Keith Wood - March 2008
I opened the front door, tossed my keys on the kitchen table, and reached inside the fridge for some milk. It was all there. The red beans and rice I had made two days ago, occupying my step mom’s Corningwear that I would probably never return. One pack of sliced ham. One loaf of bread. Two cans of Miller. Untouched. I stared at the contents like an abstract painting. Like the worst marriage of color, space, and time, wondering how the components joined together to form some sort of coherency.
The fridge was new. Microwave. Dishwasher. It all reeked of that just-off-the-truck plastic and cardboard box stink. Anything new made me nervous. Mainly because I couldn’t afford it. But dad had insisted. I was there for him during his first one. Wasn’t pretty. Prying a shotgun out of his hands at three-thirty in the morning. Going through a half gallon of vodka every night until I weaned him down to a few glasses. I guess he was trying to pay me back.
Just to get my mind off things, I got on-line and read my horoscope:
Virgo. August 23 - September 21
The planetary energy makes this a good day for thoughtful contemplation, rather than action, dear Virgo. If you feel the urge to impulse buy, don't. Sleep on any purchasing decisions, and if you still feel the same way tomorrow, then go for it. Also, if you find yourself in the middle of a conflict at work, try not to take sides. Tell anyone who's asking for your opinion that you need time to think about it. Consider scheduling an hour of meditation for yourself. The key word for today is Zen!
And I thought, you’ve got to be shitting me. Zen? There was no Zen in my life. Wasn’t room. Not now. What sadistic fortune teller spat that one out? Or maybe they were just being kind, blowing smoke up every Virgo ass out there, feeling sorry for us, knowing the real truth. I’d rather have the truth. No matter how ugly. And the truth did get pretty fucking ugly sometimes.
“Stop,” I told myself, holding out all five fingers. Level. They were still shaking, but not as bad as this morning. An improvement. At least the panic attacks had stopped. My step mom had floated me some 10mg. Valium. Out of ten I only had two left. What would I do when those were gone? Start drinking. Wander the vast Texas desert like Harry Dean Stanton’s character in Paris, Texas. Re-organize my record collection. Look for some way to purge each memory. I’d have to trash everything she had given me. Every object that reminded.
My cell rang. It was sis. I had only been back in town two weeks and my whole family was stalking me. Checking to see if I was still breathing. Still among the living.
“Hey big bro,” she said.
“What’s going on?”
“We got pork chops over here if you want some.”
“I made some red beans and rice, but I appreciate the offer.”
“You shouldn’t be alone,” she said. “You know you can come over any time.”
I looked down at my fingers again. They were calm. Not one twitch. Zen. I wondered how long that would last. “I’m not ready to talk about it yet.”
“How’s the new place?”
“Still unpacking. Thanks for talking to Shelia about it.”
“You and Chris are more than welcome to come over here. This thing has come up when I get in my car now.”
I hesitated. But it was my sister. I had to be straight with her. No candy coating. “Well, I sort of…”
“Sort of what?”
“Sort of start crying.”
“We might stop by later.”
“I’ll have to get rid of the damn thing now. And it’s been such a great car.” Tears again. Voice cracking. Happened every day now. I was almost used to it. Almost.
“You can borrow Andy’s hunting Jeep in the meantime. We’ll bring it over.”
“Sorry to be such a pain in the ass.”
“You’re just dealing with it in your own way. Don’t apologize.”
“Ok, I’ll see you guys later.”
She hung up. I let my eyes drift over the collection of boxes there on the floor, wishing I had hallucinated them. Dishes (the ones I had bought), CDs, records, financial files, photos. I started to open the photos box, but stopped myself, even though there were very few of Ally and I together. Even at parties, weddings, or just hanging out with friends at a bar. We’d always be standing with someone else when the flash went off. Friends. Strangers. Laughing. Drinking. Towards the end of any given night out, I began to dread riding home with her. Sharing the same space. Having the same conversations. The same meaningless sex. Or no sex at all. Just sleep.
A knock came at the door. I looked through the peep hole. Stan. My best friend from high school. We had talked on the phone earlier and he told me he was coming over. It was like an intervention. Everyone in town knew. I threw the dead bolt and let him in.
