Couch Potato


April 2008, Albuquirky, NM

I wish I could relate that the following day I popped out of the bed (that was not mine) renewed, refreshed, rejuvenated. Up, and at ‘em, ready to do something constructive. But, of course that is not the case. That outcome goes with someone else’s story, with a life that is, you guessed it, not mine. The truth is I don’t remember what happened the next day, nor for the next two weeks. They are, as people like to say, a blur. My next memory is of lying on the couch, crying. But don’t get the impression that I reclined for a few minutes and had a good cry, and then got on with my day. No. I mean, I sobbed. With great big snot globs hanging from my nose. It wasn’t a few minutes. It was a few weeks.

Mostly, I let the snot globs hang. I didn’t bother to use tissue very often. It felt good to cry; for the first time in nearly two years, I felt safe, physically, at least. I felt I was crying out of an enormous relief, and I reveled in it. I’d lie on the couch, morning, noon, and night, marveling at the way I felt. The couch was keeping me grounded! But God it was ugly. So, I’d laugh at its hideousness, with its background of diarrhea-after-a-bug brown, and its foreground of black Kokopelli figures, yellow Zia symbols, and green chiles. And then I’d choke on a heaving snot-glob-sob of gratitude, and run my hands up and down the material, stopping to rub the rough, raised spots of Kokopelli flute, Zia symbol edge, and green chile top. Rub, rub, rub. Oh God, I’m safe, I thought. Safe! I don’t have to worry about one person overdosing, and another one blaming me. Rub. rub. Oh God I’m safe. I don’t have to worry about crazed men breaking down doors, in sloppy pill/alcohol hazes. Rub. Rub. Oh God. I’m safe. Rub. Rub. Rub.

Basically, I flipped the fuck out.

And, kept flipping out. There was no job search, from this place that was not mine. There was only the couch. And somehow, I made that mine. Probably because I never left it. Memory after memory swamped my cranium, and day after day, I was plagued.

Woosh. There it was, the time I’d spent with the Scottish man. I shouldn’t have stayed with the Scottish man. Oh God I really shouldn’t have stayed with the Scottish man. That fossilized red-headed giant really did believe he could get me in the sack. I’d asked him to drive me to Mexico, if I paid for the gas, so I could buy the penicillin that I desperately needed for my skin. He took me, as asked, but then proceeded to buy several bottles of Viagra. The ride home was dreadful. Why had he purchased all of those pills? I found out the answer when we got back to his place. “Are you sure, you’re sure you don’t want to get in the tub with me? We can wash each other. It will be fun. Let’s make bubbles!” I thought if I stayed any longer, he might try to force me to make those damn bubbles, ick. What told me that, I didn’t know, but I listented to my instinct and left the next morning. But that meant I’d had to ask another guy I shouldn’t have been spending any time with for a ride. Ugh.

Bam. There it was, the time I’d spent with the Indian man. In a whisky-induced rage, he’d ripped a gold necklace from my neck, and threatened to beat me for being too rich. We’d been sitting in a park, smoking cigarettes, having what I thought was a good conversation when out of nowhere he jumped up and yanked off the expensive chain my grandfather had given me for some birthday or another. “Bitch,” he said. “Stupid, white, filthy rich bitch. That’s a decoration for you, you stupid white bitch, it’s money for me! I should beat you. Stupid white bitch!” Somehow, I’d managed to run away, in the dark no less, and back to the shelter where I was staying.

Smack. There it was, the time I’d spent with the older woman. I thought she was my friend, but no, she was not. Her daughter had stolen several of my belongings, and when I told my (ahem) friend about it, she told me that I could get out, thank you very much, because her daughter would never steal from anyone. “Get out,” she’d screamed so loudly that my bowel contents curdled! I’d ended up calling the sheriff to guard me while I packed, she was so enraged. The cop was just as mad as she was and kept yelling at me to hurry up.

That couch. That sinfully ugly couch.

As I cried me my very own creek, that couch became my friend. It had help me up, so far, yeah, way better than any person I’d ever known.

20,000 Leagues Under the See


March 2008, Albuquirky, NM

I wish I could remember her name, but I cannot and it pains me, because sometimes I wish I could thank her. I can’t even recall if she was a nurse, a nurse’s aide, or a case manager. But what I can remember is her youthful, beautiful face, as it delivered its terrifying message; it was contorted into an agonized expression of concern and fear. For me, first, and for herself second. She wasn’t supposed to be telling me this. She could lose her job, she’d said. HIPAA and all. But, she’d added, she could not live with herself if she didn’t. Screw HIPAA.

