Savior Complex Part 2

Jesus Christ crown of thorns

…continued from Part 1

We sat on the sofa, all of us, Tatum paging through a family photo album on her lap. Pictures of vacations with the deadbeat boyfriend, of her during various stages of her pregnancy, of her and deadbeat holding a newborn Lee and later with Tatum holding a newborn Stacie while deadbeat lurked somewhere in the background. A life well documented.

Tatum told me how difficult things had been. Deadbeat had developed a drug habit and came around under the guise of seeing his children only to beg off some money to score and if that hadn’t worked, he stole things to sell or threatened to take the kids.

One time when Tatum refused to give him any more money, he made good on his threat and Stacie and Lee were taken from her by Child Services because of alleged abuse charges. She described the hell she had to go through to get her family back.

As if on cue, there was a knock at the door. It was deadbeat, whose Christian name was Oscar, most likely coming around again to score. She spoke with him in hushed tones through the space in the door allowed by the security chain. When his shouts turned to raged kicking on the door, I stepped up behind Tatum so that he could see me. “Everything all right, Tate?”

Gasoline on fire. He lost his mind and no manner of reason calmed him. I showed him my cell phone, made sure he had seen me dial 911 and only then as he weighed the options in his mind did he leave, but not before he made his threats. He would be back, to get his kids and make her pay.

Tatum convinced me not to involve the police but only after she agreed to let me stay the night in case Oscar decided to return. We tried to salvage the rest of the evening for the sake of Stacie and Lee but deadbeat’s presence lingered in the air.

The sofa was made up for me as comfortable as she could have managed, but sleep was the furthest thing from my mind. I was afraid that Oscar would return, afraid that I wouldn’t be much use since I wasn’t a violent man. All I could have done was to block his attack while Tatum grabbed the kids and made their way to safety. And if that was what it took, then so be it.

When I started drifting off, as the tension of the evening released its grip, Tatum came to me. Her nightgown slid off her perfect skin. Why hadn’t I ever noticed just how perfect she was before? She stood there, naked and beautiful in the moonlight that poured in from the window, and I knew than and there that I would have done anything for her. Smiling, she climbed on top of me and it was paradise.

After we were done, after all the love I was capable of making had been made, after the pillow talk in which things were said that were sweet and emotional and ultimately meaningless, Tatum gathered her nightgown and went back to her bed. I understood her not wanting the children to find her in arms in the morning, but a small piece of me was sad.

My head swam with a million thoughts, my heart filled with far too many emotions, and that combined with the feeling that something wasn’t right, meant there was no sleep for me tonight. I was so preoccupied that I hadn’t heard it at first. The sound. The jingling of keys.

I went silent, straining my ears—moments passed. It couldn’t have been him with a set of keys. Surely Tatum would have changed the locks. Then it happened again. The sound of a key sliding in a lock. I sat bolt upright on the sofa, eyes scanning the darkness for a weapon. Remote controls, game console controllers, DVDs—the candy dish! It was no gun, but glass and solid enough to damage a skull.

I stared into the dark hallway from the living room entranceway. The sound of the doorknob turning. The door opened a crack and light spilled in from the apartment building hallway. An arm slipped in through the crack. It held something wire-like. A hanger? The tip of the hooked wire scratched at the door until it found purchase. The handle for the security chain. It slid across the groove slowly until the chain fell away.

I should have acted then. I should have rushed the door, slammed his arm in it, put my full weight against the door, held him there and called the police for them to cart him away. But I was held in place by a tense moment that locked inside of me. Instinct had taken over. So had the fear.

The intruder’s silhouette appeared in the doorway before the door clicked shut behind him, plunging the hall back into darkness. Footsteps, slow and deliberate. The floorboards creaked as if they were screaming a warning.

Then I heard a rustling come from the kids’ room. Had they heard the noise? Were they coming to investigate? Something snapped inside me. This bastard wasn’t going to harm the kids!

I charged into the darkness until I collided with the intruder. But as angry and determined as I was, it was no match for his explosive violence. He heaved me into the air and threw me on the floor, punched and kicked me and I had no defense, I put my arms up but they blocked none of his attack.

He wrapped his hands around my throat and I flailed spastically to get him off me as I gasped for the air that had been cut off from me.

I was overcome with fear but my body was overcome with instinct. My limbs simply tried anything they could to free my throat so I could breathe. But the intruder was having none of it. He slammed my head against the floor in a violent demonstration of his control over me as I gasped my last remaining breaths.

Then light flooded the room. Tatum and the children stood at the end of the hall, staring at me. My emotions were mixed. I wanted them to go away, I didn’t want them to see me like this. I wanted them to get to safety, but on the other hand, I wanted them to help me. I didn’t want to die.

But there was something in the way they looked at me, something that told me things weren’t right. And I looked up at the intruder—

Who was no longer there. And now I understood why they were staring at me. Here I was lying on the floor with my own hands wrapped around my neck. It took some effort for me to loosen my grip. I staggered to me feet and tried to explain how Oscar had come back, how he had a key and he broke in and was going to do something terrible to them, but they didn’t understand.

Who was Oscar? they kept asking and, What’s wrong with Daddy? And I told them to stop that, it wasn’t funny anymore, I’m not their father and the looks of genuine hurt danced across their faces. And I ran into the living room and grabbed the photo album for proof and flipped through the pages of—

Tatum and I on vacation. Me posing with her during various stages of her pregnancy. The pair of us a newborn Lee and later with holding a newborn Stacie while Lee lurked somewhere in the background.

I had no recollection of having taken these photos, yet they existed.

And I looked at Stacie and Lee and they were different again, now a mixture of Tatum and I thought I actually saw bits of myself in their faces. The kids asked Tatum what was wrong and she explained that I, Daddy, just had a nightmare, that’s all. She tells them that everything would be all right in the morning, everything back to normal.

And as Tatum ushered me to the bedroom, she grabbed the pillow off the sofa and a something fell onto the floor. It looked like a figure made of folded palm leaves but I couldn’t see it properly because she quickly brushed it under the sofa with her foot. I asked her what that was and she said it was just one of the kids’ toys and she would talk to them about picking up their things tomorrow, or she suggested maybe I should do it, after he got back from Tuesday morning shopping, because she wouldn’t have time since she was staring at a monster of a day down at the law firm tomorrow.

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Adieu, Isle of Staten. Hola, City of Angels!

lax-airport-shooting-live-stream

“I give you this to take with you: Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.” ― Judith Minty, Letters to My Daughters

Uprooting my life, trading the familiarity of the devil I had a close and personal relationship with for the devil who was a complete and utter stranger was a bit daunting to say the least, but when my life had reached the point where it felt as if it was slowly being dragged down into the quagmire of stagnation…  well, as The Brady Kids aptly sang, “When it’s time to change, then it’s time to change.

Like most people, I spent my life acquiring the necessary knowledge and subset skills that helped me assimilate, adapt and maneuver through all the various and sundry obstacles and alterations sprinkled—sometimes hurled with vehemence—in my path and after a while I deluded myself into thinking I had become a dab hand at it. My arrogance allowed me to believe that I pretty much sussed out the true schematics of existence—at least as it applied to surviving in the city of which I was born and bred.

My arrogance was my folly. Over the past year and a half I slowly discovered none of it worked any longer. All the tips and trade secrets I had tucked away in my rucksack of tricks failed to net even the minutest result and all the rules I had mastered no longer applied. That was when I came to the sad realization that New York had fallen out of love with me. She even wrote me a Dear John letter that only took me eighteen months to read.

So here I am in El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula, a stranger in a strange land, not quite settled in and having to shake the memory of the former city that broke his heart, while getting used to the sight of the shifting colorful mountains in the backdrop of an unfamiliar skyline.

Raise a glass with me, won’t you, as we toast to new beginnings.

Cheers.

Sally forth and be Sha na na na, na na na na na, sha na na na naingly writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Savior Complex Part 1

Jesus Christ crown of thorns

“You have a messiah complex, got to save the world.” — Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas

I’ve never been much for crowds. People huddled en masse tended to embrace a hive mind of boorishness, which was why I tended to do my shopping early on Tuesday mornings. Less people, less hassle as I collected my weekly provisions, zipped through the express lane and out of the market. But something was wrong today. Tuesday? Yes. Early morning? Yes. Empty supermarket? Not by a long shot.

The aisles crawled with miscreants of every variety. Attention deficit disordered shopping cart pusher that crashed into other carts and people with reckless abandon. Forsaken carts left in the middle of aisles blocking throughways. And cretins on checkout lines that were never properly prepared to simply pay for their items and go.

