Chapter 3 – Walter

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only at night. Edgar Allan Poe

He walked quickly from his car through the garage, the breezeway, the hall, the kitchen, and with most haste, through the next hall and into his room carrying his load. As he passed through the beaded curtain hanging in the doorframe, the combination of his fear, distraction, and too many things in his arms caused him to drop his umbrella onto the hall floor just outside his door and resulted in an elevation of his anxiety up one more notch. He lowered the balance of his load onto the desk facing the window, got down on his hands and knees, and crawled to the edge of the room, just inside the door and around the wall so that he couldn’t actually see to the left down the hall, nor could he actually see the fallen umbrella that he was trying to retrieve but most importantly, he couldn’t, yet, be seen by anything or anyone whom might be coming out of one of the other rooms down the hall. A trickle of sweat, a dust of perspiration appeared across his face, neck, and forearms. Stretching, straining, he reached his hand into the hall, felt around the carpet, touched something hard yet soft, hooked it with his fingers, and pulled it, as quietly but as quickly as he could, into his room, his level of anxiety nearing the “freak out” point. With great relief, he realized that he’d retrieved the umbrella. He gave it a quick look-over, unsnapped the strap that held it wrapped shut, made certain nothing was stuck to it or had slithered into it, nothing hidden in the folds, nothing attached, then snapped it back and hung it on a hook in the closet.

“The window…is there something at the window? Is there something looking in?” He heard the hiss before It came.

“It’s the wind,” was his first thought. His second thought was, “That’s not the wind.”

By then it was too late to avoid some damage but there was still enough time to survive. That’s what he thought. He started running, out of the house and down the driveway to the street. The one he was worried about rode by on a bicycle. He reached forward, running, to grab the guy on the bike. The move required him to lean forward and stretch out in length. The guy on the bike leaned back and, with one hand, slit his throat from below his Adam’s apple up to his chin. Walter had woken up from the dream, not totally covered in sweat but close. He had felt relieved, given a bit of a laugh and had shaken his head.

“What the hell?” he thought.

He was up at 1:54 a.m. Sunday, and used the upstairs bathroom to piss, sitting that time, and had looked out the window and up at the roof of the garage. There was something on top, sitting there, bigger than a cat, bigger than a raccoon, staring down at him.

“Another dream?” asked his mind.

He had been too tired to go outside and clarify what he had seen and so he just went back to bed, sleeping and unaware of any more dreams or things watching him, until 6:30 a.m. when his alarm went off. It was a day when Walter had agreed to meet me at the East River City High School track for speed work and we were on for 7:30, which would give us enough time to get our laps in before the football players, cross country runners, or any other students needed to use the track. He ground the Midnight Sun dark roast coffee beans and started them brewing before dropping into Mara’s basement for his usual routine, rising back up fifteen minutes later to pour a mug and grab a small bowl of Stoneyfield Organic Plain Nonfat Yogurt with some blueberries and walnut pieces. We liked to do our speed work early and on nearly empty stomachs and he had found that this combination kept him comfortable. It was raining outside, as it had been for several days, but we kept to our schedule through most kinds of weather. Walter had suffered some spinal damage during the years he spent doing the things that he only barely spoke of. Some things he never spoke of, now I’m sure. Anyway, that nerve damage had caused him to lose the dorsal reflex that impacted his right foot and also paralyzed the big toe on that foot. As a consequence, he was never able to wear barefoot shoes, and when going barefoot he always risked the possibility of stubbing that toe, potentially breaking it but at minimum tearing the skin and toenail badly. What he liked to do, was wear his near-barefoot shoes when doing the fast running, so he usually came to the track wearing his Birks and then switching into his Nikes or New Balance, saving his Saucony shoes for actual racing. He was living about ten minutes from the track so he beat me there and was waiting when I arrived.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Hey,” he responded, with a little head lift.

“Let me get loosened up,” I said. “Are you already set?”

He just nodded in the affirmative. I did some active stretching, swinging on one leg and then the other, doing some standing trunk twists and arm rotations followed by twenty-five jumping jacks and a few deep knee bends.

“All set.”

We jogged together, a relaxed four-forty, splashing water as we went along, just to get our blood flowing and then started the stopwatch. From there on, we ran four cycles of a two-twenty flat out, followed by a two-twenty jog, and then switched it up to six cycles of a four-forty flat out, split with a four-forty at a jogging pace. We were soaked to the bone by then.

“You want to do a timed mile?” he asked me.

“I’m not sure that I feel up to it,” I answered.

“How about a mile at an 8 1/2 minute pace?” he wouldn’t give up.

