Wednesday, November 19, 2014

From The File Cabinet - A Writing Exercise

The News Came on Valentine's Day

I.  Dennis

The news came on Valentine’s Day and it changed everything. That morning Hank hadn’t a clue that his idyllic life was about to take a turn onto a road he’d never imagined while mine might be ending within a matter of minutes. The news of my suicide attempt on Valentine’s Day 2014, decidedly changed everything – for Hank, for our kids, for the business we’d worked so hard for, for the people who depended on us, and even for complete strangers.

I’m sure Hank’s Valentine’s Day had started out pretty much as usual: being awakened by Diogi, our Weimaraner, at five-thirty and doing his “mom” duties. He was home with the kids all night while I was to be taking a late night flight back to Hartford from LA where I’d gone to meet with some wealthy mogul about a potential business buyout. Our small line of men’s accessories and other merchandise based on Hank’s designs had very suddenly become the rage when some Hollywood type had stumbled across our website or Facebook page, and Tweeted praises all over the Twitter-verse. We were swamped with orders and our website actually got jammed or slammed or frozen, whatever the technical word is, I’m not sure which, and I forgot to ask. I guess I really didn’t care.

We’d been doing a decent mail order business until then, and neither Hank nor myself were into self-promotion or in-your-face marketing. We were just doing what we enjoyed. And, we were beginning to think we’d been doing it too long when we were suddenly “discovered” and, in addition to sales, inquiries began coming in, mostly from the West Coast. There were offers to buy us out or franchise us, or market us – all kinds of offers which got us to thinking: maybe it was time. After all we both had other dreams and there is truth to the cliché that neither of us were getting any younger. Selling crap was not all it was cracked up to be and well, maybe having some money in a lump sum and the freedom to travel and do things with the kids was the right way to go.

Before the news came, on the morning of Valentine’s Day, Hank would have already been up, getting the boys breakfast, making sure they had their homework and bundling them up against the unusual winter cold we were having in New England before sending them out to the school bus. He was probably too preoccupied to take note of the unofficial holiday, but he would do so soon enough – as soon as he opened his daily calendar and saw the big heart I’d somehow managed to copy and paste into the page for February fourteenth. His mind would quickly race through the day’s schedule to figure out how to pawn off the kids on my mother for dinner so he could make time for some semblance of a home-cooked gourmet meal with me, complete with tablecloth, candles and flowers. And he would definitely plan in, if we were lucky to have an uninterrupted hour after dinner, a no-calorie dessert in the bedroom.

Hank would have, in the time between checking his calendar and bringing up the business website correspondence, planned how to get Mom to take the kids, what the menu would be, and how to seduce a tired old spouse who’d spent a sleepless night on a plane and who would have been awake for over 24 hours by Valentine’s Day evening.

Yes, before the news of my suicide came on the morning of Valentine’s Day, Hank would be doing his “mom” duties and getting Jamie and Theo breakfast and off to school.

Jamie, our oldest at 14 is smart and energetic, maybe a bit ADHD though not enough to have a diagnosis or take medication or to cause him problems in school. Just my way of saying he is very active. He is a bundle of energy, but he can stay focused when he has something to focus on, so saying he is ADHD is wrong of me. He can focus on his younger brother, no problem.

Jamie is devoted to his younger brother Theo and revels in his role as Big Brother. He loves showing Theo how to use the old Nintendo or the computer, how to climb the big maple tree in the backyard and he’s clever enough to make a competitive game out of doing chores. Jamie will say, “Don’t tell Theo, but I got him to do some of my chores and he thought we were just having fun.” He is too honest to scold for getting his younger brother to do extra chores, but when he does this, he knows Theo will get a bigger share of allowance. I think that is part of his plan and part of the thrill for Jaime.

Theo, our twelve-year-old is still learning the routine of his new middle school and is definitely more challenged than his brother in that endeavor as well as in other childhood occupations from opening a box of cereal to tying his shoes. His birth mother had been an addict. I’m not sure what she used, booze, heroin, coke, crack, oxy, probably all of them and more. Somehow she retained custody of her baby, I guess because she had agreed to go into a treatment program for a while before he was born. I didn’t know they had programs especially for pregnant women on drugs. I guess they are a priority because of the epidemic of prenatal drug exposure. I was never privy to all the details, only to Theo’s medical history and some of his early home life – enough for us to be able to talk to Theo’s pediatrician and later to his teachers with some measure of intelligence and competence. Theo had somehow escaped the scrutiny of the child welfare system until his mother died of an overdose when he was two. He went to Child Services for almost a year, was diagnosed with a number of developmental problems and was labeled by some workers as “not adoptable” – a label that was obviously premature - because they hadn’t yet met Hank and me. Theo found his way into our home before he was two-and-a-half and was now hopefully finding his way around Hanover Middle School and actually remembering the combo to his locker without having to look at the tag he wore around his neck with the number and other vital information on it. If he forgot, Jamie was there to help. Hank and I felt secure in that knowledge.

When the news came that morning Hank would have been cleaning up the breakfast dishes or stuffing dirty clothes into the washer in the basement or having completed those chores already, sitting at the counter on his favorite stool, sipping his second cup of coffee surrounded by the quiet and tranquility of another school day morning. His MacBook Pro would have been propped open and his fingers would be clicking away the pages of the mornings’ news, the blogs, and the emails that never stopped coming in. The serious work of checking and filling orders, managing remote inventory and balancing the books would start after the last sip of that second cup of coffee. It was the way he disciplined himself to get to work in the home office and there could be no cheating by deliberately not finishing the coffee in order to read one last article on Huffington Post or to check the gay news on Edge New England, no matter how tempting. When the news arrived, perhaps Hank would have already been in work mode.

I am not sure just how these things are taken care of by the authorities or how long it takes. I imagine someone finds you unconscious, dials 911 and an ambulance shows up and you end up in the emergency room and they rifle through your wallet to find out who you are and where you live and then call someone who calls the authorities in your home state and they call the police in your home town and some nice twenty-five year old rookie cop pulls up in front of your house all important like and knocks on your front door even though there’s a doorbell and if all goes well, the officer gives the news to whoever answers. At least that’s how I imagine it happens.

I imagine Hank having answered the door after the cop decided to try the doorbell. Hank probably asked, “Can I help you?” Not “Can I help you, officer?” Hank doesn’t like cops. He can be disrespectful without appearing so. The officer would not be offended. Hank would feel superior. Perhaps it was the new guy, a rookie named Nesmeth who looked like he was seventeen. We ran into him at the town’s Harvest Week Festival last autumn. The town had scrapped up enough money to hire Nesmeth in anticipation of John Horton’s impending second retirement. Horton, a retired military man, had been the town’s one-man police force for the past fifteen years, unless you count Nellie, his ten-year-old Cock-a-Poo police dog.

“I’m Officer Nesmeth. Is this the residence of Dennis DaSilva?” the cop would have asked.

“Yes, Dennis lives here.” Hank would answer. “Is there something wrong? Is he OK?”

Nesmeth: “My I come in for a moment?”

Hank would have held the door open, hiding his attitude, while Nesmeth stepped inside. “And who are you? Are you related to Mr. DaSilva?” the cop would inquire before sharing any details.

“It’s DaSilva-Carlisle and I’m his husband.” Hank would reply, emphasizing the word husband to see if the cop flinched. Hank is thinking, “I’m his husband, asshole, get with the program, it’s 2014.” That’s Hank – but he doesn’t always say what he’s thinking.

“Oh, sorry.” There would be a short pause, then he’d continue, “I have to let you know that we received information from the LA police department. Your hus,” the rookie stumbles over the word husband. “Your, husband, was taken to the hospital in Los Angeles, somewhere near Hollywood. They’re calling it an apparent suicide.”

“My God. You mean he’s dead?”

“No, I don’t think so, to be precise, it was an apparent suicide attempt. He’s in the hospital in LA,” the cop clarified his earlier mis-speak.

The policeman’s choice of words, or rather the ineptness of his vocabulary strikes Hank as awkward and unprofessional. Such language faux pas always cause him to stop listening momentarily while his mind processes the intended meaning and passes judgment on the general state of education in the US and the sloppiness of the English speaking world. Officer Nesmeth would have been fumbling with some papers on a clipboard.

Hank, I’m certain was imagining the cop making up his own episode of Major Crimes with Hank as the number one suspect even though there was no crime and I am three thousand miles away.

Hank would have pulled it together enough to ask, “That can’t be. We spoke on the phone before he left for the airport. Where is he and who can I call?”

The young police officer hands Hank a piece of paper. “Here’s the number of Detective Hanson at LAPD. And the hospital contact person. Perhaps they will have more information.” Nesmeth seems relieved that his errand is done and he can go back to his small town job of investigating who threw the snowball that hit some high school teacher square in the eye one day last week.

Hank would be glad to see Nesmeth leave. He’d stare at the piece of paper for a moment and he’d feel his whole body convulse.

II. Hank

When the news came on the morning of Valentine’s Day I was having my second cup of coffee and reading Huffington Post’s list of disgusting anti-gay comments about Michael Sam, the Missouri football player and likely NFL draft pick who had just come out as gay. God, some people are assholes, but fortunately they are quickly put in their place by more enlightened minds.

I had been expecting Dennis to call from the airport, as his plane should have been on the ground by the time the kids left for school. But there had been so many delayed flights all winter I just figured his flight had been detained in Chicago or Denver or wherever his stopover was. Besides, I had work to do and Dennis had left his car in short-term parking. The roads were clear and dry for a change and he’d have no traffic to contend with this late in the morning. I was about to call him, when I sat down for my second cup, and allowed myself a few minutes reading the morning news and the comments about Michael Sam. And then I remembered it was Valentine’s Day.

I got into a panic about what to make for dinner and whether I’d have time to get to Trader Joe’s and if I should call Den’s mom and ask her to take care of the boys for a few hours. I’d have to be sure to get her a big box of chocolates and a bouquet of her favorite yellow tulips as payment. God, there’s never enough time. All this was going through my mind as I swilled down the last of my coffee.

I clicked out of the nasty comment section. Good thing too, because I noticed my blood was beginning to boil and I knew if I got in too deep I would inevitably want to give these assholes and homophobes a piece of my mind and then I’d obsess over each word and phrase as I composed several witty and cutting retorts. That could be time-consuming and time was what I didn’t have to spare that Valentine’s Day morning.

I had just opened the email app on the laptop when my cell phone hummed the generic ring I’d assigned to numbers that were not in my contact list.

“Is this the DaSilva-Carlisle residence at 57 Country Farm Road?” the voice on the other end asked.

“Yes, Dennis DaSilva-Carlisle lives here. I’m Hank Carlisle-DaSilva, Dennis’ spouse. Can I help you?”

Dennis and I went though various alternatives to surnames when we married, and we officially changed our last names, by taking each other’s as an add-on. It just seemed to have a nice feel to it. I know it’s complicated, but it works – most of the time. But it can get confusing, like when there’s a new teacher at school or when some stranger calls so I usually give that short introduction by way of clarification.

“This is Mary Cunningham, Emergency Services Liaison Officer for Lester Memorial Hospital in Mountain View, California. We have a Dennis DaSilva-Carlisle here who was brought in earlier this morning …”

I stopped listening for a few moments because the words weren’t making sense. Emergency services…Mountain View…brought in…this morning. Dennis was in Los Angeles, wasn’t he?

Copyright (c) 2014 Frank DeFrancesco

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