The next morning, after I had showered and scrubbed the accrued filth from my long-neglected body, I returned to bed and fell into a deeply depressive condition. The days following my release from jail were filled with awkward hours of silent wakefulness. My only interruptions were my wife’s hovering attentions and her nonstop, blitzkrieg-style bombardment of food offerings made to me while I lay wide-eyed and nearly lifeless in the bed she returned too only after it was time for her to sleep. I was grateful for the space and lapse in verbal communication she allowed to exist between us for the first several days. Although, I could eventually feel her anxieties beginning to overshadow her patience with me, as I continued to refuse most of the food she so hopefully put in front of me. I noticed that she would visibly perk up and look quietly victorious when I unenthusiastically drank the broth from a bowl of soup to quench my thirst while searching in vain for something to inspire my long-absent appetite.
I was surprised to find my thoughts wandering towards the idea that I might have better luck eating if I could just get high first. Realizing the futility of this desire only drove me further into the sleepy depression closing in on me and exhausted my already absent desire to get out of bed, which might have signaled my attempt to resume a somewhat normal existence with my wife, who had been spending most of her valuable sick time from work to attend to my dramatic and unexpected return home. Finally, it appeared that she had finally had enough of silently accepting my staggering unwillingness to make a satisfactory attempt to nourish myself.
“Goddammit,” she asserted, stomping her foot on the floor beside our bed and pushing the plate of steaming scrambled eggs, and dry toast back into my line of sight from where I had placed it moments ago. “Why won’t you fucking eat?”
“Well, I feel like I’m going to throw up every time I feel food in my mouth! I feel like I’m going to barf every time I think about trying to eat anything, okay?" My voice was growing louder and more agitated with every word spilling from my cracked lips. "I can smell you cooking it from under the mountain of pillows I hide my head under, and it makes me sick to think about swallowing.” I was actually disgusted with the childish, whining tone my voice had taken, but still I continued trying to explain as I pulled a nearby pillow over my head, and continued complaining, unconcerned if she was hearing my muffled protests. “I hear you scraping the pans while you’re out there cooking something that I just know you intend for me to eat and I get angry with myself. I hear the sound of the microwave when you start it and my anxiety level skyrockets after I hear the beep when it finishes.”
I felt the weight of the plate of food she had pushed onto my chest being removed, and I pulled the pillow away from my face to see tears streaming down my wife’s face as she sat down next to me on the bed.
“I’m sorry, sweetie…" I offered quietly, "I really wish I could eat. I really do.” I pulled my arm from under the covers and placed a hand gently on her shoulder.
“I know I can’t cook like you, dammit… but you won’t get out of bed to feed yourself, and I have to go back to work tomorrow. I'm going to be completely useless there if I have to spend my day worrying about this kind of shit.” She was sobbing uncontrollably, and I began to feel the weight of my own guilt for painfully obligating her as much as I obviously had. I began to realize that the emotional distress I was witnessing at the moment was really only the tip of a titanic iceberg of distressing and horrifyingly emotional breakdowns that my wife must have endured during the time I had spent away from home recently. The weight of guilt was building exponentially for me, and I felt a sharp pain in my throat and neck signaling my own immediate struggle with the impending manifestation of a tearful breakdown.
As the tears began gathering in my eyes, and the flood of unaddressed guilt and regret was about to spill over, I was granted some temporary reprieve by the sound of the phone ringing in the kitchen. My wife stood up from the bed, turning to look pleadingly in my direction. She held the plate of eggs and toast towards me, “Will you please try? That’s probably work on the phone.”
“Set it down here… I’ll get it into me somehow.”
A weak smiled crossed her weary, tear-streaked face and she handed the plate to my outstretched hands. “Thank you baby… It’ll really make me feel better.” The phone continued to ring, as she left the bedroom to answer it.
I pushed the eggs around with the fork that had been tucked underneath the fluffy, pale yellow mound. I was obviously stalling, but I was succeeding at convincing myself that I was only looking for an especially tasty looking bite. In the meantime I eavesdropped on my wife who had now retrieved the cordless phone in the kitchen.
