If I roamed in speech like Mark Twain, Making sure of my woods, river, sea, I'd wander in a circle, find an old goat, A grandfather, a porch, gold, river pirates. A wooden rocker and an audience, newsprint. Of innocents abroad, of jaded women here. If I enlisted like Mark Twain, casually, Caustic humor, avoiding combat, dinner. Serving for two, yes two, weeks And late for dinner. Tents and shovels. Tour of duty, the South, Rising late For breakfast, late home for dinner, Lectures from well meaning adult fools Who don't understand that war means blood. If I prayed like Mark Twain, for he did, It would be short, sweet, to the point, An argument of reason, intellect, An avoidance of familiarity, a face, questions. He prayed for salvation for his absurd truths. He never even got a letter in return. I am not Mark Twain, although I ramble in A concrete jungle, a zoo of originality, Of pauses and starts, hesitation, then Galloping on two feet with little hands. Children are my joy, his too. I enlisted, found a hole with my name, Foxlike I waited for the big dog, But all he wanted was sex. Sex, with me! Fraternizing with peers, I said no, and no, I found the door to file papers of abuse. Learned men are a grouping of Rotten apples, grapes on a vine. I have no time for old boys. Networks, bah. I don't pray. No, never got an answer, Not even a no. I figure God will Send me a postcard, or an email Asking for money, when God gets around. Everyone wants money. I have a hole in my pocket. Leaking. I am an emotional clamp, holding together A family of squirrels. Who knew? Mother always knew best, then I, Me, became the All Knowing Mother To mine own be true. Schools and crossbows Peeking from Concrete towers of sand. Sand stolen from the river. Free. Wait, there's a charge? Grumpy black bear, Moose Feet, It's something Twain saw, In the City of Gold at sunset In San Francisco, My dream city. Twain and I would have whiskey Talking politics, reading Dickens. Laughing at the words lost On a system of learning. Unlearning. Creeping, shadowing, loathing. We'd chat, sympathize, reconnoiter The political landscapes with Enough comedy for years of shows. Appalled that thinking people still hate. Appalled at the randomness of the bible Applied at a voting booth. Politics And religion rarely join joist to hinge. Mankind at its best, condemning sky, water, Others because they can, do, lust after. He'd shake his head, write a book, Find Adam in the park. Discuss with disdain, And I would listen, rapt, filing for later All of the similarities through time, A century of time, of things he thought Would mend, but haven't. So I write.
Could it have ended any better? Perhaps, but when you adopt a little old man hitchhiking by the side of the road, a good ending is the most wonderful thing of all. He pulled me over by sheer force of will. His thumb extended, his blue eyes immediately boring a hole into my soul, and I was hooked.
“You’re late,” he said, while climbing up in. “I’ve been standing on the corner praying for an angel. What kept you?”
“I’m not sure. Where are you heading?”
“I need to get a prescription filled, I fell down the stairs last night. The emergency room wouldn’t give me them, because no one would give me a ride home. I’ll give you twenty bucks for the ride.”
“I’ll take you, and angels don’t accept money. It’s bad form.”
I was his chauffeur that day and for many days which followed. His son had stolen his money from savings, the title to his house, and all of his investment accounts. His family wanted his money, but not him, and he wasn’t dying fast enough. I learned his story, became angry, and when I get angry, I take action. I got him a pro-bono lawyer, hearing aids, and painted furniture in his garage, because that bastard of a son had stolen all his furniture, too.
I met the lawyer for the first time while we were painting furniture for his kitchen with a blue stain. He needed a table and chairs to have company over. The lawyer walked through the house, took the notes I had prepared for him, and said that his son was suing for custody of the old man. Bill exploded.
“I worked for a living starting at age 8. I picked up coal from the sluice fields and saved my family a winter’s worth of warm. I worked every day during the depression, and I don’t resent giving the money I earned to my mother. I saved 20% of every payday. I served in World War 2. I saved enough money to buy my sister a condo and move her from Pennsylvania. I manage my own bills. I have health care and I pay for it. I know what day it is and I know who is running for president. Why is he suing me for custody? He’s a thief and a pathological liar.”
“Any proof of that?” the lawyer asked.
Oh, there was plenty of proof. His son had a history of exploitation. It had soured Bill’s marriage. He had beaten his wife and baby son, so that they ran away. When the divorce went through, he was ordered to pay child support and paid absolutely nothing. His wife was so afraid, she went into hiding. Bill and his wife never saw their grandson again. That was one of the reason’s his wife gave up and died. She smoked and drank herself into her grave to cover the pain.
His son had tried to weasel himself back into the old man’s grace, had pretended he was sorry for all he had done. Bill believed that even his son deserved another chance. As soon as he moved in with Bill, the verbal abuse and pushing began. He coerced him into a nursing home, stealing everything he could.
He went to court to take the old man’s driver’s license. That’s when Bill checked out of the nursing home and went to his bank to find one dollar left as a balance. The bank refused to act on the theft of $75,000 dollars. That was the only thing his son got away with. I made sure of that.
I met with his investment banker, set up a lunch date and drove Bill there. His broker immediately acted to protect Bill’s money. I got a lawyer to fight the title change of Bill’s home, and he succeeded in regaining the title. Bill was protected now, and with the money from the sale of his house, he bought a condo near his sister’s. The only thing he asked was that she visit him once a day for lunch or dinner.
She called me and told me to find a nursing home, that she couldn’t stand her brother any more. Then she left on a vacation he had paid for. Nice?
We put the condo up for sale. I asked him where he wanted to go to live.
