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Four years ago watching her roll around in his arms would have made me grind my teeth into dust. She was pressed up against the side of the house and his hands were starting a descent from the sides of her face down into her jacket. I didnít realize she was going to be here. It seems she wonít let me push her out of my head.
I stumbled on the scene while looking for a beer in the kitchen of my friend Mauriceís place. ďSheĒ was Noreen, a girl I had a weird crush/want to fuck kind of thing on for a few months. She wasnít the most attractive girl Iíd ever seen; in fact she had one dead tooth. I guess it wasnít exactly dead but it was well on its way. Half of it was the same color brown as my first car. Which was a baby diarrhea colored 1980 Toyota Corolla. I hated that fucking car. But the car isnít the subject here. Noreen was pretty in a pale, haggard kind of way. She always looked like something had just flown into her hair at a high rate of speed, or like her scalp had exploded recently. She was never quite in place, which I found very attractive because I could barely dress myself. Her attempts to pull herself together were alluring. She often wore pants suits or dresses that were too formal for going out in. I liked the idea that she could never quite escape what she really was, a mess.
She had a good job as a legal secretary for a tax firm downtown and was going to school nights to get her law degree. She wasnít exactly pretentious but she definitely thought of our group as a kind of purgatory for her. It would only be a matter of time before she moved on. She never talked down to us or said anything about ďmoving onĒ but it was evident that she saw herself attaining a level the rest of us wouldnít reach. I donít think she had any idea what or where that place was but she was definitely not carrying any stragglers along with her. She was going to get their alone and she seemed proud of it. Dead weight wasnít part of the equation.
The first time I met her there were five of us in a booth in a crappy yuppie bar downtown and I was in no condition to make an educated assessment of her character. I was drunk and more than a little coked up. She looked to me like the type of girl who wouldnít mind listening to me babble on about my limited knowledge of art. I had been talking about sports and getting wasted the previous seven hours so my inner snob was feeling stifled. We were introduced by Maurice and I immediately began asking her about her lifeís interests. I asked about her passions and what made her feel alive. These are not questions that make people feel comfortable around you, at least not when I ask them. But to her credit she hung in there with me and answered all of them without ever hinting that she thought I was a drunken fool. Because of that tiny act of pity I was convinced that she was the woman for me. I didnít lose myself in romantic notions of marriage or lifelong commitments but I was sure we were going to have a blissful relationship filled with sex and brilliant rooftop conversations. But it didnít quite work out that way.
I only saw her sporadically over the next year or so and on the occasions that I did see her she always had her boyfriend in tow. He was a financial planner or broker, some job I equated with being a jerk off. And as it turned out I was right in his case. He was a class A fuck. He was one of those guys who walks around the room at parties letting everyone else know how much he thinks of himself. And it wasnít like he was an exceptionally good looking guy either; he was a short little Chinaman with funny hair and a queer voice. But that didnít stop his ego from propelling him forward. He didnít like anybody in our group and was always in a great hurry to get away from us. He was constantly dragging Noreen out into hallways or onto fire escapes to talk. They were very dramatic. I never knew what they were talking about but I know the catalyst was usually his distaste for us and our parties. He thought himself the type of man who should be sipping champagne at a museum or drinking martiniís at one of those cashmere filled south of market bars. The fact that we drank Miller Lite out of cans and watched the end of baseball games while there were guests present never sat well with him. And since she was ďin loveĒ with him I never saw much of her. Their appearances at our parties were both brief and unsatisfying for everyone involved.
I didnít give not seeing her a great deal of thought but I did ask about her from time to time. I told myself I was only asking out of curiosity, I was lying. I wanted to talk to her. I donít remember ever vividly thinking about fucking her. The thought crossed my mind of course but I donít believe I ever really fantasized about it. She was of great interest to me however, someone I wanted to be around on a regular basis. But when her name came up in conversation I acted disinterested. I didnít want anyone to know that I found her so appealing. I donít know why I kept it a secret. Nobody would have cared. I suppose I didnít want that information trickling back to her. I looked at her as someone of intelligence, a person with cultured sensibilities. The idea that she might know of my admiration for her made me squirm. I felt like I would have been exposing a weakness to her. If we were to connect it would have to be as equals. I didnít want our future meetings to be uncomfortable or forced. I wanted whatever relationship we would have to grow or shrink without being forced to do either.
Over the next few months she was never around and my interest began to wane. Each time I heard her name I kicked myself for being such a sucker. What had I found so attractive about a woman with whom Iíd had no more than three conversations. Apparently she and the little fella had found a nice apartment together and were living in different circles. ďFancy circlesĒ as Maurice referred to them. I donít know how fancy they actually were but I know they didnít involve tailgating or drinking beer at eleven in the morning. Both of which became two of my favorite activities during her absence.
My dayís slipped into a comfortable routine. I woke up listened to Howard Stern while smoking a bowl, then giggled the morning away. At around noon I would rouse myself, smoke again, and take a shower. After that it was a few hours of eating and watching television in a haze of smoke and Cheeto dust. Some time in the afternoon I would get myself as together as possible and take the streetcar to my favorite bar, the Dubliner. A fine establishment with an afternoon clientele of Irish immigrants and a friendly bartender who knew I drank Beckís. I didnít really have the money to spend on uppity beer like Beckís so it was a good thing I didnít think about anything but getting fucked up. Otherwise I might have worried myself.
After about eight beers and a half a pack of cigarettes at the bar Iíd begin making my phone calls. I made calls to see which lucky soul would have the pleasure of my company for the evening. I usually found somebody who wanted to get fucked up with me or just felt sorry for me and let me come over. The rest of the night was spent swapping stories about times weíd been wasted and sharing booze and drugs. The night would end in one of two ways, either by me being kicked out, or spending the night sleeping in an uncomfortable position on the floor or a very small couch. Either way I woke up the next day ready to do battle again. My life went on like that for a while; the routine was broken up occasionally by my taking one job or another. None of which lasted too long. But I was never one to complain about being fired so I didnít suffer too much anguish over the loss of any of them. They, along with a large portion of help from some benefactors, allowed me to continue rolling along blissfully unaware about how large a fuck up I was becoming. I had an inkling every now and then but I was always too high or drunk to give it any serious thought. I was perfectly content with the idea of continuing on like that until I died. It was a pretty easy life and I always felt relatively good. But to my dismay something inside of me began to revolt against the routine.
Whatever was revolting didnít seem to mind if I kept drinking or doing drugs but it had a problem with who and where I was doing them. I slowly lost the excitement that accompanied each buzz. Before the revolt I would smile at even the thought of getting fucked up, but after it my emotions went flat. I wasnít able to enjoy my minds numb state like I once had. I still liked getting fucked up but each conversation I had seemed more and more stale. They made me feel like I was chewing on Styrofoam. The late nights used to be filled with mindless laughter. Have you ever laughed for a half an hour because you couldnít get your eyes to focus? But as the time passed I found myself laughing less and zoning out more. Now donít misunderstand me Iím not saying I ever gave any consideration to changing my habits Iím saying my habits were changing me. My tolerance for all things fucked was growing to such a degree that I constantly found myself alone in the early morning scraping small bags for scraps or tapping the bottom of bottles for droplets of moisture.
I came to a crossroad. If I was going to continue fucking myself up it was going to have to be in a different place and with a new group of people. I was sick of looking at my friends and wondering what they were thinking about me. Even the most unorganized fucked up of them still had the resources to change himself. All I had was a distinct need not to think too much. I didnít want that day to come when Iíd look in the mirror and not recognize myself. I didnít want any of the guilt that came with it. And I sure as hell didnít want to be that forty five year old guy that tells everybody what he could have become in between sips of watery scotch. So I decided to get the fuck away from all of it and fuck myself up beyond all hope of ever remembering who or what might have been. Thatís why I moved.
I moved fifteen hundred miles away and got a steady job in a small town. I was paid well enough to pay rent and stay drunk and fucked up. There wasnít much to do in town so I filled the hours playing pool and trying to ingratiate myself to the local screw ups. I was working in a bar so meeting locals wasnít all that hard. It seemed like a great job and it sure as hell beat most of the others on offer in town. I lied to get it. I said I had been bartending for five years and moved because I needed a change of pace. I told the two yokels interviewing me that I had been thinking about moving to a small town for awhile and I finally got up the nerve to do it. They seemed to like that and couldnít be bothered to pay long distance charges to check the bogus references Iíd given them so I got the job. Life was boring at first but I began to make friends with some of the other bar staff on the little downtown strip and soon I was just one of the workers. I didnít press too hard to make friends, but I never had to drink alone.
The time passed nicely. I didnít work until five most days and never before noon so I had always had plenty of time to recuperate from the night before. I met a few local women who were interested in my useless talk and witty banter. And I made a connection for some other things and began living my new life of dissolution. I wanted to disintegrate here. I was going to melt myself down and become someone else. Not because I was anxious to start over, (starting something always seemed like so much fucking work), but because I was anxious to give up. Not anxious enough to put a gun in my mouth or stand in front of a train but still anxious. I was going to choose the route of heavy drugs, drinking, and self loathing to finish myself off. There was still something inside me that enjoyed a buzz. And until that was dead I wouldnít be.
Everything was going according to plan. I was messed up and oblivious to the world outside my new adopted home. I was a model worker at the bar and never caused much trouble after hours. I was floating along in a happy state. What other state could I be in under the circumstances? Not much responsibility and an abundant supply of booze is a hard combination to complain about. There were a few bumps along the way. I was pulled over five times while drunk and somehow managed to get out of it each time. How that happened I have no idea. And how I avoided seeing the same cop twice is equally baffling to me. Born under a lucky star? Luck of the Irish? I donít know. I also got involved with a crazy white trashy type woman for a short time that would periodically show up in my bar and stare at me after we broke up. Sheíd come in order a drink and say ďhelloĒ and then just stare at me like a mental patient stares at something shiny. I donít think it was meant to be sexy, in fact I took it as kind of threatening. Which apparently I should have because a few weeks after she started doing it I asked a buddy about it and he told me all about her. She was sent away for a bit in high school because she had some sort of breakdown over a boyfriend. She was found by the guyís mom at three thirty in the morning on their back porch curled up in a ball crying with a picture of the guy in one hand and a loaded pistol in the other. After that I tensed up whenever she came in but eventually she stopped coming around. I heard she started going out with some long haul trucker. But apart from those minor problems life was cake. Until I got some news that brought me home.
I didnít have a phone in my place so I had to use the one at the bar I spent most of my time in. I called home one night because I was feeling guilty about not having called for a few months and I thought it would be nice to let everyone know I was okay. But before I could reassure my mother I was still alive she told me that my sister was sick and back in the hospital. My sister had a terrible set of lungs and had nearly died a couple years ago because they had filled with fluid. She recovered but spent the days after spitting up gobs of green mucus the size of whole limes. My mother said she was alright but she sounded a little shaky. I donít know if it was listening to her trying not to crack for my sake or the tequila but my eyes started to well up with tears. The most maudlin thoughts were going through my head and I was picturing my sister laid out in a puffy silk lined coffin surrounded by flowered wreaths and family members. I needed to get home and be there with them. I couldnít bear the thought of being in that bar when my sister wheezed out her final breath 1500 miles away. I told my mom Iíd get a flight back as quickly as I could and tried to reassure her that everything was going to be alright.
I donít know what form of ego it was that had me convinced that once I got back there everything was going to be fine. Itís not like the key to recovering from a respiratory problem is to have a stoned boozer by the bedside. But whatever my thought process was I was determined to get home and be there for my sister. A noble gesture to be sure but one that was also guided by my desire to get out of work and party back home for a few days. The realization that I could benefit from my sisters illness didnít come to me until the morning. I spent the rest of the night regaling the other regulars at the bar who would listen to me the sad story of how my sister was near death and I would be going back to most likely watch her die in the next few days. This not only garnered me a good measure of female attention and sympathy but it also paid for the nightís drinks. I went home that night feeling sad about my sister but pretty good about my chances of getting laid when I came back.
I got a flight the next day and spent my rent money on the ticket, but what the hell my sister needed me. The flight was great. I smoked the rest of my dope before I got to the airport and I think it was laced with some meth which added a nice little pick me up. Drinking on the plane is the only way I can get through a flight and the crusty husk of a flight attendant in coach was more than happy to ply me with booze. She didnít give a shit how much I drank as long as I didnít bug her like the fat Russian broad that was sitting a few rows in front of me. In fact she forgot to collect my money from a double jack and coke order because the Russian was complaining about the lack of air coming from the nozzle above her seat. I arrived back in the city of my birth with a fantastic buzz and shitty breath. My mother seemed pleased to see me, although she kept looking at me like I was going to shit my pants or something. She appeared to be more worried about me than my sister.
It turns out my sister just had a mild infection and wasnít as close to death as I had believed. Apparently my dreams of being the familyís emotional hero were about as well founded as my dreams of playing quarterback for the Ninerís. So my visit home to carry the family through this time of need had turned into, well, a visit home. Essentially I was home for no reason except to say ďhiĒ. I didnít have any news to report and the only thing of any interest at home wasnít as interesting as first reported. I was left with an empty week. At first I stayed around the house fetching my sisterís water and pills and generally staying sober, although I did take trips down to the garage where I had stashed a bottle of tequila. But I only took a couple shots as a bracer, nothing excessive. It isnít like I canít drink in front of my family but I think they might say something when I broke out the tequila at ten in the morning. No sense in worrying them further. At this point Iím still only a mild fuck up. If I started in with the Eugene Oíneil routine their classification of me would change from mild to severe. In my eyes Iím not a fuck up anymore Iím accomplishing what I set out to accomplish, a life with no expectations or big responsibilities. I found the secret of life and itís not giving a fuck about anything. Apathy is bliss. They say its ignorance, but with ignorance you canít see the world around you. With apathy you see the world for what it is and you donít fucking care about it. I much prefer the idea of knowing and rejecting rather than never knowing. Although itís hard to find people who share my view on the subject.
After a couple of days I got bored with intermittent buzzes and daytime television and decided to make some phone calls. I hadnít let any of my friends know I was coming home so they were surprised to hear from me. I was counting on that surprise to elicit a wave of intoxication that would last until I had to get back on the plane. And itís worked out so far. Iíve been plied with weed and booze and been having a great time telling stories about the middle of nowhere, (thatís how my friends refer to anything outside of the city.) and its wacky inhabitants. But the week is coming to an end and this was the wrong time to run into Noreen. I havenít thought about anything serious for awhile and watching her being groped by that jack off has put unwelcome thoughts in my head.
Theyíve both become somebody, at least in the eyes of the everyday world. And I havenít become anything. Iíve degenerated into nothing. All of my friends are something or on their way to being something. But for whatever reason I can look past that in my friends, but I canít get past it with her. Sheís moving on to a level above even my friends. And with me on the rung of the social ladder just above homelessness she might as well live on Mt. Olympus. Sheís going to be in social circles I make fun of but havenít the slightest idea about. What does happen at a museum fundraiser? But it isnít her future place in society that bothers me itís the fact that I never had a chance with her. All my ideas of us having some sort of relationship were nothing more than daydreams. Looking at her now I know that she never once thought of me as anything more than a loose acquaintance. Everything Iíve imagined is false. There hasnít been an ounce of truth or reality in any of my dreams. Iím living in a strange state of limbo. I couldnít explain the real world anymore than I could draw a map of Neverland. The base of all my conjecture and supposition is false. Iíve constructed my psyche on sand and mud and now my mind is beginning to sink into it.
The backdoor opens and the happy couple walk into the kitchen smiling at one another. They somehow notice me through the haze theyíve created for each other and Noreen says ďhi.Ē I respond in kind and she keeps walking through the kitchen with his hand dangling below her waist and slightly brushing up against her ass. I open my beer and drink off half of it. I know I never loved her so why does she cause me so much internal pain. Why does she represent the failure in my life? Iím not in any state to answer questions right now. I resign myself to not knowing for the time being and pull another beer out of the fridge. The Giants game is nearly over and weíll be going out soon. Iím sure something out there will give me a reason to forget myself.