This won't make sense unless you've read Broken Starlight
The cab driver didn't know where I lived so I had to tell him.
And then I forgot, so it was worse. We got here after driving in circles. I remembered everything in teaspoonfulls.
Inside my house everything looks like it did the day I left. I haven't slept since I left except for passing out every now and then I think. Or am I just thinking I'm sometimes sleeping? Can’t be sure. Who would bother keeping track of something like that, but I swear, the dishes in the sink are the ones I left that Sunday morning. There’s a pair of my socks on the floor in the bedroom. Our bed is unmade, and Anna never leaves it that way. It’s as if she hasn’t come home at all since Atlantic City.
I won't be able to find her, she told me. I used to find her all the time but this time she's gone and locked the vault door. No ESP. No private investigators.
“Screw that,” I say to myself. “I found her before. I can do this again.” I find her address book in a drawer in the kitchen and call some of those numbers.
No, nobody knows where Anna is. Is there a problem? How was my business trip?
Business trips are for people who can remember where they live.
Meg Matthews number is on a napkin by the phone, exactly where I had written it weeks ago, and I call her. She’s very surprised to hear from me and says she accepts my apologies, if only to keep away from any further conflict, I suspect. No, she doesn’t know where Anna is. Hasn’t seen her since she left. No, she doesn’t know where she went but I think she does. Don't know how I get it out of her--Anna left with that old roommate of hers, Cassie. I should try calling her.
And she gives me Cassie’s number if only because she's afraid I'm psychotic and might hunt her down and kill her in her sleep. Or did I tell her that and that's why she thinks it? And there’s no answer at Cassie's house because I bet that bitch Meg called ahead. Dialed faster because it took me like eight times. Now if I could figure out where Cassie lived I’d go there.
Okay, self. If you’re going to do this you’re going to have to do it. Just this. Nothing else. Just find her. Where the hell do you start? I fall onto the sofa and close my eyes. Think. Think. I must be tired because when I open my eyes it’s dark and there aren’t any lights on in the house. When I wake up I remember I have to find Anna. Little idea stuck in my mind.
Find Anna. You lost her. She's running away to where it's white. Never find her there.
I'll go to the highest place on earth. Mt. Everest. She can't miss me there. Just go up and shout. If I'm really up there she'll hear me. She'll know I'm real. I have an image from a dream I had when I used to sleep a long time ago or just now. There’s a mountain with steep sides surrounded by ice and snow. There’s a cross on top, and barely enough room for two people to stand. From up there the ground slopes away so fast it looks like Anna’s flying. And all around the air is full of nothing—the emptiness that existed when God created time. Silent and eternal. In the distance glaciers calve into freezing seas. The sun casts white and gold onto the world. Mountains rise, distant and blue. The sun spins eternally overhead and it's always always cold beyond ice-- Anna don't run away there I don't know how to get there. Is it Earth?
Annie is on top of the steep hill, arms outstretched beside the cross, scanning the horizon, calling into the nothingness for me. Calling me that used to be me. She ran all the way to the pole of the Earth to get away from what I did. Does she expect me to go there?
My car keys are still on the little hook in the kitchen, and I grab them, get my car, and drive toward town. The little digital clock on my dashboard yells 11:00 at me. Eleven o’clock. She’s not going to be out anywhere. She’s going to be in somebody’s house, or inside a hotel room. Where are you going, Mitchell? This is ridiculous. You can't get to other planets in a car. You can't drive to the south pole.
You need, like, a rocket.
I take the first right off the main road and head onto the side streets looking for a way to turn around. This road is narrow and dark. It’s one of those residential mountain roads where the houses are miles apart and have no numbers. And I can’t turn around. There’s a ditch on either side of the road and it isn’t wide enough for an attempt so I know the topology of three dimensions says if I go far enough it's just like turning around at some point.
I'm not stupid. I wasn't born yesterday. Earth isn't a klein bottle. Who do you think you're talking to?
My fucking wife fucking everybody but me. Well, not really true. She actually does it with me all the time sort of. Sort of. If this was all about sex we could just fuck a couple of times and it would be okay but nobody tells you about the other part, the love part that you may as well just drive a knitting needle through your eardrums and pierce your brain stem because the love part is what you're really fucking. It's not the meat parts.
This is why our parents didn't want us doing it. It had nothing to do with viruses or tea-colored juice stains. Love. Faces launch thousands of ships.
