The Trauma of Moving Along



AMAZING how cruel threats from a violent ex-lover turned the heart into a bleeding mess. Violent Martin’s plan to stalk me like a wounded deer stumbling through the forest did not thrill me. The high priest of punching’s stalking felt uncool as fiery hell.

Why had I answered his call?

My lips tightened around the dwindling joint. The glowing tip flared bright. Pungent smoke filled my lungs and spilled from my nostrils. Someday I wanted to learn how to blow a nose smoke ring.

Someday I wanted to learn how to select a stable lover.

The nasty internal laughter bouncing around my skull needed to cease.

I pointed at my smoking pal. “Ernie, my dear, how is this for a sweet idea: Why don’t I move to Niagara Falls, crawl into a huge rubber ball, and roll off the wet edge every damned morning? Why not play the toss and retrieve game?” I waved my left hand in the air. “Wait, call on me, I know why not. After a few rescues, the irritated EMTs will let me drown in the raging water. Bounce-ouch-bleargh-glug.” Ouch, those harsh noises hurt my throat.

A nasty grin like bright-green acid greeted my words. “No one is stopping you from living your dangerous wet dream, dude.” Ernie accepted the joint, snapped the remainder into a clip, and sucked in the smoke.

“Gee, aren’t you a bundle of prime sympathy? Here’s a better idea. What about slapping local hospital logos on the ball’s exterior? Do you think the esteemed institutions will sponsor me? Maybe I’ll drum up enough funding to cover my interment.” The weird concept appealed to me. The stunt sounded more promising than the epic romantic disaster devouring my life.

My brain cells sparked in protest. Without Martin in my life, I should feel better. Yeah, right. Great cosmic dude in the sky, spin me another fairy tale.

Ernie peered through the bluish smoke haze curling between us. “Carl, time for me to state the obvious: you need to move along. You know you need to stop letting Martin mess up your mind.”

“I can’t halt his manic messing. Devious Martin is the ultimate interior mental mess maker.” Over the past weeks, my stupid Martin-plagued life had driven me to race in sweaty mental circles that sour old Dante had never envisioned. If I met a frenzied Jack Russell terrier overdosed on puppy uppers during my lunatic spins, I’d call him brother. We could run wobbly circles together. Skid, turn, and attack unsuspecting ankles.

I hated feeling on edge, or, more accurately, feeling ready to fall off the teetering, sharp-fanged edge. If I plunged down, it would be in grand bloody chaos sans the protective rubber ball.

I glanced at the utilitarian wall clock. The red second hand always clicked back twice before it lunged forward. Unnerving. The first Photo Two class of the shiny new fall semester started in a few minutes. Instead of wrapping my mind around the class, I hid in my office, sneaking in an herbal smoke break with my pal and fellow professor Ernie Sanders. Students expected their professor to project confidence and wisdom, not hare-brained scatterings and musing about bloody fangs or waterfalls. I needed to chill to achieve a level mind-set.

Sometimes a blissful little high helped my teaching skills.

Ernie handed me the joint’s remains. He stretched his lanky frame. My friend’s elongated appearance reminded me of an El Greco Christ, right down to his wavy brown hair and lush beard. “Thanks for the savory smoke treat, Carl. I need to scram. My aspiring Van Goghs await my sage advice. Wait, don’t you have a class across the street?”

“Yes, but I need another minute to compose my mangled thoughts.”

Ernie shook his unruly hair. “I will repeat the same thing to you. Maybe I’ll learn a few other languages to keep the concept fresh. Here goes: stop allowing good old manic Martin to poison your mind. You realize you let him win. Inside your brain, he still hits you. He still ruins your sad life.”

“My sensible friend, you are right, but you just heard Martin’s sick phone call. Clever speakerphone technology makes you my sane witness to his obsessive behavior. The nutcase plans to stalk me. Golly gee, my wicked ex suddenly feels the need for closure. How does stalking me help the problem?”

