I've got to rush out of here
I heard the footsteps close in. So I reached for the back of the chair and I held on tightly.
There’s a sense of protection arousing from such an act, but I was not clutching at the back of a seat: I was clutching at straws.
As the intruder seemed practically on the verge of shoving the door open, I resolved to say something, but the words seemed incapable of leaving my throat, as if I were clinging on to them about in the same way as with the wooden tablet in my hands.
“Well, that’s it.”
“What do you mean that’s it? You haven’t told us how this ended.”
“That’s the trouble with you, people. You only care for the ending and rush through the midstory peculiarities. If you don’t cherish them, you might as well take to one of those dime novels.”
As I was finishing saying my piece, I darted out of the room.
I can’t remember one single instance of a conversation that didn’t end abruptly like this, but it really doesn’t matter. I never believed in the power of conversation, so I didn’t despair because I couldn’t carry one through in amiable terms.
No, it was something else that was badgering me then: I couldn’t remember how the story ended. I had drawn a blank.
That night after the two had retired, I snuck out of the house. I had to get a breath of fresh air, or – which would better describe it – I had to catch my breath. It wasn’t likely that a midnight stroll would do the trick and knock all of that nasty disposition out of me. But I was always one to try, and I did then too.
It wasn’t going to be a comfort walk. There was something more I was hoping the gentle breeze and my brisk step in it would concede: the peace of mind that I still hadn’t found after the incident and that was the portal for remembering anything about it.
I felt it very strongly. There was no way I could recall, unless a certain level of independence from all sorts of nasty thoughts was secured.
Just before retiring for the night, Pauline and Lena had picked up where they’d left off, or better yet, where I had cut the conversation short. After all, it was because of my rough ways, that the epilogue to that exchange – started out intimately with tea cups in our hands – had turned out so sudden and blunt. With that kind of behavior on my part, it’s only natural that they should brood over the last remarks leading up to my storming-out, in search of a reason.
Not finding any, at least not without my help, it was again natural they’d be hitting me up for an explanation, this time around in a kind tone.
But they hadn’t been rude to me the first time either, while I was trying to gather my memories: if anybody was, it had to be me, rushing out of there while simultaneously raising my voice.
When I lashed out at them and stormed out, it wasn’t their fault, it wasn’t because they had been insensitive or something. It was entirely because I felt so helpless, as my attempts at reconstructing the mishap were not getting anywhere. The frustration seemed to be growing on end.
I can’t say right now whether or not I was too harsh on them, as I was only trying to protect myself by venting a little.
The only thing I can say is: it surely helped to try to recall, because, even though I couldn’t remember then and there, the process was probably already underway in some deep-seated pipeline in my brain, one that hopefully would be over in some not-too-distant future, allowing me to replace the blank with actual memories.
But even if I had remembered, would I be able to hash over a direful subject opposite Lena and Pauline, especially after the first attempt at it had so miserably failed?
I must lay it on the line: I wasn’t particularly thrilled to be stumbling into that kind of chat with the two ladies.
It was a very private subject, what had happened to me during the assault, and how my poor psyche had been affected by it.
I reckon I could’ve been fine with such an intimate topic, if I had had very discreet, empathetic confidantes. The perceived relationship with the two ladies wasn’t of such sturdy and yet flexible character.
We thought of ourselves as friends, but we were going through the motions, when we were together. For one, there was never a single comment out of place that wasn’t either dismissed as insignificant, or used as the basis for an equally insignificant argument. The fact of the matter is, it would have been nice to hear someone say something, for the sake of letting the others know where they stood, and not witness, as a result, the unfolding drama: those who hadn’t spoken, but heard, would place themselves on the back foot, and brood over any potential reasons why such an unsolicited comment should’ve been uttered – filling out a mental list of the possible zingers that were apt to follow from it.
It must be taken into account: since my assault, they had changed their ways, not completely, but to such an extent that I certainly noticed it. Supposedly not to upset me more than I already was, they had dropped their attitudes. It had been quite stunning: I wasn’t even aware they were capable of it, prior to being shown it in no uncertain terms.
But if the attitudes were no longer there, to ruin each other’s day, the more deep-seated tier of incommunicability hadn’t been dispelled.
