WARNING - content including coarse language and/or sexual content may be offensive to some.
TRUE BEGINNING OF OUR END
a short story by Mark Kolke
July 18, 2011
All we have are our friends and our memories.Our friends die, and then all we have are our memories. They flit in, and out.It is challenging to remember what is real, or what wasn’t.
Getting old really sucks.Besides losing function of just about every body part, we lose the right to make decisions, the ability to be relevant – or to be seen that way.We are old, forgotten, marginalized and dismissed. Our memories are unreliable, and our time for making new ones is running out like sand through the hourglass pinch-point.
This story, this time, life and all memory of it is running out, just like that hourglass.
A midsummer night’s dreaming might have worked for Shakespeare, but it seems more like nightmare time for Demetri. He recalls that great quote, that Mark Twain wrote: When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the latter. It is sad to got to pieces like this, but we all have to do it.
Someone once told Demetri that, “in an ideal relationship, each participant assists the other in growing to become the happiest, freest, most enlightened manifestation of who they are.”We can only do our best.Guarantees are illusory.All we can do is take chances, dream big, live larger and wear our hearts on our sleeves.
Seems like a tall order. Still, we keep trying.
Playing over, and over, in the mind of our thoughts in the middle of the night, like a dream – or nightmare - the kind you have after eating too much late at night . . .
Early morning, twilight – it must have been half-past four. Demetri started his journal entry with, “You might scoff – at things you cannot do, quote obstacles, list barriers to achieving what you want, to finding ways to meet your many needs. You might indeed.”
Publishing his daily journal to anyone other than himself was a thing of the past now – he had blogged his last a long time back. Still, that daily habit of writing – as if it was still written for an audience,was his irrepressible compulsion, still feeling driven to do so, and not knowing what he would do if he ever stopped. The writing would stop when he did, or maybe when he is ready to die.Not a moment sooner.
He often pondered the consequence of it – of holding on to feelings so tight – and then wondering what happens when you stop?
Do you fill that void with something, or is it more like having a limb ripped out?
Indigestion and stormy weather - like a song cue, trigger so many memories.
Like parched earth cracking underfoot on the desert floor.
Memory was such a landscape.Tears could flood the earth’s scar tissue – cracks in earth, hardened like concrete, mud floor on a desert valley, each square, separated by deep fissures that might have been rendered by a cleaver. Rains never come. Floods did not flow again in these old river-beds, their dryness exceeded only by wry irony, cracked earth hurting less than any of the earth’s crust fault lines, but more than torn flesh of his angst.
Monday morning mind-fog set in.
Demetri’s brain wanders.
One part sleep deprived stupor.
Another all-nighter of eating too much, drinking too much and sleeping too little behind him.
He hasn’t had a full night’s undisturbed sleep in months. Or was it weeks?He wasn’t sure. It might have been years, but most of his memory isn’t what it used to be.Aging had been, for the most part, kind to old Demetri Felton.
Not that he felt old.
Eighty-nine is the new sixty-nine, right?
When he was fifty-nine he felt thirty-five.
So, why couldn’t he feel 50’s even though he was approaching his 90’s.
He’s not borderline homicidal – but he’s been wondering if he is on the verge of some other kind of pathological psychotic disorder or irrational act.
“I’m getting too old for this shit,” he muttered again this morning. But, it wasn’t the same as memories of grinding out a monster proposal project or big report fatigue talking – those things he used to invest so many sleepless nights to complete, so many times, so many years ago. Decades really.
This was two days, or was it three, and nights too – without any sleep at all that he could remember. Sure, he’s awakened on half or even hours - when voice-overs on the info-mercials changed decibel levels enough to stir him, or stir the dog - who in turn, stirred him. Usually just enough to inspire channel-surfing at 2:30AM, to find another program of interest . . . only to doze minutes later, and then to later wake and wonder why he had no recollection of any of it. He knew he got some undetermined hours of rest, but each time this happened he felt like he’d scarcely slept a wink.
Mid-life crisis – he could understand that, if that was what it was, but this was far too late in life for anything using a prefix like mid, to say nothing of his feelings about that phenomenon in the first place. He’d always felt it was the excuse men gave for fucking women half their wife’s age or buying a Harley when all they wanted to do, or prove, is that they could still get it up on a regular basis without confronting the reality that they no longer wanted to get it up with their wife of so many years. It was mid-life when he’d met her, but even then he didn’t think it had any of those elements to it at the time. It was so long ago, but all he needed do was close his eyes and he could see Loretta laughing, hear her singing, hear her quoting Shakespeare - like time travel. But, when he reached out to touch her, there was nothing but air.
