Chapter 20: Psalm 138:7
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me.
The air removed from her lungs, Donna’s mouth remained open, searching for a phrase, eyes welling, teardrops sliding down her cheeks like rainwater finding the gutter, until she fixed upon him, head down, staring at the hands clasped over his genitals.
“Oh my God!” Mary had been in tow, suitcase rolling quickly with the early-flight-out surprise, and now she stood staring, open mouthed, looking at him, looking at Donna, time postponed. “Donna, I’m going to leave. I’m going to leave!” The second announcement arriving on shaky notes. The soft rumbling sound of wheels on carpeting faded into a horrendous silence.
“WHO?” Donna screamed.
“I was with Carol.”
Her eyes captured the images, camera shutters doing away with personal space considerations, the breaths from her nostrils pelting his skin as she circumnavigated his body, gasping when she saw his back and the tributaries of blood, the words ‘Oh my God’, maybe from shock, maybe from some vestige of sympathy, finding space in a moment squeezed by an 11-by-13 room. She reached for his hands and quietly asked, “Why are you covering yourself? Did she also castrate you? Let me see if you’re still a man.” She pulled his hands apart; his penis had retreated from the cold of the room and the moment; his testicles had retracted. The markers that defined him as a man sought refuge, and a deep shame caused him to begin sobbing.
There was no sympathy forthcoming, and he stood helplessly, watching as she viciously stripped the bedding, throwing it to the floor, watching her upright the nightstand and place the picture of them, face down on the dresser, just watching. She paused at length, almost meditated over the Rorschach pattern of blood on the wall, then turned her attention to him.
“I said turn around!”
She approached him from behind. He again felt the short gusts of air from her nostrils as she inspected his back. “How could you let her do this to you?” She thought of humiliation as she dropped to one knee, placed her hands on his hips, and turned him around again. “God give me strength,” she whispered as she reached for him.
“No, please, Donna! Please don’t!” His mind flashed again to Carol’s hand. He backed away.
“I’m not going to hurt you. I’m not her!” She screamed. “My God! I can smell her all over you!" She flashed back to her spread legs, the rubbing against, the morning residue like confection. "Come here! I need to know what to say when I call. Come here!”
Like a dog being punished, he approached her tentatively, fearfully.
Her thumb clinically held his penis to his stomach, and her fingertips, like icicles, gently inspected his scrotum, a gesture which caused him to cover his mouth and stifle a scream. For the first time, he noticed the blue bruising. She looked up at him, eyes wide, forehead crinkled, and shaking her head as she wiped away tears forming in the corner of her eyes. She grabbed her desk chair. “Straddle the chair,” she commanded.
Tears of shame joined the mixture of fluids on the carpeting as Donna tended to his back with items from a first-aid kit, the antiseptic burning his skin. Why was she being kind to him? All the thoughts of not deserving her flashed in his mind.
As she cleansed him, she spoke in a hushed tone. “I solemnly pledge myself before God and presence of this assembly; to pass my life in purity and to practice my profession faithfully.” There was a prayer-like softness and cadence to Donna’s words. “I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping and family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling.”
There was a final soft utterance, and then she went to the phone, sniffing back tears, walking away from him into the foyer, the coiled cord straightening, the dial zipping and grating, the conversation indefinite but business-like, concluding in less than a minute. She came back in, emphatically hung up the phone, and addressed him matter-of-factly.
“I just made an appointment for you, twelve o’clock. You need to see a doctor. You’ll be lucky if you don’t lose your testicles.”
Her diagnosis had his heart again beating in fear. He hung his head, again staring at the carpet until seeing his bundle of clothing in her hands. He looked up at her, hurt and hate fighting for space in her watery eyes.
“Get dressed and get the hell out of here.”
As he hurriedly put on his clothing, he watched as she reached for the candle holder and candle and placed them back on the nightstand before walking toward the door and opening it, the melancholy creak speaking to fate.
“Get the hell out of my life, Mike!” Her scream seemed to careen down every part of the floor and bounce back to him as he crossed the threshold.
He fished the key out of his pocket and ran toward his room, seeing Mary in the lobby along the way. He opened his room, pleased to see that Kurt was not there and that he would be spared a preliminary need to explain.
From the secrecy of a partially-open door, Little John McCann had satisfied his curiosity long enough to witness Mary’s return. “Hell if I know,” he said to someone inside the suite. “Hell if I know,” he said again softly before shutting the door.
“Why?” Donna cried as she sat on her dorm room floor with her back against the wall. “Why would he do this to me?” She bore witness to Mary who had no answers and joined her on the floor and cried with her, holding her closely. Donna’s fingers rubbed her sternum in an absent-minded search for comfort, and when her sobbing abated just enough to allow her to catch her breath, she asked, “Did you see what she did to him?” She thought of having dropped to her knees, less than human, pathetic, crying. She knew what she was capable of, the unconscionable toll she could exact. Her mind fought to find kindness. Wasn’t kindness a daughter of empathy?