This is a hill. There's the city lights below. The scenic overlook. Used to drive up here and make out when we were kids. I learned to unclip a bra with one hand. Even those ones the big girls have with like, the five clips. I can still do it I think.
A sign says to me the park is closed after sunset. Well, soon it will be sunset after the sunrise.
I shut off my headlamps so nobody thinks I'm driving the sun or making out. No bras in my car. The clock on my dashboard reads 11:11. This time is magic time, she said. Make a wish at 11:11 and everything comes true. Twice a day. But then I said that it was 11:11 every hour somewhere and so there's actually 48 of them, and she smacked me and we wrestled and I got to lick her ear, which she likes and it makes her really sort of horny.
It’s the highest spot, up here.
Wait. No it’s not. There's somewhere higher.
Goddamn, if this is what I have to do, this is what I’m going to do. The highest point. One place higher. The Mt. Everest of New Jersey.
My foot slips on my bumper, and so I just hop onto the car hood. The sheet metal's bending but who needs that curved roof anyway without a dent? The car vibrates under me, engine running in case I need to get away fast. Maybe the brake will slip and the car will go over the edge with me on top. Then I can scream all the way down like the end of a movie.
The movie about me. About how I was a kid and I met a magic girl who became my girlfriend and then she was my wife and I totally fucked it up. Totally. And nobody feels sorry for me because it was my fault so I should just feel bad forever. Good thing he's dead. Don't have to invite him to any more Christmas Parties. Right?
Fuck that. I'll just go off this cliff. It can't hurt for more than, what, couple seconds? Kind of scary then just, whack.
And I’m standing on the roof with the wind in my face wondering what to do next. Do I just scream? Will that make the car go?
“Annie,” I whisper to try to get my voice to work so the car will go, but I haven't been talking for a while so nothing comes out. Then I say it. “Annie.” Then I say it louder. And when I’m comfortable with it, I scream it to the city lights. She’s out there somewhere. I spread my arms wide. Anything. I’ll take anything you want to give me. Right now before it's over.
“Annie. Goddamn it. Why did you have to do it? What's wrong with me?”
I suck in air in gulps and scream as loud as my throat will allow. Scream until my voice cracks, and I lose my footing and fall off the car. "What's wrong with me? What wrong with stupid fucking me that I don't even deserve my own wife? You said we were married."
“I love you. I don’t care what I did. I still love you. I don’t care what you think.” That’s what I’m yelling as I brush myself off. That’s what I’m yelling as I run up to the guardrail and stand on it. That’s what I’m yelling as I try to fall. Try to fall off but the wind pushes me backward. And the car is there so I hit it with a fist. Then again.
“I’m sorry.” When you yell the word, sorry, it comes out “sore-ay”. "I'm sorry, ok? I'm sorry for being born. I'm sorry I met you and screwed us up this way."
The car sits there running, so smug. I kick the tire. I kick the door. Dent the rear quarter panel. Kick out the rear taillight. "I'm sorry I have this bastard car. I'm sorry I can't sleep anymore. I'm sorry they don't want me at work and our house is fucking empty." When the red light shatters I lose my balance and fall sitting. And so why sit? I lie backward on the gravel parking lot and above me, only stars.
Above the smog on the mountain top the stars are brilliant, white hot. The Milky Way stretches from horizon to horizon. A meteor blazes a track over me, burning out in the distance between Leo and the city. And there is Perseus. Andromeda. Pegasus. I know these constellations because when I was a kid I studied star charts and besides, remember that class in astrophysics I took?
Goddamn, what I wouldn’t give for Pegasus right now. What I need is a big white horse with wings. Take me to her or take me away. Take me into battle where I can earn my glory or be killed with honor. Take me to Andromeda, chained to the boulder on the shore. I bet Perseus never cried. No matter how bad it got, he kept a straight face. Killed the damned Gorgon with a mirror and a sword. Turned an entire advancing army to stone.
I bet Andromeda couldn’t have done it to Perseus. His woman never fucked the Greek army and made him cry.
But I miss Annie so much I’m not myself anymore. I miss her so much I don’t have any bravery left. My stupid heart keeps beating, lungs keep breathing. Don’t they know it doesn’t make sense to keep me alive?
A bright light flashes over me. Stops on my face and makes me squint. Why bother squinting? Just close my eyes. Close them as I see the red and blue flashing. Take me away. Up into the sky. Pegasus.
Something big and heavy crunches the stones near my head. An engine drumming. Exhaust wafts over me. A car door opening.
