Saturday, September 25, 2010

Blackbird Song (20)

1988-- Mad bull lost its way

Now I'm on my feet again
Better things are bound to happen
All my dues surely must be paid
Many miles and many tears
Times were hard but now they're changing
You should know that I'm not afraid —Bad Company

Carla Moriarity works days at a mental hospital. She's one of the rare few who love her job. It isn't just a paycheck to her. Carla isn’t just counting the hours. She isn’t just waiting to go home; this isn’t just an exercise in futility to her. This isn’t just what she does until the weekend rolls around.

For one, she doesn't look down on the people in her charge, like most. She doesn’t see herself as above them. More importantly, she has compassion for the people who walk through those doors from the outside world into her world; the one where crazy is an everyday kind of occurrence.

She sees that most of these people have been hurt, misunderstood, and judged enough by the time they get to her, so she spares them that. She spares them the judgment, they spare her the lies they’ve learned to feed people in the Real World. The world where lies are as common as breathing.

In turn, people love her. She's never gonna be what you'd consider beautiful, but she is calm, capable, and her genuine goodness shines through every time she smiles. When she smiles, she's radiant. It's like the sunlight breaking free of the clouds. It's almost a physical thing, the warmth of her smile.

Today, she's talking to a new admit. He's trembling all over, sweating, and his eyes are wild. When she slips into the chair beside him, he flinches away. She talks to him softly, doesn't try to touch him, just speaks to him softly until he stops shaking.

His eyes don't meet hers, they slide away, skittishly, but he has begun to relax. Carla smiles at him, and even though he doesn't return it, his eyes keep returning to her, as if trying to make sure she's real. His eyes steal glances of her smile, shoplifting images of her profile, and he studies her, as if trying to gauge the genuineness of her smile.

She's already adopted him as one of 'her' patients. After reading part of his history, she's decided to do whatever she can to make his stay better.

His name is Gerald, and he's done the grand tour of hospital time. She can't help but feel an inner twinge of pity at all he's been through. Her heart aches when she sees his eyes sneaking towards anyone who raises their voice, his posture tensed his eyes sad and fearful.

She peeked at his chart, and there are things in there that make her want to hug him to her, to somehow shield him from his past and all he's endured. From what she’s read, a little kindness toward Gerald is long overdue.

Before the end of her shift, she finds Gerald Lee one more time, talks to him softly, not asking him questions, but only telling him that if he needs anything, she will be here another hour. She finds him staring blankly outside. She smiles softly, and says, “I'll see you in a few days, Gerald Lee. I left you a couple of Cokes to get you through the weekend.” He doesn't acknowledge her, but his eyes lose their blank stare, and he looks down at the floor.

He doesn’t acknowledge her then, but that will come later.


Carla is looking forward to her weekend, the way she looks forward to everything good in her life. Carla is one of those rare people who is happy, truly happy. She knows that happiness isn’t in wanting, but wanting what you’ve got, happiness is in appreciating what you have.

Carla has twins, and the apple of her eye is her son, Parker.

He’s a twin, and he looks exactly like her grandfather, the man who raised her. Not only does Parker look like her Papa, he has the same young/old/timeless wisdom her Papa always had. Somehow that kind of world knowledge never seemed young, or old, only necessary, and ever present.

Parker plays with all the children on his street, and once, when all the other children disdained a girl name Melissa Ketcherside, who was poor, and dirty, it was Parker, with his big brown eyes, his easy grin, Parker with his Papa’s smile; big hearted Parker who invited her home with him. To dinner, no less.

Later, when Carla asked him why he invited her, his five year old eyes on hers, eyebrows closely knitted together, mouth drawn in a protective grimace, he tells her. “Mama. Nobody likes her, because she’s poor. She just wants us to like her.”

When Carla hears her Parker say this to her, she’s taken back to the dinner table with her Papa. When Papa reminded her of almost this same fact. Her Papa’s words were on a woman his son brought home, this woman who was less than desirable. She was street trash, tattooed, dressed sluttily for their table, but when she (Verma, her name was Verma) sat down to the table with Papa, his sons, her boyfriend, and Carla, Verma’s eyes never left her plate. Apparently Verma had been reminded of her place before, and expected the same at Papa’s table. Instead, Papa’s warm brown eyes smiled on her, and said, “Verma, would you pass me the cornbread, darlin’? Thank you for dressing up our table. None of us dress up for dinner, but you’re so pretty you could be the centerpiece.”

Later, when Carla asked Papa how he could be so sweet to Verma, Papa answered her without a beat, shucking the corn in his hand (and this is how she always remembered him, shucking corn, picking tomatoes, digging potatoes, forever in his garden, smelling of earth/hay/goodness/life), he said, “Sis, she was sitting at that table, just wanting to be liked. She wanted what everyone else wants. Just to be liked.” And when Papa grinned up at Carla, she grinned back. Because Papa had ways of making everything in the world make sense.

He was the salt of the earth. Papa was much more than anyone else than Carla had ever known. He never finished school, he hadn’t been to college, but he made more sense than anyone she had ever known.