“You need to get out,” she relayed, in the hoarsest whisper I’d ever laid ears on. “She’s dangerous! You shouldn’t be caring for her, and you never should have come in the first place. You’re not even certified! Look, I’ve worked with this family for a long time, and I’m telling you it won’t be long before she OD’s on the morhpine. If she dies in your care, they will blame you.” “Now read between the lines,” she said urgently, but more hoarsely than the rest. “Trust me, they will come after you, and they might win. It’s your word against theirs. Get out now while you still have time. You’re a nice girl, and you don’t need to be mixed up in all of this.” Her face tightened, and I could see her swallowing rapidly. She was trying so hard not to cry that I wanted to myself. “I don’t want to lose my job. I can’t lose my job. Please, just hurry!”

After she left, I sat down on the bed that wasn’t mine, in the bedroom that wasn’t mine, thinking about problems that should not have been mine. Why was I always having problems like this anyway? I shouldn’t have been in this bind, and I knew it. But for some reason that I didn’t understand, I was always in a bind, and always being victimized. I looked at my two blue rolling suitcases, and then switched my view to my cell. I had to call my mother.

Message translated into the mouthpiece, my Mom nearly lost it. I’d only heard her voice sound this way once before, when my stepdad was dying. “Marie,” she pleaded, “please listen to her. Something tells me you should listen to her!” “I know, Mom,” I said. “I know!” And I did know, the more I thought about it. She was taking ever higher doses, and afterward, nodding off more frequently, her breathing not quite even. Her son and sister were no help. The son hadn’t come around since he’d been taken to the ER weeks ago, after dosing himself with a combination of pills and alcohol. The sister just didn’t care. “Always a troublemaker, always a problem,” she’d said to me once about her younger sibling, with an especially nasty look on her face.

I got up, and walked to the chest of drawers that was not mine. I opened it, peered inside, and gave its contents a wry smile. At least the clothes were mine. I knew I should pack, but what was the point? There was no place to go. Not even the homeless shelter would take me back. I simply had too many medical problems, they’d said. I felt so alone, and the truth was: I was alone. My nurse-nurse’s aide-casework manager could not help me. The old lady’s son could not help me. And the sister would not help me. And my mom, well, I already knew she wouldn’t help me either. This was all just too much. I’d been running forever, it seemed. I didn’t want to leave, and besides, I liked the old woman. She was the grandma I’d always wanted. So I sighed, no, heaved, and walked into the living room to check on the old lady.

Her wheelchair sat facing the television, which was, first and foremost, always blaring, and second, making me crazy. As I took my last step out of the hallway, and rounded the corner toward that ridiculous monstrosity, I noticed the absence of noise. She wasn’t making a sound. I sucked in my breath. Oh God. No. Not this soon! I bolted past the couch, and came to a rigid stop in front of her wheelchair. I watched. She was slumped over on her tray, her hand still half-clutching the bottle of morphine tablets. I stepped forward and tried to yank the bottle away. Just then, she Hoovered a huge breath, as if for some moments she’d forgotten to breathe, and her hand let go of the pills easily. Thank God; she was alive!

I sat down in front of her wheelchair, and watched her labored breathing. There was one place I might go. But, it was a long shot, and I wasn’t thrilled about it. The guy was creepy, and I’d just met him. I really didn’t want to see him again, not in any capacity, but I supposed I might not have a choice. He might let me stay with him, if I asked nicely.

