Hospital Road

By Maurice Laurence

Maurice Laurence is a freelance writer.


The terrified silence of unlove surrounded me. I had been forever trying to find the place where the needle was knocked out of the groove and the melody stopped. The record of my damaged soul only skipped and repeated, "I want to die. . . . I want to die. . . . "


In the Months Before I Lost My Mind

In the months before I lost my mind, I walked down the blue sidewalk. It was winter, and the clouds in the sky were the color of asphalt. Ice was everywhere. In my mind, I was able to traverse the musical scenes of Siegfried, particularly the part where Siegfried is alone at the bellows hammering together the pieces of his father's broken sword.

The analyst, who had told me so many lies about reconciliation, had pretended to be my friend. He had left me, now, entirely alone. I stood at the edge of the frozen lake and looked across the empty sky. I had gone into an incomprehensible mythology, and my mind was constantly fashioning the sword while the words of the song kept beat to the heat of the fire intensified by the bellows.

The slow movement of the Rhine was similar to the slow waltz that concludes the last bars of Beethoven's Pastoral. Such echoes and resonances of melody swept me into a current of thinking in which the world and my life within it became an incomprehensible series of symbols waiting for a secret code.

Because the blood had spattered upon my hand, I could understand the song of the lark. Then I walked in the warmth of the first spring night. Heat seemed to emanate from the piles of snow that melted in the darkness. When the fever overtook me, I ignored it as the inevitable effect of a common cold. Since nothing could be done about it, I ignored it. At night I woke up drenched with a cold sweat.

I did not know that an infection had been eating away at me, and that a wound would open in the scalp above my brain. After it was discovered, I washed it constantly, and, later, after the surgeon closed it, I watched the formation of the scar.

When he was watching for the raven, Siegfried's sword was turned upon himself. He had fashioned the weapon that, finally, did him in.

After three months of little sleep, I sat in my room on the locked ward. Looking through the heavy mesh of the security screen, I could see the world in the summer rain. There was no symbolism any more, only trees in the dark leaf of July and a building or two on the hospital grounds.

Also there was my life, which I had wanted to put an end to.


Baker Street

The scar forever changed my being. I lay on my bed in the afternoon in early May, and the history of my being stretched from the crib into the afternoon. There was an overcast sky behind the budding branches that I watched through the glass.

I was no longer who I had been. Never again could I be that flawless child. I walked along the streets of my childhood, and felt separated from my past. I was followed by the knowledge of the patch of hair that had fallen off my scalp. The skin left by the scar was white now, and some hair had grown back where none had been expected. I was the only one who noticed.

My barber was a survivor of concentration camps. He told me that many people had such marks upon them, but the terror came over me. I could not bear living. My mother and her twin brother stared at me out of the silver nitrate of the past. It was 1919, and they were both eight years old. My mother's linen dress had a hand crocheted collar, and her skin was smooth as a chestnut. Her brother smiled beside her. The sorrows of their lives were invisible. It was as if my grandmother's hands had magically removed all the blemishes, all the scars, all the griefs, and all the sorrows.

They are now so far away, and yet they lived just past the school my son and daughter's elementary school, but in another city.


Paradise Drive

I was driving alone. I was going away from everyone. Here, at the far end of Paradise Road, where I was once a child, where my mother lies forgotten in the graveyard, I was going on my last errand. How many times did she drive me past this place?

"Cemetery" was one of the first words I learned to spell correctly. The name of the place was wrought in dark iron letters arched above the entrance.

In the dark light of my boyhood an Iron Curtain separated East from West. Circles of contamination, caused by the latest atom bomb test, were displayed in maps on the front-page. Radiation settled on the grass the cows ate at Cherry Hill Farm, and made their milk radioactive. Afraid of being poisoned, sometimes, after I ate, I put my finger down my throat and vomited. I grew thin enough to make adults concerned.



The distances that separated him from others were made up of all the distinctive thoughts and feelings that composed his inward preoccupations. Also, in the summer he kept his sleeves down to protect his arms from the sunlight. The medication made his skin extra sensitive to ultraviolet light.

When he walked on the city sidewalks on his way to see his therapist, he often focused on the men in business suits, or the women in their attractive work clothes. Something invisible separated him from their world. For one thing, he was alone. For another, he did not work nine to five. For another, he did not ever wear a tie, or polished shoes. There was, then, his shadow formed from beneath his work boots, a shadow that outlined the contours of his flannel shirt, and work pants.

