Ten days into sobriety, Tim Timmons’ travel contract is canceled suddenly and without warning. Feeling rather giddy about it, he exits the hospital lobby whistling a happy tune, with nowhere and everywhere to go (and no particular time to be there). In a state of active rebellion, he enters the out-of-doors—unmasked—deep-breathing, almost gulping the fresh spring air.
He turns and takes one last look at the deceptively peaceful building. Everyone has gone crazy on the inside of St. Christopher. Always the outsider, Tim finds himself walking away again from everything and everybody. One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.
On the other side of the parking lot, green scrubs earn him a free cup of coffee, Wawa’s kind gesture to essential medical personnel. He goes for the 24 ounce with a generous squirt of French vanilla creamer, sips slowly and thoughtfully as he enjoys an unplanned morning stroll to an unmapped park one block away.
Unplanned and unmapped. The developing story of his life.
It’s a blustery day and the wind brushes long strands of hair from Tim’s face with the gentle hand of an invisible friend, caressing and smoothing a countenance tightened by a recent and irreplaceable loss. He shuts his eyes for a moment, remembers her, smells her in the clover, needs her.
A hanging gate of tender vines invites him into a budding forest where he follows a paved trail tracing a playful creek. Pleasant white noise bubbles like champagne over rocks, flowing in the irreversible direction of all waters.
A lone duck allows the current to take his cute little oily head for an easy ride. Much can be learned from the moment.
The first colors of May are LSD vivid against the gray sky. Tim crosses a patch of dewey grass that is greener than green, his intrusive presence scaring and scattering the melodic eighth notes of a hundred singing birds. A rainbow of wings arcs into the air, disappearing into the branches of trees that are swaying and dancing on the breeze. A Disney cloud burst of bright red cardinals, blue jays, black birds, yellow birds, chestnut brown and flecked with white birds, launching into flight, lifting from the dampened lawn, shifting immediately from left to right with a graceful synchronization. Unexpected morning magic.
The jittery squirrels are the next to go, zipping and zanging with laser pointer speed, up, up, up and around the fat trunk of a huge oak, peeking at him warily, their tiny paw claws scratching the bark to dizzying heights, performing acrobatic leaps through the air from the thinnest limbs to bouncing twigs, showing off, defying gravity, fearless of a fall. Tim longs to join them, to leave the troubled floor of the earth. But all he can do is go back to his rickety, faithful truck and drive away into the unknown day, free as a bird in many ways, but with one notable exception: he’s anchored permanently to another soul. That complicates things a bit. The chains of unrequited love are heavy.
Those who hurt others shall be hurt in return. Karma, that not so darling daughter of a bitch.
A lady, her face wrapped ridiculously much—almost to a niqab—is walking a dog whose wet bologna tongue is happy and hanging out. Tim says good morning. The woman says nothing in return but only glowers at his unmasked lips and hastens her pace in the opposite direction. Bless the beasts and the children, Tim thinks, because the rest of us are fucked up.
God, if there is a God, save us all from crazy adults and those who allow themselves to be controlled by CNN sound bites and live their precious lives trapped in a vassal obedience to fear.
As early as noon, Tim receives a phone call and signs a new contract at a hospital a quarter of a day away. Another Covid cluster awaits him. He ponders the mallard again, passive and relaxed on the stream, one laid back quack.
En route, he drives with an open tablet on his lap, at every red light scratching with a leaky blue ink pen all the weak spots of a developing novel in its awkward, voice-changing adolescence. Problem is, he can’t stop thinking of her, the one he writes about, the one he’s left behind for writing. This what?—obsession?—is so damn distracting and counterproductive.
“Stop thinking about her!” His window is down and the car idling in the left lane, only a handshake’s distance, is polite and pretends not to think that he’s crazy. Tim blushes and presses the gas a second before the light turns green. If this were a game of football, he’d be penalized for a false start.
Maybe her mad rush into a new relationship is a false start, the beginning of the end of something unviable. Isn’t genuine love supposed to be rooted and organic and NOT some hell hath no fury, drunken make out session turned random fuck with a virtual stranger?
“Stop thinking about her!” He will command himself 25 more times before the day’s end, when he settles into the shit depths of insomnia again.
“Find what you love and let it kill you.” Words of experiential wisdom from Charles Bukowski, a successful man but mostly lonely, lost, and unlikeable without a woman’s love. Giving up something in order to write about it doesn’t make too much sense unless one considers the beauty that drips from the fountain pen of pain. Who better to eulogize love than the fool who’s lost it?
Tim hasn’t had much of an appetite lately but is addicted to liquid tastes that make him happy (outside of alcohol). His favorite being the wet ecstasy gushing from between his former lover’s quaking legs. But these days, a Chai tea latte from 7-Eleven.
Another crazy adult, an emaciated addict, is blocking the door to the front of the store. He’s begging for five dollars cash, says he’s starving.
“Sorry, I’m only carrying plastic.”
The man is angry at Tim’s reply.
