by Erika Whitmore
I guess it must have been a full three weeks into my new position as Senior Editor at the San Francisco Chronicle before I was knocking on the door to the office of the Editor-in-Chief, belly-aching about my beat.
Oh, by the way, my name is Lois Lane. Go ahead – get all the jokes out of your system – I’ve heard them all.
Let me explain. My parents met while enrolled in their high school yearbook club – he was the photographer, she was the reporter. If that isn’t a classic “meet-cute,” I don’t know what is.
Now, fast-forward nearly 50 years later, they’re still happily married. He became a successful electronics engineer and she, of course, kicked butt in her more than 25 year career as a newspaper journalist.
Enter me: a walking anachronism in the year 2014 – one of a dying breed – the elusive, the stubborn – the “newspaper reporter.” (Yikes. I guess someone did NOT get the memo about this whole “internet” thing). Well, I guess I can make a game out of it. We’ll see how long this French farce I call a career lasts before I start looking for extra cardboard to build my very own lean-to home under the bridge.
Suffice to say, I was doing my level best to follow in my parents’ very impressive footsteps, and so far, by the looks on my cat’s face when I brought home the sub-par generic brand cat food and by the numbers on my weekly check-stub, (less the amount our FICA friends’ take for themselves), I was failing miserably. (All I can say is, thank God my parents made their own money for retirement, because if they were looking to me to help them in their old age…well, they’d be S…O…L. Something tells me they sensed that early on with me and started saving…but I digress).
“Knock, knock…” I meekly kept tapping on my boss’s door; half hoping he wouldn’t hear me.
“Goddamn it! Come in!” Mr. Rosenthal roared at me through the door.
I winced in embarrassment. It was now or never. You GO, girl! I cheered silently to myself in the very best fag-hag inner voice I could muster. Then I winced again despite myself. I’m such a geek.
I entered into what can only be described as a hoarder’s smorgasbord. Papers, banana peels, rubber erasers, broken pica rulers and complete collections of Encyclopedia Britannica and National Geographic lay strewn among fallen ceiling tiles and telephone books from the 1980s.
Various out-dated reference books which have long since become superfluous were propped up under the weight of a wall of rusty, rickety old antique fans on their last legs. These were connected with a tangled mass of computer wires, routers and writhing orange extension cords all intertwined and conspiring together into a Jabba the Hut heap designed to supposedly cool and refresh the sweaty, gin-blossomed face of His Majesty Ralph Rosenthal, Editor-in-Chief, San Francisco Chronicle.
“Whattaya want, Lane?” he barked without looking up from his work. His grey and white comb-over was happily flapping, waving, undulating and dancing to the multi-directional blasts of air being forced upon it. Up and down, back and forth, his little scrap of rug was having the time of its life, as if this was its own little pride parade on top of the newspaperman’s head. It was hypnotic.
“Well?” He barked again. “Out with it! Tick tock, Lane Tick tock! What – do I look like I’m made of money here?”
I wasn’t sure I should answer that question. To be more accurate, I’m not sure I could answer that question.
Anyway, you really don’t need to hear all the gory details of this next part. Let’s just say, I whined, he wheezed, we wheedled and wrangled, but in the end – me? Winning!!
So, what did I win? Instead of being dumped onto my usual “Triple-A” beat this weekend – (That’s “Ask Any Asshole” beat – sorry – that’s just what we “in the media” call it…it’s time you knew)…I actually get to write a real story…something with a little meat left dangling on its bones…something about actual people.
Because this just gets old after awhile, “Hi, I’m Lois Lane from the – uh, no, (sigh) it’s not a joke. Yes, that’s my real name and no, I don’t know Superman. May I continue?”
And frankly, covering stories like this has lost that certain ‘zip’ for me: “Hello sir. I’m a local reporter here covering a story on this new underground knitting fetish. Can you tell me a little bit more about how you and your wife first discovered your sexual interest in the hobby of knitting? And, may I ask, those needles you’re holding there…are those your own or do you have to have those custom made?”
To each his own…whatever…moving on.
So, I did not risk humiliating myself at the feet of my superior without having had a plan. At least, I could tell myself that after I inevitably left his office humiliated, I mused.
I had been sitting on a story idea for a couple of months now and felt I would implode if I didn’t speak up soon. If I didn’t do the story, someone else would.
