Visitors

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I Eat Cannibals. Well, Not Really.


I have no idea how to get a divorce.  I kinda wish Jason would just go away and give me money every month - so I can pay for daycare, groceries and wine.

If he moves out, I know he's gonna want to take all the decent records with him. It's only fair - they were his to begin with.  Practically the only albums I'll have left to listen to will be Quarterflash and Sammy Hagar.  What was I thinking?  That music really sucks.

Maybe he'll just leave without them, but it's unlikely.  He loves Total Coelo too much.

*******

When Jason's unit left on rotation for Europe, I went completely bananas.  I'd already been unfaithful, so I decided it didn't matter anymore what I did and with whom.  I thought by sleeping with every guy who seemed remotely interested, I'd be demonstrating just how sophisticated and self-sufficient I was.

I wouldn't exactly call myself a slut.  But only because deep down, I felt like all I needed was a new relationship.  A fresh start with somebody different.  Sluts don't want boyfriends, do they?

By the time my unsuspecting husband returned to Little Rock, I barely gave him time to unpack before I insisted he move out.  He arranged for a room in the dorms.  It was like Jason never even knew what hit him.  Probably because nothing I said made any sense.

He showed up one afternoon with a green canvas duffel bag.  He emptied the top two drawers of the bureau and took his shoes from the closet.  Kirin stood behind the end table in the living room, playing with his little cars and quietly taking a dump in his diaper.

"Don't make like you didn't know this was gonna happen," I yelled into the bedroom.

"Like what was gonna happen?  I don't understand anything that's going on!"

"Maybe we can get back together.  I don't know.  But for right now, I just need some space."

He didn't look that enthused.  I knew he didn't give a shit.  And what did I tell you? He took all the good fucking records.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Local Girls


On Thursday evenings, my friends and I go to the dance club on base.  Jason came with us the first few times we went, but it's not his thing.  He doesn't like the music or the people.  He usually has a few beers, then gets tired and starts yawning.  Plus, we have to pay for a babysitter if we're out together.  It's hardly worth the trouble.

I can't wait for this party every week.  I start drinking as soon as I get home from work.  I take a shower and change into some crazy shit clothes.  I buy old blazers and polyester skirts from the Salvation Army.   I match them with combat boots, leotards and beads.  I like how I dress.  I think it's edgy.  Most people tell me I look strange, and I take that as a compliment.

The girls and I meet up at one of their apartments.  We have a few glasses of wine. I bring some dope.  They like to party, and I make a little money.  This way, I can pay for more.  I'm smart like that.

Almost all my pals are single, and they do not want to stay that way.  These local ladies are on the hunt for military husbands.  We are between the ripe ages of 19 and 24, and evidently, the clock is ticking.  No uniform escapes close investigative scrutiny.

I can't help wishing I wasn't married.  I want to be free like they are.  My relationship is a drag.  I'm glad I have my son.  Kirin is a delightful child, and I love being his mother.  I just don't want to be with Jason anymore.  The only time I even try getting close to him is when I'm already plastered.  The results are always a tragic mess.  And after that, I'm embarrassed for days.

Jason seems like he can barely tolerate me, anyway.  For the most part, we steer clear of one another without incident.  We both have work and other stuff to do. We take turns being parents.  I get the feeling he thinks everything will improve once his service commitment is completed, and he is released from the Air Force. Only two more years, and we can go back to New York.  He talks about it all the time.

I don't want to wait that long for my life to mean something.  I finish cutting slices of lime and arrange them on a paper plate for tequila shots.  I stand at someone's kitchen counter, combining the remains of three near empty bottles of wine into one glass.  I knock it down the back of my throat and twist open a beer.  What's wrong with being happy right now?

*******

It felt like I blinked, and somebody put a baby in my lap.  When I blinked again, I was bored with the young man I had that baby with.  By the time I blinked the third time, I found myself on the top bunk in some Army guy's dorm room.

"You're gonna need to get outta here.  I have to wake up in an hour."

"Can you at least drive me back to my car?" I asked.

"No.  I'm tired."

He rolled over and faced the wall, pulling the sheet up from the bottom of the bed. I looked out the window and tried to figure out what time it was.

