* I wonder if I’ll make it to heaven. I live a good life. I don’t do anything that would constitute a terrible sin.
At least, I wouldn’t think so. The urge to ask the man next to me his opinion takes me, however. As I look at him, he appears busy using his ATM card to pick his teeth. The card slips in-between the gaps removing old food particles that were probably hidden for days. This is something he’s done in front of other people before, or at home in his spare time. The ATM card’s edges are worn away nubs, and he makes a satisfied expression as he seems to re-enjoy some of his findings. There are lots of things one can think about while waiting for a bus. It’s the free time public transportation gives us. Currently my lungs are working to separate the oxygen from the rest of the guck in the air we breathe. Red blood cells, being the little sponges they are, are low in oxygen so they happily absorb it from the lungs, then they get to spend a few seconds with their coveted oxygen as they transport it to the muscle, around and around and around the body until they die. As I wait for the bus, I have plenty of time to reflect on the last year of my life and how it’s led me to this life that I have now. It all happened in a flash. I went from being in college and paying my tuition back, to renting an apartment and making pills to sell to people with incurable diseases. An any ol’ day argument with my now ex-girlfriend got me expelled. She’d told campus officials that I’d been selling drugs to students. In truth, I had been selling fake oxycontin to classmates. Harmless. They paid 10 bucks a pill, and I paid my tuition. They were willing to believe it had an effect on them, and to pay for that effect over and over again. 1
Of course, this didn’t sound like a believable story. Working against me was the fact that one of the guys I had sold to decided to put ecstasy in one of my empty plastic bottles as well. So a bunch of guys and I got expelled because of an argument, which for the life of me, I can’t even remember. I managed to avoid going to jail, but with no students to buy pills, I couldn’t find a way to pay bills, or the other debts I suddenly seem to have acquired. Sometimes people will say their life is falling apart. My life actually fell apart. Until I found my niche, my one shot at survival was the same thing that got me in this mess. I turned my attention toward the only people who were willing to try medication without caring about its legitimacy. My target demographic is the people who want to prolong their lives. Not to start all over again, but to continue messing up the same way they’d been doing to get themselves in their current situations. I can justify ripping those people off. The lung cancer victim that continues to smoke in public, knowing they are exposing others to the same cancer that festers inside them. This is only for those people who have no regard for the well being of another human’s life. The person who despite having a positive HIV test continues to go clubbing for casual hook-ups and doesn’t warn others what can happen if they have unprotected sex. The junky that needs a fix more than a solution, the person that will destroy family and friends, so they don’t have to give up the chase of whatever invisible monster they might be after this week. I decided to meet these people. Not the ones who are trying, that know what they’ve done, accepted it, and won’t let themselves hurt others or make the same mistake. Unfortunately for humanity, but fortunately for me, I have no problem finding large amounts of people with weak morals. 2
I discovered that my old way of life has to be my only way of life. Fixing people with problems. People in need of hope. People who would continue to ruin their lives if they thought they had another shot. Finding people like that was relatively easy. I did it the same way people do for garage sales, or to find their lost dog or cat. I put up fliers. I put mine up discreetly next to posters of some rapper with gold teeth trying with all of the might in his sold-out-soul to look intimidating. Next to the hand-drawn second coming of Christ warnings. My sign is a small piece of paper with a telephone number. Not my number. Just a number I can use. It changes week to week. Restaurants, hotel lobbies, coffee shops. I write on my little fliers a message to the desperate. The flier I put up reads, “AIDS???” Or whatever I’m curing that day, followed by the number I’m using. “Call Monday 2-5 p.m. ask for…” The name always changes, and it’s never actually my name, just a name. The flyer’s biggest selling point is the end, which reads: “there’s hope.” All lower case. When I look at it, I even consider calling the number myself.
I target predominantly gay neighborhoods, African American neighborhoods, and upper-class neighborhoods. I never put up flyers in Asian or Mexican neighborhoods. Seems like they are immune. You rarely hear of Asians or Latinos dying of AIDS. Sadly, I have since learned that homosexual Hispanics make up 22% of the HIV population in America. Yet their fear of deportation silences them from getting help. 3
Asians, though, those people are immune or something. Of course, I do find myself asking if there is a SARS antibiotic. I’ve learned not to worry about a cop replying to the ads, unless they have the disease themselves. I never write anything about medication. No cop I’ve ever met would bother with a handmade advertisement unless they were really desperate to make their arrest quota. Signs in place, I make my way to the lobby of the number of the day. I tell the front desk person how important I am and that I am expecting calls. On a Monday, twelve calls between the hours of 2 and 5 p.m. Then, I leave the phone. Maybe I miss some calls. I leave with the numbers and contact information of people on the verge of collapse, people on the verge of selfdestruction. I leave with numbers of people who didn’t care about others. Most importantly, I leave with the numbers of people with more dispensable income than myself. I call the numbers once the time and place are set. I meet with each person privately. I watch them first, of course, making sure no one else is with them. Then I approach them. Talk to them, get to know them, console them. I decide if they are capable of believing what I am selling, if they want a quick fix so they can go on being who they are, or if they want to change their lives and start from here. If I put bait on a hook, if I stick it in the side of their mouth, can I drag them out of the water into my boat? In preparation for any questions that I might be asked, and way before I put up flyers or meet with anyone, I’ve already ascertained every hospital’s name within fifty miles. I can easily make reference to any of the nearby facilities, 4
including any of the people I’ll be meeting with, their facilities, and staff. It creates a stronger sense of illusion, or for them a better illusion of hope. After meeting people, I decide then and there if I can use them to feed myself. And I make a personal but critical decision - can I still sleep soundly after I take their money? My first victim is a skinny balding man, graying hair with a bit of an old guy belly, the way you’d envision an accountant. I’m learning that everyone has a different side. Everyone always wants to look at others and point out what they think is weird and immoral but they never put themselves under the microscope as an example. Here is this man, a man that appears safe and collected. The type of person that, if he were standing in line in front of you, and someone with baggy clothes and a scowl stood behind you, you’d instinctually slide up closer to him. Here he is, giving me the illusion of normalcy. Telling me the entire time how he brings home a different guy every week. Fist them, fuck them, and flea. He calls it his three F’s. He’s telling me that he’s done this for the past eight years. While he talks, I do the math in my head. There are 52 weeks in a year, one person a week. 416! And he’s not lying to me. He’s still talking, I’ve stopped paying attention. It’s a long story with this guy, as I see he is trying to work his way into a discount. “I’ll give you $35,” he offers, “and that’s a little much if you ask me.” “$100,” I demand, “that’s the price I have to sell it for.” “Well, just sell these to me for $35 and say you dropped a bottle somewhere,” he pleads. “Then you can keep the money for yourself.” “No,” I insist, “it doesn’t work that way.” But he continues. “I can give you $40, but that’s as high as I can go.” 5
I’m losing patience. I’m now sure that the 416 people got sick of him and left. This old guy never did any of the fleeing. “I have other appointments. I can’t sit here and argue with you all day about set prices.” “$50 dollars, but that’s all I have on me. So, you’re going to have to take that.” Obviously, this guy doesn’t get it. “Sir, I’m not going to debate with you over prices. You knew it was $100, if you came here with only $50 to try and cut a deal, you’re not going to get your way. And to give you advice for the future, you’re right handed, and you pulled the money out of your left pocket.” “So.” “So, that means your trying to rip me off by saying you only have so much, and that you can prove it with your empty pocket.” “Now you listen to me!,” he grins, fists clenched. “No,” I interject. “I listened enough. I have to go. Understand?” I start walking around the block and the old guy proceeds to actually follow me. I want to snap at him, I have the urge to turn around and punch him. Problem is, I have another appointment in 30 minutes, and I need to get rid of him. He continues following me, behind me I can hear him. “I’ll give you $65!” I spin around. “It’s $100. Do you have $100?” “Well,” he responds equivocally, “I do but it’s not a fair price.” “Look, you pay the $100 or you don’t. You get better, or you don’t. It’s not negotiable.” 6
He reaches into his front right pocket and pulls out a wade of bills. From that, he gives me the $100. I hand him the bottle of pills and tell him that I’ll call in a week to check up. He mutters and walks away. I go around the block and take the same seat again. My only hope is that I don’t see anyone like him today. Luckily, the next seven are easy sales. They talk, I listen, they hand over money, and I hand over pills. I once thought that handing bottles of pills would draw attention to me, that people would think I was selling drugs. Through trial and error, I have to say that the best way to do this is to do it right out in the open. The people who might see what I’m doing will think that no one is that stupid, it must be something else. And they will go about their business. The eighth person is a girl that must have been infected while out drinking. But, it wasn’t rape. She tells me the story of how she was taken advantage of. My heart doesn’t beat any faster or slower as she tells me her story. Her monotone version sounds very similar to a movie I watched at some point. After her rehearsed version, she tells me that she can’t pay for the pills, but is willing to “help me out.” For a man, sex this easy is problematic. On the one hand, you have the female attention that any man craves. On the other, you’re about to become infected by whatever disease this girl is carrying. “I’m sorry, but I can’t do that,” I explain. “Well, it was worth a shot,” she concedes. She hands me the money. My stomach feels queasy, and my ability to view her as an attractive self respecting girl vanishes. Not that I viewed her that way, but she definitely made me lose respect for woman as a whole, just for being herself.
