Drama Creative Nonfiction

 Is this 1984?

It sure seemed like it. We were in a warehouse. Rows of folding metal chairs, empty metal walls, the place smelling of antiseptic and sweat. People just waiting until a nurse said they were free to go. Except I was there of my own free accord. And my smartphone beeped at me.

What are we doing with this plaster cast?” The text said

 This was why my jaw aches, I thought. Grinding my teeth. I had left the man explicit directions as to what to do with the cast. I wasn’t in the mood to reply, considering I had just gotten this experimental vaccine that could do God knows what for all I knew. Or worse, be completely ineffective. No one else I knew had gotten this yet so I couldn’t compare notes. Besides, it was a Saturday and I had been at the county fairgrounds since dawn. I felt nausea that could have been the Moderna, could have been fucking nerves. I wasn’t in the mood.

“We’re making a SMO for this patient,” I responded. “You just need to pull 3/16th polyethylene around the cast. The soft plastic but use the thick stuff. I’ll cut it out and finish the brace.”

He then called me. “I don’t know what you want.”

My heart sank then.


Kevin isn’t a stupid guy or at least I never thought he was. He had street smarts and worked well with his hands. No, he wasn’t dumb, just ignorant. I think he got the two mixed up, like a lot of people do. I can’t count the number of times we argued over my vocabulary. For example, if I needed something measured in metrics. Or if I called plastics and braces by their proper names. It was strange considering it was his job to make them.

“Don’t act so high and mighty, because you have a college degree and I don’t,” he’d often tell me.

I restrained the urge to throttle him. I knew he’d dropped out in the ninth grade but never thought about it. No one ever accused me of sounding like Neil deGrasse Tyson or something. Why was he?

“I’m not talking down to you. I speak to you like I would anyone because I don’t think you’re stupid.” Although obviously you do. I took a deep breath before that came out. “If you don’t understand, just ask. I’m not going to think no less of you.” Another breath. I yanked an old plastic brace from the depths of a plastic bin. After I was done coughing from the dust I said, “This is what an SMO is. Just a foot brace that goes up and around the ankle. We’re making it so this child doesn’t twist and sprain her ankle.”

He nodded and changed the subject. “Why won’t you go out with me? I know you’re divorced now. And I’m a good-looking guy.”

He was, I couldn’t deny that. He worked out. He was tall, muscular, with a tanned face and arms. His brown hair was long, his eyes clear. He was strong, even if he himself was an amputee. But although I always said he wasn’t stupid I also felt we were from different worlds. I couldn’t help that. I didn’t have a skull tattooed on my arm. I had never so much as spent a night in jail. And I really didn’t want a guy who knew what prison was like. He and I both knew that. Still, he asked, claiming he was joking. And we had some kind of relationship. I helped him with his taxes. He helped me with minor home repairs. I cared about him, but I wasn’t going to date him. I usually told him he was a coworker and off limits. Today I was tired. It had been too many times over the years. I finally told him part of the truth.

 “Because we’d kill each other,” I said. “And your drinking bothers me.”

“I don’t come to work drunk or nothing. I just drink at night. And it’s only beer.”

I crossed my arms. “Dude. How long does it take you to drink a case again?”

“About two or three days,” he said. “But” he added, looking at me, “that’s my business.”

“That would kill most people, you know. Hell if I drank that I'd be dead in two years, never mind not able to function.”

He smirked as if my admission meant I was weak. I couldn't hold my liquor so now he was above me I guess. “I’m not most people. And it’s still my problem.”

“I know. You’re an adult. But it still would bother me. To me, more than two beers every day is too much.”

He shook his head. I went on, “and I don’t want to be the one who bugs you about it. You have to quit because you want to.”

He didn’t look at me anymore, just the prosthesis he was making. He poured the resin into a container, judging the amount by eye. I wished he’d weigh it, measure the proper amount of catalyst. Still, it always came out right, so I didn’t argue.

“Well, I don’t want to,” he said at last.

“I’m not asking you to. I’m saying it would bother me. And your smoking does too. Do you really want a woman who nags?”

“Naw,” he said, mixing color into the resin. “It’s why I’m single. No one bothers me.”

“There you go,” I told him.


Kevin went to school when I did, in the seventies and eighties. Perhaps then they didn’t check for learning disabilities. Perhaps being one of six children he got lost in the shuffle. Maybe no one had time or the education to check. Maybe his parents flat out didn’t care. By his own admission his father thought the way to handle the situation was by using the belt. So, Kevin dropped out in high school.

In some way he reminded me of my youngest son. I don't know why except sometimes Kevin struggled to pronounce words and read very slowly. As a toddler, my son Alex wouldn’t talk. His father and I didn’t know why. I thought maybe he was autistic. We tried private speech therapy, but it wasn’t helping. We talked to the pediatrician, but he wasn’t concerned. My mother was and kept pushing me to intervene. Finally, at my wit’s end I dialed 211, the information hotline, and somehow found information about the school’s special education services. I had him evaluated and the school wrote up an IEP. He got speech therapy and interventions. It’s been a hard road but he’s graduating this year. And is an Eagle scout.

I wondered what he would be if these things weren’t available to him. If the year was 1970 instead of 2007 when I had him evaluated. If I had not known to call 211. Would he have dropped out, wearing a skull tattoo on his arm?

