I’m not afraid to let things break
Or reach into the shattered pieces
To find out if I want to make
The leap into begins and ceases
I sat in my kitchen on the chair I had dragged in from the dining room, legs spread with my hands dangling loosely at the wrist as I rested them on my thighs. My shirt was off, sweat trickled through the matted hair on my chest and blood ran from the cuts in my hands, dripped from my fingertips to plink onto the faux tile floor. Laboring heavily against the urge to just quit breathing, reading over the lines I had just written, I felt a burgeoning darkness inside of me.
Outside, the snow was falling quick and silent. I had been out not an hour ago, had stood listening to the night, and heard the cars sloshing down Cook Road half a block away. All was silent on my street, no cars passed at this hour, only the soft hiss as the damp snow piled atop the seven inches left from yesterday’s storm. It was Thursday, and a half mile away, in the stillness of the early morning city, I could imagine I heard music drifting from the intermittently opened doors of a nearby bar called The Caddy Shack.
It was there I knew she would have been. Dancing as she had for him through the final year of our marriage. Always for him. She had spurned me the night of my birthday less than a month past, had failed even to remain home, as it occurred on a Thursday. As nine in the evening rolled around, I had stood in the doorway of the bathroom watching her do her hair, applying her makeup and singing to herself.
I would not have begrudged her for the one night a week she spent among friends and away from home, away from me were it not for the transparent obviousness of her attraction to the singer who traveled every Thursday night to play for three hours in the dingy little bar where the hippies hung out with such regularity, smoking pot outside in the parking lot, trading what drugs they had burnt out on for others they had not had in a while.
So I watched from the open door, standing just inside the hallway while she primped herself in a way she once had for me, but had since quit. She was applying her lipstick, lipstick she never came back wearing, when her eyes flicked to the door and her smile faltered. With a dismissive abruptness, she leaned toward the door and slammed it shut. As I stood, stricken, behind the closed door, her voice wafted from the bathroom, singing the words to one of his songs.
I remembered it with great clarity as I sat, watching the small crimson droplets falling from my fingers onto the kitchen floor. On the sink counter next to where I sat was the prescription bottle of Morphine I had brought home from the emergency room the week prior when I had taken a fall at work and broken three ribs.
I glanced toward it, stood, shook my hands, and unscrewed the cap to the container, turning two pills out into my palm. Swallowing them dry, I paced into the dining room and snatched up my Carhart work coat, zipped it over my bare torso and slipped into my permanently tied brown Oxford’s. Reaching into the breast pocket, I withdrew a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes, shook one free, and replaced the pack. I stepped outside, into the still winter nightscape, and smoked.
It seemed like most nights, hell, most waking hours, I spent thinking about her. The way I had felt, as if my true being had been suppressed at her urging. Often, I dwelt on the irony that I had been a musician on the cusp of making the leap from amateur to professional when we had met. It hadn’t been to her pleasure for me to continue, so I had given it up, resigned my self to the ho-hum existence I had spent years working to avoid and had stepped up at work, rising from field tech to supervisor for a small electrical contracting company.
And though I did this to give her a life of unwanting contentment, she had grown to resent me. Boring, she called me. Lacking of drive and ambition, she said. Without creative vision, I was a man who could not smile, could not joke. So, then, standing in that cold night wind, thinking of the many ways she had degraded me, I smiled at the irony.
Those days, she found herself completely enamored, infatuated more likely, with a man whose vision was less than mine had been. Possessed less with the looks that I had, marginally talented compared with myself. I knew it to be true. I still know it to be true and have not stated it from spite, but with honesty, realizing the truth was more harshly bitter than what spin I could place upon it.
So I had begun to write music again when the nights pressed upon me relentlessly, driving sleep away and leaving me alone to contemplate the abandonment I had faced. It was at least, movement, if not forward, at least of a lateral nature, and there, though I still felt her scorn through the distance of miles in the nights, still felt my heart lurch as I stumbled upon something in the house we shared together that she had held dear, well, there I lost myself as best I could.
Writing was what I was doing that night in early March. I was writing and trying hard not to find myself sliding down into the abysses of despair, which often accompanied the morose meditation of the end of my marriage. So, shaking off the thoughts of her, now free to pursue her Red Pony, I tried to focus on the lyrics, which would not come flowing freely as they used to when I had been in the practice of songwriting many years ago.
