I have only met a handful of people throughout my short time on earth whom I truly loved. I’m not referring to a sexual lust nor to the way we ‘love’ our cars or our favorite song; I’m talking about feeling, a connection with another soul that cannot be broken- not by time, space, or differences. The first person I ever felt in this kind of love for was Mable Corning.
Attending grade school in Fair Lawn, New Jersey I was much like the other kids. I was friendly, funny, and enjoyed participating in team sports. I got into my share of trouble, but for the most part I skate through life no different than other people in my age group in my part of this world.
When junior high rolled around I began to withdraw; I was only 12, but I felt like I wasn’t like the people I was surrounded by. I found it hard to have real conversations with most of my classmates and instead decided to only talk to myself. It’s not that I thought I was better than anyone – if anything, my self-esteem was at an all time low – I just knew I was different and didn’t feel happy when I was around other people. I began to become quiet in class, sans for the times I would harass the teachers. Certain kids began to pick on me for being different, but – although it bothered me – instead of fighting back I would go home after school and write a poem or sit in my closet and think about how much I wanted to be a part of another world. My peers weren’t the only ones who found me odd; the teachers also noticed something different. Although I wasn’t as ‘bad’ as some of the kids, I wasn’t as ‘normal’ as them either (which, in today’s society, is often worse). With only three months remaining in 8th grade, I was informed that I would be attending a secondary school starting at the beginning of the next year.
The first day of my freshman year, I was picked up by a short yellow bus and driven to Union Street School, a couple towns over. It didn’t go well for me; although I was only there for three or four months, it was a bad time that made me retreat deeper into my head.
I learned that secondary schools had levels; Union Street was two schools away from being completely thrown out of the Bergen County Public school system. There were a few steps up and, since I obviously wasn’t equipped to handle a step down, they sent me a step up to Horizons. Horizons was for bad kids who had some brains and artistic ability; the kids that could still be saved. It was a school of just under fifty kids and classes were held in the hilly forest of Alpine, New Jersey in an abandoned boy scout cabin with random dead animals on the wood paneled walls. Although I thought I hit rock bottom when I got thrown out of regular school, I arrived at Horizons in mid January of 1994 more depressed and introverted than I had ever been.
Horizons proved to be a complete contrast to Union Street. Instead of getting stared at and picked on, my fellow rejects introduced themselves and immediately treated me as one of their own. It was nice, but I was shy and I probably only averaged 10 to 20 spoken words for each of my first few months in the woos. Despite my quiet demeanor, I did manage to make a few friends, none of which I hung out with outside of school (that time was still reserved for self-loathing and arguing with my mother) but it was undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
When the year ended, I exchanged numbers with a few people, made plans to stay in contact, and prepared for the isolation that was summer. Much to my surprise, that summer I ended up participating in society; I tried marijuana, had sex for the first time, and – although very slowly – I began to open up. I felt slightly comfortable with the people I was hanging out with, and things were looking up.
The first day of Sophomore year wasn’t quite as bad as the previous year; I had a small group of friends and through those friends I made other friends.
September turned to October and life had once again taken on a routine. I wasn’t happy, per se, but I was hanging out with people after school (mostly getting high) and I never once woke up dreading the thought of going to class. Horizons had a very high turnover rate; there were always people getting thrown out of their district and (although a much smaller number) some would excel and end up back with the ‘normal’ kids.
It was an Indian summer day in mid-October when the class across the hall received a new girl. When, on her first day, I passed her in the hallway in her tie-dyed shirt and tight fitting bell bottom jeans, I knew I wanted to be acquainted with her. In general, I found hippies to be fake and tried not to associate with them (which was hard to do, being the pothead I was quickly turning into), but this girl had something about her that intrigued me.
I saw her at the vending machine later that afternoon, her pale face wrinkling up in aggravation as she tried repeatedly to shove a wrinkled dollar bill into the stubborn slot. I was the resident expert and had helped many struggling would be candy eaters when faced with that predicament, so I used the opportunity to make her acquaintance.
“You’re really trying to earn that Snickers bar, huh”, I said to her. I was quite witty in my younger days.
She used her unoccupied hand to brush her thin brown hair from her face, met my glance and said, with the right side of her mouth beginning to form what looked like a smirk, “you have to work for what you get, otherwise you’ll never appreciate anything.”
“Well, when you feel like taking a break, I’m the master of this machine.” I noticed that I was conversing with ease. Sure, it was only a few sentences, but it was with someone I had never talked to. My cheeks weren’t heating up, and I was able to maintain eye contact.
She ended our staring contest by reading my shirt which said “I’m not a total Jew, I’m only Jew-ish”. I noticed a quick giggle working its way up her throat, but she suppressed it and handed over the bill. I winked at her (which I immediately regretted), rubbed the bill against the corner of the machine in the way only I knew how to, and slid it in with ease. To my surprise, she picked D3, the Snickers bar.
“I’m Joe by the way,” I said. I was never sure whether one was supposed to shake hands when introducing oneself to a woman, so I slowly put my hand in the shaking area.
She glanced at my hand hanging ambiguously in space, looked back up into my eyes and quietly replied, “and I’m grateful.” She then began to walk back to class, gently bumping me with her shoulder as she walked by.
When lunch time rolled around, I was still thinking of her. I wanted to get to know her, but I wasn’t good at that sort of thing, so I decided to seek advice from Henry DeChase, my usual lunchtime conversation mate. He wasn’t great with advice, unless it concerned baseball or getting laid, but even the dumbest people come up with good things once in a while. Besides, it was better than keeping it to myself, so I turned to ask him. As I was opening my mouth, I saw past his square shaped head with the bowl cut to the hippie walking over to our section.
When I first saw her I didn’t notice how long her hair was; this time I saw that it was brushing the small of her back as she slowly strutted towards us. I looked back at my ham and cheese on rye sandwich my mother had made me that morning and pretended I didn’t see her coming. When she pulled out the chair to my left and began to sit down, I feigned surprise.
“Hey, grateful what’re you doing here?”
She slowly and deliberately opened her Grateful Dead lunch box and pulled out a cheese sandwich, then turned to me and said, “Eating.”
We sat in silence while we ate our respective sandwiches, but it wasn’t an uncomfortable silence like the ones that usually caused me to say or do something stupid. It was like we were two old friends, sharing our lunch hour together.
When she was done her with food, she wiped her mouth on the cloth napkin originally used to hold the sandwich and took a sip of her Hi-C. When the Hi-C was gone and the garbage back in her lunch box, she turned to me like she had something to say, but just stared. I started to get uncomfortable.
“You never told me your real name,” I informed her.
“It’s Mable,” she said.
It was my turn to stare. I was trying to figure out what it was about her that made me so interested. While far from ugly, she wasn’t exactly beautiful. She had nice skin and cute little chipmunk teeth poking out from behind her chap stick glazed lips. She didn’t wear any make-up, but from the looks of things she did pluck her eyebrows. She had some kind of magical rays shooting out of her soul, slowly wrapping me up and pulling me in.
“Where are you from, Mable?” This was always my first question, the ice breaker as it were, even though there didn’t seem to be any ice to melt.
“I’m from Dumont, how about you?”
