I was shopping today in my favorite overpriced boutique grocery store with the terrific produce and the organic chicken and the phenomenal seafood. I had a basket full of all of the aforementioned items, brought them up to the register, and paid with my handy debit card which finally has some money to back itself up with again. Since the trip to Amsterdam, things, they have been tight.
Then I realized that in order to accomplish my goal of a dinner of littlenecks on the half-shell and skate wing in browned butter, I needed two lemons. So I had the register gal hold on to my bag of purchased booty and hustled back over to the produce section for a fistful of citrus. I was in a hurry, so I spun around to head back to the front, only to run headlong into a tall blond woman with a radiant smile and beautifully expressive hands, walking excitedly toward me, saying, "I know you!!!"
When I moved back here three years ago, probably the first and best person I wanted to run into again was K. She had been, however briefly, my best friend, and she was from one of those quietly well-off and cosmopolitan families that you would never have known their wealth and worldliness from because of their genteel down-to-earth-ness. Also, they were Quakers, and therefore constitutionally modest and unassuming. God, did I love them.
K. and her family took me in the summer of my sixteenth year when my mother had gone off on one of her church-sponsored "mission" trips to build houses in Zimbabwe for two months, incidentally leaving me and my two older brothers alone and unsupervised in the house with Crazy Mary.
Crazy Mary had been our neighbor several years back, and I had been close to her daughter when we were in, like, second grade, when suddenly Mary's mental illness had become apparent, her kids were taken from her, and she was put in the mental penitentiary in Framingham. A few years later she had been released, and had called everyone she had ever known from her life on the Outside to try to find a place to stay.
My mother was the one who said, "It's the Christian thing to do."
So we took her in. For a couple of weeks, which turned into a couple of years, during which she kept us up all night typing away in her bedroom on the first floor, filing suit against anyone and everyone whom she had ever perceived as having slighted her. Including every school district that had ever fired her for roughing up students when she was a substitute teacher, which was every school system that had ever hired her.
See, she was a violent paranoid schizophrenic, after all.
When she had court dates, she was invariably late and they would hold her in contempt, but she just stormed back into the house, railing against the local gang that she swore was equipped with walkie-talkies, who waited to see her leave our driveway so that they could then pull their cars out onto the road and create a deliberate traffic jam, causing her to be late and held in contempt.
See, this is the woman my mother left us alone with while she wielded hammers on the other side of the world.
I continued to feel relatively safe from Mary as long as it was just the rest of the neighborhood that was in on the conspiracy, and that my brothers and I were perceived to be on her side. But I should have known that couldn't last.
One day, I came home during a break in work for some lunch. I wheeled my bike up the front steps and dismounted, then got a distinctly queasy feeling as I heard the muted sounds of frantic raging inside the house. I remember that I just wanted to get my sandwich and go.
I slid open the big oak front door of our crumbling Victorian house and snuck in the living room. Mary was in her room with the door closed, ranting and throwing things around her room (it had been our library -- I pictured her throwing my mother's Philip Roth books against the walls, as Mary was deeply anti-Semitic), so I sped into the kitchen and slapped a peanut butter and jelly sandwich together (this is very important: the bread must be wheat or oat, never white, the peanut butter must be crunchy, and the jelly must not on any account be grape -- definitely raspberry preserves with seeds).
I thought I was home free as I made my way back to the front door through the living room when Mary suddenly erupted from the library with her hair in her face and a knife in her hand.
Man, did I ever run. Fuck the bike. I ran like hell down the street to the main drag where there was a pay phone and called K., who had a car. She picked me up a few minutes later, and made me sort of slightly laugh when she pointed out that I had somehow managed to grab my prized Elfquest comic book on my way out the door. I have no memory of doing that.
Her family let me live with them for the remainder of my mother's stay in Zimbabwe. My brothers stayed at home, with Mary, who had apparently only included me in the conspiracy against her. There were no further incidents between Mary and my brothers, and Mary was sent back to Framingham shortly after my mother returned from Zimbabwe.
So I saw K. again today for the first time since I was 18, when I was only two years past that insane summer. Is it any wonder that the sight of her has filled me with an overwhelming sense of relief and joy and a certainty that all shall now be well?