“We need to let campus police know about this,” Mary offered. “At the very least, this is a breaking and entering situation. What in God’s name is wrong with him and with her? She’s supposed to be advising us and guiding us, and this happens!”
“Yeah,” Donna sobbed as she lightly moved the back of her head so it tapped against the wall, “let’s let the whole world know that my boyfriend is a cheat as if this isn’t humiliating enough. And then he uses my bed to fuck her! No thanks. I know what I have to do!” She lay down on the carpet and cried.
Mary laid her arms over her shoulders and rested her head on her back, feeling it bob in the waves of Donna’s misery.
“Mary,” Donna sobbed, “please promise me that you won’t tell anyone about this. This is so unbelievable.” Her fist pounded the carpet, little crumbs of candle wax hopping. “Please keep just one more secret for me.”
Somewhere in the skies of Cross Island, a heart-shaped cloud developed a fissure, its hemispheres drifting in opposite directions, its separation yielding an opening to look up toward or to look down from in a matter of perspective.
The morning sun shone with brilliance on the bed’s wall. Raised globules mixed with smears and streaks as the wall’s pores absorbed the varying shades of red, horizontal and vertical imperfections, crossing paths of blood working together to form the undeniable image of a crucifix. Mary was staring at it as she comforted Donna. Her eyes began to burn, and she closed them to let her mind drift
The little girls were Rockwellesque muses in their Easter Sunday dresses, skipping through an island meadow, hand-in-hand, until stopping at the riverbank. The smaller of the two wore a yellow that fell somewhere between the color of her hair and the dandelions beneath her feet. The other’s long arms cascaded through the sleeves of her dress, a blue that precisely matched the spring afternoon sky and worked with the soft brown of her hair. Occasional gusts of wind challenged their carefully-placed hair clips, freeing strands to frolic with them as they began spinning in opposite directions and reciting as they stretched out their arms to their sides and looked to the heavens.
“I’m the earth.”
“And I’m the sky.”
“I can spin.”
“And I can fly.”
“I can sing.”
“And I can dance.”
“I’ll show you.”
They increased the speed of their spinning, and their dresses moved with the momentum until they were spinning too, rising to unveil cotton white panties. Looking sideways to catch a glimpse at one another, they lost their balance and fell to the ground laughing, looking up at the sky, proving again that the planet revolves, clouds are faster than airplanes, and imaginations are for the young.
“That one cloud looks like a doggy. Look how fast it is!”
“Look. That cloud looks just like a cross, but without Jesus!”
“Oh, I’m so dizzy.”
“Me, too!” Sitting up, she watched her friend move as though she were on a carousel. When the spinning finally stopped, she looked concerned, and pointed. “Look, Dons. Look at your dress!”
There was a several-inch tear in the hem, created somewhere between the skipping and the spinning. “Oh no, Mary, my mommy will be so mad.” And she began to cry.
“It’s okay, Dons. We can tell her that you falled and that’s how the dress got tored.” She stood up, walked toward her friend, placed an arm around her shoulder, and helped her to her feet. “Nobody’ll find out; I promise.
He took some more looks in the mirror at his ravaged body as he prepared to enter the shower, and the water hitting his damaged skin caused it to burn. Wherever he touched the bar of soap caused him to wince. He didn’t dare do anymore than splash water on his privates because they were throbbing, and the water poured over his head, mixed with his tears as if attempting to blur their distinction, and he thought, Did Carol do this to me on purpose, or was she out-of-her-mind like I was? Was I hallucinating? After painfully dressing himself in jeans and a sweater, he grabbed his ski jacket and opened the door to another life.
As he stood in the hallway staring at Mary and Donna’s closed door, Mike’s short-circuited brain invoked the inverted pyramid in order to ascertain which among the facts would be most painful to Donna. ‘Who’ cut with the precision of a surgical knife but could not excise deeply enough her disgrace, instead leaving it inoperable and terminal. ‘What’ revealed itself on the smell of his body and the sickening territorial scars that branded his infidelity. ‘Where’ reared its hideous head so that its eyes could view the indelible stains, its nose could inhale the after scents, and its surreal nature could bring love to its knees. ‘When’ carried the relevance of a child’s toy shovel in the midst of this storm. And the hallway now was so deathly quiet having lent its lifeless air to the moment, and Mike let his eyes go out of focus as he took in the expanse, imagining a simpler time when a Frisbee knocking down stacked beer cans was a man-child’s folly.
Along the walk, he conjured images that only deepened his remorse. He thought of Donna and how she held hands. They had experienced so much in a few short months, but nothing anywhere near as impactful as her tactful, caring, nurturing awakening of him as a man in an adult relationship. And he thought of her treating his injuries despite the humiliation she must have felt.
