The Life Inside Me

At 10:10 a.m., I waddled into the glass Miami government building, tucking my white nylon long-sleeve shirt into my pants, with my file flapping out of my mouth like the beak of a duck.   I didn’t always look this pathetic.  “Morning, I’m here to see the agents who issued these alcohol and firearms violations.”

“I’m fixin’ to go on break,” said the clerk.  “If you wanna speak to the agents, they’re all still here.”  He pointed with his chin down the hallway.

I knew the way.  In the large white hall, bright lights flashed from the series of photocopiers.  My head began to throb.  The lid of a copier slammed shut.

I turned the yoke hard, rolling the aircraft on its side to miss the enemy plane’s machine gun fire.  Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta! I slammed the throttle back, slowing the cylinders, and pulled up on the yoke, causing the plane to flip up and over the enemy aircraft.  Pulling out of a circle, I lined up behind the enemy and opened fire.  Bullets ripped the fuselage, flames erupted, and the plane began to disintegrate—

“Henry, my favorite ambulance chaser. What brings you here? Henry? Hey!”

“Sorry, I was somewhere else. . . .”

“You OK?” asked the agent, moving quickly from the filing cabinet to his desk.

“Nothing a weekend in the Keys couldn’t cure.”

“Which violations you here on?”

“Club Tropicana: minors, after-hours drinking, and firearms.  Can we drop the first two?”

“I can only drop one.”

“If we pay the firearms, can we get the others dropped?”

“No, kids in their teens were being served after-hours. You have children, don’t you?”

“Not in this lifetime.  I’m not even married out of fear of commitment.  Come on, work with me here.”

“I’ll drop the after-hours,” he said, picking up the phone and waiving it at me like a wand, “but you’ll have to deal with the State Attorney on the rest.”

Outside the office, I brushed my hand across the top of my oily black hair and crunched up against the wall like a leg of fried chicken.  It had happened again: another WWII kick in the ass—with the same name appearing on the uniform in that bold Army font: “ANTHONY PURRI.”   Last week, besides flashes of Purri in a German POW camp and his failed escape, I had memories of him graduating from Atlantic City High School.  I left the government building, hoping to leave Purri behind, and drove to my office.

Waiting for a parking spot by the office, my head started pounding.  Oh shit, it’s happening again.

“Your wounds are healing quite nicely.”  It was a pasty white nurse with a white paper hat on her head, a knee-length dress, white nylon stockings and ugly white shoes.  “How are feeling?”

“Better,” I said, but it wasn’t my voice.   “When can I start trying to walk?”

“You’ll start rehabbing in about a week.  Maybe this will cheer you up.”    She grabbed a newspaper and read aloud a headline from the Atlantic City Press:  “ ‘ Local War Hero Returns Home.’ ”   She handed me the newspaper.

The car behind me honked, urging me to take the open parking spot.  Again it had happened.  Using my cell phone, I called the psychiatrist’s office to see if I could move up my appointment to the first available opening.  I was in luck. I drove out of the parking lot to the doctor’s office.

The downtown traffic was jammed.  I took 7th Street west and put my windows down to suck in some fresh air.  Several cheap bars abutted the street with neon bar signs pulsating like open wounds.   Traffic slowed in unison.   Police were directing the cars through the intersection.  My head started to throb again.

From the top of the boat I spotted the yellow Donzi off the starboard moving about 50 knots toward Elliot Key.  “Head due southeast toward Elliot Key, full speed ahead,” I said.   The patrol vessel pierced through the four-foot waves.  I secured two semiautomatic pistols and motioned the crew to do the same.  The Donzi slowed down as we approached.

“Turn off your engines. This is the United States Coast Guard,” I said through a bullhorn.   The Donzi cut its engines and began to drift toward a portion of sandy beach.  “Prepare to be boarded.”  I ordered Miller, our junior agent, to first radio for backup and then, along with the two senior agents, prepare to board.   As the agents boarded, two men with automatic weapons opened fire, repeatedly hitting the agents.  With my double fisted semiautomatics, I took out both gunmen.

Boarding the Donzi I checked my agents’ for pulses.  Feeling no pulse, I moved below deck and saw three aluminum suitcases and 100s of brick sized packages of dope.  The Donzi drifted onto the deserted beach between the patches of mangrove splints. I took one suitcase and hurled it into the scrub brush by the only cluster of palm trees.   Jumping on shore, I buried the suitcase in the sand.  Finally, four Coast Guard vessels appeared from the distance—

“Move it buddy!”  The policeman waved his hand forward.  I drove through the intersection, proceeding west on 7th Street.  I pulled into the oak tree covered parking lot and backed into the space closest to the front door of the two-story wooden house that had been converted to a medical office.  The empty waiting room smelled of brewing coffee.

