Follow @covillanueva c.o. villanueva in time and space: My Pal Jim

Friday, June 24, 2011

My Pal Jim

"Something terrible has happened."

I don't normally come to Sally's on Tuesdays, but yesterday was Memorial Day, and Sally celebrated it by going to the cemetery to pray for her dead husband, Bob. He got ambushed in Iraq before I met her, and now she's my neighbor friend, on this quiet little street close to Midtown, and today I needed to talk to her about Jim, this guy I knew from AA, years ago.

We sat in Sally's little yellow kitchen. Sally is much older than me, maybe in her thirties. She is still pretty, pretty enough to have a man in her life and to keep making babies, but she doesn't see herself as a woman any more, and she has resigned herself to motherhood. Maybe she's still not over Bob. How could one ever be? One thing, she could care less for the guys who come knocking on her door. And as the days and years pass, the knocks are fewer and far between, it seems.

We sat at her little wooden table from where her three-year-old Charlie flings "flying mashed potatoes," "soaring carrots," and anything and everything onto the floor. He loves it, he smiles so wide. Charlie was now in the living room, sitting up straight three feet from the TV, mesmerized by a cartoon.

"Tell me. What's going on?" she said. "Is he some new love interest?"

I told her, how we always hung out together our first spring of sobriety till we both
relapsed that summer. Jim was tall, always wore blue jeans with dress shoes, buttoned-up shirts that were half-way unbuttoned so his soft tuft of black could peek out. He had blue eyes. And the big bushy eyebrows he got from his Latin mother. His glasses gave him a serious look, and he was an intense character when it came to the writers he loved. He could tell you everything about Rimbaud and Henry Miller. I loved that.

"We were the best of friends once," I said. "Simply platonic. But I don't know."


I told her how in the meetings when he spoke, the people just seemed to listen closer, sit a little higher in their seats. I remember one time when he was the speaker and he was telling his story. He said he did a lot of bad things, you know, living in bad places and associating with the types of people that tend to live and do things in those places. Well, Jim said he did those same things. Then he started talking about how he stopped drinking one day and found God, religion, and how he was healed.

I rubbed my fingers on the white porcelain, I traced the handle of the coffee cup carefully, as softly as a new mother tracing the ribs of her newborn for the first time.

"I'm not much of a, you know, I call myself an atheist," I said. "But, Jim spoke the truth and I could see God in the front row smiling."

"Are you bipolar?" Sally asked. She wasn't being mean. It was just that I started a tradition of coming over to her place every Monday and spewing my shit, so to speak. I couldn't help but spew more.

"Rimbaud stopped writing when he was 21 and worked construction," I told Sally. I learned it from Jim. He lauded Rimbaud and his path to freedom.

I met Sally after she lost her husband. My dog, Kit, got loose and I found him sitting at her front door, like he was waiting to be let in. I knocked on her door to apologize, and she let me in and fed me cheese cake. I remember seeing her before walking the neighborhood usually just with her boy, but sometimes as a threesome, with her husband Bob. I never met Bob. That was on a Monday Kit got loose, just over a year ago. Sally and I, we've been friends ever since.

"Miller speaks the truth." Jim said once. "And look at the guy's watercolors." He had pulled a book out of his bag to show me, a book of Miller's drawings and such.

That first night we got drunk, well, the only night, he told me about this strip club on Northside Drive where there was this one skinny stripper who was in love with him. He had been wondering how she was doing. I was game, was sort of interested in what happened in such places. So Jim drove.

"You went where?" Sally said.

"We went to a strip club," I repeated. "You know, naked girls dancing, well, yeah naked." I was raised Lutheran and didn't really know much about those places, but once I got to AA I met many girls and during our girl talk I found out about some of their escapades, and let's just say, well, they had me interested in doing it too. Of course I never did. I was never comfortable with showing my body to anyone.

Anyway, Jim couldn't find the girl he wanted to see, but I discovered this girl Eve, and while Jim smoked and watched the other dancers, standing up between songs to drop dollar bills on the stage, between a girl's legs, under her gyrating shadow, this one stripper Eve asked me about Jim, was he my man, and wow, just a pal, and you're here, that's cool. She told me a lot about her life, the place was dead except for Jim and I, and I even recited a Robert Frost poem to her that carried her name. (I kept lots of poems in my pocket, all of them written in small, tiny letters, and on a folded-up piece of paper, as soft as cotton, and I would pull it out now and then when I need inspiration, when I was bored, when I needed an anchor, when I needed something real in a world so fucking apparently fake.) Well, the place got busier and she left the table to dance again. That's when I noticed Jim was gone to the restroom too long. I looked everywhere and finally walked outside to the car, and that's where I found him, in his beat-up yellow Maverick, the windows all fogged-up. Jim was wrapped up in the thick flesh of some girl, a big girl he had met inside. I noticed his glasses had got knocked off.

"Unbelievable," Sally said.

What I didn't tell Sally is when we climbed the fence to his apartment pool at 4am, later that night, we were still drunk, and we shed our clothes and dove in. "I have a thing for fat chicks," he told me while we floated there. It was like his confession, so I didn't say anything. I didn't care, I was basking in the nothingness of it all, reveling in my youth.

"I also have this other thing," he said.

"Oh," I said. "What do you mean?"

"I fuck prostitutes," he said. That's when I felt dead. That's when the end came for me. The next day he was back in a meeting, I stayed away.

Jim stayed sober after that, I thought. I didn't. Yesterday I found out from a friend.

"Jim died of AIDS yesterday," I told Sally.

"Oh my."

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