A Room Down The Hall

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I would concede that my descriptions over simplify reality exactly to the extent that they are misinterpreted.

I had wanted the room with the windows but it didn’t work out that way.  Instead, my plants and I have taken refuge in the walk-in closet where we sit around a bare light bulb trading ghost stories.  While I have finally succeeded in wrecking my marriage, there remains only one way out of this mess and that is to go through it.

When I was younger, I used to keep snakes, an endeavor that may or may not have required weekly trips to the pet store to bring home mouse happy meals.  Snakes tend toward the strong, silent type and can be difficult to get along with because, lacking the gift of facial expression or the ability to learn sign language, communication is not their strong point.

“Are you hungry?”, I would ask my serpentine friend and then wait patiently for a vision or a smoke signal.  Once I thought I heard it’s forked tongue say, “Stick your hand in here and find out”, but in reality no response was forthcoming.

Unlike their devilish human counterparts, snakes do not kill for sport which meant that on many occasions the mice were left to their own devices to kill themselves.  An unmotivated reptile will watch unblinkingly as one panicked creature after the next would drown in the water bowl, die of dysentery or break it’s neck falling from the rafters, all in an attempt to escape a predator that didn’t want it in the first place.

Naturally, the plants were horrified on the evening I chose to share that little gem with them.

Some ghosts are living and some ghosts are dead.
Some books stay open,
after the final page has been read.
On a hot summer night, too hot for my bed,
I met a pigeon in a parking lot with an upside down head.

Unable to fly,
and with down-turned eyes,
it said:
These crumbs on the sidewalk are the stars in my sky.

When you talk to plants their leaves shimmer and quiver, curl and wither, depending on what you tell them.  Their bodies, like ours, consist mainly of water. Water that rises with the tide, sits like glass in the moonlight and rages in the wind. Water giveth, and water taketh away.  Water becomes the shape of it’s vessel.

Crowded in a tight circle, their sweet faces pale with incandescent light, the plants listen patiently to my stories but one by one they have to agree that this dim imitation is not the sun.  “We can’t live this way”, they tell me.

“I know”, I say, “but please hang on a little longer.  I will find us a new room with lots of windows very soon.”

They nod and say, “We hope we’re still here when you do.”

The Dark Continent: On A Friday Morning

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In the morning I sit on my bed.

Sunlight blinds my left eye while the shadow of hummingbirds flicker like a silent movie in the window.

I read a book with my right eye and drink coffee from my cup.

Carl is next to me having his own experience of the morning. This is the quiet denial before the loud reality of daytime sets in.

Morning is the time of coffee and books and of writing stories in pencil.

“The things you like about me now,” I told him once, in the days before he was broken hearted, “will probably be the things you hate about me later.” By “later”, I meant now.

I don’t know if he was listening then but he seems disappointed in the way things turned out.

I know my time here is running short.

Life is waiting but it will not take me for its lover until I’ve had a shower.

I should get off the bed and go face the day but something I read this morning takes me back to The Dark Continent, where the cradle of life rocks back and forth to quiet its bitter children.

With star shine like sadness in the sky,
a lone beast runs with the thundering ghosts.

This is Africa now:
trophies and tusks.

On The Dark Continent a patient spider sits in the dwindling shade of a one leaf tree.

With eyes that see in all directions it sees itself; once a great predator, now a vacant exoskeleton.

A lifetime of bones and teeth fade into the dirt but from the mountain tops everything looks the same.

XIX – The Moon

Whatever happened here has long since blown off in the wind, like the smell of smoke that fades over time. The moon called on the ocean to wash it all away.

An awful realization that I have been fooling myself all my life thinking there was a next thing to do to keep the show going and actually I’m just a sick clown and so is everyone else. -Jack Kerouac, king of the beats.

Another night at the Blue Moon jazz club, standing around with the band, smoking cigarettes on the sidewalk. They were on break from the stage but I’m always on break when I’m there.

I’m not much for the discussion of morals. If you want something, just go get it. The problem is not how to get what you want, it’s how to get away with what you want. I’m not hung up on morals but I understand the concept of a balanced scale.

We all stood around just outside the door. Smoking trolls under the bridge, keeping an eye out for radio listening skid row sages and making slanderous remarks about the baby girls dressed as whores out on a winter night. Some of the guys took Carl to the parking garage to get high with them in a truck. Only Dean stayed behind with me in the street light shadow of a rootless tree. This land has different rules. Eye contact and a quiet conversation, a meeting of the minds. We flicked our cigarettes against the tree and went inside.

