The Human Condition Ch. 08byjfinn©
As usual, I was dressed and ready to go before Joe found his underwear.
It's a constant source of amazement to me that anybody can take as long as he does to get dressed. And it's not like he primps or anything; the best way I can describe it is... he gets distracted.
He'll start to brush his teeth, then suddenly remember he needs to phone somebody. He'll go make the call and while he's there, he'll see the plant on the phone stand needs watering. He gets the watering can and as he's filling it at the sink, he realizes he forgot to tell me about the appointment he made for the boat to go in for repairs.
At that point, he'll wander into the bedroom with the watering can in one hand and the phone in the other, a towel the only thing keeping him from being one with nature.
That's my cue to start bitching.
So it's me that ends up watering the plant and hanging up the phone, while Joe jumps into the clothes I've already laid out for him - only because I'm wise to his tricks. I don't want a repeat of the time I left him alone to dress, only to find him sitting on the floor by the closet, nude, and sorting his collection of baseball cards, when we were already five minutes late for a dinner with one of my clients.
Today was no different. I gone into the bathroom to find out what the hell was taking him so long, only to see him talking on the cordless he'd snuck in there with him. I say 'snuck,' because I'd learned along time ago that Joe with a phone was not good thing if you wanted to get anywhere on time.
"What the hell are you doing?" I crossed my arms and tried to look disgusted.
He ignored me as always. "Here," he said, handing me the receiver. "Talk to your sister while I get dressed. We gotta get going or we're going to be late."
I gasped indignantly, but he just laughed and walked out of the room.
"Mike!" chirped a familiar voice on the phone. "Mike! Are you there, or are you staring at Joe's ass?"
"Both," I said honestly. Then I gave her my complete attention. "Hey, Sarah. How goes it?"
"Same old, same old. Houston's a bitch in the summer. Why did I move here again?"
I chuckled. "Because it's a big market and really good for your career?"
Sarah was a TV sportscaster, and she'd moved to Houston the previous year to be a reporter on the number one news show in the city. She bitched incessantly about the heat and the humidity. And, you did not want to get her started on cowboys - real and or otherwise - but she loved her job and was damn good at it, if the things I read about her were true.
"Oh, yeah. Well, keep reminding me, okay?"
"Will do, lil lady," I replied, in a very bad impression of a Texas accent.
"And knock that shit off. I hear enough of that crap as it is." She droned on and I laughed and kidded her, while she gave back as good as she got.
It sometimes amazed me, how close we'd become. When we'd
both lived under the same roof, we could barely speak to each other without ending up trying to kill each other. Now, we rarely went a day or two without at least touching base.
Joe loved her too. I knew that's why he'd called her. She was having a big day - up in the box with the network people from ABC, sort of an informal tryout for a place on their team. He'd just been calling to give her moral support. And since I'd been planning to do the same thing myself once I'd gotten him situated, I could hardly blame him.
Besides, I thought, I owed her. Without Sarah, I might never have gotten around to trying to fight for what was important to me...
Everyone kept telling me how lucky I was. My doctor said I was lucky because I was a fast healer. My therapist told me I was lucky because the torn ligaments hadn't been worse. My lawyer told me I was lucky because I had options. My friends just said I was lucky to be alive.
The only problem was, the one person who could actually make me feel lucky wasn't around to do the job.
I did hear from Joe. He called after he got to Rome. He apologized for not saying goodbye. He told me he felt like shit because he'd deserted me, and said he wouldn't blame me if I never forgave him. He must have talked for an hour and said nothing but "I'm sorry." Finally, he ran out of ways to do even that and hung up. He was crying.
I didn't cry. I just didn't have the tears to spare. Besides, I wasn't about to admit that five lousy minutes were enough to destroy four years of friendship. So, I hung up the phone and decided to go on with my life. I would nurse my wounds, I would go back to school and I would wait for Joe to come home.
So I went to physical therapy and sweated and swore, but I made progress. I returned to classes - maybe too soon for physical comfort - but great for my determination to get my life back to normal. The waiting for Joe's return was more difficult, but I did my best, and if I spent too much time looking for his face in a crowd, I told myself that nobody noticed but me.