Lighting another cigarette, trying to force thoughts of my estranged wife from my mind, I paced and repeated to myself the lines I had written in my notebook that was then reposed on the sink counter in the kitchen. I had free-written four lines, not thinking of any theme, just expressing what I had felt at the moment I had emerged from my bathroom, the mirrored door to my medicine cabinet shattered and its pieces lying in the sink.
I studied my hands a moment, saw that the blood had dried in the freezing wind and turned a brownish purple. Flexing my fingers, I watched it crack and fresh blood, red and rich in oxygen, flowed from underneath the broken and clotted life fluid. Coughing against the searing smoke in my lungs and feeling the first faint stirrings of dizziness and disorientation that accompanied the Morphine, I tossed down my smoke and reeled around, pulled the front door open and went back inside.
Staggering slightly as I made my way to the kitchen, I unzipped my coat and dropped it to the floor of the dining room. In the kitchen, I picked up my pen and bent over the notebook and scribbled. I paused, read it over then added another line of verse. Straightening, I read it without satisfaction, yet realized it was, if nothing else, honest.
I’m not afraid to let it flow
It lets the color in my day
I dropped the pen and it rebounded from the counter and clicked several times as it bounced and skittered on the floor. There were still forty some pills in my prescription bottle so I took two more, then crossed the room to the refrigerator and withdrew a bottle of Evian water and drank it off in one long draught. Wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, I dropped the bottle to the floor, bent and peered into the refrigerator before deciding on a Gatorade over a Bud Light.
I didn’t stay in the kitchen, not then. Instead, I chose to sit on the couch and stare blankly at the television, which was turned off. I glanced toward the back hallway of he house, which was visible through a doorway leading out the opposite end of the living room from where it entered onto the dining room. The only door visible from where I sat was the one to the guest bedroom. Staring thoughtfully toward it, I considered the woman sleeping on the twin-sized bed in there.
Her name was not important. She had been a friend of my wife’s for several years, never really a friend of mine until she had been spurned for speaking her mind freely of how she felt about Lisa’s proactive attraction to that hippie songwriter. Feeling pity toward me, she had insisted on dropping by several times a week, helping me with the household chores, volunteering to baby-sit my daughter and encouraging me to go find some enjoyable diversion at least once a week.
Her visits had become so commonplace, our conversations lasting often into the graying haze of dawn, that it had been a small step to invite her to stay in the guest room when she became too tired to drive home. Since the first night visiting and lending her help with the drudgery that she had stayed, she made it a common practice to spend at least one night a week. Always though, she was respectful, never offering herself, never testing the waters with words or action.
That night, she had come an hour after my daughter was laid to bed. I had been sitting in the living room when I heard her car pull up in the drive, offered a low invitation for her to come in when her hand rapped against the glass panes of the front door window. Holding my face in my hands as she entered, not looking up, not wanting to see her reaction, I had let her discover my condition with shame welling in my chest.
Soft hands, gentle hands, cold from the winter chill outside, had enveloped my own covering the still coursing blood. With gentle insistence, she had lowered my hands from my face and looked into my eyes, grief writ across her features. Tears brimmed in her eyes as, silent, she met my gaze, shifted her own away, then back. I lowered my head and she knelt before me, still holding my hands in her own.
“Look at me Jon.”
I raised my head, stared through her eyes and looked into black distances beyond where we sat. I was aware of her chest heaving felt her tremor through my hands knew that tears were slipping silently down her cheeks. With locked jaw determination, I forced the impulse to burst into retching sobs low into my consciousness. Fixated with staring through her, with detaching myself from the too bleak moment, I conjured forth images only I could fathom.
A barren windblown desert landscape, all browns and grays, baked beneath the overly close burning disc of a red sun. Dust and sand blew in the wind, stinging my face, pelting my exposed arms and filled my mouth. I could taste the alkaline, feel it burning my sinuses. The heat was withering and I did not sweat, my muscles were cramped and breathing was difficult.
Before me, waiting for my outstretched hands to push upon it, was a crude wooden door, set in a hewn lumber frame. To either side there was nothing but the outstretching and endless desert, the cruel heat, shimmering heat waves and a howling wind, which drove the sands before it. I laid my hands on the rough wood and walked forward, allowing my impetus to force the door open as I stepped through.
“Where are you Jon?”
Letting go of the diversionary vision, I return my attention to Lisa’s friend. Still kneeling, still clasping my hands, her tears had subsided, and she no longer tremored. I withdrew my hands from hers and placed them on my lap. As she stood, she kept her eyes locked to mine.
“Your eyes are shining.”
I nodded. It was no compliment, but an accusation. Her tone was without reproach, a flat statement of fact. The nod was an admission and she sucked in her bottom lip, chewed on it and stood, uncertain of what to say. After a brief moment she walked from the room, cracked the door to my daughter’s bedroom and looked in on her. The door clicked shut, then the bathroom light shone from the hallway as I watched from the couch. She stifled a sob of surprise and grief, then the light went out, that door also clicked and she returned to the living room, taking a seat beside me.
“Got some clothes I can borrow?” I nodded in reply. “I’m gonna go catch a shower and sleep over here tonight.” Again with the nod, and something like anger flashed across her face before she stood and headed for the bathroom.
I had wanted to say something to her then, to express my gratitude, but had come up with nothing. I only sighed into the empty room as I heard the water come from the shower, then the exhaust fan. I arose from my seat and wandered into the kitchen, taking the Morphine from the counter, capping them, and slipping them into my towel drawer.
Standing indecisively, I stared at the blood on the floor in front of the counter, thought of the shards of mirrored glass in the bathroom sink and rubbed the crusted blood on my fingers. I wanted a cigarette, realized the nicotine would react with the Morphine to cause a waver of nausea and decided against it. Instead, I washed my hands with cold water, placed a clean towel over my left, and held it pressed into place. The chair from the dining room seemed inviting so I sat.
I want to watch the sun revolve around the day
And hold hands with the smallest angels
And I want to take it all the way
I want to take it all the way
My notebook was lying opened on the floor near my feet and I read the words written not half an hour past. Listening to the sounds of my friend showering, I considered them, wondering exactly what I had meant when writing them. After deciding it was more literal than metaphorical, though vague, I rose from the chair and walked to the bathroom and rapped on the door.
“Yeah?” Her voice was guarded. Did she believe I had come to make some advance on her while she bathed? I hesitated, almost didn’t answer. “What do you need Jon?”
“I just figured I should clean the sink out so you can wash your face and whatever else you need to do.” After a hesitant pause, she replied.
“You probably should.”
I waited, a step back from the door, and heard the curtain rings slide on the rod, the brushing of vinyl and porcelain, then the lock clicked back in the door, the knob turned, and the upper portion of her face appeared as she pulled the door back a few inches and looked at me.
“Can you bring some clothes in here for me too?” I nodded for reply.
In the guest room, where I kept my chest of drawers, and in which closet I hung my clothes, I selected for her a pair of sweatpants with a drawstring, some of Lisa’s socks, which I had neglected to either pack or throw out, a large T-shirt with a depiction of Mick Jagger sneering, and in case she wanted it, a soft, double knit green sweatshirt which bore only a small manufacturers emblem. Laying those aside, I selected my clothing for the following day and carried it into my own bedroom and laid it at the foot of my bed.
I carried her clothing into the bathroom and placed it atop the closed toilet seat lid. Then, I went to the kitchen and found a large mixing bowl, which I used to place the glass shards in from the sink. When I was done, I left her to finish her shower without further words.
In the kitchen, I placed the mixing bowl with the broken glass in a cupboard. Looking down, I stared vaguely at the Morphine bottle, pulled open the silverware drawer and brushed it in on top of the forks and knives. I picked up the notebook, and pen, wandered out into the living room and sat on the arm of the couch. After several moments, I bent forward and started to write.
I’m not afraid to let things break
Or reach into the shattered pieces
To find out if I want to make
The leap into begins and ceases
I heard the water turn off in the shower, then the curtain sliding back. Standing, I walked back to the kitchen, slipped the notebook on top of the refrigerator and stood indecisive. I heard the hairdryer start up then and knew it would be ten minutes or more before she ventured into the house. With a small twinge of self disgust, I opened the freezer and pulled out a bottle of bourbon, unscrewed the cap and took a long pull. It burned like fire going down and made my gorge rise. I repeated the move before putting the bottle away.
