From Some Stones Don’t Roll
In Stockbridge, Massachusetts, during the 1970s, the author befriends a young man, unaware that this newcomer is a paranoid-schizophrenic who depends on medication to keep him from suicidal and homicidal behavior.
I had another dream. Several segments to it. These dreams just before waking. I used to want to capture them. Go over them. They were rare enough to keep. Now they are simply there. I think it was a train dining table where someone, was it Bill, l looked at me and said I needed a shower. I was dirty. And then I was in my room on the train getting ready to get off. Then I went back several cars ahead. But no one was there and then the train arrived and I was late. So I hustled back to my car to pick up my bag. But the car was gone. I knew that by the additional diner they had put on. And then I was looking for a conductor who appeared and told me my things would be on the platform. That did not seem right to me, I had more than one thing. I have fancied dreams to be the very stuff of immortality, the format in which each person who is no longer here can dial up any element of her past life and see it exactly as it was lived. But this dream is nothing like that. It is a straight Freudian anxiety dream about my coming trip by train. The trip is my test to see if I, approaching 80, can function on my own without my sweetheart. My doctor prep school chum Henry will be with me on the way to Oakland but I’ll go on from there. I am dirty! It could be Bill accusing me, telling me that in the intervening time between then and now, minds have opened to the inevitability of pharmaculture. He forgot his pills. But now I see, for I too have evolved. I now fancy I could go up against a bona fide, knife-wielding, paranoid schizophrenic and snap him like a proverbial twig, so that his eyes would open and he would be in full touch with his consciousness and able to think himself anywhere. That’s what I peddle now. No mechanistic determinism for me.
I got up and took a shower. Unusual. It usually takes me longer to unravel from sleep. I may spend an entire morning in my bathrobe sitting here pounding away. The traffic seems more mellow than usual this morning, almost musical. I hear my sweetheart in the next room puttering. She has given me her flight plan to Florida. I will fetch her tickets online. As the world seeks to find a Malaysian 777 and I resolutely forswear air travel, I will fetch her a round trip with every confidence that she will go and return without a hitch. There I am next to Bill without one shred of knowledge about his past. Without knowing his damning diagnosis. Without perceiving his murderous potentiality Oh yes, that pool game when the force with which he hit the shot was thank you ma’am killer. Fact was back then I had no sense of things as I do now. I knew something was wrong the day I dropped him off that last time. I knew from his confronting me in the kitchen. And my response was as I have said. Curt and matter of fact. What Bill sees is what he gets. I can do no more than I can do. What if I had said as I might now, Bill, let’s go talk. Oh, Bill did talk that night. Apparently deep into the night after his time at the Red Lion. Down the hill. He talked to George into the dawn about free will. And then he plunged the serrated knife into George. And then he disappeared.
I would have said Bill what’s wrong. And he would have said shit I forgot my medication. And I would have taken him to his pills. Would I have also said the equivalent of, You do not have to be gay if you don’t want to? You do not have to murder someone to deal with those voices you are hearing? Your will is capable of snapping those demons out of there in a trice? Faster than a flying pool cue? Oh Bill, Bill. I failed you then. I fail you now. Of course you needed your pills! Of course life hangs as much on chance as rules. Of course everything hangs together but for some it hangs wrong. At least if the object is to stay alive. Let’s drive down to Alice’s Church and get those goddamned pills. It’s not too late. Get the pills. And I, my eyes are open now. I see you are crazy. I will hang with you even more than I have, recognizing that what has been going on these last weeks has been naked need masquerading as a guy just like me who writes songs and has no idea about the music business … yet.
No, you can’t go home again. Who wants to? That house is sold. Dick’s table is gone. Bill’s parents are gone. This is a new century. And we stumble Peircingly into a glass-half-full thesis to ward off the demons of a truly nihilistic abyss. Life is comedy not tragedy. Life is adjustment not finality. But then I contemplate three cousins of mine, New England-sired, with predictable genes belonging to one five-thousanth of the population of Massachussets and Vermont. And Bingo! Wilson’s Disease. It strikes all three down as they arrive at the beautiful time of adolescent flowering. Yes, I lost cousins, playmates, others. Families I never knew were burying the remnants of their WW2 war-riven dead. Who wants to go there again? I see death as natural, but it is not at all so. It is sudden in many cases. My parents are the exception. They got to the chain-breathing stage and expired peacefully at home at 97 and 102. Bill was how old? Somewhere in his thirties. Younger than I. And saddled with an inexplicable cranial capacity to hear, not the back and forth that peacefully guides us through the rapids of life, but the officious, mocking voices of glass-half-empty discouragement, instructions to follow demonic visions to lethal conclusions.
I felt the abyss. My sweetheart is back from her weekly walk to the bank and now is off to work. She is my angel. My salvation. That abyss was me going off and never coming back. I knew none of the mechanics for avoiding panic attacks. Had there been plastic bags at the time and had someone told me about the chemistry of breath I might have licked it. As it was, time licked it. Time and events. I have no notion why I am still here. Nothing is the same. Even my dreams have changed.
Bill and I never had conversation of any sort touching on his issue. The voices. The need for medication. The aloneness. That aloneness was palpable. If he had had a Sonia to minister to his Raskolnikov! But no, he lived alone. And for some weeks in the mid-1970s in Berkshire County I was the only person he had any daily contact with. And we wrote song after song after song. And performed them in the Lion’s Den. And could sing natural harmony. And contemplate doing this forever. And there was no hint that he would do what he did. And when it was over I blamed my then-wife for setting me up when she knew more than I did about Bill. Now I can see it was a sort of flattery. Steve can handle Bill. It is a perfect fit.
Given all the tendrils of this tale, could it have happened any other way?
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