Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Sound of Silence

There are two things I hate the most in life. They are more like feelings actually.  Sometimes, but rarely, they happen to me at the same time.

                                             . . .                           . . .                              . . .
 
Thing 1:  When I irrevocably decide to call my girlfriend fat. Not fat per se, but just not as skinny as Jennifer Connolly. I’ve done this once before in college with a text message “I meant to send someone else” after drinking five Irish car bombs at a Halloween party. That gut wrenching feeling that churns in your stomach always follows it. Much like when the doctor tells you your fatally ill, or the moment your parents find a secret porn stash hidden deep within your computer under the folder cleverly titled “Christmas pictures.” It turns out it wasn’t a very merry Christmas for Sasha Gray that year…

Thing 2:  That indescribable sound of silence that would make Simon and Garfunkel proud. It’s not an awkward silence. It’s a thick suffocating silence. It’s the silence that happens when the rain stops in Forest Gump and suddenly Vietcong snipers are gunning down American Soldiers. It’s the silence of war, of oncoming dread. It’s the silence that I’m currently experiencing right this instant.

I didn’t call my girlfriend fat. At least that’s my story. I said that Jennifer Connolly had a nice body, and when she asked if it was better than hers, I didn’t have the right answer. Where was Female Psychology when I was taking useless Calculus classes in high school? I’m not trained for this. This feeling soldiers have when waiting in trenches at night. When they’re on guard, by themselves, staring up at the stars thinking, someday I hope I can go back home. I hope someday I can see my girlfriend again. How I remember her before we watched “The Labyrinth” at one a’ clock on a Tuesday.  

She must of known what I was thinking because she decided to cut the silence with a three-inch stiletto heel thrown impressively from the back bedroom at my face. I saw it coming, of course, I was ready for anything. So I ducked, exposing the sliding glass door behind me. The glass cracked from end to end and all I heard was, “you owe me a new heel if that one’s broken!” But of course it wasn’t. Those thick fucking heels were indestructible. Military insurgents in warring countries could create heel canons and eradicate all enemy soldiers with slow reflexes.

“Babe, I’ll buy you ten new pairs of heels of you stop throwing them at me.” I shout back.

The rummaging stopped, the silence kicked back in, and the room condensed into a small box. A quiet cell that used to be my condo. The enemy soldier made a move and exposed its whereabouts. She was retreating into the dark depths of my bedroom with the idea of peace with promised shopping splurge. Her next attack was stalled and I knew that my small window of counter apologies was open and short. She couldn’t really think I had the money for that many shoes. But as I start to tip toe around the invisible landmines to the back bedroom a loud bursting knock at the front door shakes the apartment alive again—

My girlfriend peers from the bedroom concerned.
           
                      “I didn’t think anyone would hear us.” She said embarrassed
                      “You broke the sliding glass door!” I replied, answering the front door as gingerly as  
                       possible. 

An old lady, my next-door neighbor, stood on the other side. She stoops short and shriveled but when I see her around the complex she moves as if she’s still in her fifties. She always determined. Happy too. Right now, for some reason, her shirt was soaked with water.

                     “ I’m sorry—“ I immediately start to apologize
                     “I need your help!” She yells back. “My Walter, my baby, he’s fallen in the shower. I  
                      fear his spine isn’t what it used to be.”
                     “Fell? Why is he taking a shower at one in the morning?”
                     “I still get around just fine but I’m not strong enough to get him up. Please, come over
                      and help me.”

I look at my girlfriend, shrugging from the other side of the apartment, and step into the hallway as if I really had a choice in the matter. I’ll be old someday too, I think–Unless I croak it on a hotdog, or die via stiletto. One bad gash into the eye socket—

“Oh, thank you so much!” The old lady yells while grabbing me by the arm and pulling me into her apartment.  I step inside and the TV plays at volume one thousand. For some reason the sink is running in the kitchen. She hurries me into her hallway, and then her bedroom, which is a exactly like mine, minus the angry twenty-four year old shuffling back and forth kicking clothes around. My neighbor takes me directly into the master bathroom and opens the shower door. She wasn’t lying when she said her husband fell down in the shower. I guess I knew she wasn’t lying. Nothing really prepares you for a naked eighty year old sprawled out like a turtle, running water beading off his oily skin. It kind of left me with feeling number one from earlier, but the splashing water wasn’t making it register, and when I turned off the faucet all I could here was the pitchy loud sound of Infomercials playing in the living room. No wonder they couldn’t hear us.

The old man’s eyes locked onto mine and I could tell he wanted me to hurry. His eyes were filled with the shame only a once proud man could burden. His wife came in behind me with a walker as old as him, tennis balls screwed to the bottom.

