Friday, January 11, 2013

Meltdown (39)

Every single word written here is an extraordinary exaggeration of events that have played out in my head... based on the stories I have heard from people I have met in jail or while I was dealing with my own stupidity and carelessness, resulting from my own addiction to alcohol and drugs. This is in no way a glamorization of drug use, but a tool to lend some humanity to a subculture that has been demonized and written off as a hopeless and worthless part of our human family. I do not condone or promote any of the behavior or activities herein.

            In the hazy aftermath of Sheriff Doyle’s unexpected visit and in the wake of his confirmation of my wife’s untimely demise I found myself navigating the eerily nebulous events transpiring around me from what can only be described as an out-of-body experience.  I felt like a piece of my soul had escaped the shackles of my mortal shell simply to bear witness to my body being smothered in the frigid waves of inconsolable grief as I continued to draw painful breaths into my struggling lungs.  The surreal visual of my own eyes seemingly witnessing the agonizing fit of despair that my body was enduring intensified this strange perspective exponentially.  The experience was cold and frantic in the way that a choice between suffocating to death and burning alive might be.  In the end I found my out-of-body existence even more painful to bear than the incalculably vast and impossibly empty vessel of torture which my body had now become.  I remember thinking that if this horrifying occurrence didn’t conclude, and if I didn’t find some way to reacquaint my fleeing mind with my dejected body then this would be how I would suffer through hell for all eternity.  There was no question in my mind that I deserved to agonize over this horrifying turn of events, but somewhere in that vacant house dimly lit by the setting sun’s inescapable illumination I convinced my mind to re-engage my body with the knowledge that this particular version of hell would be available to me at some other time.
            I immediately recognized the flawed logic of my decision.  The immediate physical pain of drawing breath after having traumatized my lungs with the unabated wails of a forlorn victim of a merciless, invisible attack was unsparing and accompanied by a confusing struggle between my mind and my hands which were tearing at the hair on my head so ferociously that my neck muscles felt as though they had been injected with a crippling toxin.  I cried out through clenched teeth as I silently and desperately convinced my hands to release my hair.  As my shaking arms lowered stiffly in front of me I saw clumps of my own hair held together by bits of pink scalp tumbling from the relinquishing grip of my fingers.  The sight of this instigated another caustic moan from my diaphragm ending with long-neglected tears and stringy saliva dripping from my chin.
            As the spit and tears fell onto my hand, the sensation nauseated me beyond the point of being able to withhold the violent gagging and retching that took place next.  As I hurried to wipe the now gooey and matted clumps of hair from my hands onto my jeans I began speaking to myself out loud.
            “You have to quit this now, do you hear me?”  I dry-heaved, seeming to punctuate the pleading request.  My voice sounded more like the scratching whine of a horsehair bow being dragged carelessly across the out-of-tune strings of some nightmarish violin.  This only served to drive me deeper into a rage-fueled outburst.
            “YOUR!”  I drove a closed fist fiercely into my cheek near my eye.
            “WIFE!”  I struck the same spot again with the same closed fist as warmth blossomed over half of my face.
            “IS!”  The other hand was balled and struck the bridge of my nose sending tears to my eyes and a salty, warm trickle of blood down my throat.
            “DEAD!”  The same fist was driven into my lips and teeth which sent sparks through my field of vision.
            “You selfish motherfucker!”  I collapsed onto the floor and now gently buried the fists I had used to deliver my own ass-kicking into the swollen flesh surrounding my eyes.  I curled into a fetal position and immersed my thoughts in the new sensations of stinging warmth in my cheek and lips, while blood oozed down my throat.  I fought to stay ahead of hyperventilation and eventually won.  I began drawing unsatisfying shallow breaths into my badly bruised lungs until I was breathing with the deliberate rhythm and muted wheeze of an antique oscillating fan.
            When I had regained control of my breathing I opened my eyes and removed my fists from their sockets. I slid towards the nearest wall and propped myself up against the wainscoting.  The sight of my hands generated anxiety in my brain, as if I didn’t know whether or not to expect another beating to be delivered without notice.  I felt familiar rage beginning to simmer beneath my aching lungs, but my exhaustion drove any thoughts of further self-pugilism almost shamefully into remission.     