"I mean it," he said.  "You gotta leave."

And just like that, my first marriage was over.

*******

I picked up the phone and called my mother one night, way too drunk to pretend I wasn't.

"I think I want a divorce."

"Why?" she asked.

"I'm just not happy, Mom."  I started crying.

"You're loaded."

No argument there.

"Does he hit you?"

"No."

"Is he fooling around?"

"No."

"Then, what's the problem?"

"I feel sad."

"Jesus Christ, you need to straighten up and stop your complaining.  The world doesn't give two goddamns how unhappy you are.  I've been miserable since the moment I met your father.  And guaranteed, I'll be sucking up a steady diet of his crap and bullshit 'til the day I die."

This was my parents' love story.  I'd heard it many times before.  I did not want their torment for myself.  I tried to have something different, but I didn't know what I was doing.

"Whatever this is, get over it," my mother said.  "Sail your dumb ass to bed and sober the fuck up.  Do you hear me?"

"Uh-huh."

"You've got that baby to take care of.  And for Christ sake, don't get pregnant again."

I can't remember what my response was when she was done with her advice. Probably more crying.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Senses Working Overtime


I'm not sleeping much anymore.  I like to think the speed takes care of that.  It gives me jolts of energy that keep me moving when I'm tired.  Ordinarily, I try not to hit the pills too hard during the day when I'm at my job.  It's different once I'm home — I can drink, and my high is perfect.  But when I'm at work, it's hard to concentrate.  It's so difficult to be still.  My flesh has to work very hard just to stay inside my skin.  I also get afraid I might be having a heart attack.

I make up little rules about the drugs and break them.  No powder, just pills.  No popping before 4:30.  I change the time to 3 pm.  Try to at least hold off until after lunch.  I am hung over and exhausted most mornings, so that seems to work out.  I can't keep anything in my stomach before noon anyway.

It's the same with the drinking in the evenings.  Quit by midnight.  2 am.  C'mon, get some sleep.  But I won't lie down.  I love this feeling so much that I can't bear to be away from it.  I don't want to miss a minute.

This evening, I ran all the way to the parking deck — just to run.  When I got to my car, my throat was burning.  It was like I could eat my own heart.  I think and know these extra thoughts in my brain now that make me feel more alive and interesting.  Life is dangerous and exciting.  I never want to not be doing this.

I cruise along for a little bit and blast the radio.  I want the other drivers to hear the songs I play and admire my taste in music.  I smile and wave at guys as we pass one another.  It's a silly game, and I like the attention.

I pull off the highway and into the liquor store parking lot.  I load up on my usual supplies - beer and wine.  Plus, several ice cold tall boys.  I have to pick up the baby and do a thousand things.

At the counter, an older gentleman stands to my right.  He is dressed for the office, with his tie loosened and sleeves rolled up.  Clearly, he is finished working for the day.  He stares at me as if we know one another.  I smile and pay for my booze.

"I love that smile," he says.  "I followed it all the way here."

His comment makes me uneasy.  I don't know who the fuck this guy is, but he's officially creeping me out.  I slide my stuff across the counter and turn to leave.  He grabs the bottle he's purchased, hustles to the door and holds it open.

"Where to?" he asks.

"I'm going home," I tell him.

"I'll come with you."

"Not tonight."

Shit, shit, shit.  

I walk quickly toward my vehicle.  He follows me, whistling through his teeth.

"Sweet girl, I like what you've got."

I open the passenger door and toss my packages onto the floor.  He presses himself against me, holding my wrist with one hand and my waist with the other.

"You got me hard," he whispers into the side of my face.  His breath smells like old gum.

I twist myself around and push past him.  I can't even believe this is happening.  I am embarrassed and scared.  Plus, he is old.  I hurry to the driver's side and slip the key into the ignition.  I pull away with him still leaning inside the car.

"Fucking cocktease," he yells as I hit the gas, and the door slams shut.

I take the service road for almost a mile and pull back onto the expressway.  I keep checking the rearview mirror to see if he is following me.  It's hard to tell because the sun has gone down, and the only things visible are headlights.  They all look the same.  Everyone is back there.