Maybe I can be gone by the time they reach me. Maybe I can be dead. I’ll just hold my breath.
“Sir. Are you okay? Sir. Can you hear me?” a voice commands.
“Yes.” I say, after waiting so long he kneels and takes my pulse, his boot only inches away.
“Nothing,” I say. Keep my eyes closed. For a minute I think to tell him I was going to jump. Was that why I’m up here? “I’m fine.”
“What are you doing here?”
Eyes closed, feel the rocks under my back and head.
“Waiting for who?”
“The best thing about life is that you can’t ever know what’s going to happen. You have to stay in your seat till the last second to see how it’s going to turn out.”
---Anna to Mitch, Mitch's Diary 1983
There’s a kid on the bed next to mine. He has a broken arm. The cast is fresh. Waiting for plaster to dry. His mother wipes at his eyes with a ragged tissue. When she leaves he tells me he was trying to jump two trash cans. He put a piece of plywood on one can, took a running start on his bicycle, and tried to clear two of them in the air. Came down crooked.
Next time he’d nail it, he told me between sniffles. Don’t say anything to mom.
Don’t worry about me. I smile to him.
“What happened to you?” he asks.
“Fell off a car,” I tell him when the nurse comes with the papers and his mother leads him away. It’s bright and loud and white in here. I’m lost in the confusion. Someone must know I’m here.
The nurse looks at me and asks if I’m feeling better, and I say yes even though I really can’t tell. The tests all came back negative. No alcohol. No drugs. Only one ER intern had done his homework. He asked me when the last time was I’d gotten any sleep, and I told him I couldn’t remember. Maybe when I passed out on the sofa at home for an hour or so. Maybe hallucinating on the airplane home.
“I really don’t sleep anymore. I've evolved past the need,” I told him. Told him about the trip to the Netherlands. Fighting with Anna. Couldn’t he see, there really wasn’t much room for sleeping in all that. Eating, either. And so they diagnosed me with acute exhaustion. Dehydration. Hypoglycemia.
He tells me he’s sorry about the wife, will try to get in touch with her. Takes the number I give him and leaves me sitting there on the edge of the bed in my hospital gown, my legs resting against the chrome rails. And I wonder what Rosenberg would say if he saw me sitting here. Good thing you guys sent me home to self-destruct, you guys who know everything.
The doc is a young guy, younger than me. If I had a little brother he’d be this guy. I’m only twenty-seven and he makes me feel like an old man. Doogie-fricking-Howser. Guy this young inspires all the confidence of a professional dog walker. He pulls out a pad of paper and writes.
“I’m giving you a prescription for restoril. Will help you sleep. I want you to go home and get some sleep. Eat something. Drink a lot of water.”
Yup. Sure. All that.
“There’s no answer at the number you gave me,” he says. “Sometimes you have to look for them. Sometimes they look for you. That’s the way it works.”
Wait. Did I hear that last part? “What?”
“Did you really look everywhere, Rocco?”
What the hell? “What did you just call me?”
He hands me the prescription and slaps me on the chest with the back of his hand. “You never had to go any further than right here. She never left you. You want to know what you did wrong? You never asked her to stay. You never gave her the time to explain. It could have taken weeks, but it's just time, and then it would be over. It was simple and you blew it. Oh well. There’s always another chance. Suck it up. Get back in the game. I know you hurt. Hell, we all hurt. We’re all suffering. We all play with pain. You know, she’s not even hiding. Can’t you hear her screaming for you? She’s on the top of a mountain yelling your name. Get your ass in gear and get up there young man.”
Who is he calling "young man"? Is this happening, or is it a hallucination? He says, “How less real is it if it is a hallucination? We doctors sometimes find it easier to say things this way.”
Is he reading my mind?
“I don’t have to read it if I’m already there,” he says, then puts his stethoscope into his ears and puts the cold disk on my chest. “Breathe in,” he says, and I do. “Now out.”
He smiles and sighs. Puts a hand on my shoulder like he's my dad or something. Says, “Rocco, the world is an amazing place. Right now, this second is the greatest moment in someone’s life. Someone is being born. Someone is dying. It’s a web of events.” He interlaces his fingers to show me. “Pull here, push there, everything connected. That’s what we all do. We live together here having our lives and it’s all important. Right now things look pretty dark, eh?”
And I admit I wished I wasn’t here. I wished it was normal.