“The two whitest towns in Bergen County.”
“Yeah,” I said while chuckling slightly. “What did you do to get here?” I was curious because she didn’t seem like a fighter or a class clown which was usually the two kinds of people who ended up at Horizons.
She studied her lunch box, stroked Jerry Garcia’s beard for a couple seconds, then returned her eyes to mine and said, “Mainstream society just isn’t ready for me Joe.”
It was a cop out answer and I knew and she knew that I knew, because just as I was about to begin my rejoinder, she put her hand on my leg, over my extra baggy Jnco’s and asked me, “Do you poke smot?” in a trouble makers voice.
Although I had never heard anyone use that term before, I had a knack for figuring little things like that out and with a devilish smirk I replied, “do you really have to ask?”
“We should hang out this weekend. You seem like you’d be interesting to get high with.”
I reached into the front pocket of my hoodie and pulled out a piece of paper – a receipt for a book I had just purchased – and slid it towards her, “Give me your number.” For the first time in my life, there weren’t images rolling through my teenage head of me and the potential number writer downer rolling naked together.
She wrote down her number, telling me it was her private line so I could call any time I wanted- just not too early in the morning. I told her I’d call her around 11:30 and excused myself to use the bathroom. The urination lasted for a bit longer than usual, as I had been holding it since the vending machine incident, and when I got back to the lunchroom, Mable was gone. I sat back down next to Henry and began to imagine getting high with Mable.
I smelt the tuna fish he was eating before I heard, “You gonna tap that ass?” come from Henry’s dirty mouth.
I looked over at him – glared was more like it – to see his yellow teeth shining in the florescent lighting of the boy scout cabin and just shook my head. I couldn’t really be mad at him; if the situation was reversed, I would have thought the same thing. My path had only crossed Mable’s a couple hours previous, but I felt like I understood a little bit more about life. I stood up, pushing the folding chair back with the rear of my knees, straightened my fitted Mets hat, and snuck outside for a cigarette.
The bus ride home seemed to take forever. There was a voice in the back of my head – the same voice that was always there – telling me to not get my hopes up, that she would probably stand me up, but I tried my best to ignore it and instead conversed with my bus mate Neil, about the Wu-Tang Clan.
I got home a few minutes before four, about twenty minutes before I expected my mother’s arrival, and went straight for the phone. I dialed the familiar numbers of my best friend Kathleen, who picked up on the second ring. After telling me that she hadn’t been at school because she was sick of Friday not being a weekend I told her about Mable.
“There was a new girl in school today; a hippie chick.”
“Did you talk to her?”
“Yeah, she wants to hang out tomorrow and get high. She’s really cool, I think you’d like her.”
“Should I warn her about you?”
I got a little angry, “Why does everyone think that just because she has a vagina I’m going to try to stick something in it?”
“Sorry. It’s just that’s what you usually do.”
I couldn’t argue with that; normally when I liked a female, my first reaction was to try to bed them. I hadn’t bothered to try with Kathleen because I had lost my virginity to her best friend.
“Maybe I’ve learned from our friendship,” I told her.
“Maybe,” she said, very unconvincingly. “You coming over? I went out and got 40’s today.”
I went over Kathleen’s house and got a little high and a lot drunk. We got high or drunk together every day, but Friday was always special. We would usually be joined by Lauren (her best friend and my cherry popper) and random other guests in Kathleen’s room. We would listen to music, watch TV on mute, and talk about whatever happened to pop into our teenage brains- usually nothing too important. I didn’t bother talking about Mable too much, because I knew people would just make some sexual comments and I would get mad.
After a couple 40’s of Olde English and a few honey covered blunts, I found my way home (a 4 mile walk to the bus stop, a 15 minute bus ride, and then a two block walk past the police station to my house), snuck into my room so as not to wake up my mother and passed out as soon as my shaved head hit my race car covered pillowcase.
In those days the word hangover wasn’t yet in my vocabulary, so I woke up at 9am feeling fresh and ready to face the day. My mother was already awake and making breakfast (eggs, bacon, and rye toast- my favorite) when I made my way into the kitchen.
“Were you high or drunk when you came home last night,” my mother asked me. Her tone was somewhere between accusatory and friendly.
“I was a little high.” I told my mother almost everything.
I noticed crows feet beginning to form around her almond shaped dark brown eyes. She wasn’t old and although she looked better than 90% of women her age, she had begun to get wrinkles ever since I hit my teenage years.
“You really shouldn’t do that shit, Joe. Don’t you want to get back to regular high school and maybe go to college?” Years earlier, my father had talked her into dropping out of Montclair State and she had regretted it ever since.
“I don’t know what I want to do yet. I’m only 15.” It was true.
She made a sound that only my mother, aunt, and grandmother know how to make. It was kind of a cross between sucking their teeth and a sigh, but loosely translated it meant, ‘I disagree with what you just said, but am too tired to argue with you.’
“What are you doing today?” she asked me. I was proud of her for changing the subject instead of starting an argument.
“Hanging out with a girl I met at school yesterday. A hippie chick from Dumont,” I told her.
“Just be careful,” she said as she tapped her fake red nails against our oak kitchen table. “I will not support a grandkid.”
“God, why does everyone think I’m such a pig?”
My mother gave me a look like, ‘if it smells like a duck and walks like a duck…’ I brought my plate to the sink and went in my room to call Mable.
Normally, when calling anyone for the first time – be it a potential lay or just a friend – I got nervous and had to take a couple minutes to build up the courage. Often times, even when calling friends who I had talked to dozens or hundreds of times, I would still get a bit frazzled before dialing. For the first time in my life, none of those feelings were anywhere, as I picked up the phone and dialed the seven digits that would lead me to Mable. She answered with a groggy, “hello?”
“Shit, did I wake you?” it was couple minutes before ten. I often forgot that I was in the minority by waking up so early on a weekend.
“Nah,” her voice seemed to brighten. “I was just lying on the floor dreaming about death.”
I didn’t know what to say, but I hated phone silences so I blurted out, “that sounds exciting.”
“It’s a marvelous thing, death. Can you imagine being alive forever? Think of the boredom and overpopulation.”
“I guess.” It was a little early for a deep conversation. “I try not to think about it.”
“You should, it’s beautiful. So,” she continued “are we gonna get high or what?”
“Hell yeah, I was figuring we could meet up somewhere and then maybe head over to my friend, Kathleen’s house; she’s mad cool, you’ll like her.”
“What about the Bergen Mall? Do you have any smokables?”
I kicked myself for not saving any from the night before. The whole friendship thing was new to me and at the end of the night, when the roaches were being handed out, I tended not to speak up for fear of having a confrontation and thereby losing my friends. It was weird, and I always regretted it the next day, but it was what it was. “No, I accidentally smoked it all last night,” I told her.
“It’s OK, I have some killer shit.”
“Cool, I’m just gonna take a shower and then I’ll hop on the bus.”
I heard a moan in the background, like someone was in pain. Mable put her hand over the phone and yelled something back. When she came back on the line, it seemed as though her voice had aged. She said, “OK, I’ll meet you there at like 12:30,” and hung up.
