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November 27, 2023
"Mes de los Muertos"

All Things Being Equal, Part Four

By Bernie Pilarski

How much longer will you forget me, Lord?
How long must I endure trouble?
How long will sorrow fill my heart?
-- Psalm 13

"Aiden, answer the damn door," I say. I can't believe that Jess would have even thought about changing the locks. Maybe she was more pissed than I thought. I knock again for the fifth time.

"Mom says I shouldn't even talk to you," he says when he finally opens the door. He has the door chain engaged, so basically I can only see one of his eyes as he peeks out.

"Then don't."

"I'm pretty sure she meant I shouldn't let you in."

"Why would she say that?"

"She threw you out, didn't she?"

"No. We agreed to give ourselves some space to think things out."

"Yeah, so, she threw you out."

"Open the damn door, Aiden."

He closes the door, and I hear him messing with the chain. The door opens and he turns and walks back into the apartment without waiting for me.

"I mean, I know you. If you had planned on leaving, you'd never have left so much of your stuff here. By the way, your turntable doesn't work."

"What?" I go immediately to the shelves on the living room wall that have my sound system and my collection of vinyl LP's. Most of them are vintage stuff out of the 70's and 80's, things I got from my mom, but there is also some very cool new stuff. There's a mint condition Beatles' White Album which my mother got as a kid, but she didn't like the Beatles and so never even unwrapped, but then there's also last year's Pink Floyd's The Endless River. I pick up Roberta Flack's Killing Me Softly album, slide it out of its jacket, and carefully handling it only by the edges, put it on the turntable. I turn on the system and slowly set the stylus on the record. Sure enough, there is no sound. I trace the cables from the turntable, and to my surprise, they are plugged directly into the amplifier.

"Why the hell isn't this plugged into the pre-amp?"

"Don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know? Pre-amps don't just unplug themselves."

"Like I said, I don't know."

"You and your grubby friends need to keep your hands off my stuff."

"Wasn't me and my grubby friends. Some guy came over to see Mom. He seemed impressed with your stuff. Mom even let him borrow a couple albums."

"Which ones?"

"I don't know. Mom told me to find something to do, so I didn't really hang around."

"So I'm gone a couple of days ..."

"Ten days."

"And she's giving my stuff away to some new guy?"

"Like I said, I don't know."

"I'm living in my car, and she's partying with her friends."

Aiden laughs. "In your car? Dude, that's funny."

There is something about LP's and the high-fidelity equipment of my youth that you just can't get in stuff downloaded from the Web. Part of it is just the mechanics of transmission and reproduction. I don't care what source you get it from, music played over tiny little speakers in handheld devices just isn't going to sound the same as when properly amped and tuned to a set of proper floor-standing tower speakers, but nobody much cares about fidelity today. Nor do they seem to care that vinyl is simply more attractively packaged. Album cover art is an experience in itself and can often tell you as much about the artist as the music does. To purchase an LP is to take on a responsibility to properly care for a work of art, to respect and maintain it, and to then pass it down to another generation. I think that's why Aiden finds my music so interesting, and why I don't normally mind him listening to it as long as he's properly respectful of my equipment. Besides, he needs to know where his music came from so he doesn't think that Justin Bieber invited rock and roll.

"I want to take a shower. Then I need to get a couple of my things. I'll be gone before Jess gets home."

"Fine. I don't care." `

Why am I sad?
Why am I so troubled?
-- Psalm 43

All of the relationships in my life have turned to shit. I suppose that's the way people are. With Jess at least it lasted eight years, but if you don't count the rough times, its more like five years. That's a record.

My phone rings and it's Jess's number. "Hello."

"Mike. Hi." There is an uncomfortable pause. I don't know if I'm supposed to say something, or if I should just wait for her to say something. I guess some pleasantry would be nice, but the weather or whatever doesn't seem important at the moment. I want to know who the guy was and what happened to my stuff, but I'm not going to give her the satisfaction of thinking it bothered me. "I heard you stopped by."

"Yeah. Who was the guy, Jess?" That's not really the first thing I want to say, but somehow it just comes out.


"I'm sleeping in my car, and you've got guys traipsing in and out of my house."