“How you making it?” he asked, slapping me on the back while he eased out of his coat.
“I got good days and bad days. Mostly bad.”
“That’s honesty,” he said, grinning. “That’s a good start.”
I flopped down on the couch and offered him the recliner. “I’ve been way up and way down. Maybe I should go to the doctor and get something.”
He shook his head. “It’s natural. Don’t medicate the feelings away. Deal with them now or deal with them later.”
“What, are you my new age guru now?”
He rubbed his hands together. “You need distraction, entertainment, physical stimulation.”
“Are you offering to have sex with me?”
“You should put that in your goals--not with me, but if the opportunity presents itself, don’t say no.”
“Trust me, I couldn’t have sex with my right hand now if I tried.”
He held up a finger. “Don’t get depressed. That’s the main thing. And don’t start drinking. I know how you get.”
He was right. Zen. Think Zen. Fat Buddha bellies to rub for luck.
“Is this all your stuff?” he asked, pointing to the boxes.
“No, a lot of it is mixed together.”
“Ten years is a long time,” he said, shaking his head.
“Twelve,” I corrected him.
“Tyler Durden was right,” he said, “your possessions wind up owning you.”
“Good advice from an imaginary psychopath.”
“You should watch that tonight. Get your mind off things.”
I glanced over at the movie box. Some of her DVDs were mixed in with mine. I’d have to do something about that. Segregation. Isolation. Put them someplace high. Out of sight. Until she asks for them back.
“Maybe I should rent High Fidelity instead?”
Stan leaned forward. “You’re not serious?”
I looked at him. “No Stan, I’m not serious.”
“It’s a divorce. It’s not like she died.”
“Jesus, you are bad, aren’t you?”
“It’s just strange living alone. There’s too much room in the bed. Not enough stuff in the bathroom. Girl stuff. I come home and nothing has been moved. Nothing touched. The quiet is really starting to piss me off.”
“You should take advantage of it. Now you can play your guitar as loud as you want. You can put pictures of naked girls on your walls, jack off when you want to.”
“You make it sound so inviting, like a vacation or something.”
“Give it some time.”
“Twelve years. How much time do I need to decompress from that? I’m domesticated now. I’ve been tamed. I have no balls. I’ve come to expect not having the last say on where the new couch will go, or where a painting will hang, or which silverware pattern to buy.”
He laughed. “Those are little things.”
“It’s the little things that get you. Snoring. Leaving the toilet seat up. Leaving the refrigerator door open while you make a sandwich. Watching movies you’ve seen over and over, because you don’t want to drive into the city to go out with friends, because it’s such a pain in the ass. Little things turn into big things and pretty soon you’re saying a lot of nasty things to each other.”
“Listen, tell me again what she told you right before you left?”
The trump card. I knew he would throw it out at some point. “She told me to go kill myself, and that I was a loser and that I would always be a loser.”
“Any bitch who tells you that doesn’t deserve you, man.”
“When Ally gets mad she tries to think of the worst thing in the world to hit you with.”
“And she did.”
“Yeah, she packs a hell of a punch for such a little gal. It’s just the way she thinks. I forgive her for that.”
“Fuck her. You’ll meet someone else.”
“I’m thirty-seven, Stan. How many single, attractive, witty, and patient thirty-seven year old women are out there? Or even in this shitty little town? And where do they hang out?”
“Get a younger woman. It’s your time to play.”
I could feel my stomach tightening. He should leave. My blood pressure was climbing. I was so far from Zen right now it wasn’t even fucking funny. Meditate. I had never meditated in my life. Maybe I should learn. Stan leaned forward.
“Get back in the dating pool.”
“I’ll have to wait for the divorce to be finalized first. Besides, I hate dating. It’s so awkward.”
Stan got up, walked over to my box marked “liquor”, dug out a fifth of Heaven Hill and took a shot. He swallowed hard, then had another.
“I’ve got glasses in the kitchen, and ice,” I offered.
“Why do you drink this cheap whiskey?” he asked.
“Because I spend all my money on my record collection.”
“You’re gonna be spending it on porn now,” he laughed, sitting back down with the bottle.
“You’re just oozing compassion, aren’t you?”
