Rowena at 18
Rowena at 18
Bewildered by life, I land in an asylum for those of a delicate nature. Our healing village is down by the levee in New Orleans. I am deep in Psyche hospital funk. Rowena and I crash land in the same asylum for those out of touch with consensual reality but in touch with higher planes. In our collaborative high school graduation thesis, Rowena and I propose an alternative approach to conceptual framing. Our essay is a manifesto for reestablishing a dialectic of madness to restore the unbounded voice to the human narrative. Once those in realms beyond reason rejoin the conversation we will be a post-modern Disneyland. The authors in our bibliography would likely rather not be referenced. I never thought an academic presentation would land us in a neuro-linguistic reprogramming facility but here we are.
Roxanne and Bianca walk by me wearing tight jeans with curves to die for. Roxanne looks at me. “John, did you know Bianca poses nude for artists in the French Quarter?” My eyes take a walk all over Bianca’s femme form.
One afternoon Bianca sits next to me on the couch. She is whittling on a stick. I speak and she listens. I get worked up and say “Our instructress gave a lecture on the mating habits of single men.”
Bianca asks, “Did you resemble her lecture?”
I am at a loss for words. She holds her carved stick up to my face. “Does this look like a human face to you?” I nod yes. Bianca’s girlfriend Roxanne walks up. Bianca rises like Bathsheba from her bath. I sit quietly as a monk deep in prayer.
We are refugees ensconced in the seashell world of our village for the divinely touched. Then an unexpected pleasure walks back into my life. She is my old flame Rowena who is now an eighteen-year-old from the Irish Channel of New Orleans descended from the original immigrants of Ireland who settled there.
We couch sit close enough to feel each other’s body heat. She curls in fetal ache. “My ovaries are hurting like hell” she exclaims. She says her ovaries are hurting because of birth control pills. I want to reach out and hug her but hospital rules forbid physical contact between patients.
We nestle like hungry birds in our autumn nest. We are inches apart. I feel her breath like a tropic breeze scented with a bougainvillea tree. In the winter of my solitude, I cuddle her with eiderdown words.
Rowena says, “We are here because we exercised our right to academic freedom. They called our ideas ‘the epistemology of anarchy.’”
“In part but the doctor said I was delusional.”
She replies, “Stop right there. I don’t want to know the rest. I want to remember you as the boy with the hundred dollar words who showed me what kind of woman I am in the sensorium only to console me in this hotel for those of a sensitive nature. That is why we’re here. We’re both overly sensitive.”
“We’re a pair of travelers sharing a room at a hostel for poor but creative students.”
She rolls on the couch. “Thank you, John. I needed to hear that because last night this place felt more like a madhouse. They took me to the quiet room,” she whispers. “The men pinned me against the wall. A female nurse ordered me to drop my panties. I was stunned. Therefore, she tugged my nightie up and yanked my panties down. Those males getting an eyeful of my nudist pose was mortifying. I felt the prick on my bottom as she injected me with Haldol. The nurse dressed me. Then the men released me.”
“That breaks my heart. What utter humiliation and what necessitated such measures?” My questions go unanswered. Unashamed, her sun-flower smile beams blue sky love.
“Straightjacket salesmen let you try it on for size in the privacy of your padded cell,” I say.
“John, some people would call your way of talking crazy. But I consider you to be a poet whose speech spins me like a top until I come to rest in just the right place.”
She hugs her knees. Her lipstick is a darker shade of midnight. She looks vulnerable as a winter sparrow. Her eyelashes flutter like dove’s wings. Her outward display of calm assurance belies deeper angst.
One of my most endearing memories of our stay in the hospital is playing touch football in the quadrangle with Rowena wearing a knee-length skirt. She crouches like a tiger with her derriere raised but untouchable by me. Yet she is so close I can reach out and clasp her in my hands. But I watch her every move as she darts like a falconess across the grass.
Her maiden hips have my boyish eyes wide with wonder. Her cotton frock clings to her form. Though young and nubile her curves are those of a woman. She runs like a nymph. I imagine a golden orb of heat swelling like a ripening orange between her legs. A wafer-thin fabric is all that conceals her naked moons. So close, yet so far away, I muse. In my mind’s eye, sultry sunlight licks her bare bottom.
One night I plant myself beside her as she lies on her stomach in her bed with ‘Under the Bridge’ by ‘Red Hot Chili Peppers’ playing on her boombox.
She looks up at me with her streetwise gaze and asks, “How does this song make you feel?”
