A Strange Business. whether or not i considered elgin's premiere mental health facility, it became a point of blunt infamy. the original building, abandoned and further up mcclean blvd, had a louder energy. i approached it with caution: it made my fingertips numb. friends drove by it late at night and saw things.
one of my first friends from the ECC rec room confided that he'd broken into it with friends on halloween. he said he knew it was a mistake before he'd even done it. he said it felt like grave robbing. he said he'd asked to leave but his friends were fueled up and belligerent and he worried about what might happen if he just abandoned them there. he didn't say if he meant: what would happen to his friends, or what would happen to the finger-numbing ghosts. i could see him having some concern for both.
someone brought a ouija board. someone else brought candles. the ouija board spelled out a threat and flew at a wall, untouched by human hands. a candle flared to the ceiling, then guttered them all into darkness. everything seemed to be swollen with blood. deacon hadn't felt the same since.
i looked at him and nodded ruefully. "you just can't fuck with that stuff, you know," i told him, meaning his friends. he nodded back with painful eyes. like we knew what we were talking about. as if we had any idea.
deacon lived in a converted garage at the back of his parent's house. the floor was concrete. he'd repurposed a lit retail display with glass doors for use as mood lighting and a curio cabinet for star wars figurines and band paraphernalia. he had a queen sized bed with an elaborate headboard with a cubby where he stacked his CDs. he had a copy of madonna's "justify my love" EP ("great for, you know, when you're... with.... someone," except not said in a way that seemed sleazy to me. i nodded, again, though i didn't know at all.)
there were drugstore candles, stereo equipment, grand speakers; deacon was becoming a man happy with what he had, but wanting things he couldn't have. it rapidly became apparent that one of those unrequited desires was for our friend mia.
mia was a little shorter than me. she dressed well, in pastels, tasteful patterns, sweaters and corduroys, sometimes skirts. her hair was a mass of golden-bronze curls and she laughed easily, so those curls were always moving. her family was christian, she was christian, christian to the point of preferring to attend community college to university because it was less likely to interfere with the mission work scheduled in the spring. her humor was grounded and bright. she was hard to offend.
in fact, there seemed to be two mias developing, that year at ECC: the skirted smiling mission worker who did what her parents had planned--and an increasingly bawdy laughing girl who played poker with deacon and nudged her elbow into your side at the many innuendos of which our group was capable. this version of mia kept sitting with deacon, made plans with deacon, sparkled and grinned when she talked about deacon. all of us knew, however, that straight-spined skirt mia had a proper, parental-approved suitor with whom she went to garden parties and held hands. they were intended: no ring, no date, no particularly heavy petting, no escape. the expectation seemed to be that they'd be married before she could legally drink.
she didn't talk much about the suitor, to begin with. a few weeks into her friendship with deacon and she didn't talk about the suitor at all.
mia brought up deacon almost as much as deacon brought up mia. i saw deacon's room because mia arranged to have june, my best friend forever or my second semester at ecc (whichever came first) and me come over so they could show us their mutual favorite film, "pump up the volume." mia loved it but she couldn't watch it with her other friends or at her parent's house. too many questions, we guessed.
the main thing for mia was showing us deacon's room: didn't it seem like the kind of room christian slater's character would have? deacon is so much like mark,
mia told us. we should get him a transmitter,
mia told us, just to see what happens,
she said. i love "pump up the volume" so much,
she said, i love christian slater's character so much,
she said. mia grinned and sparkled and elbowed my side.
a day or two later, in a booth in the rec room, i glanced up from the mass market of zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance
i've never read through once in twenty years. deacon had a notebook open in front of him, but had pushed his gaze off to the side with a thumb to his chin. he seemed sad, distracted, maybe longing. having been there myself dear faust i am drowning
, i understood. subtle, i leaned forward. "mia is so happy when she's around you," i observed.
"she is, isn't she," he answered, and i'd never seen him smile so broadly.
shortly thereafter, i made a similar observation to mia and received a similar reaction. permission granted, i went into a full-on convoluted match-maker. i have never possessed even a little bit of talent for getting people together: it shows. this does nothing to minimize my enthusiasm for unlikely romances, then or now. what i should have done was squeezed mia's shoulder by the lady's room sink, caught her eye in the bathroom mirror, and said "talk to him." instead, i acted strangely. i reserved a full booth in the rec room for deacon, then suddenly needed to meet with an instructor shortly after mia showed up and sat down next to him. in line at the cafeteria, if i noticed there were three trays left, i'd grab two so mia and deacon would have to share.
an admissible stranger to matters of sexy, i made them a cassette of what i now understand as strange and possibly frightening avant garde ambient. at the time, i thought it could be romantic. to be fair, it really could've served to drive them into each other's arms in their mutual fear. sometimes one's intuition works for reasons one did not intuit. i carried the tape around in my unidentified satchel until deacon mentioned he was having mia over for poker. then i gave him the tape, hoping for the best. he listened to it, at least. he told me that he'd thought it was cool, how the tape went from being structured at the start to being chaotic and primitive. it gave him dreams of caveman, he said, that night he went to bed alone.
see, deacon was experienced. he'd used his madonna CD for its intended purpose more than once, and presumably with more than one person. and he drank, and he smoked, and he smoked things that weren't cigarettes, sometimes to excess. one day in the rec room, he confessed to me that he'd gone to a party the night before. he'd gone with a song in his heart and a condom in his wallet. that morning he'd woke up in a friend's bed. alone with a telling soreness. alone with a missing condom. he remembered a vodka sour and quite a bit of beer. he remembered taking a few hits and making eye contact with a girl across the circle. he woke up from his first black out with a head struck and ringing, no idea of who he'd slept with.
this was not mia's world and we both knew it.
more to come.