“Someday, you’ll roll that foot over and break your ankle,” I said, giving in.

When we were done, I was exhausted; I don’t know about him. We gave each other a fist bump and he started doing some static stretching in the rain.

“Hills Monday?” he asked.

“Can’t wait,” I said, walking to my car.

That noon, Walter was sitting in Snout & Belly, the hotdog place in East Town where he’d ordered a Tofutti dog, “No Snouts, No Bellies, No Hooves”, and was just finishing his meal. He tried to not eat anything that had once had a face, especially if it was a face he might have known. He had taken his raincoat and hat off and was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and had his elbows on the table with his hands raised to his mouth, holding his food. If someone were close enough to look, they would have seen several thick, short scars across the and backs of both of his hands and one or two lining the skin near his right elbow. His forearms were turned out so that anyone, who wanted to, could see the Nietzsche tattoos that said, “What doesn’t kill you (moving to the left) makes you stronger.” It wasn’t that he wanted anyone to see what was written in his skin, he just didn’t care. To anyone who might have known of Walter’s past, it would have been apparent that the few days he had spent in Vietnam, Bosnia and the Persian Gulf hadn’t killed him yet, but they could also tell from looking at him that the strength of his youth was pretty much gone, although a hard core remained. It was anyone’s guess as to whether he’d tip to the right forearm or the left. “We will all, eventually, tip to the right,” he had told me one day.

In the diner, the television was on above the service counter, and a local news report came on, mentioning The River and catching Walter’s attention. “A week from Friday will be the inaugural ceremony of the new garage for The River. U.S. Secretary of Transportation James Hartwell will be cutting the ribbon and formally opening the structure. Local officials hope to inspire an additional $25,000,000 in federal grants following a closed-door presentation scheduled to take place after the ceremony. The public is welcome to attend the ribbon cutting and can gain access at the main entrance on Jacobs Street, in downtown River City, at 11 a.m.,” announced the reporter. Walter knew that he’d be out of the garage, driving his regular route at that time on that day.

Walter’s mobile phone vibrated in his pocket and he reached for it.

It was Mara calling. “Where are you?” she asked.

“I’m just finishing lunch. You remember, right?”

“Oh, that’s right. I forgot,” came her voice.

It seemed that she was forgetting more often. He didn’t know if it was the medication and the booze but he knew that the combination messed with the wiring in her head. It could be that she just had other things on her mind; he didn’t really know what went on in there and she didn’t shed much light on it. Sometimes she would seem to not be paying attention at all, not responding to participating in their conversation and then, weeks or months later, she’d quote something he had said or reference the conversation in some other way.

“They are all different,” he thought, thinking of the women. He had sat there, in the restaurant, surrounded by women, looking at every one of them without consciously thinking about it, filtering out the ones he could imagine himself sucking on or them sucking on him. Tummies, some just little pooches sticking out in the front, probably having their period, others wrapping around the sides and back; nice figures, nice shapes with tummies, cute little butts.

When Walter met Mara, his third wife had just left him. They had been married for about nine years. Her previous husband, and the father of her children, was a good looking private detective who both packed a gun and was still in love with her but he was also a man who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants and she’d grown tired of his indiscretions and had left him after the kids graduated from high school. They’d lived about a mile apart and remained occasional lovers until she met Walter. When she and Walter married, her ex called their home crying, professing his love and threatening to kill Walter. Of course he didn’t truly understand who Walter was. When Walter heard the threat, he just smiled.

Sometimes Walter felt that he was a little slow and it was years into it that he realized that she wasn’t happy the day he tried to make love to her and she hopped out of bed and said, “Why would I ever want to make love with someone like you?”

They tried marriage counseling.

Walter said, to the therapist, “I know she loves me.”

The therapist said, “Let’s find out” and, turning to his wife, asked, “Do you love Walter?”

“He’s a good man,” was her response.

“But do you love him?”

“A lot of things would have to change for me to say that.”

“So, you don’t love him?”

“I wouldn’t marry him again.”

She came home one day and gave notice that she had to leave the state, go south, to take care of her parents for a couple of months and suggested that Walter come down for Christmas.

For Christmas, she spent the days with her ex-husband and their kids and said, over the phone, to Walter, “Why don’t you come down for New Years?”

Walter’s response was, “Why don’t we get a divorce?”

To which she replied, “I never thought of that.”

With KK in the passenger seat, he drove the Tahoe into the parking lot, looking for the best place to park to give her a good field of vision, knowing that after he parked and went inside, he’d come out and she’d be gone forever.

