Working Man's BluesbyHeathen Hemmingway©
** Originally written as Darkeyeddemon, when I lived on the east coast of Florida. In the wake of hurricane Katrina this story takes on new life and meaning for me. I donated blood and gave what money I could, but I still feel this sense of loss and vertigo as if there's something else I can do that I haven't thought of yet. If you know someone who was affected by this tragedy, don't just give them money or food. If you can, give them some of your time. Thanks for reading. **
In the aftermath of Florida's recent hurricanes I have seen many good people living with a daily struggle. Sometimes I could see the shock and loss in their faces, other times it was in their behavior. I was shocked to see how fast people could go from the top to the bottom. Many of these good people rose above the ordeal and dealt with it by helping their neighbors. Sadly I saw many more deal with it by being greedy, materialistic, rude, aggressive and dishonest. Human nature is a fascinating thing. It takes very little to strip people down to their bare elements. No matter how smart people are, our instincts ring true when we are faced with danger. This story is about one man whose life was changed by these hurricanes, and the struggle a man can go through when his misfortune is taken to extremes.
Someone told me once that suicide was the only unforgivable sin. I don't know if that's true or not. If other people feel like I do now I find that very hard to believe. These past few days the thought of suicide has been on my mind every other second. I keep selling the idea to myself that taking my life is some kind of final solution. Boom. No pain, no loss. I won't feel a thing. No burning in hell. I damned sure won't be hanging out on a cloud playing a harp. I want to believe that death is just an eternity of pitch black nothingness. No self awareness, no thoughts to run through my head ceaselessly. If I didn't have such a manic mind I wouldn't be in this situation in the first place.
I have been trying to think of the moment that started this grand decline I am stuck in. The despair seemed to start setting in right after hurricane Charley. I knew I was in trouble then. I was too preoccupied with Ginny to really pay things any attention. If I go through with this she will be hurt more than anyone. When my pain stops hers will start. I know how selfish that is, but look at me. She deserves better than me. I haven't been much of a boyfriend lately. A girl like her has everything going for her. The last thing she needs is my weight bearing down on her.
I bought a gun last week. I had to wait a few days for it. When I picked it up at the pawn shop the guy behind the counter gave me an uneasy look.
"Don't let it go to your head." The pawnbroker told me.
I thought his words were ironic. That was exactly what I had intended for it to do. At least to propel the bullet that would go to my head. I had myself pumped up. I was going to go home, put the note I wrote the night before on my kitchen table, then put the barrel against my right temple and exit stage left. For good. When I got home the phone was ringing as I walked through the door. I looked at the caller id. It was Ginny. I suddenly needed very badly to hear her voice. I answered the phone like everything was cool. I felt like a chicken shit but her voice makes everything more bearable. I didn't see any reason why I didn't deserve to hear her voice one last time. She was working on a dance combination and wanted my input. She gave me a dumbed down description of the moves. I could see them in my head. She flies around the room like she has wings on her feet. The girl was born with a talent for dancing.
Now that I think about it, I am sure it started after Hurricane Charley. I missed a week of work because of that fucking hurricane. Our power was out for ten days. I hated going to the store or the gas station. Everyone was so fucking rude. No one wanted to wait there turn. Everyone was pushing to break in line or cut you off in traffic. People ran through intersections without stopping to wait their turn. Fights broke out over bags of ice. People were breaking down right in front of my eyes. I had to take over half of my savings out to make up for missing work. I planned on working some doubles the next week to make up for it. At the time it was no big deal. I let my cable bill slide. I was going to make it up next month. I didn't mind the late fee since the extra fifty bucks would be spent on more important things.
I had to go to the hospital the week after Hurricane Charley. I spent two days lying there in pain and sweating bullets. I pulled a muscle in my back moving my furniture back in place. I had it all crammed into one room to try and minimize damage if my apartment got hit bad by the hurricane. Always put your important shit in an interior room, the safety geeks say. I haven't been at my job long enough to be eligible for insurance yet so I had to make payment arrangements with the hospital. That was seventy five bucks a week out of my check all by itself. I figured work would be busy after the hurricane and I could pick up plenty of overtime to make up for it. I missed two days of work because of that damned pulled muscle and had to work hurting like hell for the next week. My phone bill was due so I took more out of savings to pay it.