            My thoughts turned reluctantly towards the task I had been obligated to fulfill by Sheriff Doyle.  I needed to find transportation to the Littleton County Morgue so I could identify and claim my wife’s remains.  I was completely out of friends as long as Bull was sitting in jail, and I recognized the futility of pursuing the task by requesting help from Rhonda or any of the other dope-fiend associates I had come to pass most of my time with up until recently.  At the end of my short list of possible choices was clearly the most responsible and rightful person to ask.  I began dreading the phone call even before the familiar face of my wife’s sister appeared in my mind.  Up until very recently I could scarcely remember the seven simple numbers required to connect with her home phone.  In fact up until my self-imposed and recently delivered ass-kicking, the most ridiculous thing I had done today was tear apart the house looking for just that particular set of digits.  Regardless of my faulty memory, and before thoughts of it could consume my fragile mindset, I set out to find one of the cordless phones.  I didn’t have to wander far as the phone was resting where I had carelessly let it slide from my face onto the computer desk following my unfavorable conversation with Bull before the Sheriff’s arrival in my driveway. 
            The phone was droning on in a warbling, obnoxious tone indicating that I had failed to hang it up at the conclusion of the previous phone call.  I stamped my thumb on the END button to silence it.  I began to concentrate very hard on very specific words that I would use when I heard the sound of my sister-in-law’s voice at the other end.  As the rehearsed statement and request played out obsessively in my mind I absently began tapping the phone on my forehead.  The words I had chosen began to find a morose rhythm in my head which promptly negated the weight of their intended purpose and began the process of distracting my brain with their dirge-like pulse.  The strangely twisted and wonderland-like requiem was making a shockingly effective play for my remaining sanity when the phone rang loudly in my hand.  I let out a startled yelp, which was quickly silenced by the pain in my lungs as I threw the phone away from me.  I quickly gathered what was left of my senses, and walked several paces towards where the phone had landed and bent over to pick it up.  I suffered momentary paralysis when I saw the name of my wife’s sister appear on the caller-id panel along with the previously elusive telephone number.  I bit my swollen and split bottom lip and pressed the TALK button.
            “Hello?”  My voice still retained its gruesome, out-of-tune violin quality.
            “Well it’s about bleeping time Steppy!  I’ve been trying to call for an hour… Did you leave the phone off the hook again?  When is mommy coming back to pick me up?  I’m bored out of my gourd!”  The sound of Lil’ Step’s voice brought instantaneous tears to my eyes.  I had been so completely sucker-punched by my own reaction to her mother’s death that I had completely failed to consider her at all.  I felt the boney, corpse-like fingers of anguish sliding up my spine as the hair on my flesh began to stand on end.  I was completely unprepared to communicate anything at all with the voice I was now obligated to answer on the other end.
            “Not yet baby, she’s not coming for you right now.”  My voice cracked as I struggled to find the necessary words to tell her that would result in her aunt’s voice replacing hers on that end.  “Lil’ Step, I need you to put your aunt on the phone for me, okay?”  The sound of tears fighting with my words were painfully obvious and immediately noticed.
            “Steppy, what’s the matter?  Why are you crying?  Didn’t you tell mommy you’re sorry yet?  I just know that now that she’s not so tired and cranky like the other morning that all you’d have to do is tell her you’re sorry and you’ll never do again whatever you did that made her angry in the first place.  If you just do that, then everything’s going to be just fine again.  Please just tell her you’re sorry, huh?”
            “Okay baby, I’ll try.” I was struggling with sobs now.  “Can you please put your aunt on the phone for me?  I love you Lil’ Step…”
            “I love you too Steppy!  Stop crying though… " She was feigning exasperation, "Papaw says that grown-up men shouldn’t cry.  Just tell mommy that you're sorry.  Here’s my aunt!”  I heard her tell her aunt that I wanted to talk to her and the phone switched hands.
            “Yeah?”  The rough, cigarette-hardened voice of my wife’s sister was always too loud for whatever phone I was on.
            “You’ve gotta come pick me up and take me to Littleton County.  You’re sister died yesterday in a car crash and they want somebody to identify her.  Please come pick me up…”  My voice trailed off into tears and sobs that I was struggling to silence beyond the breath it took to produce them.
            “What?”  Her voice became as soft and sweet as her sister’s always was, and I recognized genuine concern and an attempt not to draw alarm from anybody close to her.
            “Oh fuck… please don’t make me say it again.  I’m a fucking mess, and I really need your help right now.”  I groaned in frustration.
            “Oh… my God…You’re… totally serious.” She was stammering, but stammering quietly.  “I’ll be right over.”
            I pressed the END button on the phone and dropped to the floor where I remained immobile and sobbing softly until my wife’s sister let herself into the house to hoist me off the floor and to my room.  While she was carrying me through the house I relayed as much information as I had been given between sobs.  She found a clean and respectable change of clothes in my dresser and helped me change into them while her own tears and confusion manifested.  Together, in tears, and arms around each other for support we limped to her van and started the journey to where my wife’s lifeless body was waiting for me to acknowledge her identity.    

