Sunday, February 19, 2012
Soon, Melindra said, I’ll sell my house but keep my job and go to med school.
Bobby was surprised. Where will you live? With you, she said, if you want me.
He told Bonnington to keep this under his skull. He needed to get a job. He had
to leave. What will you do? Employment agency downtown. They know me,
I was a male secretary for a firm in the Smith Building until they fired my ass.
I told them I could take dictation. Could you? No, I could write fast. I was
asked to show my notes one day. You can’t fake what you don’t know how
to do. Bonnington said he might write for a newspaper. Seattle P-I or Times.
Bobby would stay in school. Bonnington approved. Bobby needed his approval
to get out of here. The night Bobby turned twenty-two he started to feel old.
Three weeks later he sat in the Day Room and watched Kennedy inaugurated.
The young, handsome president and his young, gorgeous wife. In a snowstorm.
Robert Frost stood up when asked and his Scots brows curled around his eyes,
the paper was wet, he gave up on it, recited by memory "The Gift Outright."
Bobby voted for the first time. He sat up all night in Manning’s downtown,
drinking coffee, listening to the radio behind the counter, trying to re-read
Norman Mailer’s essay "The White Negro." Who knew how many times
Bobby had read it; so many times, in fact, there were parts he could recite.
The opening paragraph was one: He murmured, waiting for the final result,
sipping coffee, beginning to get a little groggy but knowing he could not sleep:
Probably, we will never be able to determine the psychic havoc of concentration
camps and the atom bomb upon the unconscious mind of almost everyone alive
in these years. For the first time we have been forced to live with the suppressed
knowledge that the smallest facets of our personality or the most minor projection
of our ideas, or indeed the absence of ideas and the absence of personality could
mean equally well that we might still be doomed to die as a cipher in some vast
statistical operation in which our teeth would be counted, and our hair would
be saved, but our death itself would be unknown, unhonored, and unremarked,
a death which could not follow with dignity as a possible consequence to serious
actions we had chosen, but rather a death by deus ex machina in a gas chamber
or a radioactive city; and so if in the midst of civilization–that civilization founded
upon the Faustian urge to dominate nature by mastering time, mastering the links
of social cause and effect–in the middle of an economic civilization founded upon
the confidence that time could indeed be subjected to our will, our psyche was
subjected itself to the intolerable anxiety that death being causeless, life was
causeless as well, and time deprived of cause and effect had come to a stop.
He liked to test memory that way. Maybe his writing might benefit thereby.
Tonight he read Advertisements for Myself as a way of forgetting himself.
When he left Manning’s at seven o’clock and took the bus back to sleep,
he turned on the radio in his apartment and heard how close the vote was.
He did not sleep, neither that night nor many of the nights that followed.
He slept in daylight, when he slept. No wonder he had wound up in here.
Now he slept after breakfast instead of going to Occupational Therapy.
He made himself a sign for his door and only Melindra would come in.
It was on one such day she announced to him what she wanted to do
with the rest of her life. He didn’t know how, but he wanted to live
with her, and said all this and more. She stayed her usual brief time,
then he fell asleep. She had to keep her job. Seniority was not enough.
He had another furlough this coming weekend and Anna and Paul
invited Melindra to stay for dinner before smuggling Bobby home.
(19 February 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander