Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Shawangunk Ridge

I became intimately knowledgeable about the linoleum floor of my bathroom. I studied its white ridges and little yellow valleys, running the tips of my fingers over every crack and bump, soothed by its cool surface against my body. After leaning on my elbows over the sink watching the blood drip and trickle, and sometimes spurt and stream, out of my nose and mouth for a couple of hours, my knees would shake and my legs would cramp and so I would have to sit on the floor with my back to the wall, my shirt off, a stream of red streaking down my neck and chest and down into those little crevices, creeping and spreading like a thick crimson fog.

I started to experience blackouts, although it took me a while to realize what they were. I would finally stop bleeding, heaps of toilet paper and washcloths on the counter, the toilet having been flushed a dozen times, too spent to clean the rest of the mess, and be turning to exit the bathroom to go lie down. Then I would wake up face down on the carpet, my feet still in the bathroom, my arms tangled underneath me. Fine crystalline dreams came to me in those brief minutes that felt like days, fast and blurring, more like echoes of dreams from some place deep inside. When I awoke, it was from a place of no worries and no fears, having breathed the easy, unimpeded breaths of someone with no swollen angry mass inside their sinuses.

The little red message-waiting light blinked on the phone at the side of my bed. Jason wondered if I had returned from my trip yet. His father just bought a boat and he wanted to know if I would drive up to Tampa with them to fetch it. Everyone knew something was going on. Jason was never pushy and didn't ask for details, but would always, without fail, tell me I needed to "get it taken care of," and in a way that suggested it was just some temporary thing and not the end of things that it sometimes felt like it was. I didn't know what to say when he told me that. I never saw him or his wife once without a smile. They were both blonde, had blonde brothers and sisters and blonde parents, and would eventually have blonde children. They owned a condo about eight miles up Del Prado, across a maze of canals and in another unnavigable quadrant of Cape Coral.

It was at their house where I stayed for a few days when I first flew out to Florida to scope out a job and a place to live. I had called him from the kitchen at the Farm the day after my overseers told me I would do better serving on the outside. Jason was the most positive and grounded person I knew at the time. If I had listened closer, I would have noticed the mild trepidation and caution in his voice when I told him I was leaving Bethel and wanted to come visit him. No one made it their goal to only serve one year at Bethel. But he and his wife had served with me there and would have known I had trouble fitting in. Jason and I would be cleaning the ham processor in the rear cooler of the food warehouse and he would lightly lecture me after I had responded angrily to something that one of the other newboys had said earlier that day. We were close enough in age to be friends, but being a few years my senior meant he could give me frank advice and I would listen. I waved the cleaning wand in the air, spraying foam on the walls and ceiling and my rubber boots, gesturing wildly at what I felt was unjust about the situation and he patiently nodded his head and smiled, his blonde hair bobbing. We scrubbed the machine, sprayed it off, and christened it with Sanifoam. We hung our rubber boots outside the locker room, showered and dressed for dinner, and walked together on the bark-chip path through the corn fields towards the dining hall.

It would have been early fall, then. The sweeping expanse of deep green that began at the perimeter of the Farm and ended abruptly at the base of the Shawangunk Ridge would have started to turn red and gold, because it was going to be a tremendous fall season that year, better than any I had seen in my life. The rich, thick air, full of the smell of corn and pigs and ripening apples rushed into my lungs as I breathed through my mouth. I had started having trouble breathing through my nose, but thought it was allergies. I would wake up at night sometimes... my head heavy and beating. But not being able to breathe well through my nose was just a mild nuisance then. The world was wide and deep and I was gaining a closeness with God that I could finally feel, after all those years praying into the late night hours, begging Him to get me out of where I was. It was near sunset as we emerged from the fields and approached the "E" building, and we looked up as the Ridge captured the red glow that glanced across the sky like a spear.

Jason ended his message with that familiar lilt in his voice, ending on mostly a high note followed by a short comforting cascade which I noticed he had picked up from his mother. Everything would be all right. Everything was manageable. Drive with us to Tampa.

I pressed the button.

The next message was from Theresa, with her small, girlish voice. She was worried that I hadn't called her to let her know I had got back safe from my flight. It had been a few days, but it had only felt like one to me. Her voice tightened and she left silent spaces on the line before she asked one more time if I was all right and if I would call her.

I pressed the button.