I finally got my power back on and I felt like I Was King Shit. I put everything back in place in my apartment and cleaned it all up spotless. Ginny came down from Tennessee to help me. She's too sweet to me. I don't know what I do for her that makes her treat me so good.
I started getting my ass back in gear and Hurricane Frances came along. I dropped the ball on that one. I expected to lose power but didn't expect it to plow my ass under. The wind blew my dining room window in and flooded my apartment. I tried to put something in front of the window but it was hopeless. I got scratched head to toe by flying sticks and dirt and stuff. My tv and surround sound were ruined. That really upset me. I saved for nine months to buy them. Whenever Ginny came over we would have a big movie night together. I got her drunk one time and we watched Blazing Saddles. That night is one of my best memories ever. She laughed until she almost peed on herself. I couldn't stop laughing at her. She exploded laughing when Gene Wilder pulled Cleavon Little from behind a rock exposing him a bunch of clansmen, and Cleavon Little shouted "Where da white women at?" Her face turned bright red and she could barely breathe.
We had alot of memories together like that. I never really lived until I met her. And now I am thinking about dying. I was in a fucked up frame of mind when I bought this gun. I did some researching online at the university hospital's medical database. Turns out most fatal head wounds are caused by a 380 caliber pistol. I was expecting a nine millimeter or a 45 caliber. So I guess you know what kind of gun I bought. Right.
I was a week late on my car payment because of hurricane Charley. After Frances I missed nine more days of work. I went to the day labor office but I was wasting my time. I went through the registration process and wasted three hours just to be told they didn't have anything available. Florida is fucking crawling with cheap out of state labor right now. I had to pawn my watch. That really hurt. I got that for winning an award at the city. The next week the restaurant opened back up and I got to work six days in a row. I ended up with eleven hours of overtime out of it. I was just beginning to think I was heading into the clear.
Two days later this jackass in a new Vette sideswiped me on my way home from work. He was a total asshole about it. Two people saw the accident and stopped. He tried to convince them they didn't need to hang around. I guess something in my eyes told them they did. They waited around for the cops and gave a statement. The guy who owned the Vette was furious. Some people don't need to drive sports cars. They develop an attitude that's bigger than the damned car is. I love Corvettes but I can't stand arrogant assholes like that. I have insurance, but in the wake of all this bad weather they are strung out all to hell. I paid the tow truck driver fifty bucks I couldn't afford to part with. I figured I could give the insurance folks the receipt and be reimbursed for it. I caught a taxi home then called the one eight hundred number to the insurance company. I got the standard message, 'Due to high call volume there may be a delay in answering your call'. I sat there on hold for about a half hour. Finally I got an automated prompt to leave a message. I left a message and haven't heard back from them since. That was almost two weeks ago.
I try not to dwell on things. It seems like when you've got too much to handle it's real damned easy to let problems eat at you. Right now this gun is looking mighty appealing to me.
I was taking a cab to work for a few days but it was just too expensive. I don't know anyone around here, and it embarrasses the hell out of me to ask anyone for a favor. I would have asked one of the guys at work for a ride but they all live on the other side of town. The asshole in the Vette who hit me has full coverage insurance, but I haven't heard anything from him or his insurance agent yet. I tried calling mine. That was a waste of time, so I had to start walking to work. I had myself convinced it wouldn't be so bad. That's when mother nature reminded me I live in Florida. It rained on me three days in a row. I was so embarrassed walking home in the pouring rain. I looked like one of those street walkers you see hanging around at dark intersections or camped out in the medians on the boulevard.