A sharp smirk curved Ernie’s lips. “Admit it, Carl, placing his stuff into storage, changing the locks, and leaving the city for a week never gave Sir Punch-a-Lot the chance to perform closure with you. Aw hell, don’t start with me again. Stop baring your teeth at me. Yes, splendid, I realize his last punch chipped your tooth and made you panic. Fine.” Ernie performed his classic frustration move. His fingers fluttered near his ears like spastic birds. “Damn, you sucked me into your drama again. Listen, here’s my simple advice. Find someone sane for once. Hell, I’ll lend you Bobby so you can hang out in a play park and meet a nice, normal dude raising a kid. To my thinking, any guy who raises a kid is grounded. That’s what you need, a Mr. Happy and Grounded in your tumultuous life.”

I bared my teeth one last time. “You know I don’t understand kids.”

“You teach kids.”

I held up my hand. “Ah, wait, I teach young adults. I understand them, except when they act like smartasses.”

“Fine, no playtime in the park.” One finger pointed at me. “Above all, you need to stop thinking with your dick. Constantly picking up your boyfriends in your favorite dance club is unwise. Please, join a reading group or a Photoshop-enthusiasts club or something equally civilized. Join a hamster-lovers group.”

I choked on laughter. Ernie groaned in disbelief. “Forget that I uttered those silly words. You know what I mean. Train Spazz to dance.” He shook his finger. “Above all, spend quality time talking to your prospective lover before you dive into fucking him silly.”

“Excuse me, physical attraction is important to me.”

“Dude, care to sound a little more shallow? Fine, don’t blame me when the next handsome nutcase you unearth turns out to be worse than Mayhem Martin. Now get off your ass and head to class. See you later.” Ernie opened the door, peered around, and left me with my smoky thoughts.

Dear Ernie meant well, but he tended to oversimplify life. His settled life with his devoted wife and their three wonderful kids defined fairy-tale perfection. Visiting their house almost gave me a sugar high. Ernie had enjoyed fifteen years of bliss and appeared ready to experience thirty more with sweet, sensible Bridget.

My longest relationship had clocked in at five years. Not bad, but now, as I grew older, I wanted to settle into stability. I wanted to experience a true long-term relationship. Perhaps it was a fantasy, but surely someone out there wanted to share their life with a successful, financially secure but emotionally insecure photographer who talked to his hamsters like they were people.

Ouch. My description sounded iffy. Common sense smacked away my doubts.

Imagine me falling for a man raising a five-year-old kid. Not a sane concept. I never planned to nurture a sensitive child. I understood my limitations. Raising a child topped my important “do not go there” list. At least I embraced my selfishness. Geesh, nurturing my hamsters sometimes challenged me.

Damn, I sounded like some kid-hating ogre. I didn’t hate them; instead I feared warping their impressionable minds. Children’s innocence struck me as too fragile, too special. No way did I want to be responsible for shaping a susceptible young mind. What if the child I raised became a criminal or, worse yet, a serial killer? Yikes, what a nasty concept.

I shook in apprehension. Come on, pot, mellow me out. Work the clean magic.

Sensible Ernie understood my problem. Martin created my ugly stress. Everything, including any world crisis currently raging in sick destruction, could be traced back to Martin. I embraced the fact as divine truth. My troubled mind had transformed my rampaging ex into the Antichrist dressed in a slick Armani suit.

Wait, I needed to add in his four-hundred-dollar haircut. Definitely the Antichrist cloaked in Armani sporting an expensive haircut and custom leather shoes purchased on his frequent Italian weekend shopping trips, trips he wrote off as banking business. Martin’s high-end tastes alone should have told me he was the slithering embodiment of perfect evil. His skills as a habitual liar added more rusted links to his Jacob Marley-style chain. Amazing how he managed to survive in the financial sector.

Mocking alarms rang in my brain. I blinked in disbelief. Wait, had my thoughts produced such rabid nonsense? Dangerous Martin and the financial sector created a perfect monster match, unlike this forgiving hippie professor and bruise-creating Martin. Wall Street adored beating up everyone. Martin adored beating me. Ladies and gentlemen, what a cruel pairing.

Being hit in the mouth by a man wearing a scarab ring changed one’s point of view, especially when I had given said man the heavy silver ring as a birthday present. Hell, my violent ex should have gotten his classic line, “Really, I’ll change, Carl, please, I will,” tattooed across his aristocratic forehead. How wonderful—Martin had enjoyed changing from a hypercritical type-A lover into an occasionally enraged psycho who enjoyed a human punching bag near his bony fist. No, thanks. My not responding to his cell phone calls or e-mails had led to today’s surprise attack.

