Rhapsody & Remorse Part 5
In the previous chapter, Raven suffers a mini nervous breakdown over Merci's cruel and sudden rejection. Her brother Jacob, and friends at work, try to help, but don't truly understand. Raven reverts back to a childhood habit, and summons the help of her imaginary friends. To read about it, please visit this link:
It's no pay to relive yesterday...I started living for tomorrow; I think I'm gonna make it all the way.
~ Frank Sinatra, 1974
A month after the wedding, I received a thank-you note from Merci. I wasn’t expecting one, so I was surprised. Eagerly I opened it, hoping maybe it would contain some semblance of an apology, or at least a clue of what was going on.
What I found was a coldly written form letter. It was addressed “Raven,” instead of “Dear Raven,” and it read; “Thank you for your gift of the bread box. It was such a blessing to have all our friends together for the wedding, and to receive so many nice gifts. Kevin and I had a relaxing week on the North Coast, and are now ready to spend many years together as husband and wife.” Kevin had signed both his and her names on the note.
No clues at all, except it sounded as if the marriage was in trouble already. “Ready to spend many years”? How about “Looking forward to spending many happy years”?
Oh well, that wasn’t my problem; in fact, I was happy! The hypocritical bitch deserved it! I hope Kevin really does beat her, as Phillipa predicted!
During the holidays, I sent out my usual batch of Christmas cards, and received many in return. I didn’t send one to Merci, and didn’t get one from her either.
Mirtha obtained 2 tickets to a Michael Franks concert, and rather than choosing one of her many boyfriends, invited me along. I found this highly flattering. It turns out he really is good looking, but not the least bit egotistical; in fact, I believe he’s quite shy. It was a great concert. The next day, I bought his latest album, The Camera Never Lies. It’s really good.
Bill, Losoya’s supervisor, announced that the company was going to shut down between Christmas and New Year’s, to save money. “I suppose you can get another temp assignment,” Losoya told me. “Maybe you’ll find something better, and not come back to this madhouse.”
I had been on this site for 2 years. I actually stay longer at temp jobs than the so-called permanent ones, which is why I work them. Carolynne raised her eyebrows at me. “When was the last time you had a vacation? With all the money you saved from working overtime this year, I think you can afford one.”
“I’ll just take a vacation,” I answered Losoya.
“Really! That’s great! Where will you go?”
“I don’t know yet. I’ll decide later.”
I spent Christmas Day with my foster parents, the McNeelys, in Oakland. It’s just something I do out of a sense of duty, and to keep people at my boarding house from talking. You may have noticed I haven’t said anything about my roommates. That’s because I make a point of keeping to myself; it’s my secret to lasting there so long.
They had a number of their relatives and friends over. There was Christmas Dinner, and the perfunctory gift exchange. Then they started rambling on about slavery, as if it had happened yesterday. I tuned out. This may sound scandalous, but personally, I believe most of the problems blacks face today, they bring on themselves. No white slaver hauled Jacob and me off to foster care, and the brutes that ganged up on me in school were nearly all black. The reason Oakland doesn’t have a Ku Klux Klan chapter is because thugs produce so much trouble and violence there, it’s not needed. They’re the reason I grew up with restrictions as to where I couldn’t go, not Jim Crow laws. And the rent I pay for my room in the boarding house could get me a one bedroom apartment in East Palo Alto, but since I didn’t have a car when I first moved, I chose the safer white neighborhood, knowing there would be times I’d have to walk home from the bus stop at night. Even then, I sometimes get hassled by men while downtown in broad daylight – all of them black.
Mr. McNeely caught my attention. “We heard from Mrs. Faye recently. Remember, your old social worker?”
“Yes,” I answered. How could I ever forget? She was the one who had yelled at me when I was in junior high for having a white friend, then later denied me a scholarship to college.
“She wants you to call her.”
“She got fired from the agency earlier this year. They didn’t give a reason, but it happened shortly after she requested a raise. She wound up losing her pension as well. It was prejudice, of course. She filed a lawsuit, and they settled out of court for one year’s salary. Her money is nearly gone by now.”
Prejudice my ass, I sneered to myself. If that were true, the agency wouldn’t have hired her in the first place. She was the bigot, not them! No doubt she wanted to commiserate with me on what it’s like to be poor. Interesting, since she’s married to a judge! Except he hated her guts; he tried to divorce her once, but couldn’t because of his position in the community. Also, not only did her daughter flee for life, she had 3 sons, two of them emotionally disabled, and one in a mental institution for violent offenders because he’d beaten her up (I’d gotten most of this info from Jacob’s wife, Annalee). I’d also heard from a couple of her co-workers she made a lot of trouble at the office too, and some people had even quit. If the agency had fired her when they should have, a long time ago, they could have avoided the lawsuit. No doubt the fact that she was past 65 and had been there 20 years was the only reason she even had a case. As for the damage she did to me, I may not have a successful career, but at least I was still young enough to do something about it; it certainly helped that I knew how to get along with members of other races.
“Are you going to call her?” Mr. McNeely asked me.
When pigs sprout wings and fly! I was raised to “forgive”, in other words, sweep matters under the rug. As an adult, I exercised the freedom to face matters as they are, rather than follow that phony philosophy. This recent occurrence with Merci was one more chapter in that lesson.
“You remember Merci?” I said, abruptly changing the subject.
“I think so. Isn’t she that Spanish girl who was always writing you?”
“Mexican,” I corrected. I went on to tell about the wedding.
“So she got married,” he said, shrugging. “Apparently, she feels you two no longer have enough in common. That’s the way it goes.” His indifference only dug the emotional knife in deeper, making me wish I hadn’t brought it up. Peg indicated I should end the conversation right there.
“So it’s like that, eh?” she told me in a snide voice, as I drove away that evening. “Accept it and see what happens.”
“Not that I have a choice,” I answered her. “She’s already gone.”
“You have a lot more choice in the matter than you realize. Now, let’s change the subject and enjoy our vacation.”
I headed for Orr’s Hot Springs in Ukiah. Camping there costs $15 a night, and they allow guests to work off half their bill. I did this by hauling wood and cleaning cabins. The weather was cold, so I soaked in the hot springs before going to bed, which helped me keep warm most of the night.
Orr’s is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, so I had to leave after 3 nights. I thought of driving north, but didn’t want to go anywhere near Mendocino, where Merci and Kevin had enjoyed their honeymoon. “If, in fact, they enjoyed it,” said Carolynne. “How about going to Ashland, Oregon? They have a youth hostel there, and no doubt it has some deal with the local ski resort.”
I hadn’t skied since high school, and didn’t have my equipment with me. “Well – I don’t know…” I hesitated.
“Why not? We’re going skiing. You can join us. Your accommodations may be less luxurious, but they’ll also be a lot cheaper.”
“You can meet people too,” added Helena. “Unlike us, you don’t have to hide from the oppressing paparazzi.”
“I’d have to go home to get my equipment though,” I protested. “I really don’t want to add another 100-plus miles to my trip. Plus, I’m probably so out of shape, it would be a waste of money.”
“Just rent it there,” said Peg. “They probably have bargains. As for your being out of shape, you can relieve the soreness by stretching at the end of the day and soaking at Jackson Hot Springs, which is nearby. Your clothing should be adequate; if it isn’t you can buy whatever you need there.”
I headed northeast. Even if I didn’t ski, avoiding Merci and Kevin’s recent haunts was reason enough.
After spending the entire day cruising through mountains and redwood forests, I finally crossed the California / Oregon border and reached the hostel in time to check in for the night. Summer, Ashland hosts the Shakespeare Festival; the rest of the year, not much goes on. Yet it is beautiful at any time. There is an ornate fountain in the center of town, where people love to drink the water – except it’s the nastiest in the world, flavored with sulfur! An ordinary drinking fountain stands nearby, with good-tasting water. This is a standard joke locals enjoy.