I came down with a hard case of the flu. My lungs were full of fluid and I felt queasy and punch drunk for almost a week. I bought some of that powdered flu relief medicine and toughed it out. I had a fever that made me feel like I had fiberglass under my skin. It was a miserable week. I know I should've gone to the emergency room and got some antibiotics, but I didn't want to rack up another bill I can't pay. At that time I had plans on working my way out of this situation. Now I'm making plans to do just the opposite.
A few days back I was walking home and I saw something that jogged my memory. My walk home from work takes me past a big fenced in truck yard. At one end of the yard was a row of big green dumpsters. There were a bunch of crows sitting on and around the dumpsters. They would pick at the garbage, cawing and fighting amongst themselves. Beside one of the dumpsters was a stack of big cardboard boxes.
That made me think of my mama's backyard. It was huge. She had eighteen big trees lined up in two neat rows. At the back of our yard was a steep grassy slope that flattened out into a wide spot of level ground. In the summer it would fill in nicely. I remember taking pride in cutting our lawn. When I was finished it always drew complements. On Sundays and holidays my mama would always put on a big meal for everyone. I don't know how she could cook for so many people so easily. By lunch time there would be as many as thirty or more people gathered around. At Easter my sisters made yellow sun dresses with yellow bonnets for all my nieces. They would toddle around mama's big backyard playing in the leaves and chase our dog Duffie. The boys would be playing hide and go seek or freeze tag between the tall rows of trees. They would pile up a huge mound of leaves and take turns running and diving into them. Mama had a pomegranate tree close to the house. The boys would pick a green pomegranate and dare each other to bite into it without making a face.
Mama had a goat named Nannie. I can't remember why in hell we had a goat. We didn't live on a farm or anything. Nannie had little curly horns that always made me think of Princess Leia's hair. When we had a get together it was an ongoing joke to walk over to the little goat and bend over in front of her. For some reason that pissed her off. Every time she would hike up on her back legs and heat butt you square in the behind. I remember my sisters would bring their hot shot boyfriends and trick them somehow into bending over close to Nannie. Sure enough she would give them a good pop and they would just about come out of their shoes. Everybody got a good laugh out of that.
Every time we got together someone would find a big cardboard box and flatten it out. One of us would sit on it at the top of the slope and someone else would push them down the hill. Sometimes my sisters would slide down with their babies wrapped in their arms. The bottom of that slope turned out to be a favorite spot for taking pictures of my nieces and nephews with big toothless grins on their faces. They would reach the bottom with their mouths and eyes wide open. They would like they didn't know if they wanted to laugh or cry. Mostly they would cry the first time, then a couple of minutes later they were begging to slide back down again. At christmas and thanksgiving we would have damn near fifty people out there playing and sliding down the slope. It's amazing how mama always managed to make sure we had fun. I don't know how she came up with half of it. I miss those times. I would throw this gun away right now if I could go back to the early eighties.
I stepped on a piece of glass on my way home from work. It seems like bad luck is nickel and dime-ing my ass to death these days. I sat on the curb and took my shoe off. I had a sliver of glass about an inch long embedded in the side of my right foot. It slid in from the bottom and sank in so far I could see the tip peeking through the skin on top of my foot. It was bleeding bad.
I limped over to a fast food joint across the street and asked the lady at the drive through for some napkins. I showed her my foot. She looked at it, then me, and she disappeared. A few moments later an older man came to the window and handed me a brown paper bag. I thanked him and apologized for bothering them. I walked back to the curb and opened the bag. I was going to pack napkins around the cut to keep it from bleeding so bad until I got home. There were three cheeseburgers wrapped in wax paper and a five dollar bill in the bag, along with a big stack of napkins. They thought I was some kind of homeless person. I sat there fighting tears off while I packed my shoe full of paper napkins. Two months ago I didn't have a care in the world, and now people take one look at me and think I'm a fucking charity case. I wanted to take the food and the money back to them, but I didn't want to face them again. I just wanted to go home.
By the time I got home my shoe was full of blood. I held my foot unter the faucet in the tub and washed the cut clean. I pulled the sliver out and it started bleeding like crazy. I cleaned it with some alcohol and peroxide and bandaged it as best I could. I had to throw my shoes away. They were falling apart and I knew they wouldn't hold together through another washing. They were two years old anyway. I had a ratty old pair I used to wear when I would do yard work. They were shot to hell but they would do till I could afford another pair.
