This story is by Victor H. Limon and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Waking up was not always easy for Perry. The alarm would sound and he would just roll-over, oblivious to the cacophonous sounds of the new day. Today, however, was an exception. The repressive summer heat had made it too unbearable for Perry to sleep an additional hour this mid July morning. His decrepit cooling fan which rested on top of an antique looking ironing board in the claustrophobic space of his studio apartment propelled so slowly that one could count the rotation of its blades without ever losing track. Even with the windows and shades fully open, 7 am seemed like high noon.
Ever since his car accident six months ago which shattered his pelvis and permanently crippled his ability to lightly jog effectively, even with therapy, for more than half a city block, Perry had to rely on his walker to spur his partially lame legs into action.
As Perry arose from his double-sized bed, his perspiration acted as an adhesive between his dampened flesh and the discolored linen sheets. Every morning he had to peel off the sheets almost as if he were removing a coat of liquid armor from his porcine body. While sluggishly reaching for his walker which stood adjacent to his rumpled bed, he remembered that today was Saturday and that he would not have his regular visit with Maryann, the physical therapist. He was free to sleep in on the weekends without having to be somewhere. The one thing that irritated Perry the most was the fact that he always had to be somewhere.
Prior to his accident, Perry worked as an assistant manager for a sporting goods company which usually meant that his duties primarily involved the inventory, staff meetings and the mundane job of reprimanding his employees. Telling others what to do and how to behave was something Perry thought was more the responsibilty of Ted, the manager. Perry, however, had come to the conclusion that his manager was a spineless coward. Perry had taken his job seriously and was generally respected among his coworkers for his ability to firmly delegate orders. The overall consensus was that he would make a more effective manager than Ted. Because such praise and support for Perry never surfaced above the talk of the salesclerks, upper management really didn’t notice nor seem to care much about the diligent efforts of this particular assistant manager. He didn’t seem to mind though. As long as someone knew the truth, that was all that mattered.
The recognition he had once received from his associates gave him confidence. Since the accident, however, Perry had lost confidence in himself and in others.
His slow recuperation period and even slower pace of life left an indelible stain of resentment and a repulsion for those who had not suffered his agony.
Being an only child, Perry didn’t have siblings to call upon to share his feelings and both his parents were retired and too busy traveling the country and the world. As a result, it was nearly impossible to ever reach them by phone. Regarding his coworkers and friends, they expressed too much pity on him. Perry despised anyone having pity on him.
He would occasionally express his feelings of discontent to his therapist Maryann Sullivan but her inability to listen to a grieving patient was unforgivable.
During one of his therapy sessions Perry asked Maryann, “Have you ever considerd suicide?”
Maryann took in the question quite unexpectingly and responded abruptly. “Many consider it but never do it. Those that do it are suffering from extreme bouts of depression.”
“I’m asking about you.” Perry asserted.
“Once I did . . . but that was years ago.”
“It was when my mother died in a boating accident. I was only a teenager.”
Perry maintained his persistency. “So how did you decide to kill yourself?”
Maryann, now disturbed, replied, “I don’t remember. And besides, that’s too personal.”
“You mean too personal to discuss with me, a mere patient.”
Evidently perturbed, Maryann remarked, “Why are you doing this?”
Perry quickly retorted, “Doing what? I just thought I’d ask if . . . ”
“Listen!” she said bitterly, “I don’t like discussing death. It’s a morbid subject.”
“Do you fear it?”
“No, I don’t fear it, I just don’t like thinking about it and discussing it, that’s all.” she said defensively.
Thinking he had her cornered, Perry replied, “Admit it, you’re frightened to death, or shall I say . . . petrified! Sorry, wrong word again.”
In a patronizing tone, Maryann said, “You’re all alike!”
“Oh yeah? How are WE all alike now?”
“Just face it Perry, all cripples think that suicide is the only way out. Believe me, you’ll feel better once you get control of your life and begin to feel that people need and depend on you.”
Maryann hoped that her last remark had quelled the subject of death.
Perry’s silence was deafening. It were as if a spell had been cast over him preventing him to speak. He hated those that referred to him as a cripple. It was the first time Maryann had called him this and he resented her for it. What infuriated him more deeply, however, was the way she assumed, in her self-satisfied manner, that others would be responsible for making him feel better.
Anger and bitterness welled-up inside Perry every time he thought of that visit with Maryann and how she patronized him. Condescending behavior was something he could not tolerate. Because of this, his antipathy toward her had, for most of the past two weeks, reduced his vocabulary to the monosyllabic chatter of “Hi,” “How ’bout that,” “That’s nice,” “Thank you,” and “Goodbye.” Issues of importance could not be discussed with her and small talk no longer interested him.
On a sweltering Saturday morning, Perry arose thinking to himself, What am I to do? The one person he thought he could confide in, Maryann, had abandoned him emotionally. What good is communicating if nobody is going to listen? Does what I say really matter to anyone?
Perry pondered the notion of what it would be like to surrender the marrow of his inner being to become emotionless; a stranger to himself and others. A feeling of ennui permeated his very soul. And for the first time in his life Perry began to doubt his own self-worth. At first, he thought that these feelings were the symptoms of his despondent behavior or indicators for the onset of a deep depression. He, however, didn’t feel depressed in the clinical sense. It was more a feeling of indifference toward himself and society.
So, as a means of escape, Perry attempted to avoid hearing his inner voice by turning on the television and reading the newspaper. He even tried chatting with his neighbor.
“Excuse me Kenneth, can we talk?”
Kenneth looking over his driveway said, “Hey buddy how are ya’ gettin’ on?”
Hoping to have captured Kenneth’s attention, “Not as well as I had hoped. That’s what I . . . ”
“Sounds great, well listen, the wife and I are going to barbeque tonite. How ’bout joining us?”
Confused by the non sequitur, Perry replied, “Umm. . . . I don’t know. I haven’t planned anything yet and I’ve got some stuff to do around the apartment.”
“Hey, I gotta’ go now. Great seeing ya’ buddy! See ya’ tonite!”
Perry avoided the barbeque with Kenneth and his wife. The exchange of mindless blather earlier with Kenneth only intensified his angst to a level which now made any form of effective communication futile.
He felt as if his world was inhabited by strangers whose foreign tongue was not only incomprehensible, but ugly. How was he to establish meaning in an otherwise meaningless universe?
Perry returned to his dilapitated quarters to reflect upon his present condition. After 40 days of complete solitude – drawing the tattered curtains, disconnecting the television, dismissing phone calls, neglecting his sessions with Maryann and refusing to allow any form of light that wasn’t natural – Perry realized that he was truly alone. He had concluded that unless he try to make some sense of his life and his world, nothing would change.
Days and days passed as Perry sat motionlessly condemned to his thoughts which randomly collided into amorphous configurations resembling the surrealism of a Gorky painting.
The one outside element which Perry missed the most during his retreat from life was his music. While gathering up his cassette tapes which were strewn throughout his living room like pathetic remnants of the past, Perry discovered one classical tape adrift the dust and spider webs in the corner of his bureau. Without bothering to examine the title of the piece, Perry inserted the tape into his cassette stereo player and succumbed to Erik Satie’s Trois Gymnopedies. While listening to Satie’s melancholic yet elevating melody, Perry realized that he alone had absolute and complete control of his life.
This terrified and exhilirated him both at once.