This work is the intellectual property of Jerome J. Panozzo

Friday, January 4, 2013

Cover Art

This is a piece of artwork I solicited from a friend of mine.  He has a FB page called Darkmatter.  

Please support artists and their work.  

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Delivering Bad News (38)

Every single word written here is an extraordinary exaggeration of events that have played out in my head... based on the stories I have heard from people I have met in jail or while I was dealing with my own stupidity and carelessness, resulting from my own addiction to alcohol and drugs. This is in no way a glamorization of drug use, but a tool to lend some humanity to a subculture that has been demonized and written off as a hopeless and worthless part of our human family. I do not condone or promote any of the behavior or activities herein.

            I don’t remember much of anything that I did for quite some time after my wife fled from the house with her daughter.  I remember being awake to watch the sun creep over the horizon at least twice, and I didn’t make any attempt to sleep in the space between those dawns.  I kept the phone close to me in her absence, and would periodically try to reach her on her cell phone.  I dialed obsessively and continually for stretches of time that I would be embarrassed to approximate, only to be greeted repeatedly by the sound of her sweet, southern-flavored voice requesting a brief message at the tone.  I would sometimes leave long-winded, apologetic and rambling pleas for her to return home or at the very least, to return my call.  Still the phone remained silent.  Once in a while I would convince myself that perhaps there was a problem with the ringer, or maybe the land-line service was down and I would fumble with the phone in my shaky hands, making sure there was a dial tone and double-checking the volume of the ringer.  Each time I was frustratingly assured that the phone and service were in perfect working order.
            I continued getting high during this time, and had graduated from smoking off of aluminum foil to using an apparatus I had fashioned by disassembling a light bulb, and cleaning the toxic, white powder-coat fog from the inside of the glass with a large pile of salt I had poured inside of the bulb after extracting the element.  I had shaken the salt inside the bulb frantically until none of the pale, dusty, coating remained.  After I poured the salt out I found a plastic cap from an empty Pepsi bottle at the bottom of the small garbage can in Lil’ Step’s room.  I burned a small hole in the soda cap, just big enough to squeeze a pen tube into, and after I had dropped several crystal shards of dope into the bottom of the bulb, I screwed the soda cap mouthpiece over the metal threads of the bulb and smiled briefly at the makeshift glass pipe I had created.  As far as I can remember, that brief smile was the last time my face had shown any ability to express joy in a very long time. 
            The bag of dope Rhonda had shared with me turned out to be lasting much longer than I could have anticipated.  I wasn’t in any real hurry to get completely twisted.  I was merely just trying to keep myself awake, afraid that if I fell asleep I would miss the phone call from my wife that I had begun to obsessively anticipate.  I periodically contemplated calling her sister’s house, but when my mind played that scenario out to every possible outcome my shame always outweighed my desire to hear her voice.  When I finally convinced myself to man-up and dial the number I was utterly terrified to realize that I could not recall the simple seven digits that would connect me with her sister’s home.  This led me into a dope-fueled, frantic search of the house for something that would provide me with the number.  A surreal sense of paranoia began to crawl into my questionable consciousness when after I had tossed the entire house I was incapable of locating a local phone directory.  By the time I realized the answer was as simple as dialing directory assistance, my once determined and brave resolution to make the call had succumbed to overwhelming paranoia and shame resulting from the condition my frantic search had left the house in.  The idea of my wife returning home to find the house in such a state prompted me begin straightening the mess I had created with the same vigor I had destroyed it with earlier.
            Several times I was sure that I heard a car door shut in the driveway, only to race to the nearest window and find myself staring out at the empty gravel driveway.  No matter how many times I cursed myself for being spun-out to the point of hearing imaginary sounds, minutes later I would catch myself racing to another lonely window, chasing yet another ghostly sound I had been sure was my wife.
            Then the phone rang in the silence of the house and I momentarily felt like I might have to restart my heart.  I dropped the pile of papers I had been fumbling with onto the floor, and raced towards the sound of the ringing phone.  Turning the phones caller-id display towards my hopeful eyes, I was all at once disappointed and fear-stricken to see