I contemplated turning around and leaving the shopping for another morning or possibly next Tuesday—surely I could have survived a week on basic rations. But had I left, I wouldn’t have run into Tatum.

Seventeen years since I laid eyes on her last. She was still attractive, more so now, a slender Honduran with mocha skin, shoulder length dreads and a disarming smile. Unlike previous times when I randomly encountered someone from my past on the street and immediately began flipping through the card catalog in my mind for any excuse to walk away, I was actually pleased to see her. In that moment of reciting the usual social pleasantries by rote, all the negative history hadn’t existed. Just heart-warming nostalgia.

Her smiled never wavered as she told me her life hadn’t turned out quite the way she planned. When we were together, she studied to be a lawyer. Now, she worked as a marketing senior manager for a cosmetics firm, was the mother of two, a girl and a boy, nine and thirteen years old respectively, who were fathered by a deadbeat boyfriend who ditched both the wedding and his kids in one fell swoop.

I had no idea how long we stood there, blocking the aisle much to the ire of the other shoppers, nor did I care. For the first time in quite a while I honestly enjoyed exchanging words with a person who wasn’t trapped within the confines of a television set. But all good things, as they say—so, we exchanged numbers, promised each other we’d call and went our separate ways.

And on my way home, the strangest nagging notion crept up from the back of my mind: had we been able to work things out all those many years ago, her life might have turned out differently. Better. Then came the guilt as if my absence was somehow responsible for the direction her life took. And on the tail of the guilt came the shame for not being a better boyfriend to her and a better person in general.

I promptly crumpled up her number and kicked it down a storm drain. Neither she nor I needed to be reminded of what might have been.

Less than a week later, once I had time to regret trashing her phone number, she called with an invitation to have lunch and meet her children. I wasn’t keen on the latter, but I wanted to see her again.

We met at a faux Italian restaurant, a fast food chain done up in dime store décor to give the eatery a stereotypical taste of Italy, and I had to admit that I didn’t mind her kids all that much. They were a bit unruly, but what children weren’t at those ages? Although I felt a little awkward being interrogated by her brood, it was nice being in Tatum’s company again. I experienced a level of comfort in her presence that oddly felt like home.

That was, until her daughter, Tracie, asked, “Did you and Mommy have S-E-X?” as if spelling the word somehow made the question safe to ask.

Confirmed bachelor that I was, I wasn’t comfortable chatting with a nine-year-old about sex. I had no idea what the proper protocol was, so I turned to Tatum and with a look, asked, Did we have S-E-X, Mommy?

Without batting an eye, Tatum answered, “Yes. We had sex.”

Was that how it was done nowadays? Was it the norm for ex-boyfriends to be brought to lunch with the kiddies to openly discuss their sexual history? I was still reeling from that exchange when her son, Lee, chimed in, “You could be our Dad!”

The old one-two punch. These kids worked me over like a speed bag. They laughed at my embarrassment and I tried to play it off, but it unnerved me on a deep level. The rest of the conversation was down hill after that, in terms of my personal discomfort, I meant. We got on well enough, the four of us, better than expected, and when we said our goodbyes after lunch, I was hit with another weird sensation—jealousy. Because her children weren’t our children, in her family there was no place setting for me. It only lasted an instant but long enough for it to have registered.

I tried to put things into perspective, tried to remember why our relationship ended in the first place, it wasn’t a build up of all the minor things, the petty annoyances that masked the underlying truth that people simply grew apart. If I was honest, it was the Santeria. I told her I didn’t believe in things like that and it was the truth, but the other truth was that it scared a pert of me that I didn’t want to acknowledge.

It wasn’t Tatum practicing rituals so much as her mother. That woman hated me the moment she clamped eyes on me, no rhyme, no reason, just pure unadulterated hatred. For some reason I hadn’t measured up to her exacting standards of what constituted a proper boyfriend for her daughter and she never bothered hiding the fact. She came over to our apartment constantly and after she left, I would find things hidden around the house, under the bed, in the refrigerator. Santeria objects everywhere.

One day when I had come home early, I walked in on a Santeria ritual. Everyone clad in white, drummers, talking to the gods, played their specific beat, eyes closed in a trance while robed dancers chanted in the ancient Yoruba as they spun and shook off the evil eye.

