I woke up on the living room floor covered by a blanket of crushed empty beer cans and stale cigarette butts. The cold December sun burned an icy imprint into my eyes as I shuddered to my feet and stumbled to the bathroom. Christmas day the day we celebrate some baby who was born sometime somewhere. On the bathroom sink was a quart half full of malt liquor, which I quickly sucked down, the tepid, brown liquid splashing down my four-day-worn shirt. I glanced into the mirror but it reflected nothing that I hadn’t seen before, just a face grown a little older, but of what was behind the eyes, that’s anyone’s guess. I doused my face with cold water, brushed my teeth, and went back out to the living room for a cigarette, sitting in the only piece of furniture there, a semen, saliva, and dirt stained futon mattress.
My girl and I had just split, and the only course of action which seemed logical to me was a slow descent into self destruction. By the window in the corner of the living room I stacked a pyramid of wine bottles, decorated with any piece of colored paper or fabric I could find. You’ve got to have a Christmas tree after all. I counted fifty-two bottles. If only success were measured in stacks of empty wine bottles, I’d never want.
At that moment, families gathered around comfortable living rooms warmed by love, holiday cheer, and enough Christmas spirit to at least feign such feelings. I looked out of the frost painted window to the dead street below, all of that space and emptiness delivered in quiet solemnity to a man whom, as the story goes, helps all those in need. I looked over at the mounting stack of unpaid bills by the wine bottle Christmas tree. This pile of notices bore letterheads confirming my delinquency. At that moment a sharp, clawing pain gripped my belly and I doubled over, grimacing and giving a short laugh at the same time. I knew what it wanted.
The closest store that was open on Christmas day was three blocks up and owned by a family of Indians. I shoved on a wool hat and walked outside, my body crying out in anguish with each step that I took. A two week bender had rotted out the pit of my stomach. Maybe a sandwich would help cure the ache that savaged my body, I thought. As I walked the desolate sidewalk glancing up at the icicles dangling in sad solidarity from the silent trees, I noticed an eerie calm swelling the entire area, giving me more of a headache. At that moment I wanted to climb the tallest tree and shout at the top of my lungs. I wanted to give voice to all of the tongueless and burst into a raging wail, my voice echoing throughout the city in violent, thunderous validation of my horror. Instead, I slipped on some frozen dog shit and fell on my face.
Outside the local grocery store was an absurdly large, air filled snowman, perhaps eight feet high. It wore a large, red bowtie and had a plastic carrot for a nose. One arm was lifted in the air by a piece of string tied to the store’s sign above, giving the impression that this was the official greeter waving and welcoming the customer into the store. Half of its head was deflated so that when the wind picked up, it seemed to be nodding at passersby, and the wide smile that it may have had turned into a malicious grin. Frosty the monstrous snowman indeed.
A few broke down locals congregated on the steps in front, huddled together in the cold, smoking cigarettes and making small talk. One of the men stopped me at the entrance. He was a black man who wore muddy jeans, a blue vinyl coat covered in holes, and an equally dirty and tattered thermal shirt. "Hey man, you got a buck?" Without breaking stride I responded, "No man, I don’t." I had seen one of the men before. He was a tall, thin black man maybe forty years of age or so. His nose was practically nonexistent, with only a piece of bone protruding from the cavity, quite a disturbing sight when first encountered. He told me once, while bumming a cigarette from me, that he had nose cancer and was on disability. Just another part of the body where you can get cancer. What neat things we discover as we age.
I entered the store and there the liquor bottles were, lined up in rows, each a glorious testament to the elixir of warming love which dripped from an angel’s dew glistened vagina. Bottles and bottles of all colors delighted my eye: brown, gold, pink, ruby red, and amber. There were rows of beer bottles, rows of whiskey bottles, rows of wine bottles from red to white and everything in between, rows of tequila and rum bottles, and rows of clear bottles full of gin and vodka. They all stood to attention, waiting in anticipation like children thirsting for approval and each seeming to look their shiniest in order to win my favor. I picked up four bottles of cheap cabernet and a six pack of cheap American beer. Variety is the spice of life.
At the checkout, the Indian clerk looked at me and smiled. They knew me there, and the sight of this much booze no longer fazed them. "Having a little Christmas party?" he asked, smirking sarcastically, knowing damn well there was no party. "Yes, I am, and these are my guests," I responded. He snorted and bagged the goods. His left eye twitched violently every few seconds, like the rapid shutter of a camera. Must be from a lack of sleep, I thought, giving credence to every stereotype associated with the workaholic Indian. I was no longer hungry, so I paid and quickly left.