It was 6:12 AM as I de-boarded my plane at Portland International Airport. I felt a flurry of excitement move across my stomach and up into my throat. I’m actually here, I thought. And in just a few more minutes I will be interviewing for my subject for my story. I felt like it was prom night and my first time dropping windowpane all rolled up in one,
“God, geek out much?” I said to myself out loud. “Get a hold of yourself already.”
And with that little pep talk taken care of, I slung my carry-on over my shoulder, nearly fell backwards on my ass, looked around to check if “anyone saw that” and struck out deftly for the airport bar. Shut-up. I have my priorities. Some people wait until they get home, some people drink at the airport bar while waiting for their departure plane…I …am not some people. Don’t question me. Moving on…
Once outside, I nearly fell on my ass again, the sun was so dang bright. After finding sunglasses though, and adjusting, I was able to stumble my way to the cabbie curb, feelin’ no pain. It was then I decided to check out my surroundings. (Yep yep yep. I’m a nature lover. I just savor it. Love the great outdoors…at least what I can see of it from a tavern window – if it’s air-conditioned…if not, forget it. I’m staying home and can make my own damn cocktail. Twice as strong, half the price and no bird shit in my hair).
Anyway, I took in a long, deep, refreshing breath of the crisp, beautiful Pacific Northwest air and coughed and sputtered and gagged – I think I swallowed a fly…or gnat or whatever they have up in the PDX…anyway, I put my hand up to steady myself and wouldn’t you know it, I flagged down a cab. Ah! I smiled. I killed two birds with one stone. (Well, technically, I killed one gnat with one swallow and hailed a cab at the same time…but again, I digress).
I couldn’t help but appreciate the epic difference in both atmosphere and time it took to get a cab ratio between here and back home in Ole SF. I made a mental note. Which, let’s face it, is a useless endeavor.
“Where to?” the cabbie asked me nicely as I jumped in back.
“Uh….” I had to rifle through my giant universe purse to look for the address to my destination. Typical, I thought. WHY do I always do this to myself? I write things down on little itty bitty scraps of paper thinking, “Yeah! Now this is a good idea!” And toss it into my bag with nary a care in the world. I always think that what I have here is what is known as a “little-black-and -oh-so-chic-want for-nothing -laptop-cum-business-to-nightlife-clutch” but in actuality what I really have is a giant bag the size of a baby pachyderm into which I cram all my earthly belongings and then lug it around with me with the justification that I will be prepared for any eventuality. I think I learned this fear from my mother…which has always confused me. She wasn’t a Boy Scout, she was Scandinavian. And she learned it from her mother, and so on. I used to think it had something to do with the Depression or the war or something…but that doesn’t really explain the 42 boxes of red Jell-O we had to keep replenishing. Her mother had 42 boxes of red Jell-O and so did her mother and her mother as well, going all the way back to the Old Country. Which reminds me, I better get to the store…sorry, there I go again, tangent. Sorry.
So, there I am – a freakish, neurotic bag-lady. In fact, I could have an entire illegal family in there right now, secretly smuggling themselves across the border and I wouldn’t even know it. Or a long lost uncle…or my favorite hairbrush I lost two years ago…who knows? All I know is, as long as the bag still has the real “Chanel” logo emblazoned on it, I’m still justifying the nearly broken shoulders and hunchback I’m developing from carrying it around. Couple more weeks of this ill-advised bag and I will be the shape of a question mark. Oo la la. Rrrrear.
“It’s ok, lady.” The cabbie eventually says in pity at my mad beaver scrabbling. “You just tell me where you want to go and I will figure it out, ok?” I think he was actually getting a little frightened once I started to foam at the mouth.
I stopped mid-growl and looked up at him from my pile of tissues, hairballs and makeup, instantly ashamed. I fully expected to see a burly Eastern European squinting at me in the rear view mirror, thinking how in former Soviet Union, women were not as insolent as this. In former Soviet Union women had address prepared and in hand or women did not dare ride in motor car that day or for rest of natural born life.
But, I was wrong. Instead, peering back at me with bright, pale blue eyes was a fresh-faced PSU college kid wearing a Nike sweatshirt… and he was smiling broadly at me with white, glistening teeth like Mary Poppins or a – a- gay lumberjack or something …you just couldn’t be more Portland than that.
