I don’t believe that people ever really hit bottom and bounce back up; I think it’s more that we just get use to falling. The post-marriage experiences that I have so far related were isolated moments. Such moments of excitement in my life were really few and far between. Life after Jennie left me was, for the most part, a life of meaningless repetition and mind numbing boredom. I woke up in the morning, went to work, came home, and went to sleep at night.
I was also pretty depressed and wouldn’t own up to it. People have the wrong idea about depression. They associate it with people who have totally lost their way, people who are suicidal, schizophrenic, homeless, or addicted to drugs. Depression is actually everywhere.
Depressed people look normal. They go about their life without attracting too much attention to themselves. They lose track of time and are apathetic about doing the simplest of things. I would do something like drop a sock the floor by the sofa and not pick it up for days and sometimes even weeks or get suddenly surprised by the arrival of an event I had known about for months.
I was shopping at a Wal-Mart in Belle Vista, and it dawned on me just how many of the people around me were suffering from depression. It was like being surrounded by zombies. I was packing an extra thirty pounds that I had gained since Jenny had left, and I suddenly found myself surrounded by other obese people, many of them wearing clothing that obese people should not be allowed to wear in public.
I had just finished reading a book by a Nobel Prize winning professor of bio-genetics who argued that human DNA is hardwired for humans to be their best. A thought bubble appeared over my head with the words, “That’s the meaning of life then. We are here to learn how to be our best.” To me, it made perfect sense and explained a lot, but it forced me to also consider why weren’t more people trying to be the all that they could be?
And I suddenly realized that the reason we don’t always try to be our best is that most of us suffer from so many traumatic life experiences that we don’t even realize that we have been damaged. We have repressed a lot of memories of traumatic experiences that bubble up and manifest themselves in our lives in ways of which we are mainly unaware.
For a while, I became somewhat of a hermit. I didn’t want to go outside and be around people. I preferred sitting home in the dark with my own gloomy thoughts for company. I started wearing short-sleeved shirts to work, the kind with the squared tail that you didn’t have to tuck inside your pants. This made me look even fatter than I was, but I didn’t really care. The only one who said anything was Jonesy. She would tell me, “Damn, Laz, that shirt makes you look like a blimp.”
I pretended that things were going to be great. I allowed myself to believe that dating would somehow magically heal the pain. Since that first day that Jennie left me, I have never felt the urge to date.
I had a hard time sleeping. One night I almost lost it completely. I had driven to Las Vegas on a whim. I had spent the day drinking and gambling. When it came time to sleep, I couldn’t. I started imagining that I couldn’t breathe if I laid my head down. There us nothing so ugly as wanting to sleep and not being able to sleep. I didn’t want to do anything but sleep. The idea of going back down to the casino floor did not appeal to me at all. It was a nasty feeling trying to figure out what would make the ugliness go away. I would have driven the six hours home if I hadn’t drunk so much.
Finally, I had go downstairs and go outside and walk around for a while. Being out in the night air calmed me down some. I had some earplugs on and walked around listening to Miles do his thing. When I went back upstairs, I sat in a chair listening to music and trying to control my anxiety by regulated breathing. It worked. I finally fell asleep about three in the morning.
I arrived at work one day shortly after the Vegas trip, and there were two plastic bags sitting on my desk. I looked in one and it contained a razor and some shaving cream. I looked in the other to see a gray long-sleeved dress shirt and a narrow blue tie. I looked over at Jonesy who was on the phone. She arched her eyebrows, daring me to say anything.
The next day I came to work wearing a shirt and tie and have done so every day since. I also shaved the full beard that I had worn since my college days and shaped it into goatee. They were small gestures I admit, but they were the first real steps that I took back to the land of the living.
I had a friend who coached basketball at a local junior college. He and I had coached high school together when I worked for Jennie’s dad. We were good. We had won five straight league championships before I got a promotion and had to give the coaching up. Roy kept calling me and inviting me out, and one day I accepted an invitation to a family barbecue at his house. Around midnight, after drinking a six-pack and several shots of tequila, I agreed to help him coach. I didn’t really have the time to coach, but I made the time, and suddenly I was too busy to think about Jenny Delamore and how badly I had fucked up my life.
Things lightened up a bit. I was going to games and attending practices. I started hanging out with other coaches and started building up a new life to replace my old life.
Then one May, I attended a coaching clinic in Las Vegas with Roy and some other friends. We had a great time, but I returned home to find my mom in the hospital. She had suffered a heart attack. It was Mother’s Day.
Mom had a pace maker installed and recovered, but she had to stay in the hospital for a couple of days. My dad stayed home alone for the first time in sixty-nine years. I don’t know if it was the fear that caused it, but something inside of him snapped. He was never the same. By the time that Mom came home, he was showing the signs of dementia.
He didn’t want to leave his house ever and would constantly fuss with the front door lock. He would get up in the middle of the night and insist that my mom go watch television with him. He had been fastidious in his cleanliness but suddenly quit bathing. He had a hardy appetite but quit eating. He was gentle, funny and kind but turned bitter and angry. He began to wet the bed at night.
He lost his hearing aids and it cost over two thousand dollars to replace them. I made the decision to take him to the Veteran’s clinic, so my mom didn’t have to pay out of pocket for them. It was the worse decision I ever made because in the four months we went there, he never any received treatment for whatever it was that finally killed him. They were still running tests on him when he died.
I had fought with his doctors from the first appointment to get my dad a colonoscopy. I had to go to the archived records of another clinic to find out that his previous doctor had said that he might have a cancerous growth and suggested a colonoscopy every four years. My parents never received that information because that doctor had failed to properly cauterize the polyps that he had removed and my father almost bled to death. My mother wouldn’t talk to the doctor after that, so the news of the cancerous growth was filed away.
After months of wrangling, I finally got the appointments to have my father tested at the VA in Freeburg. The test required for him to be sedated for a hour long scan. They gave me a pill to give him an hour before the test.
“ I ain’t taking no Goddamn pill,” he stared at me in anger. We were standing outside the hospital. It had taken a monumental effort on the part of my Mom and I to get him there. It was sixty miles from Concord to Freeburg and at every cross street he demanded to turn around and go home, sometimes making a grab at the wheel.
“Turn this sumbitch around you ungrateful shit. I’m sorry I ever had a son like you.”
“Dad, shut up. We are going to the hospital; I will stay with you the whole time, and bring you back when it is done.”
“Turn around now, sumbitch. Your mom needs me!”
I finally made him take the pill after threatening to leave him in Freeburg. We went in to the where was the test was to be administered and I was given a paper robe. dad and I went into the bathroom to change. I had to threaten him again. When he unbuckled his belt and dropped his pants, he had fouled himself. His whole backside was covered with shit. I had to undress him, clean him up using only paper towels and water from the sink.
The scan required that he remain motionless for an hour. We had to strap him to the machine. He glared at me and made snarky comments about the Asian ancestry of the doctor, “ I spent two years in the Pacific fighting you people. You started it; we finished it. Had to drop a Goddamned bomb to do it, but we did it.”
“Dad, please be quiet. You don’t know what you are saying.” I looked at the doctor to apologize.
“ I am from Cambodia, Mr. Lazarus. Please be still.”
I had thrown away his shit stained underwear and the shirt he was wearing. He told me to give him my shirt before we left the office. I told him that I couldn’t as it was the only shirt I had on. He would have to wear his undershirt out. I also had to put an adult diaper on him.
As we drove back to Concord, he was subdued. I lectured him. I knew better but couldn’t help myself. After being silent for about five minutes, he looked up at me and grinned, “It was a pretty good day, huh son?” My jaw dropped, I looked at him blankly for a few seconds, then l had to laugh. Something in me knew that that laugh, a smile emerging out of the darkness, was a gift from God. It was the last time my dad ever made me laugh.
The day he died I was on my way to pick him up for the colonoscopy I had finally managed to wrest from the hands of the bureaucrats. When I turned the corner to his house, I could see my brother’s car in front of my dad’s house. I knew that it meant trouble. The phone rang, and I pushed the button on my hands free device.
“Dad’s dead. I was giving him a shower, and he collapsed. I picked him up. He looked up at me and died.”
I had never seen a dead person outside of a casket. When I got to his house, I went in to the bathroom and there my father lay crumpled up on the floor. I asked my brother if he was sure. He just looked at me blankly. I reached down, picked up dad’s arm and took his pulse. There was none.
Chapter 12 Graveyard Groupies
About nine months after Jennie left, I got invited to be a keynote speaker at a Journalism convention in San Diego. The invitation came with a week’s all expense paid stay at a luxurious ocean front hotel. There was some talk about the column getting syndicated, so management was more than happy to give me the time off to attend.
When I got to the hotel after a stressful six-hour drive, I was on edge. I don’t see how people handle LA traffic. I dropped my bags off with the bellhop and made a beeline to the bar. Normally, I don’t like paying twenty dollars for hotel bar drinks, but the organizers of the convention were picking up the tab, so I sat down and ordered a Glenlivet and water and decompressed for a bit.
I love hotel bars and hotel lobbies. I just like to sit and breathe in the ambience and watch people sliding by on their way to doing things that their life requires. This particular hotel was loaded with bustling, interesting looking people and beautiful women. My inner sloth was happy.
