(Author’s note: I have been gone for the last two weeks, due to an unfortunate car accident which left me in outpatient recovery. Dealing with the drama, I was unable to really concentrate on writing until today. So here is today’s fictioneers, hobbled as I may be.)
The smell of the apartment was enough to choke the life out of a thousand hardened terrorists.
I got to this position due to my friendship with Ryan. Ryan could be considered one of my better friends from college. He’s someone who is dependable, friendly, and usually on time with just about everything. He was even at events, on the nose, as they started. The folks at the atomic laboratory could set their clocks to him, and they’d be quite accurate.
At least, that was the case until just about 3 weeks ago. That was when things went pear-shaped.
All through college, Ryan was dating a seemingly nice, yet quite meek girl named Clarissa. They came from opposing high schools in the same town, but started dating just as they ended high school. For the full four years of university, they were together. He had a bit of independence, especially with “safe” friends like me. It seemed that by the way things were going, they would be married after college.
6 months ago, Clarissa changed dramatically. The meek girl we all knew suddenly became vocal, brash, and pretty darn mean. She was also quite controlling, it appeared.
About that time was when Ryan stopped hanging out with us. Sure, he’d be able to sneak away and be able to join me at a coffee shop somewhere on campus, or he’d give an excuse about having me in class, and somehow I was in that responsible circle of friends.
3 weeks ago, the day after we all graduated, I was there when Ryan was given the shove-off. Clarissa dumped him, flat out, and proceeded to kiss her new girlfriend out in the open. As Ryan slowly turned and walked out, I rushed after him to be a friend and help him out. He told me “Thank you”, and proceeded to get into a taxi.
Now it’s 3 weeks later, and I am visiting his apartment. No one saw him, work’s been wondering where he is, and even his mom is worried. So I told her I’d go over and check up on him. As I opened the apartment door, I was hit with the overpowering stench of dirty dishes and overflowing trash.
The room was dark, all of the curtains closed. It was hard to walk around the place without seeing, so I decided to open up the living room window. The sight that greeted me upon illumination was incredibly ghastly. Pizza boxes strewn all over, half-eaten bowls of mac and cheese that had mold and other things growing on it laid haphazardly in various places. Banana peels lay rotting on the carpet, one or two even ground in a bit like they were walked on.
Through all of this, I could hear one sound coming from what I assumed was the bedroom. It was the sound of Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man” song.
Tiptoeing around the trash, and after opening a window to let the stench out and the pleasant fall air in, I made my way to the bedroom door. I knocked once and asked if he was there. No answer. I knocked a second time, and said that I was coming in. No answer. So, I opened the door and looked inside.
I’ve seen messes of undeniable putridness. However, looking into my good friend’s room, I was knocked over by just how bad things got. For a man who was known to be quite clean, this was a level of messy that not even my sister could have achieved.
Clothes, pizza boxes and old pizza crusts, and pudding containers were strewn about the room. The windows were sealed with plastic and duct tape, and the smell of the room was atrocious. I turned on the light, and I saw Ryan, lying in his bed. His eyes were open, and his head was lolling side to side as if he was on drugs. I couldn’t think of much to say.
“Hey, Ryan. We’ve been a bit worried about you. You alright?”
“Do you think I’m alright?” he said, his voice raspy and dry.
“Nope, not at all.”
“Listen to the song. That’s how I feel.”
“Dude, I know the song. That was my theme for a long time. Now you’ve taken it on. I get that. Want to talk about it?”
I walked in, navigating around the land mines of trash that were liable to explode. I felt the edge of the bed to see if there was any trash, and feeling a safe spot, I sat down.
Ryan told me about how crushed he was by Clarissa’s explanation. She said that for the 3 months before us outsiders noticed the change, she was starting to show her true colors. And started having sex with her new friend from the women’s center. He told us about how she controlled nearly everything about life, and how she sent her “allies from the center” to spy on our conversations when we met. As he spilled his guts, the pain and hardship he felt finally came forth and he was periodically wracked with sobs. I offered him my shoulder, so he could help.
“I’ve been listening to this song for 3 weeks. I need to go my own way on things now.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m swearing off women for a while. Clarissa’s given me a bad taste, and all the stuff she was preaching this past year is really leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Hell, I used to support their ideas at one time, until I realized that their ideas aren’t compatible with my way of life.”
“It’s a good idea. You’ve been badly hurt. What you need to have is time to process with the rest of us guys, and then slowly develop good friendships with women who aren’t going to pull a 180 on you like that.”
Ryan slowly moved, brushing aside the bedsheets and blankets.
“I guess I am going to need to clean up this place. Think you could help me out a bit?”
“Am I not your brother, Ryan? That’s what friends do. I’ll help clean up the trash, you just take a shower and get yourself cleaned up that way.”
Ryan just smiled, a smile that I hadn’t seen for nearly a year.
“After that, we’ll get the vacuuming and steam cleaning done on this place. Then, you and me, we’re gonna go out to the river landing and shoot some cans.”
As the final strains of “Solitary Man” played across the speakers, I turned off his iPod. It was time for some new music for a new life. Putting a crust of pizza into a trash bag, I realized that sometimes, just sometimes, a man needs only one friend at one time to help bring him out of an unresolved situation.