Dr. Ferro, a man in his seventies with eczema and thick glasses, entered the waiting room looking dazed.

“Doctor, I’m Henry Amoon,” I said.

He extended his hand, roughly in my direction and introduced himself.  “After you complete all the paper work and insurance forms, please come back to my office and make yourself comfortable,” he said.  I completed the paperwork and entered his office:  A wooden rocking chair, a long black couch, and a desk circled the office.  I sat upright on the edge of the couch, wishing I had a parachute.  “So what brings you here?”

I keep having, well, I guess you’d call them flashbacks or visions of events that I have never experienced.  It’s like I’m re-living some other person’s life.  I’ve seen myself flying this WWII plane and in a German POW camp. .  .”

“Yes, go on.”

“I wasn’t even born until 1970, mind you!  On the way to your office I saw him again.”

“And does this, uhh, person have a name?”

“Anthony Purri. Later he became a Coast Guard agent here in Miami who got into gunfights with drug runners.  He’s fuck’en taking over my body.”

“Do you have any known family history of personality disorders?”

“No.”

“Ever been admitted to a psychiatric hospital?”

“NO.”  He wasn’t even listening to me.  It was like he was reading from flash cards—

“Even been on anti-psychotic medication?”

“NO, never.”

“Ever been treated for schizophrenia or schizophrenic related disorder?”

“Listen, I’ve been called many things in my life but never insane. No, No, No.”

“Ever experienced manic episodes or treated for bipolar disorder?”

“No to all of it!  This guy—I see him, I become him, but it’s not real.”

“Your episodes are both visual and auditory?”

“Yes.”

“How long have you been experiencing these, um,” he squinted up at the ceiling as if expecting the word he was looking for to magically appear there, “these . . . illusions?”

I wanted to walk out of his office.  I should have.  For a second my body stiffened, ready to leap off the couch and flee this man, but then that feeling passed.  My shoulders’ slumped.  “The past two weeks.”

“Are you able to function at work?”

“Yes, but it’s becoming difficult.  And the headaches! Ugh!”

“You’re certain that your episodes involve this same individual, this, ahh,” he consulted his notes, “this Anthony Purri?”

The doctor kept talking but I didn’t want to hear anymore.  It was too personal, and it did seem crazy to hear myself.  I couldn’t get out of his office, or my skin, fast enough.

“My recommendation,” he said, like a judge making handing down a sentence, “is immediate treatment:  admission from here directly to Larkin Psychiatric Hospital for observation and testing along with medication, including anti-psychotics, thiazine and benzodiazepine.”

Against the doctor’s advice, I told him I needed time to clear several pending work matters before entering any hospital and abruptly left his office like a chicken running from the slaughter.   What did I just do?   With Purri in tow, and now a psychiatric diagnosis of record, I sped out of the parking lot, tires squealing, and headed back to my office.

Purri wasn’t a psychotic hallucination . . . was he?  Maybe Purri could be objectively verified.  You know a birth date, social security number, WWII record, Coast Guard employment record?  Maybe I wasn’t losing my mind.  I could go about this as if I were investigating a case for a client. Armed with a plan of sorts, I felt more in control.  This is what I did for a living, I thought.

At my office, I called my contact at the Coast Guard and asked a prior agent by the name of Anthony Purri. I was given the website and basic access code for information on past Coast Guard employees. On the compute I entered a search under “Anthony Purri,” pressed the enter key, and held my breath.  After what seemed like a while, this appeared on my screen:

Name: Anthony Joseph Purri

Date of Birth: February 2, 1924

Place of Birth: Atlantic City, New Jersey

Social Security Number: 112-92-4924

Dates of Employment: April 5, 1953  –  May 27, 1967 (Deceased, Not Line of Duty)

Last Positon Held: Senior Special Agent GS-12

I let my breath out slowly, in little increments.  I blinked several times, trying to make sure that what I saw on the screen was really there.   Purri was not a psychotic episode.  But what did Purri have to do with me?

The obituaries of the Miami Herald were my next search.  Last century editions of the newspaper were only accessible by microfilm in the downtown Miami Herald Building.  I left the office and drove off to see what I could find.

