This whole thing was years in the making. I used to write little stories that I called 20 or 30 second stories and post them on Facebook. They took a little longer to read than that, but I feel like people don’t want to read anything longer than a couple of paragraphs these days, not on social media anyway, so I was basically trying to trick them into reading! I’m not sure I could get most of the people on Facebook to read a whole novel even if I found the time to write one, so I basically condensed it all down into small segments, and wrote and posted them in jumbled order. They have all been about the same five central characters, and I purposely took my time naming them, even throwing in the whole Jimmy/Joey thing to confuse the issue a little. So here are all the stories, in basically chronological order. Except for one or two because they seemed better where they are.
"Why did you have to do that?" She asked. "Everything was fine the way it was."
He sat sullenly on the couch and watched as she slipped her shoes on. They had eaten earlier and were watching a movie, although as usual they were talking instead of paying much attention to the TV screen.
"I'm sorry," he said, "It's just really hard. We get along so well, and you know how I feel about you."
He was struggling to decide whether he regretted trying to kiss her or not. They had spent a lot of time together in the past few months, and it had been some of the best times of his life. They got along so well, and they were so happy. Life was better when she was in it.
"I told you, I'm not looking for any kind of relationship." She was upset. "I'm tired of being hurt. You're a great guy, but I told you that I just want to be friends."
"We are friends," he replied, "but there's something more there, you can't deny it."
He was right. Any other time in her life she would have been head over heels in love. She had been there before, and it always ended in heartbreak and disillusionment. She liked her life simple now.
"Why can't you just be happy and let this happen?" He asked. She couldn't stand to see the pleading look in his eyes. She couldn't bear it if this turned bad. She couldn't stand to have her heart broken again, not by him.
"Look, I just want my life to be simple right now. I don't need anything to complicate it." She turned and put her coat on so she didn't have to see the pain that settled in his face.
"I'm sorry." She said simply as she hurried to the door.
"I love you." She heard him say as the door closed behind her. As much as she was trying to prevent it, she felt her heart break anyway.
She stopped at the convenience store a few blocks from his place for cigarettes. She sat in her car in the parking lot, then fished her phone out of her purse. She stared at the screen, at his number for a couple of minutes. She sighed as she pushed the call button and a smile formed ever so slightly on her lips as she thought to herself how this was about to get very complicated…
So he came down to her, down the sloping hill of her backyard to the garden. He had seen the small flicker of fire from up at the house, but he didn’t hurry. He made his way to where she was, where the benches were. Pleasant memories of the summer in this spot and friends gathered, talking and sharing food and drink flitted through his mind. Tonight there was a cold chill in the Autumn air, and it chased the thought away.
When he came up behind her, he saw that she was feeding the flame with small pieces of paper of all sizes; loose leaf, cards, small notebook paper, some envelopes. A small black trail of smoke curled up into the night, the last gasp of an old photograph.
As he came around her he saw tears on her cheeks, running slow but steady down over her set mouth, teeth dug into her lower lip. He could barely hear her sob.
“What …” He began to ask her, but stopped at that first word, and it hung between them in the silence.
“That’s everything” she said. “That’s my life.” She stared at the dying embers
“What do you mean?” He asked. “What …everything?”
“All my memories. All my life. All my love.”
He sat down beside her.
“That’s everything I’ve ever saved” she said. “Anything meaningful.” That’s my love letters, my photos, my funny little drawing on a cocktail napkin that Jack drew.”
She was crying harder now.
“That’s my concert ticket stubs. My autograph from Stevie Ray Vaughan that I got when I was sixteen, a month before he was dead. That’s the registration from my first car.”
“That’s my life.” She stated simply.
“Why?” he asked.
“To show you that now you are my life. You’re all I need from now on. If I can make you believe that by doing something like this, then that’s what I’ll do. You are my life now.”
They walked back towards the house, and he thought about the argument they had earlier. It seemed they were arguing more and more these days. How erratic she was becoming. It was beginning to frighten him. He thought about the fire of memories at the garden and of his recent resolve.
Now it would be harder.
They made love and as she fell asleep, he lay thinking.
A half hour later, he slid out of bed and dressed quietly in the dark. It would not be as hard as he had thought.
In the driveway he looked up at the stars as if he were being watched, caught in a sin.
He laughed at the notion and said to the sky “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself.”
He felt no better for it as he drove off into the night and a new life alone.
She sat nervously, glancing around the examination room at the doctor’s office. When was he coming back in here?
She glanced down and noticed that she was actually wringing her hands. Did she always do that when she was nervous or upset. Until this moment she hadn’t even been aware that it was a real thing that people do. She thought it was just something you read in books.
She couldn’t really be pregnant, could she? She had taken a home test, but those things aren’t always accurate, are they? It could be wrong. Maybe she hadn’t done it properly. She could very easily have screwed it up, just like she screwed everything else up.
A baby was just the worst thing right now. There was no way she could have a baby. She was alone, she was in no position financially. She would have to get an abortion, that’s all there is to it. Could she live with that though? Her mother would never forgive her. She could never let her know. Maybe the doctor would come in and tell her that she wasn’t even pregnant after all.
At that moment the door opened and the doctor walked in.
“Good news Miss Morgan,” he said with a stupid smile on his face, “you are pregnant!”
The world went swimmy.
It had been one month since the doctor visit, and she was sitting in a chair in the waiting room at Planned Parenthood. She had gone over everything in her head, from every angle, and she just couldn’t have this baby, not now. It took her some time after the doctors visit to even face it and deal with it. She just ignored it for a couple of weeks and wandered around in a daze.
She decided she wasn’t going to tell the father. He had left her, gone in the night without a word, and she wasn’t going to go crawling to him. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. She was on her own on this one.
She didn’t have a lot of friends outside of the few girls she talked to at work. No one there needed to know about it. She wouldn’t even tell her mother.
At least that was the plan. Of course, last night she told her and had to endure the lectures and the crying and the accusations. Why did she do that? She always made up her mind not to tell her mother about things she knew would just turn into an ordeal, but then she would always tell her anyway. It was like she sabotaged herself, over and over.
As if she didn’t feel bad enough about everything, now all she could do was replay all the things her mother had said to her, feel nothing but the sting of disappointing her yet again. She hated herself for being in this situation, and even more for being here now to terminate the pregnancy.
