I rarely was allowed to lie on the cot, since it was obvious that my illness was actually the fact that I was sick of school, so I sat in the waiting room, and had no choice but to take in the dull environment around me.
But when the Nurse picked up the heavy receiver, I became a hunting dog: my ears prickled with the sense of waiting for the next sounds: the rotation of the telephone dial, as it made its noisy way to the small curved finger stop, and then the momentary release, and more relaxed slide back to it’s base.
That sound occurred seven times, and its duration varies depending on the location of the numbers: the brief staccato of the one, all the way to the long, slow pull then exhale of the zero, which erroneously appears after the nine. I knew those sounds so intimately that I waited for the first one to be a deep, long nine, and knew that my number might be the one. It was too. Short to be a seven, which at the time was the only other option. My neighborhood, and therefore any other sick student, or anyone the Nurse might call for that matter, would only be in the range of a phone number that started with a nine, like mine, or the even more popular seven.
From the doorway I scan the cluttered, filthy living room of my mother’s apartment, mouth-breathing in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid the smoky stench. Large pieces of mismatched furniture are buried under layers of towels and clothes. The desk is piled Jenga-style with books, papers, plates, cups, ashtrays, and more books, all of it frosted with dust. The only source of light is a small, curtainless window that accentuates the accumulated misery.
All this to take in, and so much more: the kitchen, with its bounty of rotting food, zoetic with crawling and flying critters, and of course, the porcelain jewel in the festering crown: a dump of a dump hole, eco-rich with mold, mildew, and its odors. All of it was mine alone to deal with, and I was already too exhausted to do anything other than stand in the doorway and survey the squalor.
Two days earlier, my brother called with the follow-up news I had been anxiously awaiting for half a day:
“Yeah, I found her.”
“Oh, thank god!” My muscles, taut with hours of tension, deflated with relief. Since his call that morning, I fretted, and frantically did the only thing I could from three states away: informed the nearby hospitals and local police stations that my elderly mother, whose short term memory had been a problem several times before when she ventured out of her house, was now missing. Since this was the only time she hadn’t eventually made it back home, I had never imagined such a phone call, but it was clearly one that those on the other end of the line were accustomed to: they would excuse themselves for a few moments, then let me know in a sympathetic tone that they had no news for me. With each call, my fear and stress climbed. But then my brother called with the uplifting news that she had been found.
“Oh, thank god! Where was she? Is she okay?”
“No, she’s dead.”
And that’s how my brother informed me of our mother’s death. He explained that she hadn’t gone missing; she was on her bed, covered by her quilt, which is why he missed her when he checked her apartment earlier that morning. Because her home was so disgusting, he scanned the area quickly and left, and it wasn’t until nightfall when a savvy cop asked him to check all the rooms again that he found her.
He found her, and dealt with the body, and then called me. And now here I am, staring at the shabby remnants of my mother’s life, and I’ve got the weekend to empty her apartment, because Bro told the landlord it would be ready for painting on Monday. He can’t deal with any more of this right now, and the unspoken but very strong undercurrent that runs through all our discussions is, he not only dealt with her dead body, but he dealt with her alive, which was probably far more devastating, as she had become, by her 77th year on Earth, pretty much an unpleasant pain in the ass that everyone avoided as much as they could.
But he couldn’t: he was her son and she had moved all the way East from California to be with him and his family, who were now treating her like she was a zombie covered in Ebola. I dealt with her when we both lived in LA, when she had come out of a heart attack-induced three day coma with a brain injury that caused an extreme personality change. This is common enough so that there’s been a Lifetime movie of the week about this, but when it happened to my mother it was vexing. Very, very vexing And after I did my time, including acting as her conservator rather than allow her to give her money away, and having had escaped, and there was enough of a buffer between us so that I only had to tolerate excruciatingly tedious phone calls filled with detailed minutia: “so I got in the car, and saw that I needed gas. I drove over to the Shell station on Connecticut…”
Now I was in her doorway, she was suddenly gone, a fact I could not possibly integrate at the time, and I had less than two days to empty out what remained of her existence, all of which was covered in dirt, dust, crumbs and ashes.
It was right after I sent a return text to Derek the Englishman, who was canceling our first face-to-face date scheduled for that evening with a clumsy and insulting excuse that I’m repeating verbatim: “I was just awoken [sic!] by a call from my son, reminding me we made plans for tonight. oops. can u and i do next saturday?” I texted him back with a vague, “yeah, sure,” which I was hoping implied that his excuse deserved that response, but I really didn’t care. I was tired. Tired of getting my hopes up with flirty, tummy-fluttery phone calls that resulted in disappointment.
This was by far not the first, but it was now going to be the last in a series. So I decided: I’m done. I’m waving the white flag. Clearly, my ability to repel men has not only returned, but perhaps even gained in strength since the last time I’ve sent them running in the opposite direction.
This time, I offered myself no bargains, promises or deals. I was ready to end the madness. Perhaps it was because unlike the retreat of Ben, Jeff, Sidney, Rich or any of the other in the Parade of Penises that had entered and quickly exited my life recently, this guy had so many red flags that I was actually relieved, although of course insulted, to receive his rejection.
Whether I wanted to see a fellow or not, even after the most boring, eye-rollingly awful first date, I was always insulted when I didn’t receive the opportunity to reject first. And although Derek was very sexy and funny, and even the most inane comments sound better with a British accent, he apparently didn’t appreciate my candor when I asked him to be so kind as to not burp into the phone every few minutes as we chatted. I never had the nerve to do that when I was younger, and now that I did, it didn’t matter: he ignored me. But that wasn’t a red flag so much as an extremely annoying habit; the weaving of dreams is what made me realize that he was not of or on this world, just sort of floating, and I’m just too long in the tooth for a floater: a 50 year old guy who is a messenger by day, a musician at night, and talks about someday buying a bar on an island. You tolerate that when a guy is thirty, unless you like his music. He shared his on Soundcloud, and it sucked. So there you go. And there he went.
And then, within the next few days, after the withdrawal jitters had abated, I was delighted to discover that since I had waved the white flag I had so much more time on my hands! The time that I had been spending searching for, responding to, getting ready for, meeting, having sex with, and obsessing about men, was now? Mine, to do with whatever I wished.
And time, I finally realized, is exactly what I need, to attempt to understand those mysterious creatures and those exciting experiences. Perhaps I might even reflect on my own behavior that sends them running, but to do so I’ll have to take a trip down memory lane looking at some recent and not so recent experiences.
Boomer Judy’s erotic escapades continue…