Even Holiness is removed from us. A Heaven up there with God in it.
Walter’s thoughts went back to last fall, to his weekend. He hadn’t showered in two days, was dressed in black polar-fleece: Top; pants; socks, and wearing his berks. He hadn’t shaved since he got sick the week before so he imagined he looked a lot like a stress doll with quarter-inch hairs all over the globe.
He ran six miles Sunday, five on Monday and could tell something was up. It had been a week. He stopped going to hot yoga. His left nostril was about cracked through in the usual place. He was blowing blood whenever he cleared his sinuses. He couldn’t remember if they say you’re not supposed to run when it hits you below the neck or above so he just didn’t run. He couldn’t remember if you feed a cold and starve a fever but he was hungry. He’d probably put on five pounds. He didn’t get sick often but, when he did, it usually laid him out like that.
When he got like that, he usually slept in his room, the one he read and did his journaling in. There was a nice futon in there and it wasn’t far to the floor if he needed to roll off. Sometimes he slept in there when he needed to get to the deep realms or when Mara really needed her rest. She didn’t cuddle and she wasn’t the type to spoon, so when they slept together he tended to reach out an arm and touch her somewhere; on the shoulder, back, butt…like a cat will do sometimes when it curls up next to you, only he did it to let her know that she wasn’t alone, and to make sure she was still breathing; who knows why a cat does it. Often, when he touched her, she would wake up and start drinking, or wandering, and that’s what kept him from sleeping.
When he slept in his room, he could tell when she got up because she would usually turn on the hall light. If she was up for good she’d close the pocket door to his room but he could still hear the sound when she ground the coffee beans in the kitchen. She got up when it was too dark to see, that morning. He’d been in hotels when they would slip the bill under the door in the early, early hours. He’d hear the sound but it wouldn’t be enough to wake him but, in his sleep, he knew what it meant. There’s a certain closure to it, wrapping up the final cost. Mara slipped something under his door right after she got up that day. It made him smile in his sleep. He figured maybe she was slipping him the bill for staying at her place.
“I wouldn’t blame her,” he thought.
The day before, he’d read a story about a long-troubled guy who seemed to finally have gotten it together. He was repairing his life, tying up loose ends, seemingly really happy the day before he hanged himself. Walter got up with the natural light and opened the envelope. She was telling him how much she loved him, how happy she was that he was in her life, how she hoped it was going to be forever, apologizing for having screwed up but reminding him that he said things will always work out. He could hear her moving about in the basement.
He grabbed his mug and filled it with black coffee; it was good and cut through the crud in his throat. She used free trade organic French roast, and had a precise water-to-bean formula. She would buy the beans by the 5 lb. bag from Harvest Health over on Eastern, saving 10% on the price that way. He trundled down the stairs to her basement, sometimes moaning to himself, sometimes grunting quietly — his body had a hard youth. She was working through her mess–the visible one; rearranging the furniture, sorting through her jewelry-making supplies, hanging the Buddhist tapestries. She had just finished painting the walls turquoise to remind her of the Caribbean. Things were starting to look nice. They held hands.
She said, “You’re cold!” and he was.
It was mid-November in Michigan, 40° outside and she kept the heat off inside. It was her house. He was cold but he didn’t really mind; by that time he didn’t have many preferences left. She hated the cold and the gray and she particularly hated holing-up as if in a cave for the winter. The winter before they had lived in Mexico where it was hot and blue. She had money squirreled away that she could use to pay for heat but he supposed that was, in part, how she did it, the squirreling away part. Later, she’d sit in her leather chair near the bay window, the closest spot to the sun, and complain about the cold. He’d point out what he thought was obvious.
She’d tell him, “You can turn the heat on if you want.”
If he did, the last thing she’d ask before going to bed was if he’d turned it back off.
On the Ping-Pong table there was a cobalt glass that was waning half empty. He asked her if it was tea.
She said, “No. It’s my addiction.”
“It’s only one of them,” he thought.
