Essay from Michael Robinson

“Don’t hurt me!” I said, sitting in the corner of a tiny room with pillows on the floor for my bed.

It was an August night and it was cold.

“I’m not going to hurt you.”

Mary would spend the next two decades telling me that she wasn’t going to hurt me. I’d get to hear this a lot, as I went through all the mental hospitals and ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) treatments. The darkness of the nights was plentiful in my marriage of thirteen years.

A memory resurfaced. Slowly, I climbed out of a red Corvette.  My friend George said, “Merry Christmas!” and drove off.

The snowflakes were the source of reflected light. The air was brisk and the snowflakes seemed to dance as they fell to the ground. I began to ascend the cement steps to the front door of the rooming house where I was staying. My heart began to throb, each step becoming a greater challenge.

Once inside the first-floor hallway, I crept up to the second floor. Unable to stand, I fumbled the keys, attempting to open the door. My heart continued to throb and my breathing was labored. It was problematic to lift myself into my bed. Finally, I succeeded in getting into bed, but the pain was overwhelming as I fell to the floor. Unable to catch my breath, I realized there was to be no way to avoid the darkness plunging down upon me. Alone, afraid, and lost, I would meet my end. No one would know what had happened to me as I would lie on that slab in the morgue. God would be my only salvation. The black vortex closed as I passed out.

Even before that night, darkness had followed me for several years. I was haunted by the deaths that had happened in my childhood.

Willie was a troubled man. His younger brother Allen had once shot him with a. 22 caliber pistol and Willie survived, until this night. The story, well, not a story, but a real event in my life that scared me away from acting on my desire to commit suicide myself.

“He flew as high as that light pole!” said Harriet, who had witnessed the accident.

“One shoe flew off his foot and landed way down there,” she continued. Often, I thought of jumping to my death while standing on the overpass watching the oncoming cars beneath me; if the fall didn’t kill me, oncoming vehicles would complete the job. All I could envision was Willie’s body flaying through the air and then landing with all that blood.

 

My summer vacation before fourth grade: another day and another body. The heat formed a cloud as it rose from the gray cement alley floor, covered with glass and rat carcasses. I could only recall the decayed bodies of cats, dogs, rats. I held my breath from the stench in my nose. It was difficult to hold it long enough to get through the alley.

 

“The body is hanging there, “they continued to say.

I was unable to see the body. It was so surreal to my young eyes. I never saw the body, but fear gabbed me as before. The sun had melted in the bluish gray skies, and the moon, slipping in and out of clouds, gave birth to my fears that night and afterwards. The corner hearse was black like the night. The body was placed in what seemed to be a wire-basket which followed his tiny body. I was lonely that night and in the following years.

Events in my life were a passing cloud of darkness. Something about that night followed me into adulthood. I remembered sitting on the porch pouring boiling water on the rats scurrying on the basement steps while feeling the darkness despite the fully lit moon. The dark shadows of that night pursued me all the way to the night of the cocaine overdose that Christmas eve at age twenty-one.

“Don’t hurt me!” he said, as tears dropped onto the tiled floor.

More images came back to shake what little hope was left inside of me. The recollection of various events of blood and death turned into a reality now that I was out of the inner city. At age 23 it was more like a recording of past moments of insanity from childhood.

Another day, another death, in my adolescence. The hanging kid was the first death I consciously remembered, at eight years old.  Now at seventeen, one would think that death would fade into the background. However, that was not my reality. The elevator door revealed the blood spatter on the walls. People said that a kid had gotten into the elevator shaft. The walls had been washed and the blood wasn’t as bright, but it was still visible. Whenever I saw that wall I imagined screams echoing off the cables. I never adjusted to all the blood and screams and the smell of deaths from dead animals and the garbage cans with the maggots. I never got used to the blood-stained walls. All those memories of blood-stained sidewalks and elevator walls.

 

Over the first several years of our marriage, Mary had to watch as I went in and out of mental hospitals. No belts, no shoelaces, and white padded walls gave me enough quietness for the memories to come back to haunt me.

During her last visit to me in the hospital, Mary brought me divorce papers. In the days that followed, I ended up in a homeless shelter.

But I could not help but remember, years later, that first night. The very first night that someone was there with me when I had those terrible memories of death.

“Don’t hurt me!”

That was the night that Someone Saved My Life. And it was Mary.