She was never going to hear the end of this either. It would be the biggest black mark on the record of her life. Her mother would bring it up every chance she got. She felt an anxiety attack coming on and shut her eyes tight and tried to ignore it.
Maybe this child is a good thing she suddenly thought. Maybe this is what she needs, something to give life purpose, something to make her mother proud, something that might finally make her grow up. Maybe her ex would come back when he found out he was going to be a father. Maybe it would make everything alright.
She stopped herself there. This was a crazy way of thinking, there was no room in her life for a child, she was not ready to take on that responsibility. How was she still going back and forth with this? She had made up her mind. Abortion was the best alternative. Having this child would be the biggest mistake of her life.
A few minutes later a nurse came out of the office and called her name.
“Miss Morgan” She asked the crowded room. “Is Miss Morgan here?” she tried again. No answer. Oh well she thought to herself, women are always changing their minds here. She looked at the next name on her list.
“Miss Moyer?” she called out.
Her mother was overjoyed that she had decided to keep the baby. She ended up moving in with her mother so she could help out with the pregnancy. It was hell living with her mother again, but she didn’t really have a choice anymore. The pregnancy was difficult the last couple of months, and she was really beginning to lament her decision to leave the clinic that afternoon four months ago.
She was huge now, and doing anything was uncomfortable. She had quit her job a few weeks ago. It wasn’t a great job, and she could get another one after the baby was born. She just couldn’t wait to have this kid out of her. She found out she was having a boy, and she had been hoping for a girl. It was okay, just so long as he was healthy, she supposed. She was still a little bitter about it though. She wished she could have a drink, or better yet smoke a cigarette. She would sneak a cigarette once in a while the first couple of months, but the guilt and self loathing it brought made her stop altogether.
She was really beginning to resent her unborn baby, and those thoughts also made her hate herself. What kind of a person was she? What kind of a horrible mother would she be? She felt like it would help to talk to someone, but who? She couldn’t admit to anyone, especially her mother, that she was already feeling resentment towards her child.
Not the father. She decided that she would never tell him about his son. That bastard didn’t want her so he wouldn’t ever know that he had a son. He was a pompous asshole anyway. She resented him too. Perhaps that was some of the reason she resented her baby, who knows?
He was a jerk though. Thought he was so smart. Made her feel stupid all the time. Not that he ever said she was stupid, but she could tell he thought it. Her father had told her she was stupid up until the day he left. Her mother felt that way too, she knew it. She didn’t need Daniel telling her.
Daniel, she thought with a sneer on her face. He always insisted on being called “Daniel”, so formal and stuck up. She had thought about naming her unborn son Danny, just because his father hated when anyone called him that. She decided against it though. Why saddle her son with that name? Why name him something out of spite, so every time she said his name it would remind her how much she hated his father? That would be the absolute worst thing she could do. No, she may have messed up many things in her life, there was no way she was going to fuck up that badly and name him Danny.
Six weeks later Danny was born, a month premature, fucking her life up right from the start.
She wished her daughter didn’t go out so much. It’s not that she didn’t like watching her grandson, she loved spending time with the baby. It just seemed lately that Mary was going out more frequently and always going to that crappy bar downtown. She got in late, or the next morning, and God knows what she was doing and who she was associating with. She looked at her now, putting on her makeup and getting ready to leave.
“Are you sure you want to go out tonight Mary?” She asked her daughter tentatively. “It’s a weeknight, and the boy should have her mother here.”
“Yeah, like you were always there for me?” Mary answered from the bathroom. “I think he’ll be fine.”
Those words hurt, and she knew that was the type of answer she was going to get for even bringing it up. Still, she supposed she deserved it.
“Maybe we can watch a movie or something.” She tried again. “We can get a pizza.”
“Yeah mom, that’s just what I need, a pizza. I just lost most of the baby weight and you want me to eat pizza?”
Mary’s mother noticed that she hardly ate anything these days. Her daughter seemed obsessed with her appearance. She cared very much what men thought of her, and that made her a little sad. Still, hadn’t she been like that? Especially after Mary’s father had left her. She was convinced it was her fault, that she was unattractive. She had gained weight when she was pregnant with Mary, maybe that’s what drove her father off. Luckily, the doctor had given her some diet pills, and that had melted the weight off. She had become somewhat addicted to them back in the day. In those days she had so much energy and looked so good, and she felt a twinge of longing for days gone by.
“We don’t have to get pizza, we can just watch TV and talk about things.”
Mary sighed, exasperated. She put her lipstick down, counted to ten and came out of the bathroom.
“Look mom, I have plans. I met this new guy and he seems really nice. I don’t want to sit around here and talk to you. Nothing personal, but I don’t want to live here forever. I want to meet someone and get a place and get on with my life with my son.”
Her mother looked hurt, like she always did whenever Mary spelled out her future plans. It couldn’t be helped. She just felt like maybe everything she did was a mistake, but for some reason she couldn’t stop doing those things. She felt horrible about herself, and talking to her mother just made her feel worse.
“Okay honey,” her mother said, “Have a nice time. We’ll see you later … or whenever you get home.”
This really annoyed Mary. She just had to tack on that little kicker on the end.
“I’ll get home when I get home mom.” She said, barely trying to conceal her aggravation. She grabbed her coat and walked out the door. She was in her car and driving before she realized that she hadn’t even kissed her son goodbye, and she hated herself a little more.
Back in the apartment, Mary’s mother checked on her sleeping grandson. He was going on 9 months now, and he seemed to be a generally happy baby. He hardly seemed to notice whether his mother was around or not. She wondered if Mary had felt that way when she was a baby.
Things had been bad after her father left. She had blamed herself and she too went out too much and sought confirmation and reassurance in the attention that men gave her. A constant stream of them, all with problems and issues of their own. There was no real structure in Mary’s life growing up, why was she surprised that there was none now? No wonder Mary hated her.
Mary didn’t hate her, she knew that, but she did harbor a lot of resentment towards her, and she deserved it. That’s why she didn’t push so hard now when she tried to get Mary to stay home and raise her daughter herself. At least she was here to pick up the slack. Maybe she could make up for a lot of the mistakes she made with Mary.
