Trying to Love Your Enemies

By Paul Dickey

I-2web preferred to be a loser. It was the only thing I ever found that just by deciding to be, you could. You didn’t have to be good at anything. You didn’t have to work hard or practice. You didn’t even have to get any breaks. Just one day, you decide to be a loser, and you are.

Of course, it all takes some getting used to and developing a bit of a knack and your own style. At first, I thought I was having a mental breakdown. I kept thinking back to when I was a kid in Sunday School. You remember in the lessons how people always get judged. There were the sinners and the Christians. Well, of course, all of us sitting around the table eating cookies and drinking juice were Christians. They were always the sinners. You never thought to ask just who they were or where they lived.

It was never like anyone really was a sinner. I mean, not anyone we knew. Not even uncle Ralph who drank too much, couldn’t hold a job, and would bring around weird looking women. Dad would tell him to go home, we don’t need that in front of the boys. But even he wasn’t really a sinner. Mom would say he was just a problem to himself, a person you were supposed to pray for. Sinners were the others, enemies I supposed. You didn’t know any of them. You were not supposed to know any of them. You were just to love them.

When I first became a loser, I thought maybe I had become a sinner. I went around for a week or so reciting to myself the famous line from the Pogo comic strip: We met the enemy and he is us. I got tired of that after a while and it got silly, and so I finally more or less settled back to thinking about things like before.

One night shortly after that, Dad and I had it out and that was when I ran away. We had just got home from my brother’s ball game. You see, Eddie is this big star. All the college and high school girls had been cheering for him, even the redhead that I had my eye on myself in Senior English. I think he pitched a no-hitter and his college Big Sky State won the Big Seven Conference or something. Whatever that is.

Anyway, the way Dad got crazy over Eddie just made me want to vomit. I was trying to sit quietly in the corner of the back seat going home and get through it. But all I could think of was hearing Dad the week before—I can still hear him—Charles, it is not that I want you to be like your brother Eddie. All your mother and I expect is that you do your best at whatever you want to do, at whatever college you want to go to. We don’t expect you to be Eddie.

I don’t remember exactly what happened when we got home, but after screaming at each other for about half an hour, I slammed the door and went to bed. When everyone was asleep, I crawled out the window. Just say I hit my highway. That was my style.

So I figured I could be gone a week before they would find me. I had cash saved up from birthday and Christmas gifts and I could crash at Buddy’s that long. Actually though, Buddy was Eddie’s age and had been more of Eddie’s friend. That is, until Eddie got to be such a big star and didn’t have time anymore for Buddy. And recently, Eddie even had started telling me that I should be careful hanging around Buddy so much.

Anyway to get back to the story, they found me the very next afternoon. I think it was long enough though. They got the picture. They seemed to stop hassling me about my trig, and I settled back into the daily grind. But they were beginning to have long discussions in their bedroom. Sometimes I would walk into the living room and a conversation would stop in mid-sentence. At least once, I knew they had been talking about Buddy. A couple of times, Mom even met Dad at his work and went to see the pastor over Dad’s lunch hour. I’m not telling you how I knew that. I just did.

That week I wrote my very best essay ever. Off and on and since I was a freshman, you see, I had been writing essays. I began first with the idea just to keep some notes for myself. Okay, it was only, I guess, like keeping a diary. I wrote down things like what I had done that day, if I had spoken to any girls, or if any seemed to go out of their way to speak to me. But as it went on, I got more interested in philosophy and the notes began to stretch into dissertations.

By this time, I had seven long essays—each over ten typed pages. I had ones about God, the distinction between reality and appearance, the place of man in nature, and the illusion of time. The early ones were pretty silly. I can see that now. The very first one about God, I wouldn’t show now to anybody. Others weren’t so bad though. I bet I could use some in those pud Philosophy classes at Claymoor Community College and not even change a word.

Anyway, like I said, that week I wrote my best essay ever. I was tempted to show it to Dad, show him I wasn’t an idiot but that I wasn’t buying into all the crap he believed. But I knew it wouldn’t do any good. And later I was glad too. The same day I finished the last draft, Mom and Dad called me into the living room. They said we needed to talk. I figured it had something to do with Buddy being busted with some weed and pills and a collection of guns in his apartment.

