Missing, by William Davis, October, 2008
Outside the Oliver Gospel Mission, a shelter for the homeless, three concrete steps in need of repair made a seat for me. I sat on the highest step and rested my feet on the lower one. A yellow-glowing streetlamp threw light halfway out onto Main Street, lightly traveled now that darkness had fallen and even less traveled since a light rain had begun to fall. The smell of wet asphalt permeated the air and the occasional car hummed by with tires singing as the rain spray spattered against their wheel-wells. Forlorn and deep in thought I wondered what the normal people were doing right now. A neon light that identified my new home was without the letter O in Mission and now the last word spelled MISSI N. Absently, it occurred to me how appropriately that described my circumstances. Missing is what indeed I was; from everything Id ever known.
Chapter One The fall
Dawns first light was late this morning. That meant it was cloudy or even going to rain and I liked that. I could always tell when it was beginning because of the first grey shade to touch the floor beneath my pulled blinds. I kept them pulled these days partly because I wanted to shut out the world, partly because I was afraid someone might see me through the glass doors that looked out over the cove on Lake Murray where I lived. Shortly after dawn each morning the sounds of people leaving for work, closing doors, starting their cars, alerted me to the reality that soon I would have to be on guard.
I didnt expect the old man but the Sheriff might show up at any time. I was in a condo so these early sounds of people moving about were loud enough to be unnerving. I dreaded the grey arrival of dawn nowadays and vainly tried to calm myself to the inevitable tell-tale sounds of people stirring about my front door. I didnt answer the door anymore unless it was the recognizable knock of my sixteen year old son Nick. It was always a knock now that my electricity was turned off, the doorbell didnt function. Still, each time I walked into a room I flipped the switch out of habit.
My friends didnt stop by any longer and we had no family in the area so I grew anxious at any sound outside the door. My anxiety was amplified because I had stopped taking the Ativan prescription I had been addicted to for many years. It had been difficult to stop and difficult is an understatement unless you enjoy sweating and not sleeping for a couple weeks then shaking like a wet dog for another couple. Stopping had been easier since I had no transportation now and no way to get to the drugstore. I couldnt get any booze to calm me down for the same reason. I had started the Ativan several years earlier after describing to my doctor the anxiety attacks I sometimes had.
At first it was a very small dosage but as time went by the dosage grew until when I quit recently, out of necessity, I was taking four or five times the original amount daily. In addition, I was now knocking down numerous shots of Jim Beam nightly. I drank at night until I passed out and in the morning the five Ativan pills took the edge off.
As my abuse of the booze and pills went up, the length of my employment went down until for the past couple of years five months became a long time on the job for me. My life or lack of one had been reduced to working or looking for work and in any case each evening and weekend I spent sitting on the couch high from the dope and swilling the rot-gut. I no longer had the driving ambition that had taken me to the top of my profession and a literal mansion on the lake. I didnt entertain; see friends, play sports or any of my many activities that I had previously enjoyed so much.
I had become no more than a dope taking boozer planted on the couch or sleeping it off in a bed with sheets that hadnt seen a washing machine in over a year. I cringe when I consider what I had been doing to and representing to my kid although I have to say I thought I was hiding it pretty damned well; from him, my family and friends although soon enough I was to learn that everyone close to me had at least some idea.
I had calculated the exact date and knew I had five days left before the sheriff would be here to evict us. The old man who owned the condo would come around from time to time hoping he could hurry me out of the place. I had no place to go, money or transportation so I had in recent days begun to look around and try to figure out what I could manage to save out of what I had left. I had already sold the things that would bring some quick cash and were the easiest to move. What I had left were my most precious possessions collected over many years and now I was figuring what I could save of that.
I knew the furniture would have to stay behind and I hated that because each piece had been selected with care over many years. It was as if each piece was not constructed of wood or cloth or other materials but of memories of past times; times made of merry Christmas eves or birthday parties when the kids were little and laughter filled the rooms. Each dark piece of wood glowed now not just from lovingly applied polish but from years of standing witness and being part of, absorbing, a life, my life. I surveyed these pieces as I walked around and knowing I would have to leave them to strange new owners I felt a sense of sorrow and shame.
The last days ticked by quickly and I still had no idea what I would do, where I would go, how I would take care of Nick; I had no experience at this. The next afternoon Nick came home and told me that the social worker at his high school might help. Running rapidly out of money and no place to go, feeling a sense of humiliation, I contacted her. She stopped by the next afternoon and after peeking through the peep hole, I opened the door.
Nick had been to see her that day and she had with her a box of canned foods. I thanked her after I reddened with embarrassment and asked her to come in. She sympathized with our situation and told me many people were in bad straits. After talking a bit she let me know she would be looking into options for us and left shortly afterward. In the next days I learned from her that resources were very strapped and limited to us and that the only shelter for men didnt allow teen-aged boys. They were considered to be too aggressive.
Nick had already let me know that he had a friend, I knew only casually, whose mother might be willing to put him up for a while. The idea was repulsive and at first I said no way but then my options were few. I had raised Nick as a single parent from the time he was an infant and was very close to him; I loved and admired the boy. I didnt want to be away from Nick and nothing else to the point of learning that I might indeed have to accept our being parted for a long period had made me feel as desperate and helpless. It wasnt just that I loved him; even as screwed up as I was I still felt a responsibility to be his parent and watch out for him. And now I could kick myself in the ass for being such a damned screw up.
Two days before our eviction, the old man used the key and opened the front door. I had the safety chain latched and he couldnt get in without breaking it. It wasnt that I didnt like the old man, he was only looking after what was his. I was ashamed of having become a dead-beat and didnt want to face him. Then too was the lingering anxiety from all the years of Ativan abuse and booze so that I was as jumpy as Ann Frank when the Nazis were after her. I talked to the old man through the door- I am not trying to hurt you boy, I just want to talk hed said. These words only served to make me feel even worse and I got rid of him as quickly as I could. He had already made it clear he wanted me out and I suppose he just wanted to be sure I was going. The next day the sheriff served the magistrates notice to vacate within twenty four hours.
Nicks social worker from his school had volunteered to store a few of our things so on the last day I packed a large cardboard box full of pictures, important papers, small things my mother had left after she died. I kept my Marine Corp Dress Blues and some of my paintings. That was about all I could take except for one suitcase of selected clothes. We had moved Nicks clothes and some other few things of his up to the friends house, which would be looking after him now, the day before. Nick was pretty low about leaving a lot his things as well. And of course I felt bad about it even though I was able to save most of his baseball trophies and game-balls. He had thrown two no-hitters with his high school team and that was a record. I knew some of the other things could be replaced and later on hed value these much more, yet I felt bad for him.
The next morning the high school social worker arrived just at the appointed time for us to be out. Nick was at school so she drove me down to the Oliver Gospel Mission. That evening, sitting outside on the steps with the rain coming down, I put my head into my hands, stared down at the wet sidewalk and reflected back on these recent events. I began to wonder about the events, the dismal situation I had allowed myself to fall into and where I had been just a few years earlier.