W. Jack Savage
There was something different about the sense of urgency I felt that morning. Having lived with the anxiety for some time, I began to notice a certain positive influence it had on me in some areas. For example, while it made me somewhat scattered at times, I seemed less forgetful. I had always been forgetful. It was as if going to the car had no relationship with having the keys to operate it. I would simply get there, pause, and realize the next step would be impossible without keys. It annoyed everyone but me. The truth is that I became somewhat good-natured about it. IÕd even laugh. Then, IÕd go back to the house and get my keys. Often, IÕd repeat the process with my briefcase or something else IÕd need. But that morning it occurred to me that preparation had somehow become a byproduct of the stress.
It would only be fair to say that the ominous feeling that came with the urgency probably began with the dream. Suffice to say, if IÕm not going to find my way through theseÉthese problems in some way, itÕs only natural to at least consider some sort of final solution. That is, before these things become the province of others to decide for me. IÕll not be forgotten to death in some institution or wander off, only to be absorbed into the ranks of the homeless. Be that as it may, the point is that dreams of ending my life should not be looked upon as anything other than a logical progression in the cavalcade of Ņwhat ifsÓ which are still mine to ponder. So, in getting back to the dream, the list of what I would not do in such a case seems endless. No guns, knives, razor blades, ropes, and heights could be involved. Death by car or train, or in any manner likely to cause pain, however momentary, could not be given any consideration. Upon eliminating all possibilities of a scene where people might gather, we are left with pills or some kind of asphyxiation or suffocation.
In some way, the pills IÕm taking have kept me just this side of the next step in the process of being dealt with, I suppose. To that extent, theyÕve bought me time. By that reasoning, and still acting upon the hope that my condition may improve, it would, somehow, seem ungrateful for me to seek my demise with the very medications that have allowed the time and reasoning to affect it. Therefore, cessation of breathing functions in one of its forms is what we are left with.
IÕm not sure, having never been there, but Santa Catalina has always seemed more to me like Bali Hai from South Pacific. Not Bali Hai itself, of course, but the picture of the tropical paradise painted on some flat in some community theater production. State of mind rather than a grid coordinate. And, it occurs to me that for my state of mind, deteriorating though it may be, to seek an ideal on the horizon, never to be achieved, smacks of a poetic lucidity that soon may be well beyond me. In the simplest of terms, IÕd go for a swim from Huntington Beach to Catalina. IÕd never make it, but IÕd die
trying. It could be a last quiet struggle, the kind I used to enjoy such as college, marriage, the service, and my other demons. Some won; some lost, but with all the motivational tools brought to bear in achieving an end from a beginning, or finding a beginning after an end, as the case may be.
And so I dreamt that I was swimming to Catalina, and it came to me like a revelation. But then I felt it. As soon as I did, I told myself that I didnÕt. Then I felt it again, and it seemed so impossibly unfair. All I wanted to do was swim to Catalina for GodÕs sake! I certainly couldnÕt make it. IÕd drown, but IÕd spend myself in a final celebration of splendid nonsense. But now this! I felt it again, and the next thing I would feel, or perhaps the thing after that, wouldnÕt feel like splendid nonsense at all. It would feel like death by shark and, before it was over, would make me wish IÕd been run over by some Orange County prick in a speedboat. It was a bump. They bump before they bite—most of them. Not the big ones, of course. TheyÕll suck you down whole or cut you in half or any damn thing they want. But nearly all the rest of them bump into you to see if you might be something to eat. They donÕt see well, I heard once. I woke up murmuring to myself, ŅWell, itÕs always something.Ó It made me laugh. I laughed about it later, too, but couldnÕt remember the reason for the laughter. That stopped it! But I find this condition more curious than sad at the moment. In the time I have left, if I donÕt improve that is, I need to follow that curiosity to a conclusion. IÕm just not sure about Catalina anymore. I did like the idea though, thinking it to be masculine and extroverted. Two things IÕve never been, sadly, but thereÕs no point in becoming deranged if youÕre going to stand on ceremony.
Quite a bit had changed by that time. I was still driving my car but not on the freeway. Actually, I was driving less and less, and it seemed my gas gauge had broken. It never appeared to go down; therefore, IÕd fill it up nearly every day. Once it was seventy-one cents. I pay by credit card, so I didnÕt need to explain. Still, I suppose that IÕm explaining it to you now.
