Words cannot adequately express the giddy joy I experienced while I stood on the ferry’ s bow, alone with my “escort” (an amiable deckhand twice my size, half my age), as the vessel glided swiftly across the gunmetal Puget Sound toward Charleston, where the Law awaited me with open bracelets. The early spring sun made a lovely show of going down behind the Olympic Mountains–all dreampurple and pastel poetry. It had been ages since I had felt a sunset unfettered by loss. I was was further gladdened when my escort shooed off some fool who had come out of the cabin to capture (thus desecrate) the sunset on his phone. There was a reason we were alone; that reason (also, twice my size, half my age) was inside the cabin holding one of those phony “Blu-Ice” bags to the spot on her meaty chin where I had landed a right cross just a few minutes before.
When we arrived at the terminal, the half my age, twice my size theme continued. Trooper Wilma Atkins of the Washington State Patrol is as pleasant as she is large. She gently took me into custody and (to my delight) perp-walked me by the passengers queued for the return trip to Seattle. Never has a woman been happier to be the star of the perp-walk than I; it’s a memory I’ll cherish from now on through my dotage.
Trooper Atkins turned me over to the Torqwamni County Jail. Last year I discovered that they have a “special cell” for perps like me at the TCJ. After a lifetime of good behavior (or at least not getting caught) the harsh stresses of life finally got to me. At fifty-nine, I wound up spending ninety days in Northwestern State Mental Hospital, due to a bizarre and highly public suicide attempt that had been caused by a she-demon of my own construction (I found out that I really have a special gift as far as the construction of she-demons go). Now at sixty I had socked someone in the face for the first time in, say, forty-five years. Although most think otherwise, this was not a crazy action on my part. No person in the history of this planet has needed a punch to the face more than my so called “victim.” I am not sorry, I will never apologize, and the Law may do whatever it must. I have freed my soul, and as we used to say when the world was young, “It would be a bargain at twice the price.”
Although I was booked on one count of misdemeanor assault and could have easily made bail, my recent past history (along with my extremely gleeful attitude, in a situation where a gleeful attitude seemed inappropriate), the Law decided to hold onto me for 24 hours as to allow time for a mental evaluation. I was ecstatic when given the news. My own cell! With bars I could bang a tin cup against when the food wasn’t up to snuff, or tap out secret messages to my fellow cons. Maybe I could train a mouse, like that one in The Green Mile. Although none of those things came to be, I still had a room to myself and plenty time to relive and rejoice, over and again, the finest moment in my adult life.
Last year, in the course of committing my first noticed sin against the state, a person who has since become my friend and spiritual advisor, the divinely named Father Rodney Hardin, prevented me from taking what would have been a seventy foot step off a balcony at Our Lady Star of the Sea church. Possessing degrees in both theology and psychology, Father Hardin (whom I had called–by the way, that one phone call rule you see in the movies is bullshit) volunteered to have a look into my mind and assess whether I was all right to release on bail, or if I needed a return visit to Northwestern, where the grounds are pretty and the Thorazine is plentiful.
“What are we going to do with you, Sara? ” Father Hardin asked, shaking his head with a bemused expression on his face. Only the half my age part holds true with him; shaped like a pencil, I’ve never been able to decide whether Father Hardin looks more like Lyle Lovett or Eraser Head. We were seated in a perfect example of any of the police interview rooms you see on TV.
“Don’t worry about me,” I said, still as enthused as Scrooge on Christmas morning, “I have found happiness. Hell, there might even be a God, after all. ”
“That’s encouraging, Sara” he said with a laugh. “Hate to think that I’m wasting my life backing the wrong horse.”
I laughed along with him, all along knowing that he was about to get sly on me.
“Tell me, could there have been someone or something else you wanted to hurt when you struck that woman?”
See–what did I tell you? Sly as the Serpent.
“I know what you’re getting at,” I said. “The things you know about me rightfully beg the question. But sometimes, like this blessed sometime, a punch in the face is just that: a punch in the face.”
“All right,” he said. “Tell me the story.”
I took a long drink of water and organized the details in my mind, as not to miss a savory second of the Great Event. Twenty hours or so had passed since it happened, and other than telling the cops “Gemma-the-Hutt pissed me off, so I had John Wayne her in the kisser,” I had offered no explanation for my action.
I smiled. “I believe in civility. I believe that you display manners as to acknowledge another person’s existence, not to impress people with your good manners. I believe if you are determined to be loud in public you owe it to everyone to say at least one interesting thing. I believe people can only improve if they understand hard times and have sympathy enough to move them toward positive action on the behalf of others. I believe that there is nothing uglier than a flabby -thinking, entitled, ill mannered, boringly loud human polyp, like the thing I punched in the face. I used to wonder why only developed nations excel at inflicting nasty creatures like the one I happily jacked up on the world, and why educated, thus easily annoyed persons tolerate the nasty creatures. The answer finally came to me last night as I listened to it drone on about this and that, loudly and uncaringly, as though every witless tid bit she had to bleat was writ by Dorothy Parker –although I’m certain that the shoat knows nothing about Mrs. Parker.” I paused and drank some water. I can be sly as Father Hardin. It satisfied a still feral cattiness inside me to force him to frame my neglected subject from the previous sentence into a question. Unfortunately, for me, I had underestimated his ability to get sly on me.
“Interesting, yet superficial and incomplete,” he said softly. “Now how about a deeper version that doesn’t sound like a diatribe blog post.”
What did I tell you? This will sound vain, but I rarely interact with people who are as smart or smarter than I am. I’ll allow that Father Hardin and I are intellectual equals, but I do that only for the sake of my substantial ego.
