I am glad to write today, telling you how much better I am feeling. After fearing a rupture in our relationship, Laura and I seem to be getting along, now that we aren’t seeing each other quite as often. Laura has been experiencing back pain, having trouble breathing, and, along with some other invisible ailments, these are the reasons she is spending so much time in bed. The last time I went over to her house, it was in the late afternoon, after staying out at the park, basking in the rays of the sun, and I couldn’t help but notice how dark it was inside her home, with all the blinds pulled, Laura lying wrapped up in her covers with Pumpkin by her side. She said she felt wretched, and the paleness upon her countenance proved it.
I called my mother and she was having problems, too. The grass was growing tall on her property, which spanned over an acre of land, and her lawn mower wasn’t functioning. At first, she thought it was the battery, so she took it out herself and replaced it with a new one, getting the mower cranked up and driving it all over her yard, getting the grass cut that time, but when she needed to trim it once again, the mower wouldn’t crank, and she didn’t know what was wrong with it. Meanwhile, her and my sister noticed that the water wasn’t heating up when they took a shower, discovering that the hot water heater had died, and my mom would have to call a plumber. Since my sister had quit her job, mom would probably be stuck with all these expenses.
But it is much different when you live in an apartment. When the hood over the stove became detached from the wall in back, and my bathtub and the sink in the bathroom got clogged up, all I had to do was to call the property manager, Dail, and he sent Mike over to fix these problems. When Mike arrived a few days later, he began to boast about his expertise at repairing things. “I’ve been at this job for twenty years!” he exclaimed, as he proceeded to take a look at the range hood. Mike always wants to make conversation with me and have me watch him while he works. He said that when the construction crew which came over two weeks ago to put new roofs on all these buildings, with the pounding they were doing upon the roof to get the old shingles off and the new shingles on, was probably what knocked the hood loose from the wall. I told Mike that the crew performed this massive job really fast. “They took shortcuts, too.” Mike replied, “They should have had supervision, but the owners of this property didn’t seem to be care about that.” After getting the hood reattached by drilling some screws through it and through the wall behind it, he proceeded to check the tub in the bathroom. “Now this is the hard part,” Mike declared. As he was taking the drain apart, he told me about a tenant in a house he was renting out, who was flushing tampons down the toilet, and about what a mess it had made. Mike put on a pair of latex gloves, took my plunger, pulsating it up and down with all his might, the clog breaking and a whirlpool forming as the water sloshed down the drain. After putting the drain back together, Mike proceeded to take the pipes apart under the sink, placing a bucket under it, running the water through the opening he created, jamming his screwdriver into the U joint he had taken out, dumping a substance as black as charcoal into the toilet and flushing it down. “This should take care of it,” he said. Mike put the pipes back together and the water ran through the sink perfectly. “Well, that didn’t take you long,” I told him, and as he was leaving, Mike said it would be a nice day for me to go out on a bike ride.
I agreed, and my legs were still too sore right now to go far, but I still needed to work them a little, to keep my lower limbs from becoming too stiff. By the time I decided to strap on my backpack and ride my bike to the Robersonville Library, the clouds had totally obliterated the sun. When I arrived there, the head librarian, Sallie, was crossing the street after having parked her van, and she looked at me and waved. As I was securing my bike against a flagpole, Sallie was moving a sign which was leaning up against the building, a sign with a cartoon depiction of stars and planets behind a caption which read, “A Universe of Stories.” I approached her, asking, “What’s going on at the library?” Sallie replied, almost with a sigh, “The same-ole, same-ole.” She seemed bored, going through the same routine day after day, as the months and years kept heaping and piling up on each other. She asked me if I had a good weekend; I told her I did, and how was hers? It was Mother’s Day this past Sunday. “Oh, I don’t have any children.” Sallie replied, “and both my parents are gone.” I told her that both my biological father and my step-father both had passed away, but that my mom was still with us, and she was seventy-nine years old. I called her on the phone every morning when we started out our days. Sallie was impressed with my filial enterprise, calling me a good son, a precious offspring.
When we entered the building and got settled, I looked over the bookshelves, finding the books I wanted to look over. They were these books of poetry I was looking at, one of them an anthology of English verse throughout the centuries, up to the nineteenth. When I read those lines, I felt bogged down by their stuffy classicism. I put this book back on the shelf and examined the complete works of Emily Dickinson. Emily had been a recluse, like myself, for whom human interaction was a luxury, and complete isolation an ongoing danger. He poems were rhythmical and short, piercing the core of living experience in a fashion that was both original and unorthodox. I looked at the front inside cover of this book, and there was a sticker on it, which read, “To Robersonville Public Library, presented by Frank and Ann Measamer, in memory of Edna Barnhill Everett.” Frank owned Village Pharmacy, where I purchased my monthly supply of medicine, and was the mayor of Robersonville, while Mrs. Everett had a nearby town named after her.
