“Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.”
― Ella Wheeler Wilcox
“What denies you is an illusion… A curse put upon you by the heartless… You knew from the very beginning… And yet, you cowered in fear… Will you die as you are told…? Who will you obey…? Cursed words spat out by a seething illusion? Or the truth within your own soul? Contract… I am thou, thou art I… The forbidden wisdom has been revealed. No mysteries… No illusions shall deceive you any longer.” –Persona 5
It’s 5am as the darkness pervades, and with it the unwelcome chill of death. Ice is building up on palm fronds. Manatees have hidden deep within the springs. Streets are empty of raccoons, possums, and all manner of nightlife. It is so cold iguanas are literally falling out of trees and turtles are washing up dead. Only the frosted beams of souls off to work exist to light the way, comfortable in warm cars.
On the sidewalk shuffles a shadow, bundled up in a trenchcoat and black hat, struggling to stay warm. He holds a small beat up radio in one ungloved hand, the only companion for a long and arduous journey. Under the flickering street lights you can see his eyes are tired, tear ducts swollen yet undisturbed. He watches the cars go by, very aware he is in another world; he smells the dogshit, the open sewers, while they cannot. He appears like a ghost, flicking into reality with each vehicle passing by.
He’s on his way to pick up his car from a parking lot. He has chosen to do so at 5am and with the temps at 30 degrees in the hopes it won’t light on fire and kill him when he attempts to drive it home. The car is toast, the engine victim to a failure the mechanic “never seen before.”
“The amount of pressure must have been incredible” he had said, shaking his bearded head to note the horror, “normally you gotta hammer the freeze plug in. We figured okay, maybe a radiator leak or something, but that bitch was GONE. Your fluid drained out and the engine overheated. Not only that but ya heads blew.” He pauses for a moment, as if to hammer home just how much he cares. “I’m sorry to tell you this but at this kind of mileage you’re going to need a whole new engine.”
“And how much would that cost?”
“About $4,500 dollars.”
The jeep cost $3,000. It sounds like bullshit. Has to be. I laughed because all I could do was laugh.
The laugh of rent increases, firings, or deadly diseases caught at emergency rooms when you have no insurance; the chuckle you get when you watch dreams die. To be poor is to know it well, to carry it in your pocket. It usually grows like a callous right over your heart to match the ones on your hands.
And my hands were calloused.
Christmas brought news about my mother-in-law’s disability case. My wife has cared for her mother since she was sixteen, her high school years spent in apartments with no electricity and having to beg for sanitary necessities. Her mother didn’t work. She did at one time but the PTSD of having her husband kick her down the stairs and beat her within an inch of her life makes crowds impossible. Since we started dating, almost ten years, we’ve payed every bill and effectively spent the same amount of money supporting her as if we had a child. My wife has lost her entire childhood. She’s never woken up to an empty house, never sang a song simply to herself; she’s spent every waking moment worrying about someone in the other room. If that thump on the floor was someone hanging themselves or a cat knocking something over. You can see it in the darting of the eyes, the restless and frustrated sighs.
The hope was both parties might have what they call a normal life.
The judge’s decision came in an envelope that was beaten to shit. Her mother would get enough from the State to pay the light bill, some food, and that was about it. She couldn’t afford to live on her own. My wife and I had planned and imagined what life might be like, just the two of us. Holding the letter, hands shaking, it became suddenly clear those dreams would never, ever happen.
My wife cried for three days, inconsolable, her one chance at her own life gone forever. She worries we’ll never have children now. How can we afford it? She cries and cries and all I can do is hide my own anger and rage.
The two weekends later, dazed out of her wits on anti-psychotic meds, my mother in law walked into the bathroom and proceeded to eject half a gallon of liquid shit in the closet. On our clothes. She then passed out on the floor, hitting her head. We had planned to spend that Saturday night out with a friends, the same as any other twenty-something couple does. We instead spent it cleaning her off, mopping and scrubbing the floor, gagging and retching from the smell. Out of towels at one point, my wife decided to use an old t-shirt.
Life is good it says, with a big smiley covered in human feces.
She can’t help but laugh. “The irony is not lost on me.”
After adjusting we dreamed new dreams: maybe take the plunge into debt and get a house. After all, we’d never be on our own so me might as well own something that was ours. Apply for that first-time home owner’s loan. Paint it how we wanted, plant those banana trees I had read about, stop paying rent and at least craft a warm place for us to die. We had a new city picked out and were set to start hunting Thursday morning. Somewhere calm and peaceful farther down south, away from the highways and tourists. I made plans for turning the Florida Room into a writer’s den and hoped to find something next to a forest; she began picking themes to direct our painting and decorating. We could make it work. Our lives may not be the ones we wanted but we would make it work.
My wife lost her job on the 3rd. The car was pronounced dead the same day. Crossing the street, clouds of breath escaping from my collar, I laugh even now. A freak accident. By Wednesday that week every step forward for the year previous had been undone. Every dream, every hope, ripped away. My insides felt as cold as the air scraping against my throat, hurt in ways they don’t make words for.
The lot is open, and I walk over to the jeep, allowing my fingers to trail along the door of a nearby luxury vehicle. I attempt to scrape the ice off my windshield but succeed in only wiping free a small hole about the size of my palm. This will be my only visual for about two miles at fifty-five miles per hour, a desperate race to get home before the engine starts shooting out flames. There’s no coolant and the damn thing wouldn’t hold any even if I had some. As I adjust my seat I reach into my pocket, pulling out a small flask of Sailor Jerry’s. Three sips, 93 proof each, enough to warm my stomach and agitate the blood. One last ride, windows down, and loose enough to enjoy it.
What have I got to fucking lose?