I was on medical leave from work. They knew that but kept calling anyway. ItÕs not as though they were concerned. It was more like they were trying to catch me at pretending there was something wrong with me.
ŅWeÕre just concerned, thatÕs all,Ó sheÕd say.
ŅI donÕt think you are,Ó I told her once. ŅI think youÕre trying to catch me pretending to be sick. ThatÕs what I think.Ó
When there was only silence on the other end, I hung up. Minutes afterward, I thought of so many good things to say and called back. But I couldnÕt remember her name, and after a while on hold, I couldnÕt remember why I was calling. I did later.
I took my medication though. IÕve never been much for that sort of thing—a pill regimen. But I did. Then IÕd wait. After awhile IÕd forget what I was waiting for, but so far IÕd always remember before I needed to take them the next time. They gave me a chart. That helped. It seemed silly at first. I donÕt think I could do without it now.
The worst part, apart from what was happening to me, was the loneliness. Deprived of my other interests—and IÕm sure I must have had some—what began as boredom turned to a certain melancholy, and finally, IÕd get lonely. What few friends I had were really little more than acquaintances. I mean you canÕt really count the guy at
the video store. HeÕd always been friendly but thatÕs not really the same thing. It could be, I suppose. But, while I was always grateful for the friendly exchanges, the fact that they were compartmentalized into brief commerce transactions would have required me to make some effort to break out of that. And what motive might I have had? I wasnÕt lonely then. So, for the most part, I was left with my housekeeper. Her name was Tina or Maria, but in fairness, I kept getting that mixed up before this happened. Anyway, I think I did. I canÕt exactly remember how she gets paid, but she keeps coming so I suppose she does. If I had to write a check or something, IÕd probably remember. So there was my housekeeper and Loren, too.
LorenÕs attentions were never welcome for what they were. But he was good-natured about it, and while it was always there—what he wanted that is—once I said no we went on to other things. He liked music, and he liked to drink. I canÕt drink anymore. I really donÕt dare with the medication. I need to stay sharp for as long as I can. I havenÕt seen him lately. I think something happened. I woke up the other night wondering if it was because, not thinking, IÕd run out of scotch; I mean, not thinking that he still drank, heÕd have thought me rude. But I had scotch. Maybe something else happened. I canÕt remember, but I can remember I havenÕt seen him lately.
Then there was a call; I think, recently. I remember the voice sounded familiar.
ŅMr. Bernard?Ó he asked.
ŅYes,Ó I said.
ŅMr. Bernard,Ó he began again, Ņyou probably wonÕt remember me. My name is Eddie, Edward Rosenthal. I had you for American History at Johnson High School some, ah, twelve years ago. IÕm sure you donÕt remember me but, well, I was just calling to thank you. IÕm a teacher myself now. I might have been something else, but your class had an effect on me.Ó
I didnÕt know what to say but made an attempt.
ŅWell, hello Edward. IÕm sorry. Your name rings a bell though. Tell me, what are you teaching?Ó
ŅAmerican History,Ó his voice sounded as if he might be smiling. ŅI teach American History in Barstow now. I know this must seem strange, my calling like this. But, well, as I said, your class had an effect on me. I understand you donÕt teach anymore. ThatÕs what they told me when I called the school. What are you doing now, Mr. Bernard?Ó
ŅI work for a company. ItÕs not very interesting. IÕm not working now. IÕve been ill but will be going back soon.Ó
His response was sincere. ŅIÕm sorry to hear that youÕve been ill. Anyway, I didnÕt want to bother you. I just wanted to tell you that, well, your teaching made a difference in my life. It took awhile. But, well, what IÕm trying to say is that I became a teacher because of you. I want to thank you for that.Ó
ŅYouÕre very welcome, Ronnie. IÕm glad things are working out for you.Ó
ŅEddie, sir,Ó he said.
ŅEddie, yes,Ó I repeated. ŅIÕm sorry.Ó
ŅItÕs all right Mr. Bernard. I just wanted to thank you. Have a good night.Ó
IÕm not sure, but I think he had the wrong number. I wasnÕt sure, you see. I was sorry later. I am Bernard. But he must have meant another Bernard. ThatÕs probably what happened. ThatÕs the thing about this condition. It can fool you into thinking youÕre forgetting something. That is, if you canÕt remember, maybe it didnÕt happen. ThatÕs a viable explanation certainly. I do know my history though. I suppose I could have taught history. That certainly would account for my knowing so much about it. But I canÕt believe that I could forget something like teaching.