He had a natural understanding of human emotion that was damn near intuition. He was more than the earth’s child. Papa was the only person Carla was firmly convinced would end up in Heaven. She didn’t necessarily believe in such things, but when you’d grown up with Papa, it made you believe in things like Heaven. In Forever.

In every good thing that ever crossed your mind. In every daydream you ever had, the kind where you ended up smiling into the sunset.

If there was such a place, Carla knew that Papa would be up there, tending his garden every single day, shucking corn and grinning into the golden light of forever, waiting for those he loved to show up so he could pull the hot cornbread out of the oven, sit down at the dinner table and tell you how you were right where you belonged. With family. With those who loved you. With one of his strong, warm hands on your shoulder while you blinked back tears of happiness, because you were home and safe.

Parker reminded her of Papa every single day.

Her other twin, Genevieve, (named after her grandma) was the exact opposite. She was her own. She never brought home the neighborhood’s poor children. ‘Vievy’ (pronounced V.V.) as Parker called her, was more about her toys, her limited five year olds world. When Parker brought Melissa over for dinner, he ended up giving her Vievy’s two favorite dresses.

Vievy, of course, was livid--when she found out. Parker ended up being grounded for giving away something that wasn’t his—and got a very serious lecture about stealing—which Carla couldn’t take seriously, when Parker ended up saying to her, “Vievy has lots of dresses, Mama. Melissa doesn’t even have one dress. I didn’t steal ‘em, I just gave ‘em. Isn’t that what the Revrun told us we should do? Give to those who need?”

When Carla heard that, instead of wanting to punish Parker, she wanted to cry a little and hug him. He had the biggest heart, her Papa’s heart, and for that she could never punish him without feeling like she was doing wrong.

When Carla’s weekend was over and it was time for her to go back to work, she finds herself thinking of her Papa’s words coming out of Parker. She just wanted what everyone wants , the words clanged in her head. She just wanted to be liked. To be liked.

With that, Carla makes her way over to Gerald Lee, sat down beside him, and asked him how his weekend was. According to the other orderlies, Gerald is showing some signs of coming out of the fugue he was in. He ate, got up, took his meds, but stayed away from the other patients.

While Carla is talking to Gerald, she finds herself mentally taking stock of him. He has these soft, sparkling brown eyes that don’t meet anyone else’s but her own. His eyes are the most beautiful part of him, golden brown, expressive eyes that are shadowed with things that she’s only read about in his file.

While she’s sitting next to him, trying to find that opening that will let a bit of her sunlight into his eyes, he looks at her and says, “You look exactly like my mother.” With that, his eyes find his lap again, and a slight embarrassment pinks his cheeks. From his file, Carla knows that his mother is the one person who loved him, before.

Before he became the man that hurt carved into someone else. That two syllable word for who Gerald Lee is now.


In Kerouac’s words, “the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn”

Gerald Lee burns. His eyes, his desires, his obsessions… They all burn.

When G.Lee is discharged from the hospital, he starts to burn again. For him, it’s a new reason to live. To hope.

To burn is divine, the way that hope is divine. The way that new love is divine. The way that three beers into your Friday evening is divine.

He can’t let it go.

The first time he comes to her house, he brings her flowers. When she answers the door, she thanks him. She also asks him not to come around anymore.

He makes her nervous. She makes him exhilarated. For him, it’s like being reborn. Loving her makes him burn.

This is the beginning of his obsession. This is the beginning of her nightmare. It will also be the beginning of her daughter’s nightmare, years later.

Carla’s kindness is what opens the door. Her kindness and the words of her Papa. It was as much her goodness as her resemblance to his mother that kills her.

The next time he comes, he takes care of her and her family. Save one. But he’ll meet her years later, in a newspaper article. He sees both his mother, and Carla staring back at him from the printed page.

She will never know him as her mother did, but she will recognize his eyes. Madman’s eyes.

She will recognize that she’s seen him once before. Just once, just long enough to see his eyes.

Long enough for him to change her world, to take away her brother, to kill her mother.

She won’t remember what happened that day, except in her deepest nightmares. She negates it the way that some people negate Santa, or love, or religion.

She only saw him once. Just the faintest embrace of their eyes in passing, but it was enough.


slommler said...

I dreaded the ending of this story from the very beginning. I just knew it didn't bode well for Carla. Powerful story...intense! Wow!

Leonard Mysterg said...

My viscera throb with painful earnestness at the news of your comeback. Let our destinies mingle in pain-raddled awkwardness.

I am waiting, Virginia. Waiting always.

Virginia said...

I packed a toothbrush in my aorta, specifically for your benefit.

My awkwardness has, and always will belong to you, my dearest Leonard.

Wait no longer.


otherworldlyone said...

It is clear you have a future in suspense, my dear. This was marvelous. I hung on every word.

Your return changed my great weekend to over the top wonderful.

Travis said...

I don't think I could have asked for a better Monday morning reading. Thanks, darlin.

Possum said...

fantastic...breath-holding stuff

Maryx said...

Breath-holding indeed... WOW. Once again - I can't wait for more!

John Paul III said...

Deep, sad and enthralling.

Char said...

Very nicely done, I am exhausted and I held on- I had no choice!

Hannah Miet said...

I'm glad you're back.

Anonymous said...

Very beautifully written, stays with you even after it's over, lingering.