Ghosts of North Beach: Part 3

Joey and Maria

It took me a few years of tortured attempts to first ignore, then embrace and finally learn how to live with my ‘gift’. First I was scared. Then I was proud. Nowadays I am just tired and a little curious.

No such entente had been reached by Maria and Joey. Since her death almost a year ago, that had occurred only six  weeks into their courtship, Joey had moved on. Maria had not. That is not to say he didn’t struggle to come to come to terms with her death. Joey knew he was a pretty basic kinda guy. He liked pretty girls, Saturday brunches, didn’t either work too hard, nor was he totally without ambition. His little job in a San Francisco start up kept him busy, but neither provided him with endless money, nor endless work. He was neither devoted to his girlfriends, nor particularly attached to them. Joey was lukewarm in everything he did.

No one that spoke to Joey could help but be struck by the sheer nothingness of the man. Joey: the mirror that the brilliant and brittle Maria could reflect herself back in. Joey the stable, the sane and the nondescript. Joey, of course was eaten up by guilt. If he had just been brave and told her on the phone that he couldn’t do it any longer, their relationship of fights and crazy hot make up sex, dramas and recriminations, demands and expectations and her intense way of loving him so completely that he felt smothered and creeped out. Joey needed a lukewarm woman, to match his tepid disposition, not a hardheaded actress and slam poet doyenne of the north beach open-mike scene.

That day she had been coming to visit him, riding her bicycle, he was planning a gentle break up, a lot of ‘it is me not you-ing’ and trying to offer being friends, ‘in time’ as an offering to cool her inevitable tears, anger and recriminations. Maria thought of Joey as her everything, her peak, her blue eyed boy, but then Maria generally thought of every man she was with as her ‘everything’, at least until they didn’t, and left her clinging and desperate. It was just unfortunate for Joey that he was the final one, the one she landed on before the clicking roulette wheel of her life had finally stopped, and that marble circling the drain, the black 13 finally dropped into the last slot, before it was never to spin again. Joey was the lucky winner of Maria’s terminal affection and there was an infinite, eternal flavor to proceedings that if Joey had realized at the time, would probably driven him right into the closest madhouse, that is, if there had been any left in San Francisco to check into. I suppose there is a silver lining to everything.

About two weeks after her death, having not taken any time off work to process the trauma and the guilt, however misplaced it was, Fate having dealt her a bad hand, and his invitation merely proving to be the apparatus and mechanics of her worldly exit, Joey had taken to his bed with a bottle of whiskey, his PS4 controller and an ounce of marijuana. Joey had barely ever smoked weed before. Joey was not that kind of guy, more a craft beer at the weekend, glass of wine in the evening kinda fellow. The ghostly Marie haunted him, watching him drunken and unshaved sobbing at the unfairness of it all, at the terminality of a life cut off, and his own unwitting role in her end. He didn’t wash the dishes. He didn’t use the shower, he didn’t even walk the dog. Maria’s dog had been sent to the shelter after her death, her family not wanting to deal with that too. Joey felt so guilty that he had gone there the week after her death and picked up the small corgi/golden retriever mix and treated it like a small child who had lost his mother. The dog sat in bed eating pizza with him. Joey had turned into a grief slob, a sorry mess, and Maria, in her hopefulness, thought it was because he loved her. Love had nothing to do with it. Joey was feeling guilty at being freed from her clutches and not having to dump her. Joey was feeling guilty that he had asked her to visit him, and guilty about living just off Van Ness and it’s cyclist-chewing dangers. Joey was feeling sorry mostly for himself.

Joey filled his apartment with green things, with lucky bamboo and house plants, ferns and cacti, in an explosion of green sappy life. He had no idea why he was coming home with plant after plant, putting seeds into plant pots and throwing open the curtains that previously he had kept closed all day long. I suspect it was because he was trying to fill the apartment with life and oxygen in an attempt to push Maria out. Eventually, a friend from work came and knocked on his door and refused to go until Joey opened up. James walked in, took one look at Joey in his sweat pants, gut hanging bare over the waistband, pale shoulders glistening with sweat and crumbed with pizza and specks of ramen soup, his face unshaven and lined with fear and grief and guilt, and the carefully cared for plants in almost every free space, that was not taken up by ancient rotting fast food containers, and half empty bottles of booze, and decided to slap some sense into Joey.

