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WARNING - adult content, not suitable for children
PUNCH TO THE HEART
a short story by Mark Kolke
October 3, 2011
Promise me.Promise you . . . find me.Find you . . .please, as I promise myself, as I promise others, do worthy service in furtherance of a goal. The goal is peace, and quiet, and empty-headedness at the same moment that my heart is brimming. There is nothing right with it, there is nothing wrong with it – when people reach.
Out to each other.In. To ourselves.
In search of a better way, clearer motive – there is something at the heart of it and that is heart. And smart. There must be smart. We tell ourselves that our choices must be smart, because we are smart, and there can be no excusing bad choices because, like I said, we are smart, smarter than all that and should not settle for anything or anyone who does not fit that picture of what it should be and how it is/was better than ever before because – if it isn’t, then how can it be good?
Motives matter less than actions, seeking and giving comfort mean more than logic and understanding is found somewhere . . . in the middle of the night or at the end of some long road.
I’ve not been right in the head for ten months now.All the physical visible evidence of the accident is repaired, healed and out of view – but for one which has an unknown duration. In short, I’ll never be the same and I can’t remember huge chunks of my life. I don’t know what I’ll get back or when I’ll get it.
One part adventures in new experiences without benefit of knowledge or memory, and the converse dilemma of not knowing my past or what was real, what I felt and what I experienced.
Bits and pieces, but no continuity.I do remember, when I was a little kid suffering from constipation, my mother would give me Milk of Magnesia – but I could never say it right; I said “Milk of Amnesia”.
I could use some of that now to de-clog the fog.
I am restless in so many ways it is hard to describe.A body at rest, Newton said, tends to stay at rest. Not just a physics principle, but a state of mind, and body.There will be waste and mistake, because there always is. There will be more made of less. There will be time when there is no more time – but until then I will not waste time, this I vow.
It’s not that I am lonely and without a woman in my life – which is true – but more about wanting to be able to have one, to know who I am again, to know my real feelings.
I’ve constructed my statements about feelings from what I’ve been told, what I’ve read and investigated of my own history – but I don’t remember feeling them.
I believe, with strong conviction, that I had those experiences, and likely had those feelings, but it could just as easily be a pile of BS because I truly do not remember.Some memories have returned, but not a lot.
My recovery has been slow.
I had another session with Dr. Jean Bradbury this morning.The morning appointments are working out better than those afternoon ones. I was just too tired to be of any assistance in my own care – and it was a shame for the insurance company to pay Dr. Bradbury’s rates, only for me to doze off on her couch.
“Tell me, Alf, how was your experience yesterday?” Dr. Bradbury inquired.
“I’m not sure where to start actually.At first, I was lost.Sure, I could find my way down the hall and out the door, but everything else was a blur.I understood the concept of a street, but when I looked out the living room window, what I saw made no sense to me.The shape of the asphalt, a ribbon of black with a dotted yellow line in the center – bounded on each side by a boulevard of close cropped yellowing grass, and paving stone walkways held no clues for me that I was on East Cotter Street in Phoenix. Well, the sign told me what street, but it wasn’t until I came around the corner on Biltmore Estates Drive that I saw signs for the Biltmore Hotel and golf course, that I realized I was in Phoenix. That’s weird – because yesterday, I knew I was in Phoenix, living here, and could have answered that to anyone who asked – but today, I had no clue at all.”
Her response was strange, I thought at the time, when she said, “I’m feeling we are making progress – but very little.It seems to me like you aren’t trusting me, you aren’t opening up to me.Would you agree with me Alf?”
I told her – seriously – that I just wasn’t feeling well oriented here yet.Too many dreams, too much sleeping, too little sense of where I am, or where I’ve been.
“Alf, you are just going to have to trust me on this – and believe me, that these are very typical experiences for people who have had an injury like yours; in fact, you are doing very well.”
