May 9, 2011
Silence of the heart
Greg Patterson sat immobile on the plush couch of his apartment living room. His eyes were directed at the large, modern television screen but he was not watching the force-fed stream of inane triviality that replayed there. He was, instead, trying with little success to mentally control the waves of nausea that kept sweeping through him and which threatened to send him staggering toward the bathroom with the bitter taste of acid rising forcefully in his throat.
His head pivoted slowly toward the table at the side of the couch and the phone placed there within easy reach. The phone stubbornly refuse to ring. Before turning his eyes slowly back to the TV, he wondered distractedly if he could manage a cigarette but decided he did not want to move.
The reason's for Greg's emotional and physical discomfort had begun on Friday night, carried on through Saturday and all day Sunday. Now, with the light of day having faded from the broad expanse of clear sky beyond the confines of the apartment and the prospect of another night alone, coupled with the start of a new work week, his appalling sense of misery was complete.
It was dawning on him – becoming a viscerally felt reality - that he and his long-time girlfriend, Christie, had, through a misunderstanding that had gradually degraded into anger and reproach, managed to end their relationship. The mere consideration of that eventuality sent Greg's gut into another paroxysm of painful contractions.
It was the fact of the rapidity of the decay that had so taken Greg unaware, reeling, and searching for comprehension. In a different situation – not his own – he might have commented to a friend that it was better to find things weren't going to work out sooner rather than later. At the same time, he couldn't find a personal truth in that. They were 'Greg and Christie' – they 'fit' and were the envy of friends who seemed unwilling or ill-disposed to manage the give-and-take of being with someone. They also scarcely had the slightest disagreement over the course of their entire relationship. Greg considered that, in the end, maybe that was what had crippled them – leaving them unprepared when something did go wrong.
He also wondered about the frailty of communication in a more general sense. He was as certain as he could be that there had been no intention of malice on either parts. Nonetheless, in retrospect and with infuriatingly accurate hind-sight, he could see the points were things had turned, through missed and, worse, misinterpreted cues – the unspoken and frequently subconscious sign-posts that guide communication and attempt, except, evidently, where it is most needed, to keep things on track. In his mind, Greg cursed how terribly complicated it could actually be and longed for a simpler world, like the cartoon caveman who just hits the girl on the head with his club and drags her back to his cave. He wasn't certain, however, that he would be good at hunting mammoths or dinosaurs or whatever it was that they hunted. He was certain that he was missing his cave-girl terribly.
He looked at his phone and, again, it did not ring. He wondered what Christie was doing.
There was a strong impulse to pick up the phone, call her and say, 'Listen, I think we've had a huge misunderstanding and I miss you.' Maybe, he thought with a grimace, sluggishly hefting himself from the couch, he could say it quickly enough before she had time to hang up on him. He wandered to the kitchen supposing that, with a little luck, he could keep down a glass of water.
There are occasions, especially when a mind finds itself in turmoil, that it will tend to fold in on itself, shutting out external stimuli and, so it was, that Greg, glass of water in hand and leaning against the kitchen counter, faded from the reality of the space around him, his eyes distant and unfocused. The kitchen with its plain, unadorned white walls distanced from his immediate perceptions. The TV continued to blare nonsense. On the table, his cell phone trilled softly.
The phone jangled again. Greg, elsewhere in his mind, absently took a sip of water.
A tear pooled on Greg's lower eyelid and then spilled over, draining down his cheek. The phone rang again. He wiped at his cheek with his fingers.
The phone rang and then cut short, falling silent. The screen remained lit, showing 'Christie' and then darkened. Greg stared at the floor where another tear had fallen.
When the phone on the kitchen wall rang, Greg started and the glass of water, suspended mid-way toward his mouth, nearly escaped his grasp. He stared at the phone, not comprehending and only gradually exiting from the place where his mind had taken him. His vision was blurred with tears and blinked several times, finally placing the glass on the counter and wiping his eyes with the fingers of both hands. The phone rang and, squirming with uncertainty, he snatched it up.
“Greg, please talk to me. I'm a mess and I miss you. Please – just for a minute. Let's not do this.”
The words that had previously been in his imagination, by whatever are the tortured paths of the mind, somehow found their way to his voice.
“I've been sick for missing you all weekend. Christie, I think we've had a horrible misunderstanding.”
“Oh, thank God.”
She said something else but it was drowned out by a loud knock at the door. Greg looked at the clock above the stove noting that, effectively, it was still early – only 8 o'clock.
“Listen, Christie, someone's at the door – let me send them away and I'll be right back. OK?”
“OK.” He could tell from the sound of her voice that she was crying.
Greg put the phone down and then raced through the living room feeling angry for the intrusion. At the same time, he chastised himself, knowing that Mrs. Thompson, an old woman on the same floor, occasionally did ask him for help. It wouldn't be her fault if her timing was bad. Greg threw the bolt and opened the door.
In the hallway, Christie tried to smile but her face was streaked with tears, her eyes reddened and swollen from crying. She closed her cell phone and slipped it into the pocket of baggy sweat-pants.
“Hi,” she stuttered. “It's just me.”