I felt like a jerk. Here I was in a full state of panic, flying through my purse like a wood-chipper, “’cause” as my grandmother used to say to me as a little girl, “I’m just a squirrel tryin’ to get a nut, know what I mean, dawg?”
No, wait…that’s not true, she never used to say that. I’m sorry. Shoot. That was a rapper in the 90’s. I always get those two mixed up…sorry. My mistake.
Anyway, I had to remind myself that I was in Portland, not in San Francisco or New York.
In New York cabbies will use any excuse to jettison spittle at you from the front seat and even a moment’s hesitation on the address of your destination is …well, Lord help you because you’ve definitely launched the ignition sequence – because they will usually reply to you with a high-pitched, impatient, other-worldly cacophony that only dogs and their countrymen can hear. But, the good news is, if you’ve spent enough time in New York, you can usually catch the gist of it. Usually it can be translated to something roughly along the lines of, “Oh my God!! I am going to make you suffer forever you White Demon for that which you have made my people endure if you do not give me the address in less than two seconds! Die, die, die! I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!”
Well, I’m paraphrasing.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no racist. I’m just very, very afraid of people I don’t understand. Which, I guess, if you’re gonna split hairs, is kind of at the root of all racism isn’t it? So…yeah. Well, this is awkward…moving on…
Arrived: 7:20 AM: Portland Psychiatric Hospital, Downtown Portland, Northwest side of town.
I stood outside the brick building, staring at the tall chain-link fence that surrounded it. The metaphor wasn’t wasted on me. It wasn’t that long ago I too was on the other side of just such a fence looking out, wondering if I’d ever even want to switch sides again.
“Brrrruh!” I shook my head and the memories of those dark days and collected myself. That was the past, this is the present. This wasn’t about me. Not anymore. I was here on business and that’s that. Crazy can wait.
After the usual metal detector pass-through and other formalities, I was introduced to my interviewees head nurse, Ms. Gaines. Apparently Ms. Gaines was just tickled pink to be on staff at the lovely Portland Psych Ward and she made no bones about letting everyone within ear shot know just how tickled she was.
“Hello, Ms. Gaines,” I began, reaching out toward her to shake her hand.
“Uh – huh – huh uh –?” She chortled at me, not putting her hand out, but staring down her nose at me, moving her eyes up and down my frame with clear disapproval. “Are you shittin’ me?”
“Um…excuse me?” I asked, a bit thrown off.
“I say-yed, are – you – shitting me? I only ask because, here I am, a nurse, dressed up all pretty and pressed in pristine, parched, clean white cotton” (spit flew from her lips with each pop of the letter “p” and landed deftly somewhere on my person) – and there you are…” and here she kind of stopped for a moment to take me all in, I guess. The look on her face is hard to describe, but gun to my head, I’d have to say it was frozen somewhere between appalled and horrified.
“..You’re like – this – this – person off the streets…”
“Ms. Gaines, Ms. Gaines,” I interrupted, not wanting to strain her face much longer lest it stick that way. “Ms. Gaines. I appreciate what you are saying, so let’s just skip the formalities, shall we? Ok. May I please meet my interviewee? My subject? The woman I came to speak with? A ‘Ms. Linda Johnson’? Um…please?”
Well, that snapped her out of her reverie. And it snapped her jaw shut, too, finally. Without another word or sound, the nurse spun on her heel and walked briskly down a long corridor with me behind her, barely able to keep up. She swung her arms and legs up as high as possible when she walked, almost goose-stepping and karate-chopping at the same time. Quite a unique gait, I thought.
Within seconds we arrived at Linda Johnson’s quarters – the woman I intended to interview. I half expected another delay, but there she was waiting for us, seated behind a card table playing solitaire.
Linda was in her late 30’s, blond hair tied up in a messy up-do, pretty, with a kind face and perfect skin that glowed without makeup. She had an intelligent glint in her eye, and I knew with just one look at the way she carried herself, the way she held her head atop her long neck and manicured fingernails that she definitely came from money. It was clear to me that she should be down in the waiting room, not here…alone…playing solitaire in a 10 by 10 concrete box, wearing a tattered, faded, pale, blue smock and old, used slippers without soles.
