To Love and To Fall

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EIGHTEEN

Denise and Nigel drive me home afterwards. Neither speak to me. I catch Nigel’s eyes in the rear-view mirror. His jaw is set, there is a tic in his eyelid. He glowers at me briefly, his eyes blue glasses of menace. For the first time I am afraid of him; I have caught the Nigel who would punch someone on his ass for disrupting his bar. I cower, and I catch myself in the mirror again. I look pathetic. I hear soft sniffles in Denise’s direction. I am too ashamed to look at her, but my periphery betrays me by photographing an image of tears streaming down her swollen face. I want to die.

When we get to my home, they do not offer to come in or buy me dinner. They do not even say goodbye. I go to hug my sister but she flinches from my touch. Nigel glares at me to leave. I want to be angry at him, but he is the one with control over me now. My vision blurs with tears as I step away so I do not even get to see them leave. I stand there for a long time, desperately willing them to come back to me. But they do not.

I enter my home. It is cold, empty. Half of it is missing, I soon discover. Anything that was Serena’s is gone; a hutch of china dolls, chintz pillows, the stereo system that her brother Joe gave her in one of his better moods. The sofa bed is gone as well as half the end tables. The knickknacks that covered the rest of them are gone as well. Half the books were gone from the shelves; what remained were toppled on their sides like skyscrapers in the aftermath of an earthquake.

I go to my bedroom. Serena’s nighttable is the only furniture missing. Mine is still there. I remember finding the half-finished gin behind hers; there is no evidence either ever existed. The one remaining drawer sticks out like a mutated blotch, bereft of its partner. The two drawers were like twins; they even came in a set of two. There is only a gaping hole now. I feel lost in its gravity. I don’t even look at the closets. Serena used to own everything in them.

I go to the refrigerator. I need something to calm me down. I discover to my horror that all the beer I had is gone. Either Mark stole all of it or Serena poured it down the sink in one of her rehab fits. I curse and kick the refrigerator, making an ugly imprint. It grows larger and larger as I stare at it, and I think of my mother hallucinating pineapples. I curse again, and search for money in any crevice I can find to buy a new supply.

Yesterday’s newspaper sits before me. I am on page four. Mark, of course, received most of the press, but a picture of me stares back at me. It is from Nigel and Denise’s wedding, as I posed to look like the good usher boy I was not. I wonder if it was Serena or Denise who gave it to them. Probably Denise, since she was next of kin. I hate her. She betrayed me. Wasn’t she supposed to help someone like me in her program, not fuck them over?

The ghost of Carla Madison past stares back at me, the rising artist’s life shamelessly shattered in her prime. There is a picture of her husband Gerald Forsythe as well, crying on the shoulder of a reporter in the bright sunlight. I wonder how many people thought over the years that Gerald Forsythe would be the one to take her life in his rages. Instead, I did. Gerald Forsythe would get to grieve with dignity.

I comb the house for alcohol, money, anything to temper the panic I am chained to. My search yields seventeen dollars in singles and silver. The hell with beer; I am sick of pain. The liquor store is opened until seven. I don’t even care if I run into the jackass that got Serena into AA. He can spout AA shit all he wants; I am not going to become one of those psychos. Besides I am sick of life and of living. There is no point in convincing me otherwise.

The AA guru is not in his shop, and I am disappointed. I was up for an argument. There is a bottle of black rum for eleven and a cheap red wine for eight. I settle on the rum, thinking that I will go to the deli afterwards to spend the rest of the money on beer. The cashier gives me a funny look as I pay for the rum. I think there is something wrong with the money I gave him, but he says nothing. I wonder if he recognizes me from the paper. I feel myself boiling, He catches my eye looks away quickly. Ordinary people are afraid of me now. I never make it to the deli.

The silence in my home nearly drives me crazy. I think of better times when Serena was here and Denise would come over. They have deserted me. I wonder what I have done to deserve their animosity. I didn’t kill Carla. And besides, how many times had I forgiven Serena and forgot about the whole thing? Didn’t I deserve the same respect? Obviously not. She probably was screwing some AA saint—give me your body and I shall impart the wisdom of the ages upon you. I nurse the bottle into oblivion.

I am dreaming that I am on fire. Loud engines come and overtake me. Out come the hoses; I am burning and drowning, burning and drowning—

I am startled awake. The rum and beer are gone. The phone is ringing. The clock reads three-fifty. I do not know if it is three-fifty in the morning or afternoon; the shades are down. There is a commercial on TV—one of those all night infomercials? I cannot tell. The machine kicks on; it is the lawyer. I’ve been talked down to probation because I’ve been such a good boy my whole life. If I stay out of trouble for six months, everything will be as it was. I see a vision of Carla. It will never be as it was for her again. I feel a murderous urge for the bottle to take me under again. A mad search of the house yields a small bottle of rubbing alcohol. I remember I have six dollars left for a six pack. I am an addict that has just injected his poison. As I inhale the potion, I feel free. And soon, I know nothing once more.

The phone wakes me up again, and I am greeted with a dank smell that I cannot place. The clock reads eleven- oh- one. Seven hours have passed, at least I initially think so. But when the answering machine kicks in and I hear phones in the background, I am confused. As I look behind my shade, there is bright sunlight. Jerry Springer is on TV. My legs feel wet as I walk, and I’m not sure why, it’s not hot at all. It still smells. I haven’t been paying attention to the voice. A female voice calling my name. I rush to see if it is Denise, and am disappointed to hear that it is Mel instead. I play the message back. “Tom, are you there? Tom? Tom?” Pause. “I heard what happened. I hope you’re okay. It’s terrible something like this had to happen to you. I’ve always admired you.” I choke on laughter. For some reason I find this funny. But the last part of the message is no joke. “I hope to see you again.”

I jumped. What the hell was she talking about? Of course I was coming back to work. I was going to go in tomorrow. Actually I was going to go in today but I forgot today was Monday. What the hell did Arbuckle do now? I have a mind to take his ass down good. It gives me incentive to march to the shower. I don’t remember when the last time I washed was.

Taking a shower is difficult. The soap keeps dropping, I can’t seem to get my hair wet. I want to take the hose and rip it out of its socket. Finally I give up. I am a tad cleaner than before. Besides, what was I going to do, dress up for Arbuckle? I couldn’t wait to report him to the advisory board. He couldn’t fire me without them. And then I’d become one hell of a pain for him, he’d wished he never met me.

I get out of the shower. My clothes sit in a heap before me. That is when I see the wet stain in the crotch of my jeans. I suddenly feel sick to my stomach and do not make it to the john. My clothes are not littered in piss and puke. I can’t deal with this shit. I collapse into a ball. I hear loud sounds and realize they are coming from me. Naked, with piss on my clothes and tears and vomit on my body, I am no longer a man. Except no mommy is there to comfort me.

I never get to the university that day.

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