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Billsta on the Balcony

February 16, 2015 — 2 Comments

I originally brought Billsta home to my mother’s house from Ikea about five years ago.  My mother needed a small breakfast table and it was the perfect size for her small kitchen.  I remember putting it together by following one of those wordless direction pamphlets that comes with everything from there.   It was simple enough because there were only three parts to put together: the smooth round 27 1/2″ melamine table top, the 40″ base and the four piece foot stand. I fished out the correct screws and had it put together in a few minutes with very little effort.  The chairs that match have short rounded backs and I really like the way my body fits perfectly in them.   Billsta is of a sturdy Swedish design that didn’t look prone to wobbling, which I loved.  I smoothed my hand across the surface in sweet satisfaction.  there would be no splintering or splitting.  For years my mother had a table in her kitchen that wobbled as soon as someone sat down.  All through meals it would wobble and that became the norm.  But Billsta would never wobble.  Swedish engineering made sure of that.

We sold my mother’s house in the spring of last year, and by June I moved to a new apartment on the thirteenth floor.  I had the movers put Billsta on the west facing balcony.  It was summer when I moved in and I thought it would be the perfect place to have my tea or coffee in the morning.  Billsta looked much smaller in my place than it had at my mother’s house.  It looked great on the balcony and left plenty of room for a recliner and end table that I had my eye on, but still haven’t purchased.  I used Billsta often, sipping tea and occasionally coffee.   Resting my mug on its smooth melamine surface.  The balcony is high enough and far away from neighbors that I didn’t feel awkward shuffling out in my bathrobe with my hair a mess to execute my morning ritual;  tea in my mug, feet propped up on the second chair, and the morning light dancing on the glass of the downtown buildings now pink, then orange then settling nicely into a cheery yellow.  Billsta and I were getting along very nicely.

I brought the chairs inside the first time it rained.  They have these little round beige cushions on them, and I didn’t want them to get wet and squishy.  I brought them inside again when I was traveling in the summer months.  I brought them in yet again when I started teaching in the fall because I didn’t want an unexpected rain to ruin them.  I found other uses for the chairs, like standing on one when I needed to store something at the top of my closet, or when cleaning the top shelf of my tall bookcases.  I even sat on one as I read a book one afternoon.  Billsta stayed outside.  I even thought of bringing Billsta inside for dinner.  You should know that Billsta looks unimposing, but is actually heavy and I just didn’t want to be weighed down by it.  I thought it would just get in my way and invade my space. I have no real need for Billsta in my immediate living space.  It’s well suited on the balcony.

It is now mid-February and for the past few days I’ve been writing on my laptop occasionally looking out the glass doors at Billsta.  It’s been out there on the balcony all these months withstanding sun, rain, wind and more recently, snow. I’ve only now just noticed that all this time Billsta looked so dependable and solid out there on the balcony.  But now I see it moved from the place I originally had it.  It’s closer to the railing now.  In fact, one of the feet of the base is under the black iron railing tucked into the four inch space between the concrete and the bottom of the iron railing.  I have a feeling Billsta is distancing itself away from me.  Did Billsta feel so neglected that it slowly made its way to the edge?

I  walk across the room now and upon closer inspection, I see Billsta’s  smooth melamine surface is warped.  It is slightly slanted now – not much – just enough from me to notice its disappointed frown.  There is some water resting there.  Looking like a stain of tears.  The table in it’s dying has come to life. Billsta has given up on me but still stands strong.  In the cold, gray afternoon, with the still white sky, I realize there has been no one resting their teacup on Billsta.  No one running their hands across its once smooth malamine surface.  I haven’t been there to appreciate Billsta as it was meant to be enjoyed.  it’s become a dirty, cold, warped shell of a table.  Damaged from neglect and disuse.

And now, it seems, I have a decision to make.

The Ghost never gave me anything he didn’t take back and sell.  There was one gift he gave me that he never knew about.  At first, neither did I.

I forgave him as he beat me on the last night I’d ever seen him.  That was July 4th, 1999.  With each blow I asked God to forgive him.  I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.  I could tell his pain was worse than mine, in fact I was numb to his blows.