Who was she kidding? She could never make up for it now. It was too late, too late for her, too late for Mary. Maybe too late for her grandson, sleeping peacefully, unaware of what he had been born into. She looked at him and started crying and hated herself a little more.
Why did I even get married? Donna found herself thinking once again. It seemed like her husband had no interest in her at all. Maybe it was because of the baby. Maybe he saw her differently now that she was a mother. Still, he hadn’t seemed that interested in her before she got pregnant either. This wasn’t how she thought marriage was supposed to be.
At first she was thrilled when Bobby gave her a ring. They had been dating for less than a year, and he was her first real boyfriend, just out of high school. He had seemed shy and awkward around girls, even though he was quite good looking. Donna had never thought she was good looking. She felt inferior, never good looking enough or clever enough to attract anyone.
Then Bobby came along, and while she still didn’t think she was good enough, she felt loved and wanted. Bobby was always very respectful too, which she was thankful for. She wasn’t sure she was ready for sex, and it felt like he really cared for her in a real way, not just like he was trying to get in her pants.
So they married and settled into routine very quickly. She was a homemaker, spending the day in their small apartment while he worked as a clerk in the office of a manufacturing plant. She would have dinner ready for him when he got home, and they would spend the rest of the night watching TV. Their wasn’t a lot of the passion she imagined there would be once they got married, but she just figured he wasn’t a very passionate guy. As long as he loved her and came home to her every night she was satisfied.
About a year later, she was pregnant. She was surprised, as they seldom made love, but she was ecstatic just the same. He seemed happy enough, but he always seemed a little distant, not always there with her, even when they were in the same bed. The sex stopped altogether then. He told her he was worried about the baby, so they abstained from any kind of lovemaking.
After their daughter was born, it was more of the same. He never wanted to be intimate, and would often sleep out on the couch instead of in their bed. Donna was starting to feel unwanted and unloved, but she kept hoping that he would come around. It couldn’t be easy, being a father, providing for a wife and baby on his small income. So she tried to never complain, and if she did she instantly felt ungrateful and selfish, and apologized quickly.
Soon he started going out at night, or not coming straight home from work, and that really got her down. She could take being lonely while in the same room with him, but she could not stand to feel like he couldn’t stand to be around her. She started to find fault in herself. It must be her, she must have gotten unattractive to him, or too demanding, or something. It had to be something she was doing, or wasn’t doing, or could be doing better. Why didn’t he love her anymore?
She spoke to the doctor and got some pills to help her lose weight, and they really worked. She dropped all the baby weight and had a lot more energy to boot. She begged him to take her out dancing, or to a movie, but he didn’t have any interest and always had some reason not to go.
She started to badger him more and more. She knew it must be annoying, but he wouldn’t tell her what was wrong and she couldn’t figure it out. She tried to stop herself, but she couldn’t help it, and they started to fight more and more. Usually he would storm out of the apartment and not come back until late at night.
Then one day he announced he was leaving. He packed a suitcase and left, and the next time she talked to him was when he presented her with divorce papers. She dutifully signed them. She was most likely still in shock. Her she was, 23 years old with a two year old daughter and no husband, no source of income, and no future. It was all her fault, too. She had to pester him, she had to drive him away. Who could blame him? She knew it was only a matter of time until he saw what she always knew was true. That she was unattractive, that she was boring, that she had nothing to offer that could keep a man with her.
She went home to live with her family, and they couldn’t hide their disappointment in her. She couldn’t keep her family together. She got a job as a barmaid at the local bowling alley, but that didn’t really pay enough to get her own place. At first she was disgusted by the behavior of some of the men at work, but soon she found that she liked the attention. At least some men appreciated her.
She started dating one of them, Benny, and he offered to move in with her and pay half the rent. She jumped at the chance to get out of her parent’s house. Of course there was a big argument about that, their daughter living in sin with some drunk from a bar. And with her child, no less! A lot of people were living together these days though, and at least someone wanted to be with her.
Two months later she was on her own again, struggling to make ends meet. She couldn’t seem to get a guy that wanted to stick with her long. She loved the attention and passion that new romance brought, but soon they would tire of her. She would get a momentary boost to her ego, followed by the seeming confirmation that she had nothing worthwhile to keep a man around.
All through this, there was her daughter. She felt like she was failing her too. She would try to keep her a secret at first, and she could see men’s reaction when they found out she had a kid. That wasn’t helping.
One night, in her mid twenties when her daughter was 6 years old, she was getting ready for her date.
“Mommy, are you going out again?” She asked, like she always did these days.
“Yes, just for a little while. The sitter will be here soon.” She answered.
“I want you to stay with me.” She was pouting.
“I know sweetie, but mommy has to go out for awhile.”
“But you said we could..” Her daughter began
“I know what I said, but I’m a grown up with grown up things to do!” She snapped back. She instantly felt bad for it. “Just be good for mommy and don’t give her a hard time.”
“Okay.” Her daughter muttered as she left the room.
I swear, sometimes I think that’s my whole problem. Donna found herself thinking angrily. If it weren’t for her I could probably keep a guy around.”
She caught herself in the mirror as her thoughts trailed off. Of course it wasn’t her child’s fault. She couldn’t keep a guy interested before her kid came along either. Still, she did make it harder. No, she wasn’t going to think like that.
A few hours later, sitting at the bar with her date, someone asked her how her daughter was. Her date looked at her with a momentary look of panic on his face. It was gone in a flash, but the evening turned on that moment, and everything became clear. With that, the resentment started to take hold, and the blame shifted from mother to daughter.
James sat in small room, looking at his father lying in the hospital bed. Was it really a hospital bed he wondered to himself. This was a nursing home. Maybe it's a nursing home bed. He sighed. He wasn't sure why he was even here.
His father had been suffering from Alzheimer's for several years now. He hadn't even recognized James in almost two years. Most of the time he hardly said anything, and when he did it made no sense. He was only here because it was his turn, and his siblings made him feel guilty if he did not take his visit every fourth week.
His father did not even like him. He was a huge disappointment, his father told him many times before the dementia set it. When he first started coming here he had clung to a small hope that dad would tell him he wasn't the failure he knew he was. That in one lucid moment he would lift the weight off him that crushed him wherever he went. He knew he wasn't perfect, but he was trying. He was doing much better these days.