It would have to be soon. Possibly today, maybe tomorrow! IÕve noticed thereÕs a rhythm to my affliction and the medicationÕs ability to pull me back now and then. I may be going crazy in a literal sense, but IÕm not stupid. The last time I spoke with the doctor, I asked if there was a hope of getting better. Now, that part, what he said exactly, I canÕt remember. But I do seem to remember the substance of his argument. He seemed to be saying that simply because no one had ever recovered, there was no reason to think that someone might not recover and that person might be me. Living with the alternative offered no comfort; therefore, I suppose, deteriorating as I have been, he probably felt that putting a bright face on a hopeless condition was a magnanimous gesture of sorts. Again, his exact words escape me; nevertheless, his raised eyebrow and continuous nodding in an assumptive manner, assured me that whatever he was saying was bullshit and that I was in a lot of trouble.
From moment to moment, the preparation I spoke of earlier, that is, not being as forgetful at least in the short term, was going to be of no use if my demise was somehow not affected because of it. Little things must not be allowed to defeat me. As I have outlined, I havenÕt many friends and havenÕt seen Loren at all recently. My housekeeper gets paid regardless and as to anything else: wills, insurance, the phone bill; those matters can be sorted out by the people who would have decided my fate under other circumstances. In short, no one to say goodbye to and nothing to worry about except waiting too long. That, of course, meant that I wasnÕt going to be getting any better, only worse. It was a sad realization to come to, but I was grateful I still could. Realize it that is. I decided right then that I needed a plan. Since I had no real alternative plan, the other plan would have to do. I only remembered it in part, and the rest I could figure out. I would go to Huntington Beach. IÕd need a bathing suit, and IÕd have to risk going on the freeway. IÕd take my medication early so that I wouldnÕt lose my way. IÕd go at dusk and arrive in the dark. IÕd leave the keys in the car.
The first thing that got crossed off the list was a bathing suit. I donÕt know if I ever had one. I must have sometime but maybe not since I was a kid. My under shorts would have to do. They were dark. Someone bought them for me. IÕd have never bought dark underwear for myself. Who would buy me underwear anyway? Who would buy me anything? ItÕs strange, but somehow I remember opening presents, even recently. If I hadnÕt any friends, who gave me presents? Well, Loren, of course, and Adam. Adam, yes, he was my wifeÕs son. ThatÕs always nice of him, too. She only married me to have someone pay for Adam. She made me promise to adopt Adam, and when I did, she divorced me. I had to pay child support for fifteen years after that. It was okay. I had the money; the money wasnÕt the problem. But I never saw Adam again. He was a nice boy, quiet like I was as a child. He always sent me a Christmas present. HeÕd have
bought me underwear. He was smart, too. Though his mother wasnÕt very bright, he was. I donÕt remember her name though.
I thought of leaving a note that day, but the idea seemed ridiculous. Moreover, it would be something tantamount to an admission that I was lucid enough to do away with myself. I wasnÕt sure if anyone would miss me or even take pleasure in my death, but I wanted no part of any act that would please some insurance company. Hopefully, somewhere along the line, I said it all at one time or another. If not, it was rapidly becoming far too late to worry about.
As I left the house with my keys, I paused for a moment and thought that I should have had a pet. IÕd never had a pet. Adam had a turtle once. Lucy got rid of it one day during one of her cleaning frenzies. That was her name, Lucy. I had read that pets were wonderful. I wasnÕt exactly sorry that I wouldnÕt be finding out how wonderful. But it tripped something in what was left of my mind, because I started thinking about several things I never had or wouldnÕt be trying. Some sort of melancholy, I supposed, and quite natural under the circumstances. As long as it didnÕt get in the way, it would be fine. The next thing was gas, but I felt the elation of a breakthrough when I decided to trust the gas gage and simply head for Huntington Beach. Fearing the radio would confuse me, I decided to keep it off. The traffic wouldnÕt matter since IÕd get there sooner or later.
Sure enough, as I reached the 605 south, it seemed clear sailing. I was making good time, but I couldnÕt understand why it was still so light out. It was only four oÕclock, but I thought it was more winter. Perhaps spring happened when I wasnÕt looking. I smiled to think of it. Winter or spring, it didnÕt matter. ThatÕs why I lived here. It was perfect most of the time. It was light out though. I might have to enjoy a final sunset beforeÉbefore whatever I was going to the beach for came back to me. That made me smile again.