“Ok, Johnson! You’ve got a visitor! Look lively!” Commanded Nurse Gaines, shouting it into our faces a mere inch or two from hers. Her sudden, shrill bark made me jump a bit. Johnson though, was not fazed a bit. She looked up from her deck of cards and smiled at me warmly and motioned for me to join her.
“Enjoy!” Ordered Gaines. “No coffee!” Nurse Chuckles demanded this last bit as she left us in a huff.
“Wow…” I said out loud, half to Linda and half to myself. “I just can’t get enough of her soothing tones.”
Linda laughed. I shook her hand, saying, “Seriously, I am so happy to meet you, Ms. Johnson, thank you so much for agreeing to meet with me.”
“Oh, the pleasure is all mine.” She said. “You’ve already made my day by cracking me up!”
(This will sound really weird, but stick with me…I was reminded just then of the alley by my apartment back in San Francisco. There was a plaque affixed to the wall down the alley, commemorating it as a historical and literary site where a character from the infamous 1941 movie, “The Maltese Falcon” starring Humphrey Bogart (based on the popular book written by Dashiell Hammett) was shot. For some reason, the phrase, “A classy dame” came to mind. “A classy dame” is precisely the kind of thing Bogart and his cronies would have said in rapid fire succession in that film).
The moment Linda laughed at my dumb sense of humor, even if it was just out of courtesy – I knew immediately – here was “a classy dame.”
“Well,” Linda continued smiling as she spoke, “you’d be right about that. Very close indeed.”
Linda and I had already been talking for an hour and a half and I felt like I’d barely sat down. She and I and her brother had all grown up and gone to school together in a small town in Northern California and using that connection had been easy enough to land the interview, but I did not expect to get so lost in the reminiscing with her.
“Yeah,” I said laughing. “You guys were pretty close. I mean – scary close. We all thought you were twins from outer space or something. What was the deal there?”
“Oh, no, no.” She laughed. “Story of my life. No. See, ever since we were little kids people always assumed we were twins. I guess it’s because we were so close in age… and we hung out together, did everything together…you know.” She smiled as a particular memory hit her. “Huh. I remember one time, when we both six years old…”
“Both six – wait, how is that poss…”
“-hold on, let me explain. Yes, we were both six years old at that time, but we were too young to understand how that could be. At that age, I still had to be told my birthday was ‘when the leaves turn color’ because I couldn’t grasp the meaning of Fall or ‘October’ – months of the year was too large a leap of logic for me yet, so, we aren’t talking rocket scientists here.
Anyway – we’re both sitting on the bus, side by side, and this “big kid” (probably was only in second grade or something), walks down the bus aisle and comes straight at us and asks, “Hey – I always see you two come in together every morning and ya sit together every morning. That bugs me. So, how old are you two?”
And we just looked up at him in total fear and said in unison, “Six.”
And he got this weird look on his face and said, “And you’re sister and brother, right?
“Yes,” we said again at the same time.
“So your twins, right?”
“Nooooo.” We said again, in unison.
Then this guy is getting really mad. “Quit screwin’ with me little kids!” He says. “Your brother and sister, and you’re with the same mom and dad – ya got the same head of the family, right?”
“Yeah,” we said all sing-songy like the frickin’ creepy kids on the Shining.
“And ya got the same mom both of ya?”
“Yesssss.” We answered dutifully.
“So then, how come, and I swear to God you better not fuck with me,” he says, “how come you’re the same age but you say your not twins?”
And we just looked up at him, scared to death and said, “We don’t know. That’s just what our mama told us.”
I burst out laughing. I don’t know why. Maybe it wasn’t even funny, but the way she told it had me practically on the floor. It was just in the telling. Maybe it had something to do with knowing her back then, all that sweetness and that initial innocence they both had…and then knowing the path they ended up taking.
“So anyway, to answer your question, Lois, we are eleven months apart. It’s what they call ‘Irish twins.’ We aren’t really Irish, per se; it’s just an unfortunate racial slur meaning, siblings born less than a year apart.”
“Ah…got it.” I said with a smile still lingering on my face from her story. “I don’t know how I never knew that about you guys. Hmm. So, if I may shift gears here a little bit, Linda – your brother, Gary, as you know, of course, became quite the public figure.”
Linda’s face dropped ever so slightly, but her smile remained – a sign of her excellent upbringing. She knew how to maintain her outward “cool” at all costs.
