Friday, July 01, 2005

dreaming dog

When I was thirteen my family joined the hordes of Dallas' "white flight" and moved several miles to a new neighborhood inside the westerly edges of the city limit. It was a hastily constructed neighborhood, one of many developments springing up to house anglo families trying to escape the newly integrated schools closer to the inner city. We had never lived in a new house so it was exciting for my brother and me even though the house itself was somewhat shoddy and the neighborhood was sorely lacking trees and had only rudimentary lawns. There was a nicely-wooded park down the street with a small creek that afforded an occasional crawdad if you were patient enough to sit on the concrete drainage pipe for several hours with a scrap of bacon tied to a string.

There were two brothers named Bill who lived across the street and 6 or 8 houses up the block. We thought it was funny they were both named Bill but we didn't know much about divorce and the mixed families that resulted from second marriages. The only single parents you saw on tv in the sixties were single because their spouse had died like the dad on "My Three Sons" or "The Courtship of Eddie's Father." So sad. There were also single guys who inherited their nieces or nephews like the swingers on "Bachelor Father" and "Family Affair." There didn't seem to be any single moms though except for Diahann Carroll on "Julia." She was the first single mom I remember seeing (again as a result of death, not divorce) and also the first African-American woman to star in a tv show. I sometimes wonder at the messages these shows must have sent, as if being a single parent was cool if you were a white man but was only acceptable for women if you were black. And divorce was something reserved for movie stars.

The two Bills on Wisteria Street came to be called "Big Bill" and "Little Bill." Little Bill was younger and he was the mean one who harassed other kids and would take their bikes from them when he felt like it. Big Bill would rescue you from the clutches of his half-brother if he was around, but he disappeared from time to time so you couldn't rely on his help. You were better off just riding the other direction if Little Bill was outside. The Bills' family moved away after a year or so and I forgot about them until my friend Jean started dating Big Bill about ten years later.

Bill was a sweet guy, nice-looking, and he always had plenty of money. He took Jean out every weekend and sometimes during the week, too, and was almost like a dad to Jean's five-year-old daughter. They took family vacations on the beach at Galveston. This was quite a switch for Jean, whose deadbeat ex-husband had never earned enough money to move them out of Jean's grandmother's roach-infested house and who now never paid child-support and rarely bothered to even visit his adorable blond daughter. Jean and Bill were happy and had just become engaged to be married when Bill jumped off the edge of sanity and stripped away the facade of his life.

One morning when he should have been at work, Bill came to Jean's home, talking a mile a minute and pacing incessantly as he babbled about people coming after him. Worried, Jean phoned her brother, Des, who was also Bill's friend. It took about ten minutes for him to drive to Jean's. When Bill saw Des pull into the driveway, he ran from the house to his own car, shouting for everyone to keep away. At breakneck speed, he started his car and backed around his friend's car to get out of the driveway, throwing gravel in every direction in a frantic effort to leave. Jean's brother had been waving his arms shouting "it's me, let's talk" to no avail. In a few moments, Bill was out of the driveway and out of sight. They could still hear the car as its tires screeched on asphalt and hard concrete and suddenly there was Bill again in front of the house, the car flying up over the curb into Jean's front yard where she and her brother still stood. They now had to dodge the oncoming car and Bill dug deep circular ruts in the lawn with his tires as he spun around the yard two or three times and was then gone again. It would be almost 24 hours before they would see him again.

What no one knew then was that Bill was a manic-depressive, that he had gone off his medication, and that he had exacerbated his manic condition by ingesting a large amount of cocaine. He was spotted several times during the day in neighborhoods of his friends and family and finally corralled after the bulk of the cocaine had faded from his bloodstream. The truth about Bill's medical condition came out and he was institutionalized in a psych ward for three months. When he came out he wasn't the same. The medication that was supposed to level out his mood swings made him impotent and depressed. Jean felt helself pulling away from him though she hoped Bill would get back to "normal." One day Bill asked to borrow a handgun from his brother. A few days after that he turned the tv volume up loud in his house, walked into a closet in the back bedroom and shot himself.

No comments: