12. I am so into you, I can’t get to know the nurse

Atlanta Rhythm Section—So Into You

Edie and Charles went to an amusement park and got on a Ferris wheel ride where the cabs spun on their long axes. Partway into the ride, Edie couldn’t take the disorientation and said, “I’m going to barf.”

Charles grabbed the wheel that controlled the spinning of the cab and constantly cranked it to keep the cab upright throughout the rest of the ride. His arms and shoulders were on fire as he struggled as the ride continued for what seemed like forever. Throughout the rest of the ride, Edie howled, “I’m gonna barf! Oh, my God, I’m gonna barf!”

When the ride finally ended, and they got out of the cab, Charles was drenched in sweat and it was his world that was spinning. Even at the time, it seemed like a metaphor for their relationship: Charles the uptight, upright savior in Edie’s spinning world.

Nonetheless, shortly after the amusement ride, Charles acquiesced to Edie’s constant requests and moved out of the house he shared with Steve and moved with Edie into a little four-unit student apartment building over near Broadway. The apartment was a small, shabby one-bedroom affair with tiny windows overlooking the broken pavement of a small parking lot and the buzzing traffic on Evans Avenue. The kitchenette linoleum was cracked and buckling, and the place hosted a small village of cockroaches, one of the few successful insects in Denver’s mile-high dryness. Steve moved into the apartment beneath them, which Edie didn’t like at all, but was powerless to prevent.

The couple pooled their furniture, much of it harvested each May from the overflow­ing dumpsters as the undergrads discarded anything bigger than a suitcase before disappearing for the summer, or the rest of their lives. The bookshelf that spanned the living room windows was a cinder blocks and boards affair that Charles had moved from place to place through a series of short-term living situations during the past couple of years. On it stood Charles’s one extravagance: a state-of-the-art turntable, a serviceable receiver, and large, loud, speakers.

Edie’s touches in the apartment were few. She was used to living with only what would fit in a backpack and suitcase. Her one memento was a cut-down howitzer shell casing upon which several soldiers’ names had been scratched. Edie didn’t want to talk about it much, but it was obviously important to her since she placed it in the middle of their rickety coffee table. She often flicked her cigarette ashes into it when she was really out of it.

Their relationship, always a bit rocky due to Edie’s frequent war dreams and daytime flashbacks, seemed to even out a bit after they moved in together. Still, Charles didn’t feel that Edie trusted him enough to confide in him completely, and he wondered if she ever would.

“Look,” Edie shouted during an argument in their kitchen. “You need to understand. For me there’s black, and there’s white. You’re either black or white to me. No gray. And now you’re black, dammit, so get the hell out here before I do something we’ll both regret.” Charles grabbed his coat and hightailed it out to take solace in a bar down the street.

One day a few weeks later, Charles came home to find an ambulance in the parking lot. Steve was leaning against a railing looking distraught. Charles bolted from his car and rushed over to Steve.

“What happened? What’s going on?”

Steve looked at Charles with teary, unfocused eyes. “Uh, Charles, ahh, it’s Edie.” He turned away and smashed his hand down on the hood of a nearby car.

“What, what happened to her?” Charles was starting to freak out and grabbed Steve, turning him to face him.

“She tried to kill herself, Charles. Slashed her wrists—the long way, up the veins. She was serious.” Steve hung his head and shook it sadly, tears dripping from his eyes.

Charles rushed over to the back of the ambulance, just as the medics were slamming the doors. “Wait! That’s my girlfriend!” he shouted. One of the medics said, “She’s lost a lot of blood and we need to get her to the hospital right away. You can see her when she gets into recovery.” With that, the medics climbed into the truck, turned on the sirens and lights, and roared out onto Evans Avenue.

Charles turned back to Steve, who threw an arm around his shoulders. “Charles, if I hadn’t dropped upstairs to see if you wanted to go play racquetball, Edie would have probably succeeded.”

Charles had begun to cry and sobbed, “I don’t understand. She seemed happier than usual recently.”

“Yeah, well, believe me, she meant it. She had taken off her top, laid down in the bathtub and slit her veins all the way up to the elbows. There was a puddle of blood in the tub when I found her. I grabbed her wrists and hoisted them up above her head.” Steve paused, considering how to proceed. “Charles, she fought me. She struggled to yank her arms down, and, damn, she’s a strong girl. I had to quit for a minute to call 911, but when I went back, even though she had to be weak from the loss of blood, she still fought me until she fainted, just before the medics came. Shit!” Steve shuddered at the memory. “God damn, I need a drink.” He wiped his eyes.

Charles stared in stunned silence at his friend. He couldn’t process it. It just can’t be, Charles thought. The dreams seemed to have become less frequent, and Edie seemed more normal recently, with not a single blow up in weeks. “Yeah, I could use a drink myself,” Charles said, “But I’ve got to get to Denver General. Can you drive me? I think I’m in shock.”

“Sure, buddy,” Steve said with a sigh. “I guess I gotta wait to get that drink.”

Edie pulled through but was mad as a wet hen when Charles finally was able to visit her in recovery.

“Goddamn that fucking Steve!” she shouted. “He should have left well enough alone!”

“Edie, you can’t mean that. I know you’re hurting, but Steve saved your life. Fate put him there to help you.”

“Fate is a foolish thing to take chances with!” said Edie, a bit quieter, and quoting Charles’s favorite Gay Divorcee line. Charles had to stifle a smile. Edie was clever even when in pain.

“Why’d you do it, Edie?”

“I can’t stand it anymore. The dreams. The breakdowns. The fucking strangeness of having to live among all these people who haven’t a goddamn clue what real life is like. All the people I lost! That poor baby on the plane. Even you, poor clueless you. All the shit I’ve put you through. You don’t deserve me.”

Charles had heard this type of breakup statement before, but it generally meant he was the unworthy one. When Edie was eventually released, she and Charles fell back into their old patterns, and Edie continued to wake screaming from dreams a little more often now.

Edie no longer had classes on Fridays and would often just hang around their apartment all day. Often by the time Charles came home, she was blackout drunk and barely able to stand. After a few weeks of this, Charles confronted her. They agreed to remove all alcohol from the apartment, and Charles called Steve to come upstairs and haul the cases of beer and the bottles of wine back to his place. Steve looked like he had won the lottery, with a huge smile on his face. Charles, however, looked gray and grim.

The alcohol ban worked for about six weeks. Charles found it refreshing to not have alcohol around. Maybe I needed to cut back a bit myself, he thought. I’m not an undergrad anymore. Then one Friday, Charles came back from class to find Edie passed out on the floor beside an empty bottle of grain alcohol, barely breathing. Charles called 911 and they took her to Denver General. After pumping Edie’s stomach and starting a saline IV, Edie stabilized.

Once she was conscious and sober, the doctor said he could release her to Charles’s care, but warned him of the possible deadly effects of alcohol withdrawal. “She could die of the DTs or of several other symptoms. I strongly recommend that she enter a detox program right away. They can monitor her and help get through the worst of it with medication.”

Edie was at first completely opposed to the idea, but then Steve showed up, having seen the note Charles had hastily shoved under his door on the way out. The two of them double-teamed Edie and finally, she agreed to at least talk to the social worker. The social worker was very positive and kind, describing alcoholism as a disease, and not a moral failing. Eventually, they convinced Edie to go to county detox, where the social worker had found a bed. She was to remain there for at least two days.

Edie asked Charles to go back to their apartment to get her a book and some clothes. The nurse said he didn’t have much time before the transport would be there to take Edie to detox. Charles rushed back to his car and drove madly across town back to their place. He grabbed the book, some underwear, and a few tops, and bolted back to his car, driving again like a madman back up Broadway to the hospital. When he arrived, he saw a van waiting in the ER and raced back to the trauma room Edie was in, fearing that he had missed her departure. As he came down the hall, it appeared the lights were out in the room and his heart sank. But once he got there, he saw Edie, and the orderlies were just coming with the stretcher to take her to the van. She looked almost catatonic as she accepted the grocery bag full of things from Charles. He kissed her and said, “Edie, this is for the best. You’ll get better.” She gave a slow nod, and then the orderlies wheeled the stretcher out to the van.

As he watched the van leave the parking lot, Charles began to cry. He got in his car and wept for five minutes before drying his eyes and slowly driving home. On the way, he stopped off to buy four Snickers bars. I need to stress eat, he decided. He got home and devoured half a bar before finally making himself some dinner, a leftover burrito from their last trip to the Oak Door Mexican restaurant.

No visitors were allowed for as long as she was in detox, but later that evening, Edie called Charles from a county phone. “I need you to get a couple of prescription meds I have for high blood pressure and bring them to me.”

Charles had not been aware that Edie needed the meds. He said he’d bring them, and Edie hung up before saying where they could be found. Charles couldn’t find them in the medicine cabinet. He ran around the apartment searching, cursing a blue streak. He finally found the meds in a bedside table drawer and hopped in his car before realizing he didn’t know the address of the county detox center. He ran back up the stairs to the apartment and found the white pages. After some difficulty, he found the address for the detox unit, about five miles away.

He got there a little after 6 pm as another van was loading up a patient coming out of the center. He entered a depressing, bare, elevator foyer with a concrete floor and black smudges all over the walls. There was a squawk box with a red button on it next to an elevator. The sign on the elevator said, “Press the button—once.” Charles pressed the button, but nothing happened for about five minutes. They probably are busy, and they don’t want people leaning on the red button, he thought. So, he waited another few minutes before pressing the button again, this time hard. Turned out he hadn’t pressed it hard enough the first time because the box came alive with a phone dialing sound followed by someone asking him what he wanted. He told the box that he had medications for Edie and the box said to wait while someone came down from the third floor to get them.

After a few minutes, the elevator doors opened, and a short black guy with a wary look on his face looked at him, and then stretched out his hands for the pill bottles. Charles gave them to him, the guy mumbled thanks and pressed the button to return to the third floor. Damn, it’s like a fortress here, like they’re expecting some kind of a siege. He returned to his car and drove home in a stupor.

Once again, Edie survived and returned to living with Charles. But the suicide attempt and the alcoholism cemented the feeling within Charles that he had no future with Edie. He had been agonizing for a year about leaving her. What if I drive her to attempt suicide again, and she succeeds? I couldn’t live with that.

Despite his fears, Charles broke off the relationship three months after the detox episode. Edie took off for the Rockies, and Charles didn’t see her again until one October night a couple of years later when she rang Charles’s bell. Wild-haired, crazy-eyed, twenty pounds heavier, and wearing shabby clothes that were too big for her, she asked if she could crash at his house. She said she’d been living in St. Louis and she’d driven straight through to Denver that day. She had this nutty idea about traveling across country to live the artist’s life in San Francisco and homesteading a house in the city.

As they sat on the couch, three across with Charles’s fiancé, Karen, Edie told the couple that she’d gotten a gun and had started taking target practice on a regular basis. “A girl needs protection these days. One night in St. Louis not too long ago, I was out too late and too drunk, and these two black guys grabbed me, threw me down, and raped me.” Edie related the story almost in a monotone, with no apparent emotion. Charles and Karen were shocked.

“Oh, my god, Edie!” Charles said. “Did they beat you up, too?”

“No, they just had their fun and split. I didn’t even go to the ER. I went home, drank a bottle of wine, and got up for work the next day.”

Charles and Karen exchanged a look, and Charles could see tears in Karen’s eyes. She excused herself and went into their small kitchen. Charles followed her. “You OK, Honey?”

“Oh, not really. That poor woman! And she doesn’t even show any emotion about it! She must be so hurting inside.”

Charles said he agreed and asked if Karen wanted him to tell Edie she couldn’t stay the night. Karen said no, it was the least they could do for her. She’d heard the Edie Viet Nam stories and, although she was a little jealous about Charles’s ex showing up at their home, she was making the best of it.

“I think I’ll just get out some chips and salsa for you two and go to bed. I’ll put new sheets on the spare bed. Tell Edie there’s a blanket in the closet if she needs it.” Charles kissed her on the forehead and said good night.

Charles returned to the living room with the chips and salsa and sat back down with Edie. After he made Karen’s excuses, he said, “Edie, that’s so horrible what happened to you. How are you doing?”

“Oh, it’s nothing. I got over it pretty quickly. I just decided it’s never going to happen again.” Edie pulled a .38 pistol out of a pocket of her baggy jeans and showed it to Charles.

“Uh, is that thing loaded?” was all Charles could think of to say.

“Sure, it’s loaded. I’m a single woman on the road. But the safety’s on, don’t worry. I know my way around a gun.” Edie shoved the gun back in her pocket. “It’s never going to happen again, and so that’s all there is to that.” She nodded her head curtly as if putting a seal on the subject.

After a few minutes of silence, Edie said, “You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about becoming a lesbian.”

Charles didn’t know what to make of this non-sequitur. His mind went back to their time together at school and he thought about the very close friendships Edie had had with a succession of women. Back then, he had wondered what all the touching was about. Charles didn’t know what to say and just stared at Edie, thinking she’d probably elaborate. Instead, Edie jumped off the couch and rummaged through her huge backpack, pulling out a portfolio.

“Here’s what I’ve been working on recently,” she said, handing Charles a pencil drawing. Despite Edie having had a few drawing courses when she was working on her fine arts degree, the drawing looked like the work of an untrained amateur. Charles didn’t know what to say, and obviously didn’t react as enthusiastically as Edie would have liked, so she picked a fight and, even though she had already driven 850 miles that day, stormed out of the house yelling, “You’re still the same!” Charles responded coolly, “And so are you, my dear.”

Perplexed, Charles turned the “thinking of becoming gay” business over and over in his mind and eventually decided that this was typical Edie. She always had to feel in control of her destiny lest she spiral into madness. It would be just like her to decide to be gay, either for real or for the shock effect. Well, I wish her luck, he thought.

Ever since this weird encounter, Charles was vaguely afraid that they would meet again, only this time, she would avenge herself upon him for jilting her. This paranoid fantasy was fueled in part by numerous midnight phone calls, obviously long distance. The caller usually waited for 20 seconds or so and then hung up without saying anything. Even though Charles had moved frequently over the years, after about six months in a new place, the calls would begin again. As the years went on, the calls decreased in frequency, but never quite ended, inspiring a sense of dread that often took days for Charles to shake.

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