I wasn’t sure how to take her.On one hand, I thought she was full of crap most of the time, and on the other – I wanted to lay her out on her office couch and nibble every inch of her fabulous flesh from one end to the other, with a good tongue lashing for her juicy bits.She wasn’t giving me any signals – at least none that a guy with a mild brain injury could detect, but she was the embodiment of all things luscious.Not a great personality, but a heavenly body. That’s for sure.
I couldn’t get over how much she looked like – I thought she did – like my former secretary Robyn Elmsworth. And that was from memory, I think, rather than from looking at pictures. I know it can’t be the same – that would be too weird, but I just couldn’t get it straight in my mind that Robyn was dead.
According to Robyn’s brother Frank, when he was here last week, he was driving my car home from the staff BBQ, with me in the backseat sleeping off having had too much to eat and too much to drink, with Robyn sitting up front with him.
It was a horrific crash, they tell me, with not much left of the vehicles after the jaws of life were used to haul us out of there.Frank blacked out, so he has the same recollection as I did – none.The police reports and footage from the intersection camera show that Frank’s car veered into the oncoming lane of traffic when he should have turned left.The collision was more like a sandwich, between a sedan and a garbage truck, that sent Frank’s car – and all three of us, airborne before we went end over end a couple of times.
Frank escaped with only a broken leg and smashed his front teeth into the steering wheel.Robyn was killed immediately when a directional sign from the median came flying through the windshield, piercing her chest like a paper punch taking out her heart in one blow.I was not buckled in for some reason I still cannot understand.I was an unrestrained flying object inside the car as it crashed and rolled.I ended up backwards and upside down on the dashboard – half-way pressed through the shattered windshield, with my legs wrapped around that damned aluminum pole that ended Robyn’s existence.
My mangled body healed quickly. But my head took quite a few knocks as I was thrown around in the back seat.It seems I didn’t have my seat belt on.That’s odd – and this bit I remember – ever since my aunt Mabel died in a snowstorm accident because she wasn’t belted.
I can’t remember ever travelling without my belt done up, or – for that matter, letting anyone else in the car go un-buckled.Is that real memory, or a convenient rationalization?
“Doc, I’m lost, confused – and horribly frustrated. I keep having these dreams – two of them that keep recurring.Same story, same characters, but the experience is becoming more and more real, more intense and I’m lost. I don’t know if it is pure fantasy, or some form of real recollection.”
“The first one involves a guy named Herman.My dad’s name was Herman. But I can’t see his face in the dream . . . or hear his voice, but the guy’s name is Herman:
Veins in his hands bulged.
From the strain.
His taut neck looked like it would burst and spill out on the ground like an over-wound watch spring; remember those? . . . if he lifted one more pound.But boys will be boys.
They dared him.They didn’t wager – because you can’t wager when you don’t have money, but they dared him.
Herman settled himself, back straight, hands under the corner of the wagon box. His feet were well planted, His muscular short frame groaned under the strain of lifting that wagon, the barrel lids popped the way kids pop their cheeks with a finger to make a popping sound.
It was a big lift.Rickety old two-horse wagon.Parked there it seemed so innocent. Just leave it alone – that’s what anyone would do.Wagon creaked, its floor boards moaning as they twisted.His ego wasn’t fragile. But he wanted to show them – he would show them.He saw the two barrels; steel drums they were, on the wagon.He didn’t give them a thought – thinking they were empty, because who dares somebody to lift the frame of a wagon enough to get a wheel off the ground if the wagon is loaded down?
Only home for a few days – on leave from his posting in San Diego, Herman had a few vacation days left before heading back.
And then, I wake up.What does that mean doc?”
“What do you think it means Alf?” she came back at me.
“How the hell should I know?You’re the shrink – what do you think it means, if anything?”
“Alf, these things don’t figure themselves out sometimes – at least not all at once; your memory is returning, which is a good thing. Your subconscious is helping too, so don’t worry so much that you don’t have it figured out yet.Now, tell me about the other dream, OK?”
The other dream was an easier story, and longer one to tell – and I enjoyed it more, because it seemed to be me, remembering me, and I liked that.
“The second one is me, I think, as a kid.It is summer time . . .
