It was one of them days that you walked out of a cafe after eating breakfast and tried to get into a stranger's car. I didn't know what it was about that particular breakfast of bacon and eggs that made me want try to drive away with someone's shiny new SUV, but it had to be something pretty serious because I had only done something like that two other times.
I was first awakened to my mistake when the key to my 1995 baby blue Miata, a gift from my first wife, didn't fit the door lock of the SUV. I stood in there in a drizzling rain looking pretty stupid while trying to process what the hell was happening before I spotted my car on the other side of the lot. I walked briskly over toward it looking straight ahead trying to not make eye contact with the people standing outside of the Bluebird Grill.
I got to the Miata and verified that it was my car by looking in the tiny window and spotting the half empty bottle of Johnny Walker Black and the well thumb volume of T.S. Elliott sitting on the passenger side floorboard. I sat down inside of the car and tried to figure out what had caused this significant lapse of judgment. I checked off being drunk because I hadn't had a drink since yesterday's breakfast. I was also all out of dope, so I knew I wasn't high. Then suddenly, I remembered that Gladys Newcome and a couple of her friends had walked by me while I was paying the bill.
Maybe the word walked is kind of imprecise; Gladys and them women she was with always moved like strippers on a runway if they so much as got up to turn off the lights in a room. And that scent that trailed behind them was usually like sniffing heroin out of a daffodil's ass. I slapped my forehead so hard it made my eyes water; that must have been it. Every time Gladys had ever sashayed by me like that I immediately went somewhere else in my head, and I've known the fucking girl all my life.
There was this one time in seventh grade; she dropped her pencil in front of me just to show her friends how completely lost I was beneath her spell. I bent down to get it, and hit my head on the bottom of my desk. Her friends giggled as I handed her the pencil and rubbed the back of my head at the same time.
She leaned over and whispered in my ear, "Thank you Billy. You are such a gentleman." I woke up from that reverie a full three minutes later with Miss Lathrup, my pretty young English teacher, and the school principal staring at me wondering what the hell I was doing. I guess the bell to go to lunch had rang in the meantime. I didn't hear no bell. In my head, Gladys and I were was rolling around on beach in Hawaii just like Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr.
Gladys had just rolled me over and stuck her tongue in my ear when I felt Miss Lathrup's hand on my shoulder shaking me gently and heard her say, "Billy? Billy?"
Thinking fast, I told her that hitting my head must have knocked me out for a second, but I knew I was lying. I could still taste the salt water on Gladys's lips.
When these things happened, immediately afterwards it was always inevitable that I reviewed the full details of our relationship. This would be from the moment I first became aware of her presence on the this spinning orb right up till Margie, the battle hardened waitress at the Bluebird handed me my change, and I turned and noticed the top of Gladys's leopard skin thong sticking out above her tight blue jeans. Hell, she was forty-eight, but still looked enough like an eighteen year old groupie to make you take notice. It must have been seeing that leopard print that convinced me I belonged to the SUV.
Gladys had lived next door me for ten years and had once been the typical, fresh faced neighbor girl. We spent many hours sitting in the two rope swings that hung from the sturdy limb of a huge Eucalyptus tree in my parent's side yard. We would sit there and talk from the time we got our homework done till her mom called her into dinner. The image of her opening the gate that separated our yards and turning back to wave goodbye is etched into my brain so deeply that if I ever dissolved down into nothingness, I figure that memory of her turning back and waving would be the very last part of me to go.
During those days, I told her everything about me including the secrets that resided way down deep in the little caves in the earliest folds of my brain; things I had never even told my best friend Chuckie, and I told that fool everything. Well almost everything.
One night, my mom and dad went and sat outside with her parents, and Gladys and I got to sit in the swings under a magical diamond covered sky. We were laughing about something when a large shooting star flew over the silver crescent of the new moon. We giggled and hooked pinkies and swore that we would always be friends. On the inside of my head though, I didn't say the word friends.
Gladys moved across town the summer of our sixth grade year. It was the same year that us Southside kids had to travel across town to Emerson Junior High School. It was also the year that Chuckie drowned in his cousin's swimming pool on the Fourth of July; and the same year that Mom backed out over my dog Barker, the only critter I had ever loved. And it was also the same year that my Dad, Hank Miller, met Jesus coming out of poker room in back of the Hillbilly Heaven Barroom one foggy night about two A.M.