"What are you talking about?"

"Aiden told me."

"Aiden!" Jess yells. I can hear the start of some heated conversation, but then Jess hits the mute button.

"It was a joke," Aiden is saying when the phone is unmuted.

"You're grounded, buddy. Mike?"


"Mike, I'm sorry. Aiden was screwing with you. My brother stopped over. He returned the Kenny G albums you lent him and took two more. I asked Aiden to give us some time together, because I wanted to vent a bit and didn't think Aiden needed to hear it. I'm sorry Aiden said what he said."

"Your brother?"

"Yeah, my brother. Nobody else."

"So why'd you call?" Aiden is dead meat the next time I see him.

"I've made an appointment to see Fr. Juan next Tuesday. It's for the two of us?"

"Is this about the marriage thing?"

"No, it's not about the marriage thing." Wrong choice of words, I could tell. Jess took a deep breath and let it out. "For reasons I don't fully understand, I love you, but I'm not sure that we have a future together."

"Look, if this is about Heather, that was twenty years ago, we were admittedly stupid, and I'm sure her daddy had his lawyers undo the marriage or whatever it is lawyers do to make it go away."

"She's dead, Mike."

"Oh my God, Jess, what did you do?"

"What do you mean, what did I do?"

"You didn't hurt her, did you?"

"Jesus, Mike. What kind of person do you think I am? That's what I mean -- we've been together eight years, and do you even know anything about me?"

"Well, what do you mean she's dead?"

"Dead, as in died in a car crash ten years ago."

"How do you know?"

"I talked with Fr. Juan. He said that he had to presume that your marriage was valid, and that we would have to make an effort to find the girl. Fortunately the McDonalds are a prominent family, and it didn't take much to find a phone number for the parents. Her mother told me about the accident."

"Oh." It's the only thing I can think of saying. I feel surprisingly cold, and I wish Jess was nearby so that I could feel her warmth.

"Mike, I'm sorry."

"About what?"

"For your loss. You must have felt something for her, even for a while, and death is never easy to handle when it comes close."

"Yeah, well ..." Like I said, I haven't had a lot of luck with relationships. I never actually knew why Heather wanted to marry me. I was from the wrong side of the tracks, at least from her perspective. When her daddy had me escorted off the property by the rake-wielding groundskeeper, she had a choice. She could have come with me, but I had nothing. I could see how asking her to give up the luxury of her daddy's money was bit too much to ask. Still, thinking back, I was disappointed. I wondered if I had had a job and some money, would she have made the same choice? Now she's dead, and I'll never know.

"Mike, you're not actually living in your car, are you?"

I don't know that I want to answer that. You'd think there would be somebody I knew who would put me up for a couple weeks, but there isn't. It's like I've been saying, I don't have a lot of luck with relationships. I've got nobody.

"Why don't you come home?"

"That's okay with you?"

"We can fix up the couch, it's no problem."


"Or you can bunk in with Aiden."

"Not sure that's a good idea. When I see him, I want to kick him in the ass."

"So do I." Jess laughs, but I can hear her sniffle. She's crying. "Maybe we can make it a couple thing, something that will help us make it through this."

"So where are we going to be if we make it through this?"

"I don't know, Mike. I just don't know. That's why I want us to see Fr. Juan. We're going to need some help, I think."

Why do I do this? Since I was fourteen, I've always been in a relationship or looking for one. Yes, I admit, it's always been mostly about the sex, but there is a lot of time between sex, and it's the in-between times that seem to make or break it. It's the in-between times where things get messy and complicated, and it's in the in-between times when people end up walking away from each other. Yet, I always end up looking again, wanting again to be comfortably in-between with somebody else.

"Why'd you change the locks?"

"It wasn't my idea, actually. They're re-keying the whole apartment complex. Some kind of security issue."

"Really? Well, all things being equal, the couch sounds pretty good."

"Mike, just so you know, I can't promise anything. I'm still struggling with some things, but I really hope there's a happy ending to all this."

"Yeah, I know, no promises."

No promises. That's where we were eight years ago when I moved in. And I was good with that. I hope the priest doesn't screw it up again.

Article © Bernie Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2015-09-21
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