With all the people I’m meeting today, I make sure to ask them if they continue to have unsafe sex, and if it’s with multiple partners. Most importantly, I ask if they disclose their current condition to the person or persons that they are sleeping with. When they tell me they don’t, I know that I have met my targets, and I can sleep just fine knowing that I took their money. Out of all the people I’ve met, the gay community continues to astonish me. Straight people, they don’t get tested, so they just ignorantly spread STD’s. Gay people get tested, though, and yet still knowingly spread diseases. Maybe I’m greedy, maybe I’m starving, but on this Tuesday, after meeting and collecting the information the day before, all twelve people are now my clients. For one hundred dollars each, they get a treatment that “others and myself” are working to get approved, only the government is not allowing it. When I learn about the hospitals in the area, I learn the names of doctors. The real doctors who specialize in these types of cases. Off the top of my head I can name four different specialists in most fields. Whenever I speak to someone, I can ease their worries by saying that their doctor knows about this kind of treatment. And that taking this medicine would not put them at any possible risk.Yet it does make them a test subject, and as scary as that may seem, remember that in the end, you’ll be helping thousands, if not millions of people dealing with the same thing. I hear myself say the same words over and over again throughout the day. Of course, for the people I’m talking to, all they hear is the words “help” and “them.” I keep my face in a constant serious expression, never joking, never smiling. Making a big deal out of everything is a key component in making people believe you know what you’re talking about. 8
Once I know someone is swallowing the bait, I tell them they have a chance to be healthier. But of course I tell them not to say anything to anyone about their sudden increase in vitality. At least, not until our miracle pill receives FDA approval. By repeating certain statements, I’ve found it somehow makes it seem more credible. If you repeat it enough times, it becomes a fact. Keeping everything confidential is the easy part with people I meet. They’re apart of a big secret and people love to keep secrets. Besides, if they tell anyone about it, they are admitting they have a disease. I take their number. Unless it’s a “problem” person, I’ve learned it’s best to never sell something right away. People never trust you if you’re being too pushy. What I’m doing is also the best thing for my business. Once I’ve given them hope, more than likely, before they even swallow the first pill, I know they are going out and generating new clients for me. Sadly. There are times I fight with myself about whether or not what I’m doing is wrong. Even if it were, sometimes good people have to do things of questionable morality in order to survive. I’ve decided that I don’t ruin lives. They ruin lives. I give hope. I’m like a magician for terminally ill children. I make them smile long enough to forget they’re dying. Making people happy like this makes me feel a bit like a hero. The world needs me. Out of the twelve people I originally spoke with, the first two being the old guy and nasty girl that were adamant about meeting with me right away instead of waiting, I have seven more people that agree to buy the pills. That’s 900 dollars in cash. I could deposit the money, but I don’t have an account. All I have are student’s loans, debt, and 9
problems. In other words, the same problems as the people in trailer parks across the nation. Too much debt with too little income. I keep a contact list of all the people that I’m helping in a notebook. In a slightly twisted fantasy, I daydream about having a notebook that is bursting with numbers of all the lives in ruin before I met them, which I helped save with pretend hope. I have a few pages so far. I’m well on my way. I could envision all the shining glimmers of life I could bring to people. But instead I think about the money. Everyone always thinks about the money. If you pretend it’s for anything other than the money, you’re most likely a hack or a liar. Most likely, you’re a religious evangelist or someone involved in a pyramid scheme. Those people don’t admit to thinking about the money, mainly because they’re lying to themselves in order to lie to you. I tell my victims, or should I say my “clients,” that once they take the pill, they will need to drink organic fruit and vegetable juices and get plenty of outdoor exercise. Run. I’ve had some clients who haven’t worked out in years, those that see no point in exercising again only to look good for a coffin. But most of my clients listen. They then get an exam one month after starting their new medication. Low and behold, healthy eating and exercise makes a difference. Go figure. In my head, I constantly find myself saying, “Well, no shit Sherlock.” Why doesn’t anyone ever notice that every time a new diet comes out, its “Eat this, eat that, exercise, etc, etc.” The same three things are always involved, eat healthy, eat less, workout more. Why do people find this so complicated? I always ask the client to schedule their next check-up exactly a month away from today’s date. At that point, I’m away, at least away from them. 10
You can blow 900 dollars fast when you’re in debt like me. I’m constantly trying to find new territories, new signs, and new incurable diseases. Herpes, Malignant Cancers (pre-chemotherapy). The limits are whatever I can imagine or whatever people are dying from. I use anything I can find in pamphlets. I could possibly run out of people, but in a city of millions, I will more likely run out of diseases first. There is a minuscule chance that a client will realize the number isn’t an office. There is a chance that someone reports me and I have the police show up, or that a potential client calls from a cell phone across from me at whatever diner or lobby I’m at. I could get a prepaid phone, but those cost money. I’ll take my one in a million odds. Yet, just in case, I’m using phones across town from now on.
*Them * I’ve lost track how many months have passed. I’m guessing 6 to 8. I’m still making money. Every other day, I manage to pull in at least 100 dollars. On a good day, 11
though, I’m likely to make $600. In the future this will be the type of job being advertised, like the “make thousands a week from home” infomercials that run between daytime talk shows. Overly trusting old people and lazy mid-day T.V. watchers – the perfect demographic for such ads - are willing to try anything to make a quick buck, so long as it doesn’t exert too much energy. I’m becoming debt free. I’m also becoming less hunted. Any troubles from my past, at this rate, I’ll be out of soon. I’m getting closer to having a life where I can safely sleep on top of a bed, instead of being curled up by the window, prepared to run on a moments notice. I still make it a habit to learn the names of the staff at the hospitals in the area. I also visit patients who have no one to visit them. The patients are a lot like the people I meet on the street, the only real difference is that the patients have insurance. While visiting, I frequently take items, such as badges, coats, and gloves. I convince myself this isn’t stealing. The hospitals, I reason, throw this stuff out all the time. Besides, I make a small donation. My life now revolves around a lab coat, the notebook, and myself. All the items of my trade, the only things I’ve come to rely on. The pills I make come in all different colors and sizes, and work for all different people. To expand business, I’ve made a new agenda for myself - to cure everyone from everything. As the months pass, I’ve come to understand that nothing is worse than getting a call and hearing a female voice on the other end. I’ve always believed that every story begins and ends because of a woman. Remember, it was Eve that got us all banished from Eden. Men, all men, constantly wonder. Could my life possibly change because of this girl? It changes, depending on how we direct our attention, mostly when men meet 12
women. We are in conquest mode. Every girl is the one until a guy has slept with her. This is the way all men work, as far as I’ve seen. In the off-chance I connect with someone, and there have been times where I’ve wondered, it always starts when I hear an attractive fragile voice of a person that I can help. In the back of my mind a voice is screaming, “This will kill you!” I know it’s just going to get more tempting as time goes on. When people are at their lowest, they are more susceptible. Now I know why police officers have rock star sex lives. They are always saving people from something, always the hero. Helping girls that are willing to do anything to feel safe and protected or to get out of trouble is not a good business for a guy. Temptation is not the best feeling to encounter. These thoughts stay with me as I watch some of the girls walk away.
Thoughts of how and where cross my mind until I bite my inner cheek for feeling like a vulture. I’m a bit lonely, despite how many times I tell myself I don’t need anyone. It’s probably because I’m not really communicating with anyone. The only people I talk to are either crazy or falling apart. The best way to turn off any male tendencies is to remember that every girl calling me is trying to get rid of extra baggage, disease baggage. It’s so engrained in us all to find “the one.” And maybe, maybe, just maybe, there is in fact a person that could be the one. I’m optimistic, yet I still think nothing is perfect. Meeting with men, on the other hand, is always easy money. It’s an event that I won’t be developing any attachments over. Women are different. They cry, whether it’s them trying to get something for free or just their hormones. Sometimes I crack and give away free placebo pills to a girl, or at least a discount. I don’t make this choice solely off of looks, either. The number of girls who have flexible morals that didn’t make the cheerleading team and settled for the Pompom squad surprises me. The Pompom girls 13
are the ones with the diseases. They’re pretty, but not pretty enough. Each and every time, I get this male instinct to protect them. To take them out of whatever shitty situation they’re in and make their lives better. I always try to give them their self worth back, help them reestablish that they are beautiful. Maybe not beautiful to me, but to somebody, at least to themselves. Strangely, against my own better judgment, I’ve become infatuated with some of them. Of course, that little desire dies off the moment I look at the contact card. Monica, she has aids. Erica too. Megan, well, she just has herpes. Being around things like this all the time, you learn how to add the word just to almost any sentence. It’s just herpes, it’s just something itchy, it’s just a life altering mistake that I’d catch anywhere in the course of 1 and 100 minutes. I now understand how in war, people can kill without regard to who, what, when, where or why. It’s not even a human in the eyes of the killer. It’s more like saying it’s just a jew/nonchristian/southerner/terrorist/nazi/gook/female/male/monster/communist. This is much easier than saying it’s a brother/sister/father/son/leader/hero. It’s a lot easier to add the word “just” in your justification to allow yourself to do something you know you will regret in the future. Yet, for the time being, you won’t care. So if I start to get a little infatuated with someone, I remind myself to look at what they “just have” and it always takes care of any intimate thoughts I have for the girl. Women make me smile when they admit that they have these diseases, but still insist that we should fuck in order to save a hundred bucks. A “where the hell is this world headed” sort of smile. I don’t know how they do it, but police officers do, they are modern day rock stars. Always
being someone’s hero, always running into people who will do anything, explains why some are control freaks though. Despite the thick skin I’ve developed in order to be good at my job, everyone has a chink in their armor. As for the chink in my armor, I had no chance the second I saw her, just the sight of her, I knew I was going to give her anything she wanted. Just like Nero, when he fiddled while the known world burnt to the ground in front of him, he did nothing but provide background music. I can feel my heart fall apart when I see this girl. Her eyes avert any contact with strangers, fixed on the ground as if looking for some sort of item that only she can see. Could Nero have done something, anything to save Roma? Can I pretend that I don’t want her to notice me? Nero could dump a bucket of water on the destroyed homes, nothing to stop the inevitable, though. And like that, I realize that I can’t do anything about my curiosity for this girl, the girl that I happen to be waiting for, the girl named Tara. It’s funny, because she is the least likely of people to be curious about. Her hair is disheveled, her nose is runny, her eyes look swollen, looks like she has cried for hours. And between the two of us, I’m the one who is nervous, body
temperature rising. I’m probably wrong about her, as I motion for her to sit down. She’s a beautiful mess. But she’s probably just going to try and use me. This has to be a staged act, and soon I’ll see who she really is. I’ve never hoped to be completely wrong in my judgment, except right now. Tara is not here for a quick fix. I’m good at reading people. I had thought I’d get another casual encounter that would pay and then go. But suddenly, after our meeting had started, she begins explaining herself. My heart stops beating. As usual, I regroup myself, hoping she will try to fuck me for free food colored miracle pills. Then I can get 15
over this … whatever it is. I try to imagine what it was like when people had sex out of love, not out of need or personal gain. In the last few months, I’ve heard so many stories. Stories about sex in allies, or worst of all, a porta potty. Stories of people smoking whatever anyone handed them, or clubs where experimental people can get fisted. Stories of people snorting drugs off toilet seats, ass cracks, or random partners. Stories of intravenous injections shot in between the toes, hiding the track marks and addiction. I’ve heard so many stories that I’ve grown accustomed to it. Now, to me, it’s as common as asking if I’m having a nice day. No matter what someone says to me, I’m no longer surprised. I don’t flinch or blink or even break eye contact anymore. I convince myself that somehow they’ve all done this to themselves. I try my hardest to never care. Sometimes, with the people I’ve met, I truly believe that it’s their fault. Other times, I lie to myself until I believe it. Ninety percent of the girls I meet cry. Tara is in that 90 percent. She tells me she needs my help, which, of course, is why everyone meets with me. It’s frightening how similar people act when put under the same conditions. She tells me about having slept with people, even after finding out about her disease. I knew as much, and while I knew it is part of her story, I’m a little let down, yet a little relieved. Tara tells me that she just wants another chance. Everyone I meet does. I want to feel disgusted, I need to feel disgusted, because I want to hug her for some unknown reason. The simple answer is to look at her info page that I made for her in my notebook. Looking at her, I can’t do that. I won’t. I open to her page, without looking. I tear out a handful of pages, making sure hers is lost somewhere in the mix. I shred them. Sometimes, the truth isn’t important.
Sometimes, you can’t judge a person based on what they’ve done. And sometimes, when you have it in your head that someone is perfect, you won’t let anything shatter that. “Is everything okay,” Tara asks, as she observes me tearing up the paper from my notebook. “Yes, why do you ask?” “I don’t know, I just thought …” “Don’t worry,” I insist. “Its just useless information I need to get rid of. Please go on.” “I don’t know if I can, not anymore.” “Tara, although you are where you are, there is hope and we can go from—” “No, I can’t do this,” she pleads. For the first time, she looks up into my eyes. Her eyes instantly become my whole world. Time stands still. The people walking around us, the traffic passing by, the guy in the ally pissing behind her, all become invisible. For a few moments, I stare into the eyes of a woman that wants nothing more than to feel human again. That, and I can see in her eyes that she’d rather be dead. “I was raped,” she whispers through her tears. “It’s not my fault. I thought it was my fault for so long …” In the silence between her sentences, her eyes break from mine, falling back to the ground, as I’m pulled from my trance. I’m aware of my surroundings again. Cars, people, birds, my cup of water on the table. I would rather go back to looking, instead of paying attention to my surroundings. Instead, she fixates on my shoes, or the cement, or possibly Hell, if you believe it’s underneath us. Whatever it is, she stares at it 17
deliberately, embarrassed. Her body starts to sway and I can tell she is considering something. Seems she is so ashamed that she wants to run away. “Tara, it’s okay,” I say, hopelessly desperate for a way to comfort her. Tara is still looking at the ground. “IT’S NOT MY FAULT!,” she screams, collapsing into the fetal position, the same ball that children fall into when their terrified. People all around us stop to look at the female catastrophe they just overheard. I’m a bit embarrassed for a second, and look around and shrug at people gawking. I scan the people looking for answers on their scowling faces as to why this girl is falling apart. No one helps. My solitude in this girls eyes still broken, I feel the wall that I usually keep between my clients and I gradually start to build back up again. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m responsible for this girl’s outburst. Having someone give me money at their lowest point is easy for me, but facing public humiliation is too much for me to deal with, apparently. I’ve learned something new about myself. People look for a second and walk on. My cares suddenly disappear. The reality of being in a public place disappears again and I break character, despite my mind repeating, “Don’t! Don’t! Don’t! Run! Run! Run!” I have to help her, I wouldn’t be human to leave her on the ground and walk away. I go around the table, pull her up and hug her. I look at her and listen as the words fall out of my mouth, “None of this is your fault.” Problem is, I believe what I’m saying. I want to kiss her. Maybe, as always, it’s the point I wait for with people, where I can shift the conversation into convincing them to buy pills to make everything all better. My pills are the equivalent of a parent kissing a child’s owie. I don’t want to hurt her. I don’t want to have sex with her. I just have this image in my head of kissing her. I should tell her that someone will love her. The wall I normally put up is having no effect. 18
In a desperate attempt to detach myself from being emotionally interested in her, I think of all the other girls that put on the small act of being special, different from everyone else, all of the girls feeling they are an exception to how they ended up in their situation. I place her in the same category. I remind myself that she knowingly infected other people, that she isn’t special like I want to believe. No matter how hard I try, I feel the involuntary action the body does when excited. Inside me, red blood cells accelerate, my heartbeat increases. Inside me, questions need answers. Why am I so drawn to her? The same question people ask themselves, whether it’s a flat tire or a winning lottery ticket. People always ask themselves – “Is this a sign?” - even over little things. Should I listen to this? Still feeling myself become more infatuated, holding her close to me, I fight the urge to kiss her forehead. I think of the last girl I trusted. I put Tara in the same category. My body tenses with bitterness upon thinking of my past. Once I get a good emotional distance from her, I focus on my sole priority. Not to make life long friends, but to get paid. As if reading my mind, she looks right at me, my arms still around her. I either forgot or didn’t want to let go. Either way, she looks at me, and then places her head in my chest with her face turned outward. Looking into the distance, she says, “I know you think I’m a terrible person, that I shouldn’t have involved other people. I know your being nice because you have to. He loved me. He … I had a fiancé. I loved him as much as one person can love another. After I got raped, he tried to be supportive. He kept me company at the hospital, and somewhere in some part of him that I couldn’t see, he stopped loving me.” I already know why, without her even telling me. His insecurities took him.
“And he left,” she said. “And I wish for so many bad things to happen to him for leaving me. He heard that I bled and thought he might catch something from me.” Suddenly, she looks into my eyes and says, “You’re a doctor, I can tell you this right?” I look into her eyes, and without uttering a word, I faint a smile, and a nod to assure her it will be kept in confidence. She continues, as I draw mental images of what my new nemesis looks like. “He figured since I had something . . .” In my mind I want to give her the real answers, answers on how a man’s head works. I know it wouldn’t make sense to her. How do I explain that, since she bled, he felt that he wasn’t big enough or man enough, because he couldn’t do the same thing. It’s the exact opposite of dating someone that had orgasms all the time with other guys and never with you. It’s the same logic, only gutted and twisted backwards. “He started to distance himself.” She doesn’t understand, but I do. Leave it to a man to not understand that his parts are like a microwave and a woman is more of an oven. And if the girl doesn’t want to have sex, then she is dry. It doesn’t heat up in a second like a male. It takes time, and if she is not in the mood, and has no moisture, anything can or will rip the inner lining tissues. The inner walls tear and the girl can do nothing except become lubricated with her own blood. Which makes whoever’s raping the girl more aroused, imagining in their twisted heads that they’re being encouraged. Egging them on. It’s in a guy’s mentality to think that if a girl is noisy and there is moisture, she must be happy with what’s happening, even if she doesn’t want to admit it. The saying, “God’s gift to woman.” All
guys secretly believe it about themselves, that’s why you’ve heard so many guys say to the opposite sex, “You know you want this.” “Then he disappeared,” Tara said. An uncomfortable silence falls between us. You can see when someone is
reliving something horrible. It’s like being around a Veteran that just stares at nothing and won’t discuss what happened. “I hate them for this!,” Tara screams out of hatred. Her nightmare is now out in the open. Unable to think of anything to say, I stand next to her, lost. With her head down, she dies all over again, saying the word that she’s ashamed of. “Them.”
Tara struggles to compose herself, slowly through her snot and tears, she gains control of her hyperventilating making this spectacle much less of a public meltdown. “It’s when he found out about them that he started to distance himself. And then the results came in. I was pregnant and … infected. I decided that I didn’t want to have an abortion. It’s not the baby’s fault this happened, it, just happened. He refused to have a child that wasn’t his, and he refused to be with someone he claimed to be dirty. Told me that there was no possible future with me now.” Meanwhile, I stare at her intently. I visualize everything she is telling me, my imagination filling in the details. In my version of the story, I see her holding herself in a hospital bed, holding herself since that’s all she has left. Her and what’s growing inside her uterus, a souvenir of the worst night of her life. Once again, I can feel my defensive walls breaking apart. I feel doubt creeping in, and I can feel all of my self-imposed bitterness disappear. Worst of all, I can feel myself looking at her and mentally wishing that she could hear me say that I will take care of her. I find myself saying the same thing she was probably told by every doctor, nurse, friend, family, stranger. “It’s not your fault.” But, hopefully, to add to what everyone else said I continue. “I know sometimes it seems like things are impossible,” I console her, “but if you’re going to raise this baby.” Tara doesn’t let me finish my sentence, the canned answer everyone gives, until they hear the rest. .
She interrupts“The baby left me,”. “Just like everything else in my life has left me. I was walking two months later and my stomach started to hurt. I was still on work leave, bereavement or pregnancy, I was using everything I could to not go back. I tried to work, but their empty smiles, their distance, and whether they knew it or not, I was being treated like a dirty washcloth. I couldn’t go back. Two months had passed. I’d convinced myself I wasn’t crazy. I had convinced myself that life is precious. The hardest part was convincing myself to not buy an extra metal wire hanger. I told myself to be strong, and it just started hurting. Luckily I was close enough to home to make it back within 15 minutes. There are a lot of things I don’t know, but there is one thing that all women know and that is that a woman knows her own cramps. I know that warm baths and ice cream can fix crampsmine. I took a bath. The entire time, I wonderinged, ‘“Was this regret, is this all a sign to abort this child, maybe to abort my life, or was this just the baby kicking.’ I had no idea. I was relaxing in the warm water and my stomach kept cramping, then I started to bleedat some point, I’m not sure when or for how long, I started to bleed. I sat in my blood not realizing it., wWhen I looked down I panicked, I started screaming and closed my eyes and pushed on my stomach, trying to deal with the cramping. When I opened my eyes again and looked down, the water had turned completely red. I started crying. I went to stand up, but a baby the size of a peanut pops popped out of the water.” I’m lListening to Tara’s story, I felt confused. I don’t know how to feel about it. Do I hug her? Kiss her? Should I just put her out of her misery and kKill her, and considering it the merciful thing to do?. I have no idea what is best for this girl. She probably doesn’t either. 23
Tara continued. “Covered in blood and panicking, I jumped out of the water only to heare a smack on the floor., I lookedookingl down and seeingsaw that I’m was still attached. I pushed harder. I got scissors from the drawer and cut the cord and collapsed. I cried on the floor. I cried until I thought my eyes were bleeding. I pushed out the rest of the after birth. I pushed with my hands on my stomach hoping it would help. Hoping I could get away.” I’m completely wrapped up in Tara’s story, listening attentively, imagining the whole scene as she describes it.The entire time Tara talks I listen to every word. I imagine the whole scene. Her voice cracks repeatedly while she tries to collect herself enough to finishher story. “I sat on the floor alone with my towel; not alone, but the only one currently living in the room. I crawled out of the bathroom. I crawled all the way to bed. I woke up 4four hours later, damp sheets, dried hair, matted and stained with a sticky and red tinted. I couldn’t get myself to go into the bathroom. I stared out the window until I noticed the sprinklers had caome on, and then I ran through them. The neighbor kids must have thought I was playing. 3Three kids ran out in their shorts and stood in front of the sprinklers with me. One of the kids lifted his little foot and noticed he was standing in red puddles of water. Before the little boy could scream I was already back up the stairs and through my door, lying on the floorin my living room,, paralyzed.” Tara regroupsherself, and continues with what she’s telling me. I want her to stop, but I can tell no one has listened.let her talk, and s Sometimes, people don’t want answers., tThey just need to talk.
“I still wcouldn’t go in the bathroom. I never did. I paid a cleaning service. I had to tell them everything, and pay extra. I waited two days for them to keep their appointment. By this time it started to smell like hamburger had been left on the kitchen counter for a month in hot weather. Flies were everywhere.; mMaggots had started to crawl from underneath the bathroom doorway. The woman sent from the cleaning service walked by without even looking at me. Knowingly she followed She just tracked the smell and the flies.” Disgustingly, it sounds like this woman was very good at her job. “She knew where to look, instantly, as if this happens to her all the time. I was hoping she would say something to me, smile at me, something!. This Hispanic woman, she didn’t even look at me, I watched her take out a bag that contained every woman’s dream.; sShe held it away from her face, treating it like a bag of feces. A trash bag that contained what could have been my daughter or son. A trash bag that had my soul. Containing the one thing I convinced myself would be beautiful. The one thing I thought that would stop my nightmares, something I promised myself I wouldn’t fuck up. I never was given that chance, though. The bathroom, I never used theitmy bathroom again.” Tara tries somehow to lighten the mood. She tries, with everything left inside her, to fake a smile, as if that last sentence were a joke’s punch line. I don’t think I’m capable of smiling just yet. But I try for her. “I used public restrooms,” Tara continued. “I never went in there again. I couldn’t.” I’m imagining, wishing, hoping I could kiss her face and take all her pain away, give her back everything she never gave away.
“I never meant to involve anyone else. I never did. But after two weeks, I needed places to stay. I couldn’t go home, I was getting kicked out of every public restroom I knew. I constantly smelled like antibacterial hand soap. I wore the same clothes. I’d stay with strangers, because I couldn’t be alone. It was because I had nowhere else to go. I was out of options. I felt disgusting. And yes, I did things I regret, but I had to. I did what I had to for a place to stay. To feel safe again. And I’m sorry!” As she tries to justify her actions, my heart is tearing itself to shreds. Every part, the ventricles, aortas, atriums, all of it. Everything she says to me, no matter what, is justified in my mind. “I don’t blame you,” I tell her, tears still falling from her cheeks. “Can you still help me, will you please just help me,” she pleads. “All I want is a second chance. I just don’t want to feel disgusting. I want to be able to sleep. But every time I close my eyes I can’t forget.” Now, I can’t remember what she came to me for. I don’t know if it was for herpes, aids, or whatever else I’ve cured in the past. Regardless, it doesn’t matter. All I know is I am looking at her in the eyes and telling her, “I will help you.” And I mean it. This is where I normally offer the drug. The placebo pills. The miracle. “I will help you, but tonight I think it best that you stay with me.” Ladies and gentleman, we’re, as they say, “up Shits Creek without a paddle.” “I will sleep on the floor,” I added, “but I won’t let you sleep alone. I don’t want to do anything with you. Not because of why you think, I think you’re beautiful. I just want you to trust me.” “I just want to help you,” I clarify. “And for now that means that I will help take care of you.” 26
She pulls away from me, and through tears, bumbles, “I’m not your problem! I don’t want you to help me!” Help me. I sound so… condescending. I feel dirty having her say it back to me. “I don’t want to help you that way,” I say, fumbling for words. “I want to know you’re well. I want to see you well, and then you go your way.” If she is around, I feel like I’m all right. I believe I am getting better as a person. She has a placebo effect on my soul. I am never confronted with how I can affect people’s lives. While I will continue to sell to everyone else, I believe that helping one person, without ripping them off, is part of my job. As we start walking, I guide her, holding her hand. She doesn’t pull away, and I don’t let go. “Am I squeezing too hard,” I wonder? Focusing on her so intently, I didn’t realize that we have already walked two miles. She still isn’t talking, just nodding and wiping her eyes as I talk. Finally, when we get to the front yard of my apartment, she lets go of my hand and stands still. Finding the last bit of energy she has, she asks, almost begging,” Will I be okay? Can you cure me?” Men will always try to fix anything that’s broken, even when they can’t. This is no exception. Her puffy eyes, her runny nose. She looks at me and before she can say another word, I unequivocally respond. “Yes.”
