I hit a concrete column as I tried to enter a slot in the underground parking structure at Safeway grocery store. My surprise at my nonchalance did not quite overpower an ambient numbness. I hit the same spot on my bumper’s edge (right-side, under the headlight) that struck the stump when I slid off the road in Michigan this January. My life started visibly falling apart from that moment forward, though ‘the beginning’ was surely over a decade ago. The smear of red-paint on concrete, though, was just another brushstroke in my figurative portrait of wreckage. “Hey Pontiac,” some one called to me as I opened my door, “I could take that out for $100.” I waved him off and said it wasn’t worth his time. He insisted, so I confessed I was too broke and it wasn’t worth it to me anymore. My errand at the grocery store added another, sublime layer; I opened the passenger compartment and lifted two pasta jars of pennies I inherited from my deceased grandfather in 2009. It was a Tuesday, almost nine years later.
I came to that store location for the change-machine. Safeway has a green box with a glowing stats-screen and a chute into which a person can stuff unknown sums of coins, receiving a cash voucher. The 11% fee did not deter me. Just a minute ago, I had climbed the stairs in a public place cradling glass containers mostly full of pennies! Each time I changed residences for the past nine years I carried them with– not anymore. I started dumping. The machine requires using fingers to feed the change into a slot. I glutted it, shoving droves of pennies into the slot until the display screen read “Woah! That’s a lot of change you have. Give us time to catch-up.” I watched the penny count climb, eying my old Sobe bottle half-full of nickels and dimes (a mere parenthetical compared to the river of pennies): so much change in so little time.
Uninterested in the voucher, I watched the overall penny count mount 1000 and keep going. Of course, the title gives this part away: by the time I emptied the bottle of nickels and dimes (with a few, odd pennies in it) over fifteen-hundred pennies went through the maw of the cheeky, green machine. “Seventy-three dimes?” I coughed, “holy-shit-monkeys, I had seven dollars of dimes in that bottle.” The voucher crested twenty-two dollars, though the actual value had been closer to twenty-five. The machine fed me the slip, in return; I tucked it into a sagging jeans-pocket and walked away with my empty jars to get a shopping-cart. I will never forget how I forgot them on purpose– I’ve hauled-around that Sobe bottle (with the change-slit in the lid) since the fall of 2004– no more. The beginning of the rest of my life was at hand. It always technically is but the meaning of life is whatever significance we attach to its moments so, really, the rest of my life was at hand because I chose to create a narrative turning-point from $22 of groceries, three glass containers left in the bottom of a shopping cart, the brushstroke of car paint on the concrete column, and the scabby texture beneath the headlight of my 2005 Pontiac Sunfire left from collisions two-months apart. “When I get the chance, I need to sell ‘Fiona’ like my stepdad says I should…”
I was not drunken, just a bit loopy. For two weeks I had been fighting a cold in my sinuses and chest while doubling my dosage of antidepressants. Whether the medicine or my immune system is the reason, I cannot know yet, but I was improving. Unfortunately, I cannot think about who I lost for very long before– I need to make this the critical turning-point, even if by pure story-making– to regret is necessary but I cannot let it become overwhelming — dude, do not begin to ask “what if” or else…
Earlier this year, I imagined walking to the beach. Readers, banish visions of a cleansing sun, the saltine smell of the surf, the chortles of playing gulls mingled with children’s antics, and the rainbows of beach balls and shade umbrellas. In my reverie, I walk toward Lake Michigan chasing the last amber of sundown through a knotted fabric of clouds. The wind bellows to life, driving snow into my tearing eyes; I ignore snow creeping down my boots. The silhouette of an unlit lighthouse looms over the red and green beacons marking a channel. I try not to think of the day we– but it is easy to think only of ICE. I scramble over the boulders marking the seawall, onto a crunchy moonscape of frozen H20. I can escape all signs of human life. The sound of breakers draws me far from the beach, to a glacial cliff-face that only exists in the darkest phases of winter. Second-thoughts shriek for dear life, beckon to me as I glance over my shoulder at the merry lights of docked boats, smudges of light from nearby condos, and even a few stars. A hand clamps over my face: it’s mine?! I run. I run to the sound of the waves and I finally jump, not quite knowing what kind of shock awaits me. I remember the Cliffs of Mohr, in Ireland, and the exhilaration of wondering what it would be like to jump from such great heights, not wanting to ever hit the water. This time, I want the water: the overpowering cold to finally end– “no, not the cold, Charlie, no…”
By the time I stopped that suicide fantasy completely, this February, I had already lost her. I know that I loved her because I don’t want her to suffer through this process with me; I know I still love her because I cannot bear to know how she is moving-on. Instead I live each day– March is turning to April– I’ve been unemployed since June– she couldn’t– I can’t– I am–
