TERROR IN THE HEART

 

Terror in the Heart.      I needed a title - not just any title - to aptly relate what this story is all about.       

I needed a title - not just any title - to get across to you the unspeakable horror that is invoked in me when I even think about the events that have transpired this very evening.       I needed a title.  Not just any title.  I needed one that would express feelings of ungodly terror that words in this language could never adequately describe.  

Words from other tongues came to me.  I thought of OY VEY!  Yes.  Simple, yet effective.  But my grandmother Warmberg would say it was too Jewish.  Next, I thought of OOGABOOGA!  GUNGALOOGA!  A good name.  A great name!  But, no, no no!  Some would say that it was too African.  

Nay,  I fear that you and I will have to settle with "Terror in the Heart".   Simple, effective, and very descriptive of my state of mind and, indeed, my state of heart.    

I am sitting here, alone, in the darkness, thinking that I have twenty years.  Twenty years until I have to go through it all again.       For you see, every word of this story is absolutely true.   By point of fact, I wish it were not so.   Oh!  What I would not give to be sitting here with something other than my pen in my hand,  regaling you with the tales of warm heartedness that you have come to expect from me.   But, no, it is not my fate just now to experience the carefree feelings of youth.   No, my friend, it will not be until I can somehow unburden myself of the horrific events of the past weeks that I will be able to sleep again without snapping to consciousness in a burning sweat, eyes wide, mouth frozen in a silent scream.       

Think about lying in bed late at night. It is late, very late.  You are not usually awake at this hour. The lights are out.  Dim, dark shadows dance eerily across your bedroom ceiling.  Every outdoor sound, each cat yowl, each  dog bark rings in your ears.   A thought forms in the dark recesses of your mind.  An amusing thought at first, but one that - as it grows and takes shape - becomes more and more terrifying.   The thought is that there is a person underneath your bed.  Maybe you have to get up to go to the bathroom.   But if you were to even move your foot to the side of your bed, you are now completely convinced that an ice cold hand would GRAB YOUR ANKLE in a VICE GRIP OF DEATH.        

That hand...that murderous, ankle-grabbing hand.  That hand was what I felt around my throat the evening when, just tonight, I ventured to attend my 30 year high school class reunion.     

The hard part of the story is that my lovely wife, Mrs. Warmheart, had gone away to visit her family during this whole process.  Looking back, as the date of the reunion got closer and closer, I felt the seeds of anxiety grow into fully blossoming trees of panic.   Panic that could probably have been alleviated had I not had to face this mountain by myself.   But I know now that we must all walk our darkest paths alone.     

The past weeks have been full of long-locked doors of memory being re-opened, revealing their seedy animations.  Hugh Jass walked through one of those doors and I remembered him as the terror of my entire school existence.  He would come up from behind, grab the elastic band of my underwear and yank up for all he was worth.   Then later, he would walk up with a face full of remorse.   His hand extended, he would sincerely tell me how sorry he was.  I would fall for it every time.   When I went to shake his hand, he'd move his hand up and whack my glasses off.  I think I spent two thirds of my high school existence with my underwear crammed into the crack of my butt and white tape on my black rimmed glasses. It was nothing short of hell right on God's green earth. 

As these past days have crept by, I've felt as if I was heading, step by step, up to the hanging platform.  At one point, seeking solace, I opened up a root beer and turned on the television.  As it warmed up I smiled, thinking back on the hours I had spent happily watching the "boob tube". This would surely be a relief.   I took a sip of my soft drink as the picture came on.   They were showing JFK's limousine coming around from behind the sign in Dealey Plaza, Dallas.   Spurting out root beer, I switched the TV off  before the inevitable happened. Damn!   So much for TV.   What next?  Ahh, the good old radio.   I tuned in to an oldies station, figuring that some good old music would cheer me up.  I could hear Martha Reeves and the Vandellas singing  "Got Nowhere to run to baby, Nowhere to hide".  I switched the radio off. 


Well, there was always trusty, playful Fido.  I knew he would make me forget that I would soon, once again, be Wedgie Boy.   I went to the backyard and called.  He came running around the corner at full speed and made a lunge for me. At the last moment, I turned my back and his teeth clamped down on the elastic band of my underwear.   As he hit the ground I think my voice shot up high enough to make Minnie Ripperton jealous.     

I realized I was going through what my college psychology books labeled 'The Seven Steps People Go Through When They Receive The Invitation To Go To A Reunion'.     You see, when I first got the invitation letter, I flew instantly into what the book refers to as "Step One: Horrified Panic".  I stood in the entranceway to my house, sweating and stammering.  A reunion!  Who the hell would want to go to see the assholes that I went to high school with?  Why?!! WHYYYYYYY!!!!       