“All right,” I said, “But it won’t make sense unless you let yourself go as you listen. I did it because of all these dreams and tomorrow too–gotta think it just like that, no commas, no word stressed above the others. In the fifty years since that phrase first came to me, I’ve never spoken it aloud, ‘til now. They are, or were, magic words, ones I clung to no matter how rough times got. You see, Father Hardin, I’ve never belonged to anything bigger than myself. I’ve never been on a team or a member of a church nor the army nor even the frigging Girl Scouts. I’ve always had just me and my hope for tomorrow.”
“Family is belonging,” he said. Although I could tell that he was digesting what I had told him at a deeper level, this came off flat and perfunctory.
“My family, or what little there was of it, is dead and gone,” I said. “Tell me, Rodney, how old are you?”
I laughed, “Jesus Christ, I’ve got bridge-work older than you–but it doesn’t matter. You are wise, if nothing else.”
“Why thank you, Sara.”
“This summer marks the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing,” I said, pretty much out of the blue. Although every conversation I have with Father Hardin seemingly jumps from here to there without design, they have deeper form and purpose. He knows when and where to nudge, and more importantly, when and where to do neither.
“How did you feel about it?” he nudged.
“I was ten. I thought it was all these dreams and tomorrow too; a promise of a future that I thought I could belong to.”
“How did your little sister feel about it?” said the Sly Bastard.
“Disappointed that the crew hadn’t been attacked by moon monsters,” I said. “Tess was only eight, but she already had an imagination too easily let down by the reality–even the greatest things in it. Since you seem determined to connect all my antisocial activities to the way it was between Tess and I, I’ll even go as far as to say that her lack of awe when it came to actual achievement was due to the plain fact that she could always dream a better feeling, a better feeling she later sought and found only in heroin.”
“How was it between you and Tess?”
“Have you ever loved anyone so much that you wanted them to die so they would no longer suffer from an unfixable pain? Have you ever hated yourself for feeling that way, because you know it’s a lie, and that the pain you seek to end is that the person you love constantly causes you? Have you ever shot your dopesick sister up with heroin to alleviate her convulsions, on the pretext of getting her moving toward the methadone clinic, all the while convincing yourself that this time the alternative will take? Have you ever found yourself feeling happy for no reason and then the phone rings in the middle of the night? I dream about her sometimes. She comes to me and assures me that everything’s all right, that there never was anything to worry about to begin with. Then even there, in that dream, I recall the first and only text Tess ever sent me.”
I stopped speaking and gazed into the perforated white cork tiles that all rooms like the one we were in are required to have. I had a last part to tell, and I felt that if I didn’t tell it right that all these dreams and tomorrow too would not only lose nostalgia, but would be drained of whatever lovely meaning it once had. And then I’d be damned, with neither hope for the future nor a sweet remembrance to visit in the past.
Father Hardin sat by silent and thoughtful. He knew it would be useless, perhaps even harmful, to push. Spiritual advisors can take you only so far.
“Tess used to hit me up for money for this and that. It reached the point early when I’d stop giving it to her and go with her and pay for or buy what she wanted the money for. When she was clean, she understood and wouldn’t put me on the spot for doing business that way. She was a junkie, thus she had forfeited her right to be trusted with money. But when she was dirty she’d get angry and cry and then finally beg me for it because she was sick. This is when I’d either take her to the hospital or go with her and administer the dope myself–after once again getting the rehab bullshit promise secured.
“The last time around, when she was fifty-five, mind you, Tess had seemingly finally given up on heroin and had settled for methadone. This went on for three years, which was a longer period of abstinence than all the others during the run of nearly forty years all put together. Then one day she asked me for some money and I gave it to her without question. Something in my mind screamed when I did that, and I recall a strange expression in Tessie’s eyes when I gave it to her. I gave it to her because I was too damn tired of it, you know? Sick of it all. Beyond caring anymore. Tough love. Such Bullhit. Then the phone rang in the middle of the night one last time. Later, after I had identified her at the morgue, I saw that Tess had sent me a text. I’m getting old, and I think I’ve only received maybe three texts in my whole life, and I don’t recall ever sending one. But there it was, sent two hours before the cops found her in our version of needle park. HEY BIG SIS, NEVER THOGHT [sic] U STOP GIVIN A SHIT. LOL. LUV T.”
Father Hardin spoke softly. “I’m going to have a little talk with the woman you struck,” he said. “You’ll have to write a check for this.”
“I know,” I said. “I’m good at handing out money.”
He looked at me for a long time. I could tell that he was casting about his orderly mind for something to tell me that I didn’t already know. Smart persons know when to keep their mouths shut. Father Hardin is a smart person,
After Father Hardin informed the Law that I was probably a little too sane for my own good, I sprung for my bail and met him outside on the jailhouse steps. It was almost twenty-four hours since I had been arrested, yet there remained an enhanced beauty in the world that hadn’t been present twenty-five hours before.
“Still gloating over punching that woman in the face, Sara?”
“Oh, yes. Yes indeedy.”
“Will knowing that it’s going to cost five-grand to make her go away diminish your glow in any way?”
“As we used to say, Rodney, it’d still be a bargain at twice the price. Besides, I just sold my accounting firm last month. I’ve got money. I also know how to legally hide an asset with the best of them,” I added with a laugh. “Come tomorrow, I’ll come by with a tithe for the church. Better than five grand. You guys really need a new roof.”
“All right, Sara,” he said.
“Let’s go to dinner, my treat,” I said. “I’ll call Uber. They’ve got the best pasta and free pour Talisker at Mama Leone’s. As some now long dead wiseass once said, ‘neither hire an honest lawyer nor trust a sober priest,’”
“All right, Sara,” he said, “I’m in as long as you promise not to punch anybody in the face.”
“Nah, one’s enough I said. “I’m fresh out of sisters.”