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Zombie Pin-Up | 2009 | Rick Ghastly

11.07.09 1:41 p.m.

There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart - --
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.

-Sylvia Plath


The Hermit Crab and the Phoenix


For the second time, she refills my plastic cup with what I consider good wine, though I rarely drink. On the table are crudités and banana slices dusted with cinnamon. I know only Ilana, not the older man, not the Russian with his sharp consonants insisting we should watch Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle rather than Sans Soleil, until Evan arrives. We look toward the white bed sheet suspended from exposed pipes between nude paintings Ilana has done, insisting against the English dubbing on our French art movie (though we are not masochistic enough to refuse comprehensible subtitles). I don't recall when I more was grateful to belong somewhere that did not implicitly contain Melanie.

I invited Melissa, because I'd yelled at her earlier in the week out of frustration that she malingered over feelings for a man who is years (therapy, a Buddhist monastery, and a rehab) of being worthy of what she does for him. She declined to join me hours before the movie, opting to nurse her wounds next to her roommate Krista and watch sports. She hides in a shell she never needed before, one she acquired through theft and one she has plainly outgrown. I couldn't help myself from a final barb, reminding that she would be better served meeting new people, strangers vouched for by those I respect on sight, whose friendships I have passively sought for a year. Melanie is aghast when I lament that Melissa had declined my invitation, not that Melissa bailed on our plans but that I'd bothered including her at all; these would not be "her people" nor would she enjoy our potentially pompous fun. Perhaps these people would not have been to Melissa's tastes, but I don't care to decide that for others anymore, as I am so often surprised.

When I arrived (despite intransigent elevators), Ilana asks where my friend is, she who I claimed needed exposure to company outside her head - and the inadequate bedrooms of the unworthy - owing to bad life choices.

"She has made another bad life choice," I said by way of explanation, "and opted not to come."

Ilana raises her eyebrows, but leaves it at this.

Melissa texts midway through the second movie of the night to let me know that she went to the hospital and has been released. I text and call for clarification, but she does not respond. Her night, I have to believe, would have been far gentler, more pleasurable, if she had opted for bravery enough to come out with me.

After the movie, while discussing everything but the films we have failed to fully digest, I mention to Evan, who went to school with Melissa and was once one of her best friends and crushes, that she is the one who I was going to bring. I describe the text message and Ilana says, "I don't like having pity friends," though this isn't how I see Melissa. She is an awesome person who is having a hard time that won't let go, an inability to move that is costing her richly.

Over the intervening days, it comes out that Melissa decided to go to St. Francis Hospital because she finally decided that she needs out-patient treatment to help fight off the demons of her sickness. From nine in the morning until two in the afternoon, she would be in therapy. I tell her that this sounds like a part time job, which is the amount of devotion she might need to allow for her healing. Then, because they asked her on the first day to color for three hours as part of her therapy, she quit. She doesn't have any other plans for her mental rehabilitation, but refuses to see crayons as valid tools to clarity and healing.

Over the weekend, Melissa calls, more distraught than I have ever heard anyone (and I have been with a woman whose father, whom she had been nursing through cancer, died). I tried to talk her through it, though there is no way to help someone see the light when their illness wants them wallowing in despair. She wants me to tell Stevehen how much she loves him, how they belong together, how he is the one for her (though, very technically, he has been because she has allowed herself no other real relationship) in direct contradiction of logic and her own behavior when stable. She had a large part of the onus in ending their relationship in January and, when they failed to reconcile months later owing to the intercession of a mutual friend from Warcraft, she tore into him to let him know just how little she truly thought of him. She does not truly want him, she simply wants someone. She argues that she hasn't been whole since Stevehen, but I think the breakup is just one of the symptoms and far from the cause. She says she wasn't whole before their relationship and that, in her opinion, she is too unattractive in a dozen ways for anyone to want to ever date, effectively making up their minds for them by secluding herself from potential rejection and happiness. "After I pay off my debts," she says, "I might kill myself because nothing is ever going to get better."

She asks once more if I won't call Stevehen for her. I tell her no, that he isn't what she truly wants, that her sickness is making her misremember their relationship through rose-colored lenses, that she needs to learn to be whole on her own before she can think about being whole with another person, and that Stevehen had a girlfriend and had moved on with his life. It isn't my place to play her Cyrano. We are all adults and she doesn't need me to pass Stevehen a note in study hall. (She feels she cannot contact him on her own because she earned him blocking her by tearing into him, calling him a coward, faggot, and a great deal else for wanting to run from her scorn to Boston. She, however, has no trouble creating alternate accounts to contact other people who have tried to block her from their lives.) At this, she hangs up on me, only to send the following text message minutes later.

It's obvious you don't care. Don't call me again ever and I mean it this time. Leave me alone.

Last time she did this (almost to a word), she then cried to Angela that I didn't immediately call her back and "fight for [her] friendship", acceding to her demands (I believe to intercede with Stevehen). If she needs her space - or, at least, thinks she does - I will give it. Last time, after a few weeks, she called and asked that we just forget this had happened and not talk about Stevehen anymore, since her fear was that I liked Stevehen better. (For the record, had Melissa moved on and found a partner and Stevehen called up crying for me to plead his case, I would have given the same advice and the same refusal. It isn't my place and I do not want it to be when my reward is exactly situations like this.) And, when she returns, she may again try to emotionally coerce me into caving to her illness and I will persist in caring too much about her to let her.

I will wait again for cooler heads to prevail. Melissa is not a pity friend and I refuse to let her be. She has been my friend for nearly fifteen years, through many struggles that didn't seem to mark her (aside from the scar on her knee of a third degree burn from when her car exploded), only to have them all rush for acknowledgement after she dumped Stevehen. This year has been awful for her, worse than when she was a coke addict and was shortly in rehab, and she never seems to find the solid enough ground of a true rock bottom to build from, as her plummets from plateaus dig her further down. She will be fine for weeks, completely normal, until her few remaining close friends (Angela, Krista, and me) think she has started healing. Then, again, it comes crashing, so often because she has welcomed a creep into her bed and he (or, once, she) proved to be pathological. But she is in there, Melissa the Phoenix, and I have to believe that she will one day burn for the last time and find her confidence again. I want her to be able to find a place where she is again comfortable to come out of that final shell, where she will no longer need to move into someone else's cast-off for protection, and can allow herself to be in the place where she belongs.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, Halloween, parties, Ilana, Tom.

last watched: Stardust
reading: Fates Worse Than Death
listening: Regina Spektor

Zombie Pin-Up | 2009 | Rick Ghastly

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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