To Love and To Fall

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ELEVEN

When I wake up, it is pitch dark. I have lost my bearings, unsure of where I am. I realize I am still at the lake, and a familiar adrenaline rushes through me; it was as though Serena was right by my side again, the two of us rebels with a cause of hormones. But she is not, and I feel empty. I remember that I am supposed to meet Mark, and look at my watch. I am startled when I read ten-twelve. I have been asleep for nine hours. Even if I went straight to the bar I would be late. I am astonished how long I have been here and that I have not been caught. I wish for Serena to be by my side to have experienced this long solitude.

When I get to the bar, it is ten fifty. Mark is already there, and from the level of slurring in his voice, had been there for awhile.

“Oh, there you are,” he grumbles. “Just called you a few minutes ago. Thought you weren’t coming. I thought maybe Serena convinced you to join her in the nuthouse. Loony Lust.” He laughs at his own joke.

I don’t laugh. I am irritated at hearing Serena’s name. I came here to forget her, not talk about her all night. “Haven’t joined her yet. How was your day?”

“Good, pal. You visit the wench today?”

I shake my head no. He gives me such a look of surprise that I feel embarrassed.

“Why the hell not?” he demands in a loud tone. Several people stare at us, and I feel all the more embarrassed. I look at his drink and want to gulp it down. “You dumping her or what?”

“No,” I am steaming, as much at Mac the bartender for flirting with the ladies at the other end instead of serving me as at Mark for being such an idiot.

“Man, the lady’s going to be pissed,” he volunteers. It is the last straw for me.

“Shut up,” I say pointedly, knowing I am on dangerous ground, knowing Mark is one person who could probably take me in a fight.

“Say what?” Mark regards me with incredulity.

“I said, shut the fuck up. I don’t want to talk about Serena, or any fucking woman for that matter. Shut the fuck up.”

Mark gives me a dark look; something deep inside me buzzes. If it is fear, I do not recognize it, nor would I even be inclined to listen to it even if I knew what it was telling me. But the moment of blackness soon passes; Mark gives me his affable grin. “You need a good stiff drink.. Forget that piss you drink, you need more than that. Let me get you an Iced Tea. Take it from me, your pal.” A friendly clap on the back, and all is well again.

I take his advice (which he was happy to assist me with) and lay off the soft stuff. A few iced teas, some rum and vodka, and Serena Ciselli seems little more than a figment of my imagination. The last time I’d gotten blown away on hard liquor was when Denise married her hubby Nigel. I don’t remember one iota of that evening; apparently I was the life of the party dancing with all the women on the floor and on all the tables. Serena was all too happy to report this to me the next day in her hungover rage; she made me promise that as long as she was in my life that I was never to touch hard liquor again. And so I had, until ten-fifty tonight. Besides, I didn’t feel like I was with her anymore, anyway. What promise had I broken?

Time seems to jump from my downing a shot of tequila on a dare to lying in the backseat of a familiar moving car. It takes me a minute before I figured out that it is Mark’s car. Somehow I must have fallen asleep and Mark decided to drive me home. I look at my watch: it reads two twenty eight. I had gotten stinking drunk in less than four hours. I have no recollection of the evening save for a few hazy moments. I wonder where it went. But then I am glad that it is gone.

I spend the rest of Labor Day weekend at Mark’s apartment. I’d forgotten how much fun he was. Serena never liked Mark; she thought he was too much of a bad influence on me. Well, I laughed more with him in twenty-four hours than I had with Serena for months. The time I spent with Mark reminded me how free I had been before I knew Serena. We watched football on Sunday, watching the Bills clobber the Steelers 35-10. We played cards at his co-worker’s house, and we drank this dark rum that someone bought from St. Thomas. It was the best stuff. I even won seventy-eight dollars at blackjack so the weekend cost me nothing at all.

Monday night came, along with the realization that I had to go to work the next day, which was disheartening. I figured that I would leave at eight so I wouldn’t be tempted to stay for the game. But then Mark got a bet going with some people and I wound up putting some money on the Giants and the dark rum appeared again. I didn’t go anywhere.

It is nearly one o’clock before I leave. It takes all the power I can muster so as not to pass out behind the wheel. My vision was so blurry I feel like I am legally blind. The four miles to my house seem to take years. I, the staunch agnostic, give thanks to God, or whoever it is that thinks (s)he is in charge, when I drive into my driveway without incident, telling him (her) that I’d never get drunk again like that if I had to drive. Maybe if (s)he was really up there, (s)he’d help me.

The house feels strange when I enter, like a mausoleum. It does not feel like my home. I see the answering machine angrily blinking its red light, telling me that I have six messages. In morbid curiosity, I play them back.

First message, Saturday, one-thirty. Mark, sober. “Hi, buddy. Just checking to see if you plan on showing up tonight. Guess you’re hanging out at the psycho ward. Okay. If you get in before nine, call me. If not, I’ll see you later, hopefully. See ya.”

. Second message, Saturday, four fifteen. Serena. My heart drops instantly at the sound of her old sweet voice. “Tom, where are you? I’m worried about you.” Pause. “Tom are you there?” Pause. “I hope you’re on your way. Please call the nurses’ station if you’re not coming.” She suddenly sound like a telemarketer. So much for a sweet Serena. I could have been speaking to the hospital receptionist for all that last sentence was worth.

Third message, Saturday, five-thirty. Serena. “Tom, are you there.” Sharp. Insistent. The rehab-bitch is back. “Tom, pick the fuck up.” Pause. “If you’re not here by six o’clock, don’t bother coming. Ever.” A loud noise; the phone being slammed down.

Fourth message, Saturday, ten-forty. Mark, drunk with much noise in the background. “Dude, it’s ten-forty. You coming? The bitch kidnap you or what?” Drunken snorting. “All right. See ya.”

Fifth message, Sunday seven a.m. A piercing dial tome. I wince and hold my ears as I skip to number six.

The sixth message was Denise. I feel my heart in my mouth. “Tom, where are you? Serena was expecting you this weekend and you never came. If you were too busy partying to come and visit, the least you could have done is call her.” There was a pause. “No wonder why I married so many assholes. Look at the men I have to look up to.” The phone slammed down, the loud dial tome in my ear once more.

I went to bed with its sound resonating in my hear.

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