I reach over the seat and fumble for one of those loose beers.  I crack it open and raise the can to my lips.  I swallow and swallow and swallow until I need to take a breath.  Then, I drink the rest until it is empty.

I did not ask for that, I think to myself.  I didn't do anything wrong.

Then, how come it feels like I did?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

My First Rodeo

New tenants moved in next door.  I didn't see anyone for the longest time.  Just that broken down, green Silverado parked out front.  I listened to their muffled voices through the panelling that separated our living rooms, but I couldn't make out what they were saying.

Whenever the truck pulled up, I ran to the window to try and catch a glimpse of my neighbors.  I judged these small, gray creatures as they shuffled back and forth into the house - several men and a young woman.  They looked like hard cases.  I often heard crying that made wonder if perhaps they'd kidnapped a baby, but I never saw any children.

They blasted heavy metal music - the heaviest available.  Low, pulsating reverb and shuddering screams that played endlessly, night and day.  Visitors came and went at all hours.  I knew they were doing something interesting directly on the other side of that wall.  I was hoping it was cocaine.  That would have been so convenient.

*******

I saw the girl behind the house one day.  She was using our hose to fill a plastic paint bucket with water.  She had a puppy with her.  Small and silver-colored with a brown face and a black ring around one of its eyes, no tail.  The strangest little dog I'd ever seen.  It was tied with an old clothesline to a stake in the dirt.  It made loud, gasping sounds as it drank, almost as if it were dying of thirst.

"How cute!  Is that a hyena?" I asked, jokingly.

"It's a cattle dog," she said.  "Wes found him.  Down at the rodeo."

"Are you gonna keep him?"  I gestured toward the puppy as he emptied his bowels and began pulling the rope through his own shit.

She shrugged.  "It's none of my business.  I don't live here."

Her comment upset me.  It wasn't like I thought we could be friends, but I certainly didn't need to know she was such a bitch.  I was doing just fine without that information.

The following morning, the sound of whimpering woke me up.  I went outside to see if the little dog was okay.  He'd torn open a bag of trash and dragged garbage as far as his tether would allow.  He sat forlornly in a small patch of weeds, chewing an empty jug of Clorox.

"You don't want this," I told him.  "It's bleach."

Evidently, I was mistaken.  Cattle Dog growled when I tried to take the bottle from him.

I walked around to the front of the house.  The truck was there and I heard music, so I assumed my neighbors were home.  I knocked on the door.  No answer.  I looked up and down the street as I stood in my nightgown and banged a second time.  Nothing.

These people really need to get out here and do something, I thought to myself.

But I knew they wouldn't.  I went back the way I came and passed the dog again. The poor thing looked miserable.

I opened a can of cat food and tore up two slices of white bread.  I mixed the ingredients together and heaped everything onto a paper plate.  Cattle Dog stood when he saw me and lunged at his windfall.  When I returned to the kitchen, there were footprints of shit on the floor.  I hadn't realized I'd tracked it in on my slippers.  I hated what was going on, and I wished neither of us lived there anymore.

I was relieved to discover the puppy was gone a few days later.  I picked up all the debris and stepped around the piles of poo that lay neglected in disgusting tufts.  I wondered what could have happened - if perhaps, the animal had died out back. But I knew in my heart if that was the case, its body would have still been there.

Someone must have taken him someplace.  Maybe on a nice, long walk.  That's what I told myself.

*******

Kirin sat in his baby saucer as I planted marigolds outside the front door.  I dug a few holes into the soil with a metal soup spoon.  The neck of the utensil strained backwards several times against the dry, defiant ground.  Gardening was hard work, and I was ill-equipped to grow flowers.  Things always seemed to look much nicer in my mind.  I was disappointed with my efforts.

That strange girl came up from behind and startled me.

"You got any soap at your house?" she asked.

"What kind?"

"It don't matter."

"Well, what do you need it for?"

"Washing."

"Sure, just a minute."

I left the front door open and ran into the bathroom to get her two bars of Irish Spring.  I also filled a plastic tumbler with powdered detergent.

"Here you go.  I'm Mary, by the way."

"Gert," she said.

"Huh?"