Once Joey had been thrown into a shower, cajoled into clean clothes, and shamed into picking up a trash bag and throwing the detritus of grief into it, bottles and cardboard take out containers and yesterdays chop sticks and all, James put the coffee on and pushed the dog off the sofa.

“You can’t carry on like this, Joey,” the concern was written over his friend’s face. “It sucks, we all know it sucks, but it was not your fault. I know you loved her, Joey, but you gotta let her go.”

Joey looked at James, met his eyes and said the words he had been keeping hidden since she was taken out by the truck on Van Ness: “I was going to leave her. I had asked her to come over so I could break it off.”

Now Maria, who was watching James intensely, gratefully as he cleaned up both Joey and the apartment, and was hovering with her hands resting lightly on Joey’s shoulders, unseen, unfelt apart from a faint uneasiness, had no idea this had been the case. She thought he was heartbroken, in love, longing for her as she was for him. She thought she had died loved, died wanted, and this was keeping the lid on her fury at her untimely and unexpected exit.

“What?” James failed to comprehend what Joey was trying to tell him.

“I had asked Maria to come and see me,” by now Joey was snivelling wretchedly, “so I could tell her it was not working out, and that we needed to take a break. You know it was me, not her, I just don’t do too well with being smothered, and she was very full on, really intense, and it just isn’t….I mean wasn’t where I was…where I am right now…” he was treating James, and Maria to the full story, and finally the floodgates opened.

“The fact is I resented her being round here all the time. I had got to dreading her coming over. It couldn’t carry on like it was. I had to put an end to it. It was not working out. It was not fun. She was a fucking psycho, man. A crazy case.” The dog cowered as the plates in the kitchen started to rattle.

“Hey man,” said James, “Is that an earthquake. Dude?” The books on the shelves started to shake dramatically. Then finally a large and messy fern picked itself up and threw itself through the closest window, smashing onto the sidewalk below barely missing me as I walked past. I screamed. Joey screamed. James screamed. The dog barked. Pandemonium broke loose, as Maria flew out of the window screaming bloody murder. As she and the plant pot and the mud and the fern landed at my feet, it was clear I was not going to be allowed to stay out of this.

“Maria?” I asked quietly, then more firmly when I saw her flashing red eyes see nothing but fury and death. “Maria!”

Maria turned her head round unnaturally, as if she had forgotten normal human movements in the months since her death. Her legs twisted uselessly, yet I had rarely seen a spirit so powerful, so composed so totally out of rage and revenge and pure indignation at the situation she had found herself in. She seemed almost utterly inhuman, very nearly nothing left of the girl she had been.

“I am going to kill him!” Maria spluttered through the stream of blood at dripped from her mangled face and disappeared before it hit the sidewalk. “He…he was….going to leave me!” All of a sudden a bunch of daffodils appeared in her hand, a ghostly bicycle before her propped and ready for the riding, and she clicked her joints back into position, her injuries reversed and the red tide stemmed. She peeked into the basket, pulled a plastic shopper over the ghost of a roast chicken, and pushed the glass wine bottle deeper into the raffia woven front carrier basket, and politely said ‘excuse me’ as she kicked one elegantly reformed ghostly leg over the saddle and started to peddle down the hill, blankly, happily singing the words to some Neutral Milk Hotel tune about the King of the carrot flowers and forks being stuck into daddy’s shoulder, whispering Joey’s name and smiling her intensely happy smile. To be frank, I was afraid.

Joey poked his head out of the window, obviously thinking that the only possible explanation was a very localized earthquake, and I had no desire to disabuse him of that notion, besides, it was Thursday and I had somewhere to be.

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