i’ve been working on this for a while. it’s a “story” but doesn’t follow the traditional narrative arc. so can it still be a story?
There I sat. Tuesday afternoon. In the Starbucks near work. In the paisley chair by the window watching the two pre-teen boys trying to grind a bike rack. And not doing a very good job. The blonde fell twice every ten minutes and the redhead fell twice as frequently. But their determination was remarkable. No fall was too bad. No fall was worth stopping. In fact stopping would be failure, a violation to their private code of honor.
I thought about the code of honor. The code amongst boys. The honor among girls. You never tell. You don’t steal from each other. Never quit. Always give it a shot. Try.
The pain in my leg pounded towards my brain. Isn’t pain actually a mental feeling versus physical? Isn’t all pain based in the brain? How long does it take the pain to travel towards the receptors in my brain indicating to me that my leg was on fire? Figuratively. It felt like the inside of my calf muscle had exploded with fire. It seemed that at any moment it would burst to the outside and my leg would be a flaming stick.
I wondered if the boys felt the pain as they pounded towards the pavement. How long it took their brain to realize they were in pain? Apparently a long time. Minus one or two winces, they kept going.
I admired them and smiled. Then winced.
A Gram Parsons song started playing in the background. How odd. It is rare that Starbucks would play a straight up country song. Alt-country yes. Country-infused jazz hell yes. But straight up country, rare. But maybe Gram Parsons was not considered straight up country. He sounded more like the alt-country CDs in my collection, then the country I heard playing in the pick up truck next door to my apartment.
My cell phone buzzed. I looked to the message. My brother wrote to say he was back. He wanted news. Scoop. Details. What had happened since he left? I put my phone back in my bag. I would call him back from the office.
What had happened? How long did it take her to realize she was pain? It seemed instantaneous. She is in pain, always. Wincing. Sore. Tired.
It was hard to keep straight. At this point six doctors were involved. Three hospitals. Two conflicting opinions. And a dozen or so of drugs.
I didn’t care for it. But it was easy to be in control. Be in charge. I preferred to be in the know than out of it. I wanted to be the one in charge. Yet I did not care for it. I was not a fan of responsibility. But I was always the most responsible. Voted “MR” in 8th grade. 10th grade. 12th grade. Grad school. I hated that title. Of all superlatives to win. Being responsible was the foulest thing someone can say about you.
How did Gram Parsons die? Was it a plane crash? Drug overdose? He was quite fun to listen to. The barista behind the counter was having some fun singing along.
The skater boys walked inside the Starbucks and complained about the music. They placed their skateboards at the corner table and ordered Mocha Frappaccinos with extra whipped cream. The redhead walked to the bathroom looking at the gash on his elbow.
My cell phone buzzed again.
‘Hi. Have you made a decision?’
‘Well, have you all spoken about it?’
‘For the past five days.’
‘What’s the problem?’
‘How do you decide?’
‘I don’t know.’
I sighed. I looked out the window and watched a pigtailed pre-schooler hug her mother. She was wearing denim overalls and a pink t-shirt. I remembered going to the farm when I was in pre-school. My mom came on the field trip with me. I wore denim overalls and a rainbow t-shirt. I didn’t have pigtails. My hair was too short. But I sat on my mom’s lap during the hayride. There is a picture of me squeezing her face while laughing hanging in our den.
‘So, what are you going to do?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Can I help you with anything?’
‘Have you harnessed the ability to turn back time?’
‘Not yet. Working on it, though.’
‘Well, let me know when that works out for you.’
‘Sure thing. Anything else?’
‘How about developing the power to heal?’
‘Like the alien from Roswell?’
I looked back to the little girl. She was so happy. The mother looked thrilled to be so immersed in her life. Content. Realized.
‘I’ll come over later.’
The redhead came out of the bathroom holding multiple paper towels to his elbow. He had managed to create a unique bandaging system to contain his gash.
We needed a unique bandaging system.
The blonde started to laugh at his friend. The redhead yelled at his insensitivity.
Sensitivity can be hard to maintain. How can you even remain sad about something? At some point, you become numb. You cease to feel. At some point, you lack emotion. You lack thought.
Over the long term you forget that something is supposed to be depressing. Your emotions lose control, but you maintain rational power. The period for irrationality has gone. And rational thought consumes you. Yet at the same time, you feel completely unhinged. At any moment you will lash out at the co-worker using a binder clip in short supply where a regular paper clip would work fine. At any moment, the Titanic theme song can make you cry.
I looked through my planner and found the picture from my fifth birthday. I was smiling at the cake and licking my lips. My mom sat in a chair next to me smiling. She was so pretty here. Her hair was short and she was dressed in the finest seventies fashion. Orange scarf, brown t-shirt and probably some sort of denim bottom. The party was a huge success and the cake was the best part. She used to make a cake of multiple layers frosted with homemade pudding instead of that other sugar frosting. She used pudding to frost everything from cakes to cupcakes to even attempting cookies. The cake was covered in chocolate pudding and had pink writing. “Pumpkin’s 5th birthday.”
