In The Moment
By P.J. Greystoke
“Do you believe in ghosts?”
I shuffled, uneasy in my seat, switching the phone to loudspeaker and placing it on the table; A little more distant and less intimate. That’s the way forward with this type of conversation.
“You know, spirits and stuff?”
“You know I do.” I answered nervously. “I know that they exist, just as surely as I know that my phone is sitting on a table right now, arm’s length from this conversation.”
“Do they ever scare you?”
“Phones?” I quipped, trying to lighten my own mood. “Only when you call. Good job it’s not that often.”
Does every night count as not that often? I thought.
“I’ve never believed in that sort of stuff.” She mumbled, more thoughtfully. “Science has always done it for me.”
“Science is nothing but a bunch of Vulcans trying to make logical sense of an illogical world.”
“You’re such a geek.” She laughed again, this time with a hint of melancholy.
There was a pause.
“I wish we’d known each other better. I mean, I’m gonna miss you.”
I rolled my eyes.
Not this again.
During our last chat over the phone – at 2.30am, even though I had to be up for work at five – She told me of her rather brilliant plan of killing herself when her children go away over Christmas to Dubai to be with their father.
She’d take a few pills and slip silently away into oblivion.
“I can’t have this conversation again, Rachel.”
She sounded hurt, indignant almost. Which is weird, because she didn’t actually say anything. Perhaps I imagined her response.
“Let’s suppose, for a second that you don’t give a fuck about your own life and what happens to you. And like you said last time, that you have been planning this ever since you entered adulthood and discovered what this damn cruel world is all about. What kind of…”
“… Responsible mother, would do that to her own children?”
She started to cry, but I had no words of comfort.
Somehow, ‘There there, everything is going to be alright, seemed wildly inappropriate; almost like – making her feel better would implicate me in this heinous and incredibly selfish crime.
Well she wasn’t going to get my seal of approval. If she’s going to do it then it’s going to be with the knowledge that I tried to talk her out of it. My conscience is clear!
Still, she was crying.
“Look I don’t mean to come over all harsh, but this stuff really gets to me. Life is the greatest gift we have been given, and to throw it away like that… Besides, I’d miss you.”
“Can we talk about something else?”
I love it when people do that. They only say it to avoid the difficult conversation, which means any other topic is gonna fail miserably. And like a struggling nightclub comic, the onus to change the mood of the room falls entirely on my shoulders.
“I wish we’d had sex.”
Ok, I wasn’t expecting that. Though it lost much of its allure being delivered over the phone, covered in imagined tears and snot, but still…
“I know we slept together once.”
We did a lot more than that I thought.
But she’s right. We didn’t actually have sex.
An image of her, laid bare, upstairs on my bed flashed in my mind and I felt that familiar tingle and pushing against the inside of my trousers, which I snapped away almost as soon as it entered my mind. I should be ashamed of myself. Here is this girl, obviously upset, calling her friend for comfort and all he can do is imagine kissing every part of … I’m doing it again!
“That’s alright” she said “I’m thinking the same.”
Next topic: Cold Showers!
“So, how’s Uni?”
That seemed to kill the mood.
“Doesn’t matter anymore. I tried, I really did, maybe not hard enough. It’s so fucking difficult being a single mom. All I ever wanted was thirty minutes. That’s it, thirty short minutes to read a chapter or make a start on an assignment and all I ever got was ‘Mom Jack is hitting me, Mom I really don’t have any homework, I don’t need to check my bag, mom I’m hungry, mom, mom, Mom!’”
“No one ever said it was going to be easy.”
“Like you’d fucking know!”
“I’m a single parent too.”
That was cruel.
I’m every bit as much a parent as her. I may only have my kids half the week but at least she doesn’t have to put up with the constant barrage of shit from her ex that I have to; severe anger issues and a constant craving for cash. I pay half for everything that the kids need, have them half the week, do well over half of the parenting and emotional support, and she still wants more money for maintenance. It’s like she wants a wage for looking after her own children!
I wouldn’t mind she even gets the child benefit and working tax credits for them. But who the hell wants to hear that? It’s been my experience that the dad puts up with the shit from the ex and the male adult in me shuts up and gets on with it without crying.
Sometimes I’d like to, cry I mean. Maybe it would help, but probably not. I think the fear is, if I did that I’d become a woman, I’d become… Rachel.
She was being unusually quiet.
Probably waiting for a response.
“I’m a good dad and I work bloody hard.” I blurt out. “It sounds like you’re so consumed by your own problems, by what’s happening in your own little bubble, that you won’t see the world around you. There are millions of people in the world that would kill to be where you are right now, couples that would love to have a child and a home.”
“Well they’re welcome to mine. I’d be happier on the streets. Not a care in the world, no one to care for.”
She starts to cry again.
“I don’t feel so good.”
I glance at the watch, hanging loosely on my wrist like a weary soldier.
Regular as clockwork I think, then smile at the irony.
“It’s probably because you are tired. I’m guessing you haven’t eaten again?”
“Where do I get time for food? I don’t eat the same shit my kids do, and by the time I finish cooking that, I’m not hungry anymore.”
I almost suggest that if she doesn’t feed her kids shit, then maybe it would be more appealing to her and she’d get a square meal inside her. She’d think straight, be happier and not keep me up at night when I have to be up at five in the morning.
Instead I suggest she go and make herself a sandwich.
“Eugh, stop. I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Well you’ve got to eat something.”
“I really don’t.”
“Have you been drinking?”
“A little. Why?”
“You’re starting to slur your words. Maybe it’s time you slept.”