15 years ago, Charles Martin stood on top of an outcropping over Lake Superior and yelled out to anyone who could hear him on the lake.
“I WILL NEVER, EVER, GET MARRIED!”
Charles was a frustrated man. From the time he was young, everything he wanted to do was thwarted in some way. He had a dream of becoming a congressman, and the corruption of those who he looked up to left him in disgust. He had a dream of going into the NFL and becoming a great running back, and a torn ACL in high school killed his career before it could even start. Before that day, 15 years ago, he was engaged twice. Both times, the women left him.
“You are just not right for me after all.”
Charles was so frustrated by these dumpings, and his incredible bad luck during his teen years, that at the age of 24, he made his proclamation to God, the world, the water, and anything that could hear him.
Those 15 years gave Charles a chance to get himself on a better track. He graduated from college, toured the United States, and later left for China to teach Mathematics to university students.
He and his fellow teacher, Shen-Wei, sat in a bar and joked over a couple of Qingdao beers.
“Man, I could never live in the US again. They’re just falling over flat. Being here…it’s close to heaven,” Charles said, his speech slurring slightly from the amount of beers that he has.
“China can be good place for people. Not exactly heaven, but it has great beer.”
As they laughed at the botched reference to an old Wisconsin tavern tune, a young lady walked up behind Shen-Wei and tapped his shoulder. She asked a few things in Chinese to him, and he replied brusquely. She nodded, and walked over to Charles.
“I told your friend, you are very handsome,” she said, in broken English.
Charles eyed her up and down, to get an idea of who she was. As he finished giving her the scanning eye, he noticed a small tattoo on her shoulder. The tattoo was of a celtic cross. He started to feel a bit fuzzy, as he looked down at his own shoulder. He remembered getting a similar tattoo years ago, without even thinking about things.
“Where did you get the tattoo?” he asked her, skipping all pleasantries.
“Korea. I got idea in vision.”
By this time, the fascination had gone by. However, his heart wouldn’t let him leave it behind just yet.
“What is your name?”
“Shen-Zhen. In English, I am Cindy.”
After that first meeting, Charles went home and sat. The image of that celtic cross on her shoulder, in the same exact place as his, made him wonder.
He tried to forget her, but everywhere he went in the city of Qingdao, somehow she was there. Even if she didn’t talk to him, he still saw her dead in his sights. Slowly, but surely, he noticed that he liked going places and seeing her there. He didn’t know what he could do. He made his vow. Did this mean that he was falling for someone again?
The answer to his question happened about 2 weeks after the last encounter, 6 months after their first meeting.
He sat in a park in Qingdao, looking around and just resting. He had seen Cindy earlier in the month, but started to avoid the bars. He just wasn’t interested in drinking cheap beer anymore.
He looked up from his bench and straight into the deep dark brown eyes of Cindy.
“Cindy…what are you doing here?”
“I came to find you. You haven’t been around.”
“I decided to give up drinking and bars.”
Cindy smiled, and sat down.
“I think of you. You make me happy.”
Charles’s head swung her way quickly.
“What do you mean?”
“There is famous poet here, many years ago, said something important. “A man who says he never marries, will find love when he doesn’t want it.””
“Not another Confucius says…”
She looked at him and turned a small bit of fire on him.
“You mean ‘Yadda Yadda Yamada’? She was the Seinfeld fangirl in high school.”
“Yeah, she’s on my facebook. She posted something that made me think of things.”
Douglas “Duke” Chambers and Jeremiah “Jeeves” Wetherby were the best of friends, and as they sat on the porch of Jeremiah’s newly acquired house, they talked about the old days. Both went to the same high school, went different paths in life, but met back up after their tours were done. They sat looking at the sunset going down over the California high desert.
“What did she say?”
“She put up a post talking about ladies who pray for their future husbands.”
Duke snorted at the mention of future spouses.
“That sounds incredibly silly. Why would someone want to pray for their future husband? I mean, are we supposed to sit around and pray for our future wives or something?”
“That’s the thing, Duke. I didn’t really think about it at first, but it kept hitting me in the head as I thought about it more.”
“How did it hit you?”
“Not exactly sure how, but it just made sense. If a woman is praying for her future husband, then it would be rightful in thinking that there are women who are waiting for me.”
“Women? Waiting for you?” Duke said, with a chuckle roaring across the porch.
“I wouldn’t believe it either. But for us guys, it seems to make sense, too. If there are guys like us who are praying for our future wives, then that would mean that those guys are also waiting for those women.”
“And how are you so sure, Jeeves? How are you so sure there’s a woman out there for you?”
“I guess it’s all on faith. Some nights, as I’m staring out into twilight, I wish for her to be with me that night. Who, is the question I keep wondering though.”
“You’ve really thought this out, haven’t you?”
“It just makes sense, that’s all. I can tell you that there are lonely women saying a prayer on the western skyline right now, probably praying that they find you.”
Duke thought about it for a second.
“The question is, Jer, who would want me?”
“Trust me, there are women who want you. They just haven’t been given the Gibbs slap of realization yet.”