Old Mack’s Tales

The Merry Month of May Again

Friday the 13th of May, 2011

She left her side of the bed mussed.  I’ll leave it that way for a while.  From past experience I know it will help me fantasize; I’ll be able to imagine that she’s just gone to the head or out to our front porch to catch a sunrise and have a smoke.  I’ll leave my side unmade too, as if she’ll come back in and help me make it up.  We often start our day, each of us on our own side of our huge bed, smoothing the sheets and pulling up the light quilt together.  And then we’ll take turns using the small bathroom, while the automatic Mr. Coffee brews a fresh pot of Folgers.

Last night, however, I was too exhausted and depressed to think about preparing Mr. Coffee to brew this morning’s Joe.  It was all I could do to walk our dogs around our yard; they’d been cooped up for hours during our absence and were whining to be let out the moment I walked into the house with the groceries. . . alone.

I put the bags on the table and chopping block.  Buddy and Zooey were fidgeting at the door to the utility room  while I fumbled with the lock.  They nearly bowled me over as I opened the door to the back yard.  Buddy made a dash for the fence between us and our neighbor’s huge blue-gray pit bull, Leo; she usually kisses Leo before squatting to relieve her bladder.  It’s some kind of dog flirtation, I suppose; I don’t pretend to understand dogs.  I walked to the fence and scratched Leo’s head as he stood with forepaws on the top rail of the chain-link fence.  Pit bulls seem to enjoy touching with their tongues.  I don’t enjoy being licked, but I tolerate it.  Buddy,  part pit bull is also a licker; she licks Leo’s tongue and they appear to be kissing.  And then they will race the depth of our yards several times before they tire of their game.  Meanwhile I’ve walked back to the house.  Their otherwise humorous antics have failed to cheer me up.


My wife’s depression began on Wednesday, while I was at the VA hospital going through a cardiac stress test with radio active isotopes injected into my blood stream.

I left the house at 0630 and didn’t return until 1400.  The testing began with blood work and the Coumadin clinic, prior to the stress test in Nuclear Medicine.  I was finished by 1300, but my car wouldn’t start until I could coax another elderly veteran to let me hook up my jumper cables for a boost.  When I got home I found my wife sleeping on the sofa.  The television set was blaring; Cher was wailing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”  I punched the off switch and the silence was shocking.  It woke Chris up.  She tried to stand up, but her feet were tangled in the coverlet and she fell hard, banging her head on the terrazzo floor.  She screamed in terror several times before I could get past the dogs lying in the center of our rug.  Her screams woke Buddy.  The little bitch sprang up from the prone position just as I was stepping over her and nearly tripped me.

I felt the back of Christine’s head, expecting it to be wet with blood.  Her hair was matted but dry.  My touch aroused her and stopped the hallucination, whatever it might have been.  Surprisingly, she hadn’t hurt herself.  I checked her neck, shoulder and arms before helping her rise to a sitting position.  “Don’t move.  I’ll untangle your feet.”  She apparently couldn’t feel the blanket in which her feet were bound.

She gripped my forearms as I lifter her and got her back on the sofa.  “Shall I call the paramedics?” I asked.  She said she was okay and hollered loudly: “Don’t call anyone.  I’m okay.  God takes care of drunks and stoners.”

She obviously wasn’t okay.  “Stay right there,” I commanded.  “If you move I’ll call for an ambulance!”  Harsh but effective at times like this.  I went to the fridge in the kitchen and got out a bottle of water.  Chris was asleep on the sofa  when I returned and she slept for an hour or two.

By then I had to get away from the house for a while, take a drive, a walk, anything.  I called A.J. and asked her to come over.  Ten minutes later she parked her car on the grass beside our driveway.  A.J. sat with her mom for several hours while I drove to a park and hiked off my mood.  When I returned I sent A.J. home and sat until Chris woke up.

She took the water bottle I held out to her and drank a few sips before rising again and asking me to help her into our bedroom.  She got into bed, but only half way; her left buttock rested on her side table and one foot was still on the floor.  She’s heavy so  getting her all the way into the bed was difficult; she resisted my efforts to roll her over into the center of the bed.

When she awoke Thursday morning, later than usual, she admitted that she’d overdosed on her sleeping pills while I was gone “somewhere.”.  I asked if she wanted to go back to the hospital which we call “the Club Med of psychiatric treatment centers.”  She didn’t want to go back.  She wanted to sit out front with me at our cafe table and watch the sunrise.  “It’s nearly noon, Chris.  You missed it.”  She shuffled into the kitchen and poured a cup of stale coffee, nuked it and came into the living room.

