Miriam Robinson writes:
B R O K E N
It’s hard to believe this man was king.
This broken shell in front of me, so accustomed to holding court, now holds visiting hours in St. Joseph’s psych ward.
It’s hard to believe this man had subjects. Loyal subjects who sat at his feet, waiting for a marijuana cloud to escort them elsewhere.
Only the truly loyal come to call in here.
There’s a fucked up sense of empowerment that I have. I don’t want it, I try to bury it, but somewhere in the darker corners of my brain lurks vindication. “Not so big anymore, are you?” it wants to say. “Talk about poetic justice. Who’s pathetic now?”
“I got your letter,” he breaks in, fiddling with his goatee. “I tried to write you back, but Jenny stole it from me and ripped it up. Jealous bitch. I wanted to tell you…to write to you.”
I don’t care what he wanted to tell me, or that his cracked out girlfriend was threatened by my words. I didn’t want a response to my letter. In my second year of college, finally removed from his scene, I wrote to tell him to be good to himself, to tell him that even though his baby brother, his best friend, remained in perpetual sleep after a night of boozing and Oxycontin, that he could count me among the people who would be devastated if he were gone, too. I didn’t want a response. I wanted him to leave the razors where they belonged. I didn’t want her to find him bathing in his own blood.
It’s hard to believe that four years ago, this man was untouchable. That four years ago, we walked into his apartment, a gang of us looking to get stoned during sixth period lunch.
“You should stay longer,” he’d whispered to me, grabbing on to my backpack as I shuffled out behind the others.
At 17, no one could convince me that I wasn’t special. Even though I’d seen him whisper the same phrase to friends of mine. Even though I’d seen him in the cafeteria, before he graduated, cuddling with his girlfriend. Even though I’d seen him in the apartment, since then, with countless other girls.
What I hadn’t seen, in all my years growing up in white-bread, plastic smile suburbia, was any one who hurt like him. It was so palpable, when his eyes focused in on his prize, promising to screw you and leave you because there was nothing else he could do.
I wanted to help him.
And so I took my place in the semi-circle of those who loved him, of those who waited for something – mystery, drugs, sex. He, at the head of his bed, against a backdrop of Bob Marley posters and Indian tapestries, propped up by pillows of crimson and tangerine satin, was Sardanapolus, callously overseeing his concubines’ obliteration before indulging in his own. With the hands of a practiced professional, he would reach into his cellophane sack, withdrawing the fat, pine-green Jamaican weed. I remember thinking there was something insidious about the furry protrusions he’d pick apart and load into the bowl.
He’d pull into his lungs just enough smoke to fill the cylinder, to form a snowy backdrop to the dancing Jewish stars blown sapphire blue into the glass. Unfazed, he’d pass the bong to the first in rotation who, with a nod of reverent acknowledgement, would gulp it into his lungs and fade into bliss.
I’d await my turn with greed, fear, anticipation. I could never hope to achieve the expertise of my fellow groupies, that smooth inhale and collected, perfectly circular exhale. I’d clumsily take what was given, and slink off into a corner of the hazy bordello, sinister paralysis encroaching on my mind and limbs.
There I would wait, and hope that despite the appeal of more drugs, more guy talk, and skinnier girls, that later he would remember me. Most times I would give up, crawl to my car, will the clutch into its groove, and inch my way home, alone.
Other times, he would want me. And when we would finish, rolling over in exhaustion, me exhilerated at having facilitated, briefly, his happiness, I would search in his eyes for a spark of love. I’d find only eyes searching for a pipe.
“Virginia,” he’d said when I snuck out of school to tell him I could leave this place, that I’d been accepted to my top choice. “That’s far from here.”
And now he wants to feel. I know that. But he’s broken.
“What I wanted to tell you, when I got your letter...what I wanted to tell you is that I love you.”
And now I search for emotion. Now, after years of waiting for those words. After years of wishing I could even chip away at his granite hold, now I try to summon tears. But I can only look at the indifferent white walls of the psychiatric ward, at the black ink on his ID bracelet, at the plastic table with rounded edges where he’s placed his painfully tepid poetry.
I pick it up to get off the subject.
“Where can I go/ There’s nowhere to hide/ The pain that I’ve felt/ The outlets I’ve tried./Where can I go/ To dodge all my fears/ There’s no more love left/ I’ve got only tears.”
“Do you think,” he asks, “once you finish your publishing course, you could try to publish them?”
It’s hard to believe this man was king.
“Because I really love writing poetry. I think it’s good, and I’d like to publish a book. Danny read them, and he’s super smart, you know, like you are. I always knew you were smart – I told Jenny that, you know. And Danny was like, man, you should really publish these. They’re good, my poems, cuz they’ve got all of my pain in them, you know? Do you think you could find someone to publish them?”
His voice, even as it pleads, even as it grasps for a thread, is the same. Gritty from years of smoking. Sultry from years of playing the pimp. And tired. Really tired.
“Of course, love. Of course I will. They’re so lovely.”
Six months later I will answer my phone and hear the inevitable. Six
months later I will board a plane at six a.m. and fly out west and watch them put him in the
ground. From where I will stand, the rabbi’s blessings will be inaudible under the jackhammers that roar across the
street. I will watch his mother scream as she sees her two babies side by side again. I will
look on as his girlfriend’s mascara bleeds jagged rings around her eyes.
Because once I was in love with a king.
© copyright 2006 Miriam Robinson
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