Friday, April 27, 2007

Fiction #2: Solution to a Dilemma. Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of "Solution to a dilemma"

Heather Pizzo actually turned out well and we remain friends to this very day. Not surprisingly, she majored in art during college but later did a master’s degree in environmental planning. Now she works for a non-profit out in Arizona. She lives there with my friend Kevin – who I will tell you about in just a second. They visit often - she gets along with my wife and her kids are friends with my kids; I think you get the picture. Let’s leave the Pizzos on hold for a moment. I want to tell you about the other half. Kevin Long and, of course, his mom Erolyn and her “friend” Chuck.

Kevin was my roommate during the first year of college – he actually lived in my large walk-in-closet for a reduced rate on rent. I met him at a record shop in St. Pete, not through school and, like many of my friends, he was a couple of years older than me and had the aura of perpetual student and part time world traveler. Hip without being cool. Kevin was shy but also comfortable in his dorkiness as a sound aficionado. He didn’t like being around many other people and, thus, it took many years for him to understand the feelings that Heather developed for him. More on that in a bit – let’s talk a little about Kevin’s mom.

Erolyn was overweight and wore tacky clothing from Sears or Wal-mart. A receptionist in a real-estate office, she lived for happy hours and weekends during which she would binge drink like a 20 year old student at a frat house kegger. She was a tragic figure more than a character in a comedy mainly because she did care about Kevin so much, but did so little right from the standpoint of appropriate parenting.

Erolyn was slightly more attractive when she was 25 years younger, as most women, even fat women, tend to be. This mild attractiveness, combined with the desire to stay drunk for as long of a period as possible, had led Erolyn through a string of bad relationships that followed the breakup with Kevin’s father.

Kevin really didn’t know his father at all. Sure, he knew the guy’s name (Roy Hartmann) but he had no idea where Roy was now and why Roy never came to visit. This wasn’t something that Kevin spent much time dwelling on, at least not openly. Instead, he had known Joe, Chris, Greg, Tim, Robert, and Bill – just a few of the many suitors his mom went through. These guys were just the ones that stuck around long enough for Kevin to at least memorize their names. Unfortunately, this string of alcoholics planted some poor memories in Kevin’s noggin which included sitting in bars on Saturday afternoons where he would ask for quarters to play the old sit-down version of Centipede that had the rolling joystick and was made to look like a small table.

Erolyn’s saving grace was that she comprehended her mistakes – she had poor judgment but good insight and was constantly trying to “make it up” to Kevin. This included doing things like letting him live in her cramped home that seemed to always include a new man – a temporary co-habitating mate. The offer to always move back home, even to the uncomfortable cramped home of an alcoholic mother, was appreciated by a backpack traveler, part time student, usually unemployed but literary and intellectually savvy slacker.

So, you’re probably asking what all this has to do with death and all of those bleak sounding things that I talked about earlier. Well, indulge me for a few more minutes. We are getting there – promise. I need to tell you about Kevin and Heather – not as individuals – we have done enough of that – but more as a couple. This part of the story takes place after The Days of Holding Hands and First Kisses. You know, somewhere in between The College Years and Real-Deal Adulthood.

Kevin met Heather while he was living with me. They connected instantly and saw the world through a similar lens colored by music, art and environmentalism. However, it was with some difficulty that their relationship became romantic. There were many starts and stops, break ups and make ups along the way. But, two years into a more defined and typical boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, Kevin and Heather displayed a comfort with each other that brightened the routines of life with a predictable rhythm of love, sex, and companionship. It was no surprise to me that Kevin followed Heather to Arizona when she completed her master’s and took the job with a conservation group somewhere in the middle of the frickin’ desert. Apparently though, this move did come as a bit of a surprise to both Heather and Kevin’s parents respectively. Now don’t get me wrong – both sets of parents liked their kid’s significant other. It is just that neither knew how serious the relationship had become. So many false starts, so many interruptions but now a move across the country? It just seemed a bit rushed – but they had been living together for a year and life worked out okay for the couple when they arrived in Arizona.