I know the precise time because Dad always said later that Jesus told him to make sure he noted the time of his salvation. Mom always backed up his story by saying that that night Dad had showed her the time written down in blue ink on the palm of his right hand. It sounded shaky to me like one of the stories I would have made up to explain why I was coming in past curfew.
But if I had ever had any serious doubt about my father's conversion, and I did, it was was quickly erased by the change in his behavior. He quit playing poker all together and only cursed and drank beer if my mother wasn't within a fifteen mile radius. He bought my silence on that subject with a single wrinkled dollar bill.
The first day of seventh grade, I was feeling way down. I missed Chuckie and all his dumb jokes. I arrived early and made my way to the back of the school where I spotted Gladys standing by the bathrooms with her cousin Rhonda. I started walking toward her to say hello, but when I got within fifteen feet of where she was, I saw her take Rhonda by the arm and guide her into the girl's restroom. She was real smooth about it, but I knew she saw me. I was crushed.
I've never kept track of all the times she walked by and caused me to slip into a weird trance, but it had to be at least a couple of hundred times. Once, she waltzed by me in a Denny's over in Hartford. It was late in the night, and my first wife Jennie and I had come from a party, and we had picked up our boy Jeremy from his grandma's house. We stopped to get a bite to eat. Jeremy was about six years old and was acting like the fool that night. Jenny was wanting me to take him outside and whip his ass. I had just told her to relax because Jeremy was just playing off her own anxiety.
She got mad and told me to just shut the fuck up.
Then Gladys blew in the restaurant like an soft autumn breeze. She was with a local lothario named Stu Holliwell and his crowd of hangers-on. Jennie and I were sitting at one of the tables in the middle of room, and when Gladys got behind Jennie's chair, she looked over at me, smiled, and winked. When I came out of mists that time, Jennie was glaring at me and wearing Jeremy's spaghetti.
I had come back to Concord this time to take my dad to the Veteran's Hospital in Freiberg. He had dementia and needed a colonoscopy, and my mom wasn't up to the task besides she didn't have a license. It had taken me three months to get Dad set-up for the procedure. While we were waiting, he pissed all over himself. The hospital staff just threw me a towel and told me to clean him up the best I could. I took him into the bathroom, washed him from the sink and dressed him in a green hospital gown. I had to toss his undies into the trash, and he wasn't happy about his ass hanging out at all. On the way home though, he told me he had had a good time. It made me laugh.
He died last week, two days after the trip to the VA. I got up one morning, went in his room to wake him for another appointment, and he had gone to see his buddy Jesus.
It was late April, and I suddenly remembered the lines from The Wasteland, "April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire." Sitting in the parking lot by myself, I felt infinitely sad. I had left my mom's house to get some bacon and eggs because I didn't want to think about my dad anymore. I didn't want to think about my two ex-wives who had eventually reached the same conclusion, that I wasn't good enough for them.
I didn't want to think about the money I owed them. I didn't want to think about my mom being alone in her house with all her memories hanging dusty on her walls. And I damned sure didn't want to think about Gladys and the strange power she had over me. But there I was sitting in a dented and rusty baby blue Miata, in a weed strewn restaurant parking lot, thinking about all that shit and fighting back the urge to cry.
I started thinking that life comes at people like a fastball thrown by a hall of fame pitcher while we are looking for the curve. The ball gets up on us so quickly that we swing weakly and miss it by a mile. We know we can't quit though, it wouldn't be right, so we tell ourselves on the way back to the dugout that that motherfucker gotta wear out sometime, and sooner or later, he'll hang that curve right over the plate. Trick is being in the batter's box when he does and still having your team close enough for it to mean something. I was of the mind that after striking out three times, I was fixing to get pulled for a pinch hitter anyway.
It's been over twenty-five years since that star flew across the moon that night and almost the same amount of time since Gladys crushed my hopes like a bug on the first day of seventh grade year.
You'd figure that those two events should have been deeply buried in the sediments by now, far enough beneath the surface of the water, rusted and forgotten, that they couldn't possibly affect me anymore. But you'd figure wrong.
And it's always those deep, forgotten, rusty things that hurt the most.