                     "Lift me up, damn you!” – He yelled with pain

I shimmied around his naked body and grabbed him by his sides. His skin was slippery, almost mucus like now. With every pull and shift my grip loosened. The tighter I held the more pain the old man seemed to be in.

                     “If you don’t get me to my walker I aught ‘a look to die right here.” – He mumbled.
                     “Alright, I’m going to grab you and lift you, but it’s probably going to hurt.” – I say,
                      with his back to me, and my arms grasped around his entire body.
                     “Go ahead. I can take it.”

So I give a small count to three and lift him up by his mid section. He’s dead weight and it takes all that I have to lift. He yells with pain, but shimmies himself out of the shower, and onto the walker. I give him the handles and he holds himself upright before slipping to a knee. I grab a hold of him and steady his body once more. He seizes the walker again. This time he stands and takes a deep breath. His wife puts a robe over his naked body and he grumbles at her. I guide him into the bedroom and help him into bed. He lies down with a faint “thank you”, and turns his head towards a picture on the wall. It’s a picture of him in a military uniform. He’s much larger than he is now. He’s broad shouldered and strong.

                     “You wouldn’t believe it but Walter used to be a porker.” My neighbor whispers from 
                       behind me. “As fat as they come.”
                     “He didn’t look that fat.” - I say.
                     “Compared to now he was a giant. Fought in Korea. Mad he couldn’t fight in the big 
                      one.”
                     “Wow” – I respond a little too loudly.
                     “Been together 45 years and our life was tougher than any battle he ever saw. Now 
                       look at us. Old as can be. Can’t even use the loo or take a shower without the help of 
                       a neighbor. I won’t take him back to the home, though. There aren’t any windows 
                       there. They’ll kill him before I do, and I won’t have it. No way. Those college kids 
                       can’t take that away from me.” 
                     “I’m sorry to hear that.” - I mumble– starting to feel uncomfortable with her husband 
                       snoring on the bed.
                     “My mother said to never outlive your welcome. If you have to help us again I’m 
                      afraid I’ll smother us both. I may look weak but he ain’t much anymore.” She looks at 
                      him shifting on the bed and laughs to herself. “I spose’ you’d like to go back to your 
                      apartment. I’m sure the girlfriend is still waiting for an apology.” 
                     “I’m sure she is.” – I murmur. “I’m sorry if we were loud.”
                     “I don’t mind it. Reminds me that people are still fighting. Living to fight. You two are
                      a breath of fresh air.”
                     “Well, I guess I’ll give her that apology then.”
                     “Don’t make it too easy… I’ll bring a cake by tomorrow.”
                     “No no no. Don’t go out of your way.”- I plead.
                     “Then I’ll make you dinner.”
                     “Seriously, you don’t have to.”
                     “I’ll see you tomorrow.” – She whispers
                     “Goodnight.” – I say and walk back down their hallway.

It’s covered in pictures of their family. Her grandkids are probably older than me. There’s a picture of her kissing her husband. He’s wearing an army jacket and holding flowers. It’s a picture I’ve seen a million times before. The army wife and the American dream. The biggest cliché on the fucking planet.  I look back at their bedroom, a lot like mine, and see her tucking him in. That Cunning old maid, I think before walking out the front door and into my eerily silent condo. By comparison to the old lady’s apartment my place was a morgue. Out of habit I tip toe to my bedroom. I find my girlfriend waiting in bed with a look of concern stagnant on her face.

                   “What was that?” She asks.
                   “Our neighbor, Walt, he fell down.”
                   “That’s awful! Is he OK?”
                   “Aside from being too old to walk or take a shower.”
                   “He was taking a shower?”
                   “I never want to live that old” – I say.
                   “What did he look like?”
                   “He was lying there naked. Poor guy, turned over like a snail on its shell. He was 
                    sweating just trying to get upright. I had to come into the shower and lift him up from
                    behind.”
                    “Oh my god, that’s awful. Poor Walt!” - She exclaims.
                    “And as I’m lifting him from behind, you’d be so surprised babe.” 
                    “What do you mean?”
                    “From the backside…”
                    “What?” – She asks.
                    “This is– Embarrassing.” – I say, looking at her as serious as possible, watching her 
                     worried face study my lips closely.
                    “It was better than Jennifer Connolly.”

Her face went red immediately, but that cunning old soon-to-be maid next door, sharp as tack at the age of 85, would know it was the right move. I much rather keep it as loud as possible in here. It’s too damn early for Simon and Garfunkel.


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