Issue 5: Independent vs. Representative Voice
A Publication of the USF MFA in Writing Program


Bill Teitelbaum

First thing Sunday morning Norma calls. Seems Francine, this friend of ours, is using again.  
Naturally there was more. A suicide attempt, a paper trail, checks, warrants. It got confusing pretty fast. But anyhow poor little Francine was back on baby and Norma's on the telephone calling out the troops. Rescue her! Fetch her home! She was probably up in Clinton somewhere, like around the bus station.  
Right, I said. Like seeing myself in grim pursuit. How could it not be grim? There were times you couldn't have found me with dogs.  
I took to my raft for a while, my white island of calm in a sea of troubles, trying to assign myself an appropriate responsibility. I lay there for ten minutes or so, then headed out for coffee and the papers. On my way from the building I gathered my mail. There was a letter from this lady Bernice I see from time to time, asking me to not call her anymore. Until then I thought we were past that sex-for-politics thing, but according to Bernice I was a disgrace to the movement and she never wanted to see me again.  
Maybe if I took a warm bath, I thought. So I dialed the taps and took off my clothes, but just as I got a toe in the water someone big upstairs fell down and most of the ceiling dropped in the bathtub.  
My friends, my friends in the program I mean - I don't really have friends in the social sense, I have comrades, companions in malaise - these friends say that I withdraw and withhold myself, that I don't care for things as I should. They would have launched me in search of poor fallen Francine. "Hey, ain't no big thing. Like lookin' through your pants. And when you done with that, yo, get you that Bernice on the telephone, man! Don't be lettin' no good woman go!"  
The problem, though, is that actually this appeals to me, to leap into those can-do boots, swing into the saddle of a galloping horse, and get clotheslined by a tree-limb like a character in a cartoon. That's me, I laugh, the first one over the top when the whistle blows, then falling back in the trench with his helmet full of brains.  
That's my downfall, I can't say no to things. That's why I applied for methadone. I was strung out so bad when they busted me, it cost me three bills a day just to get the sick off. But after I kicked in jail I just ate and slept for twenty-four months, and strong as I was by then, hooking my chump ass on methadone didn't make any more sense than signing on for another deuce. So instead of making it to the clinic when they let me out, I just went home. Where the heart is, right? Where they have to take you in? Couldn't have been two hours off the bus, so stoned I was sucking my dick, and I stayed fucked up like that for thirty or forty days.  
Yet the truth is that you can miss that terrible life. Your whole mind becomes a blind-spot. Rules do not apply anymore. That's the addiction, you like to know the truth of it. All you have to do is that one thing you have to do. So I think about that from time to time. An end to questions? An end to worry? You bet I think about that.  
I mean everything is so complicated now. Like there's this squarejohn soccer mom I've been seeing, Lydia Lester, good-looking Chinese-dinner kind of lady. Watches her weight, worries about work. We met at a mixer, she has a sister in the program. Two kids, big job, but she seemed easy enough to know so I asked her out, and there we were, discussing love and how hard it is to meet people nowadays.   
I knew it was a risk. You're better off with people who know what you're up to. That way you can look out for each other. But all she really needs from me is a chance once a week to feel like a honeybucket, so things sort of work for us in this half-assed way. I'm a love, she says. Means a good lay, a crowd-pleaser. If I had any sense I'd get her to dump me. Complain about her job, act jealous of the kids. But it seems I want to have an effect, to touch and be touched by someone, to see my face. You get that testing thing here in Boojieland, that how-am-I-doing thing, that how-do-you-like-me, that what-can-I-do-for-you?  
If only you could know it was the right thing. Somehow you have to forget you're the one who did all that shit. Like I need to invent a new history for myself - my memories disgust me. It's like I had a brain tumor but they took out the brain and left the tumor.  
The thing is, we just don't know how to live with ourselves, people like me. We bathe and shave and brush our teeth, we buy as much as we can, but we can't recognize ourselves in this boojie world. I mean, there are these people out there. Jiggling your raft, man. They want to share things with you. I mean, shit, man, the last time I let myself be galvanized that way, the ceiling in the toilet fell down.  
And what can you do really?  
Only, that's not why you don't do anything, is it? I mean there are these people who could really use a hand now and then. You could help them. It would mean something. It wouldn't change things much, but it wouldn't have to. I mean you can't deny these things. You know what you're up to now.  
So, I lie on my raft, like trying to order my priorities. The vision of a cheeseburger presents itself. In a while I may even venture the basement, advise the janitor of the sky falling in.  
But what about old Bernice? What if I marched and carried signs for you, would that do it, Bernice, would that make it all right? And supposing it did, Bernice, would I do it?  
Well, I think I managed that pretty well. Now for that ol' Francine.  
Although, it sounds to me like Norma's the one who really needs the help from me. All that junky urgency? That gotta-do-this, that gotta-do-that?  
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