I gather that it is relatively feasible to let go of the conspicuous aspects, those which are easily called out, but when it comes to what doesn’t even have a name to define it, because it is so ethereal that such a set definition would never fit it, that’s where the going gets tough, and the real strength of character is put to the test.
They were no morons: they knew very well that our relationship had never been out of this world. And they hadn’t given their all, to the cause of bettering it.
That had been for a long time: now they were prepared to change significantly, because the shock that I had been caused, four days before, was nothing to sneeze at. They were friends enough for that understanding.
So, they willfully, and maybe with an effort, stopped themselves from previously indulged mockery, and showed their “sunny” sides, which were indeed beautiful, I found out.
It’s actually a crying shame I couldn’t be given the chance sooner.
But, even in the beautifulness of the moment, I continued sensing a degree of detachment.
Yes, I had validated the thought: it’s easy to let go of the obvious flaws, it’s feasible to erase the patently manifest shortcomings. What’s hard is adding where there was nothing to begin with: true compassion and empathy in place of mere curtailment of the derision.
So, something was still missing. And I would never have entertained these very thoughts, much too deep and profound for me, if it hadn’t been for the incredibly sensitive task I needed to tend to, sooner or later: express my very feelings when I was being assaulted, and, whenever I would be able to remember the blocked-out part, relay those received pieces of information.
The police had been to the house, and told me to call them as soon as I had the feeling my memories were back. That’s exactly what they said. And how could I tell a stranger, if I couldn’t confide in someone who, in spite of the twists and turns of our relationship, had indeed proved sincere in the end?
It felt as if they were detached, and yet I had to overcome the hurdle, and pour my heart out.
It seemed my problems, pitfalls and shortcomings were so distant and unfathomable from their vantage point: their indefatigable certitudes, their orderly minds didn’t match a smidgen the hodgepodge of a few “knowledges” and of a great many doubts, that my mind was to be defined as.
And yet, even though I didn’t feel the embodiment of Empathy was standing at the receiving end of it, I had to go ahead and tell the story. That was the last effort I had to make, before the deal was clinched, and I could say goodbye to those police officers who had begun visiting the house, and I could start forgetting about the unwelcome visitor and about the four-day old memories.
I was still driving a hard bargain, even with the pain of telling someone who I thought was an undeserving listener. And I could not draw myself some ideal figures, then make them real people, and start talking to them instead.
All the thinking had worn me out: I decided to sit down for a few minutes, before resuming my walk. I spotted the red bench beside the park, a new addition to the landscape of the neighborhood, and I picked it for what should’ve been a stop-off. Instead, my eyelids became heavy and I struggled to keep them clear of my eyeballs; a phase which was soon replaced by one of deep sleep.
When I woke, I felt all drowsy, as if the “rack” time hadn’t been useful at all, in restoring my sense of well-being. At least, now I didn’t feel my eyelids drooping, and enough activity was going on in my brain, to tell me that I’d be able to make it home, without any other vagrant-like kind of accommodation.
The dark was still unconditional, through my walk back home, so I thought there was a chance the dawn was far, and I could get some decent sleep, for a change.
But as I was thinking these insignificant thoughts, it occurred to me that I had already been given back the entirety of my sad experience, unfolded four to five days before.
I couldn’t remember when it had come to me: if it was when I was still awake, or if in the form of a dream, after dossing on the red bench; or even in some twilight zone in between the two states.
But how it had come back to me was patently unimportant.
It had, that was the game changer. I remembered how I coped with the unfolding drama.
A proverbial raging inferno was going on in my head, especially in that blood-curdling moment when the hood shoved the door open and was now in the same room as I was. In a minute, I would go from the scaredy cat that was holding onto a chair to the proud woman that’d said good riddance to an unwelcome visitor. But the cake was to be earned, and I was presently in no better shape than that cat’s I like to think of myself as, when recalling, perhaps because such an image only goes to enhance the positivity of the moment when I said goodbye to him, a couple instants afterwards, as he fled, having the tables turned.
I don’t recall where all the courage generated that I must’ve summoned in order to be able to pull my arms from that silly chair, invigorate my muscles, and just show a clean pair of heels.