Lights fell like a meteor shower over the dining room and quiet instruments rested on the stage. My friends sat in our booth, having no idea what kind of place they had come to. They sipped at their beers and wondered why I walked right past them and down the hall to the men’s room. Actually, they didn’t see me but they surely started to wonder where I was. Dean followed me in and locked the door to the stall behind us.

The band was on break, like I said. The drummer was busy with his hands up my shirt and the music trickling out from the house speakers was not quite loud enough to conceal the sounds of my tree huggy shoes, clippity cloppity, must stand still. High on adrenaline, both hands in Dean’s hair and the rest of me dissolving in his mouth, I was already starting to cum. Dean unbuckled his belt and pushed me to my knees. Someone stood at the sink washing their hands and in between splashes I could make out the voice of Damien Rice mumbling in the ambiance. Though Irish, he follows me around: on TV, in my car, at the bar. What I want from us is empty our minds. We fake the thoughts, and fracture the times. Fucking poetry. We go blind when we’ve needed to see…

I stopped listening to the sink and the music and looked up at Dean while running my tongue along his cock. I reached up to grab his hands while taking in as much of him as I could. I can feel his heartbeat in his fingers and against my tongue. Like a doctor checking his pulse, “yes sir, you seem to be in tip top condition.” We have to hurry, this isn’t Motel 6 after all and someone is probably waiting to take a shit. His swelling has increased, almost too much. He grabs me up and bends me over. Clip clop, shhhh. I’m so wet and stifling a loud orgasm while he pushes all the way in with one stroke. He’s pushing me hard and I’m pushing back against the hand rail by the toilet to keep my head from bouncing off the tiled wall. His hands are on my hips, holding me still for this bathroom fucking, hard and intense, scandalous. Yes? Yesss. I’ve felt his penetration since the beginning of time. Only we know our history.

Dean grabs a handful of my hair, forcing my head back and exploding inside me at the same time. So hard to be quiet. I’m a screamer, you know. We stay the way we are for a moment, breathing hard, gotta switch dimensions and return to the world of the living. I’m looking back between all four of our feet and can see Carl’s shoes, slightly flawed and sold at a discount, standing in front of the sink. That song is still on and no one likes it but me. Killers re-invent and believe, and this leans on me, like a rootless…

Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you and all we’ve been through.

Carl’s shoes exit the men’s room followed shortly by Dean’s shoes. I, however, am stuck.

Leave it, leave it, leave it, there’s nothing in you.

Men keep coming and going and Carl is hovering around the door. The pull of the moon has driven him mad and he’s looking for a place to hide.

And if you hate me, hate me, hate me, then hate me so good…

Texts from Carl and Dean are lighting up my phone.

Where are you???”

Stay in there, he’s by the door.”

More shoes and sink water, rattles from the paper towel dispenser. I need an exit strategy.
… let me out, let me out, let me out…

*song lyrics in italics by Damien Rice

Compassion

glos·so·la·li·a – noun
incomprehensible speech, sometimes occurring in a trance state, an episode of religious ecstasy, or schizophrenia.

In short, this word is used to describe all types of gibberish. Come to think of it, I should probably change the name of this blog to Glossolalia, but for now I’ll dish up this reference: Some venomous snakes are pacified by glossolalia but the ones that aren’t will bite you in the face.

I was on the phone with a miserable woman named Marnie Anderson. She was demanding that I tell her when Mr. Kline would be available to come to her house to take her album order from her daughter’s wedding. “Well…, never” was my reply. Even if he had time, which he didn’t, there was no way in hell he was voluntarily going to this woman’s house. Marnie was a repeat customer which, under normal circumstances, would have been considered a good thing. Mr. Kline had photographed her eldest daughter’s wedding a couple years prior and they were very pleased with the results so, when it came time to unload daughter #2, they knew who to call. Unfortunately, some tragic events had unfolded during the interim so, when we got the call from Marnie about Maria’s wedding, the conversation was heavy with “oh that’s terrible” and “we’re so sorry to hear that.”

Having been dealt an extraordinarily bad hand, it seemed that both Marnie and Maria were stricken with some type of inoperable cancer and they needed to get this wedding done pronto because no one was sure how much longer Maria was going to live. Naturally, they wanted Mr. Kline to do the honors but, due to the short notice, he was already booked. Carl was still available and we all assured the dying Andersons that Carl was an excellent photographer and that everything would be fine. During the initial consultation, while we sat around the table looking at photo albums and discussing logistics, Marnie hugged her arms around herself, coughed, hacked, rocked back and forth in her chair and got teary eyed. We all felt terrible about her situation and Mr. Kline tried to be as helpful as he could by offering her a very nice package, complete with bride’s album and two parent’s albums, all at half price. This pretty much meant that the studio was taking a hit in the name of good karma and barely breaking even.

“I just need to know when Mr. Kline can come to my house so I can tell him what pictures I want in my album” Marnie groaned at me. I’m not sure if her condition also rendered her hard of hearing so I repeated myself, again. “I’m sorry but he is not able to come to your house. You can either send your order in with someone else or you can tell it to me now over the phone.” “Well”, she continued, “I need to talk to him about these photos so you find out when he can come to my house!” I see, too sick to visit to the studio but not too sick to talk to me like her bitch. I was beginning to wonder if I had a speech impediment and that maybe she had I thought I said “if you make vague implications while raising your voice, I’ll find a time when he can swing by.” Mr. Kline, by the way, was sitting right in front of me refusing to take the phone and making it quite clear he wasn’t going to her house. I decided to try a different tactic. “Ok”, I said, “Mr. Kline can come by your house at 1:00 in the afternoon on November 15th”, a date that was approximately eight weeks in the future. As expected, she didn’t like that so she said “you tell me when Mr. Kline will be in the office so I can call back and talk to him directly!” Yeah right, like he was ever going to speak to her directly. “He’ll be in tomorrow” I told her and hung up the phone.

All three of us; Mr. Kline, myself and Carl, had gone through the photos prior to sending them out and we all knew they were fine, or at least as good as they could be. There was nothing spectacular about them but that wasn’t Carl’s fault because, as he explained to us, there were a number of obstacles he had to overcome just to get any shots at all and a lesser photographer probably would have hidden in the bathroom and cried. Upon arriving at the Anderson residence, where the photos were slated to begin, it was obvious that it was going to be a bad day. The house was in total chaos with all kinds of people running around yelling at each other and no one even close to being ready. Carl was told to wait in the living room. After clearing a pizza box and some empty soda cans off the couch, he made himself at home and spent a few minutes admiring the Christmas tree. It was July. After awhile a diapered, but otherwise naked, toddler came and sat down on the floor to watch TV. By the time the girls were actually ready there was no time left to shoot at the house, which was a downright shame with the trash and Christmas decor and all, and so they went on to the church and spent the rest of the day playing catch up.

There is only one customer service policy at Kline’s Photography and that is : unfounded complaints are not tolerated.

Eventually Marnie gave up on her mission to coerce Mr. Kline in to making a house call so she agreed to make the the trip across town to place her album order and talk about the photos. Despite being the newest, smallest and weakest member of the team, I was left to deal with the Andersons by myself, a slight that motivated me to set my sights on Carl’s position in the company which I acquired a couple months later. I mean, the way I look at it, if I have to do his job then I should have the title and the paycheck to go with it. Right? I refuse to take orders from anyone who would hide behind me.

I sat across the table from both Marnie and Maria. Marnie sat at the edge of the leather couch while Maria huddled with a blanket in the corner. Both of them looked rough but Maria was in especially bad shape: emaciated, completely bald from the chemo, black circles under her eyes and a catheter taped to each arm. Clearly, she had gone downhill since the wedding and I don’t understand why Marnie even brought her to this appointment in the first place. Maria never said a word but I could hear her labored breathing over the gravelly drone of Marnie’s griping. Marnie didn’t look too hot either but she did still have hair and, as far as I could see, only one catheter. She opened with “I wish we had hired a different photographer. I should’ve known what would happen if Mr. Kline didn’t take the pictures himself.” Honestly, given the circumstances, I don’t see how anyone could have done any better. When I didn’t respond, she followed with “I can’t believe we paid all that money and this”, pointing at the proof book, “is what we get. When Mr. Kline shot my other daughter’s wedding, the photos were soooo beautiful.” “Actually”, I said looking up and making eye contact, “you only paid half.”