As I was immersed in the works of this Victorian poet, I heard rumbles of thunder outside, and soon, a heavy downpour of rain began striking the roof. I would have continued reading, but I felt this tingling and boring sensation in my forehead. I had asked my psychiatrist about this, and he said it was a neuromuscular syndrome connected with my mental disorder; it was something I would probably always have to live with. As I stepped outside, under the eaves of the roof to shield myself from the rain, calling Laura on the phone to see if she wanted a visit from me, it looked as if the rain had slacked up a bit. I went to check my book out, and Sallie gave me a plastic bag to wrap up my book and my iPhone, to protect them from watery destruction.
I was leaving the library, pedaling my bike, and the clouds above began their rapid condensation once again; I was getting soaked on the way to Laura’s house. Completely wet was I, when Laura met me at the door with the green outfit she had received at the hospital. I changed into it and put my wet clothes into her dryer. As I was sitting in the recliner in Laura’s bedroom, and Laura was lying upon the bed, for some odd reason, we began a morbid discussion concerning our previous psychotherapy at the state mental health center. I told Laura that when I was young, my therapist said, “I’ve had enough of you! I’m tired of these damned pep talks!” He called me names and seemed to get sadistic pleasure out of my failures and my pain. I called the suicide hotline at the clinic in the middle of the night in deep distress, wanting to end my own life, and the respondent asked, “Do you have a gun?” I replied no. “Do you have a knife?” I replied no. Then he shouted, “Well, go ahead and do it then!” When I returned to my therapist the next day, with my arms cut all up, he sided with my abuser, saying, “He called your bluff, didn’t he?” Then the counselor who had worked the hotline came into my therapy session to confront me. “I’m not taking any shit off of you,” he said emphatically. And Laura told me about how those people had placed her in a group home when she was seventeen, and the following year she was to be a legal adult and would have to leave. Her therapist tried to convince her to go into a nursing home, where she could help her fellow patients get out of bed, where she could feed some of them, and where her fellow patients would treat her like their own granddaughter. “Was the nursing home understaffed?” I asked Laura. She had suspected that it was, and that her therapist was trying to manipulate her. “What did you do?” I asked her. Laura said she lived on the street for a while, then saved up enough money out of her Social Security check to get an apartment.
My clothes were dry as soon as our tales of mental health abuse at the hands of the State were concluded. By the time I had changed back into my own clothes, the skies had cleared and the sun shined again. I hugged Laura, and returning to my apartment, I unpacked my iPhone and my library book, and I looked inside the book’s front cover again, deciding to go to another town board meeting this evening to see what Frank Measamer was doing. I wanted to watch him manage our little town. When I arrived at the town hall, going upstairs into the meeting room, I saw Tina in there, the manager of the food bank here in Robersonville. Then Sallie came in with her boyfriend. I wondered what their business was with the board members.
The meeting began with the pastor leading the group in prayer. After Frank dispensed with the old business, he began discussing the new business. A woman who was sitting beside Tina went up to the podium and addressed the board. She was from the Martin County Counsel on Aging and was representing the Meals on Wheels program. She gave a speech concerning the aged and infirmed who were confined to their homes, who could not cook on their own, and for whom the program was providing the only hot meal they received all day. They were short on volunteers and had a number of people on their waiting list because of this. She gave the board members the number to call, asking them for only an hour of the people’s time, to help feed those who could not feed themselves, and to keep these people in their own homes and out of a nursing home. After her speech, it was Sallie’s turn to take the podium. She proposed starting a book exchange, where people could take books home or trade them for others. The board couldn’t decide where to have it, considering the parking spaces here in town, so they left the issue undecided. The board also hired a janitorial service on a three-month trial basis to clean up the town hall, along with the building which housed the library, the police department, and the fire-rescue department. The meeting was adjourned after about an hour.
I walked down Main Street towards home as the sun was setting, and I saw Tina in the distance, waving to me as she was pulling her trash can away from the street beside her house. (Today was trash pickup day for Robersonville.) I had felt tensed up as I stood in the bread line the other day, fearing that Tina believed I was ignoring her when she spoke to me there, as she was distributing the free food, and instead of being friendly, saying an audible hello, that I might have had an air of misplaced conceit, not acknowledging her existence. This was my chance for redemption. I waved back to her and greeted her. Now I felt much better about our encounters; it is the social anxiety that makes me a recluse.