“Ah, there is no normal, pal,” he says and slaps me on the shoulder. “There is every day and how you deal with it. That’s your contribution. All I want is what you want. You need to stay in the game. No matter how bad it gets, you need to push. The mistakes are why you’re here. You are being paid to play. I came by to remind you no matter how hard you try, you can't ever get to normal. You need to move on. Get past it.”
“Paid to play…” I echo, feeling a little dizzy. I say the first thing that comes into my mind. “Are you my guardian angel?”
“No, you silly boy,” he says, picking up his clipboard. As he parts the curtains he turns back and says, “She’s right there,” and points.
I follow his finger. Then a hand is in front of my face, lifting my eyelid. “Mr. Dale? Mr. Dale?” I’m on my back on the bed. There are a couple of nurses around. There’s a blood pressure cuff on my arm and one is poking me in the back of the hand with a needle and an IV tube. My head is spinning, and my stomach turning. I feel like I’m going to be sick, and there’s scrambling and a tray put beside my mouth as I roll to my side.
It doesn’t happen.
“You passed out,” a nurse tells me. “We’re going to keep you here a while. They need your insurance card at the front desk.”
“Are you my guardian angel?” I ask her, and she blushes and looks around at the other nurses in the room.
Someone takes my hand.
My angel says, “Go to sleep now, Rocco.”
So I do.
My life is in pieces and I broke it myself. Nobody to blame. There's a thing called triage and that means you have to go home.
There was an emergency and they're full, or there's sicker people, or they hate me. Anyway, I'm not staying in the hospital. I'm getting in the cab and this time the driver knows where I live because it's light outside and he can see and the nurse told him. Doesn't need my directions. We'd wind up in Nebraska going that way, he says. I ask him what's wrong with Nebraska? Don't Nebraskans like it there?
"What's your point?" he says.
"My point is, Nebraska is part of the Earth," I say, but he can't comprehend superior logic. That's why he's driving a cab and I'm writing drunk programs in Amsterdam and making people who love me hate me.
Love me hate me. Is that already a song?
I get out of his cab in front of a house that's an amazing replica of mine except Anna and I aren't in it. Take all the money from my wallet and toss it to him, all my travel money; how much does a cab cost anyway? If I give him enough money maybe he'll just keep driving me whenever I need him. Like one of those butlers who drives. What do you call them, again?
I feel like screaming so I do and also because I don't have anything else to do. Call her name until the neighbors open their doors and see me standing there. Then kneeling there pulling out tufts of grass on this lawn that's probably mine because it needs to be mowed. All unmown lawns of the world are mine. It must be a law. It's the Mitch-must-mow-every-Earthly-lawn law.
No. This isn’t right. The roof. I’ll stand on the roof and call her. Let's get back to the job at hand. The highest point. Then she’ll hear me like in the dream about Antarctica. Yes, that's what they call that place where you die going nowhere. They don't even have Nebraska there.
Antarctica. Did you run there to hide?
I’m heading to front of the house with the extension ladder when her car pulls into the driveway. The door opens and I see her get out. It’s not an Anna I know. It's robot Anna. This one has black circles around her red eyes. Her nose is peeling and chapped, red. She runs toward me, gritting her teeth.
Look at what you did to her, you son of a bitch. This is the hurt you did all over her like she's black and blue on the inside and it's rotting her skin.
She’s screaming something. Balls a hand into a fist and pounds my chest when she reaches me.
“Bastard. You fucking bastard.” And she pounds me again. The ladder crashes to the ground where I drop it. The force of her blows make me step backward.
She opens a hand and slaps me across the face. The sting is sharp and bright. Then again. Like light in my eyeballs. “You bastard,” she says so many times she can't separate the words anymore, “You almost missed me. My car is packed. I was gone and you missed me."
"I came in a cab," I tell her. It's all I can think. "He thought this was our house."
I try to put my arms around her, but she pulls away. “No. I’m not ready for you yet.” She turns toward her car, then spins on her heels and comes back to hit me again. “You son of a bitch. Are you done being a child? Are you back now?” she says, gasping in sobs between sentences.
“Yes I'm right here,” I say, because I'm not at scenic overlook where I left the car or the hospital where that guy wants me to play with pain. And now I’m trying to keep myself sturdy. Don’t stand here like some whimp and cry. This crying shit, it’s like a disease. Do it once in an airplane and you can’t stop yourself anymore. She wants someone strong, not that jerk.
“Then you promise me this is the last time. There can’t be a next time. You promise or it’s over. ”
So I’m thinking of what to say, because saying, “I promise,” or, “I do,” seems so cheap. Nothing’s coming out.
