Misery

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It ten p.m.. I’m sitting in the car outside the Pear Tree Inn. I haven’t eaten since noon, and then, I only picked on tortilla chips, since my Missouri burrito was inedible.

I’ve been waiting for ten minutes. On the night after the moon came as close as it’s ever been to kissing the earth, the deep blue sky is muted by a gathering of clouds. It’s waning now, still fat, but flying backwards. repelled by its attraction to the water planet.

My clothes are in the back seat. I want to leave. I want to open the door, step out, shove my stuff in my bag and walk across the way to the other hotel. I could shoot a text message, scrawl a note, drop it on the dashboard. “I had to go,” is what I’d say. Sign it with an ‘a.’

I feel the door handle, grip it and pull. And then he’s back, in the driver’s seat. I didn’t see him coming. He starts up the car.

“Let’s hear some blues,” he says.

I close my door.

The morning was nice. I kicked back by the muddy Mississippi, concentrating of the breeze from the river and imagining what it would be like to walk by it every day. What would it would be like to buy a house, fix it up, and live like an artist in an artist’s town.

It was muggy at eight, but not unpleasant. We agreed to meet at the coffee shop down the road. I was early; I knew he’d be late. So, I made my way to the couches at the back of the cafe, away from the coffee klatch arguing politics up front.

I didn’t realize it until later. I was in the foyer of the funhouse.

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The funhouse is that slapped-up house of mirrors where nothing looks right until you stare at it long enough. It’s a place of high anxiety and bad dreams, a windowless series of rooms that keep the outside out and the inside in, where fun squeezes the life out of joy. If you dig your heels in, get used to the discomfort, eventually, you start to think the world is how you see it.

But, the world is how you see it, only because that’s how you’re looking at world. Stay in the funhouse long enough, and you become a prisoner of your own mind.

He waved me to the front of the cafe when he arrived. The arguing group had quieted to a soft murmur of opinion. They were his friends and so I sat with them and listened to them talk. It’s a story-telling town, like most small towns, I bet. But Hannibal lays claim to Mark Twain. They take their story-telling more seriously than most.

I don’t need to talk about myself, anyway. I know who I am. And I learned at an early age that most people are so caught up in navigating their own lives that they didn’t care much about mine. My mother is a monologist, nearly incapable of exchanging ideas in an even-handed conversation. I spent a lot of time with her while I was growing up, not talking. Not listening, either. She didn’t need me to listen in order to talk. She just needed me there. A witness to her rambling narrative.

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He’s quite a man. A scrapper, a survivor. Good looking, with salty edge. He came up from rock bottom and through luck and pluck he became someone he can be proud of. In five minutes, you’ll know what he owns, who he talks to, where he came from, and where he’s been. In seven minutes, you’ll know who he’s helped and how, and who’s endeavored to hurt him, and why. He’s a monologist, too, and I’ve always known that. But, I never really cared. I like his stories. I like listening to him talk. I don’t care that he doesn’t want to know a thing about me. It’s safer if he doesn’t.

There’s a mansion in Hannibal that had been abandoned by the widowed owner. One day, she packed a bag and left. Locked the doors and walked away. They boarded up the house, but towns-kids found their way back in. They believed the house was haunted, with the portraits staring at them from the walls, the wine languishing in the cellar, the ballroom pulsating with unresolved chords. It’s an endless house with a million dirty secrets. We took the tour.

At lunch, I pushed around my food while he and his friend talked about themselves and each other and the people they had helped and the people who wronged them. And then we visited another friend while he was restoring a painting. They talked about themselves and each other and the people they had helped and the people who wronged them. We ran into others, and they talked about themselves and each other and the people they had helped and the people who wronged them. And so on, until one conversation evolved and they spoke about how special he was and how special she was. And how special it was that they were having the conversation about how special they were.

I remember when I was a kid, being dragged around town by my mother, who loved to talk and had a habit, like him, of telling the same story over and over again. We’d go to the dry cleaner, a chain-smoking woman in a wig and a house dress, who would nod and shift from foot to foot as my mother talked. I’d pull at her arm and plead to go, but to no avail. We’d stay there until she was done talking. And then we’d go to the butcher and he’d give me a long salted pretzel. I’d suck off the salt as she told her story again, my voice tucked safely in the back of my throat. I had every bit faith that I’d be able to find it again, when it was time.

“What do you think about the Babylonian Jewish child sacrifice rituals,” he asked while we were driving through the hills.

“You’re a fucking racist,” is what I said. We had short exchange, in which he insisted he was not. And then I stopped talking again. You can’t argue with someone who’s always right. And you can’t leave if you don’t know where you are or how to get to where you need to be.

An hour later, while I was sitting on the curb, waiting to leave Hannibal so that we could spend the night eating oysters and listening to the blues in St. Louis, I saw the small glimmer of redemption disappear with the sun. It’s murky in the funhouse. It’s a trap. And once you’re in, you’re in, telling yourself lies while walking down a blind path.

I found, tucked in a dark corner, a box placed there, just for me.

I opened the box, and I saw in his hall of mirrors, my mother standing next to him, egging him on, teaching him to treat me like she did. A little louder, with a little more confidence, more life experience, more bravado, brighter eyes, and a broader mind. All the better to fool me with.

We were too late for food, but the music was nice. And at one point, when the blues band started singing a Bob Marley song with a bluesy edge, repeating over and over again, “everything’s gonna be alright, everything’s gonna be alright…,” I took them for their word.

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3 thoughts on “Misery

  1. You are beyond extraordinary! Your writing is simply amazing and I cannot believe all of those words come from a person I know! Damn I wish someone would give yo ua book deal or some writing deal! You are amazing!

  2. This one is so well written. It’s a story weaved so cleverly that you can’t help but use your imagination when you read it.

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