Need more coffee. Need that caffeine fix. Oh, it’s not what you think, what you might think, no, you think I’m addicted, but I’m not, not really. I guess…if I stop and think about it, I could claim that I am addicted, I’m as addicted as you, I’m addicted to you.
Makes me giggle. You don’t understand, you don’t understand, you have not a clue. And you ask, explain, but you don’t want to know, you think you want to know, but you don’t, not really, because this will break up your little –
Okay, then, okay. I’ll explain. Let me…sip some coffee…and compose myself. Hah. And I will tell you.
It…started so long ago, long before I started drinking coffee. I was a child.
Yeah, weren’t we all? Snark. Well…maybe not….
I was a withdrawn child. Illnesses kept me isolated and alone. Nothing terribly contagious nor of a terrible nature. I was prone to respiratory illnesses and would end up feverish and in bed for weeks, summer, fall, winter, spring. Naturally, these spells would cast their influence over others. Parents would decide…maybe…something is wrong with him, that he’s always so ill. Perhaps you’d better not play with him, Johnny, Alice and Suzy, because I don’t want you to catch anything.
Ignorance. Prejudice. Fear.
So I was alone. I devoured books. We weren’t rich so Mom brought them to me from the library. She worked as a telephone operator, so she often couldn’t go, and they only let her check out a few at a time. Dad was out of the picture. I don’t know if they were actually divorced by then or just separated and working out the paperwork. He was in the military and stationed overseas in Greece, Turkey, Germany, Vietnam. Birthday and Christmas cards reminded me of his existence. Sometimes he came, driving a shiny new Mustang, Thunderbird, or Riviera, but he was only there long enough to for a ride and a dinner and admiration of his new car.
My older sister would sometimes get more books for me, but my older sister was an older sister, developing interests in becoming a woman, which then meant learning fashions of hair, music, clothing, nails and jewelry, and understanding her body and why men suddenly looked at her differently. Yes, she told me about them sometimes, after her friends’ fathers suddenly had a new light in their appraisals of her. It scared her.
I watched television but this was the late sixties, early seventies. We received the big three networks and PBS. Not much was on that interested a sickly prepubescent boy.
In that time came a cat, a little feline, Tiger, yes, original, a stray young feline who must have belonged to someone else. She came to the porch one warm summer morning when I ventured out to taste the air. Purring, mewing, rolling on her back and rubbing up against me, she was clearly interested in being permanent friends. So I begged Mom. I cried. I confessed about how terribly lonely I was, working hard to make her feel guilty until she surrendered after the usual promises that I would feed and take care of the cat, make sure she has fresh water, yes, yes, yes, I swore to it all.
Taking care of Tiger wasn’t a problem. She liked doing her business outside, always reminded me when she was hungry, and drank from the sink whenever I went into the bathroom. She was a curse and blessing, as they say.
Tiger liked staying with me wherever I settled myself to endure my attacks. We played but she mostly spent her time sleeping or grooming herself. Yet, I noticed she would be grooming and then suddenly just pause and stare at space. Or she would be asleep and awaken with a jump, twisting her head around to stare. And she would keep staring, like something was there, staring and motionless.
After this happened so many times, I began wondering, what did she watch? What did she hear? Why was she staring? I convinced myself that something must be there.
And I read short stories and novels about cats seeing other things….
I began training myself to fall still and watch the space where Tiger looked. I learned to slow my breathing and heartbeat and shut out every distraction. I learned to listen and see….
So I saw them coming.
You might have called them ghosts. That’s what I thought they were, at first. A trick of light that vanished under my fear. I chased the fear away, stealing myself to be stronger and braver. After all, if this little cat beside me could be so brave and watch these others, so could I.
I thought at first they were ghosts and I tried addressing them as ghosts, asking them, “Why are you here,” “Why do you haunt me,” and things like that. I thought they were ghosts because their style of dress was similar to our fashions but dated sometimes, similar but different sometimes. But none seemed injured or dangerous. They just came…seeping in….
One day, one was a little girl. I was on the living room sofa. Bored with ‘Let’s Make a Deal’, I’d turned off the television.