He remembered all the grief he gave her in Mexico, all the frustration and anger he felt and how it did nothing but blemish the experience and the memory.
She’d found a greeting card her mother had sent her and asked if she could read to him. The card was beautiful. The words were beautiful. It didn’t correlate with the emotionally violent upbringing she told him she had. She sat on the stairs, finished with her mother’s words. She started talking about her sister, Jade, who worked in a high-up creative position with a major greeting card company.
Mara said, “Jade was asking herself why she works so hard for something as simple as greeting cards.”
Jade has survived more than most in life.
He headed to his bathroom; he used the one in the basement, blew some snot and blood, and looked in the mirror. In addition to the whiskers and cracked nose, he remembers that he had a couple of pimples going.
“I really look like a bad stress doll,” he had thought.
Mara called out, “Would you split an omelet from Gaia?”
She phoned and ordered the special of the day; everything was vegetarian from Gaia, whole-wheat toast, and a side of pan-fried potatoes with onions.
“It’ll be ready in ten,” she had said.
No time to clean up “Oh well.”
Cherry Street was packed with cars, so was Diamond and the parking lot. He parked in back by the YOU WILL BE TOWED sign and slipped in through the employee’s door. Rick, the owner and cook, knew him. Rick looked about as pissed off as Walter felt, not at anything in particular, just at the deception, the joke.
They said, “Hi.”
The food wasn’t quite ready so Walter leaned up against the wall and watched the activity: Customers paying, same cute waitress no longer pregnant, new waitress asked what he wanted and took his money. He asked her where she got her arms; nice biceps, long and lean, blood vessels standing out.
“Rock climbing,” she said.
That’s how he broke his back but he kept it to himself. Rick scooped the potatoes and onions into the take-out tin then turned, and flipped the omelet, slipped it in the tin, added grilled onions, red peppers and mushrooms, a slice of cantaloupe, a strawberry and the toast he waved the butter at. Walter tossed in an organic peanut butter cookie, nodded to Rick, and took off.
Mara and Walter split the omelet, each taking some spuds but leaving most for later, veggies to her, fruit to him, she left the toast in the container, as was her way. He asked her how she was doing. She was being extra sweet that morning but seemed more off-balance, walking sideways a lot, had that tentative affect in her voice.
“I’m doing fine,” she said.
She walked into the kitchen and he could still hear her fill her glass with water and stir in some powdered Gatorade, then she was off to the closet in her bedroom where he could just make out the sound of the vodka bottle hitting the glass as she poured. She usually just got a buzz going early that she could maintain throughout the day, but she was into it full tilt that time. That usually meant that there was something newly stressful going on. She came back and they sat and talked about Jade, about Ingrid, an acquaintance whose birthday was that day, and about the weather. As impassively as he could, he brought up her expressions of regret, her understanding of what got her to that point, and asked her what her priorities were about getting sober. It seemed like he was always trying to connect the dots for her but maybe it was for him.
“I don’t want to talk about this now,” she said.
That was okay with him. She’d talk about it later, he knew. She was good about that. It was getting towards noon.
Mara said, “I’m taking off my pants and going to bed.”
It was not an invitation though it used to be. By that time, she no longer had a libido. He did. He’d learned to put it away though, not solely because of her but because he didn’t really mind. He took pleasure but he didn’t seek it. That was just another part of the conditioning and a little bit of hard wiring. Anyway, she was off to bed and would sleep for a couple of hours. He went to his room to read and write, and then texted Jade to tell her he was sorry that he messed things up between them. A short time later, Mara’s phone rang. She had it set up so that it talked. The phone said it was her lawyer but it kept the message silent so that he couldn’t hear the words. He was going to ask her what was up when she got up from her nap.
“You got a phone call,” Walter told her.