Showering was a quick thing for me as I had no hair to wash and I didn’t do a very thorough job of soaping up my body. I was in and out – teeth brushed and everything – in under fifteen minutes. It had just turned ten twenty.
I knew that I could walk to the bus stop and be at the Bergen Mall by eleven. I knew that was an hour and a half before our scheduled time, but I had a problem of always being absurdly early for everything. Realizing I couldn’t control this defect inside of me, I accepted it and grabbed my wallet, my half filled pack of Newport’s, Grapes of Wrath, said goodbye to my mother, and walked out to meet the 171.
The 171 had its own stop along the highway, while all of the other buses dropped their riders off directly in front of the Shop Rite that shared a parking lot with the mall. I walked over to the benches filled with random comments – usually about which local girls “wanted it” the most, and their numbers – and had a seat. It was quarter after eleven when I began to read. I got lost in the travel from Oklahoma to California and in the subsequent adventures that the Joad family experienced. I pictured myself in the old beat up jalopy, sitting next to grandma Joad when she died and slurping up the thin potato stew that they seemed to have every night. I finally managed to pull myself away from the 1930’s and check my watch. It was closing in on one. Had I missed her? I couldn’t have, I was sitting right in front of where all the buses let their passengers off. Maybe the 171 wasn’t the only bus that let people off down by the highway. I took another trip back to my bus stop and there were only a couple European looking girls holding Marshall’s bags. I decided I would walk back up to the Shop Rite and read another chapter; after that – if there was still no sign of Mable – I would go home and hide in my closet for the rest of the weekend.
When I was 100 yards from the buses, through the tears starting to well up in my eyes, I saw a figure waving. It was Mable! She had made it! Suddenly, below the peach fuzz and whiteheads on my upper lip, my mouth formed a huge smile and my Pumas began to move a little bit quicker in her direction. As I got closer, I noticed the bright autumn sun made her hair look almost blond, which gave her face a whole new appearance. Once again she had no make-up on and she was wearing the same blue bell-bottoms as the day before, but this time with a baby blue Pink Floyd shirt. By the way her b-cups were leaving nipple outlines on her shirt, I saw that she was a true, braless hippy.
We were face to face and there was a millisecond of doubt; do I hug her, put out my hand for her to shake, or do nothing? Before these thoughts turned into worrying or awkwardness I noticed she was leaning in for an embrace. When I was in junior high, all of a sudden people started hugging all the time. I was friends with a few different girls, simply because they would hug when saying hello, but none of them hugged like Mable. With them it was always kind of sexual, I’d always notice the feel of their breasts against my body and I’d have something to masturbate to when I got home. With Mable it was nothing sensual at all; I felt her insides getting all jumbled up with my insides, I smelt her honey scented hair, and for the 3 or 4 seconds the hug lasted I was transformed to some other place.
She let go of me and I was thrust back to reality. “Sorry I’m late, were you waiting long?” she asked me.
“Yeah, but it’s no big deal. I was early.”
We began to walk towards the mall when I noticed she had a black and blue mark on her neck, just below her right ear. She saw me staring and before I could ask what had happened, said “Ready to get high?”
“Hell yeah I am. We can go to the Village mall.” The Village mall was the downstairs of the Bergen Mall. A number of years previous it had shops that were open, but presently nothing really went on down there. There was a chapel (I often wondered what kind of people got married in the basement of a third rate mall) and a computer shop along with a couple dozen abandoned store fronts. Most people either didn’t know the place existed or else didn’t care. It was a decent place to go and smoke if one were ballsy (or naive) enough. We were both.
“That’s awesome!” she exclaimed. “I’ve always wanted to smoke in a mall; there’s something very anti-social about it.”
I had smoked there on a couple previous occasions and it was my dream to have sex down there, but I decided not to bring that up. “If we have to roll something, we should do that first. Maybe in the bathroom.”
“Nah, I have a bowl.” I had forgotten she was a hippie and hippies liked bowls. For some reason, I had never smoked out of one; they gave me a weird feeling, like I was smoking something crack or something.
“Lets do this then,” I said, deciding to keep my fear of the pipe to myself and have a good time.
We made our way through the maze that was the Village Mall and to my favorite spot; just outside an abandoned collectibles shop – the Joker’s Child – I liked because it was far away from the open shops while still being a safe enough distance from the escalator to discard anything illegal we had on us before the authorities got to us.
I figured out how to use the bowl with ease, never letting on that I was a virgin. We smoked it pretty quick and then I lit up a cigarette to hide the smell (those were the days when smoking cigarettes wasn’t the outlaw activity it is today). She heard a noise and turned her head to the left, once again revealing the bruise on her neck. This time she didn’t notice me looking, so I said “what happened to your neck?”
She brought her head back around to face me, the whole time staring at the tacky red and green carpeted floor. When she was once again looking my my direction she slowly lifted her head until her eyes were looking deep into mine. I was able to see past the cheerful exterior that was Mable and into the sadness that was present just below the surface. A sick feeling began in the pit of my stomach and yet I couldn’t look away; I wanted to share her pain. I hardly knew this girl – we had had our first conversation just over 24 hours earlier – and yet I felt like there was a reason we met.
Finally she spoke, “It’s my dad.” Silent tears began to slowly make their way down her unblemished face. I watched the first one make a path down until it reached her chin and fell to the ground like a misguided rain drop. She continued, “he’s manic and every once in a while he loses it.”
“He hit you?” I asked her; anger was beginning to mix with the pity.
“No.” She used the back of her hand to wipe the tears away, took a deep breath and then said “he gets belligerent and starts throwing things, like a drunk person. Today I happened to be in the line of fire.”
“What about your mother, doesn’t she help?”
“My mother died of a heart attack when I was 9. She had a weak heart and I guess she just wasn’t suited to take care of a crazy man on top of two hyper-active children.”
I didn’t know what to do; my instincts told me to tell her everything was going to be alright, but what the fuck does that even mean? How was everything going to be alright? So I was quiet, just watching her and trying to absorb some of her misery.
I guess quiet is what she wanted, because she continued, “The doctors keep trying different medication, but none of them are helping and he refuses to get psychiatric help. He’ll be fine for a couple of weeks or even a month and then all of a sudden he’s like a totally different person. He won’t get out of bed for three or four days and then when he loses his job because of it, he’ll get angry and mean and then sad again. When he finally goes back to the pills he’s like a zombie.”
Part of me wished that my mother or father was crazy, just so I’d have something to say. It wasn’t very often that I was tongue tied; usually I could think of some bullshit to spew out, but not this time.
“I don’t know why I’m talking so much, we hardly know each other.” She looked up at the tile ceiling and then at the bright orange Chucks she had on her petite feet. “I just feel comfortable, like we met for a reason.”
There were a few more seconds of silence and then my beeper started vibrating with a page from Kathleen. I had forgotten I told her that we would come over.
“Whose that?” Mable asked. She was using her cheerful voice again, but this time I could see through it; see to the pain and depression that lay beneath.
“That’s my friend Kathleen,” I told her. “We can go over there now if you want.”
“Sounds good to me.”
