Thursday, March 8, 2012

An Abandoned Gem

I was going through my files and found this almost whole short story.  After reading it, I decided I had to post it.  I'll put an ending to it soon, but I wanted to share.  

“Why are you here?”
“You know why I’m here, Sarah,” I answered, trying to keep the irritation out of my voice.  The fact was, she knew exactly why I was at her apartment and it hadn’t been the first time I dropped by unannounced for the very same circumstances.
“I know why you probably think you’re here, but I want to know who called you and why.  What did they tell you?”  Sarah was feigning indigence or even outrage, but to me she just looked like my scared little sister.
            “It doesn’t matter who called me.  What matters is that I’m here.  I’m here to help.”
            “It’s not your job to help me, Matt.  Nor did whoever called you have the right...” she paused, not having the strength of will to summon the words.  “Just go home.”
            “Whether it’s my job or not, I’m not going.  Not until I know you’re going to be okay.”
            “I’m sitting right here aren’t I?  Christ, Matt.”  She looked away from me, pulling her thin legs underneath her.  She seemed small in the oversized recliner, almost childlike. 
            I took off my coat and tossed it over the banister that half enclosed one length of her living room and separated it from the foyer.
            “Please, Matt.  Make yourself at home.  Stay awhile.”  Sarcastic, Sarah.  The one who knew everything.  The one who was smarter than everyone else.  The one who needed no one.  Not for advice, for comfort and certainly not for affection.
            “What happened?  I thought things were going okay?”
            “Things are going okay.  And they’d be much better if you’d leave.”  Sarah stood abruptly and went to the kitchen.  She returned moments latter with a glass of water.  “You know, why is it that the only time I see you anymore is when you’re astride your lame white horse and under the impression that I’m in distress.”
            “Aren’t you?” 
            “Was that a rhetorical question or are you that much of a dumbass?
            It was fruitless to enter into such a discussion with her, but after thirty some years as siblings, it was nearly impossible not to.  After all, regardless of how extraordinary our situation might be, we were still brother and sister and some things are just universal.  Somewhere I imagine, there are siblings who feel no need to compete against each other and can just as easily back down and defer to another for the sake of peace and out of the strong desire to see the other happy.  I’d like to believe that I felt that way and it was only she that held us at arms length from such a connection, but the truth is that I also felt the compulsive need to be right, to be coy and condescending.
            “Are you going to insult my intelligence or can we just both agree that we know why I’m here and that you aren’t okay?”
            “I’d rather insult your intelligence.  It’s a whole lot easier.” 
            Sarah looked away again and after a long tense moment laid her head against the cushioned fabric of the chair.  I watched in silence for a moment and then took a seat on the sofa nearest her.
            I was tired.  My own life seemed so out of control and alone I was plagued by the nausea of free fall, yet here I was playing the stable sibling helping my wayward sister out of her crisis.  Or at least leading myself to believe I was helping.  Despite my confident stance in front of her, I didn’t feel confident.  In fact I feel like a middle aged pile.  Overweight, divorced, with a job I felt bound to, I wasn’t really in any position to deal out advice. 
            “Besides,” she quipped, “You aren’t exactly the picture of a man who has it all together.  You think maybe you should concentrate more on your own problems rather than avoiding them by coming here?”
            Siblings always hit deep when they’re pushing you away.  Sarah had been pushing her family away since she was sixteen and had developed a particular talent.  In my case, she had a sixth sense.
            I tried not to bite.  It was the worse thing I could do if I wanted to get through to her.  It was what she wanted.  A fight that would lack any semblance of substance and would end in my leaving and her not having to have had to face up to anything.  I failed.
            “There’s a big difference between my life and you trying…”
            “Yeah, I have one.”  Sarah shook her head, stood and walked out of the living room.
            Her statement certainly had an element of truth.  I had no life to speak of, only a routine I walked blindly through each day.  Her life was a cycle of abuse, failed, dangerous relationships and a constant flirtation with death.  It was filled with anger and sadness; what she might call passion in her more romantic inner deception.  I guess there was no denying it was exciting, but not in the way a life should.  Some people can live seemingly on the edge and yet remain at peace.  Sarah knew no peace.  Even her sleep was plagued by demons.