I hated being sick. I wanted friends. I wanted to be able to get up and do things.
The living room featured a large ‘picture window’ as Mom called it. It looked out onto the quiet suburban street. This was a planned housing development. Tiger was staring out the window, as she liked to do. The little girl, long dark hair tied back, in a sundress, was walking down the street. The sundress had no color. Her feet weren’t visible enough to say what she wore. I don’t mean that I couldn’t see her feet because something blocked my vision. I’m trying to explain that her strong little slender legs slowly tapered into nothing at about her knees. She appeared to be walking without feet and wasn’t touching the ground.
“Ghost,” I whispered. Tiger and I kept staring. The little girl passed without looking at me. As she walked by, she gained feet. She wore generic white tennis shoes, as we called them then. Her sundress became blue. Her skin became whiter. I recognized then, I’d been able to see through them to some degree, and now I could not.
I watched her walk down the street. Then, a few minutes later, a woman came down the street. She turned toward the house on the other side, where the Lanceys lived. John had once been my best friend, back when we just played with Hot Wheels. But now he played baseball, which I couldn’t do.
Like the little girl, the woman was semi-translucent and had no feet, but like the first apparition, she gained substance and color, becoming an attractive twenty-ish blonde woman in a tangerine pants suit. She wore sunglasses that covered her upper cheeks as well as her eyes. Large hoop earrings dangled and bounced, catching the sun.
But I was certain…she’d not been wearing sunglasses and didn’t have earrings before, just as she didn’t have feet. Now she had them all.
Now she turned and went toward the Lancey’s cement driveway. Now she entered it and went toward the brick ranch style home. Now she –
Awareness jolted me, awareness like I’d never known. I stared longer at the Lancey house, ignoring the woman. The Lancey house was different than it had been yesterday. I was certain of it but I couldn’t what was different. But watching the woman again, I realized, the Lanceys were no longer neighbors to the Silvermans. Another house separated them, a brick split level that hadn’t been there before.
The woman entered it.
The little girl came out.
The double wide garage door went up. An orange AMX Javelin backed out.
I knew cars. Mom bought me Sports Car Graphic, Road & Track and Car & Driver when she could. I would have known if that orange car was on our street.
I would have known if that house was on our street.
I mentioned it to my sister when she came home from wherever she’d been with her friends Tracy and Linda. She looked deeply puzzled. “Are you talking about Heather, the little girl across the street? She’s lived there six years. She was born there. Don’t you remember? I went over to see the new baby but Mom didn’t think you should go.”
No, I did’t remember that. That was a vicious twist to the moment. I didn’t remember that at all. That left me to wrestle, which perception was right? Neither fit the parameters for making sense. I couldn’t believe that I’d not noticed that house and car before.
I mentioned the car to Debby. She laughed. “Yes, you love that car. You’re always going on about its engine and wheels and horsepower and stuff.” Giving me a funny look, she walked away.
What she said sounded right but what she said wasn’t true. I knew Heather had not been born in that house because that house hadn’t been there the day before. Yet, after Debby told me that, I remembered, yes, that’s right, they wouldn’t let me into the house.
And then I remembered…walking down the street…and looking at the houses…and deciding, here is where I’d like my house.
I remembered, I would like a friend, and I remembered, I would like a sister.
Then I wanted…a cat, and lo…there was a cat.
I knew I was on the verge of discovering something tremendous. Holding my breath and closing my eyes, I thought, I want to play baseball. And knowing what to expect, I opened my eyes and turned my head.
There was my Micky Mantle autographed bat and my Roberto Clemente glove. My father had given them to me.
I remembered walking down the street. I remembered, I would like a sister, and there was Debby.
But Debby didn’t like me. Debby didn’t want me. I remembered her saying, “You’re always so sick.”
And then…I was always so sick.
Yeah, I know, you’re saying, what? What are you trying to say? I don’t believe this. This guy is crazy.
Sure, say what you will. But a few minutes ago, I said, I want some coffee, and then I thought, I want a computer, and then I thought, I want to write something and put it on the Internet and have someone read it.
And now…here you are….