It was a three and a half mile walk from the Bergen mall to Kathleen’s house in Teaneck, but we were fifteen and it was years before my beer belly (and license) would prevent such a journey. I went to the pay phone at the top of the stairs and let Kathleen know that we were on our way. Mable and I began walking down the small slope that was Spring Valley Avenue. We were just beginning and hadn’t said a word yet, when Mable took my hand.
I flashed back to my first girlfriend in fourth grade; before sex, before breasts, before even feeling a woman’s tongue in my mouth. The first time my first girlfriend and I had held hands was probably one of the happiest days of my life; better than the first time I had sex. Since then any bodily contact I had with a member of the opposite sex (and sometimes even the same sex) had brought my mind immediately to sex. Not Mable’s hand though; it made me realize that holding hands would be what I would end up doing when I was 85, my penis didn’t work anymore and my future wife was all shriveled. Like diapers and baldness, everything goes back to the beginning.
It was closing in on two thirty when we rang the doorbell of Kathleen’s house. It was by far the biggest house on the ten block long Elm Avenue, but it was also the most run down. Her parents had moved from the Midwest – her mother from Missouri and father from Nebraska – in the 60’s. They met while living in New York City and had bought an apartment on the Upper West Side just before prices went through the roof. When they had Kathleen, they sold the apartment for an enormous profit and bought the house in Teaneck. It was a nice house, but they had lived there for almost 10 years and still hadn’t done anything with the chipping blue and white paint on the outside. The inside was no better; no carpeting and since they only vacuumed when they felt like it and had two dogs and three cats, there was dust anywhere.
Kathleen answered the door and came right outside. Usually when she didn’t invite me in, I knew why; both her parents were recovering alcoholics, but when her father would go away on business her mother would get shit faced every day. She was extremely embarrassed about this and I was one of only a handful of people who had ever seen them like that. Obviously, she wasn’t ready to initiate Mable into that select group.
I didn’t even realize Mable and I were still holding hands until I went to give Kathleen a hug. I released Mable, hugged Kathleen and then introduced them. I knew they would get a long because neither of them were like normal girls and therefore wouldn’t be in competition with each other over everything, except (in my head) me.
Kathleen was dressed in old green pants with paint stains on them and a matching green Beastie Boys shirt. Normally she had on one of about five or six sun visors she owned, but this day she let her paper thin dirty blond hair hang freely on her bony shoulders.
When we were safely out of the view of Lauren (who lived almost directly across the street) she pulled out a blunt, “Wanna get high?” she asked, her oversized sea-green eyes widening until it looked as though her whole head would be swallowed by them.
“That’s exactly what I need,” Mable replied, being her friendly self. We had barely spoken the whole walk over; every time I thought of something good to say, I would realize it was probably something stupid and she didn’t want to hear it. I was glad that she was the type that could be quiet too; most people who are unhappy with their lives or surroundings constantly talk in order to avoid whatever it is going on in their heads.
Mable and Kathleen began to walk a bit in front of me talking about Horizons, doing drugs, and music while I kind of drifted off in my head. I was down because my life didn’t seem as bad as I thought it was. I used my parents divorce and my father not being a positive role model in my life as an excuse to get into trouble. I used the fact that I didn’t think anyone would understand me to not try and be myself around people. Here was Mable; mother dead, father crazy, obviously having troubles of her own ending up in Horizons and all, but she seemed to be herself.
I crept up behind Kathleen quietly – or as quiet as a goofy kid with oversized feet can be – and grabbed her waist. She was startled, which was my point, and a big grin overcame her freckled face.
“Where are you leading us?” I asked her. I knew we were going to the train tracks where Edwards grocery store used to be, but I couldn’t think of any other way to join in the conversation.
“We’re going to the fort.” For some reason that’s what we called it- we were dumb.
We walked down the steep hill and into our little play land. There had been – before I hung out in Teaneck – an Edwards grocery store built right next to train tracks, and then one day it burned down. It had been a number of years since the fire and most of the debris had been removed, but there were still random pieces of roof of shelf just laying around. The ground was still cement, but grass had grown over the years; it was a battle of industry and nature and nature was taking back what was rightfully hers. Of course, now there’s another grocery store there, but that’s besides the point.
The three of us – with me in the lead and Kathleen and Mable side by side behind me – pushed our way through the dense bushes until we found a nice piece of concrete big enough for the three of us to sit in a semi-circle, which we did. Luckily none of us were very much into fashion, so it didn’t matter that we were sitting on dirt and broken glass, with the occasional discarded needle.
Kathleen pulled the loosely rolled blunt out of her half empty pack of Newport Lights, the lighter out of her side pocket and began the ritual. By the time the blunt was gone and Kathleen and I had lit up our cigarettes, we were pretty baked. No one said anything for a couple minutes, until I broke the silence with some random comment about our smoking area.
“I really like it,” Mable said. We could have blindfolded her with dental floss, her eyes were so small. “We don’t have any places like this in Dumont, I usually just smoke in my room.”
“It’s fun to get out and explore,” Kathleen chimed in. “Especially when you get a spot that no one else really knows about.”
“There’s also something rebellious about smoking outside. It’s illegal, but when you smoke it in your own room, chances are you aren’t going to get in trouble. Smoking it out here – even though we’re kind of hidden – is like sticking a big middle finger in the face of the entire police force.”
Kathleen and I exchanged glances; we hadn’t really looked at it that way, but I guess it was true. I began to drift off as their conversation continued. I was thinking about how – as recent as a year earlier – I would spend my Saturdays in my room playing video games, feeling like I wanted to die and now here I was getting high with two smart and pretty women. Life was funny. My thoughts were beginning to drift – as they often do when encouraged by a little reefer – into some fantasy where I was pitching for the Mets or something, when I heard a train in the distance. One of the best parts of the fort was that it was less than 50 yards from the tracks and every couple of hours we would get to watch a train go by. There was something about that experience that ended conversation and drew attention to nothing but the passing train. Often times we would just watch it go by in silence and then jump back into whatever conversation we were having; each of us thinking our own thoughts about the magical locomotive.
I watched the train, tried to see each individual car as it sped by us, kicking up dirt and rocks. I glanced over at Kathleen who, like me, seemed to value her train watching time. She had an empty Corona bottle (obviously we weren’t the only ones who had discovered the jungle) and was tapping with her unpainted fingernails to the rhythm of the train. I smiled and shifted my glance to Mable; she was sitting completely still, eyes wide open as if hypnotized by the passing locomotive. I glanced back at Kathleen and saw that she too was now staring at Mable. She shifted her vision of site to include me and wrinkled up her oddly thick, yet short eyebrows as if to say, ‘what the hell is she doing’. I shrugged and we both went back to our own train watching worlds.
When the train was past and Mable was released from her trance she turned to us and said, “I feel some kind of strange feeling whenever I’m this close to a speeding locomotive.”
“Like you want to be a conductor when you grow up or something?” I asked her, with a little sarcasm.
“No, not like I want to drive or ride one” she said, her eyes slowly drifting up towards the sky. “I don’t know…”
The conversation moved from the exciting world of trains to even more exciting topic of drugs. Neither Kathleen nor I had ever enhanced our minds in any way besides weed, alcohol, and art, but Mable had experience. She had tried acid once and liked it, which excited us because we had been talking about it since reefer had become an almost every day habit. Mable had also tried taking some of her fathers pills once – the week before, when she found out she would have to go to a secondary school – and they had made her feel “serene.”
Neither of us were interested in the pills, but the acid was another story. She told us that she had no problem getting it, and we could all trip next weekend if we wanted. We started making plans and asking all sorts of questions about the effects. I made a mental note to go home and study my Pink Floyd and Doors records that were collecting dust on top of my dresser.
I noticed the glowing fire ball above us was slowly sinking lower, leaving a filmy New Jersey style haze in its wake. I had told my mother to pick me up at 8 and upon checking my beeper, saw that I only had an hour left.
“Lets start walking back,” I suggested. “I’m kinda hungry anyway.”
They agreed and we were on our way. It was sad that I was going home at eight when my curfew wasn’t until 1, but I didn’t feel like walking all the way back to the Bergen Mall to catch my bus. For Mable it would be easy; almost all the buses that went through Teaneck also went into Dumont. We all got sandwiches from Blimpie’s and headed our separate ways.
I spent the ride home and the remainder of the evening ruminating; trying to figure out Mable. She came across as simple and easy to understand, but after spending a full day with her there was a lot of mystery and capriciousness surrounding her.
Sunday morning I awoke with Mable on the mind, but decided that it would seem to desperate to call her less than 24 hours after we had hung out for the first time. ‘This is probably why I have such trouble making friends,’ I kept thinking to myself, ‘I don’t know how to act.’ Instead of calling her, I tried to put her out of my mind; I finished Grapes of Wrath and spent some quality time with my mother. I talked on the phone for an hour or so to Kathleen and tried to get her opinion on Mable, but I didn’t want to bring up her emotional outbreak at the Village Mall.
Day turned into night and I took a shower and got into bed to watch my ghastly New Jersey Nets take on the Utah Jazz. I wasn’t too thrilled about spending my Sunday night watching my team get their asses kicked, but I felt like some sober alone time would do me good. Just after tip off, my phone rang and I was surprised to hear Mable on the other end.
“Hey, Joe.” Her voice was neither the happy Mable from school nor the troubled girl whose tears I saw flowing, but instead it was that of an aloof girl- personality number three. Still, I was glad to hear her voice.
“What’s up Ms. Mable?” I said, maybe in too excited a voice.
“Nothing. I was just listening to some music and thinking about you, so I decided to give you a call.”
I was flattered; maybe she did like me in more than a platonic kind of way; in that case, I liked her too, “I was thinking about you too. Yesterday was fun.”
“Do you believe in god?”
The question took me by surprise; I wasn’t quite used to her sudden dives into philosophical waters yet. “I don’t know. I believe in something.”
“I wish I could, but I have such a hard time imagining a god who would give us so much pain.”
“Maybe we’re just an experiment gone completely off the wall and now he is just waiting for us to kill each other so he can try again.”
I muted the TV; suddenly basketball didn’t seem that important. On the other side of the line, I could hear her taking slow, steady breaths as if trying to hold back tears. After a half a minute of silence, she finally said, “Do you think maybe it’s all a dream?”
“I don’t think we’ll ever know. Not until we wake up anyway.”
“I hope it is a dream- although it’s more like a nightmare. I want to wake up, I want everything to be OK.” The restraint in her voice was gone, now she sounded like she was in a trance.
“If it is a dream, we can meet up on the other side and laugh about all this.” I told her, hoping to make her feel better.
“How will I know how to find you?” She asked me, a little worried.
I glanced at the TV; the game was just coming back from a commercial and written across the bottom of the screen was, ‘Live from Salt Lake City, Utah.’ “How about Salt Lake City?”
“Yeah, we’ll meet up in the center of the city.”
The conversation lasted for over three hours; we talked about meeting in Utah and then onto less serious subjects like drugs and school. I was really beginning to feel something strong for Mable, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. I had never had a relationship with another human being that was as intense as this one had been for the two and a half days we had been talking.
The week at school was like any other week at school; I caused some trouble, almost learned a thing or two, snuck into the woods to smoke a few joints, and became even closer with Mable. On Wednesday she informed Kathleen and I that she had a bunch of acid and we were welcome to join her on her little adventure to a land where time and space were meaningless. We accepted her invitation with no reserves and began to mentally prepare.
Everything almost went smoothly; Mable had broken down the different stages one goes through during a typical trip and was dead on. I’m pretty sure the conversation was flowing, and while I’m a little less sure that it made sense, I’m positive that we were having a blast. All of a sudden, about 4 hours into it – right after the peak – Mable started crying. It wasn’t like the cry she had at the mall the weekend previous, this was more of a whole body cry from the tips of her psychedelic painted toes to the perfect part on the top of her head.
“Why is life like this? I don’t understand it! My mother spent her whole life doing the right thing and going to church and helping people out. She met a guy who seemed amazing and then within the next five years, her husband turned out to be insane and she dropped dead. How the fuck is that fair?!” She said all this between very dramatic sobs that shook her whole bed.
If someone with magical powers would have turned themselves into a fly and picked that moment to fly through Mable’s half broken window, they would have thought that I was in heaven; sitting on a bed involved in some kind of hug with two girls, but that was far from the truth. While the two of us – Kathleen and I – did follow our instincts and begin hugging Mable, it was bad news. Her bad vibes were like lice and as soon as we made contact with her, they spread to us. I began to think about death and how if I was lucky I would live long enough to see everyone I knew and loved die. I don’t know exactly what Kathleen was thinking about, but I saw tears rolling silently down her oval head.
The Best of the Doors ended and suddenly Mable was back to her cheerful self; jumping off her bed – leaving Kathleen and I hugging the air – and grabbing another record from her collection. Had we been sober, one of us might have asked her about her slight insanity, but her feeling better made us feel better and suddenly we were all laughing.
After we had come down and all gone our separate ways I began to get a little freaked out by Mable’s actions. I still felt a connection with her and thought her an amazing person, it’s just that she had a lot of issues, and I was pretty sure I didn’t want to get involved in anything sexual.
We began to incorporate Mable into our little group and saw her at least three or four times a week for the rest of the school year. There were no more incidents and we believed ourselves to be the saviors; it was a very tenable belief to us at the time. There would be days where she didn’t seem on top of the world, but the breakdowns had ceased. Maybe, we reasoned, all she needed were some good friends who accepted her for who she was.
The school year ended and – due to my constant joke cracking (I was voted class clown) – I was kicked out of Horizons and told that I would be spending my Junior year of high school back at Union Street. That summer Kathleen and I continued to hang out with the regular group, but Mable slowly began to pull away. We were so into drinking, smoking, and tripping that we barely noticed when she began coming around less and less. We still talked on the phone and had probably the best conversations I had in those years. Most of them revolved around the invalidly of god and somehow they all ended up with going over our plans to meet in Salt Lake City. It was determined that we would probably wake up from this dream life at about the same time, although we might not be in Bergen County. We would have to gain our respective grounding and then find a way to Utah. I planned on stealing a sports car and Mable wanted to ride ( or hi-jack if need be) a train. To me, this was just a very extensive private joke. I assumed she looked at it the same way.
