Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Chapter 5~~The Window

Photo by
Brendon Stuart

We sat in silence for a moment after Jo told her mammogram story. Then she brightened.

"Have you ever heard that old cowboy saying, 'He's got his tit in a wringer?'"


"It's so strange that cowboys would invent a saying like that, because it's prescient. That's exactly what having a mammogram feels like."

"Really? I can't imagine it."

"Really. It's awful. And a gynecological exam is even worse."

"That's unfortunate. The worst thing men have to endure is an occasional finger up the anus or testiclular manipulation, and that doesn't feel bad at all. In fact, I kind of like it."

Jo laughed. "You are such a pervert."

"I won't argue."

"Hey, I know it's early, but have you got any gin left? Or did I drink it all?"

"You drank it all. But I bought more."

I made her drink eagerly, standing at the fancy little bar like a character in a James Bond movie, pouring out the gin and tonic, stirring it with the slender glass stick I had purchased expressly with this moment in mind. I was pleased to be able to do that for her, pleased at the way she looked at me when I handed her the glass. It was still hard to believe that she was sitting in my office, this woman I'd had such a crush on in high school. It was still hard to believe that a random encounter at Whole Foods had led to these sessions, her fitting herself neatly into my chair, legs tucked beneath her, and offering up the most intimate details of her life like a pearl of great price. It had been a long time since I'd heard the particular lilt of her voice. The last times I remembered seeing her was at her father's funeral, when she was just 25⎯and five years before that, at her mom's. She'd gotten raging drunk after both funerals, and from the looks of her at the second one, the years in between had not been kind.

But now, 20 years later, she seemed her girlish self again, with the sparkle and flush that had called my attention to her back in school. After taking a thirsty pull of her gin, she continued.

About a week after the mammogram, Jo got a call from Eddy around 2 in the afternoon.

“Hi Mom,” he said.

“Eddy, hi!” Jo gushed, relieved he didn't sound angry, and glad he’d made the effort to call. “How are you doing?”

“I’m okaaaay,” he stretched out the word, a sly smile in his voice. “But I need you to come pick me up.”

“Come pick you up? Why, honey? Where are you? What’s going on?”

“I’m up here at CSM, and there’s all kind of shit going on,” he started to chuckle. “There’s broken glass everywhere, and a nurse, and policemen, and an ambulance, and they want me to get in it, but I don’t want to get in it. I’d feel much more comfortable going home with you.”

“Omigod—an ambulance?” Jo’s heart began to race. She looked frantically around the room and her eyes locked on Jason's.


"Jason?" I interrupted her narrative to wonder. "Who's Jason?"

"Remember that young man I told you about?"

"The one who plays the guitar? The flirt? Your boy toy?"

"Yes that one," she smirked. "That Jason. But I'm not talking about him right now. I'm talking about Eddy.


"So he was on the phone, and I asked him, 'What's happened? Are you all right?'"

“I’m fine, Mom," he told me. "Nothing much has really happened. I just have this cut on my hand. It was bleeding a lot, I guess, but they bandaged it up and now I want to go home.”

“But why is there glass everywhere? And policemen? Are you in trouble? What did you do? Why don’t you want to get in the ambulance?” The questions tumbled out one after the other.

“Look, we’ll talk about all this when you get here, O.K.?”

“O.K. Yes, O.K.” Jo was pivoting on one foot, looking around the room for help, eager to rush out the door but held back by a need for more information, like a car with both its accelerator and its brake pedal pressed. “Where are you, exactly? By the bus stop? How can I find you?”

“Wait a minute, Mom,” he redirected her attention. “This lady wants to talk to you.” He handed the phone to someone Jo imagined was wearing a little white nurse’s cap with a big red cross on it.

“Hello, Mrs. Thibedeaux?” No one ever called Jo that unless a child of hers was in trouble. Her name is Jo Kasten. She'd kept her maiden name.

“This is Mrs. Malatesta. I’m a nurse here on campus. Ed has a very serious laceration on his hand and definitely needs to go to the hospital to have it stitched up. For some reason, he doesn’t want to get in the ambulance. But if you are coming to get him, I just want to make sure you understand that this isn’t something he can nurse at home. He needs immediate medical attention.”

“O.K. No problem,” Jo responded crisply, the adrenaline clearing her head. “We’ll take him right to the hospital. Can you tell me where you are located on the campus right now? It will take about 15 minutes to get there. Will he be all right until then?”

“He seems to be fine at the moment. He just doesn’t want to let us give him the attention he needs. Let me put Officer Colchis on the phone to give you directions.”