Tara’s face looks glazed. It’s the same look a porn star gives a fluffer right before she fakes a smile and gets man handled in front of a lighting crew, extras, cameramen, director, cast members and co-stars. Does she think I am going to take advantage of her? Is she afraid of me crushing her hopes? In my opinion, all girls secretly wish that yousomeone ouldwwill make them feel special. Even if she is just randomly sleeping with you. Even if she’s a prostitute and only with you so she can pay her bills or get more cocaine. ALL girls want to be told they’re special. They want to be told that you respect them for who they are, and want to
be in their life. That you will love them, no matter who, what, when, or whatever has happened in her past. It’s natural. Everyone wants to truly be needed by someone else. Tara is probably wondering if she’s in for another “hello, I love you, no really I think your great, get out, I don’t ever want to see you again.” She walks through the front door and asks if she can use the bathroom, respectfully pausing for an answer before walking in. “Absolutely, it’s right over there.” “Thank you.” Tara exits the bathroom. I notice she is avoiding eye contact. She silently walks to the side of the bed and moves the bedding aside. She places her body underneath and undresses. I walk around the kitchen to make sure everything is put away, and that there aren’t pill bottles laying everywhere. After about 15 minutes of looking for evidence that the pills are made by me, I go into the bedroom. Despite what she might have been used to, I’m not holding condoms, anal beads, and razors, or whatever fetishes she had been exposed to for a safe haven. Instead, I have a sandwich, a glass of water, and two pills. Pills of nothing. Pills that she thinks will cure her headache, cramping, pain, memories, or whatever other condition she is trying to fix. Why do I have pills for her? I can admit everything now. I’m not in too deep. I want to keep the illusion. I don’t want Tara to feel like she cannot be fixed. I want her to feel special again. The way all daughters are meant to feel while growing up, and something that they eventually lose on their own. She had it taken from her. I can give her that feeling of inner beauty, of self-respect. I can help her find it again.
I undress outside her presence, putting on a shirt and shorts. Then I lie down in front of the bedroom window, as usual.
You can always sense when you’re in a room with someone crying. It must raise the humidity, because even if you can’t hear them, there is something in the air that indicates something is wrong. I can feel Tara crying. I look back at her, taking my face away from the window. She is sitting up. We make eye contact in the dusk of night. Barely audible, she whispers, “Thank you.” Tara’s grateful I’m not using her. “Do you think I’m …” “No,” I interrupt. “I think you’re perfect.” She stares at me. She probably never thought she’d hear those words again. Eyes closed, she starts to lay down. In what seems like an instant, she falls asleep, probably before her head even touches the pillow. 30
I lay on the floor, awake, listening to her breath, listening to people outside. She sleeps heavy, like a child during a long car ride. I think its because she finally feels safe. She probably gave up her last wall of dignity talking to me earlier, her last plea. She’s probably done giving up her pleas to whoever’s listening upstairs. I’m restless. With Tara sound asleep, I go back into the kitchen. I get out flour, eggs and sugar, and pre-heat the oven. I have four calls to make. My mind flashes to the wasted money. The three people I abandoned today. The ones I should have met, but instead walked away, so that I could be with Tara. The three scheduled appointments that must have stood for hours, looking and waiting. Hoping I give a piece of human life back to them. The heartbroken people must have left after waiting. I’m curious. Which one of them stayed longer than the others? Which one had more desire than the rest? When they left, probably feeling hopeless as if no one cares, I bet they found their hope. I imagine they found it in the same way they lost it, under knifes, under needles, without condoms, without regard. We all have a breaking point. I wonder if I pushed those three people that far today, by not being there for them. What was that like for them? Guilt seeps into my blood stream. I need to turn my attention to something else. Living with guilt is simple if you’re good at changing your focus to something else. I can’t do it. But I try everyday to master it, unsuccessfully. Mixing the flour and eggs, I walk around the apartment with a bowl in hand, mixing for future pills. I don’t have anything to bump into. As far as living goes, I have nothing. I have a surplus of flour, eggs, sugar, assorted food coloring, and sandwich items. Some bowls and pans, a bed and chair that I found outside, toilet paper, a cooler filled with ice. I should upgrade to a mini fridge. It sucks having to get ice for a dollar 31
and twenty-nine cents every other day. Everything else is kept in a suitcase next to my window, including my clientele notebooks, minus the Tara pages. All my stuff right there, in case I need to make a fast exit. Can’t get too settled. If someone knocks, doesn’t matter if it’s a cop or a client, I’ll jump straight out the window, drop four feet, and run. Everything you own should be kept in one place and be accessible. Preferably light enough to run with. If there’s one thing my dad taught me, it’s that, “It’s always easier to leave the first time. Things always get complicated when you have to go back and get your things.” He was referring to ending relationships, but it works here too. I learned to not have a life full of possessions. Oddly, Tara hadn’t even mentioned that I live like a squatter. I check on her once more. I’m not checking because I have to. I like to see that she’s still here with me. I’m checking on her because I need to, for me. Walking into the dark room, I have to blink and let my eyes adjust to the light. I see her body’s outline in the bed. I stop mixing to cut down on the noise. Earlier, she was waiting, wondering what she would have to do for this night’s rest. Now she’s sleeping like we’ve known each other for years. I smile and walk out of the room and into the kitchen. I start mixing again, but not until I’m completely out of the room. I don’t want to wake her. I manage to somehow stub my toe on the doorway, but my smile is too big to care. I hobble back to the kitchen with a smile on my face. I’ve never been so happy to just see someone. With Tara asleep, I have time to cook my miracle. Once everything is dried, I count out 30 pills, placing them in the clear bottles that I buy in bulk and continue to get
odd looks for every month when I buy more. After putting everything together, I hide all the bottles under the sink. A one-month supply for whomever, to believe in whatever. I’m tired, emotionally drained from hearing the last weeks of Tara’s life. Same as the people that sweat while watching sporting events on television. The couch quarterbacks, the people who don’t do any of the work, yet feel as if they are a part of the team. While putting the last batch of pills away, I start dozing off. With the next few days of pills stocked, I can finally go to sleep. While getting underneath the covers, I stop myself. I thought about peeking, but I won’t let myself. FUCK! When you really want to be with someone, as in, when you really want them in your life, you don’t care about having sex with them. You just want to be around them. This explains why elderly people in wheelchairs still hold hands. I’m suddenly getting nervous now. In front of the window, I realize what I have to do, or I’ll end up caring more than I’m capable of. I place one hand on the suitcase and the other on the windowsill. I know I need to get out of this before I develop any more attachments. Before I end up with more baggage than I can’t run away with. In my head, I see what I have to do. Everything is playing itself out in my imagination. As I jump out the window, I get 20 feet away from the apartment building, only to look back at everything that could have been. Things that could have never been. Falling for her will literally kill me. Reassuring myself how easy it is to get out now, and how impossible it will be if I stay here, continues to loop in my head. One hand rests on the suitcase, the other on the windowsill. I lift the suitcase off the floor and raise the window. Both my rotator cuffs are performing two separate functions for the same purpose of escaping. Run, now, just 33
go, now! I turn to look, to say goodbye to the sleeping Tara, my great getaway being only moments away. My head and heart fighting with each other. One of them has to win. My head knows that I can’t protect her forever. My head reminds my heart that I can’t teach her about my way of life. What can I expect of her? That she’ll make the pills while I’m out selling them? It’s crazy. And my heart tells my head that it’s true, that maybe I can’t save everyone, but that I can help her. I can at least make one person feel better. My head, using logic wins the battle, even then, I decide to do nothing. Despite what people think, the body can survive without the brain, but a person cannot exist without the heart. My mind was fighting a losing battle. Even though my head won the fight, some fights can’t be won. I fall asleep, listening to her breathing. I’m happy with that.
“I’m sorry. Whatever happened, I’m sorry,” Tara says upon waking. “Nothing happened,” I responded, slightly apologetic and somewhat confused. Tara quickly looks to the floor. Whether she was puzzled by my facial reaction or disgusted that “I’m sorry” fell so routinely from her lips, I can’t tell. “Do you want me to get you breakfast or leave you alone? Can I help you with anything?” “Just lie down,” I tell her, “I will take care of that.” As I walk out the doorway, she says, “I can get you the money.” Puzzled, I ask, “Money… for breakfast?” “No, the money for the pills,” she says,. “The hundred dollars I will get it for you. I don’t have much, but I will get some. I don’t want a handout.” I could cry. I forgot. I still have the miracle to perform, to save her, to save which might eventually save others. Without looking at her, I say, “We will talk about that later. Breakfast first.” “Do I take more today?” “More what?” “More of the pills. Do I take more of them today? Should I start feeling side effects of anything soon or …” “I will get medication for you to eat with breakfast,” I assure her while closing the door behind me. I’ve already taught this girl to have a heartbeat again. And I am going to take that away sooner or later. I walk to the little store on the corner, across from my 35
apartment, but I forget to ask her what she wanted. You never realize how frugal you are with your money, but you’ll splurge on people you care about. I’ve made a living out of eating simple. Dollar menu meals and sandwiches that consist of meat and bread. No flavor, no health benefits, just stomach filler. Three dollars and forty cents a day is the food budget. Twenty-four dollars later, she has nearly everything they had to offer. I bought her assorted doughnuts, muffins, juices, and little milk boxes, everything I can carry. I have no idea where the hell we’ll keep it. Right now, I don’t care. Common sense sometimes hits after the fact. I’ve never had company. Did I put everything away last night? Did I hide or lock up everything? Some of these things should have occurred to me before I left. Maybe I forgot to put a bottle of pills away or maybe I left the baking pan on the counter from the night before. I’m no longer walking home, I’m running. People are watching the bags shuffling, watching while I perform this balancing act. I half expect the police to be there when I walk through the door. I half expect a knife wielding screaming girl demanding answers to her questions. All I find is Tara in bed, napping. I’m suspicious, but mainly relieved. The pills were put away, but the pan, flour, and food coloring were all left out in the open. Could she put ideas together if she were to find the ingredients? I wake her up with a nudge. Again, she apologizes immediately. I place the food in front of her. She doesn’t eat, telling me that she can’t keep food down. Regrets do that to people. I’m waiting for “traumatic experience” to be listed as a diet craze. I give her some speech on nutrition and how, as her doctor, I insist. She starts to nibble. Nibbles turn into annihilation. It’s the best twenty-four dollars I’ve ever spent.