The next school year back at Union Street, I made new friends and began to hang out at Kathleen’s house less frequently. I saw Mable once every couple weeks – sometimes more, sometimes less – and she faded into just another friend. It’s not that either of had changed to the point where we didn’t like hanging out with each other, it’s just that – living 6 miles apart and not having licenses – it was hard to see each other as often. It just seemed to make more sense that I would hang out with the people I went to school with. There would be periods of time when I would think about Mable and wonder what was going to happen to her; we were all into acid and cocaine in those days, but she seemed to be more into it then the rest of us. This I just equated to her being a hippy.
One day in the middle of the school year – I think it might have been right before or after winter break – I got a late night phone call from Mable. I had caller ID by this time and when I saw her number through my groggy, crumb filled eyes, I didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Hey, Mable,” I said into the receiver; smelling the stink of my dream breath (as I liked to call it.)
“Why is he not there?” She asked me.
‘She must be pretty fucked up’, I thought to myself. “What are you talking about? What are you on?”
“He’s feeling like trees that lemon the birds,” she mumbled into the phone.
I often bragged about being unilingual because I could understand and differentiate between all the different drug speeches. The slurring of drunkenness, mumbling of the weed high, rambling of cocaine, and tranquility of acid speak, or any combination thereof. The way Mable was talking, didn’t fit any of these patterns, so I began to get nervous. I didn’t say anything for a half a minute and she didn’t either, but I could hear her breathing heavily into the phone.
Finally, she spoke, but there weren’t any words, just random sounds strung together in a nonsensical way. I had been around a lot of drugs and druggies, but had never really had a situation like this; especially when I was sober, so I just remained silent. Eventually she fell asleep and I hung up, but had a hard time going back to sleep. Every time I would be almost asleep, I would hear Mable’s voice in my head over and over again mumbling and I would suddenly wake up. I suppose I could have called her back to see if she was still alive, but that wasn’t my way.
When I woke up the next morning – as was often the case – the incidents of the night before didn’t seem so dramatic. I chalked the strange midnight phone call to too much alcohol or a weird trip. I went about my life like every other day leading up to that one. When I got home from school I called Kathleen to see if she wanted to get together and do something- like get high. She told me that Mable had shown up at school, so fucked up out of her mind that they had called the police.
“What?!” I asked, the previous night’s phone call starting to make more sense.
“Yeah, apparently she had been popping pill for like two days straight and I guess it just caught up with her.”
“Damn. She called me last night pretty fucked up, but I didn’t know she was doing shit like that.”
“Mr. Clark” that was the principal at Horizons, “came into our classroom at the end of the day and told us that she was in Sleepy Meadows.”
My heart dropped; Sleepy Meadows was the local mental institution. Although I knew a lot of people who had been there for criminal charges and drug addictions, it still had a certain stigma surrounding it.
“That sucks,” were my last words on that topic. We decided to meet up and dedicate a blunt to Mable coming home quickly; we often dedicated blunts to people or things. It was an excuse to get high. It was just Kathleen and I that night and we spent time talking about Mable.
“I know she has problems and all, but we all do,” I said, while passing the blunt. I spat some weed out of my mouth before continuing, “I just don’t understand what joy there is in getting so fucked up that you can’t even speak.”
Kathleen took a big hit for a small girl, dropped some ashes onto her shirt, where her breasts would be if they were anything more than mosquito bites, and began to speak, smoke pouring out of her mouth as she did so. “She has problems that neither of us understand.” She paused to cough. “I guess sometimes it’s better to not be able to hear your thoughts.”
She was right, there was no way for me to understand what it was like to have a crazy father and a dead mother. “I blame society. If she had a crazy father, a dead mother, and a few million dollars she would have gotten the help she needs instead of being thrown into our piece of shit school to be forgotten about. They probably put her there because she was making the ‘normal’ kids feel uncomfortable.”
The conversation continued down the society sucks road, eventually going completely off topic. We were sad about Mable, but we were 16 year old druggies. By the time the night ended – after another blunt and the rest of Kathleen’s Mother’s E&J – Mable was way back in the subconscious.
I decided to skip the next day of school as I often did (our school policy was that as long as you showed up a majority of the time and didn’t get into too many fights you get an A and graduate high school. Wonderful policy; that’s why I’m so successful today.) I began to think about how depressed I was in junior high and how – if I had been into drugs back then – I might have done something almost as stupid as Mable. Then I realized that I was depressed because I thought I was different- my mother was alive and kicking and my father was nowhere near insane. Suddenly my compassion for Mable grew tenfold and I wished she was there with me. I remembered the way I had felt about her when we first met and I couldn’t I let that feeling fade just because she was a little fucked up. My thoughts were interrupted, as usual, by the ringing of my phone,
“Yup,” I was cool.
“Hey.” It was Mable and she sounded far away.
“Mable, what the hell happened? How are you?” I looked at her calling as a sign.
“I don’t know, I just let life get out of hand sometimes. I don’t think I wanted to hurt myself.”
“You shouldn’t hurt yourself, you’re a beautiful person and I don’t want to lose you.”
I could hear her holding back sobs as she said, “Sometimes I just don’t know what to do, Joe. I just feel like it’s all pointless.”
“It’s not completely pointless; the point is right now. Whatever has happened to you has already happened so there’s no point dwelling on it and most of the things that are going to happen to you – most of the things that will bring you down – are out of your control and a waste of energy to worry about. All you have is right now and if you can focus on that and make your right now better than all your other right now’s, you shouldn’t have any of these problems.”
“Yeah.” I could tell she wasn’t buying it. “If it were that easy to just shake everything off I would, but I just can’t. When I lay down at night or I’m alone and not high, I just start to think about how unfair things are.”
“But don’t you see,” I was getting fired up now, “that there’s nothing you can do about the shit in your life that’s fucked up? You can’t take enough pills to bring your mother back and no amount of acid is going to make your father stop being manic.”
“You don’t understand.” She sounded like she was getting mad.
I didn’t understand what it was like to go through what she was going through, and it was easy for someone in my shoes to tell her to shake it off and get on with her life. Would I be able to do that if I was her? I doubt it.
“All I’m saying is that hurting yourself isn’t going to make anything better,” I said feeling a sudden rush of emotion.
“If I’m not around anymore, how would that make things worse for me?” She asked. I had heard – I had made – idle threats of suicide in my life, but in her voice I heard seriousness.
I wanted to tell her that that was a pretty selfish attitude, that our lives aren’t just about us, they’re also about the people we come in contact and forge relationships with, but I didn’t want to argue and I especially didn’t want to start calling her names.
“If something ever happened to you, it would break my heart.” I thought that was a nice way of hurting no one’s feelings.
“Thanks, that means something; I just wish Salt Lake City would come sooner.” In the background I could hear the voice of an adult. “OK, I have to get off the phone now, it’s group time,” and she hung up.