Lewis Carrol, whom I reviled, came to mind and I laughed out loud. It was a wretched laugh, tainted with bitterness and grief, the sound of a soul cracking down the middle. It disturbed me to hear it and I whimpered. Taking down my notebook from atop the refrigerator, I scribbled a few lines before putting it back and slipping into my coat to step outside for a cigarette.
I want to open up the small door,
Yeah it only takes a drink to shrink me down
When I was done with my cigarette and back inside, Lisa’s friend was out of the shower, padding from the kitchen in her bare feet and carrying a plate of reheated Chinese. I smiled at her as I pulled the door closed behind me. Dropping my coat at the door, I sidestepped and took a seat on the arm of the couch.
“Find something worth eating?” I asked.
“Yessir. How about you? You eat today?” I nodded, lying. She glared at me before sitting on the couch and turning the television on with the remote. “Are you lying?”
“No, I had supper with my folks.”
“I’ll make you something to eat if you want.” She offered. I only shook my head before sliding off the arm of the couch onto the cushion beside it.
We sat there for a while, making idle small talk, avoiding the condition she had found me in. We watched a rerun of Cheers and half an episode of wings before she stood up and took her plate to the kitchen. I heard the water start and spoke up.
“Just leave it, I’ll get it.”
She padded back into the living room and stood in front of me. Kneeling down, she reached out and took my hands again, turned them over in hers and stared into my palms. Watching her, I realized she was fighting tears and shifted uncomfortably, not wanting her to say anything about the broken mirror or the cuts on my hands. I shouldn’t have been worried.
“It’ll get better.” She told me. “It has to. I wouldn’t know personally what it’s like, but you’re a good man, a good father. Don’t let it do this to you.”
I nodded at her, turned my face away and looked down. I saw her rising peripherally, felt my hands slide from hers and squeezed my eyes shut. After a brief moment, I was listening to her retreating steps then to the click of the guest bedroom door being pulled shut. I remained on the couch with my eyes closed for the count of two hundred before getting up to swallow a few Morphine and head outside for another smoke.
Back inside, I put coffee on, snatched my guitar from its stand near the refrigerator and retrieved my notebook. I sat down on the dining room chair next to the counter and read over the words in the notebook before searching my guitar for the right notes. After some slow finger sliding up and down the strings, I found where I wanted to start. A finger roll from E to F on the A string.
I went on for some time, maybe an hour slipped past, I’m not sure. I followed the natural progressions in a minor and found my chords from there. The rhythm came natural, the cadence of the words half sung finding its niche within the music. I tapped my foot some, sang too loud a few times and found myself being lulled into a trance-like state of near slumber by the music I was playing. My head nodded forward and my eyes closed and I stopped playing.
After some time, I became aware of the rise and fall of my chest, the slow throb of my pulse in my ears and the sound of my breathing. I opened my eyes, stared dismally ahead into nothingness and passed my tongue over dry lips. Raising my head, I stretched to place the guitar in its stand and stood. The notebook was on the floor at my feet so I picked it up, laid it on the counter and poured myself a coffee. I picked the notebook back up, carried it to the door and, shrugging into my coat, stepped outside again to smoke while I read over my words.
I had no idea what time it was then, but could imagine the Caddy Shack was closed. Fighting to banish the sudden and unbidden thought which entered me. The surety that my wife was in bed with that singer from Columbus gripped me. I closed my eyes, ground the heels of my palms over my lids and sagged against my front door. I could see them, their bodies entwined, her face flush and mouth open as she lay on her back accepting him with her body. She would be gasping, like she did, her arms wrapped around his shoulders, or lower down around his waist, their bodies moving in rhythm, her heels digging into his hips as her pelvis rocked to accentuate his thrusting. And I would be far removed from her thoughts as she floated in rapture, perceptive of the physical pleasures and open to the emotional bonds forming between them as they made love.
Loosing a low guttural moan of agony, I opened my eyes, pushed away from the screen door, spun and pulled it open hard. It smacked against the side of the house and I burst through the main door, restrained myself and closed it gently behind me before stalking into the kitchen. With a wrenching jerk, I opened the cupboard above the stove, took out the mixing bowl with the glass shards in it and sank to the floor with it between my knees. I balled my hands into fists and smashed them downward, felt the sharp edges bite into my skin, heard the soft tinkling as the pieces jarred against each other. I withdrew my fists and plunged them in again, turned my wrists so my knuckles and the sides of my palms ground into the shards. Pain flowed up my arms, through my veins, and was met by a surging agony that radiated out from my heart, and was forced back, back, and was diminished to nothingness.
I don’t know how long I knelt over the bowl, how many times I raised my hands to slam them back down, how many times I pulled them out, blood flying in arcs from my ruined fingers and spattering across the floor, on the door of the refrigerator and walls. I can’t recall when I bit the inside of my cheek, but knew it by the way my mouth filled with a copper tasting fluid. Only when my arms were too weary to lift did I cease. And then, only to collapse forward, my hands still in the bowl, rotating at the wrists and grinding the ruined flesh of my fingers into the broken glass.
When, finally, I did rise and stared down the blood collected in the bowl was enough to cover over the shards of glass. I picked it up and set it on the counter, its contents sloshing and rattling against its sides. Without another glance toward it, I opened the silverware drawer and pulled out the painkillers, set them on the counter and hesitated. With the emotion running out of me and the physical weariness of a long day of emotional turmoil filling me, I slumped into the dining room chair next to the cupboard and sat with my wrists resting on my thighs, hands dangling loose. On the floor at my feet was the notebook.
I read it again. How many times that night had I sat, staring, or bent over writing in the book? I gave up thinking about it, went outside for a smoke, came inside and went through the next few moments dazedly, the morphine having sunk far into my conscious, and ended up on the couch sipping Gatorade and staring toward the room where Lisa’s friend slept. Nodding off, I awoke when I slumped to my side and rose dizzily to my feet and reeled into the kitchen. Letting myself collapse to the floor in front of the notebook, I took the pen in my hand and, lying on my stomach, finished the song.
I was awakened again, this time being shaken by the shoulders. Blinking against the glare of the lights in the kitchen, I turned my head and saw Lisa’s friend kneeling beside me. Her hair fell in soft brown circlets around her face and I remember thinking of how I would like to touch the, feel their softness between my fingers. I smiled at her then noted she was crying. With her help, I got to my feet and we made it to my bedroom. She helped me in bed, undid the laces on my shoes and pulled them off and covered me with a blanket. I lifted my hand toward her, a gesture of thanks, and she took it, caressing my torn flesh with her fingers.
“You can’t do this Jon.” She told me.
I nodded at her words then choked as a sob tried to escape my throat. She let go of my hand and sat down on the bed beside me. Her hands found the back of my neck and pulled my head to her lap, and like a mother with a small child, she pressed my face into her stomach and stroked my hair. I gripped the sweater she was wearing, twisted the fabric in my hand and cried into her middle. As she rocked back and forth, murmuring assurances, I drifted to sleep.
I awoke alone with sunlight filtering through the slitted blinds of my east-facing window. Through my closed door came the muffled sounds of living within the house. A television was on, my daughter was playing, a warm feminine voice encouraged her. I lay still for a minute just letting consciousness settle in. Glancing toward my hands, I saw they had been cleaned and were bandaged where the effort had been worthwhile. I grunted, slid my feet to the floor and walked out of my bedroom.
Lisa’s friend was on the couch with my daughter, something wholesome and enticing was cooking in the kitchen and as I glanced toward the clock on the living room wall, I noted it was still morning. My daughter ran over to me, climbed my legs until I picked her up and greeted me with a kiss and a hug. I smiled, walked in to the kitchen with her and grinned at the plate, which had been left warm in the stove for me; scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes, and toast.
I poured a glass of orange juice, poured a mug of coffee, and carried my plate to the dining room. Lisa’s friend was still on the couch, watching Spongebob and she smiled at me as I sat down to eat. On the table was the notebook from the previous night, its cover closed, and for a moment I felt everything was dark and hopeless as I stared at its blood smeared cover. Then, shrugging, I bent over my plate and began shoveling eggs into my mouth.