I have lost it all, lost the pattern, the procedure, the goal. Memory of the events that propelled me to this place in time has washed away like topsoil in a heavy rain after long drought. I cannot imagine what I was going to do with any of the things I’ve accumulated around me, things that spill out of a dilapidated shed. I walk in and out and around them, staring, wondering where everything came from and then return to the old truck. What fantasies placed me within this littering of debris?
But I am here, chained to each discarded object. They weight me with moral predicament and make any progress impossible. I cannot decide where anything goes. I cannot throw anything out because I’m not sure. I cannot remember where it came from or whether I should return it to someone. With each thing there is a vague recollection of idealism and possibility, dreams and plans written in the wrong ink and smeared to illegibility with tears of failure; an arm raised high in hailing a friend or a fist in defiance of the overpowering decay, but they are moments lost like last matches.
And who are these strange people I encounter? The little one calls me Dad sometimes but it is so glib it slips away before I can answer. I strain to discover his meaning. Most usually they ignore me, content to pass as though I wasn’t there. There is a constant urge to run in front of them and see if we will collide or just pass through one another on separate planes.
The woman never speaks. She looks at me through sad eyes, grey eyes that filter out division and reduce challenge to a drab acceptance. I want to shout out something about freedom but in their dreamlike gaze I can never remember what it is. All history is lost and I drag myself back through the yard to the old truck where I sleep, surrounded by this incredible clot of deteriorating mechanisms.
An old tomcat meows incessantly from the half-opened hood of the truck. I pick up his bowl from the ground where the raccoons have knocked it and place it on the fender again, and reach toward the cat only to be rejected again by hissing and an open clawed swipe that barely misses my retracted affection.
In the back of the truck my two pillows, Maggie and Irene, lure me back to the bed I have made with discarded drop-cloths and clothing and an old sleeping bag whose zipper has long stopped working and is cold against my skin, reminding me where I am. Irene is thin and worn with mildew spots and Maggie is a lumpy bundle of crumbling foam; their cases are dirty with neglect. I put each under my head alternately, night by night, and cling to the other for comfort.
I have been ill now for some time, coughing blood and aching in my joints and bowels but there is no one who cares. Irene smiles and stares out the window. Maggie has gone beyond, is oblivious. Sometimes I exaggerate and cough out the window as loud as I can, defiantly, even though it hurts more. The response is usually a slammed window in the house or a car backing out of the driveway a few moments later, the angry skid of displaced rocks, a whining fan belt. No one hears me moan with the pain and moan until I am too tired to moan anymore and fall asleep again.
Sometimes in the morning, light filters through the trees in small patches. There is still one car that runs occasionally and with the credit cards I can borrow enough from one or the other at the ATM machine to make the minimum payment on them both each month, with enough extra for rice I cook on a hot plate and a few vegetables and some fruit I eat raw, and cheap wine. But I know this won’t last. Nearing the limit I have given up buying cigarettes. Butts are enough. I can usually find them outside the grocery but when I can’t, I go to the movie theater and park and watch the crowds as the movies let out.
I never get out of the car when people are around. I roll up the windows and watch in silence, trying to figure out what they are doing, trying to remember if it was ever really like that: the happy, childlike enthusiasm, holding hands, playfulness. With my hand on the door handle I tremble, wanting to go out and touch it, but afraid the contact will make some irreparable breach like a boy with a stone breaking windows out of an abandoned house.
When they are gone, I get out and gather my cigarette butts and go back to my lonely truck wondering if tonight anything will be different. I write this note to myself, then decide to send it somewhere, anywhere. Maybe someone will read it and come find me. If you are reading it, please try to find me. I may not be in the truck any more. I could be anywhere. Look in the alley, in the hospital, in the jail. Look in the park. I need help. I’m sure with just a little affection I can find my way back again.
I never know
what I am going to write.
Days click by
and the email comes,
and the deadline.
I always go through
a crisis of confidence
before a creation.
it comes to me; a reflection
on all the things
over the years. They are
posited around me.
And then I get a visit
from an imaginary friend;
I invent conversations
in my solitude.
Things are resolved.
Words tumble out
and then I edit,
and edit, and edit,
and it is done, a finished piece
done with precision
– Larry Berger. HashtagWV. December 2017.
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