Tara asks me again if she should take more pills today. “Yes, you should,” I say, digging myself a deeper hole, fueling the fire, making everything worse than it already is. I don’t know how to explain myself now. When you find yourself in a situation like this it’s best to keep digging and hope for the best. Rabbits, prairie dogs, moles, they live their entire lives this way; tunneling deeper keeps them alive. Best for me to follow the same practice, as long as it’s going to keep her with me. I know I’m lying a bit. I keep inventing new ways of understanding my place in this world. I lie to keep her with me. I’m keeping her with me to keep her safe. My lie is a way to protect her. It’s not really a lie if I look at it that way. I’m actually doing something good for someone else, and unfortunately, I have to lie in order to do that. Tara might think differently, but to me, it’s completely understandable. Looking at the time, I know I have to get out of the apartment. It’s a different feeling having to plan everything around someone else. This is how a person can go from being a party animal to a parent, some of them. Not her, she didn’t get a chance to test that. “Tara, do you need anything, or was there anything you had planned for today?” “No, but I’m going to get going. I don’t want to impose on your life.” “Please don’t worry about that, I would love for you to stay here, I prefer that actually. If I know where you are, I know you’re safe.” I knew she had put the idea together that a doctor couldn’t live in a dump of an apartment with one chair. Maybe she believes its a set up house and that I have another nicer house elsewhere, creating her own story to feel safe about me. Believing that she is
piecing together a story about me, I decide it’s best to come up with my explanation, to help fill in the holes of the story. “This is where I live now. We had all this data and tests ready to go, then all of our work was confiscated. They seized all of our assets. I made it here, and while I’m not hiding, I am not exactly telling people where I am. I’m sort of like a rebel against the FDA. Does that make any sense?” Dig further, just keep digging. “I’m not going to tell anyone I was here or that I know about you,” she replies. “For now, I would really appreciate that.” She’s probably lying. She knows I’m lying. I decide not to give a large story about the FDA hiding cures, as a way to make money. And how the money is in the treatments not the cures. While I do have this whole story prepared, I’m not going to be able to use it right now. I’m almost depressed about that, as I actually worked out a good story. Whether she believes me or not, either way, she knows she can stay. “You’re more than welcome to stay as long as you would like,” I remind her. “I like your company.” FUCK, I just opened a door that I probably shouldn’t have. What I want and what I need are colliding with each other. FUCK!!! FUCK!!! FUCK!!! “Thank you, but I don’t want to be a burden.” “You’re no burden at all, it’s nice to have company.” FUCK! FUCK!! FUCK!!! FUCK!!! FUCK!!! FUCK!!! And then, as any woman in her situation would do, she asks the question that she’s been waiting to ask since we walked in, “May I please use your shower?”
“Yeah, stinky,” I smile. “And there are some clothes right—here. You’ll be here then, yes?” After handing her the clothes, I try to make another joke. “All right, honestly, you smell. But, your life will start getting better, I can promise that. Take a shower, until then I will only call you stinky.” Why am I such an awkward jackass right now? Tara cracks a tiny smile. It’s the first time she’s smiled in the eighteen hours I’ve known her. The only payment I’ll ever need from her, “Thanks…” “Drew.” I almost said Doc. Drew sounds similar to Doc. They both start with a D, and it’s easy to remember and forget. “Thank you Drew, I honestly…” she pauses. “I’m not going to keep you, but Drew, I like being called Tara a lot more than Stinky, please. But it’s your place so I will deal with it for now.” She giggles faintly. A tiny smile followed by the slightest giggle. The type of laugh you have at a funeral when thinking about a funny moment you and the deceased shared. You laugh a tiny bit and avoid eye contact with the others in attendance. For the first time I got to see that there is still a girl in all of this mess. Through all of it, through the grease of hand soap and the dirt of her unwashed clothes, there is a girl in that shell. It isn’t all lost. And I know in my heart that I will stop any living creature from breathing to see that smile and to hear that giggle again.
Syphilis. Genius. One more disease to add to my list. I should be keeping a separate notebook of the ways people are dying and or infecting each other. The ways I can save people. When I talk to myself like this, which is sometimes aloud but mostly in my head, sometimes I feel myself start to believe in what I do. That I might be truly saving people, that I really am a hero. In order to make sure I didn’t mix up diseases, I began color
coating the pills for specific situations. My job is now as simple as remembering the basic color wheel. Unfortunately, for my sake, I’ve had to harden myself to the harsh reality of my job. Seeing the heartbreak of those that I am fixing. I’m beginning to think that I should be compensated for the travel time and expenses. On an application, I would have to check, “willing to relocate.” Buying eggs, flour and sugar in such massive quantities still gets me some odd glances. I normally say it’s for cake. If not, I just smile and pretend everyone buys this much stuff during grocery store visits. On an application, I would check “ability to lift 30 pounds.” There are times when doubt creeps into my head. In those times, I find new ways to justify everything to myself. Justify to myself how I make an honest living. “My job,” I say to myself out loud, giggling. “It’s a living,” I think, mocking that dumb bird used as a record player or can opener, whatever house hold item they needed in Bedrock that week. I can’t get down on myself. Money is a thing of the earth. It’s not meant to transcend worlds, has no use being taken to the grave. My greed defeats my morals. Seems like I just pinpointed a problem not only with me, but with society in general. With that thought, and the infatuation of some girl I barely know, besides knowing she has some form of STD that could eventually kill me if I get to close to her, I feel more human than I have in a long time. I start to feel less alone and distant. Tara is on my mind as I wait for a bus to take me across town. Her at my place doing whatever it is a girl like her would do when she’s alone. Probably crying. Probably praying. More than likely she’s doing both at the same time. 41
I hate buses. I’d buy a bike, but I believe it’s one more way to track me. One more way a person could say what I was wearing, riding, or whatever. I should paste signs that say “stupidity?” and see how many people call. Thoughts like this cross my mind as I watch people stand halfway in the road looking down the traffic lane. Maybe if they stare long enough the bus will magically appear? And I find that I am constantly being asked, “Has the bus come yet?” I want to say yes, but I love standing in the sun so much that I am just going to wait for the next one. Does Focus Factor count as a stupidity drug? The artificial Ginkgo Balboa, another drug they renamed that I learned about in the earlier years of my life. Still waiting, still watching people look down the street, acting as if they have the right to get upset with the incoming left turn traffic that nearly hits them. The bus arrives, and 45 minutes later, I’m across town. I’m not recognized. Not that anyone knows who I am anyway. After finding a payphone, I make my callbacks to the people I met with the day before. Everything is set. In one hour, and each hour after that, I’ll be listening to people’s excuses. With this down time, I ponder things about myself. I’m wondering, “Am I a drug dealer or a dealer of euphoria?” Sometimes I have a hard time with who I am, but today I feel great, today I’m finding it very easy to justify what do. I love it when I can easily make sense of what I do. It helps me sleep. I’m happy that I actually got a hold of all four clients today. The plan is to make an easy 400 dollars, folded in my pocket come time for the bus ride home. I hope they all pay with one bill. I hate walking around with a bunch of one’s and five’s. Three hours later, I’m 100 dollars away from my goal. While waiting for the last appointment, I sit trying to keep my mind distant from the people I already talked to 42
today. I can’t. I’m constantly reminding myself that all I have to do is ask one of them, any of them, to remind me what I’m helping them cure. Since it’s a week-to-week thing, Tara has to fall into the current category of people I’m meeting. So far I’ve looked at every person today as abstracts. Not looking for typical symptoms of their condition. I know if I asked any of the previous three I’d have found out why Tara came to meet with me. I didn’t ask. I never even hinted towards it. When I talk to them, I say “the condition, the condition, the condition.” This is rehearsed in my head. I knew that “the condition” would sound much less derogatory than “your condition.” Shit. I’m realizing that I’m afraid of finding out that the perfect girl isn’t prefect. Think of something else. I love meeting people in parks for these little transactions. I can see in every direction, and I can run faster than any of the people I’m dealing with, and easily faster than a police officer, especially with adrenaline on my side. Give me an open space and I can be free and clear in seconds. There is, of course, the fear that someone is watching. Someone could be anyone. This makes me suspicious of everyone all a sudden. My next appointment arrives, as a guy in a hoodie walks up to me and asks if I am selling pills. Huh, 20 minutes early, great, I can beat traffic. I nod and ask if he needs an explanation of what he can eat or what has to be done to make them more effective. Mr. Hoodie declines. “How much?” he asks me. “It’s 100 dollars.” Reaching into his hoodie for the money, I reach into my pocket for the pills. He gives me some money, and I handover pills in a plastic bottle. Bottled up hope. 43
“You sure you don’t need any advice on those?” “Nope,” he replies softly, never looking me in the eyes. I’m assuming he’s ashamed or embarrassed. I take my money out of my pocket, the front pocket of course. Suckers and tourists use wallets in their back pockets. I start counting his money so that I can put it in with the rest of mine. While looking down I say, “Well I will try to get a hold of you to see how things are…” He shorted me forty dollars. I put the money in a bundle with mine, and then I look up to inform him. I notice his hands moving quickly. A blur in front of me is all I see. I dodge backwards, the way an action hero does in every movie ever made. Like the movies, my face barely gets out of the way in time. A small knife slashes through air and misses my face by inches. Immediately following with another slash, this guy takes one step closer to me, and I take one step closer to him. Out of instinct, I’m either going to grab him and beg him to stop or I’m going to hit him. I don’t know exactly which one I’m doing as my body is doing it for me. If you shoot the heart and lungs out of an animal, instinct can still make it run another one hundred to four hundred yards. My right hand hits him directly on the cheek, while my left hand, holding an entire day’s wages curled inside my fist, hits him in the forehead. Any other time I would be thinking of what carpal bones I’m using to hit his facial bones. In the heat of the moment, fist, cheek, forehead will do. He attempts to protect himself, his hands coming up to cover his face, my hands still crushing back the bones in his face, the knife still in his hand.
