THE NIGHT MICHAEL went into the hospital — December 13th — Sidney Crosby recorded the first six-point game of his career. Five assists, one goal. The next day Michael watched the sports highlights in the main lounge for sad men on the tenth floor of the institute, a stone’s throw from the University of Toronto and various horrible dive bars and of course the always entertaining live crab district they call Chinatown. The nurse asked him if he liked hockey. He nodded groggily. He was clutching the sports section. Maybe this was just what was supposed to happen, he wondered. He waved an imaginary foam finger in the air. The sound of a distant air horn grew louder until he felt a growl in his chest.
As the New Year entered him, she still cared. He had been hospitalized three weeks earlier, ten days before Christmas after a five-and-a-half month cocaine doing, co-ed screwing, lie juggling, pussy-eating, ass-slapping, bra-unfastening, and bed unmaking marathon. He went to the emergency room and said he was insane. That he could not live another day without destroying himself. It had all built up into him in this one way. Are you going to hurt yourself or others? I don’t know, probably. He hated all that he had done.
She would not see him. She said she was going to another man’s house instead. Michael had VHS tapes in his bag to watch on her crummy VCR. He felt like a madman walking payphone to payphone carrying Jean Claude Van Damme bootlegs.
From June on this is what he did: fucked the young girls (aged 20, 21, and 20). He couldn’t stop. He was thirty years old. His birthday was in May and it all started soon after that. If one didn’t want to come over, another one did. They must have known what was going on. At one point, one wrote him, “It’s like we are cats howling on your front lawn!”
Each cruel ejaculation was another swatch in a constellation; a purposeful and artful undoing. He loved her best, but she had not taken well to his radio silence heading into the holidays, never knowing where he was.
“I’ve been in the hospital,” he wrote to her, somehow. He can’t remember how. He ate sponge cake every day at five thirty.
But now she was here. Now she was here and it was a new year. He was fingering her asshole. He had taken his rickety hospital bed apart and put the mattress on the ground. Another girl left him in the bed saying, “I can’t do this,” and burst into tears. This wasn’t the girl he loved the best. Somehow they still found him, despite his being in an institution.
So the girl he loved best was sitting on his mattress on the floor and they were listening to oldies radio just like they used to in his apartment before he lost his mind from starvation, cocaine and intercourse. The nurse came by and found them in the dark on the floor. She glanced in and nodded a greeting then shut the door. The one he loved best laughed.
They were still listening to oldies and he was now fingering her asshole. “I’m going to need a few more minutes with this patient,” she said, bursting into laughter. He kissed her and stared into her big dumb eyes.
After the fingering and the kissing and listening to the old songs they smoked a cigarette outside. The security guy who rode down the elevator with them was now standing beside them, watching their every move.
“It’s so nice to see you,” she said. “You seem to be doing well.” He rolled his eyes in agreement sarcastically.
“They’re going to drill a hole in my head tomorrow.”
“No they’re not. Don’t say that.”
“You’re right. Might give them ideas,” he said, looking at the security guy. He was chuckling.
WHEN HE WAS RELEASED from the hospital, he stayed with a friend. Then he went to her house with a bag full of specific gifts. “I will make you pork chops and green beans. There is some vodka too. And a celebrity magazine. I also got you a Disney book and wrote stuff in it for you. I’ve been working on it for weeks.” She took the bag and began to investigate. She flipped through the Disney book, noticing the plethora of enhancements.
“Is this what you did in the hospital?”
“No. I didn’t have this in the hospital. I found it with my stuff. From when I moved out of my apartment? I remember getting you that book when I worked at the bookstore.”
“What did you write in it?”
With the flare of a masturbating teenage boy, he had accentuated the animals’ furry rear regions, added curves and innuendo and written her name like a maniac stranded in the tundra with bits of cardboard and a pencil crayon that only worked if spelling out her name. He drew hearts in the animals’ eyes, dirty limericks. Each page crammed with filth and animalistic reassignment. “I’m worried about you and the animals,” she said, face engulfed with manic laughter and big golf ball-sized eyes rolling around in her face. He played with her butt.
“Don’t hurt the animals OK?”
“I don’t want to have sex with animals.” She looked stern then changed her face into a big bright explosion of teeth and the whites of her eyes. “I’m just teasing you.”
They watched television in sweatpants. He kept playing with her butt. “You love that thing,” she said. He said nothing. He looked as though he was about to cry. He spanked her. Hard. As she fondled the remote she asked him, “Do you spank all the girls?” He couldn’t believe this was the way she talked. But it was. His brain was a fog machine from the pills.
He had to answer her. “I guess so,” he said. Someone named Mark was phoning her. She looked at his name on her phone and huffed. “I don’t want to date him.” Mark is the name of the dude that girls always fuck but never stay with, Michael thought. It is what he will think for a hundred years.
She slept with him the previous week when he was in Montreal, visiting friends. They had parted ways, in theory. She later said, “I knew when you got on that bus it wasn’t over.”
When he got off the bus from Montreal he went straight to her house. “I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too.” She handed him a four page note. It said that she had slept with Mark the boy from her drama class who was directing her play and that she wasn’t sure why, other than he had just broken up with his girlfriend. “Sometimes I think with my—” Her phone buzzed loudly on the couch. It rested on a magazine he had bought her. He continued reading her note. The note said things about choking up sometimes when they would meet on the subway platform. The lump in her chest, her heart in her throat or things like that. The note also said that she wanted to do other things. To have sex with other people, different kinds of sex. He waited for the car chase part of the note to end. The slow motion explosions and the sex montage, the champagne on her torso to dry, wiped up by a production assistant.
