“Oh, no,” said Gerry, with a loud sigh as he opened the door to the building.
“Is it true? Oh, God,” Lightbarn wept. Mr. Lightbarn was a tall, middle aged trust fund man-child. It must be nice to have no financial worries.
He was one of two shareholders that no longer communicated with me. A goofy man, we had a good rapport until one weekend where I got in his way, I crossed him. I told him, no. how dare I? Once a year the basement floors get repainted battleship gray, for that entire two day period the basement is off limits. It was specifically stated that no one is to use the basement. No one, which included Mr. Lightbarn, though he disagreed. The paint needed time to cure before it could walked on.
The service elevator was left in the basement and whoever was manning the front elevator was explicitly directed to not bring anyone down to the basement. The men can’t use the locker room, the tenants can’t use the washing machines, nor can they retrieve or place any belongings into their storage units. If this incident were to happen now, and not last year, I’d have to find a new place to sleep for the weekend. It would have been an inconvenience for sure. I hoped that I would have my own place by the time the basement was ready to be repainted. Multiple letters were sent out to notify the tenants in the coming weeks of the fresh coat application. It’s been the same weekend for the last 10 years. It was nothing new. No surprises there.
Mr. Lightbarn lives in apartment 20C. The C line apartments were the smallest line but definitely accommodating for a single person. Howard Johnson wore the no. 20. In ‘86 Hojo had 54 hits, 10 home runs, and 39 runs batted in.
That fateful day the doors of the elevator opened, and Mr. Lightbarn stepped in as chipper as ever with his purple bicycle helmet strapped tightly beneath his cleft chin.
“Hi, Rainer. Basement, please.”
“I’m sorry Mr. Lightbarn but I can’t take you to the basement,” I said.
“Why not?” his face reddened.
“The basement was just painted. No one is supposed to go to the basement.”
“I’m going to the basement. You’re going to take me there. Now.”
“I can’t do that.”
“My bike is in the basement. I want my bike.”
“Didn’t you get the letter? I think you better call Murphy.”
“Fuck the letter. I do not need to call anyone. I want my bike. Take me to the basement this instant.”
I said, no. Mr. Lightbarn then stormed out of the building with his purple helmet on.
Difficult not to be pissed that he raised his voice at me. I remained respectful regardless of the fact that I wanted to punch him in the face until he was no longer recognizable. I wanted to punch him until there was no skin left on my knuckles. He left in a huff ignoring Mauricio on the way out. I didn’t see him again for the rest of that shift. Heated at first, once it passed I hadn’t thought of it again. Other negative encounters will latch onto me, bothering me to no end but this was nothing, I forgot about him entirely. An insignificant exchange with a self indulgent man who’s biggest problem was not being able to ride his 12,000 dollar Cannondale for one weekend. I knew how much the cross country bike cost because he told me on more than one occasion how much it cost. It was a nice bicycle but I really didn’t care one way or another. People love to tell you the cost of things, at least they loved to tell me the cost of things even though something like a high price tag did not impress me. I found that type of flex rather off putting.
The following morning I met Agnes for coffee at a diner close to the building. She told me alarmingly about a very emotional letter that her father, Mr. Brunswick and Sugar and the rest of the board received from Mr. Lightbarn. The letter demanded my immediate termination for my blatant and uncouth disrespect. The long winded letter detailed my insubordination for refusing to unlock the elevator and that I had been offensive in the way that I spoke to him. Agnes assured me that her father was going to defend me, as was Sugar. My job was safe, for now, until the next rift with another megalomaniac. I told Agnes that I thought this was crazy. I had done nothing to this man for him to have such a conniption. Mr. Moseley rode every weekend, when he received the notice he gets his bicycle from the basement and either brings it up to his apartment or leaves in the hall on the ground floor. Problem solved. Catastrophe averted. It was Mr. Lightbarn’s fuck up, not mine. The man never spoke to me again, just awkwardly silent elevator rides for 19 stories.
Lightbarn ignored me while Gerry nodded towards the door. He’d take the inconsolable tenant who hated my face up to his floor. I shook my head in understanding, grateful to minimize my time in the elevator with that fucking gigantic cry baby.
Gerry came back to the lobby. “That man is a bit much. Crying all on my uniform. You know what I was thinking?”
“What were you thinking? What is going on in that demented brain of yours?”
“You and Agnes.”
“What about me and Agnes?”
“You should date. You know. Boyfriend. Girlfriend.”
“Yeah, I don’t know if that is a good idea.”
“Why the fuck not? She’s pretty incredible. An intellectual, and very grounded. She’s an ‘87 Gertz.” One of Gerry’s favorite movies was The Lost Boys and he held Jami Gertz in high regard, the standard in which he rated beauty. “Always a great kid and now a great young woman. I see the way you two are with each other. There’s a spark. I see it. I think everyone notices it.”