"Gert."  She paused.  "I hate my name."

We stood for a minute in deafening silence.  She looked curiously at the laundry soap.

"It's for clothes," I told her.

"I know what it's for.  You want I should keep this?"

"Keep what?"

"The cup."

"You can, if you need to."

"Is he yours?"  She pointed at Kirin.

"Yes."

"He looks like a nice baby."

"He is.  Thanks."

Maybe she wasn't so bad, after all.  But I really didn't think that.

I replayed our conversation all night long as I drank and took my little pills, then drank some more.  I couldn't tell anything just by looking at Gert.  Not how old, smart or crazy she was.  What kind of name was Gert, anyway?  What kind of girl was she?  Where was she going with her life? Nowhere, it looked like.  I wondered where I was going.  And if I'd ever see my tumbler again.

*******

I met my neighbor, Wes shortly thereafter.  He was smoking a cigarette in the doorway of the duplex when I pulled up after work.  He watched me hump a case of Stroh's from the car into the house.

"Man, oh man.  I sure am thirsty!" he called over, and I smiled.

I gathered up the rest of my belongings - the baby and several empty beer cans from the front seat.

"Come here," he said.  "I need to show you something."

I carried Kirin across the grass to where this young man stood.  Wes was gross-looking up close.  Pint-sized, dirty and disheveled with missing teeth and a wonky eye that refused to focus on things he wanted to look at.  He turned, and I followed him into the house.

The layout of the adjacent apartment was exactly the same as ours, except it was flipped horizontally and strewn with inexplicable shit.  Piles and piles of clothes as tall as a person, car parts, a fishing boat motor, an extra refrigerator.  A high chair that looked as though an infant had been murdered during his meal.

In the middle of the living room sat a big, stainless steel cage.  Inside, a baby squirrel clung nervously to a tree branch snapped off at a major artery.  Wes reached for a bag of Cheez Doodles and fished one out.  He held it up to the bars.

"Get it," he coaxed.  "C'mon, Spider.  Aint' ya' hungry?"

The squirrel pushed its face against the grate and tried to take the snack, but Wes wouldn't let go.  It was clear he was teasing, not feeding.

"I named him Spider.  This is like a dream come true."

I looked around at the fucked up condition of his living room, and I wasn't sure what he was talking about.

"What is?"

"Having a squirrel."

"Oh, that.  Where's its mother, anyway?"

"I killed her," he mentioned rather unselfconsciously.  "She wasn't gonna let me just have him."

Wes grinned, and I wished he wouldn't.  His few remaining teeth were unnaturally yellow and pointed in all different directions.  It's a wonder he could talk without chomping down on them.

Kirin reached out to touch the dirty cage.  I grabbed his little hand and held it tightly.

Gert appeared from one of the back bedrooms with a thin, older dude.  He was in comparably dreadful shape.  His name was Hubie.  He sat down on a large toolbox and promptly began picking at his face.

"You need to leave that alone."  Gert slapped at his hand.  "You're gonna get a cut."

"You need to leave me  alone," he replied.

"So, you work at the rodeo?" I looked at Wes.  "Do you ride horses?"

"Nah.  I'm a performer," he said.  "And a athlete."

Gert quickly corrected him.  "He's a barrel clown."

"What's that?"

"You're kidding, right?  You ain't never heard of a barrel clown?"

"No."

"Well, let me see if I can explain it to you.  It's a clown… that jumps inside a barrel."

I officially hated this bitch.  She was just awful.

"It's funny," she said.  "Wes makes people smile.  But guess what, he ain't no athlete."

"Am, too!  I'm saving lives out there every day."

They all tore up at the mere suggestion of Wes being a hero.  Like it was the most hilarious joke in the whole world.  At least, I think that's what they were carrying on about.  I wasn't really sure.

I had to realize these folks were bad news.  I knew.  I just chose not to see it.  I wanted to get high, and that got in the way of all rational thought.  I laughed along with them.

"Damn, I sure could use that beer right about now."

"There's beer?" Hubie asked.

"I've got wine coolers, too," I said.  "Bartles and James."

"Beer's good."

"Don't talk for me," Gert snapped.  "I'll take me one of them fancy coolers."