He brings his hands up before I can pull mine away. His knife slips up through the heel of my palm and into the center of my hand, the part of the hand that ninja’s use to break boards in movies. That part of my hand is missing a quarter size chunk of flesh and meat. The part of the hand a traffic officer uses to imitate a stop sign with. My hand now has a hole through that part. Tendons are torn, cartilage is severed, and I’m in survival mode. I yelp and move backwards. I grab my dissected right hand with my left, dropping the money. The hooded guy sees the money hit the ground and grabs for it, nearly on his knees in front of me, looking down at his newfound fortune. I kick upwards, throwing all my weight behind my right leg and towards his face, connecting the lower part of my shin with his face, splitting his nose open. Kicking someone in the face doesn’t feel the way you would think it should. It’s not heavy like you’re moving a solid body part, or the whole body for that matter. His face feels like a sponge molding and contouring to shape itself perfectly to match my shin. No one today went for a leisurely jog in the park expecting to see two people trying to kill each other. Yet they’re witnessing it now. Well, correction. One person trying to kill out of self-defense. I’m always justifying my actions. No one wants to be the bad guy. The other person trying to get away with money, somehow he probably found ways to justify his job to himself so that he’s not a bad guy either. Money locked in his hand. Blood pouring down mine. His face a fragment of what it was ten minutes ago. His hoodie has fallen from the weight of the blood soaking into its fabric. At one point in my life, I’d have to write that blood absorption into the fabric such as this is a hypertonic reaction. 45
At this point, everything feels heavy, or faint, I can’t tell the difference. We make eye contact, although I’m having a hard time maintaining it. He has tears in his eyes from a broken nose. Secretly, I’m savoring this moment. It’s not that I’m violent; I’m capable. I’ve been in fights. I understand them to an extent. He gets back to his feet. His knife in one hand, and our money, crumpled together, in his other hand. Face distorted. Without thinking, I see him starting to regain his composure. When he stands straight up, I meet him with my right hand. The hand that recently lost the fight with the knife. I didn’t think about my open cut and his bloody face touching it. I wish that crossed my mind a second ago. This is always the problem with instinct, there are never any thoughts of the consequences. When my hand connects, it goes limp. I scream. I can’t tell if I’m crying. At this point, there is already enough of my internal fluids on the outside of my body that I’m not paying attention. My blood. His blood. Impossible to know whose is whose. I step backwards, holding my right hand against me in my left armpit. Hoodie guy is falling towards the ground, but in one fluid motion, while falling backwards, he turns his body and runs away. I hear someone behind me scream, “STOP!” Over my shoulder there’s a police officer running towards us. Am I the victim here? No matter what I did to him, would I be considered the victim considering why I’m here in the first place? I hit the ground and scream, “HELP!” I’ve done this ten times throughout my life. The first ten were all on playgrounds when I was eight years old and bullies beat on me. This was the eleventh time. It works the same as it did at recess. If you hit the ground and scream for help first, the police officer, the teacher, Mrs. Ingersol, whoever, will see 46
the person running away as the attacker. And as they said to me then, the officer is saying to me now. “Wait there, I will be right back with help.” People need new dialogue for situations like this. Making it more realistic for my hero, I yell something between the lines of, “Don’t leave me!” or “Please help me!” Lying on the ground to rest a second gives me an opportunity to look up at the sky. People never take time to notice nice days anymore. I watch the cop run after the hooded guy. Their chase begins at the same time my escape begins. I regain my wits. I start to realize how bad my hand, shin and body hurt. I look at my right hand. My blood, his blood, they’re both the same color. Shit. You cannot separate a reaction like this. Blood cannot be separated. It’s not like a game of pogs, when you’re done playing you take your remaining pieces back all at once. “The condition,” “His condition,” is it now, “My condition?” I truly hope that, since it was all surface contact, I’m fine. But, shoving my fist into his face like that is a bit more than surface level contact. Running, penniless, bus pass less, folder less. Running and sucking on my hand and spitting the coagulated blood cells on the ground, the way you’d imagine you would spit out snake venom if bitten. I’m running through the center of the park. On two sides of the park are brick walls and fences too high to climb without a ladder. On another side of the park is a man bleeding profusely from his face, holding hundreds of dollars, three hundred of which are mine, and a small pocketknife. Hopefully still playing catch me if you can with a cop.
Sprinting, afraid, dizzy, angry, and curious, I’m so freaked out that I can’t stop for anything, but I don’t know where to go, so I run in circles for no reason. When you don’t want to hear something, it’s all you can hear. All I hear is “STOP!” And foot steps behind me. I look over my shoulder and see nothing. Whatever Tara has, whatever it is, I now have, and I could find out if I got back to my folder. What if the man with the hooded sweatshirt was not a client? What if he was just someone who had been watching me? He thought that I was a drug dealer or a criminal like himself. I tell myself all this so I can feel better about the mixed blood now inside me. Do I care, though? Secretly, do I want it this way? It’s a way to have a physical relationship with Tara, isn’t it? I stop running after I realize that I haven’t actually gotten anywhere. Since I’m not running anymore, I’m starting to panic. I need to look around for somewhere to hide. I find some trees that are perfect. Scanning the area for the cop, my hero. Where’s the folder! Where is that guy with the hooded sweatshirt? A sticky hood that won’t stay up on it’s own that has a guy bleeding excessively from his face underneath it. I can’t help but tell myself how much of a bad motherfucker I am. Seriously. Every time he looks in the mirror, that guy will know he screwed up, and then got screwed up. This is apparently what you tell yourself after winning a fight. Doing this is also a good distraction from the other problems I’m currently having. So I keep telling myself these things repeatedly to keep myself from panicking about the blood fusion.
Another second of my life spent sucking away the blood on my hand. The blood in my mouth has a lukewarm, thick consistency, lightly salty taste, but I know that I can’t get any diseases that easily if I were to accidentally ingest his blood. Unless my mouth had a cut in it? I feel around with my tongue, and then convincing myself that I have none. Against my will, I force myself to take a look at my hand. My motor skills being limited already by the pain, this dime size chuck of flesh that’s now missing. Just skin, a chunk of skin, but it’s all external, nothing internal. This is the way a sniper must feel, watching, waiting, only instead of a gun and scope I have my bloodied hand holding me up against a tree. I can see trickles of me, the components of what I’m made of, oozing down the tree. Mine. Maybe still some of his genetic make-up. Deoxyribonucleic acid and proteins coagulate forming a pool on my hand again. Dripping to the bottom of the tree. Having watched enough hunting movies, I can tell you that a blood trail means something. I don’t know what exactly, and I don’t know if that cop knows how to hunt humans or animals, but I’m not going to wait and find out. It’s 5p.m. I hear clock bells in the distance. I still might have a shred of a good day. I run back toward the middle of the park. Risking arrest, risking being gutted by one angry guy in a hooded sweatshirt. Damn that folder. Someone will find it with all the scribbled names and numbers and be completely baffled by the names of people next to diseases. They will probably be even more confused when they see that a handful of papers are missing. Now, more than ever, I’m glad that Tara’s info was taken out and torn up. If anyone were to call all the numbers, they’ll soon be asking themselves a strange question. Why is someone keeping tabs on the dying? Although I didn’t take 49
Tara’s pages out for this purpose, I have to pat myself on the back, knowing that there is no way to trace me based on the information in the folder. I give up looking for the folder. Screw that folder. It’s 5p.m. There is only one thing to look for. And I find it right where I hoped it would be. I’m fifty yards away from my original park bench. I’m 50 yards from layers of my epidermis, dermis, connective and muscle tissue along with two different human blood types. I don’t see my notebook. I don’t see a cop and I don’t see anyone holding a knife. I notice a surprise that’s better than all of them. A person standing alone with wishful eyes looking towards their future. A set of eyes that recently has had a resurgence of hope. It’s a look that I see at least ten times a week. Hopefully. And I can see it right there, in the eyes of some guy wearing a red t-shirt. Standing, hoping, daydreaming, thinking that soon, from somewhere, his savior will approach him and give him his life back through the miracle of modern science. Sorry. I’m out of the park, on the street, and running.