The hostel offered a ski package; $20 buys an all-day lift ticket plus transportation from the hostel to Mt. Ashland ski resort! The rentals weren’t too bad, either; I found a shop that charged $30 a week. Regarding clothing, all I needed were thermals and an outer shell, which I bought for real cheap at a department store.
After my first day skiing, I was horrifically sore, but took Peg’s advice and stretched and soaked in Jackson’s Hot Springs. It really worked; the next morning, I was ready for another full day on the slopes!
Jackson Hot Springs also has camping sites, though I preferred sleeping indoors at the hostel because there was snow on the ground, I did spend New Year’s Eve there with some campers. They built a bonfire, and we stood around it roasting hot dogs and marshmallows, telling ghost stories. It was the best New Year’s Eve I’d ever had.
The next day, I launched the New Year by skiing. I decided to make it a tradition to start every New Year this way. On the 2nd, I visited the local Adventist church, and enjoyed the fellowship. What’s wonderful about Adventists is that you can go to any strange town, look up the nearest church, go there, and find instant family. After the service, they had a potluck, and I was made perfectly welcome, even though I hadn’t brought anything. Perhaps you’re wondering if Merci’s cruelty led me to want to leave the church. While the thought crossed my mind briefly, I knew most Christians aren’t like that, True, I was paranoid about people in general for awhile, unable to trust my own judgment, but my Inner World helped me set things straight and recognize a hypocrite when I see one.
Then came Sunday; time for the long drive back. I enjoyed this as well, playing tapes on my portable player whenever I couldn’t get a radio station (my car doesn’t have a tape deck).
Overall, my vacation wound up costing me about $350, everything included. In spite of the microscopic budget, I enjoyed myself every bit as much as my celebrity friends.
Now my heart is healing, and I've got a real good feeling, I think I'm gonna make it all the way.
~ Frank Sinatra, 1974
I returned to work refreshed. I told everyone about my vacation, and they were impressed, not only by what I’d done, but how little it cost me. All of them had stayed home to tend to their families. After my first day back, I took my rolls of film to Walgreens to get them developed. There were several of them, because not only had I taken lots of pictures of my vacation, I hadn’t turned anything in for 6 months. I told my co-workers I would show them my pictures soon as I got them out of the shop.
They were ready a week later. Walgreens had a deal where they gave a free mini album along with each packet. In my room, I went through them, remembering what was happening when I took each photo and inserting it into an album sleeve. I was admiring my shots of Ashland in the snow when my heart suddenly froze. There was the picture of Merci and Kevin in wedding regalia – scowling at me.
The camera never lies.
I’d had such a great time on my vacation, I’d almost forgotten about them. But here was the evidence, in plain sight. If I had any thought left that I had imagined that whole scene, this killed it.
“I think I’m ready for part two of letting go,” I told my celebrity friends.
“Ok, go for it,” answered Peg. “But first, you should send Merci this picture.”
I brightened. “Great idea!” I grabbed an envelope from my desk, and tried to fit it in. The photo was too large. I folded it – then hesitated.
“What’s the matter?” asked Peg.
“Uh – I folded their picture without thinking.”
“So what? It has to fit in the envelope somehow.”
“But – what if…” I trailed off.
“What if what? You’re afraid Kevin’s going to see it and storm over here in a macho rage to kick your ass?” All three of them laughed harshly. “Well, you’re right about one thing; Kevin had better not see it. However that’s none of your concern. Because if he kicks anyone’s ass over it, it won’t be yours!” At this point, all three of them howled, and I joined in.
I placed the folded picture in the envelope and sealed it. When I wrote the address, I noticed it didn’t look like a typical condo’s; it seemed more like that of a house. I decided not to give the matter any thought. I placed the envelope in my purse, along with the pictures of Merci’s family; I was going to take them back to Walgreen’s for a refund tomorrow. I put the negatives in the bag with Merci’s letters, to be destroyed.
“I’m not quite ready to burn them tonight,“ I confessed.