On my way back I stopped at a church and sat on the steps. A sign in the yard read, "Happy birthday, Jesus!" and below that it read, "Jesus is in your heart." Jesus, I thought, no wonder I have chest pains. A cardboard cutout of a cartoonish man with long, flowing blonde locks, a beard of baby fine hair, and a robe of white was pasted to the sign. His smile was much too wide for someone who knows that he’s about to be nailed to a piece of wood. How ironic, that this man, this carpenter, would die hanging from the very material he’d used all of his life, a profession whose skills sustained his living. I let this thought ruminate in my mind for several moments, chugging down a can of beer and looking out upon the vanishing day. I swallowed down the remains of the beer and opened another. I lit a cigarette, threw the empty cans into the churchyard and walked away.
As I approached the house that my apartment was in, I could see my ex-girlfriend sitting on the top step of the deck that stood in front of the building’s entrance. As much as I wanted to curse her away, I couldn’t bring myself to even speak. With a look from those large, sad eyes that could melt glaciers and a pouting mouth which you never could tell whether it wanted to kiss or bite you, she was a breathless sight to behold. She smiled slightly as I approached, her long, dark hair tied up in the back with sweeping bangs in the front. She wore a simple black skirt, a pair of flat soled tennis shoes, and a casual button up shirt cut inward on the sides to show off her curvy form. "What are you doing here?" I asked, sitting down beside her, placing the bags to my side.
"You called me last night. Don’t you remember?" she asked. I was particularly hammered the previous night, as I had not eaten in days and had taken two six packs and a fifth of whiskey to the face, not to mention the many pain killers that I had popped.
"No, last night was a blur. Most nights have been a blur," I said, looking down at my shoes and taking a drag off my cigarette. I could tell she was looking at me, but I kept my gaze downward.
"You sounded really bad last night," she began, "I was going to come over, but I was able to calm you down. I cried myself to sleep after I got off the phone with you."
"Cried for me? Well I guess that makes two of us."
"You know I love you and care about you," she replied. "It would kill me if something happened to you. I know how hard you can take things. Remember, we’re both a couple of depressed heads. I know how it goes."
"I know. I’m sorry I put that shit on you. I honestly don’t remember. I’ve been…I’ve been out of it lately. I care about you too." We stayed silent for a few minutes. I placed the cigarette to my lips and sucked in the stress relieving smoke. She plucked it gently from my mouth, took a drag, threw it into the street, and reached over me, grabbing a can of beer. That’s how she could be. Her movements and actions could flow so naturally as to conceal any evidence of spontaneity, as if the entire episode was designed for her in advance. But when she was thrown off guard or when circumstances caused her stress and anxiety, the rough parts of her personality would come to glaring focus. I looked over at her and smiled.
"I guess the way it all went down was pretty fucked up," I began, tucking back the large sections of her hair that had come loose. "I mean, the damage is done, right? No going back?" She looked down as I placed my hand on her cheek. Her eyes flicked back up at me, and she saw that I was breaking up. My face twitched and my eyes dampened. She pulled me close and wrapped her arms around me, softly whispering to me. "I’ll always be there for you and I’ll always be your friend."
"Well," I began, "here’s to that then." We clanked beer cans and sat there for several minutes more. It felt good sitting beside her. I still felt the same as I had when we first were dating. I felt as if the earth could spin off its axis, swallowing all into an enveloping void. As long as she was there with me, it did not seem as if it would hurt. Of course that is romantic bullshit, but it is the feeling that matters, not the metaphor. She rested her head on my shoulder and I clasped her around the waist.
"I better get going," she started, standing up and smoothing out her skirt. "I’m going to my dad’s for Christmas. I stood and we embraced as she spoke. "Take care of yourself, baby. Give me a call, ok?" I kissed her soft, pale cheek and nodded. With a sinking heart I watched her climb into her car and drive away. I turned toward the door and stepped inside.
Each stair I climbed seemed to catch my feet in a mound of quicksand, making every movement I made heavier than the one preceding it. Once inside my apartment, I threw the bags down and opened a bottle of wine, seating myself on that dirty futon.
All the memories floating deep within the well of my unconsciousness bubbled up to the surface and upon reflection, I couldn’t bring myself to regret. It would be easier to just say to oneself, this is what I regret in my past and this is what I’d change about what happened. There are things I would certainly do differently if given a second chance. But given that these realizations come with hindsight, these mistakes cannot be mended, at least not for the circumstances one is reminiscing about. So to dwell upon these incidences is futile and certainly harmful to the psyche.
I turned my gaze and thoughts to the darkening skies outside my window. The night was coming down hard. Tomorrow, people would be ushered back to reality. Fantasy would again give way to the awful truth of their lives. It’s my unfortunate lot to always be stuck in the stinking manure of reality.
I began to cry as I opened another bottle of wine.?