And there, in the center of the room, was Tatum’s mother, who looked at me like I was a burglar. She walked in ever expanding circles while smoking a cigar and blew smoke in my face as she spoke in tongues.

I moved out of the apartment that night and never looked back. Depending on how you looked at it, her mother’s spell actually worked. I was out of her daughter’s life.

I kept this firmly in mind when Tatum phoned and invited around hers for dinner. I accepted the invitation, mind you, but I kept the incident with her mother firmly in mind. It had been a month of Sundays since I had a proper home cooked meal because no one in their right mind would have called what I did cooking.

Tatum greeted me at the door, apron on, dusted with flour and seasonings, a happy homemaking in full effect. The kids were in the kitchen and to my astonishment were finishing up washing the dishes. They dried their hands before they ran up and hugged me. I looked into their faces and something seemed off. Their smiles were too wide, teeth too white and there was something unnatural about the intensity in their eyes. And their faces looked different. They still possessed features that were reminiscent of Tatum but the rest was somehow different, incomplete, faces in transition. I chalked it up to being over-tired and thought no more of it.

Dinner went well. Who knew Tatum could have been such a gracious hostess? The kids made the meal a pleasant experience, as well. They stopped bickering and playing with their food when I asked them to, laughed at my jokes and listened with rapt attention as he talked about the time I met their mother.

When dinner was over we sat in the living room. The apartment was too small for two growing kids but Tatum had arranged everything in a way that made it feel roomy, as though it was a real house.

To Be Continued…

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

I Put This Moment Here

hand-string-tied_~x10591428

“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.” ― Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

I have a memory like a sieve.  My recollections of the past come to me in flashes and snippets and I have to be mindful not to fall into one of the many great blank holes when traipsing around in half-forgotten yesterdays. Part of it is the result of a built-in self-defense mechanism, tamping down the harmful events that one never quite survives intact. The rest? Just plain negligence. I am a poor caretaker of retrospection.

And for a while I wasn’t bothered by it. Then I reached a point in life when memories—–of love and pain and the whole damned thing—-became important because I found myself wanting to catalog my journey before I reached the end of the race (it’s always closer than you expect and they say you never see the finish line with your name on it).

But now, when I recount the tales of the various and sundry someones who impacted my life before blowing away like a leaf in the wind, someones whose names I used to be able to recite by rote, those names have now taken up permanent residence on the tip of my tongue but never so close as to venture past my lips.

I find that in order to remember a past event, I have to place it in a location that’s visible so that I don’t misplace it along with my keys and smartphone. I have chosen this place as the soil in which to plant my evaporating memories before they’re gone forever.

I put this moment here:

Of the girl that I fancied in the first grade whose name might have been Cheryl or Shirley but for some reason I remember it as “Squirrel,” whom I wrote about when the teacher asked the class to write about something we loved. And that selfsame teacher thinking it was so adorable that she took me to Squirrel’s class and made me read it aloud to her. You’re never too young to discover embarrassment.

I put this moment here:

Of the German woman who made me my first brown bag lunch for school that consisted of a healthy liverwurst sandwich which I enjoyed the taste of but stopped eating altogether after being teased at school by the other kids for eating dog food. It hurt her feelings and I wish I had a stronger conviction to continue eating the lunches she prepared with love.

I put this moment here:

Of the asexual woman I worked with at a car rental agency who looked like a young Peggy Lipton and lived in New Jersey. I remember riding the Path train to her house and we would regularly break dawn discussing her passion, serial killers. She didn’t own a television and instead had an impressive collection of serial killer and unsolved murder case books. I found her fascinating and in hindsight I suppose I’m lucky that I never went missing.

I put this moment here:

Of the woman I worked with at a banking institution who I wound up spending a bizarre New Year’s Eve with as we searched Manhattan for the perfect place to ring in the new year and wound up laying in the grass of Central Park making resolutions and wishing on stars for a better year to come.

Sometimes when my mind is idle, I struggle to recall the names of people and events trapped within synaptic pathways that withered from non-use, names and events I feel I should remember because of the emotions that linger despite the fact the memories have faded and recognition has faltered.

I lament the loss of these remembrances because they’re all a part of me and I’m afraid to learn the answer to what of myself will remain when all the memories have faded away.

Gather ye memories while ye may. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Sally forth and be Thanksgivingly writeful.

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License