Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
I’m sitting here in my basement, freezing my ass off in my boxers and more terrified than I’ve been in my entire fucking life. It’s almost 3am, I don’t want to wake up my wife and I sure as hell don’t want her to ask what I’m writing about. I just hope this is coherent enough for people to understand, maybe weigh in with some advice.
5 years ago, I was 28 and living in a pit of shit and depression. I was working very part-time construction, I was an alcoholic, I couldn’t get through a day without popping, snorting, or shooting something- the product of misappropriated teenage angst that snowballed into a downward spiral of failure and self-loathing. My only passion, if you could call it that, was singing in an anarcho-punk band. I didn’t really sing so much as scream slurred nonsense about a political movement I didn’t understand into the microphone. I did it because whenever we had gigs we drank for cheap and girls half my age in short skirts and thick eyeliner would find their way to our van, offering up giggly, sticky lipgloss blow jobs.
I did it because I thought I could become some amalgamation of Kerouac and a rock star.
There was this one night at the end of August, we were at a show, waiting to go on. I was 6 beers in and irritated because I was promised blues from a dealer that hadn’t showed up, and I was about to start splitting skulls. I was pacing outside the venue, a scummy bar in the middle of an industrial warehouse district, chain-smoking cigarettes and kicking at the dirt. Every few minutes I’d take own my phone and scream at my dealer’s voicemail.
Right in the middle of one of my rants a guy tapped me on the shoulder. I don’t remember his face, even though I’ve tried picturing it a hundred times in the past 24 hours. He could have been my age, maybe older, totally nondescript jeans and jacket, brown or black hair, average height. He tapped me on the shoulder and laughed as I immediately jerked away from his hand, tense and suspicious.
“Relax, man. You looking for something?” I was instantly intrigued, too drunk and desperate to care about who I was talking to.
“Hell yes. What’s good, boss?” He started walking over to the side of the building, I followed close behind, watching him take something out of his pocket. Only then did I think about what ulterior angle he might have, how screwed I would be if he had a badge or a gun. I reached into my leather jacket quickly, pulling my wallet and my knife into my fist.
“$30 for one, $50 for 2, you know the drill.” He showed me his palm, shaking the contents like magic beans.
“Ah man, what the fuck. That’s not what-”
“That’s all I’ve got. It’s strong shit, bro, people have told me they’ve been fucked up for days.” I was already fishing out the money by the time he finished his sentence. He was full of bullshit but I was desperate. I just wanted to feel anything at that point. He walked out of the alley whistling; I crouched down until I was completely out of sight and ate everything I just bought like candy. I walked back into the bar and ordered another beer. And another. And so on.
The next thing I remember I was waking up on the men’s room floor. My head was pounding along with the music trickling from outside, everything smelled like piss, my jeans were soaked. I had a cut on my knuckle that stung like a motherfucker. I pulled myself up, lightheaded and still drunk but otherwise unfazed. I walked to the sink and started rinsing my bloody fingers, quickly getting furious and thinking about all the ways I’d bash the guy’s head in for selling me bad shit. I checked my pocket to make sure the knife was still there.
“That looks like it stings.” A thready voice next to me. I looked at the sink next to mine, saw a woman’s hands. I looked next to me into the face of one of the most beautiful faces I’d ever seen, to this day. She had warm brown eyes, a face shot with a thousand freckles, hair spiked every which way and frosted the colors of the rainbow. A heart-stopping smile, even teeth set behind perfect red lips.
She took my hand, not the slightest bit squeamish about the blood, and started rinsing it for me. And it might have been the pills and booze, but this unbelievable, indescribable warmth washed over me, like nothing I ever felt before- and I like to think it was just the feeling of love at first sight.
She and I moved in together six months after that night, and got engaged a few weeks after. I sobered up, even quit smoking. I started working for her dad’s plumbing company, rose up the ranks, went from sticking my hands down toilets to scheduling other guys to put their hands down toilets. We’ve been talking about putting “And Son” next to his name on the trucks.
My wife and I just bought a townhouse- an ancient, crumbling, run-down monstrosity. We got it for next to nothing, which was perfect, because between my plumbing gig and her temp work we weren’t exactly raking in the dough. We’ve been putting it together bit by bit, and it’ll never be a mansion, but it’s a thousand times better than the dungeon it used to be.
Last month we found out she was pregnant and celebrated with a fancy dinner we couldn’t afford. I remember the way she played with her bread stick, ripping the dough into little balls of carbs and butter. I remember getting annoyed because I got a splotch of red sauce on my shirt.
I remember the feel of her lips on my cheek when we sat on the rickety porch of our new house. I remember pocketing her granola bar wrapper because it fell out of her purse while she was pacing, talking to her mother about the new baby.
I remember thousands of tiny little details, because I feel so awake and alive when I’m with her.
But I’m not without my faults, and as much as I love her, I have my inner demons.
A few days ago, I woke up and I was lying on the couch in my apartment without a shirt on, with an excruciating hangover. My throat killed like I had been gargling glass. My phone was ringing off the hook, and my knuckle was scabbed, bruised and throbbing. For a brief moment when my eyes opened, nothing felt out of place because it was all so familiar. I grabbed my phone and answered it to stop the noise.
“FINALLY. Jesus fuck, dude, where have you been?!” Tyler’s voice. Our bassist. I cleared my throat and waited for him to continue.
“You motherfucker. What happened at Jimmy Moll’s last night? You left before we ever went on.” I wracked my throbbing brain to try to figure out what he was talking about. Jimmy Moll’s was Jameson Mallone’s Irish Pub, the dive bar where I met my wife. That I hadn’t been to in 3 years.
Finally it clicked that something was up. I sat up quickly, immediate hit by a wave of vertigo and nausea. Tyler kept talking.
“….idea where you were. CJ had to fill in, it was so bad. Complete clusterfuck. The cops showed up…” I held the phone loosely against my ear and walked into my filthy kitchen. There was a nearly empty cigarette pack next to the stove, butts and beer cans overflowing from the garbage. I went into my old bedroom- a pile of dirty clothes, a mattress, and a cracked mirror. I stood in the doorway, stunned.
“…didn’t see it, but I heard from that new bartender that it looked like a scene from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I was there until 4 in the morning, they tore the place apart looking for any trace…” I walked up to the mirror, touched the glass. I looked like a chemo patient, pale skin, bloodshot eyes with dark rings. There were weird brown splotches on my chest where my knuckle bled during the night.
“Tyler.” He stopped rambling, surprised at my tone. “What show were we supposed to play last night?”
“I did play it, fucktard. YOU missed out on playing with the Redcoils and XX Maniac. And you missed the…” I couldn’t hear him over my pounding heart. I sat down on the mattress. A thick, hot breeze was coming in from the broken window. My heart was beating a million miles a second.
“It was a reunion show?”
“Man, what the fucking fuck are you on right now?! I’m so fucking pissed at you, this was our one shot on getting on the tour…”
I leaned heavily against the mirror, trying to focus, trying to calm down my breathing. I remembered the night in brief flashes- it was so long ago. I couldn’t remember any accident. I couldn’t remember anything clearly. Strobe lights, the smell of smoke, soft skin, stinging pain, the smell of pennies, a red-lipped smile. I picked up a butt from a dirty dish on the floor and fumbled around for a lighter.
“Did I relapse?” Tyler sighed so loudly it almost sounded like a growl.
“Relapse from what? The 4 hours of motherfucking sobriety you have when you sleep every night?”
“I just woke up in my old apartment. I think I got in a fight last night.”
“CONGRATU-FUCKING-LATIONS! NOW SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO ME. WAKE THE FUCK UP. THIS IS IMPORTANT.” He was sputtering with anger.
“I can’t. I have to go.” I took a drag off of the stale cigarette and dropped the phone, not even bothering to hang up. I cradled my head in my free hand, trying not to cry. I sat for a minute or two, and then picked up the phone again. I scrolled through my contacts, looking for my wife’s name. Nothing.
Then it hit me that it wasn’t my phone- I used to have a model like it, years ago, but I had upgraded when I got my new job.
I dialed it from memory. Voicemail.
Lightheaded from the cigarette, I walked back into the kitchen in a daze, and vomited all over the sink, on top of a molding tower of pots and pans. I was so dehydrated and hungover I couldn’t even see straight. I felt like I was going to have a stroke. I pushed the dishes down onto the floor in frustration, watched the glass and rotten food explode against the linoleum. I rinsed my mouth out at the faucet, letting it run over my face and down my neck. I tried to think, to find any semblance of reality. I couldn’t focus, distracted by the chaotic, surreal background of my old apartment. Everything was so familiar and foreign at the same time.
I went back into the living room and grabbed my jacket off the back of the couch. I put in on bare, not caring about trying to find a t-shirt. I grabbed my phone- 2 missed calls and a text from Tyler. I walked out of my old apartment without bothering to close the door, into the hallway, down the ancient two-floor staircase. The steps all squeaked in the same places they did when I lived there so long ago.