Freeze frame right here. So what is this? Some kind of sick cosmic joke? A moral test of compassion? Have I become the proverbial Job while God and the Devil are making bets as to how long I can tolerate this trash talking corpse? Can I look past her rough exterior and see through to her inner pain, thereby cutting her some slack, or will I reach across the table, yank that catheter out of her arm and stab her in the fucking eye with it?

I decided to try, key word being try, to be compassionate. I can hardly imagine the horror the two of them, mother and daughter, must feel while watching each other die of the same disease. I have no problems that could even be called problems when viewed in comparison to something like that. The thing was though, like a blood sniffing jackal, Marnie could smell my sympathy, was turned on by it, and evidently felt compelled to use it against me; prying at my conscious like a lever, until something gave. I then said the stupidest thing ever. I said “What is it about the photos you don’t like?” Que flood gates at stage left. I may as well have given her a sack of hammers and said “here, throw these at me.” What followed was a deranged critique of every single image in a 30 page proof book. A mind blowing shit storm of ridiculous nonsense which was only made worse by my calm explanations for why certain photos were shot the way they were. I had lost my respect for Carl when he left me with this bone crushing hyena but I still wouldn’t throw him under the bus for Marnie because she was wrong and that’s all there was to it. Like a two year old that asks “why?” all day, Marnie’s interrogation went on like a broken record. “Why is this picture so close? It cuts off Maria’s hair.” Maria’s “hair” that day was an ill fitting brunette wig of the Marge Simpson beehive variety. It sat askew on Maria’s head and the bangs were too long. There was no way to get a close up portrait of Maria’s face and not crop out part of her hair which, given how bad the wig was, should have been interpreted as a favor. “Well, why is that one so far away, you can’t even see Maria’s face.” Yes you could. “Why is this photo slightly crooked, why is that one in front of that ugly wall, why is this one so far from the building, why this, why that, why why why???” She just wouldn’t stop, or listen, demanding explanations for nearly every single image in her proof book and accusing me of unjustly defending the quality of the pictures. Somewhere around page 6 was a whole set of very nice portraits of Maria with an old guy in a tux. In an attempt to create a pause in the bitter machine gun fire spilling from Marnie’s mouth, I said “Aww, look at all these great shots of Maria with her dad.” “Maria doesn’t have a dad”, Marnie spat at me, “that is the groom.” Stifling a chuckle I said only “oh”. Right then I heard a rustle and a thump as Maria slid into a coma and her head bounced off the arm of the couch. Marnie didn’t seem to notice. “why is this one in the sun, why is that one in the shade? I thought you said Carl was a good photographer? Well let me tell you these are the worst pictures I have ever seen! Why is this one vertical, why is that one horizontal, why does this one have square corners?” She was relentless in her attack of rhetorical questions and never once did it seem to occur to her that most of the things she was upset about were her own fault for completely disregarding the time line on the day of the wedding.

I tried hard to hold on to my compassion, to remember that she was hurting and angry, but god damn, this situation was getting out of hand. Is it possible that being a psychotic, irrational bitch actually causes cancer? Because that would explain a lot.

Marnie continued turning pages and berating me. For awhile I stopped listening, tuning in to the sound of Lydia’s raspy breathing and wondering if she was going to die on my couch. Marnie talked a blue streak, barely pausing to breathe. Having shifted her voice into the background, she sounded like the teacher in a Peanuts cartoon, wonk wonk wonk. This was probably the only time in my life I actually thought to myself “what would Jesus do?” Oh, I dunno, maybe swoop down from the sky on a magical dragon and smack her in the face with his sandal. I don’t know if that’s what Jesus would do but that is definitely what I would do if I were him. I didn’t hear anything at all from pages 15-19 and focused instead on the transformation of Marnie Anderson into a talking donkey pinata; beaten by a child with a stick and a Kool Aid mustache until her side split open and candy rained down, delighting both kids and parents alike. Somewhere on page 20 I felt my seal start to slip. Like a pressure cooker, it only takes a small breach in the seal for pinto beans to spray 30 feet across the room thus coating the whole house with a mutilated version of your dinner. She was going on about why, and how much they paid, and being disappointed when I surfaced from my trance and said “look, if you don’t like that picture then don’t pick it!!! You have over 900 images here and your album only includes 48 so figure out which ones you want and write them down! You can mail this form back when you’re done.” I snapped the book closed, signaling a premature end to this little convo, and pushed it, along with the paper work into Marnie’s lap. Then I locked eyes with her and folded my arms until she started gathering up her things, including Maria, muttering something about how she was going to tell Mr. Kline about the way I had treated her. “Yeah”, I told her, ” you can tell him all about it when he comes to your house.”