Tim purchases the tea for himself and a six dollar sandwich for the man, who sets the heavy turkey sub on a brick ledge where it rolls off and falls onto a sandy sidewalk moistened by multiple loogies.
“Man, I be allergic to cheese and shit! I akks you fo cash. Now you be wast’n yo money.”
“You’re right. I’ve wasted my money and my time.”
On the road again, Tim entertains a satisfying vision of pulling the slices of cheese from the sandwich and stuffing them with his thumbs deep into the large nose holes of the ungrateful man. But after taking the first sip of tea, he indulges himself in fantasies of another kind.
Tim works the next six days in a row—to the point of a manly and stubbled exhaustion—but is grateful to keep busy. The nights are too lonely and he no longer has the benefit of alcohol to sing him to sleep or the delighted anticipation of an evening text conversation. She’s incommunicado. His phone has gone dead silent. Any hotel room at one in the morning is as loud as a concert with angry accusations and poisonous suspicions. Tim’s heart thumps with panic and sorrow whenever he thinks of her doing the unthinkable.
He tries not to think. That means watching television. A waste of vital brain cells and time. No.
He tries prayer. That doesn’t work. God isn’t communicating either.
He tries masturbation. Self-pleasuring is now self-inflicting, causing horrible cuckold flashes of her with someone else—jealous adrenaline overpowering the natural sleep cocktail of post coital norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, nitrous oxide, and prolactin.
He tries the Gideon Bible again. Proverbs 5:15-20 is where a casual opening and blind finger lands his searching, sleepy, raccoon eyes: a bittersweet vow that is no longer possible. He hides the holy book back inside the empty drawer from whence it came, slamming it into invisibility.
Creatively, he resorts to a thunderstorm on his iPhone. The music of nature matches the turbulence of his heart.
Tim remembers a Franciscan monk who once wrote a song to his loneliness. The only lyric he can remember is the first five words, “Lady Solitude, love me tonight.” This strangely seductive line becomes his evening mantra.
Tim’s nodding thoughts return to a broken building full of broken people. The forgotten ones. Their moaning and insane babbling fogging ancient windows. A skeletal lady in a wheelchair reaches out to him as he attempts to glide past her, down a dim and flickering hall ripe with the stench of human waste. He’s seeking a quick exit at the end of a long ass day. However, knowing experientially the private pain of loneliness and the angst of being ignored, Tim stops and stoops to her level, accepts a sticky hand, folds it into his. Her blue eyes, paled by nine decades of wearing down, down, down to these final days, to this very moment, are crazy alert. He imagines her offering him a poison apple (This—this-s-s-s will help you sleep, my pretty).
“Hi, my name is Effie,” she says.
“Effie. How beautiful and uncommon! It reminds me of a character straight out of an F Scott Fitzgerald novel. A name of the 1930s.”
This information is too much for her elderly mind to process. She looks at Tim and plays with the hem of his scrub top with her free hand. Then continues, “You are no different than me.”
A long pause and an obvious struggle to form the next thought, the next sentence. Tim is trained to wait patiently. He does so, shaking his head in agreement and encouragement.
Finally, with an alarming hatred in her eyes, Effie accuses Tim repeatedly (with a consistent speech impediment, the result of missing teeth), “You’re use-leth. Use-leth. That’s what you are. You. Are. Use-leth!”
Very true, the lovelorn nurse thinks to himself, as another sun goes down on what remains of his life.
If he were drunk, he would’ve responded stupidly, unnecessarily, and disrespectfully (Yeah? Well, guess what, Effie? Youth-leth rhymes with tooth-leth”). But he’s sober now and clear enough to recall a Sunday school story of an alleged prophet of God named Balaam who became angry and beat his truth-telling donkey (Tim only remembers because he always snickered at the free use of the word ass in church). Besides, poor Effie doesn’t know what the hell she’s saying or that she’s even sitting there in the chair. Poor lamb.
Politely excusing himself from burning in effigy, Tim saunters past the nurse’s station where the night shift supervisor, Donna, greets him with shouts of joy. “Hey! Tim-Timmity-Tebow!”
All the incoming females—freshly watered horses—are fumigating the diseased house of piss with their strong, cheap perfume. Tim can smell it through a double-masked face.
Donna Donaldson (an unfortunate name combination almost as redundant as Tim Timmons) continues. “There must be something really special about you, T.T, because Effie NEVER talks. She hasn’t spoken a word in weeks. It’s like she knows you or something.”
At 11:05 PM, Tim reaches for a silver flask filled with white label, one hundred proof, Evan Williams bourbon. The drink is waiting for him like a faithful friend on the night stand. He unscrews the top. Brings it to his nose. Closes his eyes. Takes a long and satisfying whiff.
He struggles with Gethsemane temptation for an eternal minute. Let this cup pass from me.
He replaces the cap, screws it tight.
Heavy eyes wide-open, Tim kisses the three initials engraved on the container and tosses it across the room. He turns off the light. “Promises are meant to be kept,” he whispers to the darkness.