Childhood insecurity, in a small town, is probably no better or worse than childhood insecurity in a bigger place, but lonely seems to come in bigger packages – lasts longer and is harder to shed in a place like Prescott.
I remember, that summer, between second and third grade like it was yesterday. It was hot. Mid-July dusty. It was one of those days when usual hang-out friends were either off doing something with their moms or the whole family was away.My house was empty. My mother was off having coffee with the ladies up the hill.My dad was at work.My cousins, aunt and uncle left this morning after three days of eating everything in the house – and three days of having my girl cousins invade my room, play with my stuff . . . and ignoring me. I wanted to scream, but screaming wasn’t allowed.
I didn’t have any money.But I wanted some candy.I went down the alley, looking in the un-mown grass by everyone’s garbage can stands.I found a few soda pop bottles, a case of beer bottles and a really cool walking stick. The stick’s handle was broken, but I could saw that off with my dad’s saw.I had an old gunny sack that was now starting to drag in the dirt. I would lift it up for a while but before long I would start dragging it again. By the time I got to the store I had lots of loot.I saw Bud Abbott.
I got him to stand guard over my loot while I went in to the store to buy candy. I had 64 cents, from redeeming the bottles, to spend.They never gave cash – only candy.Well, I didn’t have to buy candy. I could get bread or a dust mop or dish towels.But I was eight, so candy was my currency.I got some ju-jubes, some fish, some licorice shoestrings and nigger-babies. We can’t call them that now – political correctness and intelligence rules. I didn’t grow up in a racially mixed community – it’s just what the candies were called.The whole town was white. We didn’t even have kids with tans, you know.
Anyway, I came out of the store, gave some candy to Bud, as reward for guarding my loot and set off with my lightened load – a gunny sack with two beer bottles in it, a case of Pilsner bottles under my arm and that walking stick.And the candy.
I’d never been down that hill – into the valley.I knew where it was, but before then I wasn’t allowed to wander around much.Parents are protective, even in a small town.So here I was, eight, and adventuring down a dusty clay and sand trail into the valley.The slumping hillside was interrupted by rocks and clumps of cactus.I stumbled a few times.I didn’t mind the skinned knee and scratched ankles but one cactus bit me – two spines, hurt like hell.But after pulling them out and walking on I felt emboldened. Strong, like my dad.I was suddenly tough.
Halfway down the hill I saw a little shack; it was bigger than an outhouse and smaller than a grain bin.It leaned a bit to one side, and it didn’t look like it belonged to any property – or anyone.It had what looked like a small chimney in the corner, and there was a man door – ajar, moving slightly in the hot summer breeze.
I was shaking when I pulled the door open – it was dark inside. Actually, once inside, and once my eyes adjusted, there was plenty of visibility from the sunlight leaking through the wallboards – but at first, I couldn’t see anything.As I stepped inside, my load in tow, I nearly did a pratfall.I stumbled on the floorboards at the same moment two pigeons made a break for it through the opened door.Walking through cobwebs, all four feet of me, I dropped everything – started flailing like a windmill to get the cobwebs off me.
I can’t remember making a sound – not that anyone would hear me anyway.My little heart was pounding – more being startled by those damned pigeons than anything else.I looked around that little room, though it seemed large to me.
And then I wake up, usually in a cold sweat. But excited. I can’t wait to get back to sleep, to get back into that dream – but I can’t.”
“Alf, thank you for sharing your dreams.That’s good.I think you are making remarkable progress. I wouldn’t worry that the pieces don’t all fit yet. The big thing, the key thing, is that you have pieces and you remember them. They seem familiar to you.
My candlesticks are unemployed.
The last time I used them for romance – when flame shadows danced on cupboards and walls – was so long ago, I think.
Sure, they shed ordinary light for ordinary meals – for friends and guests but not for me, because I prefer to eat alone in the dark in hope that one day soon there will be someone to cook for, fuss over, yearn for and light my candles for.That is what I tell myself, but frankly, I don’t remember.