It helped that there was presently no power in the house, so that the darkling prevented him from seeing my figure. And I had a leg up in that I knew the house – and awfully well too, as I had walked around in the same condition as the present endless nights, either because I was unduly careful not to wake up Lena and Pauline, or because I didn’t want my sleepy dark-attuned eyes to be dazzled by any light.
Anyway, I slithered away from the spot onto the lawn and then out on the street.
He caught up with my moves, but not soon enough as to grab and incapacitate me. He was sure the faster runner, but once I got out on the street, there were people glancing around: he put two and two together, and fled.
That was it. But now that I had off pat what had happened to me, I sensed my troubles weren’t over.
Recalling was great, but the real questions hadn’t even begun – questions I could not properly ask myself up to this point, and for which the utter knowledge of the circumstances I had then lived through was a prerequisite.
But as that hurdle was overcome, and the recollection was complete, those later-stage questions began generating in my head. Why would this person, that I didn’t know – as a matter of fact, even in the dark, I had stolen a glimpse of his face, and I could remember what he looked like – do such a cruel thing to me?
I don’t regard myself as completely dumb: I can fetch, people do such a thing as a way to increase their wealth, to the detriment of others, and it’s called “stealing”.
But why our humble abode? I mean, far from a slum, it certainly doesn’t appear stately, not on the outside or on the inside.
I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Of all the houses that could be ransacked, why did ours have to be the target of such an act?
But when I ran over the older age this guy was, as if taking out a picture of him and looking at it, it suddenly hit me. The most unsettling connection occurred to me to be all, but out of place.
I couldn’t possibly lay it out without harking back to an earlier part of my life, and to some of the comedies, dramas and generally experiences that came with it.
This doesn’t have to start with my infant years, so to speak. It can safely begin with my marriage to Theodore. The previous cockups need not be brought to attention.
It was thirty-five years before when I and this silver-haired man walked down the aisle. He wasn’t much older than me, and possibly the hair made him look an age he wasn’t.
The first five years went pretty smooth, then I started making a mess of things, which I’m beginning to fantasticate I was inclined towards since the very first crawl, gait, or word.
Theodore lost his job, but that is not the point. I made a big fuss out of it, and instead of urging him to roll up his sleeves, be on the go, use some of that get-up-and-go he had, I decided that he was too big a looser for me to put up with.
How insensitive, pathetic, and downright inexcusable my conduct was, it’s not my place to depict, as I’m certain facts speak for themselves.
We were in talks of splitting up, but it must be said – did I already? – the poor guy didn’t deserve a splinter in his side, much less to be gored, stabbed in the back, to use an expression, which indeed fits greatly the ill treatment I slipped him.
Long story short, he robbed a friend, so that he could have enough money to launch into the setting up of another enterprise. I don’t know if he did it out of frustration. My best bet is that he didn’t want to lose me. Also, not only was he willing to go to great lengths, but apparently to use devious and downright wrong schemes as well.
But I’m piecing this all together in hindsight: back then, there was a moment when I really believed I was solely responsible for the evil that we had allowed to percolate in our lives.
As a matter of course, we patched things up and got back together, until the separation was due on the day he breathed his last, as happened several years down the line.
But my point now is about the robbery. We never knew nothing. Did the injured party ever complain to the police? Did he even find out? Did he catch up with my husband? The answer to that I knew: it was no. At least, he never told me. And, as far as I know, you can’t keep some such thing a secret.
I never collected much information concerning this man. All I knew was his name, George Eliot, and I had a vague notion of where he lived.
It was an age when husbands didn’t particularly like to flaunt their male colleagues and friends in the presence of their female spouses. At least that’s one of the many lines I was fed early on in my life, and an assertion I never bothered to check the truth value of.
A few years after my husband passed away, the expenses were getting exacting, and I decided to sell the house and look for a place to rent. A few months after I put my mind to this, initially with inconsistent dedication, I found one that seemed reasonably suitable. With the territory came two ladies who were already settled there. After that, I never moved again, so that’s exactly where I can call my residence now, even after all these years.
