With the exception of the cigarette, soda, and snack machines, I sat alone in the bus station. The whole blurry evening was a culmination. An ending. One big, broken, messy embarrassment. It was the last chop of an ax, the one that makes the tree go down. The tree, of course, had been destined to fall by a thousand sharp whacks gone before.
I felt queasy. I walked out the door, stumbled across the parking lot, found some grass, grabbed a fence, and held on. I threw up.
That night, I regurgitated more than bourbon and beer. I regurgitated Wilma – our whole relationship – and that piece of my soul that she had been. It was gone, forever – splashed upon the dry clay and crab grass.
I felt better. After all, Wilma was desirable, but she was a lunatic. Our thing together had lasted six months. During that time, she had jerked me around, messed with my head, and kept me in a constant state of panic.
“When you talk,” she had once told me. “I can’t tell if you’re being serious. Sometimes I think everything you say is sarcastic.”
But did I ever pretend to be anything different? No. Never.
It had ended in an ugly, obnoxious way, this night, with Wilma sober and me drunk. My most slimy self had surfaced. It became apparent that our relationship had reached its meager hilltop and begun its descent. Wilma had me figured out. She was, shall we say, completely enlightened, and thereby totally disenchanted.
So, I became desperate. I asked her to marry me.
“You’re joking,” she said.
“Did I say I was joking?”
“Well, did I? Did I?”
(You can see, I suppose, that I’m capable of being an obnoxious person.)
“Fuck off,” Wilma told me.
So I did. I marched out of that bar, free-styled a few blocks, and ended up on the bench at the bus station.
Anyhow, that’s over now.
Bus 296 stopped in front of the station. I got on and rode back to Templetown, found another bar. Wilma was not in this one.
Gracie is my ex-wife. She was sitting at the bar, resting her feet. Gracie has bad feet. They hurt a lot. And when the feet hurt, Gracie hurts. She owns this place. I sat down beside her.
“Guess what?” I said.
“No thanks,” she said.
“I’ve had an interesting night.”
“Spare me,” she said.
“Why?” I said.
“I’m not in the mood,” she said. “I’m looking for interesting conversation. This one is predictable. And you stink.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“Really, you smell bad. You threw up on your way over, didn’t you?”
“I did, but I wasn’t on my way over here, really.”
Now look who’s sarcastic. I learned the craft from this woman. No, no. That’s not true. I’ve always been that way. Sarcasm was part of the original attraction. Let’s say that I honed my skills with her.
“Gracie, why can’t we be friends? Sometimes, a guy needs a friend. After all, this is me. I’m a real person. I’m not just some alienated character in some story written as an amusement for some writing group. This is the real thing.” I held my finger up. “You prick this flesh,” I said. “And it’ll bleed.”
“That’s the problem,” she said. “You are just like an alienated character in some story. Some existential wanderer. You’ve got no substance, no meaning, no purpose – certainly no direction. You’re not deep. You’re just roaming around – going wherever the story takes you. You’ve got no plot. There’s no way to feel anything real about you. You symbolize absolutely nothing.”
“But I’m alienated,” I said. “I symbolize that.”
“And you symbolize it badly,” Gracie said. “But that’s not the worst of it. As annoying as you are, I could put up with you if, if, if there was some beauty there – if you were at all lyrical. But you’re not. You’re bland. Sure, we are friends,” she said. “That’s the problem.”
Then she snorted. She looked at somebody across the room. She smiled. It was a mean smile. They were making fun of me. I have a keen sense – overdeveloped, really – of being made fun of. Then she giggled.
“Really,” I said. “You and I could be good friends, the two of us. The anger isn’t necessary.”
“Okay,” Gracie said. “You really want to be friends? You and me? You really want that?”
“That’s what I’m saying, sweetheart.”
“Then I’ll be a friend,” she said. Gracie sat up. She reached her arm behind herself and gave her back a nudge, like she needed to adjust a few vertebrae in order to say more. “Go get help,” she said. “That’s what you need, and that’s what friends do. They tell them. You’re my friend, and that’s what I’m telling you.”
I usually responded to this worn out directive with a lot of sarcasm. It was a reflex. But this time I signed my response with a voice that held a trace of seriousness.
“Still think I need counselling?” I asked. “Can that make a person lyrical?”
“Nope,” she said. “You’re too far along for that. You need a rebirth. You need psychiatric care. Check into a hospital. You’re a sick man.”
“I wouldn’t tell you this if I wasn’t your friend,” she said. “You’re too existential. What you need is stress. A little tension. Something to weigh nothingness against. This story of yours, with this alienated character, is going nowhere. And that’s a shame, because it could have gone somewhere. You’re depressed person – and you have been one for years.”
Gracie had a drink in her hand. I smacked it with a backhand. The glass hit a table. The drink hit Gracie. A bone in my hand cracked.
She looked at me and smiled.
“You serious?” I asked.
“Dead serious,” she said.
Gracie is, was, a fool…
We met, in college, in a make-shift, all night study group. There were eight or nine of us stuffed into a dorm room, cramming for a mid-term in an upper level philosophy course. We all thought we were highly intelligent, taking a course on stuff we would never understand. None of us had done the reading. We were all doing speed, and taking bong hits, and talking a mile a minute. Gracie aced the test. I started coming down as soon as the test started and almost fell asleep. I got a D. That’s how it all started. Two months later, we were living together in an apartment, playing house – and having sex twice a day on the floor. I think the whole relationship was based on those test grades. Now, seventeen years later, it still is.
But she was right. I did need to check into a hospital.
“You come visit me?” I asked.
“You take me there?”
“Now you’re talking,” she said. “I’d be glad to. That’s what friends are for.”
“Is it far?”
“It’s a little ways,” she said. “I’m parked out front.”
“I need to shower,” I said.
“They’ve got showers,” Gracie said. “And I’ll bring you some clothes.”
“Sure I will.”
Gracie stood up on those bad feet of hers. I followed her out the front door. How’s this for lyrical? The cool autumn air hit me like the edge of a fucking cinder block. My arms got cold, attacked by a thousand goose bumps. I shivered. My molars and bicuspids clacked like wild, icy metal in my eardrums. I stumbled on the curb and looked down the road and watched the light on the dark pavement below the traffic signal change from yellow to red. I put my broken hand on Gracie’s car. She took my arm, and helped me regain my balance. How’s that for lyrical? How’s that for symbolic? Huh? How’s that for going somewhere? Huh?