"So, listen," I hesitated for a second.  "You got any coke I could buy from you guys?"

"Coke?  What you need that poison for, girl?"

"Just because.  C'mon, man.  Can you help me out?"

"I can't help you with no coke," Wes said.  "I don't mess with that shit."

Fuck, I thought.  All this trouble - for nothing.

"I got something much better than coke."

Gert and Hubie snickered like cartoon animals.

"Oh, yeah?  What?"

"You run and fetch us them beverages.  I promise, you're gonna thank me."

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Initial Thrills of Quiet Pills

I learned to drive and got a job as a secretary with a small interior design firm in downtown Little Rock.  I answered telephones and typed up correspondence intended for high-end clients with velvet drapery issues and throw pillow emergencies.  The work was monotonous but familiar.  My co-workers were friendly and relatively straight-laced.  They all carried themselves like adults, even the ones that were my age.  I still felt and acted like a kid.

Kirin started daycare down the road from where we lived.  Mrs. Collins was a lovely, middle-aged woman who ran a brisk child-watching business from her home.  The house rivaled that high traffic storybook shoe, teeming with Hubbard kids and several hundred of their closest friends.  Despite the busy household, we couldn't have asked for a nicer lady to take care of our little boy.

Mrs. Collins was right there when Kirin cut his first tooth, when he learned to walk and talk.  Although I'm sure she was thrilled to pieces with these developmental milestones, her arms were often filled with other bundles of joy and income.  How nice if Mrs. Collins could have taught me how to be a better mother.  She looked really good at it.  But it was obvious she didn't have a minute to spare.

Whenever I pulled into the driveway at twilight and saw Mr. Collins barbecuing alongside the house, I felt envious of their easy-going, laid back approach to the world at large.  Children climbing in and out of the pool, infants crying, phones ringing.  Yet they seemed to work together well and took it all in stride.  I wished I could have been more relaxed like that.  Let problems roll off my back.

I felt guilty, separating my child from his robust daytime family.  Sometimes, he cried when I put him in his car seat and we headed down the street toward home. He pointed out the back window of the car, rubbing his eyes and calling her name, "Jean.  Jean."

I felt even worse once I got home.  I just didn't see myself as part of a couple or a family or any of that.  I wanted to, I think.  Maybe.  I don't know.  I can't blame Jason, even though I'm sure I tried.  He was dutiful and diligent.  He even started working nights, so he could make a little extra money.

My drinking became a regular activity, uninterrupted in the evenings between the hours of 6 pm and whenever I eventually passed out.  That start time changed to 5:15 once I realized I could stop at the liquor store and drink a few beers on my ride home from work.

I began noticing that I reached for the wine bottle as soon as I got in the house and put the diaper bag down.  And I drank up until the moment I went unconscious. But I dismissed my concerns based on the assumption that pouring a drink was just what people did when they got home from work.  Heck, I deserved it!

I got loaded easily and often.  But I hated how sloppy I ended up when I just drank. So I resumed buying those little weight loss pills from the back of the ladies' magazines.  I selected a few different styles, to see which ones I liked best.

Ultimately, I settled on pure Ephedrine, 25 mg tabs.  I had no idea what kind of damage the shit could do to my heart, lungs and nervous system.  It never even crossed my mind.  I just liked how they made me feel - alert and energized.  The high certainly wasn't as awesome as cocaine, but it was better than nothing.  Plus, in my mind, diet pills didn't feel like drugs.  They were more like vitamins.

I placed my orders C.O.D. and had them delivered to the office.  I paid the UPS man in cash when the packages arrived, so Jason wouldn't know what I'd purchased.

In 1987, a thousand pills of whatever, plus shipping and handling, cost roughly thirty five dollars.  Initially, that could hold me for about fifteen to twenty days.  Before long, I was calling in orders twice and three times a month.

Gone was the drudgery of housework and the menial chores associated with being a worthwhile employee, wife and mother.  I could work all day - type, type, type. Leave the job - drive, drive, drive.  Do my housekeeping and take care of Kirin in the evening.  Drink, drink, drink.  I fed and bathed my baby, dressed him in his clothes for the next morning and placed him in his bed.  I vacuumed and mopped, washed dishes and folded laundry until the whole house was perfect.  The only sacrifice I made was sleep, but I didn't really feel like I needed any.

You know, when I look back over these memories, I remind myself that I never wanted to be a drug addict.  I was just trying to figure out a way to get everything done.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Finest Worksong


Mom was annoyed that I'd gone into labor early.  She and my sister were planning to visit the following week.  She'd bought me several modest nightgowns with matching robes that she wanted me to wear in the hospital.  I called the house from the phone in the recovery room to let her know that Kirin had arrived.

"Mom, it's Mary.  He's here."

"Goddamn it," she said.  "What am I supposed to do with all these nightgowns?"

Perhaps my mother thought some practical sleepwear would help me develop the sense necessary to take care of a baby.  That's the best explanation I've got for that question.

"What are you wearing?"

"I packed t-shirts and boxer shorts.  They said I could put them on tomorrow."

"Jesus Christ, Mary.  Must you go out of your way to embarrass me?"

"What do you mean?"

"You're a mother now.  You've gotta stop dressing like an asshole."

And then, we talked about Kirin.

"You realize I'm not dippy about that name."

"Yeah, Mom.  I figured."

"What does it mean, anyway?"

"It's a Japanese beer.  A Seagram product," I told her.

"I'm calling him Devin.  I like that better."

She wasn't kidding.  She hung onto that threat for months.

My sister had already been to Disneyland on her honeymoon, but it was Big Mare's first plane ride.  She was a little wasted when Jason and I came to get them at the airport.  When I think about that trip, I realize what a huge deal it was for my mother to travel 1,250 miles to be with us.  To leave my dad to his own devices, even for just a couple of days, was a miracle.  She must have been a nervous wreck. She didn't know Jason from a hole in the wall.  We lived in an unknown place.  She was always worried about me.  And now, I had this child to raise.

I could tell Mom was still angry with me for getting pregnant.  She was, however, just as equally overjoyed to be a grandma.  She and Judy slept on foam rubber folding chairs in Kirin's room.   My mother fed, rocked and burped the new baby. She changed diapers and did laundry.  She filled our refrigerator and pantry with groceries.  Even though I was grateful that she bought us some stuff, I felt threatened by her patronizing maternal instinct and largesse.  Her generosity came at a price, and I was never sure how much it would cost.

We went out to eat twice during their stay, at restaurants that didn't serve alcohol. The town we lived in, Jacksonville, was in a dry county.  We generally bought our liquor in the next town over or on base.  Mom stared into the waitress's apron just a little too long when the woman told her she could have iced tea, but not beer.  My mother looked like she really could have used a drink.  Me, too.

"This Ahrkansaw is bullshit," she whispered loudly across the table.

I couldn't have agreed more, but I felt determined to make the best of it.

After supper, we went back to the house and passed the baby around.  Like always, my mother inventoried each trip I made to the fridge.  She commented on every glass of wine I poured.  She could drain as many beers as she wanted, but she was dead set against my drinking.  And she made sure everyone knew it.

"What are you?  Your father?" she asked.

At one point, she caught Jason laughing at something I'd said.

"You think it's funny now," she told him.  "You have no idea what you're in for."

I tried to ignore her snide remarks.  I resented her condescending judgment.  I felt bold and out of control, like a willful child.  Determined to do exactly as I pleased. For fuck's sake, I was a grown woman.  I'd show her.  I drank even more.

Our visit was strained and unpleasant, punctuated by the screams of a colicky newborn and the smell of baby shit.  My mother turned her cheek away and lifted her eyelids dramatically when I kissed her goodbye.  She squinched up her face, as if my gesture was something to be endured.  I missed her as soon as she left.

And then, it was just the three of us.  For a very long, very short time.

Every day, I got more familiar with loving my son.  I was surprised and confused by the feelings he encouraged in my young, inexperienced heart.  I couldn't believe I was capable of that much emotion.  We lay in bed together in the early mornings, getting to know one another.  With him propped against the front of my thighs, I sang little songs into his open face.  He cooed and barfed up the contents of his bottle into the crook of his neck.

Motherhood was hard work.  I found myself in my pajamas all the time.  I was worn out and needed more showers than I was getting.  The house reeked of sour formula and throw-up, as did I.

I held my baby and watched TV.  I washed his little clothes and picked up the house while he slept.  I felt tired and shellshocked all the time.  With seemingly so much to do every minute of the day, I was still terribly bored and lonely.

Beyond the three rooms that Kirin and I occupied during the day, the rest of the world moved and spun on its axis.  I watched from the window.  My husband left every morning for work and returned in the evenings, exhausted and stressed out. Babies were more expensive than either of us realized.  It seemed as though we needed so many things and had very little.

Jason was conscientious and pragmatic in his approach to our married life and the future.  I was impractical and unrealistic.  I wasn't interested in agonizing over our finances.  I was afraid to learn how to drive.  I was more concerned with why I no longer felt attracted to my husband.  I dismissed the possibility that I was afraid of having sex again.  I thought if I got myself drunk enough, I might feel more inclined to be with him.  Most nights, however, we ate supper in near silence, he went to bed and I just kept pouring.

It's funny.  I don't remember us fighting much.  We just drifted toward our neutral corners and worried about different things, separately.  The whole while, I continued to drink.

I curled up on the couch listening to music with headphones on, sobbing myself to sleep. It became a regular way to comfort myself, along with the booze.  I wondered if Jason was getting sick of me.  I was certainly getting sick of him.  And that made me cry even more.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dum Dum Girl


Jason and I were relocating to Little Rock after he finished his technical training in Biloxi.  I called my mother to let her know where we'd be going next.

"It's in Arkansas," I said.

"Ahr-kan-saw?  Where in the hell is that?" she demanded, so determined to despise this bit of news.

I wasn't sure what to tell her.  I didn't really know where anything was located. Besides, Mom was suspicious of all life that existed beyond the parameters of Macy's in Parkchester, Frank and Joe's Delicatessen and St. Raymond's Church.

I looked on the map Jason kept in the car.  I pored over the big drawing of America, divided into color-coded sections.  It was like I was seeing this information for the very first time.  I examined how some states I'd never even previously considered were wedged up against each other - Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma. And how far away on the diagram they seemed from the Bronx.

"How much longer is he gonna have to do this shit?" my mother asked.

"What shit?"

"Army shit."

"He's in the Air Force, Mom."

"Whatever."

I felt equally sad and relieved that we weren't moving any closer.  That woman drove me up a wall.

We rented a tidy two-bedroom apartment near the Air Force base.  My mother sent us some money to buy a couch.  We drove to J.C. Penney, and I chose a gray one with little blue flowers on the cushions.  There I sat most afternoons, scribbling letters on looseleaf paper to Mom and a few girlfriends who I thought might write back.  I went to the toilet every ten minutes and stared at my growing belly in the bathroom mirror.  I waited impatiently for a small person to arrive and keep me company.

We signed up for Lamaze classes and watched a movie on how babies get born.  I decided right then and there that I would have to die in my sleep before my due date.  There was no way in hell I'd be able to survive childbirth.  Even with the help of that film and the certificate they gave us upon completion of the course, I was not confident in my ability to cooperate with this process.

I really couldn't tell if Jason was okay with all the stuff that was happening.  Being married and becoming a dad.  It wasn't like he said anything negative, even though I knew he was disappointed that we weren't stationed closer to New York.  He missed his old pals in Queens.  They were a close bunch.  I wanted him to be happy and excited about what we were doing together, but I felt as though I had a tough time competing with all that nostalgia.  For the most part, he seemed sullen and depressed, and I had no idea how to pull him out of it.

As time went on, it became apparent that folks back home were moving on with their lives.  For as many pages of descriptive correspondence that I penned and addressed, I got very few responses.  Jason's mother wrote faithfully, but I was convinced that she disliked me.  Nonetheless, it was always nice when her packages arrived in the mail.  Homemade pretzels and cookies, suggestions for unique baby names.  A book strongly advising against circumcision.  My mom sent coupons for diapers with holy cards paperclipped to them and one sentence scrawled across the back of each envelope.

