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November 6, 2002
fromthebatchedROBBERY, while sitting on the cold concrete, after the run from the police, I heard helicopters and police sirens. I looked around; a couple of cops jogged by me as I laid there in my skivvies.
Everyone else at the train station looked sophisticated. Some looked like they were on lunch, work, or skipping school.
There was a lady standing there in a suit—a mother and child hand and hand. She was so delicate with him, the way she looked into his eyes, she obviously loved him. The child was clearly questioning his mother about me. I heard the little boy say,
“Mommy, why is that man over there in his undowaya?”
The mother said, “I don’t know, sweetie, leave him be—don’t stare, he probably has no home.”
Off in the distance, you could hear the train approaching. The young child wouldn’t drop the subject,
“Whyno he have a home? Don’t he have a mommy?”
“Probably not, Seth…” she proceeded to change the subject “Look Seth, the choo-choo is coming!”
As the train pulled up, I began to calm down until my phone rang again causing my heart to jump out of my chest. I didn't recognize the phone number. It was a 610 area code, so I knew it was a suburb caller.
"Hello." the person on the other side of the line seemed very delicate. "Uh, Mr. David Summers?"
"May I ask who this is?"
The train came to a halt as the people waiting positioned themselves to board.
"Certainly. This is Dr. Newbaul from the Norristown Area Hospital. We have a Mary Etta Jacobs here and we need to speak with David Summers, the kid she cares for."
My heart started pounding harder than it already was before. The lump in my throat grew to the point where I was having trouble breathing. My eyes and nose began to inflame. Restraint gave way to emotion as I blurted out,
"Is she ok?"
He very calmly repeated his question. "Is this David Summers?"
"Yes! Yes, it’s David Summers! Is she ok!?"
"Yes, for now she is." he seemed uncertain as he told me, "She … she had a heart attack, and you… may want to come down here to see her. Norristown Hospital."
I bounced up and slipped into the closing train doors. I had to go see Etta.
I showed up at the hospital not wearing anything more than my boxers. The staff refused my entrance upon arrival, but after minutes of doctors and receptionists conferencing with each other, one doctor approached me and said,
“We’re sorry about the mix up Mr. Summers. Let me find you a gown to wear.”
I put it on as I rushed up to see her.
The sight of my guardian laid out in the hospital bed twirled my stomach. Even though she was sleeping, her face had a very disturbed look as if she were having a terrible nightmare.
I sure hoped I was.
I walked over there and I sat next to her. Grabbing her hand, I pressed it against my face.
“I’m sorry, Etta. I’ve been a bad son to you. I should have been there for you. I shouldn’t be out there neglecting your needs.”
Her eyes opened slowly before she looked at me and almost jumped out the bed. She grabbed a hold of me with the tightest bear hug you could imagine. She always had a deathly tight grip in emotional situations. She asked me where I was all of this time. Without second thought I told her,
"I was at an interview." Then she said,
"Oh my goodness. I was watching the news and the top story involved footage of someone breaking into some rich man’s garage. The young man that the police were chasing had your same body-type and disposition. I became so worried about you, that I nearly killed myself. I guess I’m just becoming an old paranoid lady. You would never do those horrible things. But, it just seems that, in this terrible world anything is possible.”
Then she asked me if I did anything for the neighbors today. I told her that I hadn’t because I was running since early that morning. Etta looked at me in that sad, worried face that I knew all too well.
“David, make sure you keep loving, ok?" she asked.
It seemed that Etta thought the man on the news was me.
Wait, what am I saying? It was me.
I’m tired of lying to myself. I’m tired of lying to her.
I made up my mind that no longer was I going to lie to Etta, my guardian. She didn’t deserve that. After all, she was nothing but supportive of me. As a matter of fact, she was the only person I knew who was supportive of me and my goals to be a writer.