He had theories about that too – the why and the wherefore of fidelity, infidelity, dialogue and silence and the behavioral manifestations of acting-out remedies people go through while avoiding confrontation with their shit, their spouse’s shit and their collective shit. Shit, or, as the Irish say, shite!
Waking up, alone, insufficiently rested - staggering into his office to start another work day, the opposite of his dreams.Especially on a cold day.
Today is an unbearable cold day.Sure, the weather report says it will be windy, a high of 82F, with a chance of afternoon thunderstorms to cool us off.
Demetri was icy already. His first pot of coffee for the day barely warmed his mouth but left his body still cold, his feet frozen and his heart empty of flow. Sure, it was pumping as usual, but without feeling, without a gleeful beat or cheery thought.
“So, this is what grief feels like”, he wrote in his journal.
Storms of anger melded with a windswept vacancy in his gut – where that feeling ought to reside, where floods of emotion should pour over his damned dam of regret to irrigate barren fields where love might have grown again.Fire is easy. Take a spark, add kindling, fan the tiny flame and a roaring blaze ensues.But put out a fire like he’d had with Loretta and he could not imagine it ever again with anyone else.Not because he couldn’t recreate it with anyone else, but because he couldn’t imagine enduring that hurt again with anyone else.He knew the dynamic well. He found it each time he dated a widow. OK, not each time, but most of the times he’d met a widow worth pursuing – you know the type; big heart, big bed, big libido – juicy lips, generous spirit and dripping pussy.You know the kind, he’d found it more than once, but each time those women could not get past their loss, could not move on to leave behind the memory of what they’d once had in order to build a new fire with Demetri like the one they’d had, the kind that had left them holding the bag – the one left behind by a him who had gone, each one having moments of wishing she was the one gone so she wouldn’t have to deal with the loss.They weren’t bitter, but frustrated with their state, or stage, of life where those pulls and tugs prevented them from moving on, going forward or opening up fully to what Demetri had to offer.
Empty pit, like a worked-out quarry, where he used to feel his stomach.
Dark clouds hovered on this otherwise delicious summer horizon.
Thunder storm activity before noon, on a day that wasn’t especially hot yet.Two days since the funeral – or was it three?He’d been in a daze continually since then.
It was thirty years ago.They parted. Never talked again.
Except - for that late July Saturday morning when they did that six months after meet for coffee as agreed. It wasn’t Demetri’s idea. But, it was the only way Loretta would agree to see him again. So he agreed.
She wanted to cut all ties, go down respective paths. Demetri’s was to find someone else she said; he needed that, deserved that, ought to find that – she said. Hers, was to find a solution to her torment, find her equilibrium again and vanquish her demons, once and for all.
She’d kept the resolve – of not meeting – until that appointed July date.
He couldn’t keep the other part of the promise – the no contact part. He called, she called back. He wrote, she wrote back. Technology helped.Speed never did. To write, of pining away . . . and to await a reply must have been great back in pony-express days when weeks or months could pass before an unwelcome answer would arrive.Demetri had been born in the wrong era.His missives were most often pounded back across the e-net live punch-volleys and passing shots in a tennis match. Her kindness was always there, she understood his inability to be completely cut off, she wished him well, and she told him that she appreciated his care and concern. But, as she wove into most of her communications, she didn’t love him. She’d wanted to, but the feelings never came to her the way they came to Demetri.She was moving on. Had moved on. Emphatically.
First it was a guy named Tom, then Harry; she was moving on, and for some reason she needed, or felt that Demetri needed, for that fact to be driven home. He moved along too. He had meetings, dates, trysts and tumbles. He never told Loretta. He knew she would know he couldn’t do without for very long.
She knew he was too full of testosterone. He had a strong need for companionship, for interaction, for repartee, for sex – to not go without.He didn’t tell her. He wanted her back, so why would he tell her facts that could only hurt her feelings?
She wanted him to move on – she said – so she kept reinforcing that point.Each time they wrote, each time they spoke, it was much the same.
Frequency of those contacts was, at first, several times a week, sometimes several times a day – at first. But it softened, shifted, morphed into an occasional “Hi Loretta, I saw this article – thought it might interest you. Hope you are well, Regards, Demetri”, or words to that effect.
She had interpreted his queries as ‘are you sober?’ queries; of course he wanted to know, but he wasn’t asking.
He knew, from his own alcoholism and sobriety that she could not likely see his queries – however stated or disguised, in any other way.He was removed from it a lot – but he wanted to help with actions and words that would be helpful, but it just wasn’t working.