“The only place I’m welcome is your house, Gabby dear. Will your husband mind?”
My husband is saint. He didn’t even question my decision, although he might have questioned my sanity.
Bill lived with us until the age of 91. I took him on cruises, stayed with him when he was in the hospital. I drove him enough miles to drive across the United States. We had breakfast, lunch and dinner together. John Wayne movies were permanently etched into my memory.
The night he died, his bedroom had been flooded with golden light from the sunset. We watched The Quiet Man, who wasn’t very quiet. He dozed off and I snuck off for a moment’s rest. At three in the morning, I woke. Something was off. I went to check on Bill and he was awake and lucid.
“We had a good time, didn’t we, Gabby dear?”
“Oh, we raised some eyebrows. You’re my best friend, Bill.”
“Your husband only fusses when he’s worried about you, Gabby. No more tears over arguments, just tell him you love him.”
“I really did vote for a black man for president. Who would have thought an old racist like me would have had all his help come from people of different colors. Why did you help me, Gabby?”
“There was something you needed to learn, God wasn’t done with you.
“Have I learned it yet?”
“I feel strange. Will you say the Lord’s Prayer for me?”
I panicked. Then I sang the Prayer from Bernstein’s Mass. His face looked flushed.
“Gabby?” Pause. “Gabby? I’m forgiven.”
You left me for work, you say, screaming as you went out the door. Your words are filled with hate, confusion, disgust. The throwing ceases with the door slamming shut, and now it’s only a matter of time. The phone will ring, and you will cry, “I didn’t mean it. I’m so sorry. You know I love you. I’ve always loved you. I’m so sorry.”
My part of the conversation will go as usual, “Hello? It’s all right. It’s all fine. You have to stop yelling now. Stop it. Take some deep breaths. It’s not so bad. Calm down, I’ll see you in the morning. Everything will be just fine.”
Everything I dreamed falling in love would be is only a pipe dream. They say only fools fall in love, and it is true. I was a cute little blond full of energy, wanting someone to love me. I was a first class fool.
Our marriage started with you drunk and disorderly. It started with my denying there was a problem. I was fine at work, where the guys would tease and try to cop a feel. I could out dance, sing and play them into the ground. You could come home from work, cursing that the road was wrong and you couldn’t pay for the apartment we lived in. You didn’t make enough. I was pregnant before we knew it. You told me that someone was trying to kill us. I lost my job, the apartment upstairs where the MP dropped only one shoe a night, and my dreams. I couldn’t go home, and the throwing started then. The door did hit my face.
That day you called me from the payphone. “Honey, I’m so sorry. I’m so very sorry.”
I ignored the pain, used the powder, and looked into your eyes trying to see my dream. Dad would have killed you, but I couldn’t go home to hear about what foolish childish dreams I had had. No, my mother would have been too much to bear.
In part, my mother modeled this for me. My father yelled. He split the kitchen table in half with a butcher knife. He yelled as he threw her across the room for having loved him. I couldn’t go home there. I pick up the phone, “Hi mom, I need to go back to school. There are no jobs for me here. Tell Dad I love him.”
It was something not spoken of in polite society. Your mother let us move to her home. It lasted a whole month. You smoked, lied, drank and ignored your mother who was ailing from having teenagers at home. She was as polite as you, “Get the fuck out of my house.” So I did.
We didn’t have food to eat. When the baby came, I walked to the social service’s office five miles away. You stayed home and drank. I had the baby. I had only enough bus fare to take the bus one way. They belittled me. Everything must me my fault. Ignorant woman that I was to have gotten pregnant so early. They thought I was a teenager, but I outgrew you by four days. On the way home, I hawked my wedding ring so that we would have a bit of cash. Thirty dollars for a cigar band. On the way home, I stopped to buy food for us. Orange juice, frozen pizza, formula, salad: these were for us both. I was starving. You ate the pizza while I showered and put the baby down for a nap. I drank the juice.
You took care of the baby while I found a job. Minimum wage to fold household goods. The manager told me I had one month to fix the department. I finished in one day. Everything tagged, Everything in its own place. He offered me a management job if I could move to Tennessee. Our car was dead. The company closed at the end of the month. Your parents blamed me for our poverty. How could such an educated woman live in squalor? You were expunged from the US Army’s roll call.
My aunt and uncle tried to straighten you out. They fixed me. I could smile at their house. I cleaned, worked for my aunt, and the second baby arrived. They gave us up.
We separated. I was to return to the Army, but they told me I had to give my children up for adoption. That wasn’t going to happen. I worked at a bank of hopelessness. It didn’t cover our rent or childcare. You drank and slept while the baby slept on your chest.
I pulled us together. I set rules, worked my way through a graduate degree, got a teaching job. Your son failed first grade. He called his classmates, “You little shit birds.” You got detention from his teacher, a minister’s wife. Your daughter had large eyes, a timid nature, and fear.
You got a job, and all turned into sunshine. Your boy worried us to death, your daughter fought at school. She swore like her brother. I took care of the swearing. I had power.
Then like a fool, I broke. My brain fried. I had trouble walking. I would sleep through teaching. Your mother told me to slow down. Your father drank. Your mother cried, and I bled for her. It was too much for her. She died. He drank.
You stayed sober, but despaired. Everything I did wrong, you looked at me with leaden eyes. I kept telling you I loved you. Tonight was the last.
After you called tonight, I went to the park and looked across the Potomac. As the sun went down, I did the only thing I could do to let you know how much I loved you. The water was cold.