Still, his father never told him he was a good son, never let him know he loved him and forgave him for being a fuck up. He looked at his father now, head lolling to one side, staring straight ahead at nothing.
"I'm sorry dad" James told him quietly. He went back to reading his magazine.
"Jimmy?" his father suddenly said. "Is that you Jimmy? Is that my boy?"
James popped up in his chair. He couldn't believe his father spoke, said his name.
"Yes dad," he answered excitedly, "It's me! It's Jimmy!"
"Jimmy." his father repeated his name, and it felt good to hear it. "Where have you been son? I've missed you Jimmy. You're my boy, and I miss you."
James was ecstatic. His dad didn't hate him. He remembered him and missed him.
"Oh dad, I've missed you too. I love you dad. I'm here."
His father was smiling now, looking at him with a look of love and approval he hadn't seen since he was a young boy.
Then suddenly the look turned to one of confusion. His lip twisted into a snarl.
"You're not Jimmy!" he spat. "My Jimmy is a good boy. My Jimmy is only eight years old. You're that other good for nothing piece of shit."
James recoiled back as if he'd been hit.
"No dad, it's me. It's Jimmy." he pleaded.
"You're not Jimmy. I know who you are." his father was really getting agitated now. "Get out of here. You're no good and you'll never be any good. Not like my Jimmy. What ever happened to him."
With that his father suddenly settled back down in the bed and his vacant stare returned.
James composed himself, got up out of the chair, and leaned over and kissed his father's forehead. The old man didn't even seem to notice.
James wandered out of the nursing home and tried to think if there was a bar close by. It had been five years since he had taken a drink. He wondered why he had even bothered to quit. He searched his mind for a reason.
Nope. There was none.
He walked down the sidewalk thinking about the whiskey he would soon be drinking and hating himself for it already.
“Jimmy?” He heard his father call out, in that tone that let him know that he figured it out again. “Where are you? I’m coming up there!”
Jimmy heard his father ascending the stairs, the loud thump of his footsteps and the boards creaking in the old house. He was seventeen for Christ’s sake, why was he panicking?
Because he was ashamed and because he knew he let his father down again, that’s why. Why did he have to keep screwing up?
His father came into the room, and Jimmy could see the anger on his face. Jimmy knew that his father couldn’t maintain that level of anger for long. He wasn’t really an angry man, he was kind of weak in some ways, but whenever he first discovered something that got him upset he was downright scary.
He stood staring at Jimmy for a moment, eyes ablaze and teeth set against each other so Jimmy noticed the muscles in his jaw bulge a little.
“What the fuck, Jimmy.” He asked, his voice raised and almost quivering. “What the ever loving fuck?” He repeated. Then Jimmy saw the rage die down a little, and he knew he would be okay. That didn’t mean he still didn’t feel like shit.
“I’m sorry dad.” He answered feebly. “I know, I screwed up again.”
His father sat down on the bed. He just looked at his son, and his eyes said that he was defeated.
“I don’t know what to do with you anymore. What did you spend the money on this time? Booze, weed, something stronger?”
“No, nothing like that dad…” Jimmy started to lie, but he realized it was pointless. His father knew, they had had this conversation too many times before. “Just some beers and a couple of joints.” He admitted.
“Jimmy, you can’t keep doing this. You’re missing more and more school, your grades are dropping, you’re wasting your life with these good for nothing friends.” His father sighed. “I just don’t know what to do with you.”
Jimmy started to talk, started to make the same promises that he would try harder, he would knuckle down and do better, but it seemed different this time. It started out earnest, he really did want to do better and make his parents proud. Soon, it just became a game, they each played their part and said their lines and convinced themselves that they meant it.
Now this seemed like something else.
“And you stole money again.” His father continued. “This time right out of your mother’s purse. That really hurts. You have no respect for us.”
“That’s not true!” Jimmy said, “I respect you guys.”
Even as Jimmy said it, he wondered if that was still true. Why would he respect them? It seemed his father had spent more time at work than at home since before he could remember. His mom had her friends and social life, and that seemed more important to her than her children. That was probably unfair, but sometimes it felt that way.
So what if he liked to hang out with his friends and blow off steam. What did it matter? It wasn’t like his parents didn’t have money, the little he took didn’t make any difference.
“You don’t act like it.” His father was saying now. “I just don’t know what to do with you anymore.” He repeated.
Okay, here it comes, I’m grounded or whatever. Get it over with and I’ll do my time. Thought Jimmy. He knew the script very well.
His father just looked at him and it seemed like all the fight went out of him. He ran his hand over his face and stood up.
“I’m just so disappointed in you, son.” He said, matter of factly, with no real emotion in his voice. “You’re just going to do what you want to do anyway. I’m just so tired.”
And he looked tired. Jimmy had never noticed before, but his father seemed beaten, like he just wanted this to be over. He didn’t seem to have it in him to go through all the motions again. For some reason, that scared Jimmy more than the anger or punishment.
“Dad, I’ll try to do better. I promise.” He offered again, but the expression on his father’s face didn’t change.
“Whatever, Jimmy. You keep telling yourself that.” He seemed at a loss. “I’m just so tired” He said again, and Jimmy wished he would stop.
“Dinner will be ready soon. I’ll see you downstairs.” And with that, his father exited his room and left him sitting in stunned silence.
His father didn’t care anymore. Jimmy realized with a shock. That understanding chilled him to his bones. He had exceeded his father’s patience, and apparently his love. What the hell did he do? How had he screwed up that badly?
From that point on it got worse. There were still some times when he came home late at night drunk or when he wrecked his car, that his father got angry, but more often than not his father just didn’t seem to care. If his father didn’t care, why should he care?
So life went on, and the two of them became more and more estranged until both of them decided they didn’t need each other anymore. They each knew that people could convince themselves of things that weren’t true, but it was easier than facing the truth.
Easier than facing themselves and each other.
This place really is a shithole Joey thought to himself. It disgusted him that he came here every night, but a big part of him felt he didn’t deserve a better place, and it seemed like he was in his element. Besides, he was only looking to get drunk, so fuck the atmosphere. Same old people here every night, getting fucked up, looking to score drugs, to hook up with someone worse off than they were. No one here aimed up, only lower.