Bright blinking fluorescent lights lined the ceiling of the basement of the Herald Building.    My heart was pounding.  I searched all the May 1967 microfiche through the day after Memorial Day.  I noticed an article by the obituaries titled, “Family Mishap in Memorial Day Weekend Boating Accident.”   The article identified Purri as a Good Samaritan who passed by a ski boat accident, dove into the Bay, and tried to rescue a family.  Purri rescued the mother and son but was unable to save the father.  Purri was pulled underwater by the drowning father.  Both Purri and the father drowned.  My head started to pulsate.

I was out of air. My feet couldn’t reach the sandy floor of Biscayne Bay.  Seaweed streaming upward swayed in the current.  I was Purri, drowning. Last air bubbles rose through the salt water.  Black and white still photographs flashed before me an olive skinned toddler in diapers in crawling positions.

The newspaper article ended with Purri being survived by his two-year-old son, Joseph, whose mother had passed away the year previous.  Cold sweat drenched my nylon shirt.

As I ascended from the basement and out of the building, a bright orange light from the setting sun reflected down from the clouds, illuminating a patch of Biscayne Bay.  I was Anthony Purri in my last life.  My inability in this lifetime to date, marry and have children, now made sense now.   My heart slowed.   Two white seagulls, squawking, glided across the bay.  My son I thought.

I dialed 411 on my cell phone.

“City and State, please,” asked the recorded voice on the other end of the line.

“Miami, Florida,” I croaked

“What listing?”
“JOSEPH P-U-R-R-I.”

“One moment please.”

There was a listing in Miami-Dade County.  I asked to be connected.   My sweaty hand gripped the cell phone.  On the third ring, a man answered, “Yeah.”    With a shaky index finger, I disconnected the call and turned off my phone.  The whole thing was just too much to digest.  Yet I knew I had to do this, not only for Joseph but for me. I was tired of living alone, in fear of commitment.  I didn’t even own a plant, let alone a pet.

I went back to my office and was able to find Joseph’s residential address, arrest and conviction record, and civil court case history.  Joseph was no boy scout.  I jumped on the turnpike and headed south 15 miles to the first Homestead exit near a large landfill.  His house was by the landfill near Black Point Marina.

I parked my car across the street from his little faint yellow stucco house and put my windows down.   I could smell the trash from the landfill.  Crickets chirped.  The bedroom light was on, but there was no movement from within.  I walked to the mailbox and put my hand on the outside of the rusted tin receptacle.  Junk mail, bills, collection letters addressed to Joseph Purri protruded.   I peered in the window: a framed black and white 8×10 photo of Anthony Purri dressed in military garb covered with medals was hanging on the wall.  The bedroom light turned off, and I scurried across the front yard and street to the safety of my car.  He came out the front door and after getting into the old pickup truck in the driveway took off.  I followed with my lights off.  We drove to Black Point Marina.

He parked under a street light.  Tats lined his arms and neck.  He headed for the docks and boarded an old fishing boat.  I parked illegally by the dock and walked toward him.  “Joseph Purri?”

“Who’s asking?”

“I’m . . . ”

He turned, ready to defend himself for a fight, and asked, “What are you—a process server?”
“No, no.  I knew your father . . . .”

“You look my age,” he scoffed.  “How could you have known my father?  Look—”

“I’m sorry.  I’ve been having these flashbacks of your father, and . . .”  I stopped myself, unsure of how to proceed.

He looked at me quizzically. “What are you some kinda freak or just fuckin’ crazy bat shit?”
“That’s why I tried to tell you that I knew your father.”  I was losing him.  Each word I spoke put me further away from him and doing what I need to do.   Explanations were not helping.   He looked like he was about to run like an illegal alien.  “Your father left you something of value and I’m here to see that you get it.”

“Oh yeah? What?”

“Your inheritance.”

You’re fuckin’ with me, right?”

“It’s out there,” I said, voice shaking, looking out on the bay illuminated by the full moon.  “Elliot Key.  Ten minutes of your time.  What do you got to lose?”

He looked out over the Bay, toward where I was pointing, seemingly considering my proposition. “I’m going out there anyway,” he muttered.  “All right, let’s go, but if your fuckin’ around with me, you’re swimming back.”

The boat’s loud engines rumbled as we headed out of the marina and due southeast toward Elliot Key.  As we approached the islands, I directed Joseph toward the spot between the mangrove splints toward the sandy beach with the only cluster of palm trees.   “It’s here,” I pointed.  He jumped out of the boat and I followed.

We began digging with our hands.  An object appeared.  The casing, being hit by the moon’s beams, started to glow.  “This is yours.  Your father or I want you to have it.”

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