“Yes, well, Gary has always been very out-spoken, driven and extremely charismatic. He could sell ice to the Eskimos, as it were.” She beamed as she described him. “I’m not saying I always agreed with his chosen, um, direction, but, and of course, as his sister, I am biased, but, I still can’t help but admire his ability to turn a room of people to his favor. I mean – even in college – people were terrified to meet him when he would come to visit me, but when he did, they all couldn’t get enough of him.”
“Right – I remember people name-dropping him like it was some kind of badge of honor. It was a weird kind of twisted thing. No offense.
“You and Gary have always stood up for each other, defending each other – even as children, isn’t that right?”
“Oh yes, definitely…definitely.” Linda’s eyes got a little clouded over, but she immediately regained her composure. “You know, my family had high expectations of us both and he handled the pressure in ways that were quite different than I did…but, I think his way was much healthier in the long run. I tend to internalize everything.”
I sat and searched her face for a deeper meaning from that. Then, “Right, right. If you don’t mind me getting a bit personal here, Linda, its no national secret that you yourself have recently been battling some demons with drug and alcohol abuse, is that correct?
“Yes, oh, yes, but that’s not recent, that’s been going on all my life. It’s only been because of Gary’s public life and – activities, and recent events that, uh, that people have come to, uh, come to find out about my, uh, my, yes, as you said – the alcoholism.”
“And now, your family. Specifically, your mother and father. ..” I stopped for a moment to study Linda’s expression and she was looking in my eyes and nodding, biting her lip, then nodding some more. It was plain she was definitely struggling with an emotion or two…so I continued cautiously.
“You mother and father and brother…you all were quite a close-knit family…is that how you would characterize it?
“Uh-huh.” she said as she continued to nod her head rhythmically, like a vertical metronome, as if the repetition of it alone was keeping her emotionally at bay.
“But, now… they – your mother and father, I mean – they are no longer speaking to you at all, is that correct?”
She just kept staring into my eyes and nodding, nodding and nodding. She looked as if she was going to say something but then was unable to speak. I took this as my cue to move on.
“So, I am assuming this has something to do with the events occurring within the last year or so?”
More nodding…I felt like I was talking to one of those bobble heads on a dashboard, but she was hanging in there.
“To back up on the timeline just a hair, if I may, Linda, your brother, as we all know now, was heavily involved in the Aryan or White Supremacist movement. In fact, after graduating school he left to go to San Francisco where he rose to the leader of a well-known neo-Nazi group down there, (editorial note: removed to protect the not-so-innocent) soon amassing nearly 10,000 members from across the country. He became a somewhat of a household name. Well, if you were plugged into that whole “scene” I guess. And he did that cover story for the Village Voice…and ABC News did a feature…”
I continued: “You – you used to visit him in jail and wait all day just to slip him a few dollars instead of going to your college classes…the FBI held him there on erroneous charges because of his political affiliations, people were killed trying to get him out…”
I stopped dead in my tracks, realizing by the look on her face that I’d gone too far. She was protective of the her brother, sure, I could understand that, and I was getting carried away, remembering the idiots straight out of Darwinism like “Pappy” – one of his “soldiers” who master-minded the brilliant idea to assassinate the President and launched this full-proof campaign of his by deftly writing all about it and his on-going mass genocide plans to rid the earth of all “mud races” before the year 2020…all outlined and dated clearly detailed …and sent it to – The King of Skinheads…while he was in lock-up on charges for first-degree attempted murder. With an FBI stack of files on him taller than Herve Villechaise. Genius, this Pappy guy. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with this plan? After all, who would even notice such a thing? No one was watching Gary or was remotely interested in reading the mail he got, right? And certainly, the fact that “Pappy” – this Popeye – looking, toothless, old brainiac ended up jumped by blank panther gang and beaten to death in Golden Gate Park – I’m sure that had nothing to with it. I had wanted to talk to her about all of that and so many other stories, but I knew our time was limited, and so was her emotional state.