He glanced around at the clientele, the same derelicts as usual. He mostly kept to himself anyway. He wasn’t looking for company most nights, just to sit and get drunk and numb his brain until it finally shut up and stopped telling him things he didn’t want to hear. The cocaine helped too, but it also kept him propped up so he had to drink even more to silence his thoughts. It was a cruel game he played with himself, and even this thought was one of the ones he was trying to silence by drinking in the first place. His family was right; he was a useless fuck up and always would be. He even made being a drunk more difficult than it needed to be.
He ordered another Jack and coke and thought about going to the bathroom and doing another line. Then he heard the door open, and most of the heads in the dimly lit barroom turned to see who it was, Joey’s included. He was shocked.
In walked a woman that clearly didn’t belong here. Or maybe she did, she just didn’t show it on the outside. Not yet, anyway.
She was very attractive, blonde, nice body, overdressed for this place. As luck would have it, the only open spot was next to him, and she made her way to the bar and ordered a drink. The whole entrance was quick and efficient, and he couldn’t tell if it was because she was nervous because of the surroundings or if she just really needed the drink. She didn’t appear nervous.
She got her drink, Seagram’s 7 and water, and drained half the glass. She didn’t set it down though, so he knew it would be empty in a moment. She didn’t disappoint, downing the rest and putting the glass back on the bar for a refill.
He realized he was staring too long, but she didn’t seem to notice anything around her, so he was safe. He glanced back at his own drink and wondered why he had been staring in the first place. She was way out of his league, and he wasn’t even looking to meet anyone anyway. Even if he was, he reminded himself, aim down stupid.
“You okay?” He suddenly found himself asking her. He wasn’t sure how those words came out of his mouth and he was instantly terrified.
“Not really.” She answered back, not even looking his way. She seemed to instantly become aware that she answered and snapped her head around to face him.
“I’m sorry, no, I’m fine. I don’t know why I said that.” She stammered. “I’m just, I feel a little …” She sighed. “Family, you know?”
Yes, Joey knew all too well. Still, what could he offer this woman, even in terms of conversation or consolation? The last thing he wanted to think about was family.
“I hear that.” He said anyway, “don’t even get me started on family.” Now she turned her body towards him on her stool.
“It’s just that nothing ever seems good enough for them. My mom, anyway. All she seems to do is criticize, find fault. She’s not perfect either, so what the fuck, you know?” It all just streamed out of her, and for a moment she felt foolish, but who cares? She was probably never going to be in this bar or see this person again for the rest of her life.
Of course, now she felt foolish anyway. He was looking at her like she was crazy, and she probably was. She started to regret saying anything, let alone stopping in here for a drink before meeting her friends at a decent place. She probably belonged in a dive like this anyway, she told herself. Why did she keep thinking things like this?
“No, I know what you’re saying.” He was now answering her. “They all think that they’re so great, but they don’t know what I’ve been through. What I’ve had to deal with.” He seemed agitated, and was slurring slightly.
Now she was questioning her decision even more. Why come in here, why answer this drunken lowlife? Well, that was unfair. What right did she have to judge him? She was probably a much worse person than he was. Not probably, certainly. Although the thought that he might be worse than her actually provided her with a little comfort. He wasn’t bad looking, and maybe this is the type of guy she deserved anyway. No one with anything good going on in their life would want her. She felt so embarrassed and uncomfortable talking to any really good, successful guys. Look at her, single mother, no job right now, living with her mom, probably an alcoholic … like she had anything to offer anyone.
“I mean, I’m just saying. I don’t really know what your family is like, but mine is .. well, they have a lot to say about things they know nothing about.” Joey continued. He felt the need to add something, as she hadn’t really said anything back to him after his last statement. She seemed lost in thought. Finally, she seemed to snap out of it and looked back at him.
“No, that’s my family too.” She muttered vaguely. She seemed unsure of herself, vulnerable.
It was then that Joey thought to himself that he might have been looking at it all wrong. If everyone is aiming down, then someone has to be looking up. Let her aim down at him, who cares? She was cute, was obviously doing better than he was. This could work out to his advantage.
They talked for a while more, and when Joey asked if she wanted to go to his place and talk and maybe do a line she quickly said yes. He called the bartender over to pay his tab.
“You done for the night Jimmy?” The bartender asked, and Joey’s eyes got big and his body tensed.
“My name is Joey, you asshole!” He yelled, loud enough for everyone to hear him and to startle the girl by his side. “How many fucking times do I have to tell you?”
He stood staring at the barkeep, and then realized how this must look.
“I’m sorry Joey”, the bartender stammered, “ I made a mistake. It’s just hard getting used to.”
“Its’ okay Tommy” Joey answered, relaxing now. “Honest mistake. What do I owe you?” He glanced at her and smiled.
She watched him paying his tab, still startled by his quick anger. Well, what right did she have to judge him? Maybe he had a good reason for getting mad. He seemed like a nice guy otherwise, and she wasn’t planning on starting a relationship, she just wanted to get out of here and go do some coke.
He finished with the bartender and offered his arm. She took it and they walked out into the night, neither really sure who was dragging who down with them.
Danny walked along, one foot on the sidewalk, one in the gutter, holding his umbrella over his head, even though he didn't really need it in the slight drizzle. Mom insisted he take it. He didn't mind the fact that it blocked his view of Joey, his mom's boyfriend who was leading him to the bus to take him to school. He was in second grade now.
"Hurry up, idiot" Joey yelled back at him. He was hungover as usual, and had put up a fight when Danny's mom asked him to walk her son to the bus stop.
Danny thought about saying something back, but he was afraid of what Joey might be capable of. Why didn't his mom see it? Why did she let this guy sit on their couch drinking all night?
They got to the spot where the bus came and Joey turned and started back.
"Mom said to wait for the bus to come." Danny told him, and immediately regretted it. Joey turned and glared at him.
"Well, if your mom asks I did wait, you got that you little shit?"
"Yes" Danny managed. He stood frozen, sorry he had opened his mouth, holding his breath and hoping Joey would just leave without incident. He saw Joey's fists ball up, but then his aching head got the best of him and he just walked off back to the apartment.
Danny watched him go, then sat down on the wet curb and let his umbrella fall on the ground.
"I wish I was anywhere but here." he said sullenly to nobody.
Back in the apartment Danny's mom had watched them walk up the street. She thought to herself that maybe Joey wasn't that bad, maybe he would find a job today. Danny would warm up to him, he wasn't that bad, was he?
She looked out again and saw Joey coming back. She hadn't heard the bus. Didn't Joey wait for it to come? He didn't leave Danny there alone, did he?
She heard him come through the downstairs door and thought about asking him if he had waited, and then she thought better of it.
"I wish I was anywhere but here" she said sadly to nobody...
Here it comes again, he thought to himself. Every couple of days the memory of her would pop up in his mind. Now, sitting at a red light on the way to work he found himself thinking about her again.
Had he done the right thing? It was years ago when he had left, but he still found himself thinking about her. She had problems, and it was frustrating that she took them out on him, as well as herself. In the process of punishing herself, he found that he was caught in the line of fire nearly every time, and he couldn’t take it anymore.
The good times, though, they were really good. It was probably the only time he felt truly loved by another human being that wasn’t a parent. She thought he was amazing and cool and told him so all the time. She couldn’t wait to see him, and the sex was out of this world. He ached for that again.
Then he had to remind himself that there were the bad times too. She really had issues that she needed to work on, and she wasn’t trying at all. There was the drinking. There was the insecurity. There were the irrational blow-ups and even more irrational justifications for them. It was becoming a chore.
God, she was beautiful though. Right up until the end, he would melt when he saw her. He never felt better than when he was lying in bed with her pressed up against him, their bodies wrapped around each other.
He loved the sound of her name on his lips.
In the end though, it was very bad, and he scolded himself for glossing over that fact yet again. It seemed like every week she was telling him how maybe they needed space, maybe they should take a break. Blaming him for things he didn’t do, taking out past sins of others on him. He stopped trying to talk her out of it, but she never could leave. She would always call him an hour later crying and telling him to come back.
He hadn’t been perfect either. He found himself tiring of the same old problems and discounting her feelings after a while. Why couldn’t she just get over it already? He felt bad for that, because he understood that some scars you don’t get over, and she had some pretty deep scars. In many ways, she was his hero. He was so proud of her for getting up every morning and facing the world after what she had been through, and he felt like shit for getting frustrated with her.
Then he remembered that no amount of support or encouragement seemed to make a difference. Was she too far gone or was he just too selfish and impatient? That’s what ate at him most. Maybe he didn’t do enough.
He had left her with a note telling her it was over and not to call him, and she hadn’t. Not even once. Yet, to this day, whenever his phone would ring or the text message notification beeped he hoped it was her. He was too terrified to ever call her.
Suddenly he was shocked to find he was pulling into the parking lot at work. This happened a lot lately; he would be lost in thought and wouldn’t even remember the drive to wherever it was he was going. That couldn’t be safe, could it?
Suddenly, his phone beeped with an incoming text. He hesitated a moment, thinking it could be her. Maybe the fact that he was thinking about her made her think of him and finally reach out. He held his breath and flipped open his phone only to find it was his boss reminding him of the meeting this morning. He sighed heavily. How long was he going to wait for a call that never came?
He parked the car and shook the memory of her out of his mind, for just how long he didn’t know.
Danny sat in the principal’s office, waiting for Mr. Klein to come in. He supposed that this waiting was to make him nervous, so when the principal did finally get here he would crumble. Good luck with that he thought.
How many times had he been here already this year? Seven, eight? He had honestly lost count. Ninth grade and he was so tired of school, tired of teachers and the other kids, and life, honestly. He hated being here, he hated being at home. He hated being.
“Hello again, Danny.” Principal Klein startled him, he hadn’t heard him walk into the room.
“Yeah, again.” Danny he replied, determined to show his disgust with the whole scenario. “What’s your point?”
Klein regarded him for a moment before answering.
“Was there a point I was trying to make?” he asked. “Maybe, maybe not.” Danny was caught off guard by that comment.
“Here’s the actual point I want to make.” Klein continued. “I’m going to be as straight and honest as I can here. You deserve that courtesy. You are beginning to become a real problem, and a distraction to the other kids and teachers here that are trying to educate and learn. It’s not going to go on much longer.”
“What does that mean?” Asked Danny, a little worried now. He liked to act as if he didn’t care, but If he got kicked out of school it could cause real problems. It would devastate his mom, and Joey would probably kick the shit out of him. Again. Not like he didn’t deserve it. He was a waste.
“It means that even though I have an idea what your home life is like, and the shit you have to deal with, I can only make it my concern for a little while. School has become like a triage unit, and I have to figure out which of the students I can save and which ones I have to let go.” He looked Danny straight in the eye. “Budget cuts and overcrowding have made it that way. I don’t mean to sound cold Danny, but I can’t save everyone. You’re not stupid, and you’re not too far gone yet, but you need to make a choice. If you make the right one, I’ll be here to help you. That I can promise you.”
Danny was about to blow it off, make a smart ass comment, but he stopped and thought better about it. That’s what Klein was doing, wasn’t he? Measuring him before speaking, choosing his words. He didn’t want him having that advantage.
“You see that, Danny?” he said, “You’re smart. You pick up things quick. I don’t know that you would have survived in your home if you weren’t smart.”
Danny was taken aback. Was Klein really that observant? Did he really give a shit? Did he actually pay him some kind of a compliment?
“Maybe I hate school, and I don’t want to be here anyway.” He finally said. “Maybe getting kicked out is the best thing for me.”
“Do you really think that’s true?” Klein continued staring him right in the eye. “Do you really like your odds if you let go of the last normal thing in your life, Danny?”
Danny was ready with a smart answer, ready to keep rebelling and keep self destructing, ready to keep going along the path he was on. Something about the way Klein was being brutally honest made him hesitate. Suddenly the gravitas of his situation bore down on him, and as much as he hated to admit it, he was scared.
“So what choice do I have?” He asked.
“Any choice you want, Danny. I can see that you get any help you would need. It won’t be easy, but I think you have too much going for you to throw your life away.”
Danny hated to admit it, but maybe Klein was right. He thought about how fucked up it was that it went against his instincts to believe he was worth anything. How did this happen? He felt so confused.
“Look Danny,” Klein said, to spare him having to answer right now. “Take the rest of the day off. You’re in no condition to be here anyway, I can smell the pot on you. Go home. Really think about what you want, and who your real enemies are. Let me know what I should do with you.”
With that he was dismissed, and he headed home. He was completely thrown by someone handing control of his own life over to him. Why would Klein even trust me to make a good decision? He asked himself.
He found himself lost in thought as he walked, and when he got home mom was still at work and Joey was there, drunk and high already. He had been so lost in thought that he hadn’t even thought to go somewhere else and pretend he had been in school all day. So much for smart and resourceful he chided himself.
“What the fuck are you doing home already?” Joey slurred at him. “Finally get thrown out of there? That figures. Fucking useless, that’s what you are.”
As always, since he was a little boy, Danny couldn’t understand why Joey had so much hate and contempt for him. He was the only father figure he ever really had, so he assumed he must be pretty disappointing if Joey disgusted him that much.
“We got let out early.” Danny lied, poorly. His head was swimming with too much new information to put enough thought or effort into the fabrication. Klein didn’t seem disgusted by him though. Danny wasn’t stupid, and no matter how much Joey tried to convince him otherwise, other people saw his intelligence. Klein saw it.
“Bullshit!” Joey spat, “You got kicked out and you're gonna get your ass beat.”
He came at Danny like he had a thousand times before, but this time Danny didn’t flinch. He stood right where he was and stared him right in the eye, kind of the way Klein had stared at him. Joey stopped in front of him. He wasn’t used to this, Danny usually cowered and took the beating. He raised his fist a little higher, but still Danny was staring right at him, unflinching.
“Wait until your mother gets home, you little shit.” Joey said as he backed away. “She’s really gonna give it to you.”
Danny just continued to stare, and Joey retreated to the bedroom, afraid he might have just lost his advantage.
Danny went to the kitchen to look for something to eat. He didn’t even notice that he didn’t slink off to his bedroom as usual. It was his place too. He belonged here as much as Joey. Maybe there was a better way than the path he was on.
He felt a little better about himself and thought that maybe he should talk to Mr. Klein tomorrow about his options.
She sat on the couch, bracing herself. She hated swallowing pills, why did she think this was the best way? She had made a list and cataloged all the ways, and this one seemed the most palatable.
Poor choice of words, she thought. She cupped another 6 pills into her mouth and quickly gulped some more wine to wash them down.
Again they caught in the back of her throat, and she could taste them as the coating started to dissolve. For a moment she couldn't remember how to swallow, and felt panicked, but another mouthful of wine and down they went, just like the two handfuls before them.
Was that enough? She didn't want to end up brain damaged, or a burden to anyone, she just wanted to be gone. She was beyond hope, no one would care. They would be better off with her gone.
Wasn't she always fucking up her life, and by proxy, everyone's life? Isn't that what her mother always told her? Maybe not in those exact words...no, probably in those exact words. She was never sure, but those are the words she heard in her head, that's how she remembered it.
So for all intents and purposes, that was reality. Those were Joey's exact words, that she was sure of. She still had saved voicemails and text messages with those words verbatim. Well, perhaps not verbatim, Joey never used terms like “by proxy”. She smiled a little at that.
Why had she wasted so much of her life on that miserable son of a bitch? She hated people trying to control her, yet she shackled herself to the most abusive, controlling asshole she could find.
Then she let him take everything away.
She realized that there were some people she was punishing by doing this, some people that she thought she was saving, but Joey… she just wanted to get away from him.
She kept trying, but he would find his way back into her life again. Well, most of the time she went looking for him, to take him back. She got lonely, and scared, and even being with him seemed better than being alone.
So she had wasted her life with drinking, and drugs, and done things to get them that she didn't even want to admit to herself. She didn't deserve happiness, she didn't deserve anything good, she was poison to herself and everyone around her.
She had failed Danny most of all. Her beautiful boy, she had given him the worst life any mother could give a child. He was nineteen now, off at college, and better off without her around. How he had even managed to pull it together and get into college was a testament to how amazing he was.
No thanks to her, he would be fine, and her doing this wouldn’t leave any lasting effects on him. She was sure of that.
She had written letters explaining it all, to her mom, to Danny, to the police. Nothing for Joey, though. Let him deal with the uncertainty, the guilt. Maybe that would finally get through to him what a horrible human being he was. She rethought her position and realized that maybe she did want to punish him too. He deserved to suffer most of all.
The pills were really starting to take hold now. She could barely sit up anymore, so she let herself slump over on the couch.
Perhaps she was being unfair to her mother. Maybe she didn’t deserve some of the vitriol she spewed out in the letter she left for her. It must have been difficult, being stuck in a marriage where your husband had no interest in you and ultimately left. Whether she understood what dad had gone through or not, it doesn’t help your self confidence any.
She thought to herself that she should get that letter and tear it, up or write another, but she found now that she couldn’t really get up if she tried.
Oh my God she thought, this is really happening. She started to panic, and so badly wanted to turn back, to call an ambulance, but she couldn’t even sit back up, and the room was spinning, wavering in and out of focus.
She suddenly realized that she would never do any of the things she took for granted anymore. No more Spring days with the grass between her toes, no ice cream, no more getting high.
No more Danny.
Suddenly she snapped back into focus. Danny. She couldn’t do this to him, not to her baby. What a mistake she had made, what a horrible miscalculation. Even though the letter went to great lengths to tell him that this wasn’t his fault, he would feel like it was, wouldn’t he? He would think that he abandoned her to go off to school, and that she did this to punish him, no matter what the letter said.
She tried to focus all her will and strength, tried to get off the couch and get to her phone, but she couldn’t manage to move more than a couple of inches.
Now her thoughts were all mixed up, and she couldn’t keep any of it straight at all. The only thing she felt now was a deep and all consuming sorrow, coupled with a vague feeling of guilt.
She started to cry, but wasn’t even aware of it.
“Mommy.” Mary managed to whimper. Oh God, all she wanted in the world was to have her mother there, to hold her one more time, to rest her head in her lap and have her stroke her hair like she did when Mary was a little girl. She felt like that little girl again, alone and scared and at fault for everything in the world.
She wanted to tell her mom she was sorry, and her lips mouthed the words, but there was hardly any breath left so no sound came out.
Not like this. She thought to herself, and wondered what she was thinking about.
A few more labored breaths, and then there was nothing but blackness.
Why does it seem like the air is always colder in a cemetery? Thought Danny.
True, it was October, and there was a chill in the air, but it hadn’t felt this cold when he left the house to come visit his mother’s grave. He was always here on her birthday, with the prerequisite flowers as well as the unanswered questions in his head.
At least by now he had made his peace with them. They still lingered, but he had long since given up trying to get any closure.
Why had she killed herself? Why did she subject them both to Joey’s rage and abuse for so many years? Who was his father, and why had she refused to tell him even the slightest information about the man other that he was a pompous jerk? One time she did drunkenly allude to the fact that he was named after him, but she always denied that she ever said that.
“You are nothing like your father, especially not your name. He would hate even hearing your name.” She would tell him, spitting the words out.
“Oh mom,” He said aloud, looking at her headstone, “why couldn’t you have just talked to me?”
Her suicide had been really rough on him, and his grandmother. He left school and came home and helped take care of everything. Planning his own mother’s funeral when he should be in college; finally achieving something, and making something out of himself.
He remembered the funeral. It probably would all have been a blur, but that asshole Joey showed up drunk, and started a scene. He remembered dragging Joey outside and how good it felt to finally punch him in the face. He could recall in detail the bewildered and beaten look on Joey’s face as he sat in the street, blood running down his chin.
That was the last he had ever seen of that piece of shit.
A few weeks later and he was still undecided if he was going to go back to school or if he should just give up. He knew it probably wasn’t true, but part of him felt like he had abandoned his mother when he went to college. Maybe things would have been different if he had stayed.
His grandmother put an end to that train of thought.
She sat him down one night in the kitchen and told him in no uncertain terms that he was going back to school.
“I don’t know Grandma, I’m already three weeks behind.” He protested.
“So, you’ll have to work a little harder.” She replied, firm and resolved.
“What’s the point? Maybe I’ll get a job and try to start again next year.”
“No,” came her quick response, “That has been the way this family has done things for generations. You won’t get back to it. The next thing you know, you’re settled into a life you never wanted. You’re going back to school.”
“So everybody else can slack off, and I have to be the one that does the work?”
“You’re not doing anything for anyone else, do you understand that?” She said, a softer tone now. “Danny, I only ever tried to control your mother with guilt, it was the easiest way. My first instinct now is to tell you that you have to do it, because that’s what your mother wanted for you, and you need to do it to make her life have meaning. That’s wrong.”
She seemed about to cry, but she wouldn’t let herself. No, she wouldn’t use tears to get what she wanted either.
“You go back to school because it’s best for you. You know that. It’s what you wanted, it’s what you worked for. Don’t let your mother’s ghost linger in your head, Danny. Get away from here and back where you belong.”
So he did. He went to school, and he graduated, and he felt better about himself than he ever had. He smiled to himself, and wasn’t sure if the memories made him want to cry or not. That was nearly 14 years ago, now he was married with two kids of his own.
It had taken him years to realize that his mother had a whole host of issues to deal with and not really any resources to get help. After her death, he saw his grandmother go through the uncertainty and sheer hell that people that take their lives leave behind. He came to realize too that she had her own problems, and they in hand contributed to her daughter’s poor choices.
That wasn’t all though. His mother had a chemical imbalance, and it was affecting her choices and destroying her life long before the suicide came along. It would have been hard enough to deal with the trauma and manipulation she encountered, by her family and nearly everyone else in her life. With the illness working against her, she never had a chance.
Danny probably wouldn’t have seen that either if it weren’t for his grandmother. Her daughter's suicide made her look at her own life and come to terms with her mental health issues too. A year after Mary’s death and she was in therapy and on medication that helped her see that she had something physically wrong in the workings of her brain, and had to get that sorted out before she could take control of the rest of her life.
Danny would be on the lookout for any warning signs the rest of his days, because apparently it ran in the family. He was determined that it would never take hold of him, but so far he hadn’t had a problem. He would always have to take extra time with his children too, watching for any evidence of the illness that had taken so much from him and his family.
He was suddenly startled to find that someone else had come up alongside of him. He was an older man, at least in his 50’s, and he had flowers of his own.
“I’m sorry” Danny stammered, “am I in your way?”
“No, that’s alright.” He said, “I just wanted to place some flowers on her grave.” He moved past Danny and set the bouquet down next to his.
They stood there, side by side, in silence for a few moments, neither one sure what to do or say.
“How did you know Mary?” The man asked Danny suddenly, like he had been steeling himself to get the words out, which he had.
“She was my mother.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“It was a long time ago.” Said Danny, “It’s been tolerable for some time. How did you know my mother?”
“We were friends a long time ago. Seems like a lifetime ago. Several in fact. I didn’t even know she had passed away until a couple of months ago. Your mom was a lovely person, but she had some demons.” He was shocked to find him saying that, and quickly apologized in case he offended her son.
“No offense taken.” Danny told him. “I know my mother had her faults. She did the best she could.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s true.” Came the man’s reply. “That’s all any of us can ever do. She lives on through you though, right? That’s something.”
“Yes, it is. My life is good. I’m happily married now, with my own kids. If my mother did nothing else, she at least gave me a roadmap of what not to do with regards to relationships and raising kids. That’s something.”
“Yes it is.” The man agreed, “Still, I’m sorry you had to learn it that way. Did your father help out at all?”
“I never knew my father.” Danny wondered why he was telling a complete stranger this, but it felt good to meet someone that had a different image of his mother than most of the people that knew her had. Let’s be honest He thought to himself, a better image than I even had at times.
They talked for a few more minutes, and prepared to leave, both of them to go back to their separate lives.
Danny stuck out his hand.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.” He asked the stranger
“Daniel.” Came his reply, “and what’s your name.”
Danny just stared at him for a moment.
“Danny.” He replied weakly.
The stranger laughed.
“I used to hate when people called me Danny. God, I was a pompous ass back then.” And the silence hung between them as realization got a foothold.
“Danny, would you like to go get a cup of coffee?” Daniel asked.
“Yes Daniel,” Danny replied, “I think that’s a great idea.”
They walked back towards the parking lot together, a whole new chapter about to begin.