I got up, and grabbed the cordless phone from the table next to the old lady’s wheelchair. I pressed all three digits, and listened while the 911 dispatcher answered almost too quickly. He sounded annoyed: “911, what is the address of your emergency?” I gave the guy the information, hung up, and waited for the ambulance for the second time that week.

~~~~~~

It was a long time before I was ready; at least six hours had passed. The old woman was gone, and I was entirely packed. The guy had said yes, and although the knot in my stomach told me something might be wrong with what I was doing, I ignored it, more-or-less. What choice did I have? I was that desperate. Besides, I didn’t think the guy was wicked, I just thought he was weird. Okay, yeah, creepy, but not a rapist or anything. It’s just that something was off about the guy. He was definitely unemotional, which was easy to conclude from the flat affect. What that meant, I didn’t know. But, I’d be fine. I would just look for another job in a week or two, once I’d had a chance to catch my sanity, and stick it back in my head.

I loaded the severely dented white pick-up, borrowed from the apartment complex manager, and drove to the new home, which was not mine. The guy had left the door unlocked for me. I’d called just in time. He’d be back in a few days, he’d told me, after he got done installing a microwave tower in the middle of that proverbial town of East Bumfuck, this one in Arizona. Make yourself at home in the meantime, he’d said. So I did.

I rolled my blue bags into the new bedroom that was not mine, unpacked their contents into the new dresser that was not mine, and set out to take a bath in the tub that was not mine. I was exhausted, and I felt grimy. When was this going to end? The constant running had taken its toll. I knew I had a problem, some problem, a big problem. No, correction, I knew I had more than one problem, and they were all big, but I could not see where they were coming from. I was 20,000 leagues under the see!

I sunk down into the delightfully warm water, and tried not to make eye contact with the two strange dogs that were staring at me. They weren’t mine, and they knew it, but at least they’d let me in, out of the cold, and out of danger, and into…the unknown.

Elsa Makes Egg Salad


3-quart saucepan, Stainless steel, removed from the – forever disorganized - pots and pans cupboard. Elsa stands up, moves her body over to the Double-Basin sink. She sighs. The side with the garbage disposal is still clogged. Damn James for putting it off. Elsa pushes up the sleeves on her worn-out pink bathrobe. Just never mind him. Eyes on the water faucet. Her shaky right hand reaches out to grab a handle. Oops. Wrong one. That one’s got a red dot – for hot. She wants the opposite one, with the non-existent blue dot which rubbed off long ago. Yes, that’s the one – eggsactly. Water on cold. Elsa fills the pan.

Smudged, faded wallpaper:  teacups on a beige background. Elsa’s left hand reaches out – to pick the peeling seam just over the sink. Right hand she thrusts in the pan, feeling the water level rising. She can’t help but notice. The brown cake batter splatter on the wall, right next to the cupboard on her left. Devil’s Food Cake. Jimmy’s birthday party a month ago.  Pan almost full. Water off. Well, if you don’t count the dripping.

Harvest Gold refrigerator. Grubby, greasy handle. Elsa grabs the disgusting thing, yanks it open and cringes. Mold in the seal on the door. Soft drink spills on the tops of the crisper shelves. “Sick, you’re dirty and sick, you should clean this, Elsa!” James is speaking to her now, even though he’s not there. She closes her eyes to block out the hurt, and grips too tightly the carton. One dozen Grade Double A eggs. Extra large. Cold, white and bumpy. Delicate, but tough! She likes to think of herself that way. Gingerly, oh, so tenderly, Elsa lowers the white oval delights into the pan (single layer of course), lest the cold water crack the shells. Then she remembers. I shoulda put the eggs in first. James is right. She is so forgetful!

Head hanging, back slumped, she creeps to the awkward gas stove. It rocks back and forth and it scares her. Tick, tick, tick. Poof! Blue-yellow flames. Thank God, it didn’t explode. But, what if the whole thing blows up next time? It’s not, it’s not NORMAL for stoves to be rickety. Elsa knows this. She steadies herself against its slick white edge, being careful to place the pot handle toward the center, just like Grandma taught her. She sets the kitchen timer. Ten minutes and then she’ll move it from the burner to sit for awhile. A snack sounds good. Elsa turns to face the icebox. Becky’s drawing is crooked. Again. The magnets aren’t strong enough. She smiles, straightens the tattered-edged picture, wondering what Becky was thinking when she made it. Forget the snack. Elsa’s frowning now. She knows. James has told her a thousand times. “You should be a better role model, for the kids, you don’t want them turning out to look like you, do you?” The scale, she thinks of it now, too, and backs away from the fridge. She stands in the center of the too tiny kitchen, lost in dismay and despair until – beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep. Timer snaps her out of it.

Back to the Kenmore. Elsa spies the deeply etched wooden spoon propped handily in the utensil holder. Mr. Sturdy she calls that stirring device. It used to be her mother’s. She wipes off the brown dust stuck to the edges. Bleck. Whatever it is. Crap, she forgot the bowl. Hastily, she dashes two steps to the dish strainer to snatch the blue plastic bowl, the one she always uses for egg salad. It’s eggsellent for this purpose, she thinks, laughing to herself. Peel the eggs quickly under running water. If she hurries she can watch Dr. Phil from the beginning. Eggs in the bowl. Plunk, plunk. Roughly, she breaks up the whole eggs with trusty Mr. Sturdy. She watches the transformation, from intact, to chunks, her hands swirling eggspertly. Egg yolk, egg white, egg yolk, egg white, egg yolk, egg white. Elsa slows down some. She mixes more gently now, as the motion soothes her. Oh, the MAYONNAISE, right! She finds it on the top shelf of the Frigidaire, pushed all the way to the back, of course. Plop, she dumps some in. Not enough. Plop. Plop. Stir. Yellow piece, white piece, yellow piece, white piece, yellow piece, white piece. Salt. Pepper. Mustard. She forgets the celery. Stir, stir, stir. And then, it’s thoroughly mixed. Mixed. Mixed up? She feels mixed up.

Elsa picks up the blue bowl, filled with egg salad, is almost to the icebox when – when – when – she drops the bowl, crumples to the floor and realizes she can’t take it anymore. She can’t, she just can’t FEEL LIKE THIS anymore. Forget egg salad. Forget Dr. Phil. She runs to the phone, YES RUNS – to call her doctor. She trusts him. He’d tried to give her a number last time. This time she’s calling. Right NOW. She won’t be egged-on anymore. At least she has her humor, still, yes, still. Hands trembling, Elsa dials the phone. She will be whole, yes, she will, like those beautiful, perfect eggs. Elsa is determined. She cries when the secretary answers. This is it. She is doing it. Freeing herself, finally, from the pain.

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