I got a little confused in Long Beach. I missed Studebaker Road, and when I drove past the college, I thought for a moment that I might turn in. Long Beach State I called it. It was really Cal State Long Beach, but I liked Long Beach State better. I went there once. IÕm sure I did. I remember something about the Revolutionary War. Yes, and about Francis Marion in South Carolina. Certainly, I must have gone there once. Anyway, with these things floating around in my head, I nearly missed my left turn on Pacific Coast Highway. But I didnÕt and, as I turned, I realized I had made it. It was a few miles away, but there would be no more turns. What did they call him? ItÉit was the Ņswamp fox.Ó Yes, that was it.
I was feeling very good as I pulled up to one of the meters. It was a nice day, and even if I was a little early, that was okay. I forgot three things almost at once. First, I forgot to leave the keys in the car. Then, when I put them back, I forgot to leave the doors unlocked. Finally, I forgot that I didnÕt need to worry about the meter and put about three dollars in it. There was a fourth thing, but it really was the first thing because I had left my wallet at home when leaving there. Had I filled up the tank, IÕd have realized that I left it and gone back. But there, on the bluff overlooking the beach, I decided none of that mattered anymore. I walked down to the shoreline and stood there. The sun was low to my right, but there was still an hour or two of light. As I looked out on the ocean, I saw some boats; however, there was something else I couldnÕt remember.
I meanÉthere was something out thereÉsomething I was forgetting to look for or wasnÕt seeing somehow. I decided it didnÕt matter and that being in Huntington Beach was enough.
After a pleasant exchange with several people passing by, I decided I might become distracted so I walked back and found a nice rock to sit on. It was beneath the cliff, somewhat off the beach. I was trying to remember what it was that I should be looking for out in the ocean when I felt a puppy, a young pit bull puppy, sniffing at my foot. I petted him, and as he looked up, I realized in his look of trust and love that benevolence was all he knew of humans so far.
ŅHello,Ó she said from behind me.
I think I must have smiled. ŅHello. What a nice dog. How old?Ó
ŅThree months,Ó she said, but IÕd forgotten what I asked and got a bit confused.
ŅHer name is Lucy,Ó she continued, leaning up against a rock next to me.
For no particular reason, I said, ŅI was once married to a woman named Lucy. Seems kind of strange.Ó
ŅYouÕre not married now?Ó she asked.
ŅNo, IÕm not.Ó
She sighed before speaking with some resignation. ŅIÕm getting a divorce.Ó
ŅIÕm sorry,Ó I said.
ŅIÕm not. Actually, IÕm kind of glad itÕs over. He cheated on me.Ó
ŅIÕm sorry to hear that. Did he do anything else?Ó
Looking puzzled, she asked, ŅWhat do you mean?Ó
ŅIÕmÉI' not sure,Ó I said, but continued anyway. ŅBefore he cheated on you or before you found out, was itÉwas it better then?Ó
ŅOf course,Ó she replied.
ŅWell, I mean, were you actually happy with each other before that?Ó
She paused before replying. ŅI guess so. But what does that matter now?Ó
I didnÕt know, but had another question. ŅAre you the one getting the divorce?Ó
ŅYes, I could never put up with that.Ó
ŅLook at your dog,Ó I said. ŅLook at her smiling at me with her beautiful face. IÕve never had a pet, too busy I guess. I have the feeling your dog could love me.Ó
Ignoring these comments, she went back to her problem. ŅAre you saying I shouldnÕt get the divorce?Ó
I felt lost. I couldnÕt remember what we were talking about and so I was quiet.
She asked another question. ŅCould you forgive someone if they cheated on you?Ó
ŅYes,Ó I said.
ŅWell I canÕt. How could you? How could you forgive someone knowing they cheated on you?Ó
ŅBecause you might not get a second chance to forgive. What I mean is that if you let things hurt you too badly, you wonÕt do them anymore. ThatÕs fine when it comes to touching a hot stove or driving too fast and getting in an accident. We learn our limitations that way. But if you let love keep on hurting you, without trying to get used to it, you might give that up, too. Then youÕll be alone like me. ItÕs okay. I donÕt mind.
But I canÕt remember anyone loving me anymore. Maybe they did. I just canÕt remember.Ó
I think I answered her last question, but I couldnÕt remember it. When I looked over at her she was crying, and I thought I had said something wrong.