            I waited for her to return, mostly unsure of what to do next.  We had no parents in whom I could seek guidance.  Although it was little more than a statement, all she and I had was each other.  Seeking inspiration, I scanned the living room and took in what I could of the last twenty-four hours of her life.  The place littered with empty cans of soda and beer.  There were no empty food containers as one might expect and except for the cans there wasn’t much trash or filth about the place.  Nevertheless, the room seemed skewed.  Everything was somehow out of place and ill fitting.  Nothing so drastic as overturned furniture, but more like someone had come in and as part of some bizarre practical joke had moved everything in the room six inches to the left or right.  Sarah herself was that way.  Just out of place on the surface, while myself and anyone who cared for her waited for her to trip over the distorted landscape of her life.  She always managed to step around at the last possible second, remaining upright despite all predictors to the contrary.  This fueled her indigence and her refusal to come to terms with any of her problems.  Her sidestepping of disaster did not have a grace or smooth instinct guiding it.  She would like to belief otherwise, but she had been lucky.  Lucky in that she had yet to fall down completely.  This was the only luck Sarah knew.  Any smart gambler dealt one of her hands would fold every time.
            Sarah came back into the living area and brought a different attitude.  This was the Sarah that craved emotional contact.  Needed desperately to connect with someone, as long as that someone was not her family or friends.  As long at it was someone who could and would eventually hurt her.
            “Tom’s on his was up.  You have to leave.”  Her voice was a mixture of panic and excitement.
            “Actually I’d like to speak to him.  He’s certainly part of the reason I’m here.”  Part of me wanted to believe he was the only reason Sarah’s girlfriend’s had asked me to come over, but that would be my own delusion.  Sarah was an active part of her self destruction.
            “No, Matt.  You need to go.  There’s nothing you need to say to him.”
            The lock in the door turned and Tom walked into the room, acknowledging no one until he returned from the kitchen with a beer.  Sarah he greeted with a slap on the butt and a smile, neither of which was cute or endearing.  To me he nodded.
            “Hey, baby,” Sarah whispered, stroking his unkept hair behind his ear.
            “What’s up?  Why’s the Pillsbury fireman here?”  Tom smiled.  To him this was apparently a witty statement. 
            In another life, I had been a firefighter, but that was seven years and forty pounds ago.  Now I was a computer technician.  The relationship between following your dreams and using your degree was the same as the relationship between six figures and fulfillment.  I’d like to say that because my alimony checks are paid on time without significant financial burden to me gave me fulfillment, but it wouldn’t be true.  The money just makes it easier to spend my free time self loathing.
            I knew better than to try subtlety with Tom.  Nothing about Tom was subtle, especially his ability to communicate.  “I’m here because Sarah almost died last night and nobody even took her to the hospital.”
            “Please, that’s ridiculous.”  Tom put an arm around Sarah and gave her a rough squeeze.  “Nobody was dying.”
            “How many pills did you take, Sarah?”  I hadn’t planned on being so direct, especially in front of Tom, but it just came out.
            “I didn’t try to kill myself.  How dare you?”  Tears began to run down her gaunt cheeks.
            “Maybe because it wouldn’t be the first time.” 
            Tom started to speak but my eyes did not leave Sarah’s.  I had laid open the wound.  Said aloud what nobody ever said, only danced around.  I hurt her, and twisted at my tired heart, but at least it had been said.  Finally said plainly.
            “She did too many drugs chasing her buzz.  Let’s not get all drama over it.”
            “Like being strung out, whether it’s too much or just enough isn’t something to be concerned about.”
            “Are you living in the eighties or something?  Just say no is not exactly the norm nowadays.  She just took it a little too far.” 
            My eyes still had not left Sarah’s.  Tom, only a different name for the same guy who had been in and out of Sarah’s life, was shaking his head.  I don’t think he was even feeding me a line of crap.  I think he was so shallow and self absorbed that he didn’t see Sarah’s problems, her pain.  Her illness if that’s what it was.  He slept with her doing god know what to her every night and he was completely ignorant.
            “Do you think you could give Sarah and I a moment alone?”
            “Bull, I live here.  Why don’t you just go take a moment alone to yourself.”  Again the smile.  It was almost sad.
            “Just go, Matt.  You came and saw me.  I’m fine, now you can go.”  Sarah’s eyes shrank from mine and she left, going back toward the bedroom.  I knew she wouldn’t come back out.  Not with Tom here.  I had lost my chance, if I believed I ever had one.
