He was in the pharmaceutical aisle of Maragliano’s Markets looking for the strongest OTC headache remedy that he could find. He was hung over again, no stranger to that feeling as of late. He narrowed it down to two choices when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He saw an old friend standing there impeccably dressed in business attire, holding a basket of grocery items.
“Hey! I thought that was you. My god, it’s been so long. How’s it going?” His friend asked extending his hand to greet.
He thought to himself, where can I begin?
I cry a lot. It’s been a rough year. My wife left me. Took the kids with her. Came home to a ‘Dear John’ Can you believe that, in this day and age? A letter. Well not really a letter. She wrote in on the Notes app of my iPad. Don’t know how she cracked the complexity of my pass code: 1234. She even took my dog. My dog. She didn’t even like him, but she took him anyway. Said something about it’ll make it easier on the kids. I don’t know, Christ. It all happened so fast that I never saw it coming. I should have though. Small things at first that weren’t noticeable, but in hindsight, were always there. Little things. Passive-aggressive things. They were all there. I just never noticed them. I’m not saying it was totally her fault. I’m surely to blame for some of it, just not all of it. I take full responsibility for calling her the wrong name. Twice. In my defense, it was in the beginning of the relation ship and it never happened again. I don’t know, maybe she held on to it. Held on to resentment. I don’t think she ever forgot. Not all of our 9 years together were bad. It just got to the point where it was getting harder and harder to remember the good times.
She left me, but she kept the house. I was given instructions on when she and the kids wouldn’t be home so I could gather up my things. I packed some clothes into a duffle bag and left everything else there. I never even got a chance to say goodbye. I had no place to go, so I rented a motel room. The kind of place that usually has their clientele pay by the hour. I couldn’t afford a real hotel room. Work had gotten so crazy the past few months that I couldn’t keep up with the workload, so they did what I feared they were going to do – they demoted me. With that demotion came a huge pay cut. With that pay cut I also lost something equally as valuable – my self esteem.
Losing my wife, the kids and the dog was bad enough but then shortly after I got the news that my brother died. This was a sudden loss. He was not sick for a long time and succumbed to the illness. I think that would have made it at least a little bit easier to handle. Not much easier, as the death of a loved one is the hardest thing in the world to endure, but it would have made some kind of sense to me.
In the end, he overdosed on cocaine. I can’t even count the times I told him that shit was going to catch up with him. I even made fun of him and said to him, ‘What 50 year old man do you know that still does coke?’ He would always respond with, ‘Nothing bad can happen to me.’ The doctors told me that his airways were blocked and he died from cardiac arrest caused by a cocaine overdose. I couldn’t believe it. A part of me actually believed him and that nothing bad was ever going to happen, but I was wrong. I was never more wrong in my life. That’s when I began to put all of the blame on myself. I should have done more. I should have been there for him. I should have kept on him instead of relenting. The guilt is something that is unbearable that you try to do anything to numb the pain. For me, I began to drink more and more and more but no matter how much I drank, the pain and guilt was still there. To this day it never has really left me.
I was never much of a drinker. I had my run at it in my younger days but it was just a passing phase. During your twenties it’s almost a rite of passage. Now, it was my only form of respite from the suffering. At one point I even dabbled in my brother’s drug of choice, but it didn’t last long. Cocaine is a young man’s game. I knew it, and my brother should have known also. I stopped almost as quickly as I began.
I remember going out to Slappy’s Bar one time about a month or so after his death. I saw an incredibly attractive girl sitting at the bar alone. She was just sitting there reading a book. I don’t know what it was that made me think that I would even have an inkling of a shot with her, but in my mind I did. I asked the bartender what she was drinking and he told me it was Maker’s Mark on the rocks. I asked him to back her up. I waited at the bar as he told her. She looked over and raised her glass to me and smiled. I walked over there with so much confidence but it quickly dissipated as her beauty immediately intimidated me. I thought to myself, ‘My god, you’re so beautiful’, but my thoughts weren’t kept in my head and I said them aloud to her. How embarrassing. She laughed and said, ‘Madonna once said, “Good looks gets you through the door, but it doesn’t keep you in the room.” I told her that I didn’t know what that means. She smiled and said, ‘One day you will and it will all make sense.’ We had a brief conversation after that; she talked about things that I didn’t understand, political issues, and societal norms – mostly stuff that was way above my head. I cut it short when I came to the realization that I was truly not in her league. Looks wise and intelligence. I made an excuse and left the bar.