I finally convinced Lucy that I was ready to be on my own about two weeks after I'd moved into her guest room. The relief of being back in my apartment was great, though it felt emptier than I remembered.
Not that I didn't get company. Shit, I couldn't ever remember being so popular. All the usual suspects showed up, along with coworkers and the half if the campus that came to gawk or sympathize. My name hadn't been broadcast, but word had gotten around. Eventually, the gossip
tapered off and then stopped after a few weeks. But it still meant that a lot of people knew what had happened.
This bothered me. Not because I gave a damn about what other people thought, but because I still hadn't any intention of telling my family. I figured the more people who knew, the less chance of keeping that promise to myself. Kevin still thought I was nuts to not let my folks know, but I still thought it was silly to make them worry about
something that was over and done with.
So, except for the hole in my life that Joe used to fill, my life was pretty much back to normal. I got up, went to class, to work, did laundry, shopped - all the normal things that used to keep me bitching about being too busy. My nights were slower, but there were people who visited and studying; and of course, the full time job of trying to not
think about Joe.
Another thing I didn't want to think about was what had happened to me. Unfortunately, there were times when it couldn't be avoided. Cam had set me up with a lawyer in the firm, a real son of a bitch by the name of John Schubring. He laid out exactly what he thought I should do about Elliot and pointed out how much money I could get out of a civil
suit. I told him I'd think about it.
The police were in contact, too, this time for a more detailed statement. After they finished, I got another call from someone in the DA's office. I tried to answer everybody's questions, but the thing I really wished for was that they'd all just go away. It got to the point where that seemed to be all I wanted from anybody.
I just needed down time, I figured. My body was still healing and rest was important; at least that's how it seemed. I slept a lot. I even stopped making my bed; there didn't seem to be any point, since I crawled into it every chance I got.
It was my haven. I'd pull down the shades and crawl in between the cool, soft sheets. I'd sleep for hours until the alarm would ring reminding me that I had to get up and face the world. After a while, I stopped paying attention to it and eventually stopped setting the damn thing at all.
I started to make a point of parking my car in the garage instead of on the street, and stopped going to the door when my friends decided it was time for another visit. I loved them, but sometimes it seemed overwhelming to have them around. Pretty soon, they got the picture and I didn't have to worry about them anymore.
The only thing I had to concern myself with was filling up my sleep bank. And I worked on that with a vengeance.
I didn't think I was missing that much. Classes were at the mid term and we were at a break. Besides, I was at the end of my senior year and I'd planned for it. My schedule was so easy, that basically all I'd have to do was read the textbooks and just show up to pass the exams. I had plenty of time for that, though I must confess, I never seemed to get around to it.
My closest friends still dropped in, but they usually wanted to go out and party, something I seemed to have lost all interest in doing. It sounded boring to me now. I thought I was growing up and getting tired of the whole nightlife thing.
I would go to the grocery store occasionally, but I only bought thethings I absolutely had to have to exist. I found that if I shelled out 50 bucks for frozen entrees, I could eat with almost no effort. Then I could crawl back in my bed and fall into that dreamless sleep I craved.
Work had given me six weeks off and was paying my disability, so money was not that tight. I don't know how he worked it, but I'm sure Cam had a hand in that. I wasn't sure how I felt about owing him that way, but the time off was too irresistible to pass up.
Lucy checked in every day, and she was the main reason I even bothered to dress anymore. I knew I'd get on the bad side of her tongue if she thought I was just being a slug.
Every morning I'd get up and shower and shave, then I'd put on jeans and a sweater and wait for her visit. We'd drink coffee and she'd ask me what I'd been up to, and I'd have to
think of some bullshit story that I was sure she'd see through right way.
Funny, but she never did. Instead she seemed to treat me with amazing courtesy and never gave me any flack at all. It seemed like I was talking to a different woman and sometimes, I almost thought I'd rather have the old one back. I thought about asking her what the deal was,
but honestly, it seemed like too much effort.
So we'd play out our little morning ritual, then she'd leave to do God knows what. I'd strip and head back to my comfortable mattress, relieved that my responsibilities for the day were over.
