shifted through the day. The compressor of the refrigerator clicking on. The birds in the trees and the dogs barking and the occasional tide of traffic.
But then I opened the front door and the black ball fist was back and the watery cramp and cold and the heat. It was like a movie and the husband comes home unaware and opens the front door and walks into a murder scene. But without the blood.
It was like some giant had picked up the house and shook it one good time and then set it back down. Later on I got the word that in this manic thing that had taken E over she had decided that she needed to remodel the house. That big changes needed to happen because, after all, she was a goddess and a phoenix out of the flames and whatnot.
The livingroom couch sleeper was pulled out and shoved right up against the television stand and there was a short bulwark of couch cushions around it all that demarcated what had become the children's room. The dining room table was draped over in a canvas drop cloth and varying sizes of paint cans were stacked on top like sandcastles. The contents of all the kitchen cabinets had been pulled out into piles in the center of the kitchen and I could smell rot. The bathroom was the only room left untouched except for the tub which held a green five gallon bucket in which all the shampoos,conditioners, bars of soap, razors and shavingcream, loofas, pomace stones, and bathsalts had been stuffed. That was where I started fulfilling the list. Shampoo and conditioner.
And that was about as easy as it got.
Nothing was where it was supposed to be. Not even a clue to where it might have gone. The bed was in the corner of the bedroom and most of the clothes that had been so neatly folded and placed in drawers were piled up on top of it. I could only find one pair of socks. The wardrobe in the livingroom was emptied and the closest thing I could find for a coat was her bathrobe. I convinced myself that that would be more comfortable anyway. I found the shoes. I chose random shirts and pants.
And that was upstairs. Downstairs is where I found the real horrors. The real twisting and turning of what I had known. What had been. The basement. The boy's room had been down there but all that was gone. Only a table and a couch spun out into the middle of the room and then reams and reams of random papers, notes, bills, contracts, all piled and in the corners, on the couch cushions, across the table. Little post-it notes stuck here and there. Some about paying the electric bill. Some about visiting her mother. Clean the house. Garbage on Tuesday. But then there was some things more sinister and mysterious. Don't take any more shit from Adel (her boss), or Terrance is lying to you. And then the old refrain, You are a goddess, and, You will rise from the ashes. Frantic affirmations stuck to piles of bills, old insurance forms, as if they may be forgot just how confusing the world is.
And there were the whiskey bottles in the corners of the room.
The wallpaper, which had always been threatening to peel and bubble from the dankness of the water heater had been pulled away, but only in random, jagged strips that lay curled in piles along the baseboards. I couldn't help but picture the drunken violence that led to empty whiskey bottles, tearing at the walls, pushing the furniture around, and then she tried to make sense of it all on little florescent post-it notes. Don't take any more shit. You are a goddess. He never really loved you. He owes you. Just in case she forgot. Just in case she needed a reason.
I found the glasses upstairs. Under the cluttered dining room table and the left lens was missing. When I presented them to E and apologized for not being able to find the lens, she cried.
What the hell? she asked. I can't see out of these!
I figured one was better than none, in case there was something you really needed to see.
And then when she pulled the robe out of the brown paper grocery sack I had brought all her things in, she really went off.
I asked for my coat!
I couldn't find it.
I can't wear this!
I thought maybe it would be more comfortable.
I'll look like a fucking crazy person!
I had nothing to say to that. I had just left what our home had become. I looked around. I did the best I could.
You want me to be crazy! You want me to look like a fool, don't you!
I just want you to be warm.
No you don't! You want them to keep me here! Shuffling around in a goddamn bathrobe! I can't wear this? I'm gonna freeze to death in here and you don't even care!
I did the best I fucking could, E. I couldn't find anything in that house. What the hell were you doing over there?
Don't interrogate me! This is all your fault! You and my sister!
I almost asked her where the kids were when she was down in the basement. I almost told her to fuck off, I didn't do a thing, but I just listened. I rubbed her knee as she cried and I gave her a long hug when the orderly came through the door and said it was time to go. I promised to find the other lens to her glasses and fix them for her and I promised to really try to find her coat and bring it to her tomorrow. Promise and promise and all the while, Why did you do this to me? How could you? How could you? and I didn't say anything but I'm sorry and I love you and I'll see you tomorrow.
And walking back out through those halls made colder and longer by the darkness outside, I felt the pulsing fist in my gut and I felt the burning and I told myself I was nothing but a coward. A coward for not telling her to fuck off, this wasn't my fault. This was her fault. This was crazy's fault. Something, but not mine. But then I realized I wasn't even really mad at her and I didn't want to tell her to fuck off, I just wanted to get her out of there. I wanted to be able to calm her and make her feel all right in that horrible place until I could get her out and then have nothing to fucking do with her. That was the thing. I wanted to fix it all and I cared about her coming out of it healthy and feeling good and not being so pissed at me, but then I wanted to be as far away from her as possible. I wanted her to think great things of me, and know I did the best anyone could do for her, a great and wonderful husband, but then I wanted it to be all over. Yes, an absolute coward. Absolute child, pining for the happy ending and then never reading the story ever again.