I ambled back to Olney, MD a month ago with hopes of a speedy recovery. Since, reality has dawned. Just Wednesday I discovered a new reverie, the incubated egg of an unseasonable blizzard in greater Washington DC. Last Autumn, when I lost my apartment and had to move-in with a friend from graduate school, I discovered a moss-lined creek down the hillside from a fun outcropping of rocks in a public park. Those were better times, even with the trees already naked of leaves. I imagine walking toward the creek with my 1974 Benge* Trumpet in my left hand and (in my right) a small, sharp pocket-knife with a bear depicted on the handle. The moss is frosted with snow, the stones lacquered to a dim shimmer by ice, but the water is flowing freely away. Poetic death is at hand. In my grandfather’s jacket, wearing my shoes from Ramallah and my kefia from al-khalil, I lower myself into the stream. I ready myself to lay flat into the tingling rush of the stream like a Viking upon his funeral pyre once my blood can escape into the stream. Bravely, I slash the soft underside of my left forearm. I transfer the trumpet to the other hand–
No, I don’t have my horn: I left it with the repair technician Tuesday. I cannot complete my suicide fantasy without it– I refuse to die without it– and thus I am spirited away to a plaza across the street from the Catholic University of the Americas in Washington. In one hand is my battered instrument case, in the other an umbrella to block the sleet. This was just before I went to the grocery store. The day matches my gloominess. A young woman with a dog greets me warmly and gives me directions to Randy’s shop. As soon as I walk-in among the instruments I clear the snot from my nostrils so I can smell them, smell his livelihood, reconnect with the smell of Ed Bagatini’s repair-shop next to Lake Michigan– insert all the sunny images that came to mind earlier. Of course I cannot die until my trumpet is repaired: I would not have lived this long without medical intervention if not for the hours of musical interventions across a score of years: my self-administered panacea for gloom. Maybe. “Take all the time you need to get her playable again; I want this instrument around for a long time.” That is my voice, speaking those words: meaning those words.
I found ‘a guy’ to meet my needs– beyond fixing a bracket. Randy and I talked shop for a long while; it may not be interesting to general audiences, except to note how special ‘Sugar’ is and the fact it will cost me at least $200 to make her playable again. “Oh,” I said, “that was about what I expected to have her repaired well.” It’s worth more than my front-bumper to me; I will never sell ‘Sugar’. Now, I imagine the police lifting her from my regal body– over my dead body! Don’t touch her. Forget it. The slash on my left forearm is closing; I ease from the water and the wet sublimates from my clothes; I stand by the frosted banks and play with the stream. I stand on the glacial cliff and play with the waves. I ignore the fairy-rings of death-caps and play with wind rustling the trees. I lay flat on porcelain and play to the bathtub as the drain-cleaner wells from my stomach and pours from the flared end of my trumpet– like a fountain.
“Fuck you, Charlie!” I say as I turn momentously onto New Hampshire avenue. A container of discount St. Patrick’s Day cookies from the grocery store slides across my dash. My reverie ebbs. Raucous eruptions of laughter blast from my frosting-crusted mouth. “Fuck-off, Charlie!” Charlie is what I call the gloomy voice. It’s the name I attached to my reflection in the mirror when I was three years old. Charlie was an imaginary friend with a real image, the inflection of my own. When it was suggested to me that I name ‘it’, at first I gave him names that were as vague as they were powerful: my dragon, the shadow beast, or (oldest of all) The Beige Ninja archetype– the deadly facet of mundane life. I could have addressed it so much sooner but– “Fuck you, Charlie, not because what you say is wrong but because you’re Charlie– I am going to beat you for the sake of beating you. So fuck-off, Charlie. You’re just Charlie.” I was ecstatic for a minute. I rewarded myself with a cheap sugar cookie gobbed-over with frosting; I loved the way they skidded across my dash as I drove my car. “That’s a taste of the old pep; that’s the spirit to continue.”
Charlie’s suggestions are more easily dismissed than a week ago, my own characteristics more potent to fill the breach. Then again, is this really the first-time I have started from ashes? It is a first time for some things.
To be continued…
P.S.: I also cannot die until May 18th, 2018, because I want to see the next “Deadpool” film. May 18th was my due-date over thirty years ago. Coincidence? Yes, I believe it is.
*Silver-plated, extra-large bore. Randy noted how the marking on the base of bell-pipe, which should be turned outward to be seen, was turned inward where I had hardly noticed it. “It looks like it was re-plated at some point. Huh… and you don’t know anything about that?”
“Do you have something else to play in the mean-time?” “Yes! A Bach Mercedes II from the ’90s.” “Oh, those are nice.” “Yeah.” “Does it have the shepherds’ crook near the bell?” “Nope; straight-out.” “Well, I bet it still plays beautifully.” “Definitely; I won’t be SO lonely without my Benge. I have my ‘Sadie'”