I guess everyone has a breaking point.

A few weeks later, Marnie mailed in her album order. Maria died before the albums were complete. Marnie passed away 3 months after receiving her order.

July 5th

Today is not a holiday but I’ve decided to spend the morning lying in bed, reading a novel as if the 4th of July would go on forever. The venetian blinds on my bay window are mostly closed but I can still perceive the shifting color spectrum as the sun makes it’s way across the sky. If only I could read in a light tight box, immune to the feeling of time slipping away, I could stay here much longer. Anxiety and galloping thoughts get the best of me. As always, the world is going on out there and in my head; endless variations of individual worlds.

Sometime between 6:00 and 7:30 a.m., I dreamt that I woke up in someone else’s bed. The bed belonged to my friend, Krivo, and it was in his new apartment. I have not been in his bed or his apartment since 1995 but I knew where I was because he walked in the room and started talking to me. I got up to look around and admire his art collection. The piece that caught my eye was a painting on silk of a man in a blue and purple suit wearing a fedora and playing a saxophone. The piece was titled The Jazz Musician. I remembered that this had been a gift from me and was touched that he still had it. Upon waking, I know I did not give him that painting but I sent him a text to see if he had something like it.

At 7:30 Carl left to take his mother to the cancer doctor. She has multiple myeloma and her body is wasting away. She weighs less than me now. That can’t be good. I feel for him because I know the devastation I would feel if my mother were sick but it is an empathy more than a personal sadness because I have intentionally never bonded with her. She is not my mother and I am not her daughter. I feel like an impostor, welcomed into her home like a stranger. Trivial small talk and jello salad. Paper plates partitioned so the mashed potatoes don’t touch the meat. Margarine scooped from a tub and presented in a glass bowl. She doesn’t know what to say to me nor I to her. She is a kind soul but she is not my mother.

Ernesto and Carmen sit at the airport waiting to board the plane that will take them home and back to their routines. I try to imagine Carmen’s life, seemingly free from the burden of ambition. She cleans the house and makes dinner; watching talk shows and servicing her husband in accordance with routine. She goes bowling. At forty-something years old she has many things that he has bought for her yet her own efforts have yielded only a shelf full of bowling trophies and romance novels with creased spines; souvenirs from a life-time free of ambition. Not trying equals never having to fail. It is safe. It is air conditioned. It is the lead role in a cage. I guess it’s a cushy gig. I have to wonder though, bringing nothing to the table, what is she to him except a housekeeper that puts out? I don’t understand and I’m not going to try. She fits his definition of “wife” and it is my lack of understanding that relegates me to being what Monique would refer to as “hardly anyone’s type.” It’s ok though, I would rather be what I am.

Dean is at his office, impeccably attired in clothes that clearly did not come from the department store at the mall. He is not a snob but he is a snappy dresser. Those are his words. He is not prideful but his dignity is strong. Those are my words. He sits at his desk; stirring the world, initiating chemical reactions, making something out of nothing. He is beautiful.

The Gun Show

Carl just stepped into the kitchen donning his favorite accessory; an olive colored Red Oxx travel bag.
“Does this look too much I’m carrying a purse to the gun show?”
“No”, I said, ” it looks like a European shoulder bag, but if there’s any safari types there, at least they’ll know you can’t buy Red Oxx at Wal-Mart.” My answer seemed to satisfy him and he headed out the door to meet my daddy/brother, a relative god never intended for us to have in common, at whatever gun show the two of them are planning on perusing today.

Personally, I just can’t bring myself to spend an entire day walking around a drafty building with exposed insulation, rubbing sweaty elbows with a crowd of pot bellied Lone Ranger types; all mustachioed faces and beady eyes, swimming in a sea of camo hunting caps. Seems to me like wearing camouflage on your head is a good god damned way to get shot in the fucking head. But that’s just me. Eavesdrop on any conversation and the air is rank with paranoid lunacy. Each man intent on defending his wife from imaginary intruders and storming the show with an unprecedented sense of urgency. I’m sure their concerns are well founded, today probably is the last chance to complete their stockpile of ammo before Obama arrives at their house to personally disarm them and maybe steal their TV. Well whatever, kids. How much beer did you have for breakfast?