Jo felt a wave of dizziness as yet another person—a man this time—got on the phone to talk to her. “O.K. Mrs. Thibedeaux. Let’s see if we can get you oriented. You know the administration buildings on your left as you curve around to the west side of the campus after coming in the main entrance off Hillside?”

“Not really.”

“You’ll see them…”

She didn’t understand the directions he gave, but she copied them down on a pad of paper that was by the phone. She couldn’t bear interrupting him to ask a question, or lingering another minute. She took his cell phone number in case she got lost on the way and hung up as quickly as she could.

Suddenly she was aware that Jason was sitting on the couch, reminding her of something. She was furious at him. And embarrassed. And ashamed.


"Ashamed?" I interrupted again. "Why did Jason make you feel ashamed?"

"Well, I wasn't planning on telling you this, but just a couple of weeks before all this started happening, I sort of…um...propositioned him."

It took all my professional training to maintain a blank demeanor, but I couldn't help raising one eyebrow. “Really? You propositioned him? I didn't know you were that kind of girl. Well, I guess there's some hope for me after all.”

“Don't look at me like that! Nothing happened,” she hurried on. “But that was the problem. I mean, he'd been paying tremendous amounts of attention to me for almost two years. And all that time Larry was behaving like such an old man, such a constant pain in the ass, such an immovable stick in the mud. And then one afternoon Jason and I were sitting out near the airport, watching the planes take off, and all this sexual energy was bouncing around in his little car. And I just couldn't take it any more! So I took a risk. I took all that wild energy and squeezed it between my two lips. And I asked him⎯it took tremendous effort, it was insanely scary⎯but I asked him, ‘Why don’t you kiss me?’"

"He declined?!"

"Sort of. Not exactly."

"What happened?"

"He didn't even turn to look."

“Impossible! The Philistine!”

“The asshole!" She put on a stuffy male voice to mock him. "'I don’t think that’s a very good idea,' he said. 'I don’t think Larry would like it.’ Can you believe that? Invoking Larry? And then, after two years of coming over every week, playing guitar for me in the living room, taking me to hear live music in the City, eating dinner with the whole family every Wednesday night, giving me spectacular massages, and even emailing me original poetry for Chrissakes, the damn bastard just disappeared. I’d only seen him once since that awful moment in the car, when Eddy came home for a visit, and brought along Jason, who brought along a fat, mute, blonde, teenage girlfriend.”

She exhaled a fiery breath. I couldn't resist laughing. She shot me an evil look.

“He only happened to be on hand the day Eddy called from CSM because he was buying Eddy’s car. The nerve. Can you imagine rejecting me like that?” she asked again, shuddering. And as I looked at her seated demurely in my pink clamshell chair—her shoes kicked off, her legs tucked beneath her well-worshipped ass, her drink tinkling in her hand, her short black hair spiking out beneath a poorly-woven hat, and her intense blue eyes full of her upsetting story—I couldn’t.

I couldn’t imagine it at all.

“Oh well. He got his later,” she smiled wickedly. That's when I noticed she had put on fresh lipstick for our appointment.

“But enough about the big rejection. I'm not here to talk about Jason, thank you very much. I'm here to talk about Eddy, about that day at CSM.


"So I was standing by the phone, and Jason was there, too…

‘“What’s going on?’ he asked. His body was familiar—tall and wiry with a huge mop of hair, like a younger version of Larry—but his attitude was not. He was cool to me, distant.

‘“I don’t know.’ My voice came out in a rush. ‘Eddy’s up at the college with some kind of injury and he won’t get into the ambulance. He wants me to come get him.’ I gave Jason a mournful look. ‘You should come with me.’

“Just then Larry walked briskly into the living room from the kitchen and I whirled around guiltily. ‘Eddy’s in some kind of trouble up at the campus!’ I told him frantically. I had the directions written out on a scrap of paper which I was waving around in my hand. ‘He wants me to pick him up, but I’m not sure I’m going to be able to find him.’

‘“Let me see,’ Larry snatched the paper out of my hand and looked at it critically. ‘You want me to drive?’

‘“Yes I do! Come on! Let’s go!’

“The three of us hurried out into the car. Larry drove, I sat in the passenger seat, and Jason sat in back, his big head of hair obliterating half of the rear window. Conversation was minimal. Larry drove quickly and efficiently. ‘I’m pretty sure Eddy’s O.K.,’ I told both of them inanely, since I wasn't sure of that at all. ‘He sounded O.K. on the phone...’

“Once on campus, Larry had no trouble following the directions, and was the first to spot the ambulance, tucked away, down a steep driveway, behind a grove of tall redwoods, much farther from the entrance than I had imagined it would be.

