I am awake. My right hand opens up my swollen eyes. First my left eye, and then my right eye. My head is throbbing. I look around my room, and I take a whiff of the stale smell. The floor is cluttered with piles of dirty clothes. The writing desk in the corner, which had once been part of my every day use, has a thick layer of dust upon it. Part of a baloney sandwich lies on a table. I look over to my side, and pick up a bottle of whiskey, ¼ empty. I take a sip out of the bottle to lessen the throbbing.
This room once had a different view, it had been clean, and an aroma candle filled the room with the scent of lilacs. Instead of the old sandwich remains, the table had held a glass vase filled with lilies. Her favorite flower. Those days had disappeared, never to return again. I take another gulp from my whiskey bottle. I remember my first shot of whiskey, I had been sixteen, it was at a party, and my friend Tyler had cheered me on. I took the shot, and felt a terrible burn in my throat, followed by a feeling of warmth and light headiness.
I take another sip, but the burn of whiskey, just as the smell of lilacs, had disappeared. It just goes down now, smooth as water. The throbbing lessens. I close my eyes, and open them, making sure they still work, and all of a sudden I see a man, sitting in a chair with a flask in his hand. He looks at me, and his eyes seem to be all-knowing, mocking. I duplicate the stare back at him and ask,
Who are you?
Tony, why are you in my apartment?
Felt like stopping by.
My head is spinning; I cannot make sense of the situation. I close my eyes. I am five years old. I remember swinging on a swing in my back yard. Forward, backward, forward, backward. The wind beats against my face, and the fresh smell of grass after the rain invades my nostrils. I could feel my mom’s light touch as she pushed me forward. All of the sudden she says, “you’re a big boy, pump your legs, you can do this on your own”, and she stops pushing, puts all her concentration into my brother, whose two years younger, and swinging on the next swing. I feel this strange sensation, which I later identified as jealousy. It was not that I needed pushing, in fact swinging without any outside help made me feel exhilarated. I just missed the attention, and I wanted it back. So as I swing forward, I push off the swing with my hands, and go flying through the air, imagining my perfect landing. But I land on my knees, look down, and see a river of red beginning to form. My mom runs towards me, and I began to cry. She checks my knees, and I guess seeing that I’m not in any danger, starts comforting me. I do not stop crying. I am not sure why I didn’t stop, I felt no pain, and I was no stranger to skinned knees. Yet somehow, in my five-year-old wisdom, I figured out that as long as I kept on crying, all the attention would belong to me. I open my eyes; Bernard is still there.
Good memories, he asks.
Yeah, childhood ones.
I prefer the childhood memories of my kid, I like being in control.
You have a kid?
Had a kid, had a wife too. Kid died, wife left.
Sounds familiar, I have the same story.
What a coincidence, and Bernard laughs. A heavy laugh, his whole body shaking
That’s not funny.
Oh come on, the whole point of being an alcoholic is so you can laugh. So you’re not always consumed with sadness.
I am not an alcoholic.
Bernard smiles, and takes a swill out of his flask.
Believe what you want. I am not an alcoholic, and I do not laugh.
Bernard smiles and mumbles, if you say so.
I do not smile either.
I take a gulp of whiskey, close my eyes. I remember Anna. She was seventeen. Her hair had been brown then, and it was slightly curled and falling at her shoulders. She sat opposite of me at the café. It had been our first date.” You’re wrong” she was saying.“It’s just like a man not to care about the environment; you’re just a jock, stomping around all day, not noticing the grass you’re damaging.”
“Are you saying I shouldn’t play football, because I damage the grass?”
“You’re being ridiculous!”
“I’m being ridiculous, you are the one who gets mad at me because I do not recycle, and then accuse me of being some sort of male chauvinist grass killer.”
“All I am saying is that if every person put in at least 10 percent of their energy into helping the environment…”
“Alright I’ll recycle.” And Anna smiles. It was the type of smile that lit up the room, the type of smile where I instantly knew I would get a second date. And at that moment, I would have been willing to stop using every product that hurt the environment, just to keep her smiling. If only it had been that easy.
So why did your wife leave you, Bernard asks.
Well our kid died, she couldn’t handle it.
You should have shared the whiskey.
I wasn’t drinking then; I wanted to be happy, I wanted to start over. She would start screaming at me if she noticed even an ounce of happiness. If I smiled, I was accused of not loving our child. And a laugh, well lets just say the crusade was more understanding when a person denounced Christ.
So that’s why you became an alcoholic, to stop laughing?
I am not an alcoholic.
Well I drink to laugh.
He takes a swig out of the flask. I take a big quaff of whiskey, and the throbbing disappears, so I sit up a bit.
You know my wife Anna; she looked so beautiful on our wedding day.
They all look beautiful on their wedding day, even the ugly ones.
No, it was different with Anna, she was…. It’s indescribable. Only I never got a chance to tell her.
Call her, and tell her.
He throws the phone at me. Call her!
That’s ridiculous. I don’t even know her number. I doubt she wants to hear from me, it was a graphic divorce.
I remember when I used to be like Bernard, simple-minded, thinking everything can be fixed with a few words. Those days are long gone. And I lean against the wall, drinking from the bottle, and I remember my wedding day:
How beautiful Anna looked. I had been a modern husband, I had seen her dress beforehand, and in fact I helped pick it out. However, when I saw her enter the church, in white, face glowing, I just wanted to run to her, and tell her beautiful she looked. But it would not have been appropriate at that moment. She came up to me smiling, and the priest began to read the vows. I stood there, barely listening, concentrating only on her beauty. The ceremony ended and everyone went into the reception hall to eat. I will tell her now, I thought. But everybody was staring at us, and I wanted to tell her during a more private moment. Finally, the moment of the first dance came, I’ll whisper it in her ear, I thought. However, before I had my chance, we heard a cry. It was her 4-year-old cousin Suzy. Suzy had slipped, and somehow managed to hit her head against the metal part of the table. Too this day, I still don’t know how that happened. We were all hovering around her, waiting for the prognosis. My uncle Jack, the optometrist, who everybody consults when they need to consult a doctor, examined Suzy. “Nothing serious, just a skin cut,” he announced happily. The wedding continued, but the moment to mention her beauty had passed. It was getting towards the end of the evening, and people were beginning to leave, and I thought, now is the perfect moment. Just as I opened my mouth to tell her, my mother calls my name, to inform me that one of her rings is missing. The guests, the ones that were still there, went on a search, but the ring was not found. The wedding ended, and we drove home, exhausted. It seemed kind of silly to mention her beauty at the moment. So I never had a chance to tell her. I realize that even if I told her, it would not make any difference today. But still, I wish I had.
Remember the moment when your child was born, Bernard says.
It’s a nice moment.
What did you have?
A girl, we named her Amy.
I drink from my bottle, and close my eyes again, voices swirling inside my head. “You’re a daddy,” The nurse says. I look at the little baby, and I have to admit it’s ugly. It’s hard to believe that I had created this. Maybe I had seen to many TV specials, but it didn’t matter that the baby was ugly. It would not matter if she remained ugly. She belonged to me, I made her, and I felt this overwhelming love. “You want to hold her?” the nurse asks. “Of course.” I held her, pictures were taken, and I thought, I’m going to give her everything she wants. I am going to make her the happiest girl in the world. Unfortunately, I never got that chance.
What do you do for living, Bernard inquires.
I was an engineer, and my wife was a teacher.
Did you like your job?
It paid the bills.
That’s all it was good for?
No, it was also a good hiding place.
I sip my whiskey and close my eyes, and I am transformed back into my old office. John says, “Time for you to go home Tony, maybe you should go on vacation, everybody will understand.” “You don’t understand John, this is my vacation.” However John is right, I do have to go home eventually. Although I procrastinate that moment as long as possible. At home Anna is crying, her hair is two different colors, she doesn’t bother to dye it anymore. It’s been two months since Amy’s death. She had been two. Anna sits staring at the wall,” about time you came home.”
“I had a lot of work to do.”
“Like always, it’s amazing how all this work just appeared out of nowhere,” she doesn’t even put in the energy to use her sarcastic voice. “I think we should see a counselor,” she says. “I don’t need someone to tell me that I am sad,” I answer.
“Really, because it seems you aren’t able to figure it out on your own, you are never here anymore, all you do is work. I feel as if I lost a husband and a child.”
“All we ever talk about is Amy, I want to talk about something else, I want to go on with life, and I want to have other kids. We were going to have other kids anyway, why not now?” “YOU HEARTLESS BASTARD,” she screams, runs to the bedroom, slams the door. I look at the clock, ten more hours till I get to leave for work.
A long period went by, after our child’s death, before our marriage fell apart, Bernard says, more to himself than to me. There was a moment when I thought we could make it, a short moment of course. But the grief came back. I guess grief is one those things that either pushes a marriage together or breaks it up.
The grief in our marriage broke us up.
I take big guzzle out of the bottle. I don’t need to close my eyes to see Anna standing at the doorway, dressed in a purple sweater and jeans, staring at me. She is all packed, and she looks me over, as if she’s reconsidering. There is nothing to reconsider, we haven’t been living together for weeks, and the divorce papers had been filed. She had come here to take the last of her belongings. Convincing her to stay was futile; I’ve been doing that for months. She sighs, “Well, goodbye.”
I remember thinking that if this was a movie scene, I would have seen longing in her eyes, and I would have said “I never thought it would end this way, I thought we would make it,” and Anna would have answered “yeah, so did I, but I was wrong,” and I would say “maybe we should give it another try,” and we would hug, and a happy upbeat melody would sound from the street. If it had been the middle of the movie, we would have passionate sex, or if it were the last scene of the movie, we would substitute the sex, with a loud obnoxious prolonged kiss.
But this wasn’t a movie. Her eyes held no longing, only sorrow and weariness. “Bye,” my bland voice fills the room. She looks me over again, and I see the back of her purple sweater head out the door.
So when did you start drinking, Bernard’s voice brings me back to reality.
Four months after she left. I was good for a while, concentrating on my work. One day I came home really depressed, unable to handle it. I opened a bottle of whiskey. Skipped work the next day. Had a horrible hangover. Went to the store to buy some Tylenol. As I passed the liquor section I thought what the hell, why not use alcohol to lessen the hangover; you know I’ve never done that before, so I bought another bottle. I haven’t been to work since.
How long ago was that?
I’ve lost count.
If you keep on living this way, you’ll probably die.
Maybe that’s what I want, not to mention you are no better. What’s your sob story? I just realized I’ve been rude, share your story
There really is no point; it’s disturbingly similar to yours.
Bernard closes his flask. He puts it in his pocket. He’s looking at me, the same way my father used to look at me, before he was about to give me a lecture. But than his face changes, he smiles; I guess no lecture for me.
Well I’m all out of alcohol, I have to go refill, Bernard says. That’s the problem with being an alcoholic, and I ‘m only telling you this since you’re not one, but a person cannot carry on a decent conversation when their alcohol is gone.
Well I see you again?
Only if you sober up, you’re too serious for me. I’d like to hear some laughter.
How do I get in touch with you?
You have my number.
Yeah, so am I going to get a call?
Only if they run out of whiskey.
Bernard laughs, walks out the door, silently waving goodbye.
Everything has become hazy, my mind is spinning. I try to sit up, but the task is unavailing. I look at my bottle, only a shot of whiskey left. I think of Bernard, I’ll miss him, he was a jolly fellow. He reminds me of someone though. Could it be Dave, my best friend from college; Dave had similar mannerisms. No, it’s definitely wasn’t him, Dave never asked questions. Did he seem like Paul, or maybe Chris? No, they had different personalities. All of the sudden I realize who it is he reminds me of, and I began to laugh. Laughter fills the room, and I take my last shot of whiskey from the bottle, throw the bottle on the floor, and I cannot stop laughing. I close my eyes, and in the darkness I can still hear the laughter, and it doesn’t seem to belong to me anymore. Maybe I will stop drinking, I think, and I fade into darkness.