Etta was so inspiring, which was quite the contrast to my parents’ discouraging words. She would always say,
“In this cold, hard world, don’t let anyone, not even me, steal your desire to live, or your desire to succeed in whatever. Just make sure whatever it is you do, do it with love, do it with joy, do it with compassion, do it mildly, do it patiently, do it thoughtfully, have thick skin, and do it peacefully. If you do it with those few qualities, you will not fail.”
On the other hand, mom and dad would insist that I was going to fail them because, “I didn’t apply myself.”
I believed what Etta would say, though, because seemingly, she was always right. But still, I had seen so much negativity in my life by that time, that it was hard for me to fathom so much positivity turning out successfully. I would apply her words where I could, but for the most part, lying worked for me. I did whatever necessary to get what I needed. I already knew I couldn’t show all those good qualities at once anyway.
Many people said I couldn’t make anything out of my life, so when I would tell them I was a successful lawyer or something to that effect, they’d have no choice but to feel like donkeys.
Eat your words.
If they’d ask any auxiliary questions that I didn’t know, I’d tell them something that’s simple, general and sounds good, whether it’s true, false or a mixture of both. I just like that feeling of throwing it back into their face.
At this point I thought to myself, when Etta makes it through this, I'm turning over a new leaf. No more lying. I’m going to live the truth out from now on. I am who I am!
I took a look at Etta and noticed that she had closed her eyes and her breathing had become lighter. My eyes welled up with tears, as I thought about all the things I've lied to her about. Basically, the only thing she knew about me was that I wanted to be a writer. Seventy-five percent of everything else I had said was a terrible lie. Still, I told more truth to that woman, than anybody else combined. But, I had to admit to her what a fraud I was; she deserved to know.
She said very faintly and weak, "Yeah baby?"
As my tears became heavier, ready to gush out onto my cheek, I said,
"I'm not going to make it. I'm not a good writer. I don't know anything. I don't even have this good heart you always speak of.”
Her voice was now reduced to a whisper. Her speaking was taking a lot of energy out of her. “That’s not true baby. I watch you help that Jefferson family boy every morning with his books and things.”
My stomach was sinking and I felt a rush of emotion charge into my face, as I laid my head on her stomach with my head facing toward her feet.
Her view of me was so optimistic and I didn’t know why. I only helped Eugene, because it was the easiest way to ‘show love to a neighbor’ like she wanted. Eugene was the next door neighbor. He was the only child of the Jefferson family. He was the clumsiest, dorkiest, most chubby person in the world, with the roundest little head and body.
When he walked, he had a seventy percent chance of committing some sort of accident, which made it easy for me to pick up whatever he was going to drop, clean up whatever he was going to spill, and fix what ever he was going to break. Then, I would run home and tell her what I did for Eugene that day. It was just something she required me to do in order for me to stay there with her. She believed, in order to reap good things, you must sow good things.
It was “my rent” as she would put it.
Eugene, in that sense, was easy money.
I continued speaking, preparing to unleash the ultimate confession of my life to her. My tears started flowing out of my eyes, as I adjusted the blue cover up higher over her arms, which laid by her sides.
“I'm terrible at showing any kind of love... I wish I could, but I just can't. I don't know how to explain it... Eugene… I only did that because—“
“No,” Her voice became stern, “if you didn’t have it in you, then you wouldn’t have done it, or you would have given me lip about it. You never did that, David. But what you accomplished in those deeds was that, you planted good seeds. They’ll benefit—” she started coughing in the middle of her words.
"I know, Etta, they’ll benefit me later in life. I know, thank you.”
I never understood how these random deeds for my neighbors would help me in anyway.
Etta said back to me,
“No, not just you, they’ll benefit you and whomever your neighbors are for years to come. That’s what life is about, baby. You’ll learn.”
After another episode of coughing, I ran to the sink to get her a cup of water.
“You know, David, I believe you will be an inspiration to many one day. Keep writing, keep loving, my dear. One day you will triumph over it all.”
