The rubber gasket on the thermos squeals as I tighten the stopper, its echo rattles around the nearly empty office adding to my desolation. It’s an old office building and I’m constantly reminded of the Edward Hopper painting: “The Office at Night” and the lonely squeal only eggs on my current state of mind. The painting features enigmatic faces and poses in an overly-lit, late night office from the 1930’s and only provides enough content to give you an emotion, not an opinion.
Perhaps the trigger was last night’s wild night with Bethany. Perhaps it was the past 4 days with her; 4 days, 4 hours, 4 weeks – they all carry the same exhaustive power that Hopper’s painting does. While the painting is beautiful, it’s anything but restorative. Listening to my wife upstairs begging with her, half-scream, half-crying in the middle of the night to “go to sleep” - sucks everything from your life in the same way the Hopper’s color and shape choice draws energy away from you. You want so desperately to find joy but are left with little more than a dry mouth and cold heart.
She’d been strange all day, sleeping one minute, awake and ravenous the next. Attacking anyone or anything that slowed or got in the way of her eating. A ravenous appetite followed by sleep, followed by eye-rolling seizures, followed by sleep. Stumbling around the house she’s the picture of too large an animal sedated by too small a tranquilizer and anything in her path is unwelcome. My wife carries all of this. I emotively and physically escape out to the garage for the time being but it comes back in the middle of the night. While all are finally asleep, I replay all the frustration and failure somehow forgetting the brief moments of beauty and hope. They are indeed few - rich, marvelous, and sustaining yet few. “For God’s sake, momma needs sleep! I worked all day to keep you awake and now I work all night to get you to sleep”!?! Listening to the tearful, almost begging request and then the smack of a fist against your wife’s flesh seems to underscore the futility of the request, its not being presented to a rational mind.
This is a stark contrast to the evening prior when we sat by a campfire together and hummed her favorite songs. I knew the fire was a long shot but we figured if we lit it while we still had helpers at our house we could at least sit by it for an hour without having to manage her. If needed, we could move the fire pit outside the fence so if she mobbed us, we could still sit a safe distance from her fury. We managed about 28 wonderful minutes by the fire before our helper was done for the day and as Sherry headed into the house for the evening bedtime prep, I managed to coax her out to sit by the fire with me.
Bare-footed and enticed by the rattle of a snack bag, Bethany approached the lounge chairs we’d set up in the backyard by the fire pit. She humpfed her baggy rump up into the chair and slid back, looking every bit the part of a 17year old who'd acquiesced defeat and sat near her parent. The fire warmed her brown bare feet and she seemed to find humor and enjoyment in this notion. Her limited vision seemed to fix on the fire against the backdrop of the darkening eastern sky and watching the orange flame dancing across her eyes was magical. While only one of those eyes would see the flame, both reflected its beauty. She sat there for only minutes although I wished it had gone on all night and as she got up to leave, in an attempt to keep the moment alive I asked if she wanted to sit on my lap and sing songs. Bethany weighs over 140 lbs. and tends to dwarf whomever’s lap she manages to land on; mine was no different. She giggled as she settled in, her eyes still glowing in the fire.
That beautiful moment remains etched in my memory, right next to the desperate plea from my wife, just behind the sound of fist-to-flesh contact. The colors of these memories are mostly a stark white, no doubt bleached by harsh light sources and accented by phtalocyanine green hues with analogous hints of brown. The shapes of them are small and constrained, nearly awkward in my mindscape. The sounds, as mentioned are enigmatic, showing neither joy, fear, nor sorrow; worse still, showing nothing. Yet in this vast painting of my life there remains one small corner, an open window with a curtain pull that gently roils in the breeze – soft incandescent light from a streetlight outdoors, shining on the window jamb offering me a bit of comfort and ease.
I put the thermos on the floor and sipped the hot coffee. Unlike its decanter, the coffee offered no hint of sorrow, no reminder of desolation. It offered only hope and optimism with a smell and flavor that promises a rich, bright future. I finished the cup and simply put it and the thermos in my bag, refusing to offer the rubber gasket a second voice.