Breaking Up is Hard to Do

roseburgI was almost home from work, walking in the dark along the side of the street. Car headlights from behind me suddenly brightened my path. I looked over my shoulder and recognized my girlfriend’s brother. Well, his car anyway. It was a 1965 Mustang convertible painted a dark metallic green. It was a pretty car. Apparently spotting me, he accelerated to catch up to me and pulling just past me, jammed on his brakes. The top was down and he hopped over the door and landed on the sidewalk in front of me. “Hey Don,” I said in greeting. That was when I realized he was holding a length of two by four. Before I could ask him what was happening, he swung it and hit me in the side of the head. Lights and stars exploded in front of me and I fell down. I knew he was kicking me and hitting me with the stick, but I was stunned and not feeling any of it. As my vision faded to black I wondered what he was so angry about.

Four hours earlier I was at my job at the radio station. My girlfriend, Vicky, had stopped by for a visit. We’d been living together for a few months, but lately the excitement of the relationship seemed to be waning and we were spending less and less time together. As the Archies sang Sugar Sugar over the studio monitor she told me she was not going to be home until very late and not to wait up for me. I asked her where she was going, and her reply was venomous. “None of your damn business!”  she shouted. Jeez, I was just asking. She then laid into me for all of the character flaws she was sure I possessed and how her previous boyfriend, Wesley, was much more a man than I was. At this point I suggested that if she thought Wesley was such a find, she should get back with him. That’s when she told me that she already had. The girl definitely had a mean streak to her. My reply to that was that she should get her stuff out of my house and be gone by the time I got back from work.

I fumed, humiliated, for the rest of my shift. I slapped records onto the turntables and pressed the cartridge buttons to play commercials, but I wasn’t really paying attention to what I was playing. I think I played one of the records three times in the course of an hour and it wasn’t even that great a tune. I was looking forward to being able to go home, drink a few beers, and think about whether or not I really wanted to stay in Roseburg, Oregon. More lousy things happened to me in that town than anywhere else -except for the war anyway. So when seven pm came along I was happy to close up and go home. My shift ended with local sunset because the station had a daytime only license. It was an AM station and at night its signal carried well beyond the service area and interfered with other AM stations transmitting on the same frequency in different and distant locations. The longer range was caused my something called ionospheric bounce. Anyway, our license let us sign on at sunrise and required us to power off at sunset. I dutifully shut everything down, made the FCC required log entries and after turning off the lights, I locked up and headed home. I lived ten blocks from the station, the space divided by railroad tracks. I’d crossed the tracks and was just two blocks from my house when Vicky’s brother’s headlights came up behind me.

I opened my eyes to a darkened room. The act of opening my eyes hurt and seemed to be a cue for my nervous system to report all of the places I felt pain. I tried to take a deep breath and it hurt so much the breath was cut off as if a switch was thrown. Taking shallow breaths was okay. I hear voices and tried to sit up but I couldn’t something was holding me down. I tried to reach up to feel what was holding me and found my wrists were strapped to the side of the bed. I called out. “Hey! Can anyone hear me?” My voice wasn’t particularly loud, unable to get much wind behind it, but apparently it was enough. A door across for the foot of the bed opened, spilling bright fluorescent light into the room. A nurse, wearing all white was silhouetted in the doorway for a moment and then she reached and flipped on a switch. Dim lighting illuminated the room and I saw it had the usual trappings of a hospital room.

She stepped in and came to the side of the bed and pressed a button on a device parked on a trolley. It jumped to life showing a tape that stuck out like a tongue but reached to the floor. She looked at it and nodded to herself. I was jostled a bit as she lifted my arm as far as the restraint allowed and put a blood pressure cuff on me. As she pumped it up with a little squeeze ball, she used the other hand to take my pulse. She read the gauge on the blood pressure cuff as she slowly let the air out of it and nodded to herself again. A man stepped into the room and stood at the end of the bed. He wore an inexpensive suit that didn’t hang very well on him. It looked a bit rumpled. He had a round face that looked humorless. I made him for about forty years old or so. I also figured he was a cop. The nurse turned to him and said that I was doing okay and he could talk to me but warned him that I was on medication that might cause me to fall asleep. She finally turned to me and looked at me in silence for a long moment and then spoke.