I’ve always been a little on the fence when it comes to weaponry, of any type. It’s not that I’m against the right to bear arms, as it were, but it attracts and breeds the type of mentality who falsely believes that the threat of violence brings peace, or who mistakes the stalemate masquerading as peace during an impasse, for a resolution. Well Johnny Walker Red, where were you and your concealed carry last week when a 73 year old man in Yuma, AZ went bat shit crazy, shooting and killing six people including himself? What? A little late on the draw? I’ll say. That whole mess could have been avoided if only you had been there. Despite all the peacekeeping guns in the world, chaos marches on, tracking bloody footprints into the house and staining the carpet.

A story from my personal collection:

Sometime around the beginning of my senior year in high school, my step dad, Charles, decided to let his mid life crisis manifest itself in the form of a personal guard dog. I remember coming home one night to find him sitting on the couch holding a tiny Blue Healer puppy named Pete. Pete was pretty cute but, when I reached out to touch him, he snarled at me. Resisting the urge to snap the little bugger’s neck I looked at Charles like what the fuck? He said “This dog ain’t a pet so don’t you go treating it like one.” He then went on to explain that he had purchased Pete to defend his welding truck from tool snatching pirates. This may have sounded like a good idea. It wasn’t.

With each passing week Pete got bigger and meaner and Charles grew in his resolve that no one was to scold his precious killing machine for being aggressive towards people. This was his personal guard dog after all. I should mention that from the time I was 5 years old until I flew the coop at age 19, we always had a minimum of four dogs and this type of overt aggression was never tolerated. Once Pete lost his puppy teeth and grew some real canines, the incidents started to pile up. Despite being saddled with the responsibility of watching the truck, Pete would still spend his nights in the yard and house with the other dogs. The problem was that Pete did not understand the difference between friend and foe. It is nothing short of miraculous that no one sued us for damages. Pete bit, and drew blood from: my step brother, my step brother’s best friend, my cousin and my boyfriend. Charles couldn’t be bothered to offer even a begrudging apology for his dog’s behavior; always muttering some passive aggressive nonsense about Pete serving a purpose.

Any sportsman will tell you, a gun that goes off by itself is destined to go in the ground.

When spring rolled around my mom took me to get my senior pictures done. After my portrait session was over, we ate lunch and went shopping. It was one of the last really good days we spent together before time came along and changed everything. On the way home we stopped at the grocery store to get dog food. Since we had five dogs we would always get the biggest possible bag which would typically weigh 50lbs. Back at the house, it was a pretty long walk from the driveway, all the way through the yard, up the stairs of the porch and to the front door, so I volunteered to carry in the heavy bag. The gate was crowded by four happy dogs with wagging tails and one snarling, crazy eyed, mean as hell Blue Heeler. After pushing my way through the gate and making it half way across the yard, Pete charged me and helped himself to a big mouthful of my calf muscle. My mom managed to kick him off of me and we made our way into the house where Charles, who could not possibly not have heard the commotion in the yard, was sitting smugly at the kitchen table; presumably feeling proud of fine job he had done of training his guard dog. I probably should’ve known better but was full of adrenaline, and way past the point of no return, so I made my way through the living room to the kitchen, looking Charles straight in the face with blazing eyes, and said through clenched teeth “Control. Your. Dog.” and then threw the dog food bag down in front of him, stormed off to my room and slammed the door.

I don’t think either of my parents were prepared for my reaction. My mom had been trying for months to talk some sense into Charles about this insane dog situation. It was a futile effort. He couldn’t be reached or reasoned with and would explode with self righteous anger at the slightest insinuation that he may be doing something wrong. I didn’t expect this time would be any different nor do I actually know what happened next. I assume my mom filled him in on the details. All I know is I was in my bathroom wiping up blood and pouring hydrogen peroxide on the holes in my leg when I heard a rifle discharge in the driveway followed by my mom’s hysterical wailing and, by that point, I had come out to the living room where I could hear Charles’ booming voice shout plain as day “shut your god damned mouth Melinda, this is what you made me do!” All at once I understood what happened; Charles had shot Pete and, worse yet, he didn’t do it because the dog attacked me. Knowing we would be sufficiently horrified, he did it to be spiteful. As per normal, he won because the girls cried and a hateful impasse, that vaguely resembled peace, was restored.

