My lack of plot is making me ill. By ill, I mean, overly anxious. Anxiety is an ill, isn’t it? About the plot: I don’t fucking have one. If you’re so fucking fond of plots, put this down and grab a mystery. That’ll keep those pages turning. This is more like The Adventures of Blah Blah Blah. Well, you know that already.
Okay, how would this be? Gracie died. Althea died. My sister died. The Wimp died. No no no no no no no NO!
Okay, okay. I got depressed. How’s that for a plot?
I went to see my brother, and I got depressed. This is all very logical. I saw my brother. My brother is depressing. I got depressed. The question is this: did I see my brother because I was depressed? Or, did I get depressed because I saw my brother? Or, did something inside me know that depression was on the way; thus, I went to see my brother because, subconsciously, I knew I needed a kick-off event, something to officially get the ball rolling?
There are a lot of factors here: cycles, old business, old habits, chemicals in the blood, and a fucked-up brother.
Call the psychiatric hotline for an answer.
I saw him at the beach, which is where he lives. He’s a successful guy. He’s a judge, and a very good one I’m sure. He’s got a wife, three kids, three cars, two houses, a club membership, seats on boards of directors, a sweet retirement plan, and much, much more.
I drove, in a car borrowed from my mother, to his house. He was there alone, wearing tennis clothes.
“Let’s go play some tennis,” he said.
I had just gotten out of the car.
“Hey, but how’s the wife? The kids? I just got here.”
“They’re out,” he said. “Shopping.”
We were standing in the driveway. I stretched a little. I had been driving for four hours. I took a few steps. Nice lawn. Paradise forged amidst the sand.
“Did you bring your tennis stuff?”
He frowned. This looked like bad news. But wait! A solution!
“Come in,” he said. “You can wear my stuff.” He had that worried look on his face – sympathy mixed with impatience. “It’s a beautiful day, but it’ll get cold when that sun sets.”
He nodded toward the sun. He was right. The sun was warm for this time of year.
The shorts, shirt, shoes, and socks were prepared, laid out on the couch. As soon as I walked in, he instructed me to change immediately in the bathroom. That’s what big brothers are for, right? They tell you what to do.
I’ve always made a point of being as sarcastic as possible. Perhaps a bit of gratitude is due. This guy, my brother, who has always bugged the shit out of me, has always told me what to do and think. But really, what’s so bad about that? It gives my brain a rest. It reduces decision making, lowers my anxiety level, allows my attention to wander. A vacation with him is really a vacation. Hey, what the fuck? The guy wants to play some tennis.
I changed into tennis clothes. The shorts were too tight. This asshole, who has always been my slight inferior in the area of pudginess, has lost weight. He could have given me a pair of his old, fat boy shorts.
He took me to the country club and gave my out-of-shape, alcoholic ass a good walloping in tennis. We still had a good game. I will not share the score with you. But the points were good. He and I grew up whacking tennis balls at each other, so, once I got out there, I was able to zone in on my former abilities well enough. I had my moments; he got his workout.
I got a beer in the clubhouse on the way out. He clucked. He does that a lot, when he disapproves of what he sees. He clucks. I’d hate to sit in on that courtroom of his. It’s probably filled with the sound of clucking.
On the way to the car, I started to tell him about the hospital, the psychiatrist, the diagnoses, and the medication.
“Don’t want to talk about it,” he said.
It was getting to be late afternoon. There was less sun, a breeze, and some fairly cold air. He had sweats. I didn’t. I was freezing. He opened the back door of his nifty automobile and pulled out a white sweater.
“Put this on,” he said.
“That’s all right,” I said. “I’m okay.”
“You’re cold,” he said. “Put it on.”
“I’m okay,” I said. “I’m really sweating, and I’ll get it dirty. I’ll change when I get back to your house.”
“It’s cold out here,” he said. “Put the damn thing on.”
On the way back, he called his wife from the car. I couldn’t catch he drift of that conversation. He mumbled, agreed, okayed, uh huhed, and hung up.
Back at his house, it was quiet.
“Where’s the family?” I asked.
He threw me a towel.
“Take a shower,” he said. “Then we’ll get something to eat.”
“They’re not coming?” I asked.
“I said they’re out. Take a shower. I’ll take you to a nice place. Seafood.”
“Will they be back tonight?”
“So I won’t see them?”
“Listen,” he said. “Don’t you think it’s better this way?”
Yeah, better this way. Better to keep the mentally ill relatives locked in the basement.
“I tried to tell you,” I said. “I’m being treated now. I have a bipolar depression. I’m on medication. You know, I’m changing, and there’s really nothing to worry about. You act like–”
“Listen,” he said. “I know all about that shit. I see it everyday. I think it’s good. I hope you’ve got a good doctor. I’m happy for you.”
He looked at me and smiled. He’s really a good person, deep down, this asshole brother of mine.
“But you don’t trust me,” I said.
