Even younger brother Bruce never played Robin to Gary’s Batman.
Gary’s folks prided themselves on being highly religious. While denomination doesn’t really matter so far as Gary’s isolation goes, it does matter that they ignored the “brotherhood of humanity” aspects and focused instead on finding the teeniest excuse that would allow them to condemn others. Those who really met their extensive criteria for “goodness” could be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Gary was not one of those fingers.
And the more alone he felt, the more he acted out. The more he acted out, the more his parents meted out punishment. Spankings for untoward behavior may have been a good idea; locking him in the closet, less so. Deciding that he wasn’t worthy of their love — priceless.
Unable to navigate the impossibly contradictory maze of strictures and scriptures of his parents, his church, his school and his peer group, Gary lost himself in the worlds of books. Those worlds had damsels, dragons, and doubts, and in the end, the hero triumphed.
Gary seldom felt triumph in his world. The more he saw himself as a loser, the more he warped his perception. On rare occasions when someone gave him an honest compliment, he discounted it. When kids made overtures to be his friend, he avoided the pain of an inevitable falling out by simply never showing any interest.
Gary struggled through school, and got a job working in a factory where management discouraged interactions with others. He said little but did much. Gary had a knack for diagnosing and fixing issues with the assembly line and the machines that ran it.
Gary was fired anyway.
Low on money, Gary hitchhiked to Washington State.
Alone, surrounded by a rainbow of intense alpine flowers, staring at the clear summit of Rainier, he felt — he knew he did belong. That insight hit him so hard, an observer would have thought Gary had been struck with an invisible bat. One second later, Gary realized that he had always belonged.
“I’m not doing that while we’re driving, Adam! It’s too damned dangerous!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Anyway, Nikki, you do what the hell I say or … “
Nikki lay on the cold marble floor. She thought she must have suffered the worst hangover in the history of humanity because she had no recollection of how she got here — or what ‘here’ even was. Somewhere nearby, lights — very bright lights — shone against the marble floor. She opened her eyes to behold a scene of opulence and hard-edged beauty.
But, if this really is a hangover, she asked herself, where’s the headache? Where’s the infernal dryness? On the other hand, she reasoned that she still had no recollection of how she got here. Was she “on assignment” as Adam called it. Or…she had been with Adam. He had asked her…they were in a car. She scowled and mumbled, “That bastard must have drugged me.”
She got to all fours. Then, she stood, carefully splaying her arms out in case she lost her balance. To her amazement, she was not dizzy or off-balance in the slightest. Ahead of her, an empty hallway seemed to beckon her. She felt the answers to her many questions were at the end of it.
She walked gingerly at first, but soon gained confidence that somehow, there were no ill effects from whatever drug her pimp had slipped her. She looked ahead and whispered in a shaky voice, “Hello? Is anyone there?”
“It is I,” boomed a voice.
“Holy Mother of God, man! Don’t scare people like that! You’ll give someone a heart attack!”
“Keep looking and you will see me. I am not, regrettably, the Mother of God. Just St. Peter. I’m pleased to meet you, Becky.”
“Becky? No-one’s called me that … for years. Not since….” Her voice trailed off. Who are you really?”
“Oh, I assure you Becky. I really am St. Peter, Becky. Do you mind if I call you that.”
Silently, Becky shook her head. “I don’t mind. It’s just…I think there’s been a mistake.”
St. Peter’s face had become clearer to her now and she could see the corner of his mouth curl up in a smile. “Mistake? Well, no, I don’t think so. We don’t really do the whole ‘mistake’ thing. You know?”
“Well, if you’re the St. Peter who greets people coming to Heaven, then, I’m sure there’s been a mistake. I am a … or … I was a … you know … ‘working woman.’ I’ve known for a long time I was headed to Hell and … check your data base or your Excel Spreadsheet or whatever it is you people do and send me on my way. Let’s get it over with.”
Becky, aka Nikki, watched St. Peter as he tilted his head this way and that as though to get a clearer, or deeper, look at her. She sighed. She didn’t mind when her ‘clients’ stared at her. She kind of enjoyed it in a way. She could relate to the pleasure that they were feeling because of her. But this felt different. Uncomfortable. Weird. As though he wasn’t staring at her body at all, but into her soul. No-one looked at her that way. Certainly not Adam.
“Hey, St. Peter. What happened to Adam? Is he okay? Or is he dead too?”
“Ah, well, yes Adam. Adam Smith. He is indeed dead. All taken care of. Was he your friend?”
“Friend?! Hardly! I mean, I thought he was for a time. He pretended to be….” Becky’s voice trailed off. “Look, is this like — are you free therapy or something? Can we just get going on the whole ‘Hell’ thing?” She paused. “Please.”
“All right. Off you go then. Nice meeting you, Becky.”
Suddenly, Becky found herself surrounded by deafening noise. Flashing lights. The smell of gunpowder. And burning flesh. She heard someone call her name.
“Becky! Give me a hand with this one! Hold this compress hard so he doesn’t bleed out. Simon! Timothy! Help me get him onto this stretcher!”
Somehow, Becky knew what to do. Despite her best efforts, some of the man’s blood seeped onto her hand. It didn’t matter. She was damned well going to make sure he lived. “Come on, mister! Don’t go blank on me! What’s your name? What’s your name, soldier? Hey, Hey! Do not glaze your eyes over. Look at me! What’s your name?”
The man locked his eyes on hers. “Tom.”
“OK, Tom. Listen to me. We’ll have you back in the OR in no time. I know it looks bad and feels bad, but I’ve seen worse. Much worse. You’re going to make it. I have no doubt whatsoever. Here. Put your hand on mine. We’ll work together to keep you together.”
Simon and Timothy held the wooden handles and picked their way over the broken ground. At last they came to the Red Cross Tent. On this day, like the others, she did her best to save lives, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. It seemed as though she had been a triage nurse forever.
Endless cold, endless danger, the stale food and the staler jokes.
Becky could not imagine anything that would give her more pleasure or allow her to feel more fully alive.