How far am I from home? I don’t have the patience to estimate. How else can I get there, another question I don’t care to imagine. One thing I’m learning fast, although it happens in every horror movie I’d ever seen. People do not pick up hitchhikers anymore. And they sure as shit do everything in their power to avoid a hitchhiker that, because of lifting his hand above his head to stick his thumb towards traffic, has blood running from his hand all the way down to his armpit. It’s going to be a fourteen-mile 50
walk home. Red blood cells doing their job circulating my blood, white blood cells doing their job fighting bacteria and clotting. Skeletal system conjoined with other body systems doing their job walking my battered body down the sidewalk. How accurate are statistics? I’ve never been one to believe them. But I have a lot of time on my hands to start contemplating them. I also have time to decide that I should get a weapon. What kind? I can figure that out later. Is it one out of four or three out of four people that have an STD? How many people in this city have one of the “conditions” I cure. I recall what the person who stabbed me looked like. What he looked like when I first saw him, not how I left him. I consider his life. He wasn’t gay, I keep telling myself. Gay people normally don’t wait in the park to mug people with knives. I don’t think gay men are known as aggressively violent. Of course, straight men are less likely to get tested then gay. But many of the diseases are spread in gay communities because, despite testing positive for this or that, many people don’t care. I learned that and thought, what the hell is wrong with you. But then again, straight people don’t get tested and continue to spread diseases until a female tells them what’s happened. Meeting the people I’ve met, I’ve learned all sorts of interesting things. He’s a mulatto, I think. So how many diseases are there that I might have gotten, if any at all? I can scratch sickle cell anima out of the equation. That’s genetic, so there is very little chance I can get that. Is there a cure for that? If there isn’t, I am making one. Those pills will be purple. I can imagine that guy sleeping around. I was good at assuming that about people throughout college, and it normally worked out well for them. His morals are not high. I mean, you wouldn’t hold people up by knifepoint in the park and go home to a good wife 51
and decent home. So if he can get girls, and we swapped blood that includes me into his past. Shit. This reminds me of an assembly from high school. We had a speaker come in to talk to girls about abstinence. They had all sorts of physical demonstrations that I still think are funny. One of the teachers would take a piece of tape, and in front of an entire student body, she would stick the tape to her arm and peel it off. It made that ssshhhrhrriiiccckkkk noise as it pulled her less than firm flesh up from her arm. I learned later in life that she had a shortage of copper, which made her body that way - saggy, varicose. Then she went to another teacher and stuck the tape to their arm and peeled it off, a little bit less of a sssshhhrhhiiiccckkk noise this time. Then the speaker kept repeating this down the faculty line until it was no longer tape. It was just plastic without the sticky function that we find tape so useful for. The teacher went on to say, “Girls! This is your vagina - a piece of useless tape dangles from her pinched fingertips - and this is how your vagina will turn out the more guys you sleep with.” Here I am, 10 years after my freshman year, and I still laugh. My hand is no longer bleeding, but my legs are burning. Laughing to myself even harder, suddenly, I'm in a better mood. This stops me from walking for a second, blood drying, sticky, legs burn, tired, and I laugh so loud I almost fall to the ground. The “placebo effect” really does work. What I do in my life is justified - to me at least. After I compose myself, I think more of the teacher and the tape. I think of the other demonstrations that I learned to hate. After a young girl watches something like that, all of a sudden she wants to wait for the right one. She doesn’t want to sleep with 52
just anyone. These are the exact things I was hoping I wouldn’t hear in my adolescence. The rubber band, the teacher says, loses its elasticity the more you stretch it out. And no one is going to want you then. These are very harsh things to say to young people. To anyone for that matter! During the assembly, the speaker would say, “Anyone you sleep with, you’re sleeping with everyone they’ve slept with too!” Girls would get confused. Guys would get agitated and claim that it’s complete bullshit. But the speaker would again say, “Girls, you’ve slept with no one, and your boyfriend has slept with 5 people. Once you have sex, you have just had sex with 5 people, too.” For months after the assembly girls kept their pants on. While that may not be true with the elasticity of a vagina, the girth of a penis or the size of an asshole, it instilled fear in those days. I know it’s true with blood though. If one gets - lets just say HIV for kicks - that if they get that from the first person they sleep with, then everyone they have unprotected sex with or share needles with is at risk. High risk I should say. This also pertains to a blood transfusion. Yet it was airborne, I remind myself over and over, so whatever he might have had I couldn’t get. Most transferable blood diseases die with contact of air. I’m sweating now. I’ve walked ten miles in 4 and half hours, and I have yet to break a sweat once. In two weeks I should get tested for everything. These curious thoughts turn into panic. “Everyone they slept with is everyone you’ve now slept with.” He was a good-looking guy. Damn it! Man why couldn’t a mutant have robbed me! I’m going to have to find a free clinic. Which would, now that I think about it, be a great place to leave all sorts of fliers.
Hand sticky, legs feeling like they are tearing inside. Besides the little microscopic tears I know are taking place, and the whole time, no matter what was going around in my head, in the back of my mind I still find that I’m thinking about Tara. Do I tell her about today? Do I ask her to come with me to the clinic? Pass it off as if we were double-checking her test results, meanwhile getting mine? I should never subject her to that testing process again. The truth is that I am just afraid to go alone. I don’t have anyone else to go with me. She did it alone, though. Or at least when she found out the results she ended up alone. If anything were different about me, would she accept me? It’d be absolutely ridiculous if she didn’t. And with these thoughts crossing my mind, I’m home. I jump the fence and through the door. I have a quick daydream about saying, “Honey I’m home.” What kind of life that would be? But as always, and like everyday before I met her, I walk in to an empty place. Empty homes are reminders of the life a person chooses to live. Whether they are work obsessed, hard to get along with, or taking time off, all empty houses are that way for a reason. There is nothing for me, and nothing except me in these dark rooms as I search the entire place for Tara. Despite the fact that she would be able to hear me from the living room, I walk into every room and call for her. The very thing that gave me a reason to keep walking tonight isn’t here, which is probably for the best. She has her life to live, and I think she feels better about herself, so she didn’t want to be a burden on me. I understand. Maybe I helped her, maybe I was that push she needed to move forward. A deep fear hits me in the pit of my stomach as I walk from room to room. What if she couldn’t do it anymore? What if this was her final stop before her final stop. Now, I find myself looking under the bed, into the dark closet, luckily I don’t 54
see anything. This is a good thing though, really. I hate trying to lie to myself. But I do know it’s for the best. With her gone, and the place to myself, I do exactly what she did the last time I saw her. I walk into the bathroom, and stumble into the shower. I start the water, not caring if it’s to hot or cold. I don’t even have the energy to wait, in that feeling out process. Holding myself up against the wall, my head sinks and I look at the drain. Dirt and blood funnel itself into a little tornado and disappear down the drain slowly. Then I fixate on what is slowing my drain down, my eyes focusing in on what appears to be Tara’s hair. Something that, if we were together for twenty years, I would complain about. The drain she would clog up month after month. I fixate on it. I was truly exciting about seeing her, a girl I don’t know anything about. The blind hope and faith people have in their lives. I’m no different. I’m not special. I’m staring at the hair wondering if it’s the last thing I’ll ever know of her. I don’t pick it up or anything. But I would be lying to myself if I said I’m not considering it. I fall from the shower. Beyond tired at this point, hungry enough to faint. My hand has trinkets of blood coming out. I wish I had superglue to meld it shut. I refuse to walk to the store right now. I wrap my hand in toilet paper and a sock. Convincing myself to fry a few eggs from the cooler. While they cook, I look for something to eat with them. All I can find is ketchup. How the hell do people eat eggs with ketchup? Just gross. As I crawl into bed, I am again confronted with something that reminds me of Tara. The smell of antibacterial hand soap and dirt. It’s he exact smell she had the first time I hugged her. The smell of a girl is always left behind after she sleeps in your bed. A smell that can linger for days. A constant reminder of everything you once had or 55
everything you need to get rid of. In bed, with my eyes wide open. The strain of trying to keep them shut. The smell of Tara all around me. The fear I have whenever I lay in this bed. I’m right back to where I always am. On the floor by the window, knowing full well that I don’t have the energy to run from anything if it were to come for me. But at least I’d have the option.