After a couple of drinks I headed upstairs to my room. The first thing I did was find the ice machine and get ice. I was cracking open a hundred dollar bottle of Glenfarclas scotch. I don’t usually act like a scotch snob, but I was willing to splurge a bit on trips like this. It made it a bit more special.
I fixed a drink, rummage through my shaving kit and brought out a small medicine bottle of weed I had gotten from Remi. I rolled a joint and stepped out on the balcony. I got situated in a big, white comfortable deck chair, inhaled a couple breaths of cool ocean air, took a sip of the scotch, and fired up the joint.
I was on my second hit when I heard her voice, “That certainly smells wonderful. Wish I had some.”
I looked around but couldn’t see anyone. I waited and the voice came again, “ I said I wish I had some.” This time I could tell it was coming from the balcony next door. I tried to look around the barrier, but it was useless.
“Well, you are going have to come over here then.” Seconds later, there was a soft knock on the door. I opened it cautiously and found a beautiful, tanned brunette with a somewhat sheepish grin wearing a white terry cloth robe.
“Hi, I’m Lisa,” she said offering her hand.
“Hi. Now get your ass in here before somebody else smells this joint. I didn’t bring enough for the whole damn hotel, “ I said laughing as I took her hand and led her into the room.
She was holding a bottle of Heineken in her left hand. I gestured that we make our way to the balcony. She lifted her robe as she sat down letting me see that she was wearing neon pink bikini.
“ I’m Dan by way, Daniel Lazarus,” I said handing her the joint.
“I'm Lisa. The Lazarus Letters? Wow. You’re the one that my friend Eddie came to hear.” She took a deep hit and started coughing.
“ He writes obituaries?”
When she got her coughing under control she said, “Yes. He’s pretty writes everything for a small town paper in Northern California. He expressly mentioned the fact that he wanted to hear you speak.”
“Well, that is kind of strange.” I took the joint back.
“He loves your wit. Tell me, how did the idea of doing a column about the dead come to you?”
“The sheer volume of the letters. I got a lot fan mail. It really freaked me out at first. Then I started reading some of it and understood that some of them contained very good advice about how to get on with your life when someone close has died.”
“That’s crazy, “ she laughed. “ I was thinking about creating my own column, and I might have to steal your idea.”
“You do obituaries too?”
“No, no, I write about relationships mostly. I was thinking that it would be a good idea to write about what happens afterwards, after the relationship ends. Damn, this is some good shit.”
We smoked a second joint, and I rose and got her another beer out of the minibar. As we laughed and talked, her robe slipped carelessly open a few times revealing the beautifully tanned and toned body worthy of a Playboy centerfold.
She caught me looking, “ Do you mind if take this robe off? It’s kind of warm today.”
“Fuck no, here I’ll go hang it up.” She handed me the robe and I took it the closet and put it on a hanger. When I turned back around, she had removed her bikini and was lying completely naked on the bed.
For a small moment, I thought about the moral issues involved with sleeping with someone who was only about six or seven years older than my oldest daughter. Next, I tried to bring up the idea that I had only known her for less than five minutes, but I dismissed that notion before before I fully formed the sentence reasoning that you don't need a long history with angels. They appear, and you honor their presence.
I took one look at her perfect breasts and quickly decided that there were no moral issues involved. My mind screamed one last final warning, “But you love Jenny, Dumbass!” And that did give me pause, at least till the vision of Lisa's body eroded my resolve and my loins began screaming back, “But Jenny don’t love you!”
The best way for me to describe her breasts was the word, perfection. They were masterpieces, so beautiful and flawless that the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova would have blushed with shame at his piss poor efforts.
Lisa smiled and then beckoned me forward. And I went of my own accord, that is, if you can honestly say that surrendering myself to a vision of the feminine nature as a voluntary thing.
My days as a sprinter were long gone; I am firmly committed distance runner. I have become a lot less competitive as I have aged. Now, it is not so important that I finish on the podium, just that I finish.
If this bothered Lisa, she didn’t seem to show. We took things slow and steady. On the last leg, she got on top and took over a little, moaning softly, “Oh, oh, oh.” Then with the last “Oh”, she opened her eyes, smiled, and rolled off of me.
I kissed her then asked, “Are you an atheist?”
She giggled, “What ever would make you ask me that?”
”Because most women that I have been with evoke the name of the deity when they climax. I just wonder if I’m losing my touch, or maybe you just don’t believe in God.”
She looked perplexed then laughed, “Well, you can relax. I’m not an atheist, but I don’t call on God either. He didn’t do the work; he don’t get the credit.”