You’re in the hospital. It appears you were attacked. You have multiple injuries but only three are of concern. Your skull was cracked, your left shoulder was out of its socket and you have two cracked ribs.” she said. I asked how long I’d been here and she said I’d been brought in about four hours ago. I asked her why I was belted down and she said they wanted to keep me immobile until they were certain that I hadn’t suffered a spinal injury. She stepped over and removed the restraints while suggesting that I try not to move a lot. It wouldn’t damage me, she said, but it would hurt like the dickens. She asked if I was thirsty and I said I was, and she told me she’d get me some water and meanwhile, the gentleman, she indicated the guy at the end of the bed, had some questions for me.

“My name’s Stinson.” he said. “I’m a detective with the Roseburg PD. Do you know who did this to you?”

I thought for a moment. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to say or not. I don’t know why I was hesitant, after all, Vicky had blown me off and so much as told me she’d been sleeping with he ex-boyfriend. Why I would show any loyalty for her brother I didn’t know, but I wasn’t ready to give him up yet. I told the cop I wasn’t sure, that my brain didn’t seem to be working.

“Not a surprise. You took a few mean shots to the melon, not to mention the doctors have you on some hefty pain killers. Tell you what. Why don’t you rest up a while and think about it and I’ll come back in a few hours.” The look on his face said he thought I was full of crap. He walked to the doorway and stopped and looked back. He didn’t say anything but shook his head and then strolled off down the hall. The nurse came in and adjusted my bed so I was sitting up some and then held a glass while I sucked on the bendy straw. It was ice cold and felt good. I drank a third of the glass and said thanks. I fell asleep again.

When I woke up it was to the sound of sobs. Peered around the room and at the foot of the bed stood Vicky. Her eyes were puffy and red and her cheeks were wet with tears. Part of me felt bad for her, she being upset and all, but a part of me couldn’t have cared less. “Hey.” I said.

She took a couple of hiccuping breaths and started speaking a mile a minute. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for this to happen. I was angry, that’s all. You made me mad.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“My brother. He called me to tell me mom wanted to go shopping and he could tell I was upset. He asked what was the matter and I. I. I told him that you hit me. I said you slapped and punched me. He got really mad and hung up. I should have called him back, or caught up to him. But I was scared of what he would think of me making it up. I wanted to tell mom, but that was the same. I didn’t want to hurt them by making them think I was a liar.”

“So you let him come find me and surprise attack me with a two by four?”

“I’m so sorry. Can you forgive me?” she looked at me with her large brown eyes, reminding me of a frightened puppy.

“No.” I said. “I can’t. Not unless he beats you to a pul with a two by four and then goes and steps in front of a speeding bus.”

“Oh, good. I’m so gl… what? You said no?”

“Yeah, I said no. I’m the innocent party here. You cheated on me with your ex and then broke up with me. You called me names and were rude.”

“You threw me out into the street.” she whined.

“Yeah, actually the told you to get out of my house. To the street? Here in Roseburg where your family and your brother have houses with tons of extra room. Where you have a lot of friends you grew up with who have their own places and would be happy to put you up. Don’t make it sound like I took your coat and threw you into sub-zero weather up in the Arctic or something.”

“But you humiliated me!”

“I. Humiliated you? You’re the one who made me a cuckold, cheating on me while I’m going along fat dumb and happy while your friends are laughing at me behind my back. You too. No, you weren’t humiliated, I was. And on top of it all you almost get me killed by lying to your brother. Screw you, Vicky. I’s like you to leave. I really don’t want anything to do with you.” I said. She stamped her foot, actually stamped her foot like some kindergartener and then stormed out the door. I watched her go, shaking my head. Any bad feelings I had at our breakup were now history.

It was boring just sitting there. The nurses had brought me some magazines they purloined from waiting rooms, but they were old and health oriented. Not too engrossing. I’d just flipped the last one onto a visitor chair near the bed when Vicky’s brother stormed into the room. “You couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you. Well, hurry up and get well, pissant, so I can get you back on the street. You think I hurt you this time, you’ll be lucky if they find your body parts in the woods!”  I looked at him and started laughing.  ”You think this is funny, asshole?”

“Yeah, I do. What with you confessing that you attacked me and threatening to kill me. I think it’s a riot.”