“I do apologize, Linda. “I said sincerely. “I will try to be as brief as possible. And again, I truly thank you for agreeing to talk to me. But, you were right there sometimes – in the thick of it. You didn’t live there with him, but you’d drop by sometimes and visit him at the infamous ‘Baker House’ …where you’d get death threats and Malakoff cocktails just winging on through the window at you…not to mention the “skin bitches trying to take you out…How – how did you cope with this? I mean – I know you, Linda – and you are about as extreme a liberal as ever a person could want to meet! How did you square this- this – affiliation with your brother – ‘King of the Skinheads’ as he soon came to be known– how did you square that with your very strong, very leftist liberal sensibilities?”
She had stopped nodding at this point and looked me dead in the eye. She was red in the face, but not with anger but with passion of conviction.
“He was Gary. I don’t expect you to understand. I can’t explain it myself. I couldn’t explain it then, and I can’t explain it now. I hated, hated, hated what he believed and I still do. I could sit here and try to defend it and split hairs differentiating how his beliefs aren’t about genocide but about preserving your heritage, etc. but that is not the point.
The point is – I loved him and I still do. People would hear me say this and snarl. Then they would meet him and then they understood. Somehow, after they met him, sat down with him, then they got it too. They still hated his beliefs, of course, and I never ever tried to dissuade people from that, but they also “got it.” They got whey why I loved him so much. They “got” why I would always go on and on about him when his name came up. Why I would do anything for him and he would do anything for me. And it was always like that. Had always been like that. Just like when he could have gotten caught smoking pot when he was 13, I covered for him. And when my dad found his report card and yelled at him for “not being more like your sister” so I immediately tore mine up before they could even see the row of straight A’s on mine. And the thing is – I always thought he was one of the most brilliant, cleverest, quickest witted and creative people I’ve ever known. He’s definitely smarter than I am. Oh yeah, by far. You’d be amazed.”
She was just beaming now. I let her talk. “We looked out for one another since day one. He always knew when I was in trouble and vice versa. If I had two dimes to my name I’d give them both to him and he would do the same for me. That’s why. Enough said.”
“Right – that bond you guys had… I remember whenever you guys would go into a bar or travel, people- would think-“
“-everybody’d think we were dating…or a couple of whatever, I know, I know. “(She sighed and rolled her eyes, half embarrassed, half proud).
“Absolutely we did. What did you expect!?” We were both laughing now. It was actually a funny image. She, at the time we were thinking about, was in her early twenties and was the exact polar opposite of him. Imagine the quintessential co-ed; tall, thin, bouncy blonde with skirts so short the world is her gynecologist, skip-skip-iddle-dee-deeing into a “wouldn’t-want-to-be-caught-there-after-dark-roughneck-biker-bar” wearing said aforementioned skirt and a see-through, low-cut top and come-f*ck me boots with her arms wrapped around her brother, just hanging on him and his every word like he were Elvis. No one else in the room even existed to her.
Meanwhile, imagine the flip side of this coin, you’re a total smack head and you happen to be patronizing this same lovely establishment – this rank and skanky biker bar, literally under an overpass in a sketchy part of SOMA in San Francisco at about 2 AM… and you’re loaded to the gills, drinking to your head, trying to forget your name, or remember – whichever – you forget – when in walks this tall, bald, badass skinhead. You immediately recognize him from the news as Gary Johnson – ‘The King of the Skinheads’. He’s wearing a flight jacket, braces, and twenty-hole, steel-toed oxbloods. And when he takes off his jacket, you see he is totally sleeved in tats – all black, no color – he’s got iron crosses, swastikas, and Odin’s face with wild blond mane of hair streaming back, bats from hell and Valhalla for heaven. You name it – it’s a veritable potpourri of neo-Nazi iconography in the flesh. Every head in the bar is staring in awe, but not just at him, but also at the intriguing young lady friend he has draped and clinging to him like a scarf.
Yep, that girl-scarf was Linda. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a single person whose first thought when seeing them together said to themselves, “Yeah, they’re siblings. You can see the resemblance.”
It’s like seeing Sarah Jessica Parker on a date with Marilyn Manson. And then finding out they’re brother and sister. Yet, with them, somehow, they made it work. And you never got the feeling it was in this sick incestual way, either. They just had a unique brother sister relationship of trust, loyalty and affection – something unique that many people live their whole lives and never experience. There was a real strength and peace in that…for both of them.
“Well, I can see we are almost out of time, Linda” I said carefully. I said this because I saw the Nazi Nurse edging her way closer toward us from the back of the hall.