“Whew! I thought I was losing it.”
“No, you did fine, really.”
“Well, let me ask you one other question then.”
“ You are not one of them chicks who is into totally weird stuff?”
“Weird being like what?”
“I mean you’re not an obituary writer groupie or something like that, are you?”
“Um, let me think. Would it matter if I was?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I might be. I mean I only know two guys who do that for a living, and I’ve slept with both of them.”
It was my turn to laugh, “ Look at you. You’re young and probably the most gorgeous female I’ve ever laid eyes on much less slept with, and even before I was married, gorgeous women weren’t exactly lining up to sleep with me. You’re the third beautiful woman who just kind of appeared out of nowhere and jumped into bed with me. I have to wonder, why me?”
Lisa smiled sadly, “ Damn, your ex must have beat you down. Give yourself some credit, Laz. You’re a handsome man, and you’re insanely funny.”
“Yea, besides that you have something of a poet about you.”
“ Poet? I write obits.”
“You do it in a way that is very different. Eddie showed me this one that you had written about a young girl who had been murdered by her boyfriend. You wrote something like, ‘All Grace ever wanted out of life was to love and to be loved; sometimes life is just not fair.’ I mean who writes stuff like that? It makes the people you write about all seem kind of special.”
“They are, or they were. Frozen light.”
“We are all light that has been frozen for a moment in time, and when we die, we go back to being light.”
“ That’s what I mean. Your wife was fool. Any further questions, you dopey guy?”
“I’ll stop while I’m ahead.”
“You mind if I take a nap?”
“Not in the least, in fact, I’ll join you.” So, just like that, we fell asleep in each other’s arms.
I woke up a couple hours later. Lisa was sitting in a chair beside the bed. She was wearing one of my dress shirts and looking very sexy in it. I glanced at the clock on the table. I had missed the first session.
“You don’t mind?” she said asking about the shirt.
“You look better in it than I ever did. I already missed the first session. They’re supposed to have that Watergate guy talking at the next session. I had better go.” I jumped out of bed to get dressed.
“You sure? I thought we might have a second go around. Eddie is going to go see that guy, and that would give us just enough time to have some fun,” she smiled provocatively as she spoke.
“Sounds great, but I had really better go touch bases,” I replied as I dove into the closet another shirt.
“Are you sure?” she asked again.
I came out of closet as she unbuttoned the front of the shirt, and there they were again, the beauties. They emitted a powerful tractor beam that pulled me toward them. I twisted and struggled against the tug, but it was pointless. The next thing I knew, we were back in bed groping our way toward the finish line.
This time, however, when she crossed the line, she was talking in tongues.
She finally left to go meet her boyfriend. I got dressed and went back on the balcony. There was a large roach in the ashtray, so I fixed myself another scotch and water and finished it off. Staring out at the ocean as the waves washed over the beach below, I started thinking about the situation.
Three beautiful women had virtually jumped into bed with me. This was not how things usually happened. It was more than a little bit strange, and it shook me up a little. With the exception of Remi suddenly showing back up, everything else in my life was pretty unexceptional. The three beauties were something totally out of place, as was the realization that I would have traded all of these most pleasant experiences to just close my eyes and wake up in bed next to Jennie.
While I was contemplating, I fell asleep out on the balcony. I began to dream. At first, it was very pleasant. I was sitting on a balcony smoking a joint and drinking some scotch. There was a slight breeze and the sound of the waves washing up against the beach was lulling me to sleep.
I heard someone calling me and looked down and saw Jennie standing up to her thighs in the surf. She was wearing the white bikini that made her look like the girl from Ipanema. I could hear Astrud Gilberto on radio behind me sing, “Dark and tan, young and lovely.”
She was walking through the breaking waves but suddenly stopped and called to me, “Danny. Come here. I need you.”
I instantly arose and started to look for a way down to the beach. There was a solid looking lattice next to the balcony that I felt would hold my weight. Then the sliding glass door of the balcony opened and a naked Lisa came out, grabbed me by the arm, and started pulling me back into the room. I looked in and also saw the red-headed Angel with the Leopard Skin panties, the woman from the casino, having a pillow fight on the bed with Remi’s naked stripper friend.
It only looked away for a second two before I broke free of Lisa’s grasp. I hustled over to the side of the balcony and climbed onto the lattice. In a jiffy, I was down on the beach. It was so real that I could the cold sand between my toes and the mist of the breaking waves on my face.
I looked around everywhere; I searched the sand for Jennie’s footprints and then waded into the surf loudly calling out her name. With each shout my body trembled, my mind flooded with desperation, but Jennie was gone. I awoke with a sob that shook me to my very core.