ŅIÕm so sorry,Ó I said. ŅI havenÕt been well lately. I didnÕt mean to upset you. I hopeÉhope that I wasnÕt out of line. Please forgive me.Ó
She struggled to speak through her tears. ŅOh, no, you didnÕt say anything wrong, but what you said about not being able to remember is so sad. I just donÕt know if I can forgive my husband. I know it couldnÕt hurt me this badly if I didnÕt love him. He begged me. I just donÕt know if I can. ItÕs not supposed to be this way.Ó
I only caught the last part about whatever she was talking about; she said that something was not the way she supposed it to be.
ŅNothing ever is,Ó I said with a sigh. ŅNot in my life anyway. I canÕt think of one thing that was the way it was supposed to be. Sometimes better, sometimes not, but different every time.Ó
ŅWhatÕs your name?Ó she asked.
ŅBernard,Ó was all I could come up with at the moment.
She extended her hand. ŅIÕm Sandy.Ó
I shook her hand, thinking she was such a lovely girl. She seemed to have been crying. ŅIs there anything I can do to help you, Sandy?Ó I asked, not knowing what might be bothering her.
ŅI think you already have, Bernard.Ó
I didnÕt know what she meant. It seemed like something Loren might say—like something with two meanings. Of course his double meaning always had a sexual overtone and, confused though I was, I knew this young woman couldnÕt mean that.
She gave me a thoughtful, questioning look. ŅIf I gave him a second chance, I donÕt know if I could trust him. ThatÕs the part that worries me.Ó
In my confusion I simply said, ŅWorry is the only issue. Just donÕt worry and everything will take care of itself.Ó
Her next few words made no sense to me. ŅThatÕs rightÉ isnÕt it?Ó
Though a question, it didnÕt seem like a question for me. I didnÕt know what to say; therefore, I decided to be quiet for a while. She seemed lost in thought, and so I was pretty sure being quiet was right. There was a dog at my feet.
Suddenly, she spoke. ŅI hope you wonÕt think this too personal Bernard, but did you andÉand Lucy have this problem? Did you ever, you know, cheat on her with another woman?Ó
I was grateful for the last part of the question. I didnÕt know what she was talking about.
ŅI canÕt remember if I did, but I donÕt think so. I was never much of a Romeo. IÕve never had much confidence about that sort of thing.Ó
She was quiet again, but it wasnÕt an uncomfortable silence. I knew she was thinking, but I had no idea what about. How did I know her?
Finally, she said, ŅI just donÕt know. Everybody says I should divorce him.Ó
ŅIÕm not sure what you mean. But I do know one thing and that is ŌeverybodyÕ doesnÕt know a damn thing. YouÕre all that matters.Ó
For just a moment, the clouds parted, and I remembered why I was sitting at the beach. I remembered driving here, and that I was wearing dark underwear for some reason. And that it was a thesis I was working on at Long Beach State—a thesis in history. I didnÕt know this young woman, but she was divorcing her husband. And her dog liked me and was friendly, and I was waiting for dark. I remembered that, too.
ŅAre you okay, Bernard?Ó she asked.
ŅNo,Ó I replied. ŅSandy isnÕt it?Ó
ŅNo,Ó I repeated. ŅSandy IÕm not okay. IÕm sick and IÕm not going to get better. But donÕt worry; itÕs okay. What were you saying dear?Ó
ŅThat no one, except you, thinks I should give him another chance. I just donÕt know what to do.Ó
ŅYouÕll choose between me, who you donÕt know and will probably never see again,Ó I began, Ņand Ōeverybody,Õ who knows you so well that they feel qualified to tell you whether or not you should end your marriage. I think you want to give him another chance, or you wouldnÕt have brought it up and stayed here after I said it was no big deal. But, you need to ask yourself how important the judgment of your peers is to you in regard to your marriage? They may be right, after all. One thing is certain; whether they are or not, theyÕll be around to keep telling you that you did the right thing if you divorce him. If you give your husband another chance, youÕll probably be on your own. YouÕll have to be happy with that. And if he cheats on you again, you may be faced with the same question all over again. But if you cheat on him and find yourself in the position of having to explain that Ōit was just one of those things and didnÕt mean a thingÕ and all of the excuses he gave you that you were having none of the first time around, youÕll still be the bigger person because you forgave him whether he forgives you or not.Ó
Her smile was genuine. ŅHow do you know so much?Ó
I shook my head back and forth. ŅI donÕt. IÕm generalizing and theorizing. ThatÕs all weÕre ever left with anyway: our intellect, our heart, and sometimes our instincts. Ask Lucy here. She knows as much as any of us when it comes to love. She loves you and I suspect she loves your husband, too. She wonÕt know why he isnÕt around to love anymore if you divorce him, and you may find yourself wondering the same thing.Ó
She was quiet again. It made me sad for her. She was lovely. The rules for her were different. Things were a lot harder for her because of it. I never knew that problem. I was never good looking or popular, and the only person who ever wanted to go to bed with me was Loren.