His shadow was vulnerable to being stepped upon, which felt to him almost like a sexual attack. He looked downward as he rushed hurriedly along the cement sidewalk, and he tried to focus on the rush of thoughts pushed forward by his fear and desire of being touched.


The V.F.W Parkway

Driving on the V.F.W. Parkway, it is as if my entire life is compressed into the space of one square mile. On my left are the ever-present cemeteries _ Gethsemane and Saint Joseph's. Then there is the stoplight at Baker Street.

If I turned right, I would travel past the Little League diamond my uncle had cared for. He had spent what little savings he had to sponsor a team. On a warm spring evening, it is sometimes still possible to hear the voices of the boys in the field and the parents in the stands, but my uncle is dead now.

Farther down the road, where Baker Street meets Centre Street, there was Cronin's Pub - the plain wood and linoleum barroom where my uncle mopped the floor, wiped the tables, and drank himself to death.

I seldom turn right onto Baker Street. Sometimes I turn left and follow the road that leads to my home, which is in the neighboring city.


Beacon Street

As soon as you leave Newton Centre and travel towards Brookline, Beacon Street suddenly widens. There is no reason for this that I have been able to discover. Old maps in the library show no trolley tracks, or anything that was later paved over. Yet the street doubles in size.

At night, when I drive upon this road, it seems timeless. The asphalt has always been there, permanent as the trees through which the lights shine. It seems as if my car travels in the past and in the present all at once.

This was the road my father drove when he went to court my mother. He took a right turn on the parkway that leads to West Roxbury. It is just the same now as it was then. The road of love is often driven in loneliness.

But there were other trips, ones that had no turn, ones that followed Beacon Street down to where it narrowed, and, then, upon entering Brookline, split in two. Here the asphalt is always dark, and the time is always late, and the sky is always getting darker.

"Never," my father warned me, "let a woman get too much power."

His mother liked to grab at pots and pans, and she hit anyone that was around. It hurt, as did her words, and Abe, her husband, would grab my father and flee. They drove down Beacon Street from Newton into Brookline. They sought refuge in one of the delicatessens that still are found along the roadside. In this place of lonely suppers they sat together, father and son, at one of the old tables stained with years of gravy. Abe told my father that his mother was crazy.

In 1934 my father found a way out of the constricted world of his family. Having been accepted to Harvard Business School, and its eventual path into the family business of wholesale beef, my father held back on paying his tuition. Then, just a week before classes were to start, Tufts Medical School informed him he had been accepted.

When, during his first year of medical school, my father decided to anglicize his last name, his maternal uncle, Maury Kamm, an attorney, suggested how this could be done. He gave my father his new name, and even prepared the papers for the courts.

It is a name I share with him.

My father and I once walked together beneath the gray Armistice Day sky. After more than fifty years he drove again down the road to 1937. There, in the prison yard, we both wore our old trench coats, and carried our rain hats in our right hands. He spoke to me about the old plagues of syphilis and tuberculosis as we walked among the lifers. Here, behind a gray stonewall, he worked in the prison infirmary treating these diseases.

There is a large silence between my father and me. Sometimes I walk along the sidewalks of our city with a chip on my shoulder, and a knife in my heart. In dreams I ride an old fashioned trolley down Commonwealth Avenue. It is orange and overheated. Sexual horsehair sticks out of the cracked upholstery of the seats. I feel the bumps, the jolts, the swerving of the car. I hear the heavy machinery clanking like an anvil, and I am Siegfried walking defeated through a ruined world.


LaGrange Street

I remember that Sunday afternoon when the rain fell like ink on the pavement as I walked up LaGrange Street to Cronin's Pub, where I found my mother's estranged twin brother. He held a mop in his hand, and a glass of beer sweated on the bar. He wore his dark green uniform in which he had, for many years, delivered milk. He also had on his navy blue baseball cap. I later realized that he always wore these clothes, and only rarely removed his cap.

"No." he said when I went to the door.

I went around back and knocked. Finally, he opened the service door.

"Do you know.?" I asked.

"I'm him," he answered, and when I introduced myself as his sister's son he said, "I haven't seen my sister in a long time."

His voice contained the overtones of sadness and the loneliness of the rooming house. When I told him that his mother had died six years before, he stood silently at the bar as my words settled into the silence beneath the noise of the television. Slowly, silently, he placed cases of beer onto the selves behind the bar. When I asked him if he wanted me to help him put the tables back in their places on the floor he simply said no.

The Red Sox game continued to drift down from the television. I asked him who was winning. He answered by telling me that I should leave before his boss came by.

