He calls my name. I still remember my name.
But my thoughts are receding and I’m becoming unclear of much of the detail of my life, like a crystal ball filling with soot. They’re all leaving me. The distant past was first to go—my childhood, what my school looked like, what I looked like, my family, my friends—all being absorbed into this death that swallows me. There are flashes of things before they disappear, though. Hand-me-down clothes two sizes too big, falling off of my skinny arms and legs. My hair growing long and awkward in places, due to home haircuts. Then flash again. Gone.
Flash. And then there’s college, now, at the forefront. Where I met my wife, Ella. I had friends whose names are now lost to me, but she is there. Special. Different. Beautiful. One of the rich riding through college on parents’ money, but she’s not like the other women, or even like me. Ella’s not looking for a husband or searching for what to do with the rest of her life; she’s there for a career. Her hair shines like cut diamonds, silvery white, long and even. Her body—the image of perfection, her breasts supple, her hips ample, her clothing always in style, her face symmetrical, save for the grin that loops to the side. She never had to show off. Attention was her birthright. And she saw something in me, she saw more than the letter jacket and goof. I never believed in love at first sight.
Dinner for two. Campus restaurant. Wind blowing her hair and forming a halo. She ruminates aloud about the benefits of the marketing world, the creativity and fluidity and organization combined. She is a critical thinker, a creative thinker, and marketing excites her. I am entranced. It is our first date; I listen, mostly, less interested in my tales of college high jinks…
My childhood, again. I can see myself as a kid drowning in clothes meant for someone twice my size. There is a backyard. More dirt than grass. Clothes and bed sheets hang from a line. Paint peels on a house, my childhood home. But my childhood self is oblivious. I run, kicking up plums of dirt. An abrupt halt. I am whispering. Then, clear as a zephyr, I hear someone whisper back:
“We’re brothers, right, Randy?”
Flash. Now the newer memories come. Fresh, undiluted, painful. She was having an affair. For how long, I didn’t know but I always suspected that it would happen eventually. My letter jacket had faded long ago and I along with it. She went to work, I stayed home. It was no big deal, we thought. I did odd freelancing jobs here and there. We felt it would work out great if we ever had children. And now…
The covering of death crawls up through my past, one or many memories at a time, snaking its way through my essence; still there are some things that it hasn’t gotten to yet—the circumstances that brought me here. I remember them clearly and they still pulsate with fresh rage. I remember that my wife was having an affair. I remember thinking that. I remember knowing that as well as the sight of the sun rising above the lake in our backyard and the impenetrable mesh of foliage strewn with long-dead branches still clutching to a few of the pine trees. Her infidelity had been obvious to me despite the subtle interjections from her co-workers, from her “friends,” her confidants, her flunkies. They didn’t know of my suspicions, but they frequently commented to me that my wife was a good woman, a loyal woman, the kind of woman anyone could depend on—like an old farmer’s truck or the evening news. Maybe they had suspicions of their own.
But why trust them, any of them, with their fancy jobs and their ornamental lives, their plastic ways? What did they know about anything outside of their blanched existences? Nothing. But I knew about them, I always knew. The stares, the whispers, how they hated me so, how strange they thought I was, sequestered away from the rest of the world, some worthless antique sitting on a dusty shelf of a life. Randy, the man with nothing. A poor boy with no ambitions, they said. Marry someone of your stature, they told her. How could someone, a man, shield himself from the outside world, they asked. How indeed.
Not long ago I discovered her secret. The rain came down unusually hot—the sun shone but there was precipitation and the drops were as tiny beads of liquid marble pelting the skin, and all I could think of was how much I complained when winter assaulted the ground with hail and snow. It was a damp heat, a time when the only thing any person wanted to do was sequester themselves within the confining comfort of cool, dry walls.
My therapist, whom I had bi-weekly meetings with via telephone, encouraged me to get out at least once a month so I would stop being afraid of the outside. The usual requests, always followed by the predictable assessment that injury occurred in the home as easily as outside the walls. And how many times—he said—have you as a child injured yourself while playing inside? He would assure me that my newfound security was only a figment of my imagination. As he said these things, reiterated his platitudes, I would recollect any incident that was on the news—how, for instance, a woman got shot accidentally as she was leaving work, or how a young child got abducted outside in broad daylight. These things were not figments of my imagination—they stood as testimonies to the sanity of my decision and yet I was the only one that could see that…