I don't know how long I would have kept this up, but I never got the chance to find out. One sunny afternoon - a rarity in March - I woke up because something wet was suddenly slapped on my face. I sat up and sputtered.
"What the fuck?!"
"Good - nice to see you're still with us." Kevin was standing over me holding a wet washcloth.
"Jesus H. Christ!" I said, wiping the water off my chin. "How the fuck did you get in here?"
He grinned. "Lucy let me in."
"Well, she had no goddamned right."
He leaned forward, and his expression suddenly changed. "Yes, she does, Mike. She's your landlady, she's your friend, and more importantly, she's worried about you."
I lay back down on my pillow and closed my eyes. "She doesn't have to be," I said quietly. "There's nothing wrong with me."
Kevin snorted. "Try tellin' that to someone stupid, cause it doesn't work for me."
I kept my face away from him. "C'mon, asshole, I'm just tired. Can't we have this conversation after I'm up?"
"And when would that be - July?" He looked around the room and made a helpless gesture. "For God's sake, Mike," he continued, "I don't think you've been out of this bed in a week. Maybe two, if the state of this place is any indication."
That was unfair. True, I had a couple bags of garbage from all those cardboard containers of frozen food, and there was a bunch of dishes in the sink, but other than that, the place looked pretty good to me. No dirty clothes, anyway; I hadn't worn any long enough for them to need cleaned.
"Get your ass out of bed," Kevin said, using the same voice he used at the center when the kids were pulling shit. "Now!"
"Fuck you," I was no kid and he wasn't going to get his way this time. I closed my eyes and pretended he wasn't there.
I heard him rattling through my cupboards, but he didn't say anything else to me. I thought he would sit around for a while and try to intimidate me into doing what he wanted. He was in for a long wait as far as I was concerned. I was just drifting back into my non-dreamland state when my back was suddenly assaulted by freezing-cold water.
"Jesus Fuckin' H. Christ!" I roared, Kevin had the good sense to move away as I jumped out of bed and came at him.
"Back off, Mike," he ordered. Surprisingly, I did.
The apathy that had left me as soon as I'd felt the water was creeping back into my bones. I knew the bed was now a no-go, but there was the couch. My eyes drifted towards it longingly. Kevin immediately took a step towards me.
"Don't even think about it," he warned.
He walked over to my closet, pulled some stuff out of it and threw it at me. I caught it automatically and stared at him as he invaded my underwear drawer.
"Here," he said, handing me a pair of red boxers. "Put these on, along with the rest of this shit. We have to be somewhere in 20 minutes."
"Not a chance in hell," I said in a low voice, staring back at him.
"Oh, yes there is, sweet pea. You have an appointment today, and you're gonna keep it. And I'm gonna go with you, just to make goddamned sure you show up."
"And just where do you think you're taking me?" I asked through gritted teeth. Though there was no way in hell I was going anywhere.
"To see Alice Wanamaker," he replied calmly.
"Oh shit. You want me to see that shrink again?!" I sputtered.
"Yeah, I do! And trust me, Mike, you're gonna see that shrink again, if I have to get Ab over here to carry you to her office! So help me God, if that's what it's gonna take, I'll do it."
I folded my arms. "I have nothing to say to her."
He laughed out loud. "You have everything to say to her, but you're so goddamned stubborn, you'll probably sit there like a fuckin' mute for the whole hour."
This was the first thing he'd said I agreed with. "Alright," I said. "So then what's the point of going?"
"The point is, you're going - that's the point. Today, and tomorrow, and the day after that, and on and on until she can either get you to open up, or you explode like a raw egg in a microwave." Kevin's voice softened, the concern he'd kept hidden, finally crept into his voice. "Jesus, Mike - can't you see it, sweetie? You're falling apart here."
I shook my head. "I'm fine," I replied. "I'm just a little tired." And as stubborn as you, I thought.
Kevin looked me right in the eye. "No, there's a lot more goin' on than that, Mike. You want me to list the evidence?" He started to tick the points off on his fingers. "One - you haven't been to class in over a
"Not true, I..."
"A month!" He insisted. "I checked with some of your professors."