Beethoven's metronome markings are too fast, like the pulse of a frightened child.

On a night before Thanksgiving, this uncle and I sat together in that bar on Center Street across from LaGrange Street. As always, he wore his milk delivery uniform, and navy blue baseball cap. We sat with small glasses of bitter beer in our hands. He hardly spoke. I smoked Camel cigarettes. Loneliness came out of the shadowed brown linoleum, and settled in the dark stained wooden tables.

When the tempo slows you can hear the pain well up between the notes and the double bass sound like the beating of a human heart.

My uncle's legs were infected, and when, that spring, the infection spread to his feet he told me that he felt as if he was walking on glass, but he refused to let me take him to the Faulkner Hospital.

"They might cut my legs off," he explained.

He died of cirrhosis. I was not at his bedside at the hospital (if, indeed, he ever did get to the hospital), nor was I watching him when his last breaths went out into the emptiness of his solitary apartment in the rooming house on Baker Street. On the day he died I was standing, across town, in the brown stubble of the playground behind the Jackson-Mann Community School. It was a dry and windless afternoon in the middle of August. The sun cauterized the sky, and yet, in this palpable heat, I felt a chill go down my spine.

I will always remember how he walked down the baseline of the Little League diamond on Baker Street as he carefully put down the white lime to mark the foul line. His name was on a large placard posted on the outfield wall; he had, with his meager earnings, sponsored the Tigers. As he walked, I could see the pain in his steps.

Now, I drive by the place where memorial stones are engraved like tablets of the law. Near here, on Worley Street, my mother and her twin brother lived their childhood.

I turn onto Independence Drive, and wonder how we happen to each other. Even cat's love, even Rachel, when I leave in the morning, scampers to the top the bookcase, and reaches out to me and taps me on the shoulder. But when I drive away I sometimes think that in the asphalt world the life of the mind is reduced to the news on the car radio.

I live with a pain that I cannot adequately describe. Sometimes it wells up within me as I stand numbly in the evening of the fall and watch the geese fly, and, then, inside of me, the formations of instinct vanish, as does love, with a lot of regrets.


Heartbreak Hill

When I take the broccoli and the carrots back to the refrigerator and the white clad men and women in the deli department lift and spray and wipe the curved Plexiglas of the display case, only then does the music blare electric with amplified steel over the p.a. The customers are gone then. The latest models of Volvos have left the parking lot, and the bright linoleum aisles are abandoned as a city street on a Sunday morning.

Sometimes the speakers in the ceiling are filled with nostalgia. Near the winter holidays they play light baroque, and as I work in the deepening of winter I miss the solitary mournful notes of a cello suite by Bach. On my afternoon off, I walk around the quiet streets where there is only sunlight and solitude. My loneliness grows faster than the shadows, and I am walking into another world.

"Are you on any medications?" It is an innocent question customarily asked at the dentist's office, and I realize that after all the interpretations, the nice carpets on the office floor, and the intelligent magazines in the waiting room, I am still a stranger to myself.

The darkness comes out of the ground, and blinds like the glare of headlights. Riding the dark tunnel of the subway, my face is mirrored in the black glass. It is an image broken only by the strobes of lights tucked along the concrete walls. These bulbs shed no light, but only form a path into obscurity.

I do not know how my soul became so separated from the universe around it. No matter how fast I try to go it is impossible to outrace my mind.

"I tell you," one of my fellow produce clerks complains, "all of the customers go to psychiatrists and are on drugs."

Could I tell her about the Wellbutrin and the Prozac? Could I tell her how I once drove to a place that reaches into the beginning of time and outward to infinity? I found that place by instinct. There the ocean melts into the sky. There is no grave to mark the place where I wanted to die after days and night of sweat spent fighting off suicidal desire.

No longer does my father's family own a grocery store near Franklin Park. No longer do automobiles have running boards. No longer does Burt Wheeler drive a Model T down a dust bowl's windswept street, where a gust blows a movie poster of King Kong against the square windshield. No longer does the elevated trolley roar above Northampton Square. The steel girders that once supported the rails that ran down the center of Washington Street are gone. Dudley and Egleston Squares are empty as the synagogues left behind.

The season slowly changes. Walking in the terrible loneliness of suburban sidewalks, I watch the moon rising in the heavens, and am reminded of Noah's ark. When the spring arrives, I go with my children to the bottom of Heartbreak Hill. There, before the runners come, we stand in the bare chill of early spring and watch the men and women race by in wheelchairs.

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