Friday the thirteenth began with her reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Polish.  She then went on to mumble about her mistreatment by the nuns and Jesuit priests of her schools from grade one through her first year at St. Mary’s College.  She recited an old saying: “All I know I learned from listening to Rock and Roll in the 1960s.”  And then she complained about her daughter.  Her complaints made me angry.  I told her that her daughter had sat in a chair beside the sofa for four hours while she slept and only left when it was time for her to go pick up her kids at school.  “She didn’t leave your side until I came home.” I said.  “luckily she was gone when you fell.  She’s strong, but I doubt that she could have picked you up.  She’d have called the paramedics.”

“I have an appointment with my counselor at one o’clock.  Will you drive me to his office?”

“I’ll go out and hook up the charger to get the car started.  Are you ready to go?”

“I’m always ready.”

She demanded that I stop for a carton of cigarettes on the way.  I left her in the car with the engine running while I dashed into the store.  There was the usual line of white proles lined up to buy Lotto tickets for Saturday’s drawing.  The god damned fools were blowing their unemployment checks on the one-in-thirteen million odds of winning the Jackpot.  When I got back to the car both front doors were wide open, blocking the two adjacent parking spaces.  “Close your door.  I’ll turn on the air conditioner.”

“Why are you being so mean?”

I drove her ten miles to her shrink’s offices in heavy traffic.  The Canadian Honkers are still with us.

It was hot. I was impatient. Moments later Chris came out to the car in a rage. Her schedule had been changed without notice, or more likely she’d misread it.  “Next week, dear,”  the receptionist may had said.  Chris hates that kind of patronizing familiarity from younger women, or men.

She got into the car, slammed the door hard enough to rattle all of the windows and declared that she was never coming back to that *#&!”

I closed the hood and backed out of the parking lot, nearly rear-ending her counselor’s new red corvette convertible, and began the 10-mile drive home.

Chris wanted me to drive her to the club med hospital, but changed her mind. I stopped at the store for groceries. While hurrying down an aisle of breakfast cereals, a man in a motorized wheel chair turned into the aisle. I avoided a collision with his buggy by swerving to the left, knocking over a six foot tall pasteboard display case of cereal boxes.

There for a few minutes I lost it. I punted the display case clear over to the meat department and then kicked boxes of cereal all the way to the produce department. People scattered as if they’d seen a gun. I picked up some grapes and wheeled my cart to the checkout. All the while Chris was sitting in the hot, idling car. She was fuming, but took a look at me and kept silent.

At home she hit the sack for an hour, during which she made a choice; overdose on sleeping pills or ask me to drive her to the hospital.

She chose the hospital.  On the way I stopped at the bank for cash, made another stop at Walgreen’s to buy a small, nicely bound journal and a bag of Werthers Chewy Caramels for her.  She waited at the car, but was walking around the Harley chopper parked in the next slot; she appeared to be thinking about swiping it and riding off into the sunset.  But she got in our car and I took her to the hospital.

There the admitting nurse asked if I’d like to go with them while she examined Chris.  I pulled the gate closed and said: “I’ve had enough, thank you.  She’s your responsibility now.”

I waited five minutes for someone to buzz the door open.  And then I got in the car and drove home.

The dogs were happy to see me.  Their water bowl was dry and they had to get out of the house to piss.  I left the back doors open so they could go and come as they pleased, while filling their water bowl.

I turned up the air conditioner, switched on all of the fans, sat in my chair and finished reading the “Epilogue” of Lynne Joiner’s excellent non-fiction book about Mao’s China, McCarthy’s America, and the Persecution of John S. Service: “The Honorable Survivor.”  It was worth what I paid for it, but brought to the surface many unpleasant memories of the 1940s and 50s, of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and what then purported to be dispensing justice.  When I shelved the book I glanced at the calender and noted that it was Friday the 13th of May.  May has never been a good month for me, or for Christine.



  1. The Merry Month of May Update.

    In May, 1968 I was preparing for my “Active Duty for Training” stint at Quantico, VA, by having the seat of my Summer Service A trousers let out.

    Randy, studying at the University of Padua wrote that he planned a trip to Paris, which I assumed meant that he was siding with the students manning the barricades and being bashed by police batons. I worried about him.

    I was in a state of intellectual Limbo; while earnestly seeking EAD (extended active duty) and command of a Marine Rifle Company in Vietnam, which I hoped would get me back into the Regular establishment, which I had sorely missed ever since tendering my resignation; my failure to adapt to civilian life—i.e. my general lack of enthusiasm for consumerism and my marriage—was the main motive of my desire to get back into the Corps and into another war, where things seem to make sense.

