Matt (Part One)
He awoke at 5:55 a.m. as he did every morning. He is a back-sleeper. At that precise moment his eyes pop open, he stares at the ceiling, but he does not move. What he thinks, what he does for the next five minutes is a mystery. At 6:00 a.m., the clock radio clicks and the ‘all news’ station begins to whisper the overnight headlines. He rolls onto his right side to glare at the intrusive chatter, reaches behind himself to touch his wife’s ample hip and buttocks. She is a semi-fetal, side-sleeper with her back turned to her husband. It is a near thirty-year-old arrangement.
Each year, she gets easier to find.
He did not listen to the headline news, rarely does, as it was mostly the same . . . politics, finance, violence, sports, weather, then traffic. Washington, D.C., Wall Street, main street, the arenas, the sky, the roads. It wasn’t News; it was a map . . . to nowhere. He was further distracted by a sour taste that had rolled over him, more vile than his morning breath. A feeling of dread - could be the onset of a coronary, or the remnants of last night’s snack - one of his many vices.
One of these days, I’ll switch to a music station.
Either way, the world did not end overnight and as the great philosopher and comic strip writer, Charles Shultz said, "Don’t worry about the world ending today, it’s already tomorrow in Australia!"
I guess I have to get up.
It was his usual morning mantra, weekdays anyway. Although since taking early retirement, every day is the weekend just like every night is a Friday. Just like his old marine corps chant, "Every day’s a holiday and every meal’s a feast." But he still wakens the same way, the same time.
I wonder if I’ll ever sleep in?
He carefully pulls himself into a sitting position, though the care is unnecessary with the eight thousand dollar mattress his wife had purchased, guaranteed to not even spill a glass of wine with a bowling ball. Yeah right, I’d like to get that marketeer into a Jersey bowling alley on a Thursday night . . . His feet barely touched the floor, he had to hop off the bed for a firm landing, but still his wife gently snored, undisturbed.
Perhaps the mattress was as advertised.
He stood before the full length mirror on the back of his bedroom door which they had kept closed since his eldest daughter reached puberty. He was wearing a pair of comic boxers, this one with Disney characters. He’s worn them since the girls were young, part modesty, part entertainment. They had become the standard Father’s Day gift, each year more inventive, more exotic than the last, the designs changing as his girls matured. Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse, Scooby Doo. To hearts and flowers, Tabasco, Guinness and other brand names . . . Now that they had reached full maturity, the designs went back to cartoon characters. He also donned a muscle shirt - what they call wife beaters now days; a term he had always despised.
Gives me the willies just thinking it.
"Not too bad," he said aloud patting his relatively flat stomach, flexing his still firm biceps and quadriceps, "for a guy pushing sixty." His hair was another matter, fully white on both his head and beard. But that had started turning more than twenty years ago, the gray tuft on his chest was relatively recent. His face relayed the look of a long traveled road, but overall, he had little to complain about his appearance.
The feeling of foreboding still enveloped him. He checked his pulse - strong and steady - he groped his testes, jabbed his arm pits, poked his glands, squeezed his cardioid or his jugular . . . everything checked out. Neither a heart attack nor a stroke seemed imminent.
My generation, the later baby boomers are uncertain. The last generation ran to the doctors in the hopes of living forever, they failed, miserably. The older boomers followed suit, enduring medical procedures beyond endurance, and swallowing a drug store worth of pills and yet they still die. We, us, well we are just not sure. Is it worth the effort only to die at the end? I feel fine, but worried. Could visiting a doctor or groups of doctors or swallowing a pill buy me a few more years? Oh if only I had done . . . something . . . would I still be alive today? Sounds like the "are you awake" kind of question. No real answer in sight.
He was still puzzled about what was causing his uneasiness. "What has me feeling so weird?" He shook his head, etch-o-sketch style, left the room and walked down the hallway, stopped in the main bathroom to relieve himself - even though he had a master suite, he rarely used the room except for a shower. A part of it was in deference to his wife’s sleeping but more had to do with pissing in his bedroom - he never could get his head around that. He was now thankful they had settled on the ranch-styled house as his knees would have cried at tackling a set of stairs.
Yeah, we finally settled on the ranch, corner property to boot. Me, I wanted a colonial, but she wanted the neighborhood. All we could afford at the time was the ranch . . . a beat up ranch. Handy man special. I was raised in an apartment in the city, what did I know about home owning. What didn’t I learn . . . It was a temporary stop, couple of years and we would move up. Temporary. A ranch was so close to the street, no buffer zone. And a corner lot, surrounded by street level. No retreat zone . . . god forbid a flood, or . . . Too whence does one retreat?