At any rate, before actually moving I lay awake in bed a handful of nights, trying to make up my mind whether or not it was reasonable to be moving nearer to George Eliot’s address.
Yes, aside from his name, I could draw a red circle on a map of the city indicating the area he dwelled in, as a reminder that it was best to never go there, much less to move there.
I didn’t know the precise address, but I could narrow him down to a sliver of a neighborhood, and the place I was supposed to move to fell under that teensy-weensy category.
At last, I decided the incident was all water under the bridge now, and I resolved to put the whole matter under wraps, as if to hide it from my own self. I went ahead with my initial plans, and moved.
I never felt it necessary to hark back to these ancient memories in the entirety of the later years, but now.
What if this guy had racked his brains all these years for my address, so hard that it was a foregone conclusion he’d get it someday? What if he had schemed of getting even with us? We had robbed him – although that’s not entirely so, not me –: what if he had been itchy all these years to get back at us?
Now things made sense: never in a thousand years, could I find a better explanation than this one, for why I’d had to live through that break-in.
By stealing from us, he’d ideally take back what belonged to him, even if it was only a couple expensive watches. Or maybe, he hadn’t even planned on that, and all he cared for was to give me a good scare, a graphic image in his head of a frightened me that he could go on laughing at for days on end.
As I woke, this time where I should have, the bed, I resolved to call the police, but I also decided I wouldn’t do it until late in the afternoon, so they’d be over in the evening. In this way, I would have plenty of time to tell the ladies, as a way to rehearse the tale.
But then I opted for the next day. After all, what was the big deal? They would probably never be able to catch him anyway. But the thing that was making me wait, longer than I had planned on, was the inability to make up my mind if it was best to tell them about my intuition about his being George Eliot, or if I should not include this finger-pointing in my tale, and let them figure out for themselves who it had been.
If I was to tell them everything that was on my mind, the most likely response would be a non-response, a dismissal. In fact, my appalling lack of certainties about this man, of whom I only knew the name and vaguely the neighborhood, was not going to play out in my favor, when they would be pondering whether or not to consider my claim.
But most likely of all was that they’d completely wave aside those assertions, and put them down to the shock I had still not recovered from entirely.
Wait Sondra, you’re forgetting the most important part in all this – I said to myself. If you tell them, and they believe you, you’re possibly going to dig yourself an early grave: the law may hold you culpable for not having reported Theodore, after you knew he had stolen that money.
I didn’t want to land in deep trouble, not now. So, I never even considered the option again, assuming that they’d be better off not knowing all that wasn’t strictly necessary.
I, for myself, thought whatever I thought, and hardly anything could happen to make me change my mind about my own intuition. But I would find a way to deal with my feelings, without needing the police to soften them up before they’d bite me; I could even count on myself to find out if that was George Eliot. I would think of something – some scheme to get the facts, and winnow out the factoids.
But the point is, I had to do that all by myself – that, indeed, was the bottom line.
All that thinking I’d engaged in – I just checked with my watch – had taken most of the day, so I guess, after all, I was going to tell the police on the morrow.
I hadn’t even told Lena and Pauline. I also had to decide if it was worth mentioning George Eliot to them, or if I should literally keep that arrow, flashing and pointing to my past, buried deep down.
As a matter of fact, I had never breathed a word to them about Eliot: while I could have, I never felt it necessary, and never anything arose, for so long as I’d been living with them, that prompted me to make a clean breast of it.
As I was in such a brown study, it was with a certain perplexity that I read the hands on my watch, and realized they said it was way too late for a heart-to-heart even with my mates.
In fact, they were probably already in bed by now – and they had possibly even let me know that that was going to be the state of affairs in a short while. I couldn’t tell, I wasn’t paying attention. But one thing I could tell. I was to go out for one last nocturnal walk. That would definitely do me some good, and the next morning I’d be fresh as a daisy, telling people the details of the assault, and soon after forgetting them, so that I’d be fulfilling my five-day old desire to start anew and to put the bad feelings to rest.
I definitely started walking. My brisk steps seemed unstoppable, as my lungs were taking in such puffs of air as I thought they never had; until something happened, that cracked that pleasant frame of mind with a big snap, and would shortly send me back to my acquaintances the dumps.