This was too much for my brain to process so I lurched, shakily, into "Step Two: Lily-Livered Denial".  I told myself that this wasn't really happening.  No-o-o.  Maybe this letter was for another Warmheart, I thought.  But the address was for me.  The denial step was a failure right from the get-go.   I had to move to Step Four.  No, Step Three.  I hadn't gone through  Step Three yet.  But what the heck was Step Three again?  I panicked for a moment until I found my college psych book.  Shaky fingers searched the dog-eared pages until I found it.  Step Three, Step Three....oh yes.  Here it was.  "Step Three: Trying To Get Out Of It."     That was it!   The answer to all of my problems. I could just not go.  Instant relief flooded through my body, like a summer rain giving water to a dried up creek bed.   But wait, I told myself, anxiety mounting yet again.  As they had my address, they surely knew where I lived.  If I didn't show up to be Hugh Jass' little Wedgie Boy, they would all get in their cars and come here.  I had to rule out the idea of just not going.  

What other options did I have?   I could move.  Yes, that was it.  I could move away where they would never find me.   But where would I go?  I had to think and think fast.  I could go live in a cabin in the wilderness like Daniel Boone.  When they finally tracked me down, they would find a hardened country man, wrestling a bear or fighting Indians.  But that was no good.  I didn't know the first thing about living in the wilderness and anyway I always get Poison Oak the second I go into it.    

I snapped my fingers.  I could feign illness and when they showed up, they would have no option but to leave me alone.   But no, even in school I was never good at that.  Whenever I would feign illness in class and ask to go see the nurse, the teacher would just tell me to knock it off and sick some of the class bullies on me.    Step Three was about as successful as  the other steps. The problem with Step Three, I've since decided, is that you don't have enough time to come up with clear headed ideas, such as just not going and converting your house into an armed fortress.        

Okay, Step Four was the one I was looking forward to:  "Maniacal Anger."  I looked forward to it because I knew that if I could get angry enough, I could carry the anger forward to the reunion itself and perhaps scare some of the bullies that I knew awaited me even now.   In hindsight, it occurs to me that I tried to move to that step too soon.   I wasn't really angry yet, was really still in denial, so when I picked up that coffee cup and threw it at the window, all it did was bounce off.  It didn't even break.       

So, I skipped that step and moved to a crucial step, good old "Step Five:  Trying To Figure Out What Kind Of Personality To Adopt For The Reunion".   Step Six (Half-Baked Suicide Attempts) and Step Seven (Tearful, Shameful Acceptance) were just going to have to wait and if I played my cards right, maybe I could just avoid both of those grisly steps.      

What personality to adopt?   I had to laugh at this because I had spoken to people who had attended class reunions.  They had done goofy stuff like rent a Mercedes Benz to act as if they had become huge successes.   But that never worked because how many classmates happened to be in the parking lot when they pulled up and got out of their cars?  Only a few.   Others launched into incredible training programs to - in the space of weeks - lose the beer bellies or fat thighs they had accumulated over years.   But what about me?   What personality for me?      

I did the only thing I could do.  I went shopping and spent all the money I had, and then some, on clothes.   I guess it's fortunate that the man I look up to the most, Joey da Icepick Wiseheart, happened to drop in for a visit when I was trying on one of the outfits I had purchased.   Standing at my door was the man who had guided me through many of the darkest periods of my life.    "Wiseheart!", I cried.   Here was the man who would help me through this crisis.  Instead, he took one look at me and almost fell off the porch steps laughing. 

I had thought that being a gangster would scare my classmates into taking it easy on me so I was wearing a fedora, a black suit with white stripes and a white tie.   I was practicing an evil sneer.  This just made him laugh all the harder.   He didn't say a single word.  He just turned and walked to his car laughing every step of the way.  Finally, and none too soon, he got in and drove off.   So much for my dear friend Wiseheart.  

I knew it was time to move ahead through the seven steps.   I thought about what a failure I'd  been with the other steps and wisely decided against the suicide step.   It would just make me feel worse to fail there.   It was time to skip on to "Step Seven: Tearful, Shameful Acceptance".   I was going to go to the reunion.  I was going to be despised and bullied.  I was going to come home sobbing.  

On the night of the reunion, I again had the feeling of climbing the steps to the gallows.  As I drove across town to the restaurant where it was going to be held, a movie played in my mind of the Hugh Jass inflicted wedgies sure to come that night.  In defense, I had purposely worn very loose fitting underwear just for the occasion. As I sat at a red light, I glanced at the vehicle next to mine.  It was a vanload of retarded adults.  All of them were wearing helmets.  I had to laugh and found myself sincerely wishing I were one of them: having fun and laughing, not a care in the world.  Forgetting myself for a moment, I waved.  One of them got animated and pointed, waving back.  Soon they were all waving furiously.   I smiled weakly, and drove on.     

Finally, here I was, walking from my car across the parking lot of death to the front door.   There were people behind me as I headed towards that door.  I heard the voices of a couple.  The man was laughing just a little too loud and I thought for sure I recognized the voice of Hugh Jass.  Hugh Jass, the worst bully of them all!  I froze inside.  I was full of questions.  Was it really him?  Why did he have to show up just now?   Why couldn't he have come five minutes earlier or later?     