Jesus, I thought, had it really been that long? I knew I'd been skipping for a week or so, but that was all I thought it was, I swear.
"Two, you don't see any of your friends anymore. You don't even bother to answer your phone," he pointed over at the nearby answering machine, which was blinking red as another sign of my guilt. "Or apparently, even listen to your messages."
I shrugged, but I could feel my cheeks burning. I knew that was true. I'd turned the ringer off on my phone so it wouldn't disturb me. And after the first couple of days, I'd started to ignore my machine because I felt guilty about not answering the phone in the first place. But I'd been thinking about getting in touch with everyone again, just
as soon as I could get up the energy.
"Three," Kevin was relentless, "when was the last time you got laid?"
I shot him a look; that was unfair. Elliot was the last time, and he knew it. Add that experience to what had happened with Joe, and it was no wonder I wasn't eager to jump back in the saddle again.
"I think you know damn well exactly when that was." My jaw was clenched so hard I could barely get the words out of my mouth.
"Okay," he conceded, "lemme put it another way: when was the last time you beat off or even thought about sex? How long ago did you have a nice little fantasy about some big juicy cock? Anybody's cock - say, Joe's, for instance?"
"Fuck you!" I shouted and took a step forward.
He was taller than I was and certainly, at this point, stronger, but I had anger on my side. I figured it would give me the edge I needed to throw his ass out.
For his part, Kevin ignored my temper. He threw up his hands in a 'why not' gesture.
"If that's what you want, buddy, I'm all for it," he said. "At least it would prove that some of you is still alive."
All the anger leaked out of me, leaving only the familiar feeling of exhaustion. I went over to the couch, sat down, and put my head in my hands. He walked up behind me and gently squeezed my shoulder.
"Get dressed, Mike," he said, his voice no longer angry or threatening.
"Oh, please, Kevin..." I hesitated then went on, picking my words carefully. "Okay, look - maybe you have got some good points. I promise, I'll work on some things like the phone calls and going back to school," I deliberately left out any promises about sex. "But right now, I just want to be alone so I can think about some things."
"Uh huh. You just wanna crawl into a ball and try and escape." He knelt beside me and kissed my cheek. "Sorry, sweet pea. Can't let ya do that. I love you too much to see you in this kind of pain. We all do - me, Lucy, Beau, the rest of the guys from the Tuesday game, everybody. We want to help you - be there for you. But you gotta take
the first step," he stood up and put his hands on his waist. "You have to let us in, and you need to have some therapy - starting today."
He reached out a hand and pulled me to my feet. Then he took the shirt I was still holding out of my hand and slipped it over my head.
"Now get dressed," he said gently. "Alice is making time for us."
I gave up then. I knew he was honestly concerned. What difference did it make anyway? Alice wasn't going to be able to do any good, but so what. It wouldn't hurt to go and listen to what she had to say.
And Kevin was a smart boy. He'd figure out soon that this wasn't going to help me. Sure, I had problems, and maybe I had let them get me down lately. Thanks to Kevin, I knew now that maybe things were getting a little bit out of hand. But I could take it from here though; I was positive of that. I'd always been able to handle things. I saw no reason why this would be any different.
By the time we got to Alice Wanamaker's clinic, the afternoon was over and the lights of the building were dark. Kevin didn't pay any attention to that. He pulled his car up to the back and rapped on a staff-only door. A few moments later, Alice opened it up herself. She smiled at me, then looked at Kevin.
"I was worried that you hadn't been able to convince him to come after all." Her voice was soft, but it carried in the cold night air.
"There's nothing so determined as a big queen trying to snag a man," I said, before Kevin could make any derogatory comments himself.
Alice laughed. "Well," she said, "at least you've still got a sense of humor." She took a good look at me and frowned. "Baby, you look dreadful. Get in out of the cold, and let's go into my office and talk."
I followed her silently. Kevin said he's wait for me, then sat and read a magazine out in the hallway.
Alice was a cozy-looking woman of about 60. She had gray hair that looked like someone had gone after it with a weed-whacker. She was short and stubby - she'd have looked like hell in a bikini - and yet there was something about her that was undeniably appealing. She had the kind of soft, chubby body that every little kid in the world likes