    That summer I reviewed my Jacket at HQMC and discovered, unhappily, two letters which had failed to reach me due to changes of address; One notified me that I had been passed over for Majority by the promotion board; the other that my request for Extended Active Duty had been denied. Wow! Talk about feeling unappreciated!

    I returned to Monmouth, wrote my letter of resignation from the Marine Corps Reserve, and sent my uniforms out with the trash. My resignation went unaccepted until April, 1969. In the meantime, I resumed my studies at Oregon College of Education and began to sit in on discussions between the pro and anti-war groups, including the Quakers, Diggers, and Black Panthers. I even spent two weeks with my family at Seabeck, Washington sponsored by American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).

    Having applied to and been rejected by the Big Ten grad schools, I accepted an opening at the University of Oregon in Eugene and made preparations to sell the house in Monmouth and move to a rental in Eugene.

    Simultaneously, but secretly, I inquired of the VA about transferring the balance of my G.I. benefits from the University to Milt Ruberg’s VA-Approved flying school in Springfield, OR. Milt was an old friend, and I wanted to upgrade from Private Pilot to Commercial and to add Mufti-engine and Instrument ratings to my ticket. When Millie found out about my intention to return to aviation, she pitched a fit and when I actually began flying again, she decided that she “wanted to try living on her own.” The way she put it, as she was driving me to the boarding house, was this: “All my life I’ve had a man telling me what I could or could not do. First it was my father, then Jessie (her first husband and Lisa and Colleen’s father), and then you. I’ve never been independent, and I may fail, but I’m going to try it.”

    After passing all of my flight checks, I took my upgraded license and first-class medical certificate and went looking for a job in aviation. “You are too old, (at 36) or Over- qualified,” or “The Air Force is riffing pilots with multi-engine jet and transport experience; sorry bub.”

    There were other factors besides the rejection by the Corps, by my wife and by prospective employers; there was the death of my father, my disappointment with higher education, and my “self-medication with old Jim Beam,” which swept me into a spiraling depression and attempted suicide.

    The latter happened, fortuitously, near the Palo Alto VA Hospital and that’s where I went for help and for refuge from this alien world. My psychiatrist informed me that moving is almost as stressful as the death of a family member or losing a job and my reaction wasn’t unusual.

    This stuff may be helpful to my kids, if they still want to know where I went so suddenly forty-three years ago.

    Why this all comes up during the Merry Month of May is beyond me. But it does.

    The Merry Month of May (1968). See James Jones “Merry Month Of May.”

    “The more you consume, the less you live. Commodities are the opium of the people.” A slogan of the French strikers in May, 1968.

    Comment by Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" — May 3, 2013 @ 2:59 am | Reply

  2. Hey Mack, I know what you mean. It’s good for us kids to have some history so we can better understand. My dad disappeared from my life for 11 years (no contact at all) and of course when a little girl is seven, she blames herself. He came back when I was 18 and it took years for us to develop a close relationship, but before he died, we had one. He died a year ago May 13th. It’s only the second of the month and I know it’s not going to be an easy one. My step-sisters are coming May 17th to help spread his ashes (in his favorite hunting spot–he shared his choice with me before he died). They’re bringing their mother’s ashes at the same time and we’ll sprinkle them together.

    There are two happy occasions this month too, so I am thankful for that. Ben, my eldest at 24, graduates with his Master’s in Sports Leadership and Management from James Madison University tomorrow night, and Ryan, the youngest at 17 graduates from Western Albemarle High School on May 31st. Life goes one and children grow.

    My dad’s sister is suffering from a deep depression and it worries me. She’s lost my dad and her husband most recently. She has no children, so we try to be her support system.

    Didn’t mean to unload on you. Enjoyed this May update. Thanks for sharing. –Margaret-Dawn

    Comment by train-whistle — May 3, 2013 @ 6:13 am | Reply

  3. Feel free, M-D. Thank you for reading the post. Enjoy the trip to the woods with your aunt, and try to be of good cheer. Depression can be grim or bracing, depending on who is about to lean on. No doubt she’ll appreciate your support.

    Congratulations to Ryan. And greetings to Bruce; he should have seen what I saw in the boatyard while Chris was being doctored: A 27′ mahogany planked full keel sloop (in need of deck and sheer rail). I wish I had the energy for a project like that.

    Comment by Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" — May 3, 2013 @ 6:52 am | Reply

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