the true stories
Sometimes men paint themselves into corners. I know I have at various junctures in my life. More than once and I never saw it coming any of the times. Life will give you clues, though. Sometimes subtle and sometimes with a lot of chili. I got myself into one of those cul-de-sacs during my time on the Trail.
There is a hexagram in the oracle of the I Ching called K'an – the Abysmal. In one possible stage of this situation it is wise to do nothing for your fate is tied to the first person who happens along and sees you down in the trap you are in. Any action on your part will worsen your chances of getting out.
I was in my thirties and had fried my bacon a little too crisp for a little too long. Something was going to crumble. We all get like this from time to time. Funny, how another euphemism for it is having too much on one's plate. Marrying, divorcing, working overtime, going to court, courting, re-marrying, fathering, paying bills, fees and fines, etc. ad nausea had all led me to lose twenty pounds which I needed and had driven me to the tuna fish solution.
There was an abandoned house about halfway through my route and it had a big overgrown yard and a rotten front porch. Perfect place to take a break and refuel. I was working another eight hour shift five nights a week at this time. I had learned to sleep while sitting at my booth in a coffee shop near the station after completing my mailman duties.
It was too far to travel home before the next job. The waitress was in on it and she was my alarm clock. I would place a book on the table and cradle my head as if reading intently so as not to alert the owner. The gal would come by every twenty minutes or so and act like she was refilling my cup. Because of her I never missed my bus.
I had been feeling worn out and I figured I needed two things. More protein and more serotonin. I hefted two cases of tuna and a case of salmon to the old front porch on the route and treated myself to a can or two each day as a supplement to my other meals. I befriended a stray cat which benefited greatly from this arrangement and warned me of interlopers.
A few blocks away was a school I had dubbed, “Heartbreak High.” It was a last chance school for young people who were not going to make it through the system. Many of the students were far older than they should have been for the grades they were in and all of them had stories that had put them there.
My firstborn son had injured himself on the play area of a daycare that was attached to the school once. We were having our scheduled bi-weekly father and son visit. He had gashed his scalp. The family doctor who had delivered him at birth was only two blocks away. I took him there in seconds and we stood dripping on the floor. I was told that doctors don't do stitches in their offices anymore. She phoned us a cab.
I had been bitten a few weeks later by a homeless woman's dog only yards away from my son's accident site and had gone to the same doctor. I needed only a tetanus shot, some stitches and a clean up. After the same disclaimer I phoned my own cab and never saw that “doctor” again.
One morning in the rainy season, I stubbed my big toe. I had just gone a block or so and my pouches were jammed full and heavy. I was wearing issue rubber boots. No tread, no insulation, no arch support, just a sixteenth of an inch of rubberized canvas. It was just after nine AM.
The combined force of my weight, the weight of the mail and my quick pace equaled a mighty sore toe. I hopped around swearing the same as any one would have. The only thing for it was to walk it off, I figured. Stepping lightly on one side for quite a ways, I went on through the route. Long after I reckoned it should have quit hurting as much as it did, I began to feel a new element in the pain.
That of heat. It was hot deep inside. I couldn't remember feeling that particular feeling before. The walk was difficult to say the least but finally I was at my desk eating my sandwiches. I took off the rain boot pulled off my sock. My toe and foot were massive and the same colour as the black rubber boot.
I walked over to the nearest hospital and got an x-ray. The Englishman technician swore at me when I told him what time it had occurred. He held up the film and showed me the big joint, three bones back, which had been split in two by the impact. It was four thirty PM. He cussed me out for walking on it all day.
“You're an idiot, mate. You've ballsed-up the soft tissue, frayed all the ligaments and ground the cartilage to fucking bits. That's after it broke, yeah?”
He shook his head in disbelief and disgust. I figured he was just the kind of Christopher Robin dude who's mother used to remove the crust from his buttered toast. A damn finicky Englishman. I hobbled off to tell the good news to my wife and sons.
All these events bunched together in time and I was not getting any clues. After I was back on the Trail making friends with my unhappy joint, I developed pre-pneumonia and I fought it with more tins of fish. I had made the acquaintance of the cook at the Heartbreak High and we shared our smoke breaks together out behind his kitchen door. He was about seven or eight years younger than me and had a wholesome face and golden hair. I'll call him Cookie.
Once when he was on a long holiday, I sat on the curb by his kitchen door for my break. A group of four students came out the side door and began walking to the McDonald's a few blocks away. They were all young ladies and had their backs to me. I watched them while I sat.
One girl absolutely mesmerized me. I became entranced by her long corn-silk coloured hair and every other feature of feminine beauty she possessed in abundance. That girl was a high-born Viking if not a Valkyrie. The four of them slowly disappeared down the sidewalk, their backs to me and holding hands.
Presently I saw the four girls returning. I lit a smoke and anxiously awaited to see the face of the Nordic beauty. The group loomed into sight slowly like a watched ship coming into port. If you take your eyes away for a second, it will somehow have closed much more of the distance than you would have thought.
I looked away periodically, so as not to appear to be staring. When I looked up the third time they were fifteen feet away and I was rocked back on my heels. The three brunettes were flanking a creature with no face. Only a parchment coloured skull. She had no eye-lids, no nose and no lips. The skin that had grown back after what must have been a devastating burn accident, was paper white, paper thin and tightly drawn over her skull.