ŅIt should be easier, you know.Ó
I agreed. ŅIt seems it should. IÕm sure it can be. IÕve never figured out how though.Ó
ŅThank you Bernard,Ó she said. ŅI think you were an answer to my prayer somehow. No matter what I decide, thank you.Ó
She came over and kissed my cheek, and Lucy put her paws in my lap, stood up, and smiled. I petted Lucy a final time, and they walked away. As they did, I began
wondering what the significance of my dark underwear could be. Sandy and Lucy. Seems like I knew a Lucy once. I canÕt remember though.
The sun was about an inch from the houses down by Seal Beach. It would be getting dark soon. ThatÕs what I was waiting for, but I wish I could remember why. It seemed like Huntington Beach, dark underwear and after the sun goes down was enough information to put something together. There was definitely a purpose to all of this. I wouldnÕt have ventured this far from home without a purpose.
I reflected on how my medication, if thatÕs what it was, just sort of kicked in for a while there while I was visiting with that girl. I hoped that she would be alright. I couldnÕt blame my exchange with her for knocking me off track. I think I was unclear when I got out of the car. If I could remember when I decided on this course of action, I could piece it together, IÕm sure. I came to the beach to do something. I watched some surfers. They were nearly in front of me now. I donÕt think I moved. The waves were breaking farther down the beach when I arrived. Now they were in front of me but a little farther out. Behind them, there was a boat—several boats actually. No speed boats or jet things though.
I decided to go for a walk. IÕd walk down by the water, and maybe IÕd remember. As I did, I noticed the sun was already halfway beneath the rooftops. It was beautiful. IÕm not much for that sort of thing. But it was beautiful and was my last sunset. That was it! I understood about the underwear and the ocean and the speedboat and CatalinaÉSanta Catalina. It was the kind of problem solving joy that I hadnÕt felt in many years. Like the look on a studentÕs face when heÉwhen he finally figures something out. A student. My students! There were so many faces, so many years, and all the papers. It was too much, and it was too long, and it brought tears to my eyes. I stopped and looked out to sea. For a moment I visualized a surf breaking at the top with all of the papers: the hand-outs, the schedules, the purple-blue froth of mimeographed quiz booklets tumbling as the three pages pulled against the staple. There was the butcher Tarlton and the Bacon Rebellion and Benedict Arnold. He rode that day, ignoring the pain, and rallying already broken lines at Saratoga, the blood from his leg smearing the underside of the gray. With a wink here, a vote of encouragement there, his valor alone would lead them to cross that line that mortal fear keeps sane men away from. With victory, they would say to one another, ŅGeneral Arnold, there was a man.Ó
I hadnÕt cried at all. But having walked away from it, I hadnÕt been the same either. Now I cried. What a loss! Not this, a life without a life! And it killed me as sure as I stood there. It made me insane, and now it was far too late. Perhaps Eddie Rosenthal would keep up the good fight. God knows he fought me enough. If it wasnÕt paper clips and rubber bands, it was bubble gum and a CD earpiece. I never held his attention for ten seconds consecutively that year. Now, heÕs teaching American History in Barstow. But, I wanted to tell you; I cried and cried and felt much better. I forgot my wallet. I donÕt remember if I told you. I didnÕt carry money. It wouldnÕt have hurt me to put a twenty in it and leave it behind for somebody.
The surf, where moments earlier I visualized my lifeÕs work crashing to the shore, broke over my body and pulled my dark under shorts down to my ankles. I pulled them up quickly, but IÕm afraid if anyone was watching from the shore, they were on the
receiving end of an unintended salute and brief commentary on the life I was trying to escape with yet some dignity.
