A man, we’ll call him Mr. Flounder, calls my place of work regularly. Most people, more often than not, don’t have time to speak with Mr. Flounder to include the patience to understand what the heck he’s saying. To include myself, most days. Today was not one of those days.
Mr. Flounder used to be a semi-professional surfer, from what I can understand though I cannot locate anything on him via search enginey things (a totally technical term brought to you by Not Enough Sleep). In 1998, Mr. Flounder suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI in the bizz) which leads us to his life now: alone, in assisted living, and desperate for someone to talk to.
His south-eastern Carolina accent isn’t hard to detect, at all. Even through the slight slurring. Mr. Flounder attests that he no longer drinks but it takes a careful ear to pull apart syllables he sputters at you; he talks very quickly with timely interjections of, “You’re cool to talk to” or “I’m cool, you know?” calling to mind a man stuck a little in a hippier and surely more bitchin’ time. We all know the number he calls from and we mostly dread having to answer the phone. Tonight was one of those nights.
Not being particularly busy, I addressed Mr. Flounder’s concerns the best I could according to what I could make out. He told me about his accident and how he cares for the people he lives with in the assisted living. How he feels like he has to watch out for them. He told me about how his work around there is never done and he’s cleaned up the grounds quite a bit from the shambles they used to be. He paused for a moment. He asked, “Do you have to go or can I talk to you for a few more minutes?” I answered truthfully, “I’ve got time.” He told me that he’s lonely and he used to cry hard around Christmastime. He assured me that he’s getting better except when he was jumped a little bit ago and his face was “smashed pretty badly.” He didn’t want to report it as he was scared of repercussions.
Funny world in which we live.
Every once in a while, Mr. Flounder would say, “I like you. I can tell that you’re smart and nice from the way you’re listening. You know, I’m not stupid and everyone I talk to tells me something different. But I’m cool, you know?”
He started to talk about how bad the world is and how hard it is to do the good thing sometimes…so completely and perfectly understated. I told him I understood where he was coming from. “But I’m proud and happy that you try to do the right things. And I’m happy you’re doing better,” I tell him.
Then he said something that made me smile.
“You know, talking to you kinda makes me feel better about it all. It made me kinda look on the positive side, ya know?”
After a twenty-five minute conversation with Mr. Flounder, I gently told him I had to go for the 3rd time. I’m sure he’ll call again and again and I’m sure the next few times he calls, I’ll be too busy to dedicate that time. I can’t deny that the conversation left me feeling a bit sad and reeling from the sheer isolation I felt in his voice but also a little happy. Maybe selfishly happy because he made me laugh and he made me appreciate the simple gestures he treasured.
Sometimes, I think I’ve been able to see the fibers that are wound up tightly to make a person who he is, and to see them unravel a little, to be able to see the light between the fibers…it fuckin’ breaks you down. I think it’s everyone’s duty to try and twist someone back up and together once in a while…sometimes the people that do it often go unnoticed. Thanks if you’re one of mine (y’all know who you are).
Sometimes the things that I love most are being anally attentive to something someone will never see. Ever. Like the ceiling fan blades…who the hell am I REALLY cleaning them for? Or being direct enough to remind myself that I’ll die someday along with everything else I’ve ever loved with all my heart; there’s few people who can “live each day as their last” or “make every day the best” or other hoppity-happity BS like that. I’ll tell you, though…reminding myself that the people that make my world turn right now won’t be here forever straightens me out. It makes me happy knowing that I’m not fooling myself into thinking I have control…I just do as much as I can with what I can the best that I can.
Sometimes secretly (formerly…dammit) watching Disney movies in my pajamas, eating a box of Cheez-Its in one sitting, bitching about the evil deliciousness of Ovaltine and crying like a damned surly estrogenaholic puts a rosy spin on my day (you know the kind…mistakenly optimistic and ignorant and whatnot). Sometimes I tell my mom she’s silly for singing songs on my answering machine even though I wish I’d saved every single one. I just called…to say…I love you.
Sometimes I’m happiest when I feel the smallest. Along with every other teensy, tiny, little fumbling and blundering pepper-flakey speck of a life in this world and all bound together, tight as hell, come whatever. Let’s face it, unless you have a rocket ship (in which case, SUPER-stoked for you, call me!), you’re not getting off this bitch alive. It makes me happy sometimes realizing people are scared and small and stupid…that we all kinda need someone to wind us back up and make shit matter again.
I think even though Mr. Flounder says I did that for him tonight, I’m the one who came out a little more on top.
‘Cause all the bullshit aside, feet out the window, new territory and fresh air, a few cold beers in me and some loud-ass music on the radio, filled to my esophagus with various foods (just fat, happy and a little drunk)…that easy shit makes me happy. That’s what keeps my fibers from twisting loose.