“Have you had one?”
“Not yet,” she said. He looked at his watch. How about now? He didn’t do those things. Not yet. He wondered when she would leave him for good. When she would assemble the team to replace him.
You never acted this way before, he thought to say but didn’t. The night before he told her how he wanted to be a teacher.
“You’d fuck all your students,” she said. He said that maybe he could teach gym instead. Or coach hockey. Work in a library. “When I was eighteen I worked at Rogers Sports and filmed girls’ basketball. They were like a year or so older. I would film the cutaway shots from behind their benches.”
She shook her head. “Pervert.”
She told him a teacher’s assistant really helped her out. “I was going through a tough time, he was really supportive.” He had no idea what she was talking about. She was flapping a paper in his face as she told him about it. “Look, I got an A. And I didn’t have to sleep with the teacher!” Did she end the sentence with teacher or this time? Was she making a joke about if he was the teacher? Or did she sleep with that TA who helped her out so long ago before they met? Is this what he thinks about? Is this why she will leave him? “I want to have different kinds of sex.”
“Yes I heard you, that’s great,” he said. He told her how much he loved the way she tasted. Her face dimmed to a single punctuated state, then she said with a hopeful tone, “You can eat other girls.”
He now knew he was not enough. He took a weird pill that made him twitch and stop talking. He had to take this pill at eleven or so each night. Then it would be a weird trip into sleep. “Don’t take your pill tonight,” she said.
He was not enough for what she wanted. He was a woolen hat of crazy wetness. He was Long John Crazy.
He and her, it was just comfortable. They were the bored kissing cousins on Arrested Development. They were stranded on the island of their own boring silence. They were the nothing that lulled each of them to eunuch sleep each night. They were each other’s hands and feet and bare bums and fingernails and breathing patterns. They were the familiar reflection, the post-obsession sigh, in sync. A synchronized team for the sexual afterlife.
“Do you want to watch the hockey game for a bit tonight?” She rolled her big dumb eyes up into her head and shook her head side to side along with her arms that moved an imaginary hockey stick. Her desire to watch the game, it seemed, was equally imaginary. “I guess that’s a no?” She scampered down the hall to the tiny washroom. “I’m taking a shower if you want to come.”
He joined her and noted a cut on her leg. “It’s from shaving. I cut myself.” She looked at his wrist where three antique scars rested in shameful permanence. “Not like you.”
He wanted to tell her about the hospital, how he was almost mugged, how this one guy came into his room and saw a magazine with Paris Hilton on it and made fun of him about it. How another patient on his floor would talk to his mother for hours on the hall phone and speak in NHL prophecy. That’s how he wanted to describe it. That the guy was like Cassandra and would tell his mother things that were going to happen to him, or maybe that had happened to him. He kept using Pat Lafontaine in a sentence. “You don’t want me to Pat Lafontaine do you, I will tell you now, I do not want to Pat Lafontaine, but Luc Robitaille, Sergei Viktorovich Fedorov… No, you are not listening….” Michael was terrified by the hockey card prophet. He was muddled and his words were owned and licensed by the NHL. It made him feel even crazier every time he tried to imagine this man’s poor mother on the other end writing it all down on a dressing room strategy whiteboard.
She turned the shower off. “I am going to be late for work. I gotta hurry. No funny business.” She hopped like a big fat wet bunny from the shower. He chased her down the hall. Grabbed her hair into a wet ponytail. Her eyes froze. She put her lips together. She closed her eyes. Looked at her big alarm clock. “We have twenty minutes.”
One night years later he saw her with a giant man, six foot four. They were getting into a cab on Front Street, near the Hockey Hall of Fame. Later he found out from a mutual friend of theirs that she was now with a hockey player. He told the friend he was not surprised. That he had seen them at the trophy museum for great hockey players. He imagined her doing that bratty invisible hockey stick routine and laughing at white wine spritzer-infused log cabin weekend retreats with several other hockey players and their wives or girlfriends. Like a big dumb Playboy Girls of The Jock Strap specialty issue. He was happy for her though. He wanted her to be happy for him and his lifestyle choices too. But he knew she didn’t know about him anymore. He was doing almost all the recollecting. He said to himself in a big silent sigh: All right!
But he knew she was in a toque and mittens, cheering. Her finger bedazzled with a pricey jewel. A hang in there cat charm around her neck given to her by her lifelong best friend from the small town she hatched from. He thought that if he was a girl he would want to fuck a hockey player at least once, just for the jokes. Also because they would probably be very strong and do a good job.
He drank what he now believed was poisonous coffee. He didn’t care what she thought of him. He just remembered the hospital nights, the bed on the floor, the insane NHL psych patient, and her joke about his suicidal scars. It was part of his life. Like those Part of Our Heritage commercials he used to tape on the family VCR because they had remade the Jacques Plante facial injury, the one that took place the day after Halloween in 1959 in Madison Square Garden where Plante finally donned the mask he’d been using in practices. Just think about it, he could have said to her on the couch watching the game, there would be no Jason Voorhees without him. Then what? Then what would he have said?