“You think Mr. Brunswick notices?”
“He might’ve. So what?”
“I’m her doorman, I’m her servant.”
“Maybe you won’t always be and so what if you are. It’s honest work.”
“I don’t think so.” I never told Gerry or anyone about anything that may or may not have happened with Agnes and myself.
“You should at least try,” said Gerry, trying to reason with me.
“I don’t think so.”
“Is it because she’s black?”
“What? No. I don’t care about that shit.”
“I know you don’t. So what is your fucking problem? She’s ‘87 Gertz, man.”
What was the problem? Good question. The answer to that was simple, clear as a summer day, it was me. I was the problem. I had been told and reminded that my head was fucked up. Interpretations varied depending on the person telling me how fucked up I was. It could be a loving observation or a hateful retort. I would only fuck things up with Agnes as I had with everyone else, although the blame was arguable. It would only end in ruin. So why bother?
Something would happen at some juncture in our relationship, directly or indirectly affecting me and I wouldn’t be able to stomach it. I wouldn’t be able to stand it. I wouldn’t be able to get past it. Processing my emotions had never been my strong suit. My upbringing did not prepare me with fully functioning coping mechanisms.
I knew that I would ruin it. Inevitably something would occur or come to light that would chomp away at my brain. Jealousy and paranoia would join the fold and I would feel myself unraveling. What an awful feeling to have, and that was mostly the only feelings I had, awful ones. I would grow distant and behave unreasonably and treat her unfairly, as I operated between the hot and cold settings of my recalcitrant mood. Passive aggression would be deployed. If I withdrew which I eventually would, as far off and distant I might be, the mind would not rest.
I never trust. I never rest. My lips would be sealed but my tongue would be armed with poison tipped daggers. It’s often better I don’t open up to anyone, especially a lover. To love someone is to equip a potential adversary. It’s like making love to your executioner.
My overactive imagination would go over every minute detail only further antagonizing my anger and contempt. I would replay everything she said and take nothing as being the truth, meticulously looking for holes in the stories, scouring timelines to see if they lined up correctly, searching for any reason to destroy the relationship.
In silence I would question everything, scrutinizing all the what if’s and negative possibilities. My heart would become vindictive. She would ridicule my sanity and I would scoff at any modesty, and resent her defensiveness. I would view everything from a suspicious lens, a sideways look at any awkward embrace, a misplaced hand or a stolen glance. Always on duty, always looking out for some violation, some breach of loyalty. I would take notice and then I would take offense. And I repeat. I never trust. I never rest. The motto I’ve adopted and vigorously employed.
I would destroy us. There was no doubt in my irrational mind about that. I cared for Agnes to say the least, I might have even fallen for her already. She could have been the best thing to ever happen to me but I wouldn’t allow the love room to breathe. There was no way for it to survive. Did Agnes deserve to potentially feel the wrath of my perception? A nicer way to say psychosis. Is it fair to love someone when it gives authority to uncontrollable emotions? If loving another person made you as vulnerable as it made me feel would you risk being wounded in the first place? These are valid questions, just as valid as the feelings that others sometimes want you to sweep under a rug. Just forget it, they say. They tell you to let it go. Swallow a pill.
If only it were that easy. I knew pain well. The kind that you can’t visualize, the kind that is hard to put into words. I was aware of what paranoia was. I knew all the text book words that have been scribbled under my name on yellow legal notepads. I need not wonder about my diagnosis. I knew them all too well. It was the fear of being mistreated or in another angle, having us resemble other relationships I’d been in or grown up watching that made me the saboteur I have always been. That is not to say I was the only one to blame in the past but I definitely didn’t help.
I’d never trust that I was hers and I’d never believe that she was mine.
Nights would be full of unrest and I’d watch her sleep in all her beauty, listening to the song of her breathing while my thoughts plunged into the abyss. To think poorly of someone who possesses your heart is a cruel affair. To constantly question if you truly know the person you love is a pitiful existence. It makes a banquet of your being. You think I want to live like this? I want to be able to look her in the eyes without her seeing a roaring fire behind mine.
If every other woman in my life was a disappointment, why would Agnes be any different? It would only be a matter of time. Everything was a time bomb. I would let her down, and hurt her, just as I felt she had let me down, just as she would hurt me. That was how I worked, obviously the machinery was broken. Things happened in life, I knew that, but my ability to process those things was unsatisfactory.
Regardless of the circumstances, right or wrong, good or bad, I would be the problem and I’m sure when the time came she would remind me like the others had. I am unwell and my mind, like Macbeth, is also filled with scorpions.
“I am the problem, Gerry. I am the problem.”