Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ghost Truck World

Moving to Philadelphia in January 1999 was the culmination of a really difficult year. I'd been with the same woman since 1992: both of us wildly dissatisfied with New Haven, Connecticut and the hole of crack, illy, and murder it was sinking into, we'd moved to Northampton Massachusetts together where I was enrolled at UMass, and where she began sending out applications to graduate school, ending up at Simmons College in Brookline.

When I say I loved Melissa Watterworth, I mean that in the deepest, unconditional sense of the word, and I know she would say the same about me. I would have, and still would, take a bullet for the dame, and she IS a dame, a good dame at that. I can't even begin to count the sacrifices we made for each other, working shitty jobs to pay the rent and the bills, driving 2 hours each direction to see each other during the weekends, vacations that amounted to sitting around in the living room because we couldn't afford to actually do anything. Despite her frequent protestations that she was a wimp, that she didn't have stick-to-it-iveness, Watterworth was the best camper I've ever had the pleasure to be with 10 miles into the woods without a cellphone or even a working lighter. On one of our first trips together, out along Bear Mountain in the Berkshires, we took the bad advice of some other hikers to follow Sage's Ravine down to the road instead of following the trail back to the parking area. When the "trail" we'd been led down dead-ended at a cliff and a roaring waterfall, Watterworth lowered me down onto the rocks ten feet below on the slenderest bit of line, and when I established that we needed to turn back and figure out a different way to get back down the mountain, she pulled me up and helped me track the hikers who had led us astray to begin with, bringing us down to the road five miles below.

So I was blindsided when she began cheating on me. I should have seen it, the signs were there, but I simply couldn't believe it. When I walked in on them, rolling around in a bed at a party in the house where my band practiced and where we were actually performing that evening, I didn't know what to do. My first thought, after walking in on the girl I'd asked to marry me dry-humping another guy, was to go out to my car and get my tire iron. I remember it as if it was yesterday. I must have gone into shock, suddenly became completely detached from what I was seeing: my emotions flipped off, and I became eerily calm. This isn't right, I remember thinking as I walked down the stairs. They didn't see me. I'll just beat them both to death and go home.

I stopped in the middle of the stairs. No, I can't kill them because I'll get caught and go to jail. I definitely don't want to get sent upstate. Maybe I'll just go home. That wasn't an especially productive line of thought either, which is when my gut took over, turned me around, marched me up the stairs, and kicked open the door. "WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING??" I remember yelling. "WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU? WHAT ARE YOU FUCKING DOING?"

There was a lot of screaming and yelling. She left. He laughed in my face. I don't know why I didn't hit him. I was 27. I didn't know what to do. I was a coward.

Melissa and I left together in my truck and went back to our apartment, fighting all the way. "I'm not your girlfriend," she screamed at one point, "so stop saying that! I'm not not NOT your girlfriend anymore, so stop saying that!" It had been almost six years, and now she's not my girlfriend? This was news to me. I dropped her at the apartment and told her I'd be back later.

Man, did I drive that night, drove around and around and went nowhere, winding along the backroads through Leverett and Montague at a million miles an hour. Where was I going, what would I do? Go back to Newport? For what, why? To Boston? Who did I know there? Maybe I'd get lucky and the truck would fly off the road and kill me, that'd show the fucking bitch. The mind was spinning as fast as the tires as the truck raced through the night.

As it happened I stayed in Northampton for a few more months. We worked in the same restaurant (I'd gotten her the job when she was desperate), and in the open kitchen everyone on the staff knew what was going on. That sonuvabitch she was seeing would come in during the lunchtime and just stare at me while I tried to do my job. Not enough that he'd grabbed my girlfriend, mine motherfucker, he'd come in and try to fuck with me, silently, at work. My boss ended up banning the guy, which set off more hystrionics and angry accusations.

Those last few months were brutal. If you've ever been to Northampton, you know it's a tiny, presumptuous, arrogant little fishbowl of town that envisions itself as Western Massachusett's cultural mecca. There used to be a billboard as you crossed the county line, "Northampton: Big City Excitement, Small Town Charm", which I guess beats the old motto, "The Lesbian Capital of America". I could't go anywhere without seeing the two of them. I'd wander down to Hugo's after work for a few beers, and I'd see them walk by behind me, reflected in the mirror. I'd withdraw money from the ATM, and they'd be in line behind me. There was no escape: it was like living in Merle Haggard's "I Can't Stand Me":

Oh when I look in the glass and see a grown man cry
it makes me wanna hang my head
I used to feel real proud just to be alive
but now I think I'd rather be dead
I can't stand me since I lost you and I can't stand nobody else
I can't stand me since you went away and I gotta get away from myself

Around November 1998, all pretensions of trying to get along imploded. Melissa had pulled a really bullshit move one weekend at the VFW where The Lonesome Brothers, a local country band and one of our favorites, were playing. The new boyfriend was making an ass of himself by dancing the way he imagined a hillbilly would, and clearly she was embarrassed. I ignored them, busy hanging out with Jim and Jennie, for whom I was now playing bass (and living with). During "I Cry For You", one of the Lonesome Brothers' slower, weepier numbers, Melissa came up to me and asked if I wanted to dance: it was the last straw. "No," I replied. "Who the fuck do you think you are? What, you think I'm some kind of fucking doormat you can walk on? Fuck you!" I turned around and left.