I look into her abysmal eyes and say “Moved.”
Rowena counters, “The first time I heard this song I cried and cried. Being alone on the streets with the city as my only friend is a feeling I know all too well.” She is too young to be so old.
My counterpart is, “Music can be a religious experience. One night I was listening to a woman singing a medieval song on the radio. It was probably in archaic Spanish. However, it sounded like she was saying, ‘Follow me to the end.’ At that moment I knew that if I ever fell in love it would be for life. No matter where my lover’s path took her I would always love her.”
Rowena asks, “Is that how you feel about me?”
A shepherd of our flock bursts in. “PC, PC, physical contact” he jokes.
Rowena looks up at him with her sleepy eyes.
“But John and I weren’t touching.”
He decrees, “I know, but men and women aren’t allowed in the bedroom together.”
Rowena wiles her way with the warden. “Nicholas you are the best. Can I kiss John one time?”
He says, “You’re pushing it, Rowena.”
Pleading for crumbs, Rowena says, “I know Nicholas, but you don’t know how much it hurts not to have a parting kiss with John. Please have mercy on me, just one.”
Nicholas nods assent. Rowena swanks up to me. She plants a wet, sticky kiss on my fresh young lips.
Rowena turns her back to me. She says, “Thanks, Nicholas. I’ll behave myself. I’ll go to bed now, alone.” I watch Rowena pull the blanket over her as tears cloud the luster of her eyes.
The next night Rowena’s girlfriend from the outside, Goldie, flamenco hip struts into the cafeteria.
I open with, “You know I must be crazy to be in here.”
Rowena asks, “John, are you insinuating that I am nuts since we both bunk here?”
Goldie says, “I’ve never met saner people than you John and my Rowena. This place would be the perfect vacation and retreat spot for me. Folks like you all make for a refreshing company. There is too much stodginess in this world.”
Rowena replies “Goldie, you wouldn’t like it here. There is so little privacy. The decibel level must be kept low because the walls have ears. They eavesdrop so much that the gossip can be downright embarrassing. The counselor on duty found it amusing to bring up my preference for men’s briefs over boxers.”
“On that note goodnight, enjoy each other sweethearts,” Goldie says.
“John, please tell me you wear briefs instead of boxers.”
“Oh please. I’m going to join a monastic order once I’m discharged. Romance isn’t in my language and I’m not talking Latin tongues” I protest.
Rowena says, “There is no monastery in your future. Everyone in this loony bin sees how you play the innocent while flirting with me. You aren’t fooling anyone. None of your fakeries will pass muster in the boot camp of love. Even Plato won’t save you from loneliness.”
I rap back, “Sock it to me Sistah.”
“Even hearts as cushioned as yours can be broken.”
I say, “Men like me are lone wolves. We don’t run with the pack.”
“You’re more like a lone teddy bear.”
“Hey don’t knock my lupine kinship.”
“Well then, howl at the moon by yourself if you must.”
I say, “Are you, implying that I am antisocial?”
“Please forgive my slip of the tongue that lacked even being Freudian as an excuse. Introverts are easily mistaken for misanthropes. Compulsory socialization doesn’t come naturally to me either. The nights here are strange and it is all I can do to keep from punching out the windows of this dormitory for the divinely touched.”
“I think it’s great to be dark, mad, and free. No disrespect intended.”
“No disrespect perceived. That’s “dark, mad, ‘liberated’, and free” to you, bucko; a woman to be reckoned with, invincible in stiletto heels, feminist in spandex, heretic in a world of pop icon worshippers, born-again Wiccan, Gnostic oatmeal lover, not to mention my um... dark side,” she says.
Once Rowena tells me, “If I fell in a pond or something, you wouldn’t come in and save me, would you?”
I reply, “Of course I would.”
She insists, “No you wouldn’t.”
What is to come will test the limits of our friendship. One dreary winter afternoon Rowena and I take a walk outside. She is quiet.
I ask her, “Are you ok, Rowena?”
She says, “I feel like killing someone.”
I ask, “Who?”
She says, “Myself.”
I reply, “Why? A beautiful woman like you has a bright future. You could have a man of means and who also loves you, have your cake and eat it too.”
Rowena says, “I want a man like you. But my family would disown me if I married you. Please don’t tell the staff that I talked about marrying you. They would tell my family who wouldn’t understand,” Rowena replies.
I say, “Promise me you won’t hurt yourself.”
She pleads, “I promise, I won’t injure myself.”