Carol’s inhumanity had stripped everything away in moments. He thought of her hand methodically robbing him of his dignity and her legs holding him in place. What he wouldn’t give right then if Donna were to allow him to hold her, cry in her arms, and beg forgiveness. And in his mind, he was not a man, and his stomach soured at the thought of Donna knowing what was done to him.
Carol’s upside down eyes now flashed in his mind. The bone chilling hiss of the words “Osculum infame” as they emerged from her now sounded like the sound of his footsteps crunching through the frozen snow, and his mind repeated the words for the rest of his journey. Where did they come from? What did they mean? Was it part of a hallucination?
His thoughts were interrupted at the Florence Nightingale statue at the entrance to the campus medical center. He had passed this many times when he had gone to meet Donna outside a class or on one of her breaks, but this time, the words underneath caught his attention.
He remembered the words as he sat in his sterile paper gown, awaiting treatment. Dr. Spencer, an attractive mid 30’s brunette, introduced herself and proved very thorough in her questioning of him, to the point where she had the abridged version of all that had happened. When she closed up the back of his gown after cleaning and treating the wounds to his back and chest, she explained to him what would be following and the consent work he would need to sign, then gently nudged him into a supine position.
“I’ll need you to lift up your butt,” she said, and he watched as she reached under the gown and felt her fingertips slip into his waistband. He exhaled when he saw his underpants emerge in her hands like a surrender flag, and his heart began beating furiously after she excused herself, leaving him alone in the room.
After the two-hour doctor’s visit, he stopped by the just re-opened Hillview Center to buy a pack of Merits. He sat in the empty rathskeller blowing smoke rings and imagining that the plumes contained captions referencing his emotional castration beginning with Carol demonstrating that he wasn’t a man, physically overpowering him, and sadistically torturing him. And then there was Donna confirming that a man would not allow himself to be mutilated by a woman.
His thoughts then drifted in the clouds of his second cigarette. He was afraid, horrified by what Donna had said after examining him, and he would have signed anything at that moment in the doctor’s office. He hadn’t listened to the words explaining what would be happening to him, and now he wondered how much of that was necessary, but women made him uneasy, and his mind worked to separate discomfort and thoroughness so that it stood apart from pain and humiliation, but the stirrups squeaking into place reminded him of the horrible sound of the bed springs. They were necessary to control his movement and position as he was being manipulated. In the end, they were badly bruised, but he would keep them both. Mike had exhaled when this was confirmed but immediately thought how much better they would fit on a man.
What if I bump into Donna? What do I do if I see Carol? What do I say to John, Y.A., and Nose? The rathskeller was a haven, but he couldn’t stay there
The sun was blinding, forcing him to use his left hand as a visor in order to negotiate his trip back to Vanover. It was nearing 5:00 p.m., and while it was 30 degrees, the brisk wind made the cold bitter, and Mike became numb, feeling only the ghostly presence of his heart crying in his stomach.
The Wordman adopted the precarious perch of his windowsill and gazed four floors below at the cafeteria rooftop and the blanket of snow that settled over it, innocence entering his thoughts. The pristine covering had been born pure and would remain untrodden, left alone to bow to the elements controlling its destiny. It wasn’t in anyone’s way. It had no purpose or ambition. Its crystals glistened in the orange of dusk, reflecting beautifully in homage to the sun which eventually would destroy it. He thought of his walk across campus and how he didn’t see anyone. He thought of the hollow echoes of the elevator shaft as he summoned then rode alone to the sixth floor. He thought of the chafing of his shoes against the carpet. Why was his room empty? Why was there no sound next door? Where was the world?
The heat of his cigarette butt began to burn his fingertips, a sign that he hadn’t died and a reason to feel anger. He crushed the butt into the ashtray, got up, and slammed his fist against the sliding particle board partition of his desk, breaking it into two pieces. His knuckles were reddened, and a spot of blood leaked from the one on his index finger. Grasping the broken pieces, he tried to fit the puzzle, but the splinters went in myriad directions, making them unrecognizable as a pair. Again drawing his attention to the window, he opened it, letting in the winter wind through the screen. He began to cry, a condition that had become as involuntary as the beating of his heart. He placed his face next to the screen, hoping that the wind would freeze his tears so that no more could form, so that the emotion could stay hidden like life under a frozen lake. He went back to his desk and fiddled again with fitting the pieces together before returning to the window and opening the screen portion.
The snow had no right to be undisturbed, and the flight of the pieces caught his fancy, rising up then down, rocking back and forth, and moving in circles until finally cutting through the wind’s resistance and slicing into the white canvas, leaving a deep scar. His body was shaking from the cold, but he sat on the sill again, this time opening the screen half way and letting his left leg dangle in the open air. There was a sensation of freedom in this action, and he drew his attention to the other leg.