She just looked at him. She didn’t listen to it right off; she walked around it for a while and then was surprised to see that she had a voicemail message. When he met Mara she told him she couldn’t drink. He could but he didn’t mind that she couldn’t, especially considering his previous marriages and relationships. He was even happy and relieved about that limitation. She lied about her smoking by saying she didn’t, when she actually did, but was honest about her drinking. At the start, five years back, a thimble-full of booze would give her a headache and make her sick. At the start, she had body pain so bad that she hardly ever looked him in the eyes because of it; she was always rocking back and forth whenever she sat or lay down. He used to take her shoes and socks off and rub her feet. She’d ask him to push her toes back as far as he could because it felt so good. She’d tell him about her friend who thought they were dating, though they weren’t, and how they’d sit on that couch and give each other foot rubs. She wouldn’t rub Walters.
When Walter met Mara, Lizzy was her best friend and had been for years so he heard the stories of how Lizzy had issues. Lizzy could be ultra-sexual when manic: she once brought home some stranger from a bar and then called the cops and accused him of rape when she crashed the next day. Some banker talked Lizzy into refinancing the house that had been given to her, even though she had a minimal job, and she’d used the money to buy a pale lemon Volkswagen Beetle that her dad subsequently had to sell for dimes on the dollar to get her out of debt. Walter met Lizzy’s dad once. He seemed nice enough, intelligent, caring, and good looking. He made his living as an orthodontist. When Walter met him he was with his second wife, not Lizzy’s mom. Walter took an immediate liking to her, the newer wife. She was of Russian descent, seemed reserved and concerned, maybe about Lizzy. It was a summer’s day and they sat on Lizzy’s porch in East Town and drank iced tea and talked about setting up an insurance trust for her so that when he finally moved on there’d be something set aside to take care of her financially.
He remembered Lizzy sitting away from the conversation, looking at him, watching him, “Judging me,” he thought.
She was pretty or, actually, beautiful. She was dark haired, long and lithe with smooth, pale skin. This was in August of that year. He saw Lizzy twice after that meeting, once outside her Aunt’s condo near Traverse City and once when she was dancing off to the side of the stage during Bliss Fest.
“She thought you were right for Mara,” Ingrid said, speaking of Lizzy.
The part of that story that he didn’t know, when he met them that day, was that her dad had repeatedly had sex her and that they continued to have this complex entanglement. About six weeks after their meeting, her dad died of a heart attack. Walter often thought how much sooner her dad would have passed on had Walter known more of the story.
“Lizzy loved everyone, except herself,” said Mara.
That October, the day after Lizzy said “No,” to life and put the turkey baster bag over her head and filled it with helium, Mara started popping pills to numb herself.
A few weeks later, Walter took her to Mexico to try to heal her and ease her off of the pills. The night before their trip, they’d gone over to the house that her brother shared with her mother, to check her mom’s blood pressure and see how her cold was. The next day, they flew out of River City, through Columbus, and then on to Cancun before dropping down to the Riviera Maya. They stayed ten days and she drank fifty-five margaritas on top of the beer and double bourbons. That seemed to stop the body pain but didn’t stop the pills. While they were there, the staff slipped a note, with a message from her brother Sam, under the door letting them know that her mother had died suddenly. Over a couple of margaritas, they talked about returning early. There wasn’t really anything they could do. Mom had an abdominal aneurism rupture and died in the ER before the medical staff could figure it out.
This is an old story. Nothing I say is new. I know Walter’s experience wasn’t his alone; he was just witnessing life. What happened in childhood, to these people, didn’t concretely determine what happened later on but it did set the trajectory.
Walter told me how it took him two years of working with his therapist to quit strapping on the ankle holster with the Walther PPK. He then shifted to keeping a ball-peen hammer under the driver’s seat of his car just in case he might need it. He no longer dreamed about the telephone poles that, as a child, he could see passing by as he lay forced down on the back seat of the car.
Walter mentioned how his friend Ed had said, “If you walked into a room filled with eleven beautiful women and one ugly one, but the ugly one was crying, you’d pick the ugly one.”
Walter remembered laughing when Ed said that, on one level knowing he was right but not really knowing what it meant. Now he knows.
Ed would understand what Walter meant when he said to me, “They are all crying… and none of them is ugly. “
– Peace, love, and life –