That night I stop the administrator as he is leaving. The woman with him says, “He is tired. Can it wait?”
I say, “Rowena made a suicidal comment today.”
The next night at the Cafeteria, I tell Rowena, “I jumped in the pond for you.”
“You mean you told Dave about my suicide comment,” she nonchalantly replies.
Later in the community room, Ro tells me, “They want to send me on my merry way. But I can’t be discharged before you. You are the orange juice in my screwdriver.”
“Will you go about singing Verdi’s Arias?”
“That is too clichéd for a woman who could win the Tony award if I were an actress. Everything from my smile to my laugh is original. No one can even impersonate my cry. It is an indescribable cross between a widow grieving and a bride whose groom got the flu so bad the wedding had to be postponed. Not so shrill as a banshee in the night but not as soft as a girl whose last memory of her mother was seeing her through a window behind which her Mom was too contagious even for a goodbye hug.”
“With such thespian qualities, you surely should be on the stage.”
“My plan is to convince my shrink that I’m crazy. I see my doctor here once a week.”
Ro greets the doctor in his office, “Well met in time and space fellow Gallifreyan. How is your sonic screwdriver today? You know it is a multipurpose widget that can be wedged into all sorts of nooks and crannies.”
Doctor Hughes says, “Conventional ones get the job done for me.”
“You are so funny, doctor. My Tardis is in a grumpy mood. Can your medicine cure his spatial anomaly? We are in a rift and I’m afraid the space-time continuum isn’t doing much better.”
He says, “I am not a marriage counselor. But once you are discharged we will refer you to one.”
“Doctor our community is in grave danger. The Daleks have cracked the codes for the security locks on our doors. As we speak they are preparing to raid the pharmacy to feed the narcotics addiction of their creator Davros. We must reprogram the locks at once. You must believe me.”
Doctor Hughes replies, “Tell me have you seen cybermen roaming the grounds?”
She says, “As a matter of fact yes. We must alert the authorities. I’m afraid these cybernetic men mean business. One asked me to jump-start his mechanical heart. Next thing you know they will take over our power plants.”
Back in the community area, she tells me what happened. I say, “The derivation on Dr. Who sounded corny but effective. It should extend your vacation from reality in this resort. Your use of cultural dada is inventive in a way that only as fertile imagination as yours could synthesize. You might have extended your stay past mine. That is the conundrum.”
We fly under the radar of the staff’s prying eyes for a last private meeting in her room. “They saw through my ruse. The head clinician said my act was controlled folly.”
I reply, “It was farfetched.”
Ro asks, “What do you see when you look at me?”
“I see my wife from a previous lifetime in Indonesia on a lazy afternoon in 1883 just before Krakatoa erupted, lying on our bed about to make love to me.”
“Wherever your soul migrates let’s meet somewhere other than a place like this.”
I say, “Remember, this hospital has a rule that upon discharge the patients are never to have contact with one another again.”
She says, “God, all this farewell talk has me sweating bullets. I need a hot shower.”
I listen to her sing in the shower but her mournful melody sounds like our swan song.
I break into her panty stash and fondle her surprisingly modest intimate apparel. Her songs end and like a shoplifter in a lingerie store, I stuff her sweet nothings into a bag in the closet.
She emerges wrapped in a towel and digs through the dresser drawer. Her lips look like she just got a taste of lemon. “What did you do with my panties?”
My sly smile is really a poker face. “Sweetie I only wanted a keepsake.”
She laughs as though she is blowing bubbles.
“The case of the purloined panties,” says she.
“I guess I have to give them back.”
She sighs and smiles saying, “I should think so and please tell me what other of my intimate apparel you’ve got squirreled away.”
“Only negligee memories of our naked love tucked away in my heart forever.” Rowena’s eyelashes flutter like black butterfly wings.
“Give me back my heart and you can keep all my lingerie.”
“Of course my little chickadee, the pages will turn in due time.”
Rowena looks quizzical. “You can tell me the other reason they put you in here. I know you well enough that nothing you could say would sound creepy.”
“I told my counselor about my memories of past lives. My reminiscing took me back to multiple lifetimes going back thousands of years and in exquisite intricacy.”
Rowena’s mouth forms an O. “That is exactly what got me room and board at this motel. Now I wish I’d known your story from the beginning. You know it is no accident that we ended up together here. Here are my phone number and address. You give me yours. Hospital stipulations don’t overrule divine providence. We followed the same exit sign on the road of rebirth.”