I looked away and then back again to make sure it was so. It was so and the three girls smiled as they passed into the school. The blond girl looked directly at me and nodded. I started to feel something within coming to a conclusion but I couldn't name it.
When Cookie got back from his absence, we resumed our breaks together. He had been away on a retreat where men learn to confront things in the company of other men. Type of thing I'd never do. I'd rather confront confront a bear in its own cave. It was a group and people don't behave naturally in groups. He'd gotten a lot of his own personal things worked out in the time he'd spent.
I talked of my two jobs, my on-going custody battle wherein I had fired my lawyer and taken up my own case by cramming at the law library, my pre-pneumonia with a subsequent burst ear-drum from repeated infections, some interesting adventures with a pimp on my route and other chit-chat.
When I got to the part about breaking my foot and walking the whole route on the busted bone, Cookie's face changed from his usual friendly expression. He got two fistfuls of my shirt and lifted me to eye-level, walked slowly backwards to a brick wall and started pounding me against it. Gently but firmly.
He drilled me with his eyes and chanted in a voice not loud but with Ki, “Mike, that's not normal.”
He said it about ten times and my head banged the wall an equal number of times. His eyes looked like he had been cutting onions and he put me down. He swore softly and turned to go inside his kitchen. I limped off on my notorious foot. He had gotten my attention. We spoke no more after that and weeks went by.
I went to chiropractors, homeopaths, Chinese herbalists, massage therapists and even an acupuncturist. He was a Chinese-Filipino guy. He had a contraption that put electric pulses through the needles after he inserted them. It was supposed to heighten the healing effect and get your yin ready to hold hands with your yang, dispel evil winds, open the crystal gate to your pituitary and balance your hot and cold. I liked the poster on the wall and the Kwan Yin statuette on his cluttered desk the best.
The poor fellow had a potentiometer set up so he could adjust the current. It was supposed to just be perceptible and then be backed off one mark on the dial. He kept asking me to tell him when I felt it. I waited and he waited. He repeated his instructions like I was a dumb child. I also grew annoyed.
“In pipteen yirs I hab neber see anyting like dis,” he finally said when I signaled that I could just feel the juice. He showed me the dial. It was three notches below max. I continued sessions until my coverage ran out. As I bid him farewell, he told me that from what he could see, I had an “angry liver.” I thanked him and went to a drugstore and bought a spiral notebook.
I decided to take this diagnosis out onto the corral and see if I could saddle it. My idea was to compile a list of all the things that could possibly be making my liver angry. I started from when the doctor slapped my ass unceremoniously at birth. I started a new page and wrote about the loud music and yelling voices that had disturbed my nine month swim. First things first.
I continued my bullet list and it was a whopper by the time I got to the second notebook. I knew I had to fix up what I could, face up to what I could and suck up the rest. I learned that the raw material for getting pissed off is the most abundant resource the earth has to offer. I got the idea to use that ore to make useful implements instead of carrying it around in an ever growing bag.
One afternoon in a rain worthy of a Hitchcock film, I walked over a mushy soccer pitch to visit my elder son after his school with my younger son in tow. Halfway across, I got it. Just like that. Later, I called it a “mud bubble” because that is how it rose up into my consciousness. Like the glob in a lava lamp, a revelation that was key to me having any kind of non-self-destructive life made itself firmly and quietly known.
I may write of it another time but suffice to say it was about misplaced guilt, self punishment and the subconscious getting out of bed and putting on some damn pants to help with the chores borne by the conscious. As I walked home in the downpour with my little boy, I realized that I couldn't remember myself crying since about a dozen years old. I'd never thought about that fact, but now it seemed incredible. I knew I got itchy eyes when I heard music or watched movies but not a drop of water had crossed my cheek. I thought that was what Visine was for. I was so astonished, I spoke about it to my son.
On the way home he said, “It's simple, Pop. Look it, you just gotta squeeze 'em shut a teeny bit and the water just squirts out. Anyone can do it.”
We went inside and my son brought his mother's Kleenex box straightaway to where I sat on the couch like a man trying to help out in a delivery room. I was reminded of a rusty sea-valve I had to change at a shipyard where I used to work on an old tug that was being retrofitted. I had knocked it gently with a sledgehammer after being unable to budge it with my biggest pipe-wrenches, propane torch and WD-40. It took a few good blows before it had sheared off. Gloppy muck had burbled out first. When I poked it with a screwdriver, clear water had gushed forth. Copiously.
My assistant ran off to re-supply another box of swabs. Being a clever lad, he judged that it was more of a job for paper towels and he returned with a roll. We killed the roll. Every ailment I had been suffering went out with the garbage that night. My early days on this earth were corrosive, misplaced guilt was the sludge, music was my WD-40, my wife was the propane torch, the Viking girl was the 18” pipe-wrench, Cookie was the sledge hammer and my boy was the screwdriver. The rusty valve was my heart and the water was unexpressed emotions drawn constantly from the sea of life. The tug was me and the shipyard was the Trail of Tears. If I hada beena born ina Calabria, I no hava dis godda-damn trouble!
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.