To Love and To Fall

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TWELVE

The next day at work is a day from hell. It is an ad/drop day; all the students I saw the first day of classes were leaving and whole new unfamiliar load was coming. Arbuckle puts me in charge of the influx, which meant I spend most of the day signing kids in and out of classes. The mass indecision I was witnessing was appalling. Most of the classes were three-hundred levels, which meant that most of these kids were juniors and seniors. I couldn’t believe their immaturity. When I was their age, a mere six years ago, I didn’t remember people being so confused as these kids. I certainly wasn’t. I knew who I was and where I was going. I guess that isn’t true anymore for the children of the next generation.

On top of the blizzard of lemmings marching to and fro, Arbuckle is called into a departmental meeting at three, which meant I had to take over his three o’clock class. I have a headache to begin with from last night’s partying, but by the time three o’clock rolls around I felt like a hand grenade ready to explode. I want to kill Arbuckle for sticking me with his class. I have no idea what was going on. It was only the second time the class had met, so I just went over the syllabus. Half the kids had just added into the class anyway. I missed going over the structure of the women’s movement, which was what Arbuckle had scheduled. Screw him. He should have cancelled the class. I ended the class in thirty-five minutes.

Little did I know that it wasn’t the end of this wonderful day’s antics.

When I come home, there is a familiar car parked in my driveway. A tan Maxima, to be exact. My sister, who else. She is sitting on my porch; but at my approach she stands up and storms towards my car. I swear loud enough that I hope she hears, ready to hit reverse and pull away, but she has already grabbed my door handle to my car and swings the door open before I could even change gears.

“What is wrong with you?” she screams in my face. “Are you some kind of asshole or something?”

“Hey look, fuck you–”

“Don’t talk to me that way.”

“What, it’s okay to call me an asshole but I have to treat you like you’re queen? Screw this.” I grab the door from her and am ready to slam it shut when Denise blocks me.

“All right, all right. I’m sorry. I overreacted,” she concedes, “but we have to talk. Can we do that?”

“Sure,” I accedes, not wanting to seem too ungracious of her driving three hours just to tell me off. “Just don’t kill me and we’ll both be happy.”

She sits down at my kitchen table once we get inside. I look through the fridge for something nonalcoholic, hoping that Denise won’t notice all the beer. If she does, she doesn’t say anything. Luckily for me, I find two spare sodas.

“How’s Serena?” I ask, hoping that will cut to whatever point Denise wants to make so we can get it over with. I doubt my sister drove three hours to come over and curse at me just so she could say hello.

“Adjusting. It’s a different life, the sober life. Everything is new for her.” She takes a sip of her soda. “If you really want to know how she is doing, then you should see her yourself.”

“Does she even miss me?”

“You’re not her first problem. But she misses you. She wonders why you’re not there. She feels that you liked her better drunk, and that hurts her.” I wince at the subconscious truth that Denise has touched upon. I am not ready for her next question. “Are you cheating on Serena?”

My body feels as though it was weighted with lead. “Why do you ask that?”

“A friend of mine mentioned that she had a one night stand with someone recently. It sounded like it could have been with you.”

I try to act puzzled, but I know I probably sound defensive. “What did she say?”

“So I guess the answer is yes.”

“I didn’t say yes or no. I just wanted to know what kind of stories people are saying about me.”

“I don’t think she knows you well enough to mess with you on a personal level. She said the affair was with someone she never met before. I just figured it was you. Her name is Carla. She lives outside of Albany. A couple of weeks ago she stayed in the city, and picked up a guy who was from Vestal, who was at the university for an interview, so I figured–” she shrugs as she sips her soda. I hear my heart thundering in my chest, like I am about to be buried alive. “Oh, and she said his name was Tom Hauser. She even wanted to know if we were related.” she calmly hammers the last nail into my coffin. “If it makes you feel any better, I said we were related through Adam and Eve.” She nudges me affectionately. I manage a smile.