I knew his story.  He told me about how his childhood was stolen from him.  He told me about the pigeon coop.  How he use to train pigeons and built a coop for them on the roof of his building with the help of his stepfather.  Dick is what he called him.  I never found out if that was his real name – short for Richard – or just what he called him.  Dick did what all pedophiles do; gained this nine year old boy’s trust  – seduced him as it were – with the lure of pigeons.  Building a coop and teaching the young, blue eyed boy all about bird flight training.  These were not “street rat” pigeons, mind you, but flights, tiplets… those are the only names I remembered from what he told me.  There are a whole group of bird flyers and trainers all over NYC, the outer boroughs – and the world.  Apparently flying pigeons is a thing.

The Ghost grew up in The Bronx.  In his neighborhood it was not uncommon for there to be coops on the rooftops of buildings.  He told me how he used to run up to the roof every day after school to clean the coop and feed the pigeons.  He spoke about it with such pride.  He use to compete with the other kids on the buildings across the street and a few blocks down.  He’d brag about how he had the cleanest coop and the nicest birds.  One day while he was up there cleaning the coop, Dick came up to have a chat with him.  He stood there with his Brill Creamed hair, thin lips and his pen protector holding always exactly three Bic pens.  He smelled of Old Spice and Doublemint gum.  The Ghost always got a strange feeling when he was around Dick.  He told me something about Dick creeped him out and gave him the chills.  The instincts of a child are powerful.

So, he endured sexual abuse by his stepfather.  Of course he told his mother immediately.  She just stared at him and then told him to stop telling lies.   Accused her golden haired blue-eyed cherub of lying.  Lying and trying to ruin her happiness.  Again.  She’d blamed him for everything since he was three.  He was the bad one and Mickey was the good one.  It had always felt that way, at least.  The Ghost was always trying to win back her love, but his attempts were futile at best.

She blamed him for everything.  You see, when The Ghost was three years old, his mother told him to draw a bath for his brother and himself.  Bathing together was not uncommon, as the boys were only a year apart.  Irish twins, everyone called them.  Proud to take on this big boy job, he marched into the bathroom plugged up the tub with the rubber stopper, and turned one of the handles.  He couldn’t reach the  second handle but he turned the one closest to him.  The one with the letter “H” on it.  He’s seen his mommy do this many times.  She had tossed her finger under the tap but he wasn’t sure why, but he did that to.  The tub began to fill and he gave the Mr. Bubble bottle a squeeze.  He watched the bubbles grow a bit.  He left the bathroom and went to find his brother, Mickey.

Mickey, short for Michael, was in their room.  The Ghost announced it was time for their bath, and as the boys undressed the Ghost pulling his shirt of his head, Mickey shouted, “Last one in is a rotten egg!”  and ran out of the room.  The Ghost wanted to be first in the tub.  He fumbled with is shirt, but got it off.  He started looking for his Popeye doll to bring to the tub.  In the background he could hear the tub filling and his mother talking on the phone in the kitchen.  She was cooking dinner.  Irish stew.  Mickey’s favorite.  The smells were wafting through the small Bronx apartment.  The Ghost was getting hungry.  He found his Popeye doll and turned toward their bedroom door.  Before he could get to the bathroom he heard his brother screaming.  A scary sound unlike any he’d heard before.  The Ghost froze.  He peered out the bedroom door and saw his mother running.  He walked slowly toward the bathroom, the dark wood floorboards creaking under his feet and stopped when he reached threshold of the bathroom.  His mother was screaming “Why did you do this?  Why him?  This is all your fault!”  She cradled Mickey’s shivering body, fell on the floor and rocked her scalded baby in her arms.  Mickey was screaming and crying.  His wrinkled red body was shiny from the water and he had Mr. Bubbles shiny foam bubbles in his hair.  It all happened so fast.  All The Ghost could see was the bright red wrinkled skin on the right side of Mickey’s face and neck.  He looked like a monster from one of the comic books at the corner store.  He’d later learn the monster’s name “Creature from the Black Lagoon”.  It scared him.  That wasn’t Mickey?  What was wrong with him?  I was looking for Popeye.  What happened?  Mommy, what did I do?