We walked through the door together and I approached a waitress at the "Please Wait Here To Be Seated" sign.  "Three" she asked, mistakenly thinking that the three of us were there for dinner.   I tried, but couldn't get the words out.  Stammering and stuttering, I said "War.....Warmhot....calss... class..".   The man behind me put a hand on my shoulder and said "We're all here for the class reunion.   Why, it's Warmheart, isn't it?'.  I turned to face the man who had had his hand on the elastic band of my underwear more often than any person in the world aside from myself.   It was definitely him and now here he was, just like the old days, trying to lure me into a sense of false security only to be followed by his horrendous brand of Wedgie, the kind that would make your nuts shrivel into tiny, useless acorns.  As I looked at Hugh, now overweight, gray and balding, I thought it was surprising that I ever had a child after his never-ending torment.    

And just as of old, his hand was extended as if to shake.  What kind of fool did he take me for?!!   Well, I wasn't going to fall for it this time, mister.   I went to shake his hand, but just as he went for the grasp, I pulled my hand back.   The look of surprise and hurt on his face was one that I'll treasure in my book of memories until my dying day.      

I turned and followed the waitress into what I knew would be the room of horrors.   As we entered that banquet room, I saw two women sitting at a table.  There were two or three couples ahead of me and the women were talking and laughing with each.  They would look through a pile of stickers and then hand them to the waiting couple.  'O no', I thought to myself, I am going to have to wear a sticker advertising who I am to those who might have otherwise forgotten me.      But one of the women, a blonde, looked so familiar to me.  I thought for a moment and it all came back in a flash.   It was Julia Swanson!   Beautiful, gorgeous, model-like, sweep-you-off-your-feet-and-you-never-come-down Julia Swanson.   

She certainly had swept me off of my feet in the old school days, but I would always come down to earth with a crash when she would pass me in the hall and act like I did not exist.   In fact, now that I think of it, whenever she saw me coming, pie-eyed, she'd always see someone she wanted to talk to behind me and go racing by me.  Sometimes I'd follow her with my eyes as she went by waving and calling, only to notice that, once past me, she would just resume her normal walking pace.   No one would be there.     

And now here she was and as I looked at her, my heart sank.   As I thought of her through the years, I would make myself feel better by picturing her looking dumpy, with five or six kids and a husband who wore muscle shirts and drank a lot of beer.   But how wrong I was.  She was still gorgeous and, if anything, the years had made her more beautiful.  More mature somehow.   Her hair had grayed slightly, but it only served to add a look of wisdom and self-assuredness to her.   It was a calm self-assuredness, one that made me fall for her all over again.   As I stood in line waiting for my turn, I pictured in my mind taking a long walk with her on the beach, spending a weekend with her in a cabin in the wilderness.  She would know what to do in the wilderness.   And so would I, I thought to myself as I started to imagine the goings on in the cabin.  It was one of those male fantasies where reality plays no part in the picture.  As if my wife and Julia's husband would allow this to happen!     

Now it was my  turn to approach the table.   I came out of my reverie and froze in panic.  Julia Swanson would ignore me again, just like in school.   I would stand there gaping and drooling like those people in the van I saw on the way to the reunion.   Shit, I thought to myself, I might as well be wearing a helmet.      

And, to my unspeakable horror, it happened.   Before I could step up to her, she looked behind me.  Smiling and waving, she called out "Hello Hugh".   Hugh's voice came back, trying to be sweet and sensitive, "Hiya Julia".       I wanted to puke.  So that was it!  Hugh was doing Julia Swanson.   And this tangled relationship was going on right around me as I stood there, nervous and sweating.   Through it all, I could hear the voices of all of my teachers telling me "you'll never amount to anything, Luke Warmheart".   

At that moment, I knew that they all had been right.   As I stood there, I realized I was now going through whatever step it was that meant "Half-Baked Suicide Attempts".  Suicide.  I could do commit it right here in front of everyone I'd always hated.  Then they'd see how wrong they were about me.  But I knew I'd just fail and they'd see that they were all right!    What could I do now?   Even if I did commit suicide, Hugh Jass would just step over me and continue talking to the traitorous but beautiful woman who sat before me.     

Then, at the very height of my anxiety, Julia Swanson turned her eyes to me and she smiled.   A real, beautiful, heavy-eyelidded smile.   Her hair seemed softer than any hair I had ever seen.   Her lips were the same kissable ones she had in our school days.  She thought for a moment, and then took my hand, saying "Why, Warmheart.  Luke Warmheart."  She stopped and laughed softly.  "How nice to see you after all of these years."     

I peed my pants.   It was a full on pant peeing the likes of which I had not seen since I was in kindergarten.  Every emotion, every bit of nerves escaped into my pants in that peeing.   Julia looked down and her  mouth opened into a kind of O.  

That was the end of my 30 year reunion.  In the space of ten minutes, I had made it to my car, blazed through the streets of town, and had made it back home.      

Terror in the Heart.  I locked every door,  turned out every light and sit here now in the darkness.   Another twenty years, I am thinking.  I have twenty years to think of a way to explain the pant peeing episode.  Yes, I tell myself with a bit of relief.  I have twenty long years to get myself ready for the terror in the heart of my class' fifty year reunion.  
 

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