Well, it seems the good ol’ preach had an idea. He knew of this home for troubled—that was what he called them—boys and girls out in the country. The church funded it. He suggested that it might do me some good to go stay there for a couple of months. They had a psychologist there and some nurses that could put the clamps on someone if needed, but generally speaking, it was pretty laid back. Dad said, Charles, they might give you some tests or something, but don’t let that bother you. We just want you to get better and start to feel better about yourself. You know we love you, son. Crap like that.

At first, my feathers got ruffled and I blew up. Can you believe they wanted to put me in a funny farm just because I ran away from home, had a few fights with Dad, and Buddy had some weed and guns? But then I thought, what’s the use of fighting them? It sounded like it might give me time to get my thoughts together. After all, it might even be a vacation from school, my parent’s weirdness, and their blowing everything up out of proportion. By this time, I could pretty much coast and graduate. Other than trig, I had filled my schedule with the easiest crap courses I could find. As I always told Eddie, there’s no point in sweating in practice. As for my final exams, well, I could just phone them in, if you know what I mean.

Well, yes, I told them, I think I could do that. Good, Charles. I’ll call the pastor tonight and we can take you out tomorrow. Now remember, whenever you want to come home, you just call and we’ll be there for you.

 

***

 

The first week at the ranch, I met Connie. They called it a ranch, but actually it was more like a small community college campus. We lived in these individual houses, about eight to ten guys in a home, with a chaperone couple. It was alright. For the first week, they even let you have your own room. Between the houses, they had a recreation building with ping pong tables and video games. In the corner, there were a couple of small tables, a jukebox, and two vending machines. We called it the canteen. I would go over there about every afternoon for a few hours. About the second or third day I was there, Connie showed up.

I figured she must be new. Although I had been there only two or three days myself, I could just tell. I asked her, as she walked by my table, if she was new. To my surprise, she sat down with me. She said that she had been there about a month already, but it was only the second day that she had been permitted on the grounds. Which made no sense to me, but I thought, okay, whatever.

I can’t remember what we talked about the first day. I was so nervous talking to a pretty girl like her. But soon both of us were coming to the canteen the same time every afternoon. It got to be real regular between us. We sat at the same table together, drank Pepsis, and listened to ancient songs like “Do you Believe in Magic?” and “Since I Fell For You.” Jeez, songs that were twenty years old if they were a day. They never re-stocked the juke box.

It wasn’t long before I figured out that Connie wasn’t accepting being a loser. She thought the problem was everything and everybody else. She complained about the food in the cafeteria, her house family, even about the time that she was scheduled to go to recreation. She was to go every morning at ten. She wanted to go in the afternoon. She was used to swimming in the afternoon the summer before when she had lived with her sister.

I always agreed she had a point. It shouldn’t hurt if someone goes swimming whenever she wants. We didn’t have jobs or anything. Nothing at the ranch depended on us to work. And one day after I said that, she grabbed my arm, “I mean, Charles, they think I am crazy! Can you imagine that? Me, crazy! Well, I can tell you, I am not. I am intelligent and I don’t care who knows it.” I lowered my eyes, you know, like I was shy and gazed at the top of her blouse where I could get a view of some cleavage. When I looked up, she gave me a bit of a knowing smile.

At first, I got my head a little screwed around about her. I had always wondered what it would be like to fall in love. Sometimes Connie and I spent our afternoon talking about time. I always enjoyed doing my shy act. I never thought I would find a girl who seemed to have the same doubts that I did about time.

She still made me nervous though and I never got around to telling what I was feeling for her. It was just as well. A couple of weeks after we had met, she fell for Richie. Richie worked as a gardener at the psychiatrist’s private home on the grounds. Nobody had a job but Richie. I heard that he had been at the ranch quite a while and he might not have had a home to go back to.

Some of the time, we didn’t like Richie. Maybe we envied him, but he never held it against us. Really, he was an alright guy. Some of the guys even went to him with their problems like an older brother, an older brother unlike anything I ever had. Nothing like Eddie and his big ego.

At first, Connie’s going with Richie didn’t interfere with our breaks. She would talk about wanting to go swimming, or wishing that some afternoon we could go off and hang out around the lake a mile or two off the grounds. I would just listen to her mostly, but sometimes I tried to talk to her about something that really interested me. I brought her one of my essays to read once. She said she liked it, at least the parts she could understand.