The phone felt as heavy as a manhole cover and suddenly I was having trouble taking deep breaths. There was no way for me to understand how she felt; if she hit one of her low points and there was no one around to talk to, she might actually kill herself. That was scary for me to think about; a few years back I was friends with a girl named Paulette who had hung herself in her bedroom and it hit me hard. I couldn’t fathom how much it would hurt if all of a sudden Mable was gone. I knew I was at a fork right then and there; I could choose to not get involved any further with Mable’s problems and go on with my life or I could dedicate myself to her like I would hope someone would do for me if I was in that sort of situation. I was chewing, throwing up, and rechewing all the clear thoughts in my head, while at the same time trying to rope in all the stray ones, when I got a phone call from Kim, a girl I had been talking to for a few weeks. She told me that her parents weren’t home and if I could find a way over there it would be nice. Back on the 171 I went with Mable’s problems seeming insignificant.
I was sixteen at the time and – although I had been sexually active for almost four years – I had just begun to understand women. I didn’t understand their thought process or even their reasoning for doing the things they did, but I was learning how to make them like me. It had nothing to do with looks, it was all about the confidence and charm; and it was beginning to work more and more. Everything else was becoming secondary (and the things that were already secondary – like school – became very far away) and all my adventures had one sole purpose- pussy. The only thing I liked better than being with a girl, was being with a new girl; this was a problem that involved a lot of hard work and very little time for anything else.
I began to hang out with my old friends less and less (and Mable hardly at all) and instead would work myself to whatever group the girl I was with hung out with. Unfortunately, along with my increase in sexual activities came in increase in getting in trouble. During my Junior year, I was arrested three times – two for criminal mischief and once because of a misunderstanding – and eventually, about a week before my seventeenth birthday, I was sent away for eleven months.
The first person I called on my first night out, while sitting miserably in the basement of my fathers house, not allowed to see anyone, not even allowed to by alone with my 10 year old sister, was Kathleen. We caught up; I told her about my experience in Maine while she told me what had been going on in school (she was going back to district part time) our usual group of friends (it was mostly the same group, sans one friend who had moved to Florida) and other happenings in Northeastern New Jersey in the last years of the second millennium. Less than a minute – of our two hour phone call – was dedicated to Mable; enough time to tell me that she was hanging out with a new group of people and not doing too well, then it was on to other important matters, like did she have any weed.
I slowly started to get back into my old life – after naturally getting high and laid (not in that order) – and Mable became a girl I used to know in high school. Time went by and I began to date Kathleen and work at UPS; little me was growing up. Kathleen and I saw each other every day as the rest of our crew faded into the background.
Before I knew what hit me I turned 19 then – suddenly – I was 23. I wasn’t working at UPS anymore, but I was still dating Kathleen and – although she wasn’t as into it anymore – still doing some drugs and drinking. Over the years we had heard things from people who still spoke to Mable; we heard that her drug problem was growing and her talks of suicide were becoming more frequent. At first Kathleen and I talked about calling her, then we just talked about her, then she disappeared somewhere in our heads with other old friends.
One breezy October day Kathleen and I, as in most days, got back to her house from picking up some fast food and beer. We walked across the splintered hardwood floor, almost stepping on Rufus, the brown and white spotted Jack Russell Terrier, to the den where we planned on watching a little basketball and eating our grease soaked White Manna burgers. Kathleen saw the blinking light on her antique answering machine and pressed it non-nonchalantly on her way back to the couch from turning on the TV. We listened to the first message with only one ear, as the Nets and Knicks were locked in a overtime thriller- it was from a credit card company; someone owed someone money. The second message made my already awkwardly beating heart almost leap out of my chest; it was Mable, she sounded normal, and was greatly looking forward to hearing from us. There was no hesitation as we both put down our respective cheeseburgers, wiped the grease onto the plaid, 1970’s style love seat and ran for the phone. Kathleen spoke (I’m not good at phone conversations with people I don’t know or people I haven’t talked to in awhile; I felt like Mable fell into both categories) and I listened.
After much bullshitting about what each of them had been up to and other meaningless details, I heard Kathleen say, “Tonight? I don’t know, let me ask Joe” she put her tobacco stained hand over the receiver and told me, “She wants us to go visit her tonight. She’s at her brother’s house in Dumont.” I didn’t even have to think before answering, “Get her address and lets go.”
Kathleen listened to and wrote down Mable’s new address, we scarfed down our remaining burgers and onion rings, got in her hand-me-down 1998 Ford Contour and headed towards Dumont.
“I’m excited to see her. How long has it been?” Kathleen said, her freshly brushed breath gliding up my nose.
“Too long. I just hope she’s normal.”
“She sounded a little high on the phone, but not like she used to,” she reassured me.
We had no problem finding Mable’s brother’s house; it was a lot easier driving than taking multiple buses and long walks. As soon as Mable came down the creaky stairs to answer the oak door, we knew something was wrong. She performed her regular Mable routine of hugs, but they weren’t soul gripping and there was something lacking from her eyes. After half-hugging both me and Kathleen, Mable glanced behind her before saying “right this way” and leading us upstairs. ‘If this was five years ago’ I remember thinking, ‘she would have said that in an English accent.’
At the top of the stairs was a living room decorated like a bedroom – a futon lay in bed form with magazines and dirty clothes covering it. Through the dark door in the north side of the room looked like a kitchen and there was a funny smell – not quite feces, but damn close. Mabel pointed to the turf-like carpet on the floor and told us to have a seat.
There was the awkwardness that usually exists among old friends who haven’t kept in contact. I thought to myself that despite everything, it was really good to see Mable and I told her as much.
“It’s great to see you guys too,” she replied, but not with excitement- more like she was saying what she thought was right. Also, there was no happiness on her face at all; she looked at least five years older than I knew her to be. I started to get depressed, so I started talking.
“Man, it’s been a long time Mable,” I said, looking in her eyes trying too see my high school friend in there. “What have you been up to?”
“I don’t know; I’ve worked a few jobs and hung out a lot,” she replied. It looked like it was requiring a hefty effort just to speak. “I had to quit my last job as a telemarketer because the machine they made me use to look up phone numbers was trying to penetrate my thoughts.”
If most anyone else had said this I would have laughed, but the look on Mable’s face was one of seriousness and fear. I felt like crying, I wanted to shake her and hold her upside down until the real Mable fell out.
“Yeah, that happens,” Kathleen said, shooting a sideways glance at me, which I noticed, but didn’t return.
We managed to bullshit for about forty five minutes, then Mable got up to use the bathroom.
“Can we get the hell out of here,” Kathleen asked me, her normally dry eyes starting to fill up with water.
“Yeah, I think we should”
A night that had started out seeming exciting – we were going to get to see a really great old friend – was slowly turning into one of the most depressing nights in recent history. When Mable came back from the bathroom – her eyes red-rimmed and the zipper of her snugly fitting Levi’s unzipped – we didn’t waste any time in telling her we had to wake up early the next morning for work or some other excuse. At that point we didn’t care if she knew we were abandoning her, we just had to get the hell out of there.
“What are we supposed to do?” Kathleen asked me, once we were back sitting on the fleece seat covers of the Contour.
“I don’t know. I wish there was some way we could help her, but she just seems so far gone.”