“I’d been annoyed with him lately for being such a pain in the ass, for never wanting to go anywhere are do anything interesting, and particularly for his complete refusal to be upset by or even notice my flagrant flirtation with Jason, but now I felt a gush of gratitude for his dependability.

“As we pulled into the lot, my eyes immediately locked on Eddy. He was standing alone, although there were people all around him. He seemed elevated on a small mound of earth. He was dressed all in black, spattered with streaks of mud and dried blood. He wore the expensive waterproof pants he had purchased at REI recently, in preparation for forest dwelling, which made loud, crinkling noises when he walked. He had a bicyclists’ tight, shiny spandex top on, and a black windbreaker was bundled carelessly on the dirt at his feet. He was barefoot, and his feet were filthy, streaked black and brown. His hair was tangled and unwashed. He looked skinnier, still, than the last time I’d seen him, but still handsome, and imbued with a shiny kind of charismatic energy which drew me to him like a magnet, but seemed to be keeping the other people off. A woman stood a few feet away from him, not touching or speaking to him. Other official-looking people—two paramedics, a police officer, a security guard—also stood back.

“I hurried out of the car and was the first to reach him. Both Larry and Jason held back to assess the situation from afar.

‘“Hi Eddy. We found you! How are you doing, honey?’ I put my hand on his arm. He pulled it away from me sharply, as if he'd been burned.

‘“I’m good. Let’s get going,’ he said. His eyes were bright. He seemed strangely happy for a person standing amid so much disaster, as if merely amused by all the commotion he had caused. He noticed Jason first, then his father, standing near the little black Nissan, and immediately began walking toward them.

‘“Just a minute,’ the woman in the background stepped forward. ‘I’m Cassie Malatesta. I believe we talked on the phone?’ She didn’t have a little white cap with a red cross, but she held up an identity badge she was wearing around her neck. I glanced down at it and nodded. Eddy stopped reluctantly. Larry was walking slowly towards our uncomfortable conclave.

‘“I just want to make sure, once again, that you’re taking him to the hospital. I’m not sure why he doesn’t want to get into the ambulance, he seems to be experiencing some kind of fear of authority, but as long as you’re taking him directly there, I won’t object or intervene.’

‘“Oh, yes. We’ll go straight to Sisters of Infinite Beneficence,’ I assured her, intimidated by all the manpower assembled there on Ed’s behalf. ‘Unless you think we need to go to Stanford Hospital?’

‘“No, no. Sisters should be fine. They have a full-service emergency room there.’

“Eddy nodded his head and started walking away again, towards the car, carelessly leaving behind him the large crew of emergency and law enforcement officials which had gathered there on his behalf; I felt upset by his lack of manners.

‘“Thank you,’ I told the nurse sincerely. ‘Thank you very much for helping my son.’ I began to turn away, to follow Eddy, but she put a hand on my shoulder.

‘“It’s wrapped up pretty well,’ she said. ‘It should last him until he gets to the hospital.’ She seemed to want to say more, but hesitated.

‘“He’s pretty agitated. You might try to find out what happened. He was very evasive with all of us here.’ She had short hair dyed blonde with black roots and cloudy, blue eyes. She was about my age, overweight, probably a mother. I felt her concern for Eddy open up a new avenue of fear in me.

‘“Thank you,’ I said again, unsure what else I should say. ‘I’ll ask him. We’ll take care of him. We’ll find out what’s going on.’

“A man in uniform stepped forward with what looked like a ticket book. Larry was shepherding Ed toward the car. ‘We’re not going to press charges, considering the circumstances,’ he said. ‘Your son seems to be…confused. But he will have to pay for the broken window.’ He tore off the top sheet on his ticket book and handed it to me. ‘That will cost around $260. You’ll be getting a bill from the maintenance department of the college. They’ll tell you where to send the money. But if you don’t send it on time, we’ll be visiting you again.’

‘“O.K. Of course,’ I told him. I took the paper nervously and put it in my pocket. ‘Thank you for not arresting him,’ I faltered. ‘Where is the window?’ I looked around. ‘What did he do to it?’

‘“The window’s not here. It’s over in the men’s bathroom. We’re not sure exactly what happened, but we know that he broke it. He admits that. A janitor saw him acting strangely in the bathroom, then a security guard noticed him walking around, bleeding. But when he approached him, he tried to say he had just fallen on his bike.’

I saw Eddy in the distance, grouped with Jason and his father behind the car. The trunk was open, and Larry was taking the front wheel off Eddy’s $1,600 bike. Like the special hiking and biking clothes, the bike was brand new, another in a short spree of extravagant purchases he’d made after deciding to sell his car because he didn’t want to pay the insurance.