The next day I called her on the phone. "I don't know what the hell you were thinking about last night, but you stepped way over the line," I said. "Never mind that retard you're dating and his bullshit antics, but I am not going to have you fucking with my goddamn emotions like that. I don't want to talk to you anymore, I don't want to look at you anymore, I don't want--" She started screaming at me.

"Fuckyoufuckyoufuckyou!" she shrieked. "If you don't want to be my friend, then why the fuck are you borrowing my tv? I WANT MY TV BACK! I WANT MY TV BACK!"

"Fine," I sighed. "I'll put your TV on the front porch. You can get it whenever you want." I hung up the phone mid-shriek, and headed downstairs to break the news to Jim and Jennie.

"Ummmm.... there's kind of a problem with that," Jennie said. "The uhhh tv kind of just stopped working right before you came downstairs."


"Yeah," Jim said. "Just like a second ago, we were watching this shitty Christmas movie of "Oliver Twist", when all of a sudden the thing went haywire. The picture shrank down to nothing, just a little dot on the screen and then there was a flash, and the tv shut off. Smell the back, it's all ozoney."

"She blew it up," I muttered. "I can't fucking believe it," and explained the conversation I'd just had with Melissa.

Jennie's eyes went wide. "She DID! She did blow it up!" She stared at the now-deceased tv. "I'm not touching that thing, it scares the hell out of me.

"I've heard about this kind of thing before," Jennie added, "people who get so angry that they have some kind of... telekinesis or whatever. Just get that haunted thing out of here before it chases us around the house trying to kill us."

That TV sat on that porch for the rest of the year. A few weeks after the incident, Jim dropped the bomb that the band was moving to Philadelphia in January and wanted me to move with them. I agreed immediately: at last, an escape from the fishbowl. We spent the rest of the year hastily finishing up the album we were working on, working our contacts in Pennsylvania, and preparing for the move. A few days before we left, I called up Melissa and told her I was bringing over the television she'd never picked up.

It was a weird scene: I returned the tv and we collapsed on each other, sobbing. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry for everything," she said. "It was all my fault, I fucked up so bad."

"Water under the bridge, water under the bridge" I said, through a thick stream of tears. "We'll work through it some way or another. I'll call as soon as I get set up in Philadelphia." And to make a long story short, we're best of friends today: she's getting married next summer, and I couldn't be happier for her. (Also, a few months after I moved here, she called me to ask what the hell I'd done to the television. "That was all you," I said and told her how the tv had blown up the very minute she was screaming at me.) And oh, if you're reading this hon, you better fucking invite me or I'll invite myself.

When Melissa MacIntyre dropped the news to me that she was staying in Canada,it was the same kind of blindside sucker punch that Melissa Watterworth dealt me in 1998, but far far worse because there's a baby involved. I'd been waiting for two years, and my teeth are still rattling in my head from the blow. At least once a day, I want to get in my van and just drive around like it was 1998 all over again, anywhere but here, anywhere but anywhere.

In reality, it's worse that 1998 when there was nowhere to go. It's not like mourning an ex-girlfriend: girls come, girls go, and the pain is transient. You heal up eventually and then it's off to "the fields of opportunity, it's ploughin' time again." It's flesh and blood, it's like missing my right arm, and the phantom pain isn't phantom at all. "Phantom" is an apt word: the ache always there, like some kind of poltergeist that lurks around an old house wondering what went wrong and where everybody went, throwing appliance around the kitchen in frustration. The visits almost make it worse, salt in the wound, a quick glimpse at everything I'm missing. Sam comes down this Saturday, and I haven't seen him, not even a picture, since he went home in March. We are like ghosts ourselves, or one step away: what else is a voice on the phone but a deliberate electric disruption traveling through the ether?

So when you see me looking forlorn and haggard, when I sound resentful and hostile like I've shouldering a yoke and plough for a few too many furrows, with that 10-mile stare into nowhere, that's what I'm thinking about. And the words keep echoing through my head, like some kind of mantra, No, Fuck YOU! No Fuck YOU! No Fuck YOU!

In 1998, I had nowhere to go; in 2006, I can't escape from myself.
You can get over your ex-girlfriend. Can anyone tell me how you get over your son?


Blogger Phillybits said...

Great post, Brendan.

10:49 PM  

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