Archive for April, 2013

April 6, 2013

That Which We Don’t Want to Talk About

I am still in my work clothes – black wingtips, black slacks, and a dark blue oxford with the sleeves rolled above the elbows, tie slackened to unleash the collar – when I walk in the apartment door. It’s not my apartment, but I’m somewhat of a frequent guest. I went straight to the hospital after work and then I came straight here. I suppose I should be hungry, but I’m just nauseous.

I glanced at my friend who does live here, sitting on the couch, his elbows on his knees and hands supporting his head at the temples. “Is he here?” I ask meekly.

“Hey,” he says, noticing my entrance. “Yeah, he’s in the back room. He just got here himself.”

I walk to the back of the apartment, taking care as I can to step gently. My steps leave no extraneous creak or echo in their wake, but each one still leaves its impression on the apartment. The sun soaked day outside had necessitated no coat, but I suddenly shiver and see the goose bumps rising on my forearms.

I approach the shut door of the back room and knock.


He’s a hardass; in a prior life he traced the gang life. His low voice is gentle, but the aggression which lies dormant is unmistakable. He married his baby’s momma when he got out of prison, twenty 27 years ago. His baby. Let’s not talk about his baby. His baby is why we are both here. I and this fifty year old. We know why we’re here and try as we might to not talk about it, we cannot.

“How is the family?” I somehow manage to ask, despite the stone lodged in my throat.

Twenty seven years ago he emerged from one hollow – a life of cracks and fissures. He caulked the cracks, kneaded putty into the fissures and applied a new coat of paint. But sixteen years later, new cracks emerged below the paint; eventually the depressions broke through and the paint chipped away. An expert, surveying the damage, offered his own prescription to restore the façade. Professionally sealed cracks, but running your finger along the surface and you can still feel the ridges.

“We’re okay man. I mean, my wife is distraught— worried. She was hysterical. The kids don’t know—the younger kids— the older two obviously know, but the younger ones don’t. They never will.”

“Mm, yeah…” I murmur knowingly as though I know anything.

His eyes are red rings of sleepless horror. He occasionally pauses, as though to wrap his fingers around his next composed breath, drag it into his clenched lungs, and force it out his pursed lips. The composition of his pristine goatee has inclined severely toward the greyed spectrum since we last met; the cap screwed upon his head obscures most of his hair, but the patches peeking out share the same range of hues— the stark blackness folding into elderly greys.

But those eyes. From the red rings, extending inwards, are rivers of blood screaming.

“So how is work? Are you still at the same place?” his voice is wrenching around those words, as though they are bolts and nuts which he has to spit out.

Do I realize what I had interrupted when I knocked on that door? He’s barely slept in days and if he was about to cry from shear weariness, he…

“Yeah, same place, same thing. Work is good. Nothing new going on.”

Of course— I realize now why that door was shut. Why, though his body clock said it was only 8 pm and it was only 9 pm here, he was “going to bed.” Why when I knocked there had been some hasty scrambling before he came to the door.

“How is working going for you? Are you still doing what you were before?”

“I have been. And it’s been fine. We’ll see what happens now, though.”

He’s not a small man. His second son will have his build when he’s 50. Rarely going to be the tallest kid on the block, but neither the shortest; you’re never going to mess with him, even if he doesn’t have his father’s jagged history. This is a brick of a man. A brick of a man whose baby is in a mental hospital after attempting to kill himself. A brick of a man who hasn’t slept in days because he’s trying to bring his baby home and the doctors won’t let him yet. The only thing he wants this evening, besides to have his baby in the car on the way home to his baby’s momma’s house, is to cry – from sheer exhaustion, from despair that this has struck his family again, from fear that his baby is broken just like him, from joy that the angels were on that bridge – and go to sleep.

And then I knocked on that door just as he was about to unscrew his eyeballs from their sockets and let the torrents spill out. And those eyes are staring at me like I’m staring back at them. As though a wayward glance will melt the hall we’re standing in and we’ll disintegrate into puddles of glycerol and pyramids of multicolored sand.

“Well, I just wanted to say hi. I’ll let you get to bed.” I grab his hand and wrap my left arm around for the hug; we pull each other tight. They’ll probably leave in the morning, maybe the next. I won’t be able to see them off. I’ve got a trip of my own to make – to hug my own father, my own mother, my own siblings. We release each other and I hastily retreat back down the hall, escaping the staring of those sleepless red pools. Behind me I can hear him close and lock the door.