Why won't you let me help you?!

So I’ve got this ex-girlfriend, and she likes to call me when she’s wasted and guilt me into driving to Cedar Rapids to drink with her until late into the morning. This time, I ended up in a neighborhood that's both semi-suburban sprawl and industrial wasteland all at once. At some point in the evening – and this happens without fail – she'll cut me off in the middle of a sentence and say something like, "this is why I hate hanging out with him." Then she offers a lengthy indictment of me in general, and specifically of how I permanently scarred her psyche during our relationship. It is at this point that I realize that although there is nothing I want more than to go home and be alone, I am too drunk to drive.

She's a great girl, and I was pretty bad to her when we were together, so the fact that she has it in for me makes sense. But she's too goddamn smart for her own good, and weird shit just kind of follows her around. So it's always around when I'm there.

One day late last summer, I met this same ex-girlfriend at a sports bar in CR. It was like Iowa City sports bar if everybody was fifteen pounds fatter, in cologne and perfume that was fifteen bucks cheaper. We had a very pedestrian drinking session that just loosened me up enough to say "yes" when I was asked if I wanted to go drink with a group of people I’d never met before. This is an insane thing to do, sight-unseen, in Cedar Rapids. So we took to the streets, and wended our way through blacktops that gave way to access gravels that gave way to a thin dirt strip overgrown on both sides. I clutched a $9 bottle of rum in the passenger seat, being reassured by the slurring driver that she did not want her second OWI, and would therefore not do anything dangerous or foolish. We ended up somewhere between Cedar Rapids and Marion, in half of a ranch-house duplex on a farm. There were chickens running around, scratching at things. There were ATVs and rusted out cars in the yard. Inside, on the counter, there was a half-eaten cheeseburger that was starting to mold over next to the sink, which was overflowing with a week’s worth of dishes covered in scum. Everything in complete disarray, abject squalor, except for the 50-odd inch plasma TV on the fake-wood paneled living room wall that hung straight as a Louvre Cézanne.

After a rousing round of Fuck You, a drinking game that I didn’t understand and didn’t win, unless winning means getting superfucked up on tummyache rum, people started to drift off to bed. The marine body-builder, the bulge-eyed twins, a few others. All that was left was me, my ex, and a skinny urban cowboy named Cody, sitting outside in a screened-in portico and lighting Marlboro Menthol Lights with citronella candles.

I’m useless in a situation like this. Cedar Rapidians and Marionites share this strange way of talking about things– it’s not exactly a dialect or a slang-set, it’s more of a spiritual affinity. They rattle off sentences that, on the surface, seem simple enough, but are absolutely impenetrable to an outsider. Their conversations are loaded with ultra-specific references to geographical landmarks and names of people who seem to exist in the same way that Cuchulain exists in Irish folklore. Example: “Have you ever been to Stan’s? It’s between Sixteenth Street and Green Square Park, right to the left of what’s left of the Tan World where Ricky used to steal tan lotion until he got caught, the one who had an AK-47 hanging from his wall, he’s dead now. He’s been dead for a couple of years.” They just kind of power through this shit. It’s hard to tell if they’re listening to each other.

So I have no idea what led to the conversational set-piece that began with the Cody dude saying, “We don’t agree about everything. And that’s ok. It’s like, how I don’t like black people.” At which point she instantly became a great defender of social justice.

Now, she has a psychology degree that she wields like a flaming sword, and she wears beer like armor, so they only way to even tie her in a drunken war of words is to stay fast, agile, and out of the way. This ign’ant bastard didn’t know that, though. So he adumbrated the ways in which he took the “black race” to be irritating, including the gem of a sentence, “I’ve just always found them to be shiftless.”

Then, when nobody was looking, she threw a glass at the concrete porch steps, and it shattered. She said it was an accident, and cleaned the shards up with her hand – we couldn’t get her to use a broom.

It might have been some trick of free-association over the word “glass” that led the dude to start talking about his father, who’d been involved in a hunting accident a year before. His friend had shot at some birds, and peppered him in the eye with some runaway buckshot. So one of his eyes was glass. It was apparently a traumatic event in Cody’s life. He had taken it hard, and his dad hadn’t taken it well either. Which led Cody to say, “I would rather he was dead than he only had one eye.”

We were both sort of horrified by this. He explained, “My dad’s a welder, and if anything happened to his other eye, he’d never be able to do anything again! And that’s why I wish he was dead.”

They argued about this venomously for a while – whether or not he really wanted his father dead, she analyzing him knives-out, both getting angrier and angrier – and it literally ended with both of them crying, she clutching him around the shoulders and howling, “Why won’t you let me help you? Why won’t you let me help you?!”

A few minutes later, the sun up full-bore, he went out to one of the four-wheelers in the yard, leaned backwards against the seat, and threw up on his shoes. She and I went inside, and she called her then-boyfriend to come get her. She told me I should stay in the Marion farmhouse with these people I’d never met before. I finally begged into a spot in her boyfriend’s house’s spare bedroom. I woke up at 10 that morning, after about an hour of sleep. I was as quiet as possible, hiding in the spare bedroom, waiting for someone to come get me and drive me back to my car. She woke up at 4:30 that evening, and drove me back to my car.

No comments: