Larry and Wanda by Christopher K. Miller

Christopher K. Miller's determinedly non-religious character is moved to pray for Larry and Wanda.

So I got this email from my Uncle Kenneth today with about a hundred names on the "To:" line because it's one of those genealogical type spammings (which used to be disseminated via daisy-chained snail-mailings called circle letters) that someone occasionally figures will be of interest to everyone in the family. And it is kind of interesting, too.

The whole first part pertains to his son, my cousin, Larry, and Larry's second wife, Wanda: it seems they're both in the same Charlottesville hospital right now. At first I figured Larry had cracked up the family car or something because I remember driving places with him just after he turned fifteen, and that he was the kind of driver who couldn't stand to have anyone in front of him even if he was pulling a camper or a boat or something, and I even specifically remember asking him once following an extended left-lane cruise on the highways around this Christian campground near Onekama, Michigan called Little Eden where we had all congregated for a family reunion, how he decided when to drive in the right lane, and he told me, "When there's no one in front of me."

I guess I should explain that I'm the only person in my entire extended ancestral family on either side that I can say for sure is not religious, per se. That is to say, I don't love Jesus, and I don't feel He loves me, never has and never will. But that even if He did love me somehow in spite of being dead for 2000 years, that even if I thought He loved me to pieces, it still wouldn't make me feel all hopeful and special or anything because it'd be like this shit-faced souse wobbling around spilling drinks on everyone at some huge party telling everyone he bumps into, "I love you man. I really love you to pieces." Same for His dad, God. Maybe because when I look around, I don't see a plan. I see an accident, or at best an experiment, like the one I saw in this Psych video where they dropped rats in buckets of water to study how long they'd tread before drowning, and in which they determined that not only are rats excellent swimmers but that they have this really strong desire to stay alive because they'd tread for practically a week before finally glugging, only with us I think it's more of an experiment to see how long we can sit in front of a television or do the same stupid job or stay married to the same person before finally glugging.

But Larry and Wanda have not been involved in some sort of joint accident or experiment like a car crash or a carbon monoxide leak or a boat capsizing, but rather the things that have landed them in this medical facility, him two floors below her, are for all intents and purposes, mutually exclusive and coincidental, per se.

See, I remember another family reunion maybe twenty years after the one in Little Eden, I forget where ... somewhere around here I think. Anyway, Larry and I were there with our first wives, and the wheels were coming off both of our marriages. I think my wife had already told me she was leaving but then changed her mind because desperation had sort of shaped me up a little even beyond just causing me to follow her around like a lost puppy, and also because my parents, who owned our house at the time, wouldn't kick me out and give it to her so she could be happy, but our relationship was on borrowed time anyway, obviously. And I remember Larry's first wife sitting staring into this portable bank of wide-spectrum fluorescents which made me think of growing dope but that her doctor had said would help with the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) light-deprived condition that was bumming her out, and Larry writing down all kinds of special dietary requests for the kitchen that were supposed to address the hypoglycemic condition that was bumming him out. And they both did seem pretty bummed out too.

Wanda, Larry's second wife whom he met at some sort of Christian singles dance, is in the hospital with numerous bowel obstructions pursuant to colon cancer and apparently has had to undergo a double colostomy, which is kind of funny because I once wrote in my own personal private journal that my dad's the kind of person who "could find the bright side of a botched colostomy," although of course hers wasn't botched and there isn't really anything bright or funny about it whatsoever, per se. And Larry is in the same hospital two floors below her in neurology services because of a transient ischemic attack, a sort of mini-stroke that caused an episode of numbness in his right side. Apparently he hasn't been sleeping well.

The last time I saw Larry was a couple years ago at our grandma's 99th birthday celebration. He was just getting into geriatric square dancing (with the emphasis on square) and he and Wanda had trucked in and set up this huge sound system just so they could show us how they had managed to memorize this finger snapping, hand clapping, foot stomping, semaphore-like series of gestures that reminded me a little of the way hotshots dance to the YMCA song by Village People at normal pathetic sleazy singles dances, but all of which had to be done sitting down because Larry and Wanda were practicing calling out square dances for really old people like our grandma who kind of have to dance sitting down. I was there with my second wife, although we're not actually formally married and probably never will be. Larry and Wanda were having a ball trying to teach a group of us this finger snapping, hand clapping, foot stomping, semaphore-like, gesticulating square dance number, grinning all the while like a couple of ravers on Ecstasy and uppers. And my wife kept looking at me like I was retarded.

Larry once played this boring Othello-like board game I machine coded for the Commodore-64, for practically an entire night. He had driven up to Ontario to try to drum up venture capital for his Apple Computer franchise. So he was kind of wasting time as far as spending it with me was concerned because I didn't have shit to invest and he knew it, but he was totally fascinated by my game and spent like the entire evening until about three or four in the morning trying to beat my program on increasingly higher levels, so totally absorbed that even when he was half asleep it was hard to pull him away. I also remember fishing with Larry at little Eden late one night. We were out in a rowboat. The catfish were really biting. I remember getting kind of excited and taking on all these various southern personas appropriate to the catching of catfish, like calling myself Joe Mama for example and talking in a poor Southern Negro dialect and saying things like, "Lawdy, lawdy! Joe Mama has done caught hisse'f anotha fat fishy fo' to feed dee ho fambly wit'," and singing my own lyrics to "Old Man River" and "Moon River" and "Way down Upon the Swanee River" and generally exhibiting a lot of the symptoms of attention deficit disorder, and Larry hooting and gutting himself all the while at my droll repartee and happily playing and singing along as we pulled catfish after catfish up from the bottom of the reedy black water, trying not to impale our hands on their spiny fins when we took them off the hook.

So I feel bad for Larry and Wanda. Why do the nicest people catch the shittiest breaks? I feel bad because there's nothing I can do. Because, although I don't think "covet" is exactly the right word, Uncle Kenneth informs us in his emailing that Larry and Wanda "covet" our prayers, which I guess means they would like us to beef up their chances by asking God to intervene, to step in, to forestall their glugging, the assumption being that the more people that annoy God with the same basic request, the more apt He is to get around to it.

And so I pray to You, God, even though I'm pretty sure you aren't there and that even if you are there you don't give a shit and that even if you do give a shit, there's probably nothing you can do; help Larry and Wanda. Don't let them glug. Glug someone who wouldn't call out an old folk's square dance unless his nuts were in a vice, someone who isn't that interested in You or your dead kid, someone like me. Glug me instead. I fucking dare You! Amen.

Okay, perhaps not the most sensitive prayer ever ... But I feel better. Praying it made me feel better. And maybe that's the point. Maybe, and wouldn't it be just like them, Larry and Wanda have taken the opportunity of their infirmity to make us all feel better?


  1. The MC wants to help, but knows he is powerless to do so. Despite the lack of eloquence in his prayer, the elements of selflessness are what stand out (i.e. he is willing to challenge his own belief system, even sacrifice himself for their God, if it might help the people he loves). Well written, powerful story. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I really enjoyed the "flow of consciousness" style. Made the tale more realistic and impactful. Praying for those who are unfairly struck down is an apt topic for this time. Whether you are a believer or not, people want and need your prayers. Thanks for sharing this fine story.

  3. The style shows me the guy's personality and character. He is really upset at what is happening to his good friends, all the memories strengthen that sense of mortality. I concur with the well written comments above.

  4. I really want to thank you three for your very kind words. I wrote this sometime ago, but never really appreciated or understood it as well as you've led me to. Very much appreciate your having taken the time to read and remark.

  5. Strong (and entertaining) character voice and a sweet tying it all together in the ending.