The first time Heather told me about her parents break up was while we were at a restaurant having raw oysters and beer just before she moved. I was accustomed to a world where parents divorce and couples split, so the news itself was no real shocker. I mean, after Greg’s parents broke up in our senior year of high school, I realized that even parents and families that had been together for 20 or 30 years – even those types of relationships – were susceptible to an ending other than “death do us part”. Hell, my wife’s grandparents broke up a year ago and they were only five years away from their 50th Wedding Anniversary! What surprised me about Heather’s news – and surprised Heather – was that her parents had actually broken up over three years ago but were still living together and carrying on the fa├žade of an intimate relationship. Now, I’m not done yet – the scenario gets even more odd.

Going on the fourth year of the breakup-marriage, the parents didn’t intend to escalate or hurry down the path to official dissolution of their joint life together. You might assume that this is because they had hope of working out their marital problems and finding happiness. That, however, was not at all the case. By this point, the parents admitted openly to Heather that they didn’t even like each other as people, much less as lovers. The truth of it was that the parents found themselves surrounded by the entrapments of life – a mortgage, car payments, kids in college, shared friends – entrapments that they were too weary to escape. Plus, when the break up originally occurred, Heather’s younger sister was still living at home. Scared to face the reality of a single life, the couple continued living in the same house and acting as if nothing had changed. They went to dinners together, work events, and even vacations. The vacations were one of the first things that I didn’t understand. I mean, it’s one thing to put up a front around the people who know you, but why purposely spend time and money somewhere else with a person you don’t like?

After Heather left town, I thought that the Pizzos would definitely divorce. But they didn’t. Their world grew stranger as they defined new terms of a relationship like no other. Kimberly Pizzo was now dating a man living in a different state. One or two weekends a month were spent flying to Atlanta to see him, leaving Roger alone at the home to also carry on a personal life. Then, during the week, the couple would continue their life together. Now the really strange thing is that by all accounts, the two didn’t really fight very often and actually seemed rather well adjusted in public. Maybe they were on to something with their relationship?

Kevin and Heather returned for a visit to Charlotte during the first Christmas after their move to Arizona. They were each close to their respective families and savored the opportunity to spend time with relatives and old friends. Unfortunately for Heather, the relationship between her parents was still essentially dead. However, with the solution to the dilemma undetermined, the lives of Roger and Kimberly had been on hold for five years and the effects of this were starting to show. Her father had grown withdrawn and quiet, rarely speaking at dinner or in the house while Kimberly was around. The backyard garden was desolate – no orchids, no red mulch. Her mother had grown venomous, constantly complaining about her life, about Roger, about the mistakes she had made years and years ago. There were no drum circles in her life anymore.

Okay, so I hope you get the picture. The life of Roger and Kimberly Pizzo was fucking strange. They lived together and were married but didn’t want to be in the same room with each other. However, there were absolutely no plans to change anything because the two were simply frozen in place, unable to act any longer on emotional motivation. Nothing was going to change accept the misery of the entire Pizzo family – that would certainly get worse. The worst part of all of this was the damage to Heather and, ultimately, to the relationship between Heather and Kevin. While in Charlotte, Heather had to endure a terse amount of time spent doing “family things”. When one parent was out of the room or away running errands, running through life, Heather was forced to hear about the horribleness of the other person – beginning to see that side-taking would soon be inevitable. A nasty task she had avoided up to that point.

During that Christmas visit, Kevin’s mom, Erolyn, decided that it would be a good idea to meet Heather Pizzo’s parents. I mean, after all, her son was living with their daughter and the relationship was going into its fourth year, looking very serious and stable.