Mickey never healed completely.  They were able to do a skin graft, but he spent his life feeling self-conscious and fought off stares all through his adolescence.  Eventually he married and had children of his own.  He grew up hating his brother.  Resenting what he had done to him.  He blamed The Ghost for his disfigurement.  So did their mother.  By the time The Ghost encountered Dick, there was no one to listen.  No one to help.  No one who believed him.

It was the beginning of the end and this child was doomed to a life of mistrust and misfortune.

When he told me this story, I knew The Ghost had given me a gift but I could not identify it at the time.  It took some time for me to come to this realization, but I came to understand that the gift he gave me was gratitude.  Because of his story, I was able to truly appreciate my happy childhood.

It was my happy childhood that saved me when The Ghost’s damaged childhood came to visit him in the form of drugs, alcohol and the abuse he inflicted on my body.  There came a time when I could no longer take his blows.  I could no longer let his words penetrate my spirit.  For years I would tell my story saying I had no choice but to leave.  I had no choice because he beat me out of our home.  The truth is, I knew I could not take one more moment in his presence.  The love was gone long before that night.  I don’t know what made me stay.  If I stayed I knew he would kill me and I wasn’t ready to be dead.

So I left with nothing but the clothes on my back – not even shoes on my feet – and the gift he didn’t even know he had given me.

Lessons

 

The newness of you

The exploration

The discovery

The wondering

The surprises…

 

The sameness of me

The fleshy

The small

The hidden

The surprises…

 

The normalcy of we

The discovery

The small

The predictable

The surprises

 

The end of us

The discovery

The hidden

The surprises

The surprises

 

By: Maria McCabe

Everything I have written about in this blog up to this point has been absolutely true. I have used real names and written about events as accurately as I can. I will admit that the order in which things occurred may well be a bit jumbled but that does not lessen their having happened. Where I have chosen to protect someone’s identity, I have simply not given a name. Starting with this post, I will need to use pseudonyms for at least two people who, I assure you, are very real. I feel I need to do this out of respect for them and their privacy. Perhaps one day I will discuss my writing with them but as you will see, that may not go well. Until then, I feel it is important for me to not use their real names.

When my my not-yet-husband, Tommy, confessed to smoking crack, snorting cocaine, and drinking himself half to death for four days in a local hotel room with his best friend Brian, I felt as though I were on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I gave him my fill of name calling, screaming and throwing items around the room. But I stayed. God help me, I stayed. Over the course of the next year, he pulled this disappearing act at least three more times that I can remember. Each time he would cry, I would yell, we would collapse in each other’s arms in tears, make love and move on trying to put it past us. Each time he said he wanted to stop, made efforts to stay clean and we found ourselves right back where we started from. Tommy worked and lost jobs, we fished together and he by himself. We had so many ups and downs it became normal to experience his disappearances, loss of money and cleaning up after the mess he left for us to struggle through. I’ve often thought about why I did stay with him then because I remember how angry I was and how dark and soiled this whole situation felt. Part of me was was hugely embarrassed that I had gotten so deeply invested in him. Another part, I must admit, was a bit excited by the drama of it all. There was certainly never a dull moment with this wild boy-man. Still, another part of me was convinced that with time, patience and love I could certainly fix him and make him love me endlessly. I know much better now and often wish I could have sat down with my younger self and explained all of this. But I have no regrets because I know I needed to learn certain lessons.

So many important events in my career happened that year. The bookstore I was managing and had been with for four years could no longer afford the rising cost of rent for the exclusive North Shore Shopping district it had been a part of. The corporate office told me to fire eighty per cent of the staff and to expect construction to begin on decreasing the size of the once palatial bookstore. My sanctuary was being destroyed and there was nothing I could do about it. Firing people whom I considered my only family was difficult and caused me great upset and sleepless nights. Several staff members were angered that I had fired them despite my attempts to handle the situation as humanely as possible. I was following corporate orders and honestly, glad to have my job. A few months after I had fired everyone, I was handsomely rewarded with the news that my services were no longer needed. They were getting rid of me in order to save money and promote my assistant manager. Since the new space would be reduced to forty-five percent the size of the original space, there would only be a need for one manager, two full timers and one part timer. I had never lost my job before and losing this one was more than just losing a job. It was losing my sanctuary, my friends and family all at once.

One day, Louise announced she was pregnant with Brian’s baby. Brian was overjoyed, but both Tommy and I reacted the same way, feeling sick knowing that both Brian and Louise were still using drugs on a regular basis. At the time, I thought it was reckless of her to get pregnant but a disaster of gargantuan proportions to carry that child to full term and have it. Nevertheless, over the next several weeks, Louise and Brian then told us they were moving to California to get clean and have our baby where there are no drugs or temptations. Louise asked if she could borrow some money to get settled and she would send it back. I told her not to worry about it, that we were friends for life and that I would be happy to just hear about their happy life in California. I had mentally washed my hands of them when they left, hoping Tommy and I could finally get down to the business of repairing what was left of our badly damaged relationship. Tommy breathed a deep sigh of relief, admitting both of them were poison to us for so many reasons and that he was glad to see them go. We knew we would miss their friendship and the laughter but we were happy to get on with our lives in peace.

I was well into the first year of my Master’s degree studies at Hofstra University in the Education Department and working part-time at a high-end department store that was opening a new location on Long Island not too far from where we lived. Tommy was working mornings on the party fishing boats again. He got home about 2:30 in the afternoon and liked to go out on the boat we bought at the beginning of the season. I had taken out $10,000 above what I needed on my student loan and bought a 1964 30ft Chris Craft straight in-board engine boat that was in fair condition and ideal for fishing. It was Tommy’s idea to get the boat. He convinced me it would save us a ton of money on vacations (which we never took) and give us the most use out of our time living near the beach and the inlet where we did most of our fishing. He also convinced me it would be a great way for us to bond and spend time together every evening and weekend. He convinced me that having the boat would connect him to nature again and create a new sense of responsibility; a diversion from being bored which is what so-often lead him to use drugs. Finally I agreed and it made me so happy to see him smiling and feeling useful again.

Tommy was making a real effort to stay sober during this period of time. He decided he could handle having one beer on occasion instead of an entire six pack. In the wake of missing Brian and looking to attract positive people into his life, Tommy decided to reconnect with his estranged cousin Aiden who lived upstate. Aiden and Tommy grew up in the same Bronx neighborhood which was, at the time, mostly Irish-Catholic. They played together, spent holidays together and got into boyhood hijinks together. When Mary, Aiden’s mother, noticed that the neighborhood started to change, becoming less Irish and more Dominican and Puerto Rican and West-Indian, She decided to move herself and her only son Aiden to a “better” part of the Bronx. The part with less drugs and crime. Tommy and his brother Mickey stayed behind and Tommy eventually fell in with the wrong crowd and never got out until he went off to jail. The cousins had on-again off-again contact with each other over the years. Aiden, Tommy’s cousin was married to his high school sweetheart Claire. Aiden and Claire were now parents to two teenage boys and living in Upper Putnam County near the border of Connecticut. Aiden had a good engineering job at the local hospital and Claire was a medical assistant at a local doctor’s office. The cousins chatted, laughed and got caught up. Tommy had railed on about what an angel I was, how smart I was because I had been in college, how I was sweet and classy and not like those bitches from the Bronx. He boasted that he was a new man and that I was the best thing that ever happened to him. and by the end of that phone conversation we were invited to spend the weekend upstate as Tommy would continue to refer to it. He continued to say upstate, though in the big picture of New York State, their town was really considered Downstate. This was a fact Tommy understood but decided it was so far from Long Island, it might as well be upstate. So that was how we always referred to it. Upstate.