“Etta, you don’t understand what I’m trying to say, I’m not capable.” My voice started quivering. “I don't know whose fault it is, I mean, I know it’s not yours, because you were always so encouraging to me. But, it seems like your showering of love and encouragement, was heavily watered down by everyone else’s cold, hard, harsh words. Even the ones who mean well, they—“
Ever so faintly she uttered, “I believe in you. Promise me that you will triumph—promise me you won’t let anything stop—“
She grimaced in agony.
“Doctor!” I cried.
Etta jolted out of her bed, arching her back. She stiffened up and cried out in pain.
A pulse of electricity surged through my body making me slightly dizzy, and the monitor changed to that familiar and famous devastating high-pitched monotone.
Nurses and doctors rushed in the room. I wanted to stay in there; I didn’t want to leave. I had something to tell her. I wanted to promise her. They struggled as they escorted me out. I threw a punch through the window, as the doctors pulled me through the threshold of the room. My raw emotion and pain put a hole right into the window. My right arm was gushing with blood.
"We’re gonna need to get you to stop bleeding, before you lose too much blood." The medics told me.
Becoming faint, I looked on helplessly as the scene became mass chaos.
Through the white clouds tunneling into my vision, I watched the doctors scramble in every direction. Two or three doctors avalanched through me, pushing me into a wheelchair. They wanted to be sure I didn't slice any veins. With a slight echoing effect I heard the doctor say through his sky-blue mask,
“You got your fist pretty well through that window buddy, we need you to cooperate with—“ As they drug me off, I remember screaming.
“Ettaaa!” The sound echoed in my ears and faded off. “Don’t leave me! I need your support! You’re all that I have!”
All I could think about were all the lies I’ve told to her, even up to the very last minute. If that weren’t enough, it was hard to shake the fact that it was me that sent her into the heart attack.
If only I wouldn’t have been greedy. If I would have loved more like she always asked me to do. I should have taken it to heart. I mean, I did sometimes. I would help my neighbors everyday. Maybe I should have been patient. Maybe I shouldn’t have cheated by just helping Eugene.
Despite everything, that was the last time I ever spoke to my dear guardian—my caretaker—Etta. Her last words to me were: "I believe in you. Promise you’ll triumph.” I didn’t even know if I could triumph. Etta believed I could for some reason, but why? What gave her that impression? At what point did I ever show my ability to triumph? And how would I?
Why would she do this to me? I couldn’t live without her believing in me, let alone find a way to believe in myself. I never got to confess to her of my lying ways, I never got the chance to answer her question.
Now she's gone.
I had to leave Philly. I had nowhere else to live. My dad lived in L.A.—1100 Wilshire—and that’s how I met you.
Erica wiped the tears in her eyes. “Wow, that’s quite the emotional story, there. Must have been tough dealing with the loss of her.”
“You have no clue. I didn’t know what way I was going from there. I was so used to depending on her support and love.”
“Well how did you get along without her?”
“I didn’t, at first.”
“That’s so weird. This story reminds me of a friend of mine.”
Erica remembered Tim’s story about his grandmother, who also died of a heart attack. Erica put the money in the bill folder.
David squenched his lips and raised his eye-brows as he fiddled with his cell phone.
“Cest La Vie.” He said. Erica felt his pain leak into her chest. Covering her mouth, she uttered,
“That’s terrible, Sketch. My friend Tim Sullivan—he’s actually from here too—he, in a way, promised his grandmother he’d succeed as well.”
What are the chances? Erica thought. A message came through to her phone. It was Tim. David attempted to peek over her shoulder as they walked.
“Don’t be nosey.” She said.
The text said, “Hope all is well. Let me know how it all went today.”
Erica began to think about her grandparents, “David, do you think that is something common? I once promised my grandmother that, no matter how old and independent I became, I would always visit her on a regular.”
“Yeah, apparently it is. Oh, and Erica, please don’t mention my guardian in court. I think it’s irrelevant.”
“No problem.” She said, as the bus arrived. “So, how did all of that tragedy affect you?”
“It made me a mess. If you think I was insecure before…”
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