They were divorced ten months later, with everything being done over the Internet and through the mail. She came home while Walter was out of town, and took all of the things she wanted from their house. The financial settlement and Walter’s fucked up value system pushed him into bankruptcy but, and I’m just guessing here, it also created the crack in his time based Dreamstate that allowed him to hear the Call.

The more we talked, the more it became clear that Walter knew that he saw everything through smoky glasses, that his whole world, or his perception of the world, was shaded by the pain in his experience and, even with all the things he’d seen and done, his greatest pain seemed to be connected to the women in his life.

His awareness came back to the diner and the television. The reporter was saying, “Record breaking rains with flooding continued across Michigan on Sunday, forcing evacuations and claiming the lives of ten people who drove off washed out roads and were swept away by swollen rivers. In western Michigan, residents around the Lazy River were being warned of possible evacuation. The flooding impacted at least one-third of the community around the Valley. Damage estimates were still being calculated. The cost of repairing public roads and facilities alone is reaching $100 million.”

He gathered up the plastic utensils, paper plate, napkin and foam cup he’d used and carried them over to the trashcan and dropped them in. He was feeling his belly as he went back for his coat and hat, and was aware of his body, his arms and legs beneath his clothes.

“I’m getting hard yet fat at the same time. It must be from running, doing pushups, and practicing yoga, all while eating donuts,” he thought, resolving to cut back on the pastries.

He left the diner, walked steadily through the rain to his car, got in and drove home to Mara’s.

When he got inside, he hit the head and looked in the mirror as he washed his hands, unspoken words floating up from the bed of his mind, “I look better than I am, and I’m not looking too good,” it was becoming his mantra, and then, as if he had no control over his thoughts, “A form, a wrapper, a machine, a tool, a shell, a carrier, a vessel, a cover, a mask, a transporter, a distraction, a deception, a feint, a glove, a decoy, a body, not an illusion because it’s real but misperceived or misunderstood. This is me, breathing. What is this Me? What am I?”

Later that day, Walter had driven Mara to the mall where she wanted to buy some fabric to make a throw for Jade. She had gone into Joann Fabrics and he had decided to sit on a bench inside the mall but not within the store and wait for her to finish her shopping. Walter wanted to tell me what had happened to him that day but he wanted to preface his story with another, so that I might better understand. I think what he really needed was a framework to put things into context so that he could better understand what he had experienced. I imagine it was even more difficult, for him, to try to explain it. I also think that he was beginning to suspect that I thought he was going crazy.

“I knew this guy,” he said, “who was an all-state athlete in high school before he went into the military. In the service, he excelled at everything he did; he took all of the schools that were offered, just to become a better soldier. In addition to the physical training they gave him, he took martial arts lessons off base, studied combat theory, and talked to every combat veteran he could. You could have asked anyone who knew him and they would have told you that he was a world-class soldier, clearly better than the rest.”

He paused for a moment.

We were running on the Kent Trails and a faster group was passing us by.

“He was with a group that took the airfield in Panama City when we went in for Noriega. He was with his squad, so there were eleven other guys with him. They had just taken a position behind a metal airplane hangar, when someone opened up on them with automatic fire. One bullet, just one, ricocheted off of the hangar and killed him. The shooter wasn’t even aiming at him; he was just spraying bullets in his direction. He never even had the chance to fire his own weapon in combat. Out of the 150 or so guys in his company, he was clearly the best and, yet, he was the only one killed that day,” he said.

“Okay,” I said.

“There’s a lot of randomness in life,” he said, making his point.

“I hear you,” I said.

“So, I was sitting in the mall, waiting for Mara,” he continued, “and I saw something.”

I just waited.

“You’ll probably laugh, or you won’t understand,” he talked on, “but I saw the Void and it scared the shit out of me.”

I just listened, not really knowing what the fuck he was talking about. “I can’t explain it but it was the Infinite Nothing, a depth that was frightening. It only lasted for a few seconds. It was like looking at a gathering of sand covering a piece of glass or a mirror, and then the sand pulled back and I saw what was hidden; there was nothing looking back at me.”

“So what’s that got to do with the guy who got killed in Panama?” I asked.

“This stuff just happens. We don’t know when it’s coming or who’s going to receive it,” he said, “no matter how much we prepare or anticipate.”

“I get that,” I agreed, “but I’ll have to think about what you saw.”

We kept running, staying pretty quiet for the next hour.

In time I finally came to understand what Walter was doing, without him having to tell me. In the words of Joseph Campbell, he was trying to disentangle himself as kindly and carefully as possible from the commitments he’d made while asleep; there were others depending upon his role in their dream, maybe I was one of them, and his intention was not to cause chaos or shake the boat but rather to get out as quietly as possible even if it took him a little longer than he’d like

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