Boccaccio & Heloise…From My House to a Nearby Mexican Restaurant

spacetennisIt’s just about 5am. We have new tables. A whole bunch of new tables. We have four tables, and five chairs. That’s such a poor ratio that I’m afraid guests won’t know which are which. Anyway, I’m awake for two reasons. The most likely one is the nausea from my new round of antibiotics. The less likely one is that the steroids are doing it. The doctor was giggling as he prescribed me all this. And I suppose I feel a bit better than I did yesterday morning, at least in my sinus. Charlie asked “what did you do the last time you were sick for six months?”

And that’s when it struck me: “omg. I’m a sickly child.” There’s a pile of clothes by the wall in the living room. It’s the “put in trashcan and burn” clothes, like they do with children who die in London orphanages in the 1800s. I’ll just, you know, give them their own wash, or four, because walk-in clinics are frightening. They’re filled with doorknobs, armrests, and pens.

I don’t want to be sickly. I want to be strong and healthy. Okay, I just sat up straight. That’s a start. Overall, yesterday I felt…empty, confused, as if I had no purpose or anything to do with my life. Maybe it’s because I’m sick. Maybe it’s because I’m dreading this upcoming show at JMU because I’m increasingly tired of having my work-week schedule fouled up. Maybe it’s because Tyrone killed himself a whole month before Halloween.

This is what I remember of Tyrone. I remember he sat in the first column of seats in History class in 6th grade. But when you grow up someplace 99% white, you can’t help but begin by discussing skin color. Almost All the African-Americans I’d met before him lived in a nearby apartment complex where things happened like my friends’ parents being shot in their heads (this happened twice). I learned what it looks like when one’s parents beat you with a belt, the pink welts across bellies. And about being threatened and knocked ove for no reason. I tried to stand up for myself once; definitely not a good idea. Of course, they didn’t show any signs of antisemitism, like the white middle-class kids did! The apartments have since been demolished. But these were my associations, and they didn’t seem strange, I guess. I mean, I don’t remember feeling awkward while eating lunch with Jesse and asking him questions about his father killing his mother over the weekend.

So when Tyrone, slight, dressed like us, and carrying a violin, walked in on day 1 of 6th grade, I didn’t know what to think. He’d sometimes take it out, I guess he was in the row beside me, and we became friends to the point that in 7th grade we were eating lunch together every day and by my 14th birthday he was one of three friends I had spend the night. In our comic-book years his nickname became “BHJ” — that’s “Big Hairy Johnson” — and we’d chant it like we had any idea we knew what we were talking about. He would do things like ask for everyone’s birthdays and phone numbers and tell us that he’s studying the art of memory, that he’ll memorize them and come back in a few months and recite them to us. And then he’d do it.

In recent months I’ve kept thinking of him, that he was the only one in the group who never seemed to betray our friendship. He seemed to be everyone’s friend. And perhaps that should have been the first indication of something wrong–people who are everyone’s friend seem often to be distant or detached somehow. There’s only so far you reach before hitting a wall. What do I know? We were in high school. All my photos of him show him smiling. I’d written him recently in response to some photos I came across of his. He didn’t write back. And then it was last night that I found all the RIP notes on his facebook.

When you’re a child, bad things don’t really happen to other people so much as that kids just sort of come and go, appear and disappear like clouds, one day they show up as a new kid, the next they disappear forever because their parents split and now they’re in Kentucky. I don’t remember asking any questions or even wondering why people disappeared. Bad things happened, but look, we made it through the little years, and now we’re all big people. And so the countdown begins, it’s time for us to all start dying off, I guess. Stuart led the pack with the drunk driving incident. Dixon went on to get stabbed to death during a drug deal. A suicide here, an accident there. Old age must be horrifying. I’ve been dreaming a lot about war lately. I’m always in war with a BB gun, an air gun, forced to use bullets that somehow are useable after someone shoots at me with them.

Abelard was castrated. That happened because of a misunderstanding over what he was doing with Heloise. What exactly was he doing with Heloise? I haven’t figured that out. I thought he was only hiding her in a convent to make it easier to see her.  Why couldn’t they just be a normal married couple? And why did she go along with it for so long? She seems positively modern in her love for him. He shrinks back into the darkness.

When the young people leave town, day 1 of the Decameron, they walk “two short miles”–that’s the distance from my house to the nearby Mexican restaurant. Or the post office. That’s about a half hour walk. And after much deliberation that’s where they go to escape the plague. That opens all sorts of questions about population and political boundaries. I mean, that’s a shorter distance than between the Bennets’ home, Longbourne, and their town, or Bingley’s house, places everybody walks, all the time.

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