We arrived upstate on one of those summer days when there is a cool breeze but the sun leaves your skin warm and smelling of sunshine. I was a bit nervous about meeting Aiden and Claire, as I knew I would be getting the once-over from them. They wanted to see for themselves if everything Tommy said about me was true. I didn’t know what to expect… were they rough talking like him? Would they be educated? Good or bad looking? Cool or warm toward me?…

Aiden and Claire’s house sat on a small hill on a street that had no sidewalks. They had a long blacktop drive way that that had four cars parked on it. Tommy beeped the horn of my Nissan Sentra, and out the loose screen door ran Casey, their German Shepard mutt barking and drooling an excited greeting. Next, Aiden punched the door open. I remember his subtly red hair and big happy smile. He was slightly bow-legged and stood at the same height as Tommy but much slighter build. Aiden never worked out but had a slim build. He had a little paunch of a belly, possibly from a few too many beers over the years but had a friendly smile on his kind, boyish face. Just as the cousins were embracing and back slapping and laughing, out came Claire with a big wave and arms stretched toward me for an embrace. She had shoulder-length blond hair, sharp blue eyes and the body of a little girl. A few extra pounds stayed close to her waist and lower body since having the kids years before but she would not be considered heavy by any means. She was covered in freckles on her face and arms and was cute and very motherly looking. My first impression was that they were two warm, sweet people and had the appearance of being a comfortably married couple who seemed more like brother and sister than husband and wife. I was so relieved… they seemed normal.

We went inside for a bit and had iced tea and some pretzels and potato chips to munch on. Aiden was excited to show Tommy his grill and Claire and I hit it off right away. We talked about her herb garden and the flowers in her front yard and life up in the country. She admitted she was better suited for a life of farmer’s markets and five-mile drives to the local grocery store over city life in The Bronx where they all grew up. We sat all four of us on lawn chairs on the front lawn, sipping iced tea and talking and laughing in our shorts and t-shirts until the sun began to set and the lightening bugs flashed their wares. It was a perfect summer night in the country. The temperature dropped slightly and we all grabbed sweatshirts and began preparing dinner by the grill. We ate, talked and laughed some more. It’s like we had been best friends for years. Tommy was so happy that night. As I was helping Claire clear away some dishes, we met each other’s glance and he looked at me with a tender loving look that told me how much he loved me without speaking a word. That night Tommy and I cuddled up in each other’s arms and slept a restful contented sleep. It was the first in a long time. I felt we were coming back to each other.

In the morning we woke to the sound of Casey barking, the screen door banging and the smells of freshly brewed coffee. Tommy and I showered and dressed and met Aiden, Claire and the boys at the breakfast table. The boys announced they would be going to a local water park with some friends and other parents as escorts. The boys shoved toast in their mouths and guzzled orange juice, grabbed their beach towels and ran out the door. Claire and Aiden high-fived when the screen door slammed behind them confirming their exit. The four of us had the day together to laze about and have fun. We were like peas in a pod; we shared stories, laughed and laughed, Tommy pointing at Aiden and exclaiming on occasion, this guy – you were always a funny motherfucker. We all pitched in to prepare and cook meals. At night, Aiden took us to his pride and joy, his basement bar. He had built it himself to match the exact proportions of his favorite bar in The Bronx, Saints and Sinners. Claire and I drank White Zinfandel and the boys drank beers. I was a little nervous about Tommy drinking, but said nothing in fear of ruining the weekend. By the time we left their place, we had been so happy to have made new fun friends who were also family. The boys were reconnected and I had a great new girlfriend. We planned to go back again in two weeks time. We were all so excited.

It went on like this for about a year. every couple of weeks we went upstate for a visit with them or they came down to Long Island to spend time on the beach. During the winter months we saw each other a bit less but made sure to spend Christmas together. Tommy was keeping his drinking under control. After several conversations with Claire, I decided to try going to Al-Anon meetings to sort out my emotions about Tommy’s drinking. I suppose I was also looking for a support network to talk to when things got rough, as I expected they might. The four of us were like birds of a feather and sincerely enjoyed each other’s company.

