Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Delightful, Wonderful, and Crazy Universe of Melanie (1/5)

Fallen in Love  
When I shifted the paradigm of the fantasy and made myself Melanie’s love interest, things were suddenly different between us.  I inadvertently risked our friendship, but I don’t think I could continue on as mere friends.  Truth is, I had fallen deeply, foolishly, and irretrievably in love with Melanie—her smile, her wit, her intelligence, her cute frown, her dramatic gestures—and she could not have been oblivious to my feelings, increasingly difficult as it was to hide them.  I’m getting ahead of the story, though, for I suspect you need a bit of context to appreciate this awkward situation.  Bear with me as I explain further.  I’m hardly a dispassionate narrator, especially when it comes to matters of the heart—my heart!
          In yet another one of her wild stories, Melanie had imagined herself an Ottoman princess, and we of course took up our roles as supporting cast, roles that Melanie had created for us—the Grand Vizier, an Italian merchant, a servant girl, the duke of Venice—with the expectation that we would embellish our character with realistic and creative details.  In fact, as these stories unfolded, we would often find ourselves shifting between two or three characters to keep up with the expanding dramatis personae, and Melanie would dutifully remind us when we blurred the lines between characters.
          Who’s the we?  Almost every day Melanie, Arnie, Tom, Lisa and I would gather under watchful eyes at the cafeteria between breakfast and lunch and together enter the realm of imagination.  Usually we would start with chitchat about our walk in the petunia garden, unexpected visits of family members, our latest creations in art therapy, or maybe something we saw on the news.  Sometimes we would just sit there and complain about the food, making each other laugh with our impressions of the food attendants or coming up with creative descriptions of the unpalatable entrees.  Sarcasm and dry humor were our constant companions.
          It wouldn’t be long before Melanie would spin one of her yarns, and we willingly complied, if nothing else to make the time pass quicker.  You knew storytime was upon us when a mischievous grin brightened that already colorful face of hers, and excitement like an electrical storm flashed across those pretty bluish-grey eyes.  It’s as if she were possessed or, better yet, as if she were an oracle about to deliver a profound message to us mortals.  She would write the screenplay and direct the scenes, but, as mentioned already, we took poetic license.
          At seventy-three, Arnie, who would inform you ad nauseum he had worked as a grocery clerk for nearly fifty years whether or not you had asked him, had difficulties following along and he couldn’t always stay in character, much to Melanie’s chagrin.  His mind wandered to weird places.  For instance, as the putative Duke of Venice in this latest fantasy, he would start acting like Henry VIII or a Nazi, complaining about his six wives as if the king had married all of them at the same time and interjecting a high-pitched staccato German accent as if Himmler had somehow transported his evil self to the Renaissance.
          Arnie’s annoying habit of violently clearing his throat every few minutes was difficult to bear.  To me, his coughing sounded like a sadistic butcher dragging swine for the slaughter across sandpaper.  Sometimes it got so bad that we had to incorporate the sound into the story: a cannon explosion, an attack of incubi, the sinking of a ship.  Still, no one had the heart to deny the old man a seat at the table; his inclusion in the group was a source of pride for him and we at least kept his mind preoccupied, or tried to.
          Lisa probably complained about Arnie the most, for like Melanie she took the role-playing seriously.  A thirty-something gal from Baltimore who I understand had lived her adult life alone in her parents’ basement, Lisa was extremely moody, easily peeved and irritable one moment, yet surprisingly pleasant the next.  On one day we might get the good Lisa, on another the bad Lisa.  One time we had to banish her from our table-talk storytelling for an entire week.  She began to insult everyone as “a bunch of crazies” who have nothing better to do than while away the hours with “stupid stories.”  She apologized profusely, but only after they shot her up with enough meds to kill an elephant.  When we invited her back, she stayed witty and engaging most of the time thereafter.
          Given her weight issue, she invariably made her assigned characters thinner, let alone more beautiful, no matter if she were just a servant, slave, or even sometimes a male character.  Why not?  It’s her fantasy too.  She’d always manage to be eating a sumptuous gourmet meal in whatever scenario Melanie had dreamed up.  She was at her creative best when describing such imaginary food.  Melanie and I would sneak glances at each other occasionally as if to say, “Lisa’s stuffing her face again!”  (I started reading into those moments of eye contact something that perhaps wasn’t there, not initially anyway, but I’m again getting ahead of the story.)
          Our fifth interlocutor, Tom, was roughly my age and I suppose better looking than me, with his dark eyes and strong chin.  If there was a leading man, usually Tom got the part.  Melanie found me to be more suitable for supporting roles and walk-on parts (which made my switch to her love interest a daring move!).  You’re probably thinking I’m jealous, but I’m not.  No, I’m not brimming with self-confidence; I hardly consider myself a paragon of masculinity.  It became apparent to me that Melanie simply had no interest in Tom, his nervous twitch being the main but not sole reason for her disinterest. 
          The other reason was his limited availability.  He could spend only about an hour with us, as he was on a strict psychiatric regimen that involved multi-drug therapy, rest, and regular walks in the east garden.  I know little about his background, but I have my suspicion that the reason for his being here is, unlike one of Melanie’s tales, a decidedly unpleasant story. 
          (Okay, if you must know: The rumor floating about is that Tom, an accountant, had converted a work shed in the backyard of his residence into an office; here he’d often retire in the evening to have dinner and lively discussions with three strange guests whom he painstakingly propped up on sofa chairs.  He played the gracious host to a dead raccoon, probably roadkill he scooped up somewhere and had stuffed; a ventriloquist doll that he purportedly inherited from his vaudeville ventriloquist great-grandfather; and a blowup doll made to look like Marilyn Monroe.  He supplied each of them with a glass of red wine, a vintage carefully selected with the finest bouquet and aroma he could find.  Tom provided the conversation, ascribing funny voices to his guests, a talent he showcased in Melanie’s stories as well.  One evening around suppertime his wife and younger son walked in on him during one of those impromptu dinner parties, as they were wondering what took him so long to find light bulbs for Billy’s science project.  Suffice to say, I find this behavior strange and disturbing.  My only hope is that Tom finds the discussion with me, Melanie, Lisa and Arnie—his cafeteria chums—more stimulating and productive than that with his former taciturn friends.)
          Yes, we were a motley group, and the storyline inevitably reflected these differences.  The only constant in these imaginative tales was Melanie’s “stage name,” Megan.  She said she always preferred the name Megan to her own and felt that her parents had done her a disservice in not naming her thus.  Now was her chance: she appeared as Princess Megan numerous times, as Queen Megan II, Duchess Megan Laquerre, and Megan the Goddess Warrior, but most often as just Meg, a carefree spirit who weaves in and out of people’s lives to bring them joy.  Never mind that Megan doesn’t sound like the name of a Turkish princess in this current story, Melanie always made it work, and she clearly enjoyed life, or should I say “life,” with her correct name.
          This comment brings me to speculation as to why Melanie contrived such fantasies in the first place.  Although I could simply say she’s a creative person and leave it at that, I know there’s more to the story.  First, she’s recreating a world in order to right the wrongs of her past, the name Megan being merely one minor example thereof.  Moreover, and perhaps most obviously, she’d rather retreat to these scenarios than deal with the daily grind of life.  It’s a harsh world out there.  Believe me, I know.