Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Waiting at Miss Kat's house, or, A War Story Traded

Tonight is different.  You have finally put your foot down.  Typically on these runs into Coconut Grove you wait in the car.  To be clear, this is not the Grove of CocoWalk and Ransom Everglades, it's the other one--  the one in which even now,  just weeks ago, one of your best friend's elementary school students was almost hit by a stray bullet in a broad daylight shoot out.  This wait has always been nerve-wracking.  Five to fifteen minutes slumped down in the front seat, doing your best to remain inconspicuous, would seem interminable.  At least there was cover of night.  But now, in the new car you purchased a few weeks ago it seems impossible to remain inconspicuous and the wait has gone from nerve-wracking to terrifying.  So you put your foot down, and Jeffrey has acceded to let you come inside and wait in the living room.

With Jeffrey you drive up to Miss Kat's house, where your guy Michael Love rents a room.  You haven't dealt with Michael Love directly yourself very much.  He seems unremarkable, talks with an unhurried drawl.  He is country, no doubt.  The exchange of money and drugs is something you are kept out of, which may be just as well, so tonight when you go to Miss Kat's house you will wait in the living room while Jeffrey and Michael Love will sneak off to Michael's room.

The house itself reminds you very much of home, of Key West.  It is shotgun house, typical of those made by Bahamanian immigrants who came to South Florida towards the end of the nineteenth century.  The front balcony seems unstable, the exterior paint on all sides is peeling.  When you step inside the first thing you notice is the walls of living room, which are covered with family pictures spanning decades.  Those few spaces not covered by a framed picture reveal unpainted Dade county pine.  Through birth, death, love, strife, first steps of a child, high school graduations, military service... all of it-- this house has been passed down and down and down.  The residue of generations is palpable.

One picture in particular catches your eye.  A high school cheerleader, replete with pom-poms smiles brightly and proudly into the camera.  Her hair is relaxed, and her skirt goes down to just below her knees.  You estimate that this was taken some time in the late 50's; not before Rosa Parks but before Dr. King's speech and before Selma.  You stay transfixed by this and the other pictures, contemplating a time that seems to be fading fast from our collective memory but from which we are not as far removed as we'd like to believe.

Your reverie is disturbed by a stirring behind you.  Out of the room adjacent to the living room appears an older woman, dressed in nightclothes.  She snarfles and coughs loudly and productively.  A double take reveals that she is, in fact, the cheerleader from the picture that struck you so.  It is Miss Kat.  She is gracious and welcoming, and invites you to wait with her in her room. 

Patting the mattress with her hand, Miss Kat bids you to come and have a seat on her bed.  When you do, you notice an old chef's knife protruding from under the pillow.  "What's up with that knife, Miss Kat?" you ask.  "Man, my boyfriend been fuckin' with me.  But if he try to come up in here tonight, I'ma cut that motherfucker.  Believe that."  You do, and you can't help cringing when Miss Kat starts coughing again, easily bringing up a good tablespoon of phlegm which she promptly spits out the open jalousie window.  "Damn, Miss Kat, you don't sound so good.  You all
"Yeah, yeah, I just had this cold for a little while now, I'll be ok."
"You should rest and drink orange juice.  You know, for vitamin C."

This is the cue Miss Kat has been waiting for.  Her hands dart under the bed and she produces a plate which holds a razor, a quartered straw, and about a gram and a half of cocaine.  "I got your vitamin C right here," she says.  At this point in the game, you've seen your share of things but this still manages to astonish and delight you.  You express genuine gratitude for her largesse as she arranges some of the pile of blow into two thick long lines.  When you take the plate your astonishment and delight doubles as you take a closer look at the line you're about to hit:  soft, oily, smelling faintly of gasoline.  It iridesces pink and blue.  In short, the quality is superb.  Some cognitive dissonance arises, as you have come to understand that one shouldn't get powder cocaine from places like the Grove.  Everybody knows that anything from here is stepped on repeatedly and only a sucker would get anything but heroin from this neighborhood.

Miss Kat goes first, inhaling her line with practiced aplomb.  Sharing a straw to be placed up your nose with this obviously sick woman isn't even an afterthought-- it is no thought at all.  After you hit, you sit and chat for a few more minutes about nothing, really.  And then Jeffrey comes out of Michael Love's room with the heroin you really came for anyway and that's that.

You never see Miss Kat again.  You haven't seen Michael Love in at least seventeen years, nor are you particularly inclined to see him either.  Jeffrey wanders in and out of your life, but you've cut him loose too.

The power of memory persists, though, giving all of these broken souls a quantum existence.  They are gone, but they are not.  You hope never to see them again, but they remain in your heart and mind, contributing to who you have become.  For this you are grateful, and you hope earnestly that wherever they are they have ceased suffering.  You love them. 

1 comment:

  1. This reminds me of the year and a half that I lived with a crack, heroin and marijuana addict. Because of the complete chaos he brought into my life, it took me a long time to forgive him. But forgiving him was integral to forgiving myself, who I actually hated more for allowing him to take over my life. Practicing yoga for the past two years has helped as well; I had to accept a whole lot of ugliness and failure that first year on the mat, but it's translated to an overall sense of acceptance of myself, the good and the bad. You're right, Patrick- all these souls are alive somewhere in the quantum physics of our psyches. We may not wish to leap back to them, but we wouldn't be exactly who we are today without them. Thank you for sharing this, and thank you for inspiring us through your teachings.