“That’s ok,” Helena told me. “Looking back, it’s unfortunate you didn’t accept the coffee Merci’s father offered. He most likely would have told you what was going on, and that could have helped. Then you could send the pictures and negatives of the family to him.”
“Oh.” I hadn’t thought of that. “I assumed he would tell me nothing was wrong. After all, he’d raised that monstrosity, hadn’t he?”
“That doesn’t change the fact that Merci has a mind of her own. It doesn’t look like her sisters are that way. Anyway, that’s in the past. You do need to start reaching out to others though, if you’re going to avoid situations like this in the future. Mirtha took you to the Michael Franks concert. How about if you reciprocate by inviting her to a Sunday International Dinner at Stanford? Bring her to your house early, so you can burn these together, then go.”
I’d never thought of doing that either!
The next morning I mailed off the letter, then invited Mirtha. It turned out she knew nothing about Stanford, and was delighted when I invited her.
It also turned out Peg was absolutely right about my having a choice in the matter. Merci’s response was swift! I had mailed the picture Monday morning; I received a thick packet from her Thursday.
“So you know she got it,” Peg stated. “End of story. Don’t even bother to open it.”
I couldn’t resist. I opened it.
Inside was a letter 6 pages long, with enough flattery to embarrass Elton John. She thanked me for the picture, saying it was very nice! I’m a good photographer; how were my other projects? Had I been to any more hot springs? How was my music? Marriage was nice; it was great to have someone to come home to, though it was somewhat scary. Had I written any more songs? How was guitar? Kevin was nice. About half the people she had invited had not come to the wedding. How was my sewing? My writing? I’m such a good writer. Had I been disco dancing lately? How was my job, school, computers? She loved her job, she loved using the word processor, but she hand wrote all her letters to her friends for a personal touch. How was hiking? Had I been to any more rock concerts? Marriage was great except – well, you see, Kevin was traditional, and she was still trying to get him to do his share around the house. (Married barely two months, and she’s whining about him already!)
“Now you know what’s going on, straight from Merci,” Peg told me. “Please don’t grace this with an answer.”
When I told about Merci’s letter at work the next day, Mirtha interrupted me at the beginning with a laugh. “Why?” I asked, disappointed that she’d suddenly stopped supporting me emotionally.
“You folded her wedding picture in half, and she said it was a nice picture!” Everyone, including me, cracked up.
“Did she say anything about your catching the bouquet?” asked Losoya.
“Uh – no she didn’t.”
“Forget her, then.”
Sunday afternoon, Mirtha met me at my house, and I brought the filled grocery bag to the fire pit in the back yard. Taking out Merci’s last letter, I crumpled each sheet and lit them. Then one by one, I shredded all the letters she’d written me over the past 13 years. First went her wedding and shower invitations. Then the insert announcing her engagement to Phil, along with the birthday card in which it came. On and on it went – numerous other birthday and Christmas cards. When the fire was big enough, I added the negatives. After several more letters, there came the postcard from Mexico City. I hesitated briefly, then threw it in. More and more letters; I shredded each one two or three times, not looking at them. I was near the bottom of the sack; sometimes, I could see part of a Christian fish or cross, with some song inscription. I tilted my head up, partly so I couldn’t see, and partly to keep my tears from falling. On and on and on… finally, only one letter was left, the first one Merci had ever written me. Into the fire it went; last of all was the paper grocery bag.
“You ok?”Mirtha asked me, as the last of the fire died away.
“Yeah,” I managed to answer her simply.
She followed me as I marched resolutely into the house to change out of my smoke-scented clothes. After freshening up, we went together to the International Dinner at Stanford.
It's working out so well now, you can go to hell now; this time I'm gonna make it all the way!
~ Frank Sinatra, 1974
I went on to live happily ever after. The company I was working for promoted me to Software Engineer, and I became a millionaire in less than two years. I was featured in Black Engineer magazine, which Pico happened to stumble across and, instantly falling in love with my cover photo, he made a b-line to Stanford to meet me. We married in their glorious church in what turned out to be the wedding of the century, and rode in a limousine to our mansion in Hillsborough – passing Merci and Kevin’s condo along the way, turning up our noses at it.