“Sure I do. But if you have to know, Lanna doesn’t want the kids exposed.”
Dot dot dot. Do-bobby do-bobby dot.
Last time I was here, it wasn’t tennis. It was Ping-Pong. He won about fifteen games in a row. Eventually, I spit in his face and threw my paddle through his goddamn porch window. Crash.
Sure, it scared the kids. Yes, it was bad manners.
But the son-of-a-bitch could have let me win one game.
After that, I insisted on buying and cooking supper for the family. Lanna objected. I insisted. I wanted to do it for them! I was the guest! My brother, bless his domineering heart, finally let me have my stubborn way. I fixed spaghetti with tuna fish sauce. After all, we were at the coast. A seafood dish was in order. I got little red tomato sauce splotches all over Lanna’s slick white stove, put scratches – four inches long, an eighth of an inch deep – into the kitchen countertop where I cut the onion.
His kids wouldn’t eat a bite. Lanna took them to the golden arches for supper.
“She’s still pissed about the tuna sauce,” I said.
“Goddamn it!” my brother said. “We’re not talking about this shit. Take a shower! Or I’m going out to eat by myself.”
“Maybe you should,” I said. What a sucky little ungracious shit I can be. “And I’ll drive back tonight.”
Now he took a deep breath and sat on the couch. He tried a new approach. Kind and gentle. He was trying, trying – this legal expert, master of persuasion.
“Listen,” he said. His voice was disarmed – scratchy and faint. Calm, both hands on his knees, he looked straight at me.
He got my attention, this brother of mine, when he looked at me. You rarely got to see this guy’s eyes. He had never done the ol’ fifteen years of psychotherapy routine. When he did look my way, I could see that it was an effort. I liked his eyes. Green, just like mine. He should have flashed them around more often.
“The past is the past,” he said. “Right now, I’m hungry. You’re here. I don’t get to see you often. Just take a shower and we’ll go eat. Simple.”
So I did.
We went to a nice shrimp restaurant on the inlet. It was Saturday night. The place was full of families and extended families, crawling with kids. I asked my brother if I could order a beer.
“Go ahead,” he said. My brother had never been drunk in his life. Tipsy, once or twice in his younger days, maybe, from a single glass of wine on a New Year’s Eve. “It’s a depressant,” he said. “But do what you want. This is my treat.”
I already knew it was his treat. I drank five. Hey, a guy’s got to sleep at night, and there were no bars, just golf courses, in his neighborhood.
When he got the bill, he said, “Wow, I didn’t know beer cost this much. That’s an expensive habit.”
“Really?” I said. “Sorry.”
He shook his head and waved. “No problem. I just didn’t realize.”
He was right. This place probably robbed you blind for a beer.
In the morning, we played tennis again. Same outcome, although I played much better. We had burgers in the clubhouse.
As I got in the car to leave, he gave me some money. Nice. Very nice. A handsome sum. Not bad just for showing up and losing a few sets.
I told him I was going to try and get a job.
“Sure you will,” he said. “Listen,” he said. “You tell my wife about this cash and I’ll kill you.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t take this,” I said. I put my hand on my pocket, where the money already was.
He put his hand on my arm.
“Seriously,” he said. “Really, you understand. No big deal, just don’t tell her.”
“Lanna’s okay,” he said. “But – you were married. You know how it is.”
“I understand,” I said.
I think I did.
It was a pleasant departure. It was a pleasant weekend, day – whatever it was. Then why so depressing? Why?
Why, then, did I drive home in the pits? The progressive pits? Sinking through moods like a pencil poked through mud? Sinking, losing it all, not seeing or hearing anything but noise in my mind, the noise getting louder, and more stupid, and faster.
I barely got there. I kept missing the turns. So what do you think I did, that Sunday evening? Do you think I slept? Crawled into my bed and curled into a ball and suffered?
No. I walked around my coffee table. I hung my head and did four thousand slow laps. At least I got my exercise that night. Although, experts say, if you move your arms and jut your chin out you get a better workout. I didn’t move my arms. I hardly moved my feet. Once, I almost took a detour and walked to the bathroom and looked at my sorry face in the mirror. But I didn’t, and I didn’t, and I didn’t – until I did, early in the morning. I was crying. How the hell can a person be crying and not know it? Why does it take a mirror to teach me such things?
Thank you, judge.
Very kind of you, Your Honor.
So you, you voyeur. You, who wants a plot – some story with real things happening, bad things, and somebody performing heroic deeds to overcome them. You, who wants real people in real trouble, real problems with real solutions. Murders, crimes, love tangles, wars and ethnic cleansings (as well as romantic locals and historic backdrops). You, who wants a neat package. A villain. A hero. A lover. You, who wants a plausible event, a rational thought, and a logical reaction. One after another after another. You, who wants happiness when happy things happen, sadness when sad things happen.
It ain’t that simple, sports fan.
Some people’s heads don’t work that way.