By January of the following year, Tommy and I moved one town further inland from the beach. It was closer to where we were docking the boat and consisted of whole first floor of a nice house with a fenced-in yard. In February of that year, Tommy and I got engaged and adopted a baby Rottweiler. She was an adorable puppy…shiny black coat and a cute round face. I named her Maxine because I thought it would be cool to have a dog called “Max”. I got a book about dog training techniques from a friend and began to teach Maxine some simple commands. By spring, we resumed communication of our friends upstate and started making arrangements to see each other. We went up to their place for a week this time. Aiden and Tommy made repairs around the house and Claire and I went to yard sales. At night we lit the wood burning stove in the living room and drank White Zinfandel and beers, talking and laughing. I started to think about what Aiden and Clair’s intimate life was like. Started to wonder who initiated sex between them after so long together, if they were passionate or not. I suppose that happens when you spend a lot of time with another couple. Things were beginning to unravel between Tommy and I despite out engagement. Claire made a fuss about the ring and how pretty it was, but she did not know he had put it on a credit card which I paid the following month.

When the summer rolled around Aiden and Claire were involved with some issues with the kids. It was difficult for us to find a time that worked with all four of our schedules to see each other. Tommy started going out on the boat more frequently because he lost his job again and told me he was continuing to stay dry not drinking at all, not even on the boat. One day I drove up to the dock to tell him about a phone call he received at the house and noticed the boat had taken on about three inches of water. I opened the engine cover, turned the key to start the engine, and pulled the bilge pump to drain the water. When I went under the hull, I found a case of empty beer cans. Some crushed some not, spilling out of the case box. I let the water finish draining, closed the engine cover, turned the key out and left the boat the way I found it. I had suspected he was drinking but previously had no proof. Now I knew. I said nothing that night.

A few weeks later I asked him if he were drinking again. We began to fight. There was screaming and yelling and now barking from Maxine. I told him I was going to leave him, that I had enough of his bullshit. I wanted a life, I said, but not this kind. I packed my things and drove to my mother’s. I hadn’t spoken to her in nearly three years at her insistence. Now that I was home, she asked if it was for good so I lied and told her yes. I was only there for a week.

Less than two months later we were married at City Hall by a Justice of the Peace.

I’d like to say I put a lot of thought and care into deciding on my new plan for switching Master’s Programs at Hofstra University.  The truth is, I was in a relationship and in my mid-twenties and was desperate to have a child.  I had been given an ultimatum by my English Professor: leave my man, or leave the program.  I made my choice.  I thought about career possibilities and came to the conclusion that if I became a teacher I could be home by 3:30 to care for my child and have a solid, steady income that would keep my alcoholic husband, my baby and myself financially stable.  With these thoughts in mind, I requested a place in the Education Department Master’s Program.  Classes would begin in the fall, just a few months away, and I could have the summer to enjoy my management career in the bookstore and have a fun summer now that Louise, my childhood friend was living close by.

Tommy, of course was not very supportive when I announced my change in plans that evening.  He didn’t like that I was planning things without his approval.  I knew that academics was a world he did not know about or understand.  I was independent in at least this one thing and he did not like it.  Eventually he would tell people and brag a bit about my choices to become a teacher when he spoke to  people he respected; potential employers, people in our town and even his mother who he resumed contact with that summer.

My sexual life with Tommy became my drug of choice.  I consumed the scent of his skin.  I  craved his muscular body, how it dominated mine.  He knew how to seduce me and I surrendered to his touch.  A wave of pleasure would come over me, despite my lack of experience with men before him, and I was like a woman possessed drinking in his freckled skin that smelled of soap and the salty sea air.  Living by the beach had made his pale Irish skin turn a soft reddish brown.  What was left of his crown of sparse blonde hair became even more golden as the summer days grew longer.  His crystal blue eyes which once brought a shiver of fear through my body now seemed soft and serene.  A tingle came over me as his mustache tickled the secret parts of my body.  Looking back on this now, I realize I was clumsy and awkward and not very knowledgeable in the ways of love.  I was only beginning to discover the pleasures of lovemaking.  Navigating his body, somehow helped me discover mine.