I sat on my couch and propped my foot up on my coffee table. It was throbbing like a bass drum. I knew that that night would be the night. It's weird what goes through your mind when you've resigned yourself to die. I decided I wanted a cup of coffee before I put the gun to my head. I got the note and put it on the kitchen table.
I keep those coffee liquor flavored candies around. I like to put one of the candies in my coffee cup then add the sugar, cream and coffee. I let it sit and melt the candy for a minute before I drink it. It's one of my favorite small pleasures. I poured my coffee and sat it on the table next to the suicide note. I got the gun out of my dresser then sat down and put it in my lap. When the candy was nice and liquid I took a sip of my coffee. It tasted like heaven. Not the best last memory I can imagine, but definitely a good one. I took my time drinking the coffee then shotgunned the last sip and sat the cup down.
I cracked my knuckles and picked up the gun. It was about an inch from my temple when the phone rang.
The phone scared me so bad I almost pulled the trigger. I sat there with the trigger half cocked, hoping the ringing would stop. With every ring the gun felt heavier in my hand. My concentration was completely broken. I sat the gun down on the table with a dejected frown.
"Fuck me." I said into the empty room.
I stood and walked over to the phone, looking at the caller id. It was Ginny. I picked the phone up and tried to picture her on the other end of the line. It's Tuesday night, so she will be sitting there in her leotard and dance shoes. She's probably sitting cross legged in her big green chair with her cat Pixie in her lap, the phone cradled against her shoulder while she pets her. I hit the talk button and answered the phone.
She sounded cheery as usual. Her voice and her body do not seem to match even though I think they both are beautiful. Her voice is feminine and masculine at the same time. It is strong and authoritative, yet very soft and sweet. I have never told her this but every time I hear her voice over the telephone I get this mental picture of her as Joan Of Arc.
As we talked I was looking around my apartment, thinking what the first person to find my dead body would see. Someone would hear the shot and call the police. They would come and knock on the door. No one would answer. They would knock again and speak loudly to see if anyone responded. A little while later the maintenance guy would be unlocking the door for them. The officer would push the door open a bit and peek in. To his right he would see my splayed out across my kitchen table in a big splatter of blood. Maybe I would slide out of my chair onto the floor and ruin the carpet. I doubt this little pistol would knock me around any. I might just slump forward and smack my forehead on the table. A gunshot wound that tiny might not even bleed much. A couple of drops down my face and neck maybe.
I realized I had zoned out for a minute there. I snapped to when Ginny said 'Have you seen the weather?'. I hadn't, so I told her no and asked why. She just said 'You're not going to believe me if I tell you baby so you better look for yourself '.
I turned on the tv. The last time it was on I was watching the disaster footage from Hurricane Charley. What I saw made me want to run and grab the gun then put the barrel right between my eyes and shoot.
At the top of the screen was a big caption in all capital letters reading 'Ivan The Terrible'. Below it was a satellite image of a huge swirling mass of white. I honestly couldn't believe it. I was within a short hair of recovering from the second hurricane, and goddamnit if there's not another one coming my way.
"I'm sorry baby." Ginny said. "Do you want to come stay with me when it gets close?"
I was lost for words for a moment.
"No baby, but thank you. I can't risk any more damage to my place. I'm going to stick it out." I replied.
In my mind I could hear my voice saying 'I have an appointment with a bullet Ginny. I'm too chicken to tell you, and I don't want to miss my appointment. Sorry honey, hope you have a happy life' .
"I understand. I love you baby." Ginny said to me.
I don't know why, but when she said those three words I felt like the life was just ripped out of me. All I could think of was why? I wanted to yell into the phone. Tell me why? Take one fucking look at me Ginny and tell me why? I'm flat broke, I'm beat up and tired as shit. I get depressed and cry like a fucking girl and I just want to end it all. What is there left for you to love?