“If I might, I just wanted to touch briefly on the main reason for my visit, which I am sure you may have guessed, this being the week of the 15th and all.”
“Yes, I did have an inkling.” She said in a very serious tone.
“Yes, well,” I continued. “As I was saying, this being the week of the 15th, it is of course a very important week historically…in more ways than one.”
She started in with the metronome nodding again.
“…first, you two always celebrated your birthdays together, even though they were a month apart every year, and you were born eleven months apart…”
Nodding, nodding…”right, so every year that meant we were the same age for a month. Again, very confusing for a six-year old to grasp.”
“…yes, absolutely! And this week is your 40th…”
“…however, this also marks nearly a year since the uh, your horrific, er, accident…which occurred immediately following your 39th birthday…”
She had a brief pause in her nodding, like a glitch in the Matrix, then recommenced…nodding, nodding again…
“And, I don’t think you mind me stating what has already been reported and is of public record…that in fact, it was not an “accident” at all, but actually a very serious attempted suicide on your part…when you rammed your car at over 120 miles an hour into that concrete embankment…no braking, no skid marks on the street, no nothing…”
She went on nodding, but now she was also rocking herself back and forth as well…her face is very red and she is showing great distress…I know I needed to wrap it up with her right away…
“And your physical therapists all say you should have died then, that you really gave it all you had– they said most people, at that rate of speed, without a seatbelt, with the damage done to the vehicle – well, suffice to say, you are extremely lucky to have survived it, and – “
Her motions were getting very frenetic now. She was speeding them up and her face was growing tighter and twitched nervously. Nod, rock, nod, rock, nod, rock…
“And just…just one last thing and I know this is very difficult for you… I just wanted to ask you – what everyone wants to know – your suicide attempt –was it, I mean, I do not mean to pry in ANY way, but, you have so much to live for, and so many people who love and admire you – you are a brilliant producer and – well, now, I mean, you’ve lost your job, and now you’re here, and your family won’t speak to you because they, well, I mustn’t dwell long on this, but as you know, they blame you, for, for, your brother’s death. …They say you were late getting to the bridge to meet him for your usual birthday lunch and that you were “drunk again” and “irresponsible and selfish” – now that’s them talking, not me, and that your brother only committed suicide because you did not show up, that he only jumped off the bridge because…well, they say you’ve always been a drunk and they blame you – they say you could have saved him if only you had been there to…”
“No!” No! NOOOO!!!! You don’t know ANYTHING!!!! It didn’t happen like that! That’s not it! It’s the way everyone thinks! You’ll NEVER GET IT! No one will!” Linda screamed at me in a voice I had never heard her use. She pounded and pounded and pounded on the desk in front of her, crying and screaming out and then she began hitting and scratching at herself – hard. She was tearing at her flesh, drawing blood and ripping at her hair, punching herself in the eyes, nose, neck and face. Making horrible guttural animal sounds all the while.
I jumped back in sheer terror, accidentally knocking over her card table just as Nurse Gaines and some orderlies came running over.
I steadied myself, trying to get my balance to stand up. Just as I did, I glanced up just in time to see some of the orderlies help take Linda away. She was in a wheelchair which I was unaware of, but more than that, and as they pulled her back out from under the card table I could see that the accident had left her legless. I gasped before I could stop myself and quickly looked away again.
She continued to cry and scream out for her brother the entire time…I could hear her bellow like an injured beast all the way down the hallway, saying I would never understand, no one would ever understand…
Just then I felt arms around me, lifting me to my feet. I was still in a state of shock when I realized it was Nurse Goines placing me back up on my feet.
She looked me right in the eye and grabbed my chin and said, “You have to go now.”
I was shell-shocked. Stammering I managed to say back to her, “Uh ok, yes certainly. Of course. Th-thank you. Is – is she going to be alright? I mean…”
“What?” she said, quite annoyed, pursuing her lips and glaring at me. “What is it?
“Um, I-I’m sorry – just…d-do you happen to know what she means? Why she keeps saying ‘I wouldn’t understand’– that it didn’t happen the way everyone thinks?”
“Yes, I do.” She said with a stony glare. “She and her brother did everything together, just like she said. They had a pact….except; at the last minute…she didn’t jump.”
© 2014 Erika Whitmore