“Oh, it’s definitely time I slept.”
I sensed the double meaning even before she spoke and shook my head. I’d had this conversation a million times before, and expressed disapproval, support, anger even, the metaphorical shaking of the shoulders and slap across the face:
Wake up, welcome to life!
I don’t know if it was the lateness of the night, or the alcohol she’d consumed but she seemed different, almost resigned this time.
I’ve gone full circle. Back to sympathy again.
“I do understand, it’s difficult for you.”
“Ok, impossible. But as much as I care, and I do, only you can make your life better. Do you think people haven’t suffered worse than you and still come out on top?”
“Course they have, millions of them all across the world. It’s your state of mind, the way you think about stuff. Talk about glass is half empty. You’ve got to be strong. If not for you, then for your kids.”
“How dare you say that. Who the fuck do you think you are?”
Her words are still slurred, it’s like she’s talking in her sleep.
“Your friend. If you don’t like it, hang up!”
I half expect her to, but she stays on the line and doesn’t say a word. Perhaps she’s fallen asleep and knocked the dregs of her red wine over the table and onto her university work.
“Are you still there?”
“I’m here, just.”
I’m over tired and now entering the philosophical phase of my self-proclaimed therapy practice.
“You can have two people, both on the bones of their ass, not a penny to their name No family, no home, nothing.”
“What’s this got to do with?”
“Don’t interrupt, you’ll find out.”
“It’s ok, now where was I? Oh yea, one of these people, after a few years, manages to become a millionaire, marries the woman of his dreams and has two beautiful children. The other scums about, starving on the streets for a while before taking a drug overdose and dies, unwept and unhonoured with nothing to his name. He’s barely a statistic. To the poor sods that have to clear away his body, he’s same burden on society in death that he was in life.”
“I’m pleased I can call on you to cheer me up.”
“What’s the difference between those two people?”
“I don’t care.”
Talk about being shot down in flames. I was hoping that one would have hit it home.
“Neither did the man on the street, the one who died. Didn’t care about himself. Where’s he going to find the motivation to better his life if his self-esteem is at such a depressingly low point that…”
“Always being there for me.”
I shrug. Fat lot of good I’m doing now. It feels like I’m making things worse.
“You should talk to someone you know.”
“Too late for that. Besides, I have you.”
“I’m no therapist.”
“My dad was a therapist, and he beat me up. I prefer you.”
“You do know that professional therapy has moved away from kicking holy crap out of their patients nowadays?”
“That’s not funny.”
“It is a bit.” She stops to light a cigarette. “You’ve always been able to make me laugh. I’ll miss that.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
Sod it, it’s lunacy o clock in the morning and I’m not going to get any sleep. May as well pull an all-nighter.
“I wasn’t talking about you.”
I don’t reply. I don’t know what else to say.
“Do you have any regrets?”
“In life? Some, why?”
“I don’t have as many as I thought. I mean I do, but they are different to what I expected.”
“What are you talking about?”
Is it normal that I’m more worried than usual right now?
“Just, work and stuff. The things I stressed over. They don’t seem so important now.”
“Rachel, what did you do?”
She’s crying again, softly.
“Rachel” I repeat, louder more defined. “What did you do?”
“My head, it hurts. I’m so dizzy, so tired I…”
I start to cry too, jumping up from the sofa and pulling the phone close to my ear, suddenly wide awake.
She’s done it. She’s taken something, or cut her wrists and is bleeding out on the carpet whilst I’ve been preaching. I always thought it was just a cry for help or…
“Rachel! Listen to me, I’m going to call an ambulance or something, don’t…”
“No, please don’t. I want this. I’ve always wanted… If they save me, I’ll just do it again. You know I will.”
“Think about your children. How are they going to feel coming downstairs in the morning to find their mother lying dead on the living room floor?”
“They’re at my sisters. Besides, better off without me.”
“No they’re not!” I’m shouting down the phone now. “Please Rachel, I’ve got to call someone!”
“Promise me you won’t.”
“I have the right to decide how I want to die. Please don’t take it from me.”
Her voice is slower, more deliberate. It’s like she’s having to concentrate so hard, just to speak.
“Let me go call an ambulance. I’ll phone you right back, promise.”
“Don’t go. It’s too late for that anyway, trust me.”
I’m inclined to believe her. She’s done more research on this than anything else. I remember she once showed me a website designed to help people who are serious about suicide.
“Just don’t leave me alone right now.”
She stopped to take a drink.
“Or I’ll come back and haunt you.”
Through the pain and the tears, she managed a light chuckle.
I feel so useless.
“I’ll come over. I’ll be with you, hold your hand.”
“No time. You are with me. Just talk.”
I don’t think I’ve ever cried this much. And what the fuck do I talk about?
She sniffs and I imagine her wiping the tears from her closing eyes as she lays down with the phone pressed against her ear.
“Pretend that I’ve fallen asleep whilst you are speaking. Say you’ll talk to me tomorrow. Take me to one of those comedy shows you always talked about.”
I shake my head. I can’t do it. I can’t, I can’t!
I take a deep breath.
“So, work tomorrow hun, gotta be up early. I’ll text to stop you getting bored, you know we can hightail it off to Montreal for the comedy festival.”
I listen for a response.
I’m breaking up inside and there’s not a damn thing I can do.
“Thing is Rach… I never did get to tell you that I loved you. Don’t even think I knew it till now.”
I look at the phone face to make sure it’s still connected.
“Are you asleep Rach?
Ok, you sleep baby, don’t worry about a thing. I’m here, always.
Speak to you tomorrow.”