Denise’s expression turns soft; she takes my hands in hers. “Look, sweetie, you forget that I’ve known you for twenty-eight years. I can read you the way you read me. I’m sorry if I’ve come off like a self-righteous asshole. I’m worried about you, and getting yourself mixed up with Carla. It’s not that I’ve excused Serena’s past because she’s a woman and that I’m coming down on cheating on her because you’re a man. I’m always on your side. It’s just that I know how much time you have invested in this relationship and how much she means to you. And I do like Serena. She’s the best woman you ever dated that I’ve seen; you have a lot in common. Besides, Carla is extremely mixed up. Her husband is violent.”

I jolt upright. “Husband?”

“Yes. She’s unofficially separated.”

“How unofficial is unofficial?”

“Unofficial enough that her husband doesn’t think that they are.”

I feel my blood drop.

“You are drinking more, aren’t you,” she said. I go cold again. I pull my hands from hers. She does not relent. “Your eyes are glazed over like you’ve been partying all weekend.”

“I had a hard day at work,” I counter defensively. She gives me a look that makes me feel like an errant child.

“Sweetie, you have so much going for you. Even if you and Serena don’t work out together, you have a great future. You have a brain that I could only admire. Don’t throw it away on account of booze.”

“You’re saying I’m a drunk?” I am only half-kidding.

She sighs, and I knew she would never answer that directly. It was the great prime directive of her fellowship not to label anyone else an alcoholic. I wish she would just cut the shit and tell me her honest opinion, because I know it already.

“Look, Denise. I appreciate your concern. But everything in my life is fine. So I get a little tight on the weekend. A lot of guys that I know do.”

“Like Mark?”

I shrug. I do not want to get into how I spent all weekend with him.

“Besides, Tom, with all the education you have, you of all people ought to know that you don’t have to be a homeless beggar to have a problem. It never starts out that way. Even Mom and Dad weren’t that bad all the time.”

Our parents. I do not particularly appreciate being compared to them.

Especially by someone who was a drunk herself.

“I didn’t say you were exactly like they were,” Denise says, apparently reading my mind. “But you know the statistics. Everyone in our family has had a problem with drinking. Chances are you do, too.”

Alcoholic. I hate that word. I think of my bleary eyed mother slurring her words, yelling at space creatures who were not there. Vague impressions of my father throwing furniture across the room, his red face looking like it was ready to explode, blood vessels protruding from every corner of his head. I shiver in disgust.

“Where do you know Carla from?” I ask. Anything to get off the subject of our parents.

“Just a friend.” I knew what that code meant. Carla was one of her recovering drunk friends. Except when I saw her, she wasn’t recovering from shit. I as much said that to Denise.

“Tom, it’s a disease.” Denise informs me. “Just because she had a relapse doesn’t mean that she isn’t trying to recover.”

I hate this crap about alcoholism being a disease. It was a bullshit excuse for lack of willpower and AA meetings were just a drug to replace it with. People let themselves go and drank because they didn’t have enough fight in them. Denise knew I disagreed. I wasn’t in the mood to argue with her, though.

“Life’s been stressful, huh,” Denise says. I wondered if she is empathizing or mocking me. I remain silent. “You must have liked Carla.”

“She seems like a nice person.”

“You’re not the type to sleep around. She must have appealed to you in some way.”

“What about her? Is she the type who sleeps around?”

“She has her problems.” Which I suppose means yes, and I am angry.

“What did he do to her?”

“He’s a cocaine addict,” she says quickly. I have a dark feeling that she is hiding something from me. I decide I hate Carla’s husband already.

“Are you seeing Serena this weekend?”

“I don’t know,” I respond truthfully.

“You have to tell her how you are feeling. If you’re thinking of breaking up with her, you at least owe her an explanation. Don’t you think? After all this time?”

I nod. Except I don’t know what I will tell her. All I can think of was the piercing headache I have, and the more I think about Serena the worse it is getting. And I wouldn’t have been out partying all weekend getting this headache if she had been home, and my sister wouldn’t be here giving me the third degree. It is her fault everything is so crazy. How can it be seen any other way?

I invite Denise to dinner, and she thankfully takes it as a tacit agreement to close the subject. My headache disappears miraculously, and I find it very easy to hate Serena then for leaving me.

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