The conversation deviated unexpectedly, bounding off topic – television shows, movies, topical news, diet – an unexpected exit, moving from one lane to another, crossing lines, without regard, moving the discussion to the forbidden. The frustrations of life sometimes unexpectedly become unbearable. She detoured to one of those occasions. Movement across terrain reminding me of the age-old myth, the non-recommended method of teaching a non-swimmer to swim – toss them in the deep end, emit a hearty laugh and walk away.
Life is transitional, moving, rising, ebbing mimicking the Mother Nature’s moods – the ocean, the wind, the earth under our feet – deceptive, imperceptible movements, explosive at times, forming mountains, gorges, redirecting rivers – gifting us the unexpected, the richness of living. No matter how much we plan, how we plan, the known and unknown contingencies, life can still be full of surprises, causing our best laid plans to go asunder. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry – indeed they do. Unpredictable forces, blowing, gusting, disheveling, cooling, calming, welcoming, causing movement back and around, leading to frustrations and loss of hope, albeit, even if just temporary. Sometimes jagged, other times unhindered, movements – through measurements of time – opposites indeed – representing life’s contrasting, predictable and unpredictable challenges; rising east, descending westward, sustaining dreams, concreting failures, fears – outward – upward – inward.
Moving in another direction she did. Ignoring societal rules – determined to say what she was saying. Casting me forward, from one level to another, slouching no more, upward, rocking side to side, before straightening, stiffening the spine, freeing myself of the excessive body movement; changing the slight line, no longer looking upward – staring at nothing in particularly – to the right of me, to the left of me, locking into her stare instead. Staring at nothing in particular, not that I can tell; seeing slight, barely perceptible movements – much like the earth – eyes, lips, forehead, layered with moisture. Seeing, feeling a cloud move overhead, staying put. Her appearance could well be contrasted with Mother Nature’s dabbling; sprinkling, moving gently over the contours of her face, reddening, applying moisture to eyes, lips, forehead, painting a distinctive plum-like line on her bottom-eyelid. Trance like, having to say what she wanted to say. Ignoring the normal rules of the path well-trodden; spilling secrets, careening rapidly downward, spilling words as she spoke; exiting the pavement, in control, out of the control, toward the exit, seeming oblivious, spilling more – admitting, admitting, admitting – settling in life’s intersecting roads, silencing any contribution to the conversation, causing me to re-position both hands, shifting my body weight, becoming more a part of the couch; gripping, holding, staring.
“I contemplated suicide that day. Everything came down on me while parked on the seawall, staring out at the Gulf, listening to the wind, birds circling, watching the few people who remained pass; like life… like life. Seeing my children, wondering whether I was going make it through the divorce, worrying about money, thinking how unfair life is.”
My words – silence [ ].
“Crying, crying harder, barely able to contain myself, feeling the Gulf winds, seeing the sun set, seeing myself move out-of-body – you know – not actually exiting but exiting – out-of-body, walking down the steps onto the beach, actually down the street from you …”
I didn’t see any of this coming. Uncomfortably readjusting my posture, feeling and seeing the power of the Gulf; the changing contours of the coast, pushing, shoving, welcoming, sustaining; providing life’s substance. Wondering how far did she go? Filling every second with thousands of thoughts; each millisecond with almost as many questions; counting to myself, hoping she couldn’t hear me count.
“Down the street …?” Repeating what she had already said, followed by involuntary grinding – teeth, feet, hands. Slowly time, attempting to focus, watching, concentrating, seeing the plum lines in her face grow more intense, seeing the mist covering her face grown thicker.
“I never left the car. I lost track of time. I ran out of tissues, blowing, wiping, blowing; using my dress when I had no more. Raising it up, blowing more … then he came up on one of those things.”
“That thing, where the traffic cops stand up while riding, on two wheels…”
“I guess so. …. Out of nowhere, telling me, ‘you have been here for a while Ma’am, you will need to put some money in the meter.’ He moved back, forward, back, forward, balancing, repositioning, “You need to pay or move on.”
I expected her to end the story, wipe the tears away, permit the blood in her face to settle, relax her shoulders, she did neither. The shoulders remained tight, the stare positioned elsewhere; reliving the moment, telling the moment.
“‘Pay or move on! Are you kidding me! I am sitting here contemplating killing myself, getting ready to walk in the Gulf and you want me to pay money. What else you folks want from me. After I kill myself are you going to send me a bill? What else? What else? Damn you and your damn meter!’ I screamed at him as loud as I could. He began spinning on that thing, in circles – clockwise – counter-clockwise, clockwise – round and round he went, within a few feet of my window. ‘Damn you, damn you, damn you’, I screamed. Back, forward, back, forward he went. His thing …”
“Yeah, that thing … appeared to have a mind of its own, moving about, not permitting him to talk, settling suddenly, allowing him to talk, ‘Ma’am, ma’am, ma’am, never mind you can sit here as long as you like!’ After speaking, the young man moved backward, his eyes bulging, not because he was nearing the edge – ‘I’m sure’. Instantly correcting his position he did – on that thing – moving away, down the seawall, disappearing, into the horizon.”
Her last words were followed by rapt-laughter. She wiped her face, replaced the previous intense creases with different creases, emitting the welcoming laugh. Almost as if she was honoring Adam West’s Batman – P-O-W … Z-I-N-G … Z-A-P … To the Bat Mobile Robin! Her laughter was unlike the traffic cop’s reaction, moving backward shocked by her screams. Hearing a scream he had never heard before, the scream of life’s frustrations. Unlike the scream he heard when he entered his parents’ bedroom without knocking, seeing what he didn’t want to see. Different than scream he emitted that day, himself, when he was showing off for the attractive life-guard, coming too close to the edge, tilting over before being grabbed by a co-worker. Not knowing his age, but see the circumstances she described vividly, screams unlike the screams of remembrance the crowd screams – knowing screams – when the Friends of Distinction stood on the edge of the stage, years hence, singing, reminding of loss loves, hurting loves, “You got me going in circles”.
Turning, turning, turning, he did, before fleeing.
Her scream was the scream he emitted internally when he unknowingly crossed the thin-line – we all walk – interfering, bringing her back from the edge she had been pushed by the challenges, and pressures of life, all becoming too much. A simple act – doing his job, reminding her that she couldn’t park free; a simple act of interfering, pushing her back from the edge, stopping the tears, capturing her mind, breaking the hold of the Gulf – circling, circling, circling- followed by laughter he never heard, now too intent never to interfere again, blending with the crowd, moving eastward, while the sun continued her track westward.