Views_FromThe_Subconscious_by_happycurlgirl

Lady – Maria McCabe, November 2007, India Ink on Paper

After a one passionate session of lovemaking, he revealed to me that he had a previous relationship with a woman, Madeline,  who he lived with back in The Bronx.  He described them as having a tumultuous live-in romance that ended badly.  Three months after they parted she contacted him to reveal she was pregnant with his child.  He immediately denied it and refused to speak that crazy bitch.  He saw the baby after it was born, at her insistence, denying he was the father.  She was a slut, a whore.  It could have been anyone’s baby.  He told me.  Three years after the child’s birth, Madeline showed up at Tommy’s mother’s house to show her the baby.  As it happened, Tommy was there and both he and his mother could see the resemblance; the big round eyes, the shape of his little body next to Tommy’s was a miniature version of him.  He even had similar mannerisms.  Tommy had contact with Madeline and the child on and off for a year or so, or whenever Tommy felt guilty.  Then nothing.  That’s about the time he went to jail, served his time, got out and met me.  It had been three years since he saw his son.  I asked him if he wanted to contact the child but he admitted he did not want to deal with Madeline and he still had his doubts if the child was really his.  I suggested a paternity test but he was not open to that, so I let the matter drop for a while but it weighed heavy on my mind to think there was a child of his out there and it wasn’t mine.

*     *     *     *     *

By now, Louise and Brian had been living together down the street for a few months.  I came to discover that they were smoking pot quite regularly with Tommy while I was off at work.  Fighting about it, I realized, would get me nowhere.  So I lived in the very comfortable state of denial which I was beginning to know all too well.  My goal was to keep things peaceful while I was with Tommy at home.  He was beginning to open up to me about his childhood, his past criminal behavior and his feelings about people in our social circles.  I was feeling more and more confident that we would make it through this sensitive period and come out stronger for it.  I was beginning to trust him and believe that he was my lover, my protector, my friend.  So one day, when he took my car keys and announced that he was going to the store to get cigarettes, I thought nothing of it.  He gave me a little kiss and walked out the door.  I settled into the couch and flipped on the T.V. waiting for his return.

Now, here’s where things get a bit hazy for me.  Recalling events of the past are funny that way.  Sometimes you can remember every detail of one event and almost nothing of others.  Sometimes the memories float in and out like ghosts.  I didn’t have phone numbers for any of the characters in town who he regularly talked to but I tried to recall which of these I could turn to.  I was worried that something might have happened to Tommy; an accident, a flat tire…..who could I call if I needed help?  There was an older Italian American man who lived on the other side of town who everyone called Johnny Garbage because he worked for the sanitation department for over thirty five years.  He was retired and suffering from a bad case of diabetes, so bad it took three of his toes.  He had a grimy, rude, foul mouthed way of addressing people.  When I first me him, he asked me why I was even with Tommy because I seemed like a nice girl.  He told me to run and dump that bum, that he would only be trouble but I thought that was part of his grumpy act.  There was Jesus look-alike, Mark, who was a former cocaine addict turned Born-Again Christian who owned a local bagel store and was known for fucking all the young girls that worked for him in the back of the bagel shop.  There there was a friend of Tommy’s from Yonkers who he recently came back into contact with.  John was part of the old gang Tommy ran with in The Bronx many years ago.  When they got back in touch a few months before, John came for a visit and told us the story of how he became a cop, got married, bought a house had three little girls and was doing really well.  Tommy had put on a real show for John making it seem everything was perfect with us.  When John left, it was as though we had passed inspection.   Those were the only people I could think of and I didn’t have any of their phone numbers.  I also didn’t have my car and was terrified of leaving the house in case a phone call came.  I remember trying to call his cell phone but it was off.  I was sick with worry, pacing the floor and not knowing what to do.  Brian and Louise were unreachable – not home, not answering their phones.  I remembered they were away visiting with Louise’s mother in Queens and would not be back for at least a week.  I didn’t want to call them anyway.  I saw them as being the source of many of Tommy’s problems with staying sober.  I had no one in my own life to call since I had pushed all my friends out of my life.  I decided he must be at a local bar, which also worried me because he had been so good in the period just before this.  And finally, I couldn’t help myself.. I shuffled through his night table drawer looking through papers, looking for a phone number of anyone who seemed remotely familiar, any hint of anything to help figure out where he was, until finally I found one… a ripped off corner of a paper.  It said John with a phone numbered scrawled on – the area code was Yonkers, so I dialed it.   I apologized for bothering him and told him what was happening.  He cut me off and asked me how long had it been since I’d seen him.  I told him he didn’t come back from getting cigarettes the night before.  He said give it another day or two.  I know him, you don’t.  Pack your bags and go to your family – when he does come back he’ll cry and apologize but he’s fucking drug addict and you better get out of there.  He’s probably in an ally somewhere passed out.  I hung up the phone without a word.  I pushed his words out of my head in disbelief, deep into that comfortable place of denial.  Something’s wrong, he’s had an accident, that must be it.  Where could he be?  That night I was so worked up and fought sleep from coming over me.  I stayed up for two days and nights, constantly checking the house phone to see if it worked, calling his cell phone but no rings.  Just the immediate message of the voicemail.

