Sunday, November 11, 2012

Such a Spirit

“I just wanted to let you know....” Sandy has tapped Penelope lightly on the shoulder, leaning in close, speaking softly. What’s up? Penelope wonders. Has Sandy ever touched her before? Something serious is wrong.

And such a switch, now that everyone has left Utopia, the atmosphere still chuckling at Sandy’s hilarious story of the Booger Swimmer Film. “I was staying at this hotel and went downstairs to the’d like this, Penelope,” she nods toward her, swigging another gulp from her water bottle, “all the machines were facing the deep end of the pool. It was a huge glass wall and the deep end of the pool was right there for all to see. And in comes this man with a video camera and sets himself up right in front of the deep end view and I think to myself, You gotta be kidding me! What a You-Know-What.....and then in comes this woman in this too small bikini and again, I think to myself, Lady you should NOT be in that suit. And she goes and gets into the pool and lo and behold, she is a mermaid. Her hair flows behind her in lovely waves, her too small suit doesn’t matter, in fact it enhances the entire situation, as you know Fat Floats, and all the while her husband is video taping her....”

“How did you know it was her husband?” Penelope interrupts, kinda wishing it’d been a porn movie with some smarmy director.

“Oh, they had spoken of this and that and such and it was obvious they were staying at the hotel on their honeymoon and this videotape of her in the pool....well, you get the drift, but anyway, he’s taping her and she’s swimming toward him like an Underwater Goddess and all of a sudden this giant train of booger comes oozing out of her nose and he keeps taping but he’s cracking up and she has no idea.....” Sandy had shaken her head, “Well, you can imagine my mirth around the situation.”

And everyone had. DL had laughed the longest and loudest before taking herself out of Utopia before Penelope as per usual. Too hot. Leaving Penelope alone with Sandy.

So now, when Sandy has touched Penelope with this seriousness, the lingering laughter in Utopia has a strange unreality.

Had she just told that Underwater Booger Story?

“I just wanted to let you know,” Sandy repeats softly. “Suzie passed last week.”

“Oh....” Penelope sighs long and sadly. Of course, Suzie had been so very sick. The last time Penelope had seen her, Suzie had stood, hunkered over her wheelchair outside the sauna, completely skin and bones, literally, wracked with a cough that went on for several minutes. Women kept stopping by her, asking her if she was okay, and she had smiled between hacks, waving them on, “Oh, yeah, I’m fine. It’ll pass....” Laughing in spite of her death hacks.

So now, when Sandy has told Penelope that Suzie has ‘passed’ (What does that mean anyway? To where? Penelope knows it’s just a euphemism for dying, but it seems so banal....with no substance around the fact that here is a person, alive and well or alive and sick as in Suzie’s case, one day, and then the next....She’s gone. Where did she go?)

“She was such a Spirit!” Sandy nods emphatically, dousing herself with water.

“Yes, that’s for sure,” Penelope agrees. “The last time I saw her she was very sick and.....” Penelope’s voice trails off. What to say? It wasn’t like she knew Suzie very well.

“She taught me more ways to say the F-word than you can shake a stick at!” Sandy chuckles, gathering up her towel, water bottle and flip-flops.
“I bet!” Penelope grins, thinking of all the times she had any interaction with Suzie. It was always a story.

The first time she saw her, Penelope had marveled at the Jesus Tattoo and the hole in her side. “Yup, got myself shot up ‘bout 15 years ago. That motherfucker paid for it I can tell you!” Suzie had laughed, easing herself into the hot tub, the Jesus Tattoo on her hind side disappearing into the bubbles.

“You have such a Big Heart!” Suzie had said to Penelope one day, out of the blue for no apparent reason. “I do?” Penelope had answered, the bubbles of the hot tub churning across Suzie’s skeletal brisket. “Yup. I can tell. I can feel it. You got yourself a Big Heart. I can feel it.”

And the time that Penelope had just had the skin cancer treatment on her forehead; it had caused a horrid red rash all over. Penelope had tried to hide it with her cap, her towel, but Suzie had seen it and asked what it was, “Oh, it’s just some treatment for skin cancer. Nothing really,” Penelope had answered, and really it wasn’t though it felt like it. Suzie had nodded and gazed at Penelope with Huge Brown Compassion Eyes. “You got the same road to tow as me. I get it,” she nodded, seriously.

And Penelope had just shrugged, thinking how there was no comparison between skin cancer and being shot and being on dialysis and having multiple surgeries and losing a lung and whatever the hell else Suzie had had to put up with.

But Sandy was right. She was such a Spirit. And Penelope will miss her so.
She’ll miss her bright giggle as she tries to put on her too tight orange tights.
She’ll miss her offerings of grapes and bananas and apples even though Penelope was too scared to eat them.
She’ll miss her wisecracking and her brightness and yes, she’ll miss her cough too. Even though that cough scared Penelope, it showed she was still alive.

And now?
She’s passed.....
“You can tell DL later,” Sandy murmurs as she floats out of Utopia. “I woulda told you earlier but I didn’t want to spoil your swim.”

Spoil her swim? Sandy's comment was so fitting somehow. After the Underwater Booger Story and then letting her know about Suzie's Passing.

The two extremes seemed a perfect end for Suzie somehow.

She woulda appreciated the Underwater Booger Story.
Penelope can hear her cackling now.
Outside the sauna.
Through the locker room.
Into Penelope's soul....

Sunday, November 04, 2012

It Is So Sad....


“I just wanna find me a rich husband to take care of me and my baby girl.” Gold digger Teen giggles, fiddling with her lavender bra strap.
“How old’s your baby now?” her friend asks, tossing a long brunette braid out of her face.
“She’s gonna be a year in 3 months! Can you believe it?”
“No, wow. It beena year?”
“ much do you weigh?”
“I’m 128. Can you believe I was 161 when I was pregnant? I was hella fat.”

They both giggle. Penelope closes her eyes, soaking in the sauna’s heat and eavesdropping. How old are these girls she wonders? And one of them has a baby? Shit. They seem like babies themselves.

The door of the sauna creaks open. Penelope opens one eye, turning her head toward the door. Water Walker Night Nurse floats gently in, sighing softly, and plops down in the dark corner next to the girls. Penelope smiles over at her, but isn’t sure Night Nurse sees.

“You still have that restraining order 'gainst Alfonzo?”
“Yeah, he beat me something awful,” Gold digger Teen sighs loudly. “I know he don’t mean nothing by it, but I just couldn’t take it. And my baby girl. I can’t let her grow up round him.”
“Did you hear about how Rosa hadda leave her grandma’s house cuz Jimmy raped her?”
“No, really?”
“Yeah, it wasn’t her fault. I think she just was in the wrong place at the wrong time, you know?”
”Oh I do,” Gold digger Teen exclaims. And Penelope thinks again, how old are these girls? And the lives they live. Beaten and raped and then shrugging it off in the Sauna at the Y.

It was way too much for Penelope to process, so she closed her ears. She has this ability if she really puts her mind to it. She has to think of something else. If she thinks of nothing, then she just goes back to eavesdropping and frankly who wouldn’t with this conversation going on in such an intimate space.

And it went on for awhile. There was talk of grandma’s house being robbed. “I don’t know how anyone could do that to an old lady. Now she really paranoid and don’t wanna answer the door or nothin’.”

There was more talk of domestic abuse, but Penelope really couldn’t handle this. Exposure to such violence at such a tender age upset her, esp. since she was so tired and hungry after her late night swim. Her defenses were down. She felt like she should say something, interject some words of solace or advice, but what the hell could she contribute to such a conversation? Her overwhelming disbelief?
How would that help? Should she suggest they seek professional help? Social services or.....?


Penelope had no clue.

And so she kept silent. The girls got too hot, and giggling, head out. “I need a shower hella bad!” Gold digger Teen announces, pushing open the door.
“Yeah you do!” her friend agrees, following her out.


Penelope sighs audibly in the now quiet Hilltopia.

“Did you hear that?” Night Nurse asks, sitting up on the edge of the bench at the opposite side of the sauna from Penelope. “Well, how could you not?” she laughs softly.

“Yeah, it was pretty upsetting,” Penelope sits up too, shaking her head.
“It is so sad,” NN stares down at the dark cement floor. “They are so young. To have that kind of abuse in their lives. I don’t know what to say.”

“Yeah, they were really young. And one of them has a baby. Were you here when they were talking about that?”

”A baby!?” NN cries, stricken. “Oh no. That makes it even worse. For a little baby to grow up in that kind of atmosphere. It is so sad....” She shakes her head again. “The times have changed since we were that age,” she continues. “Why we would never have such things happen to us in my family. But I know that things are different today. Kids today experience such sadness.....”

Her voice trails off and Penelope thinks about NN and how she has a daughter of her own. Maybe her sadness wasn’t just for these girls, but for her own daughter? Why Penelope thought this she couldn’t say. But it seemed like NN was just so so sad; that her emotion was caused by something deeper than overhearing these girls' nonchalant narration of their abuse. For Penelope, it was just this nonchalance that was so chilling. Like being raped and abused was just part of life, part of being a young girl in a world of violent men. And for these girls, this could be true.

Penelope shivered in spite of the 120-degree surroundings.

“They were talking about rape and killings. People shooting each other!” NN exclaims. “Did you hear that?”
Actually Penelope hadn’t heard that part and was glad she hadn’t. Was this the part she’d tuned out? Or was it something that NN thought she heard?
Nodding, Penelope ventures, “You must see life and death all the time in your line of work.”

”Oh, yes, I do. But it is different. People come to hospital and they are sick or they are old and we try to help them, but if they die then it is their time. We tried to save them. But these girls......” Her voice trailed off. “It is so different......they are so young.....”

Suddenly, Penelope feels an overwhelming need to get out of here. Her heart is pounding and she’s feeling lightheaded.

“It is so sad.....” NN says again.
Penelope agrees. Says she has to leave. Has to eat.
“Oh, yes, of course,” NN smiles, waving her out. “It is late. I need to go too.”
“See you in the pool next time,” Penelope murmurs as she opens the sauna door.
“Yes....” NN says vaguely, staring into space now, the giggles of two teenage girls drifting in softly through the open door.