Littleton County Jail
appear in black letters on the orange-lit screen. 
            Bull.  Fuck.
            I briefly contemplated letting the phone ring through to voicemail.  The last thing I wanted to deal with was feeling even more guilty about being high while Bull sat in jail keeping his mouth shut about the part I played in what landed him there.  I finally found the nerve to hit the receive button and place the phone to my ear.
            “This is a call from,” a computerized female voice stated.
            “Bull.” Bull’s voice interrupted the computerized recording.
            “An inmate at Littleton County Jail,” the digital female continued.  “If you wish to accept this call press one now.”
            I pressed the one button on the phone’s keypad and returned the phone to my ear.
            “Thank you.  All calls are subject to recording and could be monitored.  You may start your conversation now.”  There was a click as the computerized operator transferred the call to Bull’s phone.
            “Bull?  What’s going on man?  I know your time is valuable, but I’m afraid to say that this might not be the best time for me.”
            “Brother, that’s what I called to talk to you about.  Are you okay?  The jailer just came back and told me what happened.  I don’t know what to say man.  I am standing in my cell shaking and really, really shocked.  I’m at a loss, and I want to tell you that I’m sorry… but we both know how I feel about sorry.  This is a different kind of sorry though.”
            “Bull, what the fuck are you talking about?  What’d the jailer tell you that got you worked up?”  I was altogether confused by the care and caution in his voice.
            “What?  I can’t possibly be the one having this conversation with you first…”  Bull suddenly sounded confused and angry.
            “I honestly have no idea what the hell you’re talking about Bull, but you better rewind and start over.  You’re starting to freak me out.”
            “Oh my motherfucking God…” I heard the sound of Bull pounding the phone against the cinder block wall of the jail cell before he started talking again.  “I can’t believe I’m carrying this responsibility from a jail cell.  Brother, I need you to sit down, okay?”
            I sat down in the chair at the computer desk that I had become painfully intimate with during the last several days.  “Okay boss, I’m sitting now.  Will you please tell me what the hell is going on over there?”
            “Brother…” there was a wavering in his voice that made the hair on my neck stiff.  “The jailer just came back and asked me if I had heard about what happened to your wife yesterday.”
            “What about my wife?  Is she in jail now too?  That’s just what I fucking need.  I’m not in any condition to come bail her out…  Goddammit.”
            “No… listen to me.  She’s not in jail.  Your wife…” another hesitation, and I felt my face start to go numb, “she died in a car accident sometime yesterday.  They found her car all smashed up on some back-ass country road in Littleton County.  Nobody knows what time the wreck happened, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.”
            “What?”  I heard the word escape my mouth.  It sounded like a stranger’s voice to me.  “What?  No…”  My brain started to shut down blood-flow to my extremities.  Even though I didn’t register Bull’s words as absolute truth, this untimely offering of the reality behind my unanswered phone calls to her was one I hadn’t considered and it began to creep into my brain like a paralyzing infection.
            “I’m sorry that I’m the one telling you this.  How the FUCK are you completely out of the loop on this brother?”
            “Bull goddammit, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.  The jailers are probably fucking with you and listening to us right now.  Don’t you think I would know if my wife was DEAD?”
            “Listen, they didn’t know how to locate you because the address on her license turned out to be an empty trailer lot somewhere.  They actually asked me if I knew where you could be found.”  It sounded as if Bull was coming to a realization, although I was completely detached at the moment.
            I began to feel the weight of this new reality.
            “Oh fuck.  We had a fight a couple of days ago and she took off with Lil’ Step.  Boss, I thought she was at her fucking sister’s house.  I just thought she was ignoring my phone calls.”  Suddenly I felt like I weighed 1000 pounds.  “Oh no… If she’s dead it’s my fault…” 
            “You listen to me now, motherfucker…”  Bull’s voice suddenly took on the sound of a fierce instructor.  “You listen to me, and you listen real fucking hard… I don’t know what you guys argued about, but your wife died in a car ACCIDENT on some loose gravel on a country road.  Unless you were driving that fucking car for her then you have very little business blaming yourself for an accident.  Do you understand me?” 
            “Boss, we had a fight and she left because of me.  If I hadn’t been so fucked up I could have convinced her to stay at home… with me… where she belonged.  Now you’re telling me that she’s dead after crashing her car that she wouldn’t have been driving if she had been at home with me where she belonged.  How is it NOT in some way my fault?  What the fuck am I going to do?”
            “Don’t you fucking do that,” Bull’s voice was quiet now.  “People get into arguments… married people more than anybody else.  You didn’t do this to your wife, okay?  It was an accident…”
            As Bull was carrying on I noticed a flash of reflecting sun streak the wall to my left. I looked out the sliding the glass doors to my right and watched a Littleton County Sheriff’s vehicle pull into my driveway with an officer occupying each seat in the front of the car.  The vehicle stopped about halfway up the driveway and it appeared as though the two men were talking.
            “Boss, I gotta go…” I said vacantly, as I watched the officer’s continue talking in the squad car.  “Littleton County Sheriffs just pulled into my driveway and there’s a mess in my house.  I might see you in a little bit.”
            “No you will not.  Meet them in the driveway.  They’re only there to deliver the news.  You’re not going to jail today.  I’ll call you soon.”
            “Okay Boss.”
            “Alright then.”  The phone clicked and went silent as Bull hung up.
            I dropped the phone without hanging up, and found the strength in my numb legs to lift myself from the chair.  I shuffled to the sliding glass doors and ambled outside as the cops were letting themselves out of the squad and placing their brimmed hats on their neatly groomed heads nearly in unison.  They both raised their heads in my direction as I dragged my feet down the sidewalk path to the gravel driveway.  Through the glare of the sun I could make out only the dark silhouettes of the two peace-officers approaching me.  I stopped walking when my feet touched the gravel.  The two uniformed men stopped several feet in front of me.
            I heard the strangely familiar voice of Sheriff Doyle address me.
            “Sheriff…” I held my hand to my brow to block the sun, “I think I know what you’ve come to tell me.  I just got off the phone with Bull Gunville…”
            “Son, I’m sorry we didn’t get here any sooner…” Sheriff Doyle held his hands in front of him and slid them together nervously.  The sound of his rough hands rubbing together sounded like sandpaper on cardboard to me.  “Like I told you when we first met, you’ve been a stranger to me up until recent events caused our path’s to cross rather unfortunately.  It took awhile for me to track you down.  Apparently your wife never got her address updated on her driver’s license after y’all took up residence in this home.  I’m terribly sorry young man, but it appears that my current responsibility to you deems that we are not meeting under any more pleasant circumstances than we did when last we kept company.  Quite honestly I preferred that arrangement over this one.”
            “I just got off the phone with Bull Gunville, Sheriff,” I repeated.  My mouth was dry and my hand began twitching.  “Is what he told me true, sir?  Is my wife dead?”  The sound of those words escaping my mouth drew uncontrollable tears to my eyes which I made no effort to hide or keep from running down my face.
            “Son, I’m afraid so…”  The sheriff continued speaking, although I had started to phase out.  His voice began to sound as if he were talking into a pillow from behind a very heavy wooden door.  He was describing the accident and delivering pertinent, yet reserved details of her injuries, finishing up by informing me that she was declared dead at the scene.  Apparently I was expected to accompany them to the county hospital where her body was waiting to be identified.
            “If it’s quite alright with you Sheriff Doyle,” I felt myself distancing the smothering reality of the situation, “I’d prefer to procure my own transportation for this particular task.  You’ll forgive me if I tell you that I feel like I have ridden in the back of one too many police cars lately.”
            “I can understand that sentiment completely sir.  Do you think this can be handled before the end of the day?”
            “I’ll manage something.  Is that all Sheriff?”
            “Yes sir, I believe it is.  The deputy and I wish to extend our condolences.”
            “Okay then.”  I turned around and walked towards the house.  The tears that had been silently running down my face unattended had begun to soak the front of my shirt.  I didn’t care.  I could hear the sound of gravel underneath the boots of the departing officers as I let myself into the house.  As I slid the door shut an agonizing moan materialized in my lungs and built to a deafening roar that utilized all of the breath in my body.  Later I would discover that the scream I had engaged in had bruised both of my lungs.  

            Somehow it didn't hurt quite enough.
 This work is the intellectual property of Jerome J. Panozzo