Why had I answered the flaming nutcase’s phone call? Tomorrow I planned to buy an external answering machine for my office phone. I needed to hear who was calling before I picked up the phone. If I endured another long, heated tirade on how Martin promised to change for me if only I accepted him back into my life, I’d go bonkers.

During the weeks after I kicked him out, Martin had never apologized for hitting me hard enough to break a tooth. Instead he called and threatened me. He claimed he needed me. He claimed he planned to wait for me outside my apartment in order to correct our relationship’s tragic problem.

What did he mean by “correct”? A snickering inner voice told me that Martin’s violent correction might place me in the hospital.

I warned Martin that if he stalked me, bam, time for a restraining order. A startled Ernie had sat and listened to the sordid, heated exchange via my glorious speakerphone.

My deranged ex made me want to run screaming in mad circles around Washington Square. The manic Jack Russell could join me. Yee-haw, we’d make the stubborn pigeons fly for cover. We’d scare the tourists and drug dealers. Someone might photograph our stunt and wonder why we resorted to performance art to release emotional pain.

I appreciated the concept. Imagine—we might end up on an artsy-fartsy TV show. Carl and the Crazy Terrier Performing Live in Washington Square.

One more deep herbal puff entered my lungs. I shut my eyes in order to find relaxation. My secret, silly mantra whispered free: be cool, be calm, be Carl. I breathed in, held, released. Ahh, better, much better. Smelling the herb-scented air calmed me down. My spiking blood pressure dropped a few points, much like the stock market.

Someday the antidrug screechers would try a few tokes and understand why marijuana needed legalization. A few puffs a day chased the anger away. The lyrics from “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” drifted through my mind. Yeah, go Bob D.

Annoying reality rattled my mental cage. Reality banished my relaxation. Did I have everything ready for class? My agitated mind blanked in cluttered confusion. Crap, I needed to hustle. I grabbed my battered leather satchel. Up, up, and away! Supermoron stumbled to the rescue! I should have left before Ernie.

I wondered if Ernie could lend me some of his common sense. He had plenty to spare.

The uncertain office lock required caressing and proper jiggling to engage. Great, locking my office door wasted another minute. I jogged down the hall. Now the touchy elevator refused to cooperate. Evil Martin had probably cut a cable. I thundered down five flights without tripping over my old clogs and paused at the lobby door to catch my breath. Joe the guard waved at my spastic hand gesture.

Flying pigs on high, no one ever listened to my endless heartfelt requests to move my office across the street. My classes occurred in the main building, but no, my cramped little office hid across the street because the main building lacked the proper space. Authority adored ignoring me.

Damn, I sounded whiny.

The light tending Broadway’s constant flow smiled on me. I started across the busy street, yelped, and danced my toes away from hungry tires. Gee, a senseless cabbie’s racing yellow deathmobile tried to send me to the big angel convention. In the city, sometimes red lights existed only for logical drivers.

I aimed the one-fingered NYC salute into the air. “You colorblind, crazy, moronic asshole!” There, cool—shouting gained me laughing pedestrian attention.

Damn, I needed therapy. I barely recognized the angry man messing around in my head. I wanted him to move out, wanted to serve him an eviction notice. Martin’s abuse had created the violent creature. His appearance in my mind sickened me.

The main building offered me solace from physical injury. Well, unless I tripped over my feet, which, with the way today was staggering along, might happen sooner than I expected. The grinning security guard waved at me. “’Lo, Prof C.”

“Hiya, Vince. Imagine, here I am, late as usual.”

Vince laughed. “At least you are here and not pushing up daisies, right, Prof?”

“Amen to that thought.” Yeah, everyone liked the wacky clog-wearing hippie photography professor. I was a legend and not necessarily a positive one, at least not with the grouchy establishment. Tough beans, my students loved me.

Unfortunately I had developed a bad habit of loving a few students. Silly boy. Here I had hoped that mature Martin would break the cycle. No, instead he tried to break my jaw.

Stop, I heard Ernie scold me. I needed to focus on my new class. I needed to move forward and evict the angry man from my life. Wait, which angry man? The one kicking my brain wall or—

My ragged sigh hurt my throat. I needed therapy, but the concept of spilling my deepest emotions to someone I had never made love to bothered me.

Geesh, such a weird dilemma meant I needed therapy.