We rode the rest of the ride back to Kathleen’s house in silence; not hearing the Nas marathon coming out of the three working speakers. I kept thinking that it would have been better if we hadn’t even called Mable back, if we had just ignored it and continued with our lives, at least knowing that she was still alive. That night in bed, laying next to Benny – the mutt that I had rescued from the North Shore Animal League just months before – I cried over the helplessness that I felt; I remembered the first time I met Mable and what a great person she was and I cursed life for making her turn out the way she did. I fell asleep trying to think of why she had come back in my life, was I supposed to do something to save her? Could she even be saved?
That night I had a dream. Mable and I were in an abandoned junk yard, trapped inside by an electric fence. I resigned myself to sleeping there and then leaving in the morning when the gates opened back up, but Mable was determined to get out and tried to climb the fence. She got electrocuted and fell hard to the ground, landing on an old mispainted hood, but she wasn’t phased and got up to try again. I tried to yell at her to just calm down and wait but nothing came out and she got zapped again; this time hitting her head as she fell against an old fire hydrant. I wanted to grab her, to hold her so she couldn’t hurt herself anymore, but I couldn’t move. I watched in horror as she tried again and again, each time falling a little bit harder until she lay motionless on the ground covered in blood and grime. I woke up thinking I had wet the bed, there was so much sweat surrounding me. I didn’t get any more sleep that night.
About a week after our failed reunion with Mable, Kathleen and I were again surprised by a message from her; this time she was calling to say that her father had just killed himself. We were shocked, but – because we were high, and couldn’t make phone calls under such conditions – decided on calling her the next day. Unfortunately I had overtime to work the next day and we didn’t get a chance. The day after that Kathleen had to work, followed by a day of us visiting my father in upstate New York. Needless to say, eventually too much time went by and we felt like too big of assholes to call, and Mable once again faded into the back of our memories.
Four years have gone by since the week of us seeing Mable and then her father dying. About a year after we saw her, Kathleen and I went our separate ways. A few months after that I met the girl of my dreams, went with her and everything we owned to Colorado, got married, went back to New Jersey, and then took off on a trip around the country.
Along the way, we both tried to look up as many old friends as possible- both for memories sake and for free floors to sleep on. I had a friend the same time that Mable was in the picture; one of the fearsome foursome who was in or around Kathleen’s room on an almost daily basis. Patrick got transferred into Horizons the year I left, but we still became good friends. Everyone called him Fishy, but no one was exactly sure why and Patrick was very fickle with his answers when the question would be posed to him. Strange nickname aside, he was an intelligent fellow who I always thought about over the years. Our friendship ended around the first time I stopped talking to Mable – due to his recovery from heavy drugs. I got back in touch with him (thanks Myspace) and he let us stay in his house for a few days in beautiful San Luis Obispo.
As is the case a high percentage of times when two old friends who haven’t seen each other in almost ten years hang out, the conversation often drifted back to the past. We talked about the drugs we did, the friends we had, and the trouble we got into, until finally the topic came to Mable. The excitement we had both been talking with while reminiscing slowly faded.
“I don’t think she’s doing too well,” Patrick told me in the same monotone, almost Chong-esque voice he’s had since high school. “Last time I saw her was a few years ago, but it wasn’t cool.”
“Yeah, last time I saw her was right around the same time I guess. She was pretty far out there.”
“Same thing. When I went to see her it was because she was trying to stay clean and wanted someone to talk to. Of course I went over there, because I would do anything,” he stopped in mid sentence as was his style, clearing his throat before continuing, “for her. She was telling me that there was a bottle of pills upstairs in the bathroom and she was having a hard time not doing them. I suggested we go out for some coffee – the drug of choice for recovering addicts – and she agreed. She said she had to go to the bathroom and then we could be on our way. After she was up there for about fifteen minutes, I started to get a little suspicious. I went up there and she was sitting on her bed crying. She told me she took the pills. I sat down next to her to comfort her and she kept trying to make out with me. I told her that the only way I would be able to help her would be if she wanted to be helped and started helping herself. I left and haven’t heard from her since.”
I took a deep breath and let out a long sigh. “It sucks, but you can’t help everyone. All the shit we did, you have to figure not everyone was going to come out of it alright.”
Fishy’s cavemanish head nodded up and down as he took a pull from his American Spirit. We went back into the bar and spoke no more of Mable that night.
Since Fishy and I hadn’t talked in almost ten years, I expected us to continue that trend. His wedding was that April, so I figured we would see each other then, but neither of us enjoy being on the phone too much. I was surprised to find – as I was outside chopping wood in front of the cabin I had just moved into in Crescent City, California Fishy’s name on my caller ID as my phone rang ‘Imagine’.
“Hey Pat,” I said into the receiver, trying not to get sweat into the ear piece.
“Hey.” I could never tell whether he was depressed or just using his normal voice.
“What’s going on?”
“I have some news.” He cleared his throat, “are you somewhere where you could talk?”
“Yeah.” I got up from the piece of wood I was sitting on and walked over to the rusty fold-up chair on my front porch.
There were a few seconds of silence, then a repeat of “I have some news”, and then a few more seconds of silence. It was the way he talked – a lot of pauses – but in a situation like the one we were presently in I didn’t appreciate it. My mind kept going to all sorts of crazy places, I thought he was going to tell me he has cancer, and then I thought that maybe Kathleen was dead (I hadn’t talked to Kathleen since the day I called her to say, ‘I met someone’ three years earlier), finally I told him to just spit it out.
“Ahem. I got a call from an old friend of mine, Amanda, who still hangs out with Mable.”
“Apparently Mable tried to kill herself by laying on some train tracks a couple weeks ago.”
‘OK, that’s not so bad’ I thought to myself. ‘It could be a lot worse’.
“That’s fucked up,” I said out loud, not really caring too much but feeling like I had to pretend I did.
“Yeah, um- ahem. I guess she laid long ways on the track, so instead of killing her, the train chopped both her arms off.”
“Holy shit,” was all I could manage. “That’s really fucked up; where is she now?”
“Sleepy Meadows, I think she’ll be there for a while.”
Fishy and I talked for about a half an hour; we wanted to do something, but knew we couldn’t. Neither of us could fly back to Jersey – he was a fireman and couldn’t get off of work and I had barely enough money for oatmeal – and even if we could have, would she even want us there? What would we have said to her? We both reminisced about the last time we saw her and then, as my phone was about to die, I hung up. I went back in the house and told my wife; I was shaken up but it still seemed like something that happened to someone I didn’t know anymore, which was partially true.
That night I dreamt of Mable again; this time she was the Mable of that first few months. That soon changed and I saw her walking slowly towards the train tracks, head down, shuffling her feet. I saw her laying on the tracks, watching the approaching headlight of her destiny. I awoke – again covered in sweat – with a picture of her, sitting in a wheelchair, having no arms, and being miserable. I told myself to calm down, I hadn’t seen her in years, she had tried to kill herself and those people don’t deserve pity, but I wasn’t buying it. However, there was a voice in my head telling me that it was my fault, that I knew she needed help and I was too lazy and selfish to even try. I managed to push away the incipient nervous breakdown as I sat on the concrete floor in the corner of my empty living room. Just when I thought I was going to be able to control my emotions, the sorrow monster grabbed me by the collar, smacked me in the face and reminded me that no one on this earth will ever receive another Mable hug. I began to cry and I haven’t stopped.