I used to rent out the garage in those last years of the marriage. And the basement was an apartment that also was rented. We didn’t have enough money to pay the mortgage so I tried to scrap together pennies anyway I could. I was selling books too. I’d learned how to find valuable books—what kind of book was valuable—and I’d take any books I could find. Often people give away boxes and you can find them at library sales and the like and I got good and determining what kind of book be worth a lot to someone. They are not good books. Not even well-printed and well-wrought books nor beautiful ones. They are definitely not James Patterson or Leon Uris or any popular book with multiple editions. They cease to have value the moment they are bought.
Once the drains on Central Avenue where we had our first little house backed up (one of a series of catastrophes that overtook us in the those years between moving to the suburbs and the collapse of the marriage). The boxes and boxes of books we had down there because we had no place else for the collections of the husband. He had worked at the Strand and in that time had managed to accrue full sets of Hemingway, Henry Miller, Knut Hamson and Bukowski. In retrospect it’s obvious that I had no reason to believe a marriage to this man would work. The insurance company at first refused to pay us anything for the ruined spew of male authors. According to them, a book once read has no value.
In my two stays at the bin I met an assortment of humanity that made me quite aware that the ones who get locked up aren’t the worst. They are the detritus the victims. The narcissists and the underminers don’t get locked up. The talkers who can hide behind sophistries and side eyes don’t get locked up. They don’t display cracks. It’s those of us who can’t hold it all together who let the world shatter us.
When I got back from my second sojourn in the bin I moved the inflatable mattress up to what had once been the bedroom of my son. I don’t believe in the three months that I lived in that empty house I ever set foot in any of the other bedrooms. I don’t think I cooked anything. I had to go to the hospital for day care every weekday. A bus would appear at my door and make the rounds of the area picking up all the assorted lunatics.
They’d feed us at the hospital and send us through the orchestrations of meetings. We’d have to learn tai chi and make little craft projects all interspersed with group therapy. Big meetings at the beginning of the day at the end. And smaller group meetings of give or six. Initially they put me in a smaller AA style group but they must have decided that I wasn’t an alcoholic so I was shifted out of that and into a generic group for the randomly crazy.
I met a woman who ran a brothel over a chines restaurant. A guy who came in so bruised with dark circles under his eyes and the look of a maniac the first day he came in. After a few days he showed us the marks of the rope around his neck. He’d hung himself in the garage and his wife had cut him down. There was the ethereal white skinned boy who’d decide to parade stark naked down Bloomfield Avenue having decided that clothing was capitulation. The woman who was raising teenagers alone and working three jobs and had finally collapsed into the despair of it all. A gorgeous tall black woman who lived in a fancy house but had caved into emptiness. All of us not aggressors. Manics, depressives, optimists disappointed or pessimists sunk deeper. There was but one person I met there who seemed lost beyond the rest. She spoke to people who didn’t not exist and no one would sit with her at lunch. Perhaps they didn’t want to take a seat occupied by a ghost. I sat with her. She wasn’t agitated that day speaking her gentle nonsense. I was told that she had undergone electroshock therapy and sometimes it had worked. Later they sent her to another place for those less likely to go back out into the world.
While I was in the bin that first visit. The one where I went to after the brokers open house because I had told someone I intended to drive south to find the internet lover and hike the Appalachian Trail. I had just read Bill Bryson’s book about hiking the trail and I was indulging myself in a fantasy. I knew well from Bryson’s book that you can’t just show up and expect to make it. I had no equipment and no plan at all. I had no money for gas or food and no idea where one would be picking up the trail. It was merely something I threw out to shut someone up. My real intention was to drive away from the beloved house as it came on the market. I was going to drive as I sometimes did in those days to no particular place. Just away.
A year or so before I ran away for one night. Took a road that went past the malls and the vivid soullessness of New Jersey at its most repetitive and soul eroding. We’d had a fight, me and the husband. It could have been about any number of things. Money probably but money was just the proxy for the disdain he felt for me. Maybe he hit me then or maybe it was the time he strangled me in rage. I’d provoked him most certainly by trying to provoke him with words or perhaps a plate hurled at a wall. I’d do anything to shake him out of his disdain.
I don’t believe there is anything lonelier than crying yourself to sleep while your husband pretends to sleep, or even worse sleeps. That one day I drove out an hour maybe. I wasn’t even through with suburbs. I went to a motel and bought myself a bottle of over the counter sleep aids. I was furious and I wanted to sleep I didn’t want to die I just didn’t want to be awake. I remember calling the husband to tell him where I was. I told him I wanted to die. He said, well get on with it.
Those were the days when I had stopped digging ponds. The year before I’d decided that I could bring joy and creatures to my garden. I imagined lily pads and the gentle waterfall. Idyllic. Fish kissing the meniscus, cattails and frogs. So I dug a hole. I didn’t ask permission for that decision and when he arrived home I was thigh deep. The little child was dancing around in the mud. The dogs were tracking it into the house and (and this is perhaps the only time I understand his frustration with a wife who was always embarking on ambitious projects and often abandoning them. Once they put me on the Adderall my ambitious abandoned project was the memoir. But the years before I was still trying to make the house into some special dream house that I had always wanted. I imagined a pond for me for the children for the dogs for the frogs.
Perhaps in the early days of the two of us when we still in our twenties my little ambitions weren’t a trial or an inconvenience. I don’t think they were important to him though ever.