“Charles, you know what I think salvation is?” she said to me one day out of the blue. I was flattered. She must have had been thinking hard about one of my essays we had talked about. “I think it is when you have the absolute goods on someone and then you just let them off scot-free. You have nothing to gain and probably a lot to lose. Maybe for no reason, just no good reason at all. Maybe you like the guy. I dunno.” I had no clue what she was talking about. “Well, it is like Thomas and I in Illinois…” and then she stopped in mid-sentence and stared all glassy eyes at the Pepsi machine.

I was listening to the Lenny Welch song on the juke box: When you just give love and never get love…” I started to ham it up to get her attention. I started to sing in a falsetto voice: let love depart, I know it’s so but yet I know, I can’t get you out of my heart. I leaned over and looked right into her face with big moon eyes and I knew she would burst out laughing. But she didn’t. She didn’t even smile. She just got up and walked out of the canteen. Didn’t say another word.

After that, she started to leave the canteen early to meet Richie at the garden. Eventually, she talked more about him on our breaks than anything else. Then all of a sudden, she stopped talking about Richie to me at all. Zilch, nada. Cold turkey. It was funny because I knew they were still going together. I saw them walking on the grounds together after the Tuesday and Thursday night movies.

 

***

 

The movies were usually those silly old John Wayne flicks. I often got out of going by getting a new assistant interested in an essay. He usually said that he could see what I meant. He had thought about the same point himself in a paper his freshman year at Big Sky. He acted embarrassed about it, but wondered if I had read some philosopher or other on the subject. I’d say that I would go to the library and look him up but I had no intention to do it.

One week though, I did go to the movie and got up the nerve to start talking to this girl who caught my eye. I had been watching her taking walks alone around the grounds wearing blue denim pantsuits. It impressed me. It really did. It didn’t mean anything big, of course. It’s just that nobody else around here cares crap about what clothes they wear. At night before I would go to sleep, I confess, I liked to think about Connie wearing almost no clothes at all, or at least maybe no top and just some short shorts.

I was surprised to see how easy it was for me to talk to a classy girl like Kerry. That night walking back to the house, I couldn’t remember a word we had said to each other. I had been thinking all the time just how much I must be improving if I could talk to her so easily. I did remember she said that she had been going to the canteen between ten and eleven every morning. The next day I made the effort to go at that time myself. She was there, just like she said she would be.

Kerry and I met each other for the next few days like Connie and I had before. I didn’t feel like a loser when I was with Kerry. She’d ask me what I thought about things. Did I like some television show or other, or were sports all I ever thought about like all the other boys she knew? She said I had a sense of humor. She’d laugh when I put on my shy act, but not like Connie. Her blouse was always buttoned up to her neck. And you know I didn’t even mind, even though she was every bit as pretty as Connie in her own way. She never asked me what I was doing here, and I definitely couldn’t imagine why she was here.

For several days, I didn’t even care if I saw Connie. It wasn’t until the next week she came up to me at lunch and asked me point blank: Why don’t you come by the canteen anymore at our time, at our place by the jukebox? I replied that I had heard that she had been put on afternoon rec time. But she said no, that wasn’t true. She didn’t know where I got such an idea. It wasn’t from Richie, was it? That Judas!

By this time, I had my thoughts pretty well sorted out about her. I had admitted to myself that it was only an accident that we were here together. It was not fate or anything like an act of God. So I could start going back to the canteen in the afternoons. And I started up again just wearing anything I had to throw on. With Connie, you didn’t have to pretend. I told her it’s funny even here how some people put on airs and be all concerned about the way they look. The old confusion about reality and appearance. It’s a waste of time.

Connie and I now talked more honestly and openly. She confided in me that she had stopped talking to me about Richie because she saw it was making me unhappy. But now she had broken up with him. Richie had told me that himself. I told her that I knew how that works. I had sort of got bored with Kerry. I didn’t tell her a few other things Richie had said, like about Connie seducing him and then trying to kill him. Gosh, when he said that, I didn’t want to even know what that was about, but I knew he was just blowing.

I figured out that Connie was jealous of me because I was voluntary. The psychiatrist called me a “free will patient.” It meant that I had no legal entanglements and basically I could leave whenever I wanted. The doctor had told me that it was his own idea for an experimental program that allowed a few patients at a time who were only minimally troubled to come here for a few months. “Charles, we don’t think you are crazy.” He laughed when he said that word. “We thought if there were a few regular kids around here, we might be able to help them, but maybe even help the others even more at the same time.” He always sounded hokey like that.

Connie could not leave even if she wanted. I pieced together that she must have got into some kind of trouble at her high school. I guessed that her parents had to put her in a private school and that was when she went to live with her sister. It apparently didn’t work out though, and she got into more trouble. Maybe her parents had been given an ultimatum by a judge to try this place, or he would put her in a detention center for young adults. I didn’t know any of that for a fact, but it was my theory and it seemed as plausible as any.

I thought about all that when she would start to talk about her not belonging here. She was pretty hung up about wanting to leave the grounds some afternoon to just hang out around the lake and go feed the ducks. Mostly I just listened to her. I didn’t really think she would do anything crazy. But I started to analyze why exactly I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want her to think I was merely afraid; I didn’t want her to think that I was merely anything. I wasn’t able to express my objection or explain it, even to myself.

A week after we had got back together, she said, “Charles, oooh Charles,” (she had a way of curling her lips that made me think for a second I still loved her). “I’m going to do it. Tomorrow. I’ve decided. I’ll make it a game and pretend I am escaping. It will be fun. I’ll be back before they even know I’m gone. No one will ever find out.” I said that I would go with her.

 

***

 

The next afternoon at the lake, Connie said that she had been surprised but happy for me that I had agreed to come. She said I was all tied up inside about things and that I needed to let go. I was going to lose my mind. Sometimes, she joked, she wondered if I already had.

For an hour or so, we just threw stones across the lake and watched them skip over the water. We weren’t talking about anything serious. There weren’t any ducks. She seemed distracted, almost nervous herself. Maybe watching for a car to drive by or something. I don’t know. I was trying to get up the nerve to kiss her.

I don’t know why, but I began to talk to her about when I was a kid in Sunday School. But what surprised her more than that I was finally opening up about the story was the story itself. And that surprised me. I somehow figured that she had cared and understood much more about me than she did. I didn’t know how I expected her to know. I just did.

Anyway, she had mistaken my disbelief in the Christian God and my obsession with redefining God—she called it that— as that I had probably grown up in some fanatical religious family. I had to laugh when she said that. My parents always were irregular churchgoers. We only went to church on holidays. I laughed again. I told her that I would have been tickled to death to believe in a crazy Evangelical God. It was a stretch on the truth, yeah, but a lot closer than she had it. I reached out to touch her arm.

“Come on, Charles. I know what you want.”  In a second, and in the most athletic move I had ever seen and practically all in one motion, she unzipped her pants about halfway down from her waist, just open enough so my hand could slip inside them. She grabbed my hand herself and put it in her shorts. At exactly the same instant, she unzipped my fly and put her hand down my pants.

I was in heaven, but it didn’t last forever. It lasted all of about three minutes tops, and then she let go of me. That second, she jumped. I thought she was disappointed at me coming so quick in my pants. But no, she said she had heard a siren. I didn’t, but when I looked up, sure enough, I saw the sheriff’s car coming around the lake towards us, followed by another car. About that time, they must have spotted us. The cars began to pick up speed.

I should have been scared, I guess, but I wasn’t. In fact, it seemed an eternity for the cars to get to us. It was either death or sanity driving that vehicle, coming for us. It didn’t much matter to me which. I took the moment as a chance to relax and float above all the confusion that makes up our time on this planet. Connie of all people should have loved it. But I couldn’t believe how she was acting. After she got herself zipped up, she started for something in her purse. But all of a sudden she jerked her hand back, stopped, and said, “Aw to hell with it.” Then she threw her purse into the lake.

She was frantic by the time the cars got to us. “Charles, don’t you see what they’re going to do to me? I am going to be persecuted.” She was screaming at me. I didn’t understand it at all. We hadn’t done anything that terrible. I got myself zipped up too, so they wouldn’t know anything. I knew she was high strung. I had seen her upset before, but never like this. Not even a couple of weeks ago, when she came fuming into the canteen thinking that Richie was spreading stories about her.