Remember to take care of that baby, her messages warned.

Occasionally after we'd already been in bed for a few hours, the telephone would ring.  High school classmates or co-workers from my old job.  Drunk and coked up, they took turns shouting into the receiver.

"Mare!  We miss you so much," they bellowed above the noise of some raucous keg party.

"I miss you, too."

"Wow.  You're gonna have a baby!  Oh, my God!  How is everything?  Are you excited?  When are you coming back?"

I answered as best I could.  "Good.  Yes.  I don't know."

"Wow.  I can't believe you're a mom.  And you're having a baby.  Wow."

"Well, not yet," I said.  "I still have a few more weeks."

"Oh, right.  I knew that just before.  Until I forgot."

They all laughed.

I'm not sure if these girls were impressed or shocked or disappointed with my condition.  It was hard to tell.  As the months passed, our conversations became increasingly strained. We seldom spoke unless a group of them were all together and drinking.  It was kind of sweet.  It was almost as if they were taking attendance and were concerned that I was absent.

"What's new there?" I asked.

"Oh, you know.  These assholes...  What?  Okay, just a minute.  Hold on."

I waited for the next voice to say something.  Until I realized they'd resumed their incoherent discussion and had forgotten I was still on the line.  I listened as they considered getting more blow.  Eventually, I just hung up.  As big and round as I was at that point, it would take forever to get back to sleep.  I was jealous of my friends.

"Who was that?" Jason grumbled into his pillow.

I mentioned their names, but he didn't really know any of them.  He barely knew me.

"They need to stop calling here in the middle of the night.  I have to wake up in a few hours."

He was right.  But still, I began resenting his disapproving tone.  I couldn't help but think my husband's sour mood was my doing.  I'd gotten pregnant too soon.  I didn't have a job and generated no income.  We had bills and needs.  I felt anxious and increasingly compromised.

Jason worked with this nice young man named Ben.  He and his wife were from a farming community in Missouri.  Tina was a heavyset country girl  — extremely loud and bossy, almost intolerably so.  She and her tremendous baby started ringing our doorbell regularly.  I guess I hadn't much exposure to infants, and the size of this child was intimidating.

I got the impression that Tina found me very entertaining, what with me being from the big city and all.  She spoke openly about she and her husband's sex life and their plans to make additional enormous children.  I tried not to encourage these details.  She could be really gross.

I thought maybe if I found a cheaper place to live in town, Jason wouldn't be so glum.  Something with a little yard so we could barbecue and play music loud if we wanted.  A set-up that seemed more like a house than an apartment.  Tina and I cruised through neighborhoods searching for available rentals while her gigantic daughter slept in the back seat.

We found a vacant duplex that wasn't half bad, priced at forty five dollars less than what we were paying.  Both units had been inexplicably empty for quite some time. A kitchen and living area with two small bedrooms separated by a short hallway. A tree in the front and an attached shed out back for a washing machine.  I did see a few cockroaches in the bathtub, but they were all dead.  I pleaded with Jason for us to move.  He begrudgingly agreed and let me have some money for the security deposit and one and a half months' rent.  The landlord gave me the key.

The two of us drove over in the dark that evening to check the place out.  When we turned the flashlight toward the doorknob, we noticed cockroaches crawling all over the front of the house.  Along the bricks and door frame.  As we let ourselves in, water bugs fell from the ceiling.  The carpet looked as though it were moving. That's how badly overrun with bugs this shithole was.  Like a terrifying fever dream.

No one could live there until the larger nests were removed and each apartment was thoroughly fumigated.  That operation could take nearly a week. The baby was due soon, and there was still tons of stuff to do before its arrival. Jason was clearly annoyed and even though the roaches weren't my fault, I kept apologizing like they were.

We stayed with Ben and Tina for several nights, sleeping on their couch and loveseat.  Listening to the sounds of them adding to their family in the other room. Yuck.

I lay awake and tried to think about the things I wanted in my life.  I didn't even know what they were.  I thought I wanted to be married, but I hadn't really settled into being a wife.  Before I knew it, I'd be someone's mother.  I started to feel as though when Jason looked at me, I was just another pest making his life more difficult than it needed to be.