Internal dialog was also part of his morning ritual, rising before everyone else his mind was allowed to free fall. He walked past his front door, locked and bolted of course, but could see some sort of commotion through the small side glass panes surrounding the heavy wooden door. He chose to ignore the clamor, turning right into his kitchen.
Not before my coffee, but perhaps it explains my dread. An alarm, a siren or something must have triggered my feelings. Oh those negative feelings that I harbor the therapist complained or explained. I never thought she was on my side but of course, she was not supposed to take sides . . . but really could I or anyone else be that wrong . . . that consistently? Of course, again, that was years ago . . . Water under the bridge. To be forgotten, but still not yet. Yeah, Me, in therapy! Had to try something tho, as we were drifting apart and sinking fast. But that therapist was not the answer, don’t know if there was an answer, at least not an external one. I simply realized I had invested too much into my family to walk away. I stayed, stop complaining and it sort of worked itself out. Full surrender, I suppose.
These ruminations swirled about his head as he went about making the coffee - the first pot of the day, half a pot actually, for speed. He would drink all three cups before his wife would arise and make a fresh pot - 8 cups - for them to share. He usually went for a third pot and sometimes when the neighborhood was buzzing he would make an urn’s worth. The coffee pot had an automatic brew option one could set up the night before, but he never used it, never even set the clock. He preferred the ritual of making the coffee, running the tap, clearing the pipes to get the water as cold and fresh as possible, while he coarsely ground the whole beans purchased directly from a small South American co-op.
Nothing better than fresh brewed coffee, only way to start the day.
As the coffee noisily brewed - sounding like a growling bear or bubbling geyser - he did his morning stretching exercises, pushups off the counter top edges in deference to his long ago broken and never truly healed wrist, but decided to forego the deep knee bends in deference to his aging and aching knees. All the while, the commotion out front had grown louder or more intense. His kitchen window faced the side street, which showed little activity other than the usual waking rituals of his neighbors.
Nothing too frantic out there, perhaps I’ll have my coffee on the porch and take a gander at what has upped the dander of my front line neighbors.
It was a close-knit neighborhood, the high end residential portion of the city, separated by natural boundaries from the teeming bustle and industrial side of the small metropolis, more closely aligned with the bordering suburban towns. Separated from them only by a main county road, zip codes and property taxes. The area did have its own postal designation, Elmora Hills. The Hills was a homogenized area - in socioeconomic terms, the complexions varied greatly- firmly middle class, a throw back to an earlier era. At least it had been. The residents were becoming older, moving away, selling their homes to a new generation. Fewer housewives, less children, more disposable income. It was the area inner city dwellers aspired to reach. Which made what he saw out of his side panel window all the more astonishing.
As the coffee machine burped its final gurgle, before the buzzer announced the end of the brew cycle, he poured a half of cup into his thick ceramic mug. Blowing down from pursed lips, cooling the immediate surface he sipped the magic elixir, singeing his mustache, charring his lip, melting enamel, scalding his tongue, searing his throat, charring his stomach. Igniting his senses. He sighed. He belched.
Officially now, a new day.
He gulped another mouthful, turned to the fridge, added a dollop of cream and back to the coffee pot to top off his now lightened cup of joe. A quick glance outside his kitchen window disturbed his newly awakened senses, but did not fully register in his lagging brain. His sideway neighbors were apparently engaged in more than the usual rituals.
It seems the Morgan’s and the Howard’s are holding some sort of mud wrestling contest on the Howard’s front lawn. Odd. Jimmy Howard looked a bit off, standing, mouth agape, in his dirty briefs. And the near naked Torres woman was lurching forward to join the festivities. Not the woman, the daughter. My has she grown up. Odd.
Trying hard not to replay that scene in his head, trying not to concentrate on the young, near naked girl, trying not to think about what the red, spurting liquid might represent. He walked to his front door. He paused to switch his grip on his coffee mug before disengaging his locks, before reaching for the doorknob. He paused to consider his garb, underwear as pj’s - no biggie, they have seen me in less.
Perhaps it was just his lifetime spent in law enforcement - military police in the corps - campus security while attending college - a career with the local PD - that delayed his exiting from the security of home. Whatever the reason, he did not walk out into the growing chaos. He waited, surveyed the area, assayed the situation. In the corporate world it is known as risk analysis. In the animal world it's self preservation. In this world it is known as survival.