Do you remember earlier that I told you Erolyn had her heart in the right place but didn’t exactly make the best or brightest decisions? Well, this is a great example, a simple metaphor if you will, of her relationship with the world and, especially, with her son. Kevin had been a vegetarian since he was 18 years old. His mother was absolutely aware of this. He kept soy products in the house and talked about his choice of diet passionately and often. In addition, Heather and her family were all vegetarians – even the type of people who grow their own vegetables and have a big outdoor compost heap that grows larger each year. Erolyn was not ignorant to these facts, she just didn’t grasp their meaning; she could repeat the information to you but not interpret it or adjust her behavior accordingly. The Pizzos agreed to meet Erolyn and accepted an invitation to her home for dinner.

On a Sunday night in late December, Erolyn cooked a traditional turkey dinner, complete with green beans – which of course had ham (a Southern specialty), and mashed potatoes. A turkey dinner for a vegetarian crowd. Her house, her rules, I guess. Right? To be fair though, the turkey might not have been Erolyn’s idea. During this period, Erolyn was living with Chuck – another man in a long line of temporary co-habitating males. Now, Chuck was what you might call a guns-meat-N-Cars kind of guy. Why? Simply because he pretty much only talked about guns, meat and cars – or at least some derivation or combination of those topics. Especially combination topics – for example – hunting on an ATV is a subject that would cover some aspect of all of Chuck’s interests. Anyway, this dinner was on the Sunday after Christmas and it would turn out to be a very significant event with the unexpected power to resolve a philosophical and emotional conundrum.

Chuck, the amateur expert at all things firepower, decided that Erolyn needed – just had to have – a small handgun to keep in her purse for “protection”. On Christmas morning, Erolyn unwrapped a package that was shaped like the standard department store shirt cardboard box but had the weight of a brick and rattled with the sound of metal hitting plastic. She tore of the bow, the ribbon, and the wrapping paper to find a grey plastic case with the world “Ruger” etched onto the front in large block lettering. In her stocking, another cardboard container shaped like a pint of milk weighed down the big red sock, causing it to pull on the plastic hook stuck to the pseudo-mantel on the particle board entertainment center which also held the large 32” TV. Inside the first box was a .22 caliber Ruger semi-automatic and, of course, inside the other container were the bullets. Chuck excitedly helped Erolyn load the bullets into a gun and taught her the basics of using the pistol with the promise of a trip to the firing range at some point in the future. Erolyn didn’t know how to respond to the gift. She had certainly never owned a gun before, but the feeling of such a powerful object, cold in her hands, was a bit invigorating. She could get used to this.

Roger and Kimberly Pizzo still shared a Volvo XC90 – really Roger’s car more than Kimberly’s because she would drive the BMW 330 on most mornings. But on weekends and when they went places together, it was always in the Volvo. They didn’t speak and were not friendly with each other but yet they continued to ride together, eat together, sleep in the same room and share the same bank account. The Volvo pulled up in the cracked driveway of Erolyn’s ranch-style home in the middle of the city around 7pm. Heather and Kevin arrived earlier that day and were inside; busy preparing turkey that they would not eat while Erolyn made whiskey-sours and drinks with a blue tint from some type of sugary additive. After a few drinks, Erolyn wasn’t drunk but was well on her way. The house smelled slightly of cats and cigarette smoke and Roger made an obvious grimace as the odor smashed into his nostrils upon walking into the living room.

They sat in front of the TV, watching a college football bowl game. This was of absolutely no interest to Roger or Kimberly Pizzo and they gave each other a glancing look of mutual agony – a rare shared alliance in their marriage over the last few years. Kimberly held a plastic tumbler full of tiny ice slivers from the refrigerator ice maker and a sweet alcoholic concoction. Kevin grabbed a bottle of Coors for himself and for Roger. Erolyn and Heather continued drinking their blue drinks while Chuck watched the turkey cooking in the oven. The Ohio State Buckeyes scored another touchdown and went up by 21 points over a lesser rated team from the SEC. Small talk over nuts and cashews centered around Christmas, Christmas trips, and Christmas gifts. The oven buzzed and Erolyn got up to help Chuck with the turkey. Kimberly noticed the grey box sitting by the couch with the word “Ruger.” It still had little bits of tape and the fragmentary remains of blue and white snowman wrapping paper, stuck in little chunks scattered about the plastic.

“Oh, was that a gift, Erolyn?” said Kimberly as Erolyn passed by the box on the way to the kitchen.

“Yes, that’s from Chuck. It’s a Ruger” said Erolyn.

“What’s that?” shouted Chuck from the kitchen, thinking that Erolyn was talking to him or trying to get his attention.

“Nothin’ hun, I was just telling them about the Ruger you gave me. I will be right there” Erolyn said as she looked down the hall and shouted to the kitchen.

“Don’t worry about it, show them the Ruger. I’ll bring out the turkey.” The oven door closed shut as Chuck returned the shout down the hall to the living room.

“You sure?” said Erolyn.

“No problem.” Returned Chuck.

“I don’t have any idea what a Ruger is, Erolyn.” Kimberly said this after patiently waiting for the hallway conversation to end.

“Oh, dear Kim, you’ve just got to have one of these. For protection.”

Erolyn sat back down on the couch and picked up the plastic box. She sat it on her lap and opened the two latches in the front. Kimberly and Roger looked on with anticipation while Heather and Kevin glanced at each other with a knowing smirk of quiet protest. They had seen the gun earlier but were not a big fan of personal firearms or guns in the home. Erolyn reached into case and freed the gun from its soft foam molding. She picked it up gingerly and held it by the handle.

“Whoa, a gun.” Said Roger, a little bit surprised and overwhelmed by the sudden presence of a weapon.

“Wow, Erolyn, is it real?” asked Kimberly, trying to recall if she had ever been that close to a pistol or real gun of any sort.

“Oh yeah babe, it’s real. And loaded. Here, hold it.” Erolyn pointed the gun away from herself and from her guests, towards the Ohio State Buckeyes. She reached across the couch to Kimberly.

“No, I don’t think I should touch it. I’ve never held a g-----“

It happened just like that. No warning. Quick….Quick. That’s the easiest way I know to describe it. The gun was on the floor in the box, then it was in Erolyn’s hand, then it was being passed across the sofa, then Kimberly pushed the gun away but the barrel was inadvertently turned towards her, Erolyn was letting go of the handle and POP. It was like a little firecracker you get in the big plastic combo kit on New Years or Fourth of July. A no big deal sound that answered all of the questions.

The gun fell to the floor and Kimberly’s eyes rolled back in her head as her neck hyperextended. This caused her head to pound against the wall and then move forward like a bowling ball on a straw. Blood trickled from her neck. She made gurgling sounds as she drowned in the thick red liquid, her trachea pierced by a .22 caliber bullet. But it didn’t take long at all. Kevin jumped up and tried to put pressure on the trachea, keeping it closed to seal it from the blood trying to pour in from the transected artery sitting just to the left of the cartilaginous rings. The white couch turned red and Heather screamed out with a shrill, almost monotone, sound forcing its way out from her tense diaphragm and constricted vocal cords. Kim was dead before the paramedics arrived.

Kimberly Pizzo, Time of Death 20:08, December 30 2006. The Pizzo marriage, Time of Death at least 5 years earlier, the independent life of Roger Pizzo was put on hold in 2001 and allowed to continue the moment his wife died, her blood staining a new Ralph Lauren cotton shirt he had received as a Christmas gift from Heather’s younger sister.

Her funeral was small and I attended as a guest of Kevin and Heather’s. I attended out of respect for school birthday parties and a field trip chaperone from years before. Even Heather didn’t cry – no one really cried much at all. Roger just stared straight ahead, maybe thinking about a different life long ago where he and Kim were best friends and inseparatable lovers. Was this even the same women lying in the casket in front of him? The same woman with whom he had built a house, made a garden, traveled the world? Maybe he was thinking about his future – a future that didn’t exist three days ago. Let out of a dilemma with the only solution to a complex situation. His wife’s death freed him to continue living and taught me that some questions have no answers and that some problems can not be solved during this life.

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