At least, not in a way that worked for her, or that she was prepared to try.It was odd for him. At that point, at fifty-nine, he had been sober more years than he had been drinking.
It was so much a part of his past, the drinking was, but other elements of behavior were omnipresent, impossible to escape.
The day came, for them to meet.Saturday morning coffee, at Granville Market – reenactment of the time, day of the week and location of their first meeting. Maybe he would actually get a coffee this time.On their first meeting Demetri had been late, caught in traffic behind an accident-jam-up. Demetri broke several laws getting around, getting by, only to arrive at the market unable to find Loretta.She was half-done her coffee by the time of their finding each other – by then time was short before she would have to go. Time to talk, and quickly - not to go stand in line for a coffee. Demetri, smitten, needed no caffeine to pay attention to Loretta’s every movement, every word and nuance.
Now it was time, to meet again.
Reenactment of that first meeting, for sentimental value – or just for irony.
Nobody broke legs or missed the meeting.
It wasn’t like the Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant meeting in that old movie An Affair To Remember.And it was.When they had parted so tearfully in January, when the very notion of not talking to her every day, of not seeing her several times a week, of not making love and enjoying multi-faceted multi-leveled intimacy with more flavors than an ice-cream parlor – when that parting left him nothing to hold onto but unrequited love.
Nothing to cling to but the wish, an illusion - that what he’d experienced for four months had been the real-deal, love affair of a lifetime, joy of a life he’d missed finding despite having augered into every opportunity and every woman he’d ever found mutual lusting with; and with a few when it wasn’t so mutual, but where he was happy to oblige some comely lonely woman for a while.
He’d left so much of himself behind there, then, that it was hard to say for the longest while what it was he’d carried forward, what it was that was left of him. In any case, he wasn’t done.
They met at the appointed time, 10AM, Saturday morning, at the GranvilleIsland Market – in the seating, just in front of the place that sells the cream-cheese filled bagels - heart attacks shaped like donuts – they were awesome.
She hadn’t changed a bit; toothy grin, ruddy cheeks, platinum hair and a spirit that could light any dark room.
They talked, swapped stories, caught up – each asking the proverbial, “so, tell me, how are you – really?”, each one asking over and over out of concern the other wasn’t telling the whole truth . . . a bit like in the movie, when they finally got together. Each wanting to save face, each wanting to not let on their true feelings, for fear the other might not state their true feelings if they truly knew how the other felt – and so the circular mind-game went.
The time was strange – it neither felt like past remembered or future imagined, for either of them. It was an opportunity to start again, start over again, risk again, play again – love again, or fail to find love again. Or just to have coffee. Which would it be?
Demetri can’t remember exactly how it went – whether he miss-stepped, or if she did; all he remembered is that it didn’t end on the note he had hoped for.He couldn’t say, or think, that he didn’t want her sober and in control of her own health. He never wavered on that.But even if she was still drinking, he knew – irrational as it was – that he wanted to try again, recreate magic again.It was risky self-destructive thinking, it was not rational at all.But who says love is rational?
They ended with a hug, a soft kiss, another hug – and they each walked away.She’d brought him a bag of tomatoes from her patio garden, like the first time they met. The sentiment was wonderful.He ate them in the car, on the drive home, just like the first time.
He remembers little else of that meeting . . .
“Helena, I don’t know if I don’t remember how we ended that conversation. Or have I blocked it out?”
Still, all these years later, it seems like yesterday for Demetri.
Thirty years had passed. Unrequited. Unresolved, Unforgettable.
He’d played and lost at love many times before, and since, but he’ll never forget those magic months with Loretta.
Gone. She is.She is gone. Won’t be back.
They put her in her grave the other day.
Well, actually the undertaker did that.
She’d called out for him – as she waited out her time in the hospice – wanted to see him, just one more time before she died.He didn’t know what had hit him actually.
Helena answered the phone.She called out, “Demetri, do you know someone named Phyllis?She wants to talk to you – and wants to know if you are the same Demetri Felton who dated Loretta Youngberg back in the 80s.”
“wha .. huh . .. huh” was his only response.
“Demetri, wake up dear, you were sleeping – there’s a woman on the phone who wants to speak with you. Like I said, she asked if you are the same Demetri Felton who dated Loretta Youngberg back in the 80s.Her name is Phyllis.”
Demetri had told Helena about Loretta, about Loretta’s best friend Phyllis too, but that was so long ago she surely had forgotten – or at least that’s what she let Demetri believe.Every now and then he would reminisce, back to those salad days, of being more randy than a three peckered college-aged billy-goat, and of being so immensely in love. In lust too, but that fades, though his feelings for Loretta never faded. He had put them out of his mind from time to time – there were fun times with Marin and Sandra during those six months so long ago – and who knows how many forgotten names over the years, and then again last year with Franca here in the home, but none of those spurts of romance and lusting could hold a candle to those times with Loretta.
Demetri got off the phone with Phyllis, having agreed to visit the hospice where Loretta was biding time. He would go tomorrow, as requested. He would take a cab. It was a long cab ride, but a nice long outing was called for. A trip down memory lane should not have anyone else along, except the one with memories.
He worked his walker over to the fridge, took a long pull on the orange juice carton – he didn’t care, the blow-back would be his and he was the only one drinking juice in his apartment and said, “Helena, as we talked last, touched last, kissed last – at the market that day, I was certain that would be the last I would see of her.Sure, we said we would stay in touch.Everybody says that when they split up. But she wouldn’t be coming back this way again anytime soon – and more likely, never.As for my likelihood of going her way, ditto that. Now this? All these years later – she is dying, and wants to see me”.
Helena asked, “so, you’ll go then?”
“Yes, of course, I’ll go. I’ll go tomorrow.”
None of those place-holder women along the way - in so many relationship attempts along the way - came and went leaving him with a high quality lasting friendship.That he’d had with only one, for so very long – those friendship quality characteristics, he had with Helena.None of them along the way understood, or seemed like they wanted to try.
He had a quirky smile that would come over him – retelling the magic, of how he’d fallen for Loretta so swiftly, from that first meeting.
Demetri knew it hurt Helena, not how much or how little, but he knew it must have stung - to hear those old stories.
But what was he to do?Forget his feelings? Forget his memories?
He’d made lots of memories with Helena – they had history too, but it wasn’t the same.
They were pals, friends and confidantes – close, but never close on deep levels of commitment and passion.Sex, sure.Love, of course, but love more familial in nature.Not raw love. Not overgrown teenage love. Not crazy-love.
They’d both known that once.
Helena in her youth.
Demetri with Loretta.
Both hopeful, they never really expected to find it again. They had grown as close as two old singles are allowed to get in an assisted living condo where their suites were on different floors – in opposite wings. She was in a motorized wheelchair, the result of a twice transplanted hip joint. He was still walking, but shaky – using a walker. Their time together most often punctuated, caregiver types listening in on every hearing-aid assisted conversation, or other residents horning in on their space, on their private time, to intrude on conversations in hopes they might pick up some juicy gossip.
There was no privacy there, no independence in this place of independent living. Still, for Demetri at least, there was independent thought, there was his journal. He still wrote every day. The amount he had published in recent years, pale trickle compared to his prolific mid-life period. As much as he abhors that term, he refers to it that way too.
He was neither benign nor hostile. The cab deposited him at the front door of the Crossroads Hospice in Port Moody, exactly at 1PM with driver Dan giving assurances he would return to collect his fare at exactly 3PM as Demetri instructed. Demetri wanted to be back home for dinner, seat reserved in the dining room, next to Helena, as always.He treasured those moments, five nights a week for as long as they have.That will end soon.If one of them didn’t die first, Helena would be moving to White Rock in three months – her daughter’s plan to have her closer by. Strange, Demetri thought, since her single childless daughter travels on business every week.It seemed to him like Helena’s daughter wanted to spare herself the weekend drives to Port Moody and to have a cat-sitter. But what about Helena?What about things she wanted? Being old is being powerless.
As the cab pulled away in pursuit of its next fare, “He probably thinks I am checking in here – and going to be leaving in a body bag”, Demetri muttered as he started maneuvers down the corridor to Unit #4, to visit his past – not his beginning or his end, but his long lost spectacular short happy four months of middle-life.
There is no denying grief. Strange and insidious.The death of someone you love – once center of your world, notwithstanding long estrangement, seriously undermines both one’s sense of reality and the ability to bond with another.
She was sitting up, in a chair by the window when he came in, sleeping there.Phyllis came over to Demetri, and gave him a hug hello. She told him how nice it was to see him again after all these years.Demetri had never liked Phyllis much. Sure, she was nice to him – polite, never said a nasty word, but she was Loretta’s best friend.Best friends talk, and Demetri was always certain that Phyllis had counseled Loretta to break up with him in the first place. That, after thirty years, he did remember clearly.
As she woke, Demetri spoke first, “hey there, it is so nice to see you.You haven’t changed a bit”, he lied. The sparkle, spark and her looks were gone; platinum hair faded to thinned wisps of white, much like his own.Then she beamed her smile at him.
She said weakly, “I knew you would come.I had Phyllis call you.I am so glad she was able to track you down. You gave me good advice, long ago, to get and keep much younger friends, so they can keep you company when you are old andalone.”
The conversation wove all over their memory maps – each spotty in their recollections of the last thirty years.Loretta had married again – her 3rd and last time. She married her old friend Dennis – as much for the company as anything else she explained.There never was a spark of sexual chemistry between them.But they were happy for a long time until cancer took him eight years ago.Demetri told Loretta about Helena.
Loretta said, “I always told you I should meet your friend Helena one day, didn’t I?But then, I broke up with you before I got a chance to meet her. My bad.”
“Demetri”, she began in an elevated English accent he remembered when she used to rattle off Shakespeare lines, “The course of true love never did run smooth", paused, and added, “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind”.
It was over now.Loretta said good-bye – her hand lightly touching his, then slipping off as she faded into sleep and slumped into death.She had waited too long.
She was gone.
Phyllis busied herself with the staff, making calls to Loretta’s sisters and to the undertaker.
Demetri slipped out of the room, unnoticed.
His cab would not wait long if he was late. It was 2:55.
He stood there a minute or two – in the corridor, his true demeanor disguised in hunched shoulders, a brow furrowed so deep you could plant carrots there.
He leaned on his walker, worked it down the corridor to the door where – cab waiting, he would be whisked away from her, never to see her again.
~ ~ ~
“Dario, …. Dario! … wake up son, WAKE-UP - you’ve been dreaming.”
“uuuh … whaa..?”
“Hey there my little paysan – you look a little hung over; that must have been a wild nightmare – your mother and I could hear you screaming upstairs.Anyway, it’s time to get up buddy – otherwise you’ll be late for your class.”
“Pops, that was so weird.I was dreaming I was an old man riding in a cab to the north shore of North Van, from Port Moody. I guess I shouldn’t eat pizza late at night after having too much to drink eh? Extra-large pepperoni with way too many Jägermeistershots with Tony and Peter. . . well, that doesn’t contribute to a smooth sleep I guess.”
‘So, didn’t you have a big dinner date last night with Zoe?Why were you eating pizza and doing shots with Tony and Peter?”
“Yeah, but unfortunately it was a last date. It ended early – she broke up with me over dinner, before dessert.I sent her home in a cab and went over to Tony and Peter’s apartment.She told me she crossed paths with an old boyfriend last week. His name’s Dick. And he’s really tall. Shit! It just hit me, I was beaten out by a big Dick!I thought things were going great, but I guess he’s got her number now – and I’m history.Next!”
“Oh yeah pops, not to worry – I didn’t drive. I left my car there and caught a ride home with Carmella, Tony’s new girlfriend – she was the designated driver last night”.
“You and Zoe – you’d been going out for about four months hadn’t you? And another thing – son, I appreciate you’re upset, but saying NEXT is probably not something you should say in front of your mother. Capice?”
“Hey, dad, since I left my car at Tony’s, I don’t have wheels this morning. Could you give me a ride to school …. I can be ready in about 10 minutes if you’ll wait for me, OK?”
“Alright … but just 10 minutes – then I’ve got to roll, I have a meeting with a client – his office is just down the road from SFU, but I can’t be late, so hurry up!”
Traffic on Gaglardi Way was heavy, slow – lots of stops and starts, so Fredo could easily talk to his son without fretting in hectic traffic.
“Dario – I’m not trying to be nosy about your breakup with Zoe last night, but you were screaming.Actually, not screaming – you were sobbing in your dream.It sounded like you were very emotionally involved and it sounded like somebody died.You were crying out for – or maybe you were crying about – this girl.You kept repeating – her name over and over again. So, who is Loretta?”
Dario, puzzled, thought a while, “Dad, I had a crush on a girl named Loretta. Don’t you remember?I was in fourth grade with her – oh man, I was crazy about her. I sat behind her, and her long blonde pony tail was dangling on my desk. I know I was only ten, but she excited me so much. I never had the nerve to talk to her, but she was so hot.Then we moved, so I changed schools.We ended up going to the same junior high but never had any classes together. I think she moved away when I was in eighth grade. I don’t think I’ve thought of her since eighth grade – that’s six years. Weird, huh?”
“Son, I haven’t asked you – before; my bad – but what course are you doing at summer school this year?”
“Dad, you really have your head up your ass sometimes you know.You signed the form, you wrote the cheque and you picked up my books for me – and you don’t remember!It’s a drama course. We’re doing Shakespeare, studying the play and then doing it. We are performing next weekend, Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
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