I walked down the street, taking deep breaths. I wanted another cigarette, but I was used to batting down the urge. At that thought, I felt an overwhelming wave of relief, immediately followed by an undercurrent of guilt.
I obviously relapsed- who knew for how long? Maybe only a night? Maybe 2?
I got black-out, acted like an idiot. Got up to my old tricks. The band still played together every once in awhile, we must have booked at a bar and I couldn’t handle the temptation. I wandered back to my old apartment, whose new tenant was no doubt as scummy as I was back in the day- he was probably getting high in one of the other slummy apartments in that godforsaken building. Or maybe the last resident had been evicted. Or maybe I had partied with him, and he was passed out in the bathroom. I hadn’t checked the bathroom.
I needed to get home and talk to my wife. I could only imagine how she must have felt, so hormonal and stressed and now dealing with her loser husband falling off the wagon. Our house was a few miles away, but I didn’t have my wallet, so I figured I would just hoof it. The cool air felt good, it helped lift some of the withdrawal fog away.
Then the phone I had taken from the apartment started vibrating in my pocket. Tyler again. I wondered whose phone it was; Tyler must know him, and he knew that I was with him. It was the 6th missed call but this time he left a voicemail, 5 unread texts. He was probably worried about me, since I had brushed him off earlier, and he was probably more than pissed that I had fucked up my sobriety. I stopped for a second so I could read through the texts.
f u pick up
the cops r lookin for u
wtf happnd last night???where did u go?????
Then, the last one.
what did u do?
I started walking again, quicker this time, feeling uneasy again. I flicked through the options, found the voicemail. I had no idea what had happened last night. Tyler thought this was my phone. He hadn’t mentioned the other guy at all. I needed to get home, I needed to talk to my wife, I needed to read the news, and call my sponsor. By the time the message started playing I was jogging, despite my queasiness.
“Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh fuck. You fucker. I’ve been covering for your ass this whole time, you fucking did it, didn’t you?! You sick fuck. You sick FUCK. YOU WORTHLESS JUNKIE.”
What did I do? I couldn’t think at all anymore. I needed answers. I was sprinting at this point, sweat gluing my leather jacket to my chest. My knuckle throbbed. I turned down our street, tripping over myself with exhaustion.
And I finally made it up to our house, and ran through the door, screaming out for my wife.
It took me a full 30 seconds to realize that it was totally empty.
I screamed, I cursed, I tore through our entire first floor, flew up the stairs to the second. All of our furniture was gone. All the fixtures from the kitchen, all of the vintage furniture we had spent months carefully selecting from thrift stores and estate sales, the toys from the nursery… everything gone. My wife, my baby. 5 years of hard work, of hopes, and dreams. I stopped at our bedroom and stared at the closed door. I couldn’t bring myself to open it. I fell to my knees and started crying. I fucked up so bad.
The phone in my hand vibrated again. I looked down at the screen; I couldn’t focus on it through the tears. I wiped my face on the sleeve of my jacket, streaking snot and tears across my face…Then I realized- the floors were carpeted. One of the first things I had done when we moved in was rip up the stained, old carpet and put down Pergo. And then I looked at the walls- they still had the old wallpaper. We had spent days listening to music in our old jeans, tearing it all down and painting the walls cornflower blue. The whole house was in shambles, just like when we first moved in.
I stood up, trembling with nervous hope, and opened the bedroom door.
And she was there.
I can’t even describe how happy I am now, how terrified I was of losing her, and how that’s made me appreciate her so much more. She was a mess, and she didn’t want to talk, but I cleaned her up and let her sleep.
You see, I got a little confused last night, a little too fucked up, my imagination ran away from me, my memories got a little confused. But I can’t make any mistakes this time around. This is my second chance, I can really do it this time, I know it.
Tyler texted me a couple of more times, he said some stuff about how I need to turn myself in, and how the police needed to question me. I messaged him back to let him know that everything is okay and he doesn’t need to worry anymore, but he kept calling me so I turned my phone off.
So, I’m going to need a little help on this. I need to figure out how to convince my wife to talk to me again. She’s been giving me the silent treatment for days now, and she won’t get out of bed, or tell me where she put all of our stuff. I can’t even find my computer so I’m going to have to go to the library to type this up.
I got her to open up at one point, but now she won’t close, which can’t be good for the baby. She’s so cold.
Any ideas on how to get her to warm up again?