It’s not my fault, Jerry. You made me give up on you.
I was leaving, like, a dozen messages, asking myself, Should I call the cops to check on him? Me half-spooked, you stone silent—didn’t I text you once, r u alive? That’s why, the last few weeks, I haven’t been—shit, I’ve got better things to do!
… And those times you finally did call, your voice all soft and sensitive, like you really wanted help—
Dammit! Middle of the night, I’m squirming around in bed, talking in my head like you could hear, and you’re three miles away, totally beyond it … Are you even trying, for crap sake? …
The house—that says it all. Letting the trash pile up, cats spoiling the furniture we bought, that upstairs window still broke, a hornet’s nest over the door—last time I came by I almost got stung! Okay, so you don’t care about visitors, but what about self-respect?
Underwater—that’s what your brother calls it. Worth less than the mortgage ’cause you let it fall apart. Yeah, George is an ass but he’s right. Even if the neighborhood’s gone down, a nice two-story twin—okay, it’s not my place anymore, I gave up my share—but what you’ve done to it is shameful.
I try to support you, you know I do. But if you won’t lift a finger yourself, even to get groceries? Look, you call me last month and say you’ve gotta see the shrink to have your prescription renewed, I take off work and drive you. You knew I’d do it. But I can’t keep that up, I’ll get fired. You have to do the little stuff yourself. Use your car—it still runs, I took your keys and tested it—or walk three blocks to the corner store. Getting protein shakes and cat litter by UPS is not acceptable.
And about those cats—was it a dozen I saw? more? You know there are TV programs about cat hoarders, it’s a disease. You really think you rescued them from the streets? You know me, I love animals, I was miserable when Annabelle died. But not swarming the house—my good lace curtains ripped to shreds! And the smell hit me from the driveway. I was so glad I didn’t see any neighbors I knew. Jerry, I don’t care how depressed someone gets, he has to change the litter more often—and make sure they use the litterbox in the first place!
I understand, there’s zilch happening in your life. But that’s how it was before I left, which is why I had to. You slept all day, sat up all night watching TV, didn’t touch me for a year, which was okay by me since you hardly— I mean, losing a job is bad, having a sore back is bad, being depressed is bad, but there’s pills for some things and the rest you have to roll with, you know?
I’m seeing someone now. I’ve told you before but it’s like you don’t remember, Jerry, you won’t face it. It’s coming up on three years, the divorce is final, I’m moving on. I can’t rescue you from your spinelessness.
You were sad when we met but there was somebody there, a real person. I was sad too, that time of my life, we helped each other. Like two wallflowers making up our minds we could dance. You got that job in the mailroom, we bought the house, we were alive. Remember that day in the yard behind the tree?—you didn’t want to do it, afraid neighbors would see, but I talked you into it—hah! Your face!
Eleven good years before you got laid off and slumped again. At least we were smart enough to skip having kids …
No, I can’t bear another round, Jerry. I’m steadier now myself. I’ve lost twenty pounds. I’ve realized life really does begin at forty. I get up in the morning and feel almost pretty. I have something to offer the world. I’m not a loser.
See, there were times, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and panic. It was like a walrus—a big fat slimy thing flopped on my chest—and I’d think, why am I trapped here, mashed under this awful weight, how can I get out! That was before I met you, and you helped me shake him. But then, that last year, you got weird, he came back, and I knew I had to make a big change or kill myself.
And that’s the difference between us. I did something positive—got out of the call center where people were hanging up on me all day ’cause they didn’t want to learn how to save on their energy bills. Maybe I didn’t sound convincing enough, they could’ve saved if they’d listened, but when I found my new job it was a godsend, answering questions about the condos, directing people to the sales office, I got to put on makeup and my little wedge pumps with the buckles and started to think better of myself. Can you believe I’m wearing suits from Macy’s—they fit me now!
I understand you can’t work full-time, the back and all that, but you could get off your skinny ass, go outside in the sun, clean up the weeds and dogshit in the side yard—whose dog is that anyway? Haven’t people complained? Aren’t the Patels still living in the attached house? I don’t know why they haven’t reported you. The hornet’s nest alone! And the cat odor must’ve seeped through the walls—what they must think of you, how can you tolerate—
Banged my skull on the headboard.
Gotta turn on the light, dark is too scary. This bed lamp my grandma gave me, remember? … Little roses on the shade—that was us, the wallflowers?
God, what am I doing here? You’ve got me whacked out myself, playing make-believe when I oughta be asleep. Pretending you might still listen—is that sick or what? Like I can’t face it either?
I call over every morning. And I tried staying beside your bed—could you tell I was there? A couple hours, all I could take, though they cleaned you up. The nurses washed your hair, chopped the gray bush on your face—probably had to take garden shears to it. But the skin all bluish and wrinkled, your arms like wishbones—the guy I used to love so shriveled … Were you eating anything the last month? Cat food?
It wasn’t an accident, they say—not an overdose that big. You’re lucky the neighbor noticed the UPS box of Friskies out in the rain. Lucky, they used that word … like you didn’t ask for it—
… A week—that’s how long they wait, the nurses said. Till they give the family the option.
Jerry, here’s the thing: why those pills? The prescription I drove you to the doctor to get. Was it revenge on me? You sleeping all the time and I can’t sleep at all? Hah-hah? Because I stopped leaving messages? Because I wanted a life of my own?
… To be real real honest, I was ashamed, sitting there in the hospital. “Ex-wife,” I told the nurses, and even that made me shudder. No, I won’t apologize for that—ex-ex-ex-ex, not responsible! I didn’t do this to you!
“Give the family the option”—I know what that means. … You oughta be glad it’s George’s call. Because if it was up to me, they could pull your plug this minute. That’s true. Not totally, but—I’m ready to be done, one way or other. Ex-ex-ex-ex-EX.
We had the cats hauled to the pound, you know. They’re put to sleep by now. Rescued.
… Jerry, I can’t take this. I don’t want to hurt you, I never did. It’s so sad if you thought the cats were your only friends. But I can’t sleep, can’t think, tonight a piece of microwave lasagna got stuck in my throat and I choked … Can’t let my boyfriend see me like this, so I’m making excuses …
You tried to wreck the both of us, is that what you wanted? Fuck you, Jerry.
I’ll yank your breathing tube and stuff it up your ass.
Where are my sleeping pills? I try not to use them but—
… Is it, like, total unconscious where you are?
Or can you—can you feel it on top of you, the greasy smothery thing—the walrus?
Would you tell me if you could?
WHEN, Jerry? When will you let me go?