Other times I thought Kevin was just too stubborn to learn. Or rather, he was just too damned stubborn to admit he was afraid. Perhaps he didn’t like a woman telling him what to do. All I know there was a brick wall where other people have a door. If there was a door to his mind it was nailed shut and barred. He never learned the proper names to the things we made, nor the names of the plastics. They were named by characteristics. Polypropylene was “the hard plastic.” Polyethylene was “the soft plastic.” Whatever works I thought. He was good at his job, quick, could do detail work I struggled with. I was good with patients but not so much with fabrication. So I didn’t care how I had to describe things.

I didn't want to socialize with him but I did want better for him. He did his work well, but still I wanted him to succeed. I’m not sure what he wanted for himself. He mentioned getting his GED. I encouraged it, even offered to help him with it. But he stopped going to class.

“I can’t afford the gas,” he said. “It’s fifteen miles, twice a week. It adds up.”

Give up a pack or two and you probably could. I knew better than to say it.

Next, I tried to get him to learn to use a computer. I even tried to teach him to budget for the love of God. So, he could stop living paycheck to paycheck. It went about as well as I expected it to.

Now I wonder if I was talking down to him. It was like the drinking, I guess. Me trying to impose my views on him. Maybe it was no wonder he nailed the door shut. But what did he want me to do? He complained he couldn’t make ends meet, so I tried to tell him what worked for me.

“Budgeting is for the rich,” he said, glaring at me.

“Sure,” I answered. “I’m freaking independently wealthy and work just for the hell of it. Look, all I’m saying is cut down on smoking and beer. Figure out a budget for those things and stick to it.”

“You’re nagging me again.”

“Yeah, I am. You did notice how Sara died didn’t you?”

The woman I mentioned was a friend of his. I had met her also. By then she was dragging an oxygen tank around and still smoked. She just did it in secret. I’m sure her death, which was in a hospital wasn’t pleasant. Certainly, my aunt’s wasn’t. Kevin coughed, distracting me from my thoughts. “I’ll outlive you,” he said.

“I’m sure that’s possible,” I answered. “I will say I’m not visiting you in the hospital. I’ll go just to say I told you so.”

“You’re going to miss me,” he sang, very loudly, “the day that I’m gone.”

I turned from the plaster mold I was working on to look at this man who once had helped me move after I left my husband. He helped me move a piano into the U-Haul truck while my ex just watched without helping, not until we both yelled at him. I paid Kevin, yes, but he still didn’t have to do it. And later my mother, who was watching the boys, invited him to dinner. He was polite to her, calling her ma’am like southerners do. He even spoke kindly to the boys who were a bit afraid of him, I think. It was a different side of him I didn’t often see. And I wondered about the paths he could have taken. Would he be the same man? But I couldn’t say any of that. It would’ve been too weird. And truth was, he usually got me angry or annoyed. I had not been kidding when I said we’d kill each other if we ever dated.

“I’ll miss you like I miss a toothache,” I said.

“You’ll miss me,” he said, with that I’m God’s gift grin I hated.


It was 2019 when all this began catching up to him. First, he had to have cataract surgery. At the age of 52. My boss, who probably was just as angry and secretly cared as much as I did was fuming.

“It’s the smoking,” he said. “He’s too young and nothing else makes sense.”

Frankly, I didn’t know what it was. I did worry about Kevin’s liver. His stomach had gotten bigger over the years and I didn’t think it was just a beer gut. I said something one day about it.

“I’m cutting back on the drinking,” he said.

Sure you are, I thought. Then he started making mistakes at work. He was calling in sick all the time. Usually, it was on Monday’s. The boss is lenient but finally he had enough. He had given him chance after chance over the years, even bailed him out of jail once. But finally he'd reach the end of his patience. He began docking his pay, which he never does. In 2020, right before quarantine Kevin called in sick, thinking he had Covid. I don’t know if that was the last straw or if it was because he got the cops called on him for blasting music, and angrily yelling at his neighbors. In any case he was laid off. About that time, he did something to his good ankle. Sprained it I believe. He still worked for us but just when needed. That was as much as he could do.

And now here he was, asking about a brace he should’ve known like the back of his hand.

“I’ll stop by,” I said over the phone.

I hadn’t seen him in a while, and I thought he’d aged. The skin over his nose was very rough, like leather but bumpy. I wondered if he shouldn’t be checked for skin cancer. He usually cut his own hair and it looked almost like a mullet. Long in the back and short on the sides, thinning on top. He moved slowly and limped more than usual. He saw me notice.

“I have a sore on my stump.”

“Okay well tell the boss you need a new prosthesis. He’ll make it or let you do it.”

“No,” he said, looking at my brace, not at me. “You don’t want to see it. Really. It’s all infected. And I can’t afford to go to the ER.”

I could believe it. I would only go there if I were dying and mostly because even with insurance it was expensive. Still, I’d just seen Kevin’s roommate ride by on his bicycle balancing a case on the handlebars. I wasn’t stupid. It might not be on his breath, but it was in his pores. I knew it was for nothing, but I said, “Jesus, just go. Tell them you need to get on Medicaid. Get your brother to help you.”

“They’ll only give me antibiotics,” he said, looking at me. “What’ll that do?”

I didn’t answer because what was the point? I just showed him what I wanted. He nodded.

“I got it now.” Then he gave me that grin. “Miss me?” he asked.

 I didn’t miss him, matter of fact. I could work without being teased or bothered. Or asked why I didn’t date him. I did wonder if at night he ever asked himself questions. Why do you follow this path? Did you have a choice? Could there have been a better way?

I imagined he replies the same way I did. “It doesn’t matter how I answer. You’re going to believe what you want anyway.”

May 22, 2021 03:46

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