So I've been thinking a lot about vulnerability and how to be truly present in my relationships and I've decided I'm just going to write this here. There.
I hadn't heard from Troy since Christmastime. He'd been arrested back in the fall, was it? I think it was. And then he was in jail for a while, a long while, and came out seriously injured. Jail, by the way, is a hard place. But I had already started to limit my contact with him, seriously limit, and then it was Christmastime and he called. I don't recall the conversation all the way, and it might have already been in January. But he asked if he could come stay with us a while. And I told him flat out nope. He pushed and I was a brick wall and then he went away. He went the eff away and I was good.
Tangled up in this is the realization that sometimes hope doesn't work out? Things were really hopeful for a very short, very sweet summer. And then it didn't work out. But remember, this is tangled up in knots in my heart, and not bowline or reef knots, but like snarls I would get in my hair when I was a young girl and wake up with a rat's nest on the back of my head.
He called once in February and I didn't answer. One night I went to bed early and he called, and Bixby answered my phone. He was laid up at his aunt's house. He'd been what sounded like a terrible wreck. Broken pelvis, punctured liver, other broken things. I didn't bother calling back. It was done, sad as it was, it was done.
But I wasn't sad. I was busy rebuilding my own life with new friends and old friends that I'd set aside. I was having a great winter and spring.
A couple of weeks ago I was taking a nap on the couch after driving London to camp and spending the day in the world with my friend Sarah. The phone rang and I could hear through my sleep as Bix answered it. I knew before he started speaking that it was Troy, and I felt my heart rate go up as I started to wake. He left just a simple message: tell Sally I called.
Bixby left to gather groceries for dinner after I was awake, and I stared at the phone, at the caller ID. I watched my hand press the buttons to dial the number. I sat on the front steps and listened. He was at Barnes, the big hospital near me (as opposed to the other big hospital near me, or either of the two big children's hospitals near me, ah well). He was waiting to be seen. Because the pins and screws holding his pelvis together weren't holding and had slipped and....I stopped listening to most of the story. He was just telling about the wreck and his subsequent homelessness--he was sleeping in an abandoned car on a friend's back lot. And now he was at the ER waiting to be seen.
Waiting to be seen. You know about me and being seen.
I hung up after telling him to let me know how it goes.
He called back after dinner. Asked if I could maybe come see him because he was going to be waiting for 5 hours, most likely. I got off the phone. I went back inside. I grabbed Bixby. "I need to talk to you. I need to put gas in the truck and talk to you."
I put gas in the truck. I told Bixby what I'd learned in calling him back. I went inside the QuikTrip and bought a coke. For Troy. I went back out, got in the truck, and told Bixby we were going to Barnes.
We went to Barnes and went through the metal detector at the ER. Which is a hive of scum and villainy. I saw him. He looked through me at first and then recognized me. Limped over to me and hugged me. It was so good to see him. I sat down next to him and Bixby sat behind us in a row facing the other way. And he talked about the waiting room and the Blues game and then pointed over behind where Bixby was.
"Danielle's over there," he said. "She should come say hello."
"I don't want to see her and she doesn't want to see me," I told him.
"She should still say hello."
"No." And I meant it.
He changed the subject to the turkey sandwich they'd given him and the wait time. Then asked if I wanted to step out with him, he was going to smoke. So we followed him out and stood on the corner of Kingshighway and I let the feeling soak in. The that woman is the only witness against you in the upcoming trial, the upcoming felony trial over whether you hit your son. The state of Illinois took your son away and you two are still pathetically clinging to each other.
I didn't much like the feeling.
Danielle came out in her Batman t-shirt and called his name. The nurse was calling his name inside.
I hugged him goodbye.
I drove home shaking, words spilling out of my mouth to Bixby. I got home and he went to bed and I called my friend Sarah and sat on the front porch and spilled it to her.
You know how long it's been since I had a friend I could call on the phone? I mean that literally. I cannot call anyone on the phone. I can text and email and write long-assed letters to all sorts of folks. People can call me and it's fine. But I can't call you. Can't even call you back. It's been 20 years since I had a girl friend I could pick up the phone and just call. And I did that and spilled the whole day on her table and let her sort through it.
"I think you need to have Bixby handle this now," was her conclusion.
And she was right.
I cried and agreed and felt a lot better about myself. Because I finally admitted to myself why I'd gone to the ER. Because he's about to slip into derelict homeless man status and something about knowing him when he was 11 made me want to say goodbye to that. I didn't know that when I drove to Barnes but I knew that sitting on my stoop talking to her.
I went inside and said to Bixby: I need to tell you something that is going to come as a surprise to you most likely. I love that you have always trusted me on anything having to do with Troy. But today is where that trust has to come to an end. I need you to handle it. I didn't seek him out, he'd disappeared after our last phone call in January, and I never would have sought him out again, but then he called and for some reason, I gave in. And I can't anymore.
He looked at me. He saw me.
The next day, I took my kids to get their hair cut down the street and when I got back, Bixby was cooking dinner. And he told me what had happened.
He called, and I let him give me his song and dance prelude, and he's in a room at Barnes waiting on surgery and there's a gal, a social worker, going to help him with housing once he's out, and all that's fine and good, and then he went and asked me for forty bucks and then I tore into him. Told him he'd had that woman at the ER and then had the audacity to call you knowing she was your kryptonite, and told him that we were done. It was all done. He stuttered and failed to interrupt a lot but in the end all he could get out was could I please ask Sally what she thought about all that?
Suddenly I could breathe again for the first time in two days.
It was done.
And I was still ok.
My life is richer for having done what I've done. I don't regret anything from when we worked with Troy and his son and tried to be a force of stability in their lives. WE WERE. What I regret is the second summer and all the times I tried to reach out after it was obvious he was gone. And more than that, there's a part of my heart that regrets having ever met him in the first place.
There's a lazy eye that looks at you
And sees you the same as before
When you lay beside me every night
But now you are with me no more