            “Bye,” Tom said, tipping the last of his beer.
            I turned to leave and without thinking said, “Next time I’ll just call the police and have them sort everything out.”
            I felt Tom’s large hand slap against my back as he grabbed my jacket and shoved me hard into the closed front door.  My mouth hit the door and could instantly taste blood.
            “Call the police and just see what happens.  Don’t you threaten me,” Tom hissed.  He shoved me against the door again and then released my jacket.  “Get out.”
            Hopelessness.  I was consumed by it.  Enveloped in its bitter aroma.  I opened the door and walked out.
. . .
The way home did nothing to clear my head or raise my plummeting spirit.  I don’t know what I was expecting.  I knew from experience not to expect much from Sarah and yet every time I let the frivolity of my feelings for her cloud my common sense.  But then, when does common sense and family ever really coexist.  In my family’s case they are mutually exclusive. 
            I was lost in this negative thought that had become my world and almost ran over the lumpy sack the pickup driver ahead of me tossed from his window.  I swerved, testing the new all wheel drive system on my SUV and it performed a series of computer adjustments, remaining both upright and successfully dodging the sack despite my last second reaction. 
            Something about the scene made me pull over to the side of the road.  I don’t know if I had seen the bag move, which didn’t seem possible at the speed I was going, but as I got out of the Toyota and approached the sack, it was in fact squirming.  Stories I had given little serious attention to rattled in my head and as I opened the bag and was struck by the stench, I realized that not all ridiculous stories are rumor.  Inside the bag was a half dozen black puppies, several of them surely dead.  The stench was a rancid decaying smell.  The three dogs that were living must have been seriously injured and ill.  My stomach turned both from the smell and the outrage of what I was witnessing.  Not sure of what to do, I gingerly picked up the bag and carried it back to the Toyota. 
            After several calls for information on my cell, and an hour of driving around I found a veterinarian near my house who would take in the puppies.  I dropped them off, finding that sneaking optimism creeping up, setting me up for another let down.  The vet did not expect much, but I left my number anyway and asked to be called if their condition changed. 
            At home, finally, I say down in my easy chair, noticing the silence only an empty house can provide.  A sack of dead, dying and diseased animals.  Somehow this paraphrased my life.
. . .
            Weeks passed without event.  I neither heard from my sister or her friends and went on the assumption that her latest episode had passed without my help and probably would have without any intervention on my part.  Having the episode pass was not my hope when I went to her apartment.  Hope, my new four letter word, would have been that she would get better.  After all, there was no telling how many passes she had left before her flirtation with death became a meaningful relationship.
            The weeks of monotony were broken by a call from the vet and within minutes of the call, I found myself in the car driving to the office.  Again, what drew me to care so much about the fate of these abandoned puppies I do not know, but I was drawn and felt no desire to stop the sensation.  It was at least feeling other than self loathing and pity and in a life dominated by such avarice emotion it was good to know that there was room left for something else. 
            Against formidable odds, one of the puppies, all black Labradors, had survived both the fall from the pickup and the various infections acquired in her short neglected life.  It had taken four weeks for the little girl to pull through and she was now putting on weight, eating solid food and was officially a healthy puppy.  This information I received from the vet assistant who led me to one of the patient rooms at the back of the clinic; information that she delivered with considerable enthusiasm and possible a touch of salesmanship.  To put it plainly, I think she was buttering me up for something.  I of course was so wrapped up in the negative, that instead of assuming the obvious, I incorrectly guessed that the veterinarian was going to ask me to pay the bill.
            Now there are few things in this world cuter than a puppy.  Certainly there are more beautiful, profound, moving, and even cuddlier things, but not cuter.  And I would like to think that as a man I am immune to the effects of cute, cuddly things.  It turns out that I am not.  Perhaps it was the profound implication of the metaphor I had so recently used to describe my life rising out of the sack of sickness and death, but I cannot honestly say that was anywhere near the forefront of my mind.  The vet opened the doors leading to the back rooms, and entered carrying the little, squirming ball of fluff and I was sold.  Ready to pay whatever cost had been required to save her, I instead signed adoption papers, which were easily thorough enough to have been for a human adoption, and drove back home, this time with a passenger.


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