I wondered, in those first few strokes, if it was possible to forget how to swim. Not in the case of some muscular dysfunction, of course. I mean forgetting mentally of which IÕve accumulated some experience of late. Could you forget how to swim? Clearly, I hadnÕt and to this point, it felt wonderful. I turned around and took a look; it was only a few hundred yards. There really wasnÕt much to see. I turned around again and tried for a moment to peer through the mist and perhaps see Santa Catalina. I couldnÕt, of course, nor would I likely come within sight of it. I could see a buoy marker of some sort and thought IÕd make an initial goal out of it.
A friend of LorenÕs told me of a video he purchased in preparation for some triathlon he was doing. He spoke of Ņtotally immersedÓ swimming or something like that. My idea of swimming is, and has always been, propelling oneself through the water with oneÕs head out of the water in order to breathe. ŅA passˇ concept,Ó he said, explaining that all that resistance was unnecessary to maintain breath. He went on and on and finally said, ŅYouÕve never done a triathlon have you?Ó
I said, ŅNo,Ó and resisted the temptation to add that IÕd never taken it up the butt either.
In a way I wish I had—said it, that is. Anyway, the substance of his concept was that, if you rotated your head just right, you could keep it down all the time, expelling breath underwater and taking it in on the up-turn. I made a brief stab at it and wound up coughing up seawater as a result. It made me remember that Catalina was my goal in name only and that what I was really up to would acquaint my lungs with enough seawater to end a lifetime.
I began to tire rather quickly, within, IÕd say, fifty to a hundred yards of the buoy. Also, the buoy was lit, and I thought for a moment that I saw some movement on its base, possibly seals. I wasnÕt sure theyÕd understand. That and a rest was something I really didnÕt want. Soon, there would be all the rest in the world. Against my instinct, I turned a bit further south and before long was beyond it. I was very tired but fought the urge to turn over on my back.
In the end, perhaps it was true. Perhaps I lost my nerve. Maybe I didnÕt feel the bump. I thought I did but in my fatigue, perhaps not. In any case, it seemed like only a moment later when a boat came by, shining a light on the water. I waved. Whether or not it was a shark that bumped me, IÕll never know. A woman and her dog, who said she had talked to me, came back by and saw my clothing by the rock. She told them I said I was sick and wouldnÕt be getting better. They initiated a search. I got pretty far actually, a few miles anyway. I told them IÕd gotten disoriented, but they were having none of it.
So, now, IÕm here. ItÕs not as bad as I imagined, and IÕm better off than most. Loren came once. He explained that he wouldnÕt be coming back. He said it was the place and that he just hated me being here. IÕm sure it was partly true. What he didnÕt say was that I was no longer a potential conquest. In my deranged state, even if only at times, heÕd feel perverted by just flirting; it would be as if he were somehow trying to take advantage of a child. I told him I understood and thanked him for coming. He cried.
This nice looking young woman came to see me. She asked if I remembered her and I said yes; however, IÕm sure I never saw her before. She said she had a dog with her, but they wouldnÕt let her bring her in. That was somewhat confusing, but I asked if I could go out so she could have the dog. They said Ņmaybe laterÓ which is institutionalese for Ņnot in this lifetime.Ó She told me that she and her husband stayed together, and she thanked me for that. She said I had advised her and that I was right, and it was going well. She was very good looking, and when she asked me if she could visit me again, I told her IÕd like that. One day, after a visit, I saw her husband with the dog waiting outside by the car. He looked like an asshole. The dog was a cutie though; there was something familiar about her.
But as I said, on the whole, it isnÕt that bad. This new medication they put me on brings it all back at times, parts of it anyway. IÕm not too sure how it all happened or who some of these names I have floating around in my head belong to: Maria and Ronnie and Lucy and Allen or Adam or something. The food is not that bad, and as I said, IÕve got it better than most so they mostly leave me alone. I read a little but only for a sitting. ThereÕs nothing on TV, but this one guy down the hall has a great collection of old music. I donÕt know what youÕd call it exactly. IÕve never been much for music. But I like his music. When he acts up, they take it away, so I try to calm him down sometimes.
IÕm not sure how long IÕve been here, but I feel pretty good. IÕve come to believe thatÕs not too bad. What occurred that brought me to this point seems less important to me now. I think it was important once. IÕm not sure why.
© W. Jack Savage
Bio: W. Jack Savage is a retired broadcaster and educator. He is the author of seven books including Imagination: The Art of W. Jack Savage (wjacksavage.com). To date, more than fifty of JackÕs short stories and over eight-hundred of his paintings and drawings have been published worldwide. Jack and his wife Kathy live in Monrovia, California.