I stared at the picture. Ten years later she would nearly die. Ten years later she would lose her sense of self. Lose the realized and content mother she was in this picture. Lose her individual style.
Twenty years later her children would be faced with the decision of how to preserve her quality of life. How best to keep her alive with the least pain for the longest amount of time with the highest quality of life? Face the choice of possible death by incision or lingering pain and certain future death.
I exhaled deeply and looked at the two boys. They had started shooting spitballs at one another. Much to the annoyance of the barista.
My phone buzzed again. I looked at the name on the screen. He was calling again. Concerned. I sipped my grande Americano. ‘Hello.’
‘Hey, I was thinking. Why don’t I take you to dinner tonight?’
‘Maybe it will be good to change scenery? Take your mind off stuff.’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Hey, remember that song “Basketcase” by Green Day?’
‘I think so.’
‘Remember – Do you have the time, to listen to me whine.’
‘Yeah. What about it?’
‘I think it’s my theme song.’
‘You know that part of being neurotic to the bone and sometimes I give myself the creeps. That’s me right now. Is there a problem with that? My new song in life is by Green Day?’
‘I always liked that “When I Come Around” song.’
isten to me. I’m talking about my new theme song. The easy way to sum up how I am feeling.’
‘Yeah, but I was just sharing my thoughts on the band.’
‘But, I need to talk about me. Me.’ I sighed. ‘Forget it.’ The phone beeped. ‘Hey I gotta go My
phone’s beeping it might be important. Bye.’
‘Dinner. Tonight. I’ll be at your place at 7 to pick you up.’
‘Whatever.’ I pulled the phone off my ear and clicked over. I smiled at the middle aged woman staring at me in disgust as I said, ‘Hello?’
‘Hey. Hear anything?’
‘No.’ Everything fell. Thoughts. Spirits. Down. The air felt very heavy.
‘Okay, well I just talked to Jolie and she had some news about the doctor.’
‘What?’ I sunk into the seat and then the cushion. I wanted to push straight through towards the floor.
‘Well, she thinks that based on what she has experienced working with him, that maybe he is not the most adventurous doctor.’
‘Well, do we want adventure in a doctor?’
‘I mean, he may not be the most pro-active doctor. He won’t look for the most creative solutions.’
‘Well, maybe we don’t need creativity now. I mean, maybe non-creativity is a good thing. Maybe it’s good that he doesn’t want to be too adventurous because he knows the odds of too much adventure.’
‘I just want to make sure everyone has a plan.’
‘I have had a plan from day one. I know that she will wear that red dress at her funeral. That we will have a spray of yellow, white and red roses. I know what readings need to be read. I know that I’ll be a mess and not good for a very long time. I have a plan for that too. It’s called excessive amounts of alcohol and numbing agents. Don’t you worry about a plan.’
‘It just seems like you’ve taken a do nothing approach.’
‘I’m just thinking. Sorting. Trying to keep things straight.’
‘Well, Jolie said..’
‘Jolie is a receptionist in a medical office. She’s not a professional.’
‘She’s a medical assistant.’
‘She is a woman who ignored that her son had an eating disorder until he was hooked to an IV.’
‘She has medical experience.’
‘She knows CPR. So do I. So does my entire office. We had to take lessons last year when that guy choked on a pretzel.’
‘Well, she’s around this stuff more than we are.’
‘I see the patient everyday.’
‘Well, I’d hate to see her die a slow death.’
‘We’re all dying a slow death.’ And some slower. And some more painful. My God, why do I let her talk to me?
‘I know you’re very stressed right now and don’t mean anything. Just keep me posted.’
‘Sure thing.’ Like hell. ‘I need to run back to work. I have a deposition in 20 minutes to prep for and I have a flow chart I need to finish putting together. I also have to make sure the experts in the class action are qualified. I mean, it’s a killer day.’
‘Huh? Which class action?’ My God, does she know everything?
‘Oh man, my phone’s beeping. It’s the office. Gotta run, bye.’ I hung up the phone and sank back into the chair. I looked around and noticed the skater boys had left. Anti-cell phone woman had left as well. But I heard her huff and puff and blow away. I was alone with Parsons lover/barista. But Gram Parsons was no longer playing. It had changed to something louder and angrier. Better suited.
So there I sat. Tuesday afternoon during lunch. In the Starbucks near work. In my favorite paisley chair by the window watching two different teenage boys trying to grind a bike ramp. These two were actually quite good. But lazy. They would each take a turn and then sit back on the ground to relax. Smiling, laughing. Making fun of each other. Abiding by a private code of honor.