I actually felt guilty for going out. Not guilty for going out on my wife after our break up. The marriage was over, nothing to feel guilty about there, but guilty for going out after my brother’s death. I didn’t want to have a good time. I didn’t deserve it. I would actually count the times that I went out and with each time the guilt grew and grew. Eventually, it subsided, but every now and then that guilt still pops up in the back of my mind. Hanging out back there with the rest of my demons. Why should I be out having a good time while my brother is dead?
After his death, what I thought really sucked was how people interacted with me. There were countless people who would call and say, ‘If there’s anything you need, don’t hesitate to call.’ I honestly do no know one person that has ever taken up someone on that offer. A part of me thinks that the person offering their assistance knows that you won’t accept it or ever even call them for any kind of help. It’s just something nice to say to someone while they’re in mourning.
Some people don’t know what to say and they stay away, I admire those folks more only for the fact that a lot of people simply say the wrong things. I was told that he’s with god now and he’s in a better place. Really? He’s in a better place? You think there’s a better place than being here with me still? God, you say? God did this? What kind of god do you believe in that would rip apart your life in an instant without any sort of explanation? Just a tip, know your audience before you bring up religion into it. I secretly wish more people wouldn’t know what to say and choose not to say anything at all. There should be more people like those.
There’s also a time frame associated with dealing with someone who’s grieving. I learned that it’s two weeks. After that everyone becomes a ghost. Poof – gone. Even if you did want to reach out to someone for help – I know of nobody that has ever done this – there’s nobody there. Disheartening yes, but I can also understand it as I didn’t want to burden myself on anyone, nor did I want to intrude or barge into anyone else’s daily routines. It made sense to me after a while but at first, it was heart breaking.
In time things do get better, albeit very slowly. Birthdays and holidays seem to be the worst. A feeling of emptiness inside that can never be filled again. They say time heals all wounds. I don’t know if that’s exactly true. Time makes all wounds more tolerable. I think that’s a better description. With time, you become a little bit better with the adjustment.
Through this entire year – the break up, the demotion, living in a motel room, the loss of my brother – I did realize something. I realized that there is something inside of us that keeps us going. I don’t know what it’s called. I don’t even know if it even has a name or what it is exactly that makes us do it, but we keep doing it every day – We wake up. We wake up even though we may not want to and sometimes we might find ourselves screaming to ourselves, ‘Why god, why? You mean I really have to do this all over again? Again. Really? Why?’ But we do it, and we do it, and we do it, in hopes that eventually one day it gets easier. Maybe some day it does. I don’t know if it ever will or does, but we keep doing it anyway. Clinging on to that one last thread. Hope. And maybe, just maybe you get lucky and fortunate enough to have that one person that steps up and takes your mind off of things. Someone that doesn’t say they’ll be there for you if you need anything but someone who will actually sit there with you and say, ‘Man that shit sucks. You’ve had a really shitty year and nothing I can say is going to improve it but you know what? Let’s go out and do something. Even if it’s only for a little while, let’s try to take you mind off of things.’ Or maybe even better yet, they sit there with you and don’t say anything at all. They’re just there. Things are not going to go away completely, they never truly do, but for a small spec of time, maybe they can. And maybe, just maybe you can find your smile again. These were the thoughts that ran through his head as his friend stood before him.
He wanted to tell his friend all of his truth, every single word, but in the end everybody lies. He smiles, extends his hand forward to connect, and responds, “I’m okay. How’s it going?”
His friend starts thinking to himself, where can I begin…