“And why’s that?” he sneered.

“Perhaps because you did it with a police detective standing behind you.” said Detective Stinson. “What say you put your hands behind your back?” The brother’s shoulders slumped but he complied, his eyes glaring at me with pure malice. The cop took out a card and read him his Miranda warning and had his prisoner sit on one of the visitor chairs. He came up next to the bed and asked me if I remembered now who it was who hit me. I told him yes and ran through a description of the events, start to finish. He took notes on a little top fold spiral notepad. He asked a few questions for clarification and then asked if I was willing to testify. I told him I was, and that I didn’t know if it was necessary, but I wanted to press charges. He said that the state had enough to press charges, given his admission and my statement but said it didn’t hurt that I wanted to prefer charges as well. We shook hands and then Stinson took the brother by the arm and led him out of the room.

Dinner at the hospital, if you could call it dinner, was processed sliced turkey with some soupy white sauce that tasted like flour and water. It probably was. There were brussel sprouts, which I consider a single step above dog doo, some pasty mashed potatoes and green jello. I ate the potatoes and jello. As I was washing the taste of dinner out of my mouth with a Seven Up, Vicky’s father came in. Without being invited he took a chair next to the bed. “I suppose my family owes you an apology.” he said. He sounded about as sincere as a snake oil salesman. I didn’t reply to him, I just looked at him.

“They won’t give my son bail.” he said. “They say that given the severity of his attack and the promise to do worse when you get out of the hospital that he poses too great a risk to be free. I talked to the prosecutor and he said that if you were to write a statement saying you didn’t feel threatened that he would be alright with letting him bail out. I’m asking you as a Christian man to another to do this for my family.”

I thought of his attitude towards me. He’d never had much use for me, calling me a hippy at best, a commie pinko at worst. He hated that his daughter was living with me out of wedlock, but he would have disliked me no matter what. I was simply not the kind of man his conservative, right wing perspectives could abide. I listened to what he had to say and then held up my bandaged hands. His boy had made it a point to stomp on my fingers as a part of his beating. “If your son hadn’t have wrecked my hands I might be able to write a statement I said.  Then I lifted up the front of the pajama top I was wearing and let him see the pattern of purple, green, yellow and gray that tattooed my stomach and chest. The wrappings of gauze around my head like a turban was already obvious. “You see what your boy did to me? Why should I lift a finger to help him, especially him promising that I would end up rotting in pieces out in the woods?”

“I can understand that you’re upset. But the Christian…”

“Hold it right there. There’s nothing Christian about this. Your daughter is a liar and a cheat. She’s as dishonest as a thief and gets other people to do her dirty work by lying. Your son is about as Christian as a demon from hell. There isn’t a thing about him I can see that resembles Christianity. And you. You don’t want to have your family take responsibility for their actions. You could care less about me and her you sit trying to bullshit me into making things easy for your son. Well let me tell you something. I’m going to be hurting for a long time. I can’t play my drums and even working at the radio station will be a challenge, assuming I still have a job after missing a lot of time because of the damage your kids have done. I don’t see one good reason why I should be helping them to feel better while I feel like crap.”

“My son should have beat you harder.” he said, standing.

“Get your Christian ass out of my room.” I shouted. Hearing me, the duty nurse came running in and saw us both glaring at one another. She told Vicky’s dad he needed to leave. She put a hand on his arm to guide him and he wrenched away from it and then stomped out the door. When Detective Stinson dropped by the following day I related the events to him and he suggested that I get a restraining order against the whole family. He wrote up some papers for me and two days later he returned with a copy of a court order that said that none of the family members could be within a thousand feet of me, and once they realized we were in the same place, it was up to them to leave. Stinson also said that it was their job to be on the lookout for me, that the court would assume they knew I was there unless there was a really good reason to think otherwise. Over the next few days I thought about making it a point to show up at their church, places of business, restaurants or whatever, but in the end I decided to take the high road and simply live my life, or try to, the way I did before all of the crap started.

portlandThere was no trial. Vicky’s brother took a plea bargain and was sentenced to two years in jail and three years of probation. I never saw any of the family members again after seeing Vicky’s dad in the hospital. That was fine by me. And a half year later I left the town of Roseburg and moved to Portland.