In fact, I had never seen anyone so wild and insane. I mean, really insane, like being good at it, a pro. Nothing like they would ever want you to see at the ranch, nothing like I would ever want to be. In the weeks that I had known her, I had never wanted to love her so much as I did at that minute. The car stopped and two deputies rushed her. Right then, I would have agreed to marry her, or anything, to get her out of their grasp. They were wrestling her to the ground and she was fighting with everything she had to get away. I tried to help her, but they were on top of me then like you wouldn’t believe.

The nurse gave her a shot and that calmed her down. Still, one of the ranch assistants squeezed her arm all the way back to the car. It was like he was holding her in a way that I could have done softer and better, but I had never got up the nerve. I felt sick, and what made it worse was that this was the same guy whom I had let read my essay, the one that I written the week before I met Connie.

I had argued in it that God was recreating the world through the historical development of scientific theory. Scientific discoveries were gifts that God was allowing mankind. The idea still had some holes in it that I needed to work out. The assistant thought, or so he told me, that I had an interesting thesis. He said I should go back to school. I was different from the rest. I had the makings of a philosophy, or perhaps a theology, major.

They made me ride back to the ranch in a separate car from Connie. They asked me a lot of dumb questions. I know there isn’t supposed to be anything like a dumb question, but believe me, these were. Whose fool idea was it to do this? I told them it was mine. Did I know what was in Connie’s purse? I had no clue. So why didn’t we just apply for an afternoon pass? Someone could have escorted us. Passes can be issued for special requests. I told them that there hadn’t been time. Soon it would be fall. And then totally out of the blue they asked—So whatever happened between you and the psychiatrist’s niece who had visited for a few weeks earlier in the summer?  I said I didn’t know that. I don’t think they believed a word I said.

They drove me back to the psychiatrist’s office, but they made me wait outside until they were through with Connie. When she came out and they took her off somewhere, I could see her eyes were glazed like that day by the Pepsi machine. I guessed it was from more shots. She was staring in the distance. She didn’t say a word to me. They might have said something about her needing to go to a juvenile center. To this day, I can’t remember what they said.

They sent me back to the house for the rest of the day. I would have to talk to the psychiatrist in the morning, but they weren’t too worried about me. I myself was my biggest problem. So when I got back, I called Mom and told her to send Eddie to pick me up tomorrow afternoon.

 

***

 

The next morning, I put on the white shirt and fancy tie Mom had sent me when I had written to her about Kerry. Of course, I went ahead to see the doctor. He always had something to say that got me thinking. The last time I talked to him, he got me rethinking my essay on time. But today all he gave me was this crap about the consequences of our actions, and oh Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

“Charles, she might have planned to talk you into having sex with her and then she was going to shoot you. God knows why. From the reports we have, she tried something like that before in Illinois. We fished her purse out of the pond. There was a gun. We are trying to figure out how she could have got that into here. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?” I told him bull on that and changed the subject. I asked him about Kerry. He wouldn’t talk to me about her. “My niece should never have been out on the grounds talking to patients.”

When Eddie had tried to come see me earlier in the summer, I made him leave right away. I told him he was merely a B actor in the folks’ dog vs. dog movie. But today driving home, we talked about baseball. I appreciated that he wasn’t asking me anything about the girl that I had got into so much trouble, but in fact had saved me every bit as much as Christ had saved the freaking sinners. “The Yankees have more power this year, Charles. They traded some of their pitching for long ball hitters.”

I told him I didn’t hold anything against him. It wasn’t his fault he was good at baseball. I really hoped he could make it as a pro. He was my brother; I knew that. I asked him if there might still be time for me to get enrolled at Big Sky State for the fall. I asked him if he would talk to Mom for me. I don’t care what Dad says. I might major in philosophy. I thought when I got home I might give Kerry a call. She just lives up the road from us in Freeburg. The secretary let that slip when I told her why I had a tie to wear to see the doctor.

___

Paul Dickey‘s second full-length book of poetry, Wires Over the Homeplace was released this September by Pinyon Publishing. His first, They Say This is How Death Came Into the World was published by Mayapple Press in 2011. His work has appeared recently in Laurel Review, Prairie Schooner, Bellevue Literary Review, Pleiades, 32Poems, Pinyon Review, and other online and print publications.


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