Ernesto

On Sunday Carl and I drove 587 miles through the desert, to the world famous Sin City, for a convention. I had booked us in a $30/night room at Terrible’s Casino, but decided at the last minute to ditch that in favor of staying with my friends, Ernesto and Carmen. This is more of loaded of a gun than it’s benign description would imply. For one thing I have a dare from Dean to stir up some shenanigans with Ernesto just because he wants to see if I “have the necessary skills to pull it off” and by that he means can I find a way to fuck Ernesto, for old time’s sake and without getting caught, while staying at his house with both our spouses. Dean is my soul mate and is mischievous to the core. For another thing, Carl doesn’t know the half of it when it comes to my history with these two but don’t you worry now, Ernesto spontaneously decided to fill him in thus blowing my cover, setting off my warning signals and causing me to abort the dare. Sorry Dean.

We had been there less than two hours, all four of us sitting on the back porch having a smoke when Ernesto decides to stand up and address Carl, like he’s giving a toast. He says “Well Carl, I want you to know that I’m so glad she (me) has found someone to spend her life with. I don’t know if you knew this or not but it was almost me. I just felt that she was too young (like he’s apologizing to me or something) and that I was already a man, set in my ways.” You could’ve heard a pin drop just then as all eyes were calmly fixed on Ernesto although each masking a distinctly different reaction. As far as I can tell, neither Carmen or Carl are seeing the humor in Ernesto’s little soliloquy. My personal thoughts were somewhere between “shut the fuck up” and “what do you mean, it was almost you?” I was not aware that he was almost anything. He never asked me to move in, we were never engaged. To the contrary, he sanctimoniously dumped me for Carmen. I don’t know how that translates into almost spending his life with me but here’s the Reader’s Digest version of the back story.

When I was 13 I took guitar lessons from Ernesto, then age 26 and recent graduate from the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles. He was a great teacher and displayed a genuine interest in my musical education. I studied with Ernesto for just over a year and was very sad when he decided to move to Las Vegas to further pursue his career.

Fast forward 5 years; I was 18 and just graduated from high school. I decided to do some sleuthing and uncover the whereabouts of my long lost buddy. During this time my girlfriends and I would issue various challenges to one another like how many guys can you fuck that have the same name or the same birthday, stupid shit like that. Dean and Ernesto have the same birthday although about 8 years apart so I was like “watch and learn, ladies.” Through a friend of a friend of an acquaintance I found what I was looking for and made contact; suggesting that if he was gonna be in town anytime soon that we should do lunch. I’m not not sure why he assumed that “do lunch” implied spending 3 hours at the Econolodge on East Main Street but that actually is what I meant and is also what happened. We spent two or three nights in a row like that and shortly thereafter I started traveling to Vegas to see him. He convinced me that I should transfer to UNLV which did have a better music program than the one I had currently been enrolled in.

At first we hung out a lot. I spent many a late night on the road to his place in Levi Valley and many a groggy early morning commuting back to town in time for 7:30am orchestra rehearsal. I always hated playing with the orchestra, but that’s another story. Everything seemed copacetic until the day he met Carmen. She was a cocktail waitress at the casino where Ernesto’s band happened to be playing. He tells me how he’s started dating this woman and how awesomely awesome she is and how he wants to marry her, etc., etc., etc. I mean he really doesn’t know when to quit here and just goes on and on about his virtuous relationship with Carmen. I won’t lie, I was pissed off and hurt. I knew he saw other women but they never affected our relationship so I didn’t care. This, on the other hand, was a problem. He never told me he was actively searching for a wife and then he just lays the whole thing on me like it’s no big deal, like I should say “oh ok”. To further add insult to injury one night he tells me “you’re a little girl, and Carmen is a woman.” After having just wrote that, I don’t even know why there’s anything more to this story. The only correct response to that caliber of insult is “fuck you” but apparently he was right because that’s not what I said.

For several weeks I refused to meet or have anything to do with Carmen but he finally wore me down and I agreed to meet her. They stop by my condo one evening and, you have to understand that I’ve been told, point blank, that I’m out gunned so I’m expecting Ms. America to show up. When the door bell rang and Ernesto said “This is Carmen” I was silent for a moment, looking past the, obviously white trash, bar maid at his side for the real Carmen who I figured must have been standing on the side walk behind her. I didn’t know what to say besides “surely you don’t mean her?!?!” but I couldn’t say that so I just said “hi”.