That sure would make a nice ending to this story, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, the actual events were way different. I did meet a guy who looked like Pico, and we dated a couple times, until I found out he was married with 2 kids, which explained his aloof behavior.
My company wound up short of funds, due to mismanagement, so I was laid off the following summer. Once again, I was returned to the temp pool. I got an assignment as a secretary, where I had no opportunities to write computer programs; however, I learned a number of software packages on the job. One afternoon, 18 months after Merci and Kevin’s wedding, things were slow at the office. My curiosity overcoming me, I looked them up in the phone book. Figuring it was unlikely anyone would be home, I decided to call to see if their answering machine might reveal any clues as to how they were doing.
Their phone had been disconnected. What could this mean?
That Saturday, I went to pick up Mirtha so we could attend a Billy Vera and The Beaters concert. She caught me up on the latest news; nearly everyone I had known at our old company was gone; only Bill and a few others were still there. Losoya had been told to move heavy boxes in spite of her bad back, so she took the hint and quit. Phillipa and several others had been laid off. Mirtha herself had been given 2 weeks’ notice.
“Remember Julia?” she asked me. “The one who was always making those racist comments? A month after marrying Ted, she proudly announced she was pregnant. She was then mysteriously demoted to data entry – this when doctors were saying pregnant women can miscarry if they sit in front of a computer for more than 20 hours a week. Her morning sickness became so bad she couldn’t even drink water, so she took out disability for 3 months. When she returned, they fired her for her ‘attitude’.”
“Ooh!” I exclaimed. “There’s a lawsuit waiting to happen!”
“She did file – but it was for reverse discrimination. Of course she lost.”
“That’s just awful! This is where her racism worked against her; she should have filed a suit regarding her pregnancy!”
“Uh – would you mind if we took a short detour to Clinton Street?” I asked tentatively. I couldn’t resist; I just had to see Merci and Kevin’s condo.
“Funny you should bring that up,” she answered. “Was it in the news?”
“A newlywed couple there had a nasty fight a few months ago. They were always at it, but this time the bride had to flee the state. She was a county social worker, dealing with abused children – would you believe that?” Mirtha laughed. “He had some little job – I forget what – but he quit shortly after they married, and lived off her. Well, it looks like he’ll have to get another job. Though he may not need to, because she didn’t cover her tracks too well; my friends who live on Clinton Street told me she’s in Portland. He can just go up there; from what I’ve heard, she’d be crazy enough to take him back.”
I was so thunderstruck, I had to pull the car over and lean against the steering wheel.
“W-what’s the matter?” Mirtha stammered.
“Remember the day I came to work all upset, because of my friend snubbing me at her wedding?”
“Of course I remember. Wait – that wasn’t her, was it?”
“I believe it was. Earlier this week, I dialed their number to see if I could figure out any information from their answering machine, and discovered their phone had been disconnected.”
“There’s your information!” We both laughed.
I drove down Clinton Street. I noticed there were no condos on her block. When I reached her address, I found a house with what looked like a garage apartment. “Some condo, huh?” I stated to Mirtha, and we both laughed again.
“I don’t think I told you this,” I went on, “but at her wedding reception, the DJ played the song, “At This Moment”. I thought that was really tacky, but maybe he had insight.”
“He did, all right! Sounds like this marriage didn’t even last 20 months, let alone years! Hey, wait a minute – we’ll be hearing that song at the concert tonight, right? Who are we seeing again – Billy Vera and The Beaters?” We screamed and convulsed with laughter.
“We gotta get going,” I finally said, “or else we’ll be late for the concert.” I drove on, finding the car almost as hard to control as it was when I had the mini breakdown in the parking lot.
I may not have gone on to live happily ever after, but things could have turned out much worse…
© 2013 Yoleen Lucas