‘“I better go,’ I apologized. ‘I don’t want them to leave without me.’ The officer and the nurse nodded their permission. In the background, the paramedics were already backing the ambulance out of its parking space. ‘Thank you again for helping. I’m sorry for all the trouble he caused.’

“When I got to our car, the bike was stowed in the trunk and Jason was climbing into the back seat. I climbed in after him, leaving the passenger seat for Eddy to sit next to his father.

‘“So, where are we going?’ he asked cheerfully as he pulled the door closed, as if we’d just picked him up for a casual date.

‘“I guess we’re going to the hospital, Eddy,’ his Dad answered in the matter-of-fact tone he used for almost any situation. ‘That must be a pretty nasty cut you have on your hand.’

‘“Oh, it’s not too bad,’ Ed said, fussing with the white bandage, not offering any further explanation. A reluctance to ask the obvious filled up the car. Eddy was bursting with energy, exuberant, a bit wild, not at all in the mood you’d expect of someone who’d just suffered a serious injury and confrontation with authorities. Finally, my curiosity won over my trepidation. I put my hands on the seat in front of me and leaned my head into the gap between the two front seats. ‘What happened, Eddy? How did you do that to yourself?’

‘“Well,’ his voice was brisk, like someone getting ready to give a lecture to a group of admiring followers. ‘I put my hand through a window, man,’ he said with a big smile. Then he stopped, as if teasing me, forcing me to interrogate him.

‘“Why did you do that?’ I took the bait.

‘“I don’t really know. I just wanted to.’ Eddy gave a funny little laugh.

“Jason and I glanced at each other in the back seat.

‘“Were you angry?’ asked his father.

‘“No, not at all,’ he said.

‘“Are you on drugs?’ Larry asked him.

‘“Nope. I haven’t taken any drugs for weeks!’ He beamed in an exaggerated way, like a child showing off a good report card.

‘“Where were you? What were the circumstances?’ I pressed him for more details while Larry navigated the car down the winding, wooded road that led from College of San Mateo to Highway 92.

‘“Well, I was in the men’s bathroom. But first I was in class.’ Ed finally seemed ready to tell us the story. ‘I was feeling kind of bored and disconnected, so I got up and went to the bathroom. And while I was in there, I noticed this hairline crack in the window. Then I realized what I really wanted to do was put my hand through it.’

“The car propelled forward in silence. Larry turned left on Hillside and continued toward the highway. Eddy seemed to think he had given all the explanation that was necessary.

‘“You sure you weren’t angry?’ his dad asked hopefully.

‘“No. But I was definitely full of something—I don’t know what—some kind of emotion, maybe tension. I felt a big release when I did it, a huge rush. It was fantastic!’

‘“What happened next?’ I asked before realizing that I didn’t really want to know.

‘“Oh, nothing. I…never mind,’ he said.

‘“What?’ I prompted.

‘“Nothing. I was going to tell you something, but then I decided I didn’t want to.’ He smiled mischievously. I sighed.

‘“Why not? What else did you do? Aren’t you going to tell us what happened next?’ I asked in exasperation.

‘“I just sat there for a long time. But then the janitor came in, so I thought I better leave. I went back to the classroom, but the door was locked. I guess class must have ended while I was still in the bathroom. I was worried, though, because I had left my bike and backpack in there. Then I saw an open window. It was like it was left open for me! So I climbed through it and got my stuff.”

‘“You climbed through a window?’ I asked in disbelief.

‘“Yeah, man,’ he laughed again, delighted with himself.

‘“Weren’t you afraid someone would see you and think you were a burglar?’ I admonished him.

‘“Well, I guess someone did see me, because when I came out, this security dude started following me around. But he was doing it at a distance, like he was hiding behind bushes and shit,’ Eddy laughed. ‘He was like a little cartoon character. It was great!’

‘“How long did that go on?’ his father asked.

‘“I don’t know. For awhile. Then he got another security dude in on the act and they came up together and asked me what happened.’

‘“Is that when the ambulance showed up?’ I wanted to know.

‘“Well, first I told them I’d just fallen off my bike. I wasn’t sure if they knew about the window or not—if they were in communication with the janitor guy. Then they called the ambulance, even though I told them not to. I told them just to leave me alone, I was fine.’

“Jason gave an explosive snort of disbelief. I felt like crying.

“I stopped questioning Eddy then, not sure what to do with the information I already had, and we rode on in silence for another 10 minutes until we pulled into the hospital parking lot. By this time a dread had descended on me. When we climbed out of the car, Eddy said he didn’t want to leave his expensive bike hanging out of the back of the trunk. Jason offered to ride it home to our house and wait for us there, so we left him in the parking lot, putting the bike pieces back together, while Larry and I walked with Ed to the emergency room.”

Cut Off will be published in June.


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