Now here is where the tale really starts to get confusing. Ernesto still calls me every five minutes, wants me to hang out at his place all the time, even stay the night when Carmen has to work graveyard and still be his best friend, only now it’s his platonic best friend and he expects I should be cool with that; like being demoted from girlfriend to little sister is equitable. I mean, if I was into that kind of low return on investment vibe, I could keep exotic birds or be friends with a girl. Anyway, he and Carmen have apocalyptic arguments almost daily which, admittedly, provide some entertainment value for me but I am at a loss to understand what is happening. Perhaps, if regarded from a safe distance, the method to the madness would’ve revealed itself but when viewed from the immediate vicinity, the finer points lay in disarray, proving difficult to see in context. All she’s got on me is height and age and it seems like they hate each other so what the fuck? She is also the single mother of an intolerable brat named Jeremy who is 5 years old and the biggest pain in the ass I’ve ever met. One night when she actually packed her shit and left after a fight Ernesto says to me “You know what? Carmen just isn’t the same quality of person as we are.” and I was like “thank god, the voice of reason.” She was back the next fucking day though. So much for the voice of reason.

As time went on I began to form the opinion that it was better her than me. Granted, she was no where near his intellectual equal but he would antagonize her to the point that she had no choice but to fight back. That is one quality about Ernesto that I cannot stand; he is such an antagonist, never knowing when to stop making his point. I fucking hate that. He may see it as just kidding around but I see it as insulting. It is a sure fire way to get rid of me and he had ramped up his normal levels of antagonistic behavior about 500% with Carmen so it was no fucking wonder the poor girl, pardon me –woman would get so mad that she would cry and throw shit at him.

As his friend, I valiantly tried to dissuade Ernesto from continuing on in what was clearly a fuck-all of a mess. I exhausted every line of reasoning I could think of but my efforts were plainly futile because his response was to buy me a purple bride’s maid dress to wear in their wedding. Just when I thought this shit couldn’t get any weirder, now I’m the Maid Of Honor in their wedding! Fucking terrific. A couple months later we all fly back home to Magdalena for a double wedding ceremony in the gazebo right in the middle of the town square. Ernesto’s sister was also getting married and for some reason they thought it would be amazing to have not one, but two weddings at what I would, years later and under different circumstances, come to regard as the worst possible place in the entire city for a wedding.

The day of the wedding was not a good day for me but I did my best to suit up and pin on my game face. I don’t remember much about the ceremony, just that we all rode from the hotel to the gazebo in a horse drawn carriage. This is what I do remember; after the ceremony, right in front of everyone, Ernesto grabs me in an embrace that is restricting my air flow and he is sobbing. Not like happy tears of joy, like broken-hearted sobs and, while his tears are smearing my makeup, he blubbers “I love you” into my neck several times. This is the crown jewel fucking cake topper of weirdness. I don’t know how to react and just stand there like a pillar of salt. Carmen is watching.

About a month after the wedding I flew back home again to see Dean on his birthday. Coincidentally, he was recently married as well but that didn’t stop us from having a spirited reunion on the floor of his new in-law’s basement. Later that evening, while watching his band play at Hooters, his future ex-wife eyed me suspiciously while I calmly smoked a cigarette and chatted with my friends, feeling that once again things were more or less right with the world. About a week later I was taking a little ride in the car with Carmen. She asked me about my trip so I told her, you know just a little girl talk between women who don’t actually like each other. Granted, my main reason for telling her was just to make her uncomfortable and I guess it worked because I find out the next day, upon receiving an angry phone call, that she repeated the whole thing to Ernesto who actually had the balls to confront me saying “How could you?!?!” like I had betrayed him and to accuse me of being immoral or some nonsense. I was like “Aww, c’mon now. Is it your first day?” He suggested I start going to church with them.

Not too long after that I decided that enough is enough already, I just can’t hang with the Ernesto and Carmen freak show anymore so I disappear like a rabbit into a magician’s hat and don’t surface again for 15 years when, two years ago, I found Ernesto on facebook. Surprisingly, or not, he was still married to Carmen. I saw them then but just for the evening and I wasn’t looking to rekindle anything. I wasn’t there five minutes when out comes the wedding album and Ernesto says to me, in front of Carmen, “I was talking to my dad after the wedding and he said ‘I told you you should’ve married the pretty girl in the purple dress’.”

I honestly don’t know what Ernesto wants from me.