Her greeting was followed by an extended period of silence.
“Who is it?” I asked loudly, still focused on turning the eggs over with the fork, but not yet delivering any to my dry, sticky mouth.
“I think it’s the jail in Littleton… shut up for a second!”
My attention immediately fell from the eggs I had been agonizing over, as I sat immediately upright to place the plate of food on the nightstand to my right. I swung my legs out from under the covers I had been buried in for several days and my vision immediately blurred in response to this sudden movement. I felt overwhelmingly lightheaded and struggled to use my tingling hands and legs to keep from losing the balance I normally commanded, which I was surprised to learn that I had taken for granted.
While I waited to regain stability I heard my wife’s voice begin a conversation with the waiting party on the other end of the phone.
“Hello… Bull? Shit, did I do that right? Bull, are you there? …Oh good… It was automated and I wasn’t sure I hit the right button… I’m just fine, thank you… I’d ask you the same, but that seems impolite considering where you’re calling from.” She laughed uncomfortably, “Oh… well… I’m not sure how to answer that, Bull… he hasn’t really talked much, or moved much since I brought him home… uh-huh… no… don’t you? …I see… well, I don’t understand what happened and he hasn’t offered too much… mmmm… I’ll bet. Will you tell him to eat if I let you talk to him? …yes… no, barely a thing. Well, that’s what I thought…” she laughed again and appeared in the doorway of our bedroom holding the phone to her ear, looking at me intently. “I’ll tell him you said so… here he is… and Bull, for whatever it’s worth… thank you for getting him home… mmmhmmm…okay then…”
She walked silently around the bed with the phone held out in front of her to where I was still sitting, paralyzed with anxiety and my head still recovering from the swim it had taken when I tried to get up. I reached out to take the phone from her hand. When she reluctantly placed the phone in my clammy palm I drew the phone close to the side of my head and began talking.
“Hey boss… how are you holding up?” My voice was quiet and shaky.
“Better than you I hear…” I was relieved to discover that I could hear the chipper tone in Bull’s voice that I immediately associated with his fierce, mischievous grin. “Brother, don’t you flake out on me now and land yourself in the crazy ward of county hospital, okay?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means exactly what it sounds like, dumbass. I don’t have a lot of time to explain things twice to you, as minutes on this phone are expensive, and I’m lucky to have some people in here who have given me a few phone cards to call you with. Now eat the goddamned food your wife gives you and get your shit together! I don’t care how bad her cooking is, it can’t be worse than what I have to suffer through in here.”
“You probably have figured out that I told them the truth about shit out on the farm, and I suppose you can kind of respect why I never told you about some of the things I did by myself while you were otherwise preoccupied.” He was re-interpreting the truth. I immediately understood that our conversation was very likely being monitored. “I would apologize to you, but you know how I feel about apologies.”
“Yeah, boss… if you say you’re sorry, then you intend to do that same shit again someday that you’re apologizing for.”
“That’s right, I’m glad somebody listens to me. That makes me realize that I did the right thing by not dragging you down with me on this shit. You’ve spent a lot of time listening to me, and in turn I’ve listened to you, but more importantly we have taken the time to really hear each other. I’m not going to apologize because that part of my life is over, and I don’t mean to do it anymore. I know that you understand what that means, but convincing the state’s attorney and the judge of that fact is another challenge all in itself. I’ve done time for this kind of thing before, as you know. Last time I did six years on an eleven year sentence with three years of parole. I didn’t try to fight that charge or weasel my way out of it by bullshitting my way through rehab or taking a bunch of people down with me. This time the state’s attorney seems to want me to do twenty-three years of straight time. I have a feeling that she’s a little disturbed by my lack of desire to bring anybody else with me.”
“Jesus Christ, boss… twenty-three years?”
“I told her that I recognized the importance of drug rehab at this point in my life, and she still wouldn’t budge. That’s where I’m hoping that you might come into play.”
“Well, shit… I’m not a lawyer. You know that.”
