Everything is opposite. That’s what I tell my therapist. Like a snakebite, the first-aid is not to wash the wound. You suck the venom out because whatever you swallow, your stomach kills. Or a concussion. People say never sleep after a concussion. But sleep is how your brain recovers.
My therapist puts down his clipboard. It goes between his seat and laptop, next to other clipboards with other names. Now he wants to know about my mom.
She hated rollercoasters, I say. Despite what you think, riding in the front is not as good as the back. The back is best because the coaster’s momentum whips you around turns and over drops. Just don’t eat beforehand.
A sip of coffee later, my therapist’s talking adoption woes. He says adoption can affect people my age. The thought that a parent didn’t love you – that can stay with you. But that’s not a hard truth, he says. Parent’s who give children up can still love them.
I tell him my best friend, John, fostered a kid with RAD. That’s short for Reactive Attachment Disorder. John expected anger problems. You know a kid too angry to make friends. A kid too angry to say I love you. John never imagined a kid talking to every person they come across like a best friend and telling John he loved him right off the bat. But that’s how RAD kids do it. They fake connections because no connection is ever real to them. Again, everything is opposite.
I’m standing in front of the theater, my wife and kids to the right. My kids attack their favorite movie posters, fingers on the glass. You see, kids from good parents do not hesitate to do what they want. They never overthink. My friend in grade school stuck his hand up a snack machine to get free stuff.
My wife launches into a tirade on ticket prices. Twenty dollars for tickets, then twenty for drinks, that shit adds up, she says. The ticket guy scurries off for a manager, and while waiting in the heat of the sun, I tell my wife I found a number online. It’s her number, I say. The manager’s? she asks.
I wait until the previews before finding the bathroom and locking myself in the first stall. The cleanest stall is always the first. That’s because everyone uses the middle one thinking everyone else uses the first. And in the movies, when people slit their wrists, they always cut from one side to the other. In reality, you cut down the vein. Otherwise, you have to clean up your own mess.
Here’s something else: The feeling of being alone is never contingent on other people. You either feel alone or you don’t. It’s an empty well inside your head.
The number I pull from my pocket looks like chicken scratch. It’s stuck to a crinkled note stuck to another note, written diagonally and backwards with symbols between digits. It would fool a handwriting expert. Maybe the Zodiac wrote it. The area code must be near the pacific coast because I live in Virginia and the code is the reverse of the Virginia code.
I start punching numbers on my phone, the beep of each press echoing in the bathroom. Everything’s good. But the last number won’t do. I hesitate. I’m thinking she might actually pick up. Then I wonder if the guy in the next stall knows that sitting instead of hovering is the cleanest approach to using the toilet. That is, unless you like toilet water inside you.
Bed time baffles me. The lights go out and your mind comes to life. It’s when things are dark and empty that your mind runs marathons.
In the parking lot of the hotel I manage, my wife meets me with the lunch I left on the TV. She darted through the rain to bring it. She’s soaked, pulling a plastic covered fork from her purse. I married a man who forgets the world, she says. Right after a bolt of lightning bites off a tree limb, I tell her I don’t think I was ever truly loved. She hugs me and whispers I love you. At least that’s what I think she said. She could have said I love it when it rains. Or I love the stars. Who knows for certain? My first wife told me she loved cold nights, and then dragged our mattress to the deck in the middle of August. In a lifetime, the average human retains less than two per cent of what they hear.
After the hug, I catch my wife’s arm before she slips away. I remember my mom catching my arm and feeling my hand. I had special hands, my mom said. Strong hands. The next day a man with a clipboard showed up.
Big dramas, tragic events always start small. Everything is just one extra atom added to another. A drug addiction is just one extra pill.
I’m not letting you go. That’s what I tell my wife as I’m holding her hand in the rain. She says the roads are fine. The rain isn’t bad. I’m not letting you go, I say.
At home, I pace the deck, dialing the number again. My hands shake and my heart races, and I think about the pills in my pocket: Pink ones, white ones, but never blue ones like in the movies. A cruise down a quiet ocean awaits me. But not yet. I will finish the number. I owe myself that.
But when the lady answers, I go mute. What to say? An introduction? An ice breaker? I say the London Bridge is actually in Arizona. The lady says my name. This lady a thousand miles away in an oceanfront condo says my name. She knows who I am. And that is enough for now.