I called in sick to work, telling my Assistant Manager I was having car trouble.  I checked out the second floor window but my car was nowhere on the block.  I showered to ready myself for Tommy’s return and dialed the local hospital.   No one matching Tommy’s description was admitted, no car accidents reported.  Nothing.  A quiet night in our sea-side town.  The sun was blaring into the windows and it was a clear beautiful day but I remember feeling a sense of doom.  Maybe he’s dead; he could have gotten drunk and drown in the ocean…he wouldn’t take my car and purposely leave me here alone, he could be in trouble, what if he needs me….

He didn’t come home for four days.

When he finally came home I was sitting on the couch and shocked by what I saw. He looked like hell.  He had bags under his eyes, he smelled from not showering and his clothes were filthy.  The scent of alcohol and cigarettes seemed to hold his clothing together.  I screamed as he walked toward me, what happened?, where were you?, couldn’t you pick up the phone and call me? and this man, this broad-shouldered street tough ex-convict could not look me in the face.  He collapsed in my arms, crying like a little boy.  I held him for a long time, crying myself, until finally he spoke through his tears.  It was horrible, I’m so sorry, I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t stop…

Couldn’t stop what…I thought… what was so horrible….

It turns out he ran into Brian who did not go to Queens with Louise after all.  The two of them got drunk in a local bar.  I’m not sure how, but they wound up in a local flea bag of a hotel that charges by the hour with and eight ball of cocaine.  They were snorting coke, cooking it and smoking crack, drinking and getting high for four days straight.  He didn’t even know how long he was gone.  To this day, I don’t know if there was anyone else with them, if he fucked someone, I have no idea.  All I knew then was that I was living with a man who had absolutely no self control.  And I was disgusted.  I yelled, I screamed I threw things and broke things.  I told him only an animal could behave this way.  I was possessed in a new way now.  I hated him and I loved him.  I despised him and I craved him.  I banged my hands against his chest and threw his clothes at him and told him to leave, just go, get out!!  He just sat on the edge of the bed.  Crying.

And it broke my heart.

So, I stayed.

Poetic Interlude

April 14, 2013 — 2 Comments

Sunday Ritual

I drink cardamom coffee
alone now
on this sunny Sunday morning

I drink cardamom coffee
from my biggest mug
and fill it with memories
from Sundays with you…

I drink cardamom coffee
and with each sip
another tear falls
and lets loose another memory
of rumpled sheets
my wild hair
your blue blue eyes
that little boy smile of yours
and your mouth tasting of sex
and cigarettes
and cardamom coffee…

I drink cardamom coffee
alone now
and close my eyes and linger there tasting the memory…

And just when I can no longer bear it, I take another sip of
cardamom coffee
Which I now only drink
alone.

April 2013