“No, but when I asked about rehab in exchange for a reduced sentence, she laughed at me and told me that she doubted that there was a soul in southern Illinois who would offer a caring word on my behalf, or make a case for even the remotest hope of my having a single thing to offer the community upon my completion of even the most difficult rehab program. She laughed and said that even with rehabilitation someone like me with my longstanding disregard for the law is a careless investment by the state, and would only put a black mark on her career when I returned to society after being given such an opportunity and continued to make a nuisance of myself when I inevitably returned to my wicked ways.”
“You didn’t apologize to her, did you boss?” I laughed out loud.
“Hell no… I didn’t apologize to her or anybody. That would mean I intended to do that same stupid shit again that landed me in this pile of trouble.”
“You want me to try and have that explained to her?”
“Well, not directly… you’re on their shitlist too. They seem certain that I’m protecting you for whatever reason. Go figure.”
“I feel like I’ve been missing something in my life, brother. You have to see things from a sympathetic, outside perspective. More importantly, they have to see things presented to them from a sympathetic, outside perspective. You seem to have people who care about you right now. You’re wife and family for instance. I don’t have anybody since my dad died, and quite honestly I didn’t really give myself any time to really absorb that blow. I just started cooking and using dope full-time after all that happened. My dad would be fucking ashamed of me right now for forgetting about him for so long, not to mention dragging Dayna and her son into my explosive life…”
“What happened to Dayna, boss?”
“Yeah… Dayna… well, apparently she actually did eat a bunch of xanax while she was drinking tequila that night I got raided. I guess it’s lucky for her that the law showed up when they did. She’s in some rehab right now. I doubt that when she gets her head screwed back on that she’ll even look twice over her shoulder for me. But that’s okay. She needs to take care of her son and resolve matters with herself and her family. I wasn’t helping her with any of that really. I realize that now.”
“What can I do to help you?”
“I thought you’d never ask…”
“I need you to help me convince the state’s attorney that I’m not a fruitless investment by the state. I want to get some help for my addiction regardless of whether or not she intends to send me off to prison for twenty years. I need your help convincing some real people with some say-so out there that she’s wrong about me. Hell… I can’t believe I’m saying this, and if you repeat it to anybody I’ll deny it… but I’m starting to think about praying.”
“Are you for real?”
“I’m on my last leg here. Only I don’t know how to pray, man. Nobody ever thought to teach me when I was a kid… Listen, I know I’ve filled your head up with a lot of garbage, but this phone card is about to run out. Write some letters for me, and make some calls. I don’t want to spend the last part of my life behind bars, okay?”
“I’ll get on it, boss.”
“I know you will… and don’t think too hard about anything, brother. You should already know the truth behind the requests I’m making. I gotta go, now. Eat the goddamned food your wife gives you. You'll feel better. I’ll call you next week.”
I listened to the phone click on Bull’s end and hung up the phone I was holding. My wife had disappeared from the bedroom without my noticing. I reached for the plate of cold eggs and toast on my nightstand and devoured every last morsel on the plate. I was suddenly pained by a hunger for just about every type of food I could think of.
If Bull wanted me to rally support for him out here, then that’s exactly what I would do. In a burst of inspiration I dialed a familiar number on the phone which was still warm from being firmly held to my head while I had listened to Bull’s mostly one-sided conversation. I held the phone to my ear and listened while it rang several times before being answered on the other end.
“Hello?” Rhonda’s familiar, raspy voice greeted me.
“Rhonda, I need you to find out which church the state’s attorney in Littleton County attends on Sunday mornings.”
“Well, hells bells… when did you get sprung from jail? Never mind… why the hell do you want that information?” She sounded confused, but entertained.
“I’m gonna write the congregation a letter.”
“I’d ask why, but I’m afraid it’s probably something crazy. Sure, I can find out that out for you. Want me to come pick you up and get you high, youngster? You probably need it about now.”
“Nah… not today Rhonda, but check with me again some other time. Thanks, though. Call me back after you find out.”
We hung up without the usual pleasantries, and I opened the drawer to the nightstand on my right. I retrieved a notebook and pen and began to write a prayer request letter to an as-of-yet anonymous church for my friend, Bull Gunville.
This work is the intellectual property of Jerome J. Panozzo