She’s not waiting. “What the hell are you doing with this goddamned ladder?” she says, and kicks it. And then kicks it again because it makes a noise. Then she stomps her feet and screams like I was, only her's isn't any word.
I point toward the house and manage to say, “the roof…” because I know she'll understand. "...don't go to the ice part...please. I don't know where that is."
“What the hell were you going to do on the goddamned roof you idiot?” and she kicks the ladder again, then punches me in the chest again, and pulls her elbows in to her stomach, hunches her shoulders, shakes her hands and screams again. “I should hate you forever for what you did. I should hate you.”
"You should hate me," I say. "I hate me. We can hate me together. We'll have that in common."
I hear myself saying something but her eyes are so red I just want to help her. She's melting me. I have to say this twice because I can’t hear it myself. “I’m sorry,” and my goddamned chin is quivering like I’m four years old and I’m starting not to be in control. She’s going to take one look and that will be the end.
“I’m sorry. I love you so much.” What unoriginal bullshit. Get out of here before I start sounding like a soap opera and need to kill myself so I stop hearing myself. My eyes are starting to burn and tear. "God, Annie. I didn't know how much I loved you till I got on that plane to leave and I felt like the bullets were going through me. I didn't know how stupid I was until about three people told me and then I didn't believe them, but then I did and they didn't have to tell me I knew it all along. Oh God, Annie. Please don't make me be alone without you. I don't want to be alive then. I can't even remember how to breathe. I can't even blink. Don't go to the white part. Don't go."
And then Anna stops shaking. She’s looking at my face and I’m turning away. I should go back and get the ladder. I should climb on the house and throw myself off but it's a ranch and it's really not high enough and I'd probably just sprain my ankle and have to limp around for a few weeks with my ankle wrapped in ace bandages until I got up enough strength to jump off a highway overpass into the path of some tractor trailers carrying corn from Nebraska.
“Are you crying?” she asks me, and it sounds more like a threat than a question.
“No,” I say without looking at her, trying to breathe normally. Christ. I’m going to lose everything because I can’t keep this bottled up. "No. I'm strong."
“I’m not fucking crying,” I yell. I’m an idiot standing in my driveway. Can’t keep a straight face for her when it counted. Nothing I do is right. If only I could learn to be wrong really well, I'd have everything worked out in life. I could be the world's only professional error maker. Or maybe one of millions.
It's not working. I can't distract myself.
“Oh my god,” she says, quieter now. She pulls a paper tissue from her pocket and starts dabbing at my face as I turn away. “Oh my god,” she says again, as if I’m having a heart attack. "Look at you."
Why is it I haven’t cried in twenty-five years or so and every time I’m with this woman she reduces me to human wreckage?
“I’m so sorry, Annie,” I say, first meaning to apologize for crying when I should be strong. Then to apologize for everything I’d ever done in my life but I barely get anything out of my throat it hurts so much. I can't see. "Annie." Her name is like a prayer. "I was so afraid you didn't love me anymore."
Don't know where that came from. How I said it at all. It's like I'm trying it out, just to see if they're the right words.
She says, "When I saw your face...in that room." She's just sobbing. "How could I do this to you?"
Weight becomes light. Death becomes birds that take off from my shoulders. When I close my eyes I see white wings coming. He lands and walks up the driveway. If I want, we can fly.
"Oh God, Rocco, people aren't supposed to do these things to people they love."
"Maybe we stopped loving each other but I don't think so," I say when I can fill my lungs that don't want to fill with air.
"I don't think so too," she says.
I got nothing else. I just want to stay here. And after a while she tells me she left the car running and the door opened but I'm not letting her go. We'll stay right here, as far as I'm concerned.
It will run out of gas. And besides. I have this flying horse now.
Then she kisses me; she's sobbing into my ear. And I don't know what you call this, what I'm doing. Accomplishing nothing. No communication. Nothing useful. Just all this crying and sometimes kissing with faces full of wet. Not bravery, nothing gallant. Stupid fucking slobbering. Idiot sobbery. I don't care if I have to stay here the rest of my life. I don't care if they drop nuclear weapons or I get pancreatic cancer or I break out in boils or my clothes absorb acid rain and rot off my body.
I’m staying here in my driveway with my arms around Anna.
The neighbors are standing in their doorways, portable phones to their ears. Emergency services are probably screaming toward us at this very moment.
if you want more read: I married a sex goddess