Wooster Road Suicide
With squirrels routinely eviscerated and flattened for my appraisal, I was keenly aware of the peril and never played beyond the big maple in our front yard. When I was five, when we lived in that tiny, red bungalow on Wooster Road, the busy 3-C highway between Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, just after the A&W Root Beer drive-in but before the fairgrounds, Patty was my first love or at least my first pal.
Patty Purdy, the veterinarian’s little girl next door, a year younger than I, stepped spritely through our kitchen door without knocking or greeting, clothed only in her underwear and in the summer, like me, barefoot and without a top. As far as Patty and I were concerned, there was every reason to assume we were identical. On most days, my mother didn’t mind as Patty sat quietly beside me to watch Bugs Bunny and Lucy’s Toy Shop in the mornings and the Mickey Mouse Club later on. On the best days, the sun angled through the window above the sink and bathed her wispy, blonde hair and warm, honey-colored skin just so. She glowed, a contrast to the snowy black and white TV. Someone needed to watch her, and we required so little at that age. An only child thus far, I was glad for her company.
Like my dog, Smokey, who refused to be chained, roamed the neighborhood, and dodged cars with frequency, the Purdy kids ran wild. Patty’s mother rarely appeared. On cue, like turning a faucet on and off, Patty’s little brother wailed when we made faces at him. Ricky and Mark left their bikes in front of Dad’s garage door and Ricky ran over my pet baby groundhog. However, I was always grateful to the brothers for teaching Smokey how to shake one paw – his only trick. There may have been a big sister as reclusive as the mother.
(It wasn’t as if my mother was more vigilant; she was simply more nervous than Mrs. Purdy. Oddly more comfortable around old folks, I often wandered off in my red rubber boots, unaccountable for hours, to pay visits upon Mr. Valentine when he raked leaves or trimmed hedges or Mrs. Schuman with the chalky pink candy in the white milk glass dish by her door. And when my sister came along, at dawn she’d be gone running with the neighborhood dogs through woods and tall grass. Upon her return at lunch or dusk there were always tics in her ears. I worried while Mom slept in. Mrs. Purdy vanished at five kids; Mom disappeared at two.)
Too abruptly, an episode changed everything for us when the shriek of tires was for Patty, not Smokey. The sound could have been a scream though the driver braked in time, got out, picked Patty up, and came shaking to our front door, the nearest. Rarely used, it opened hard. Patty wasn’t flattened like a squirrel after all. Patty had laid her little body on the highway, smack-dab naked on the center line, a small, virgin sacrifice, a meager portion on an asphalt altar, wearily acquiescing as if her oblation was a surrender. Patty stretched out, spread-eagle, gazing up at the blue, both performance artist and supplicant, rather than tucked in a reluctant fetal curve. Unlike Smokey, Patty’s dad wouldn’t be able to put her back together. She knew this. She relied upon this fact.
I recall Mom and Dad whispering over the event with wide eyes and shaking heads. Despite their efforts I heard: “not the first time,” “getting her help,” and “can’t come over anymore.” They could not know Patty’s manifesto, her offering, was imprinted upon and remained fixed within my memory. I admired and missed Patty’s audacity, though so young, in desiring oblivion in the absence of love. Soon after, we moved across town where neighbors lived farther apart and were less expressive, less complicated, and perilously dull.