“Look, shit happens, you know. People fall out of love. People get divorced every day. There’s no book or movie to get you over this. There’s no step-by-step plan for recovering. It’s not like you’re kicking heroin or something.”
“Why couldn’t I compare Ally to heroin?”
“Well,” he trailed off, “I suppose you could on certain levels, but why would you?”
“Women are like any other addiction. I prefer having them around. I need them around.”
“All I can tell you is get back out there, start getting phone numbers, but don’t get in a rush. You are in rebound stage--a very dangerous place to be when dating. Chicks fear that.”
“You’ve been through this twice. This is my first.”
“It doesn’t get any easier. In fact, my second divorce was harder. Uglier. At least I’m talking to my first ex-wife now. We’re friends. It’s weird, but I like it.”
I got up to go to the bathroom. While I was in there I pondered where my Munch poster should go. I guess that was a good sign. Another good thing would be ditching all the frou-frou shit. No cherubs or matching towels or toilet cozies. Then again, no garter belts and stockings. No picking out shows to go to together. No road trips. No shared wine on the patio. I’d be that guy in the restaurant eating alone.
Looking down at my hand, the middle fingers were starting to tremble. Weak. Maybe we should have tried harder. Given it some time. Counseling. Therapy. Prayer. Meditation.
The vanity cabinet held half a bottle of Darvocet from my last knee surgery. But I still had unpacking to do. An exorcism to perform. Things to hide. Throw away.
Twelve years. It was another life now. An alternate past universe I would never visit again. Except on the bad days.
I finished, flushed, then walked back into the living room. “That cheap stuff growing on you?” I nodded to the bottle.
“Yeah,” he said, grinning, “I think it is.”
“You come over, give me bad advice, drink all my liquor…”
“Got anything in the fridge to make a sandwich?”
I laughed. Came right out of nowhere. It felt good to laugh again. I was going to make it. Maybe. “Knock yourself out. And give me that.”
He tossed the bottle. “Just don’t fall in it.”
“Fuck off.” I unscrewed the cap and had a hit. Ally hated to see me drink. She knew how I got sometimes. I could hear Stan in the kitchen, rummaging around. Opening drawers. Mumbling to himself that I ought to go to the grocery store.
“I’ve been to the grocery store!” I called back.
He stuck his head in. “There’s not a damn thing in here to eat.”
“I couldn’t handle it.”
“I saw this couple in there, shopping, and they seemed so happy. Laughing. Kissing. In their own little blissful bubble. I had to leave. Made me want to throw up.”
“We should go out tonight,” Stan said, walking back in empty handed, “hit a few bars, play some pool. C’mon, I’m not giving you a pity party.”
“It’s just stuff like that--stuff I never noticed before--or just took for granted. You think so differently when you’re in a relationship. It’s almost like your brain is functioning on another level. You used to see things as being green and red, but now they’re gray. You have to think harder. The safety net is gone.”
“You’re manic depressive,” he said.
“You’re a manic asshole.”
“Maybe you should get on something. Hell, everybody I know now is on antidepressants anyway. Might do you good. You know Carl?”
“Bobby and Judy?”
“No shit? What are you on?”
“You just drink to self medicate.”
“So that’s not straight. That’s cheating. Besides, I’ve never been a happy person anyway.”
“How often do you see me smile, or laugh?”
“You’re just feeling sorry for yourself.”
“Just don’t get pathetic on me.”
I sat there for a moment. Thinking. Or trying not to think. “I may get that low one day. I may call her up and beg her to take me back.”
He walked over and snatched the bottle out of my hand. “If you do that, I’ll kick your sorry ass.”
“Because it’s weak, man.”
“Maybe I am weak. Maybe you don’t know me as well as you thought.”
“Well go on and call the bitch. Get it over with. Ask her to take you back if you are so fucking miserable.”
I didn’t say anything. I just sat there. She probably would. Ally had her faults, but she was very devoted.
“Just see what’s out there first,” Stan continued. “See what your life can be without her. If you can’t handle it, then call her.”
“What if she calls me?”
“I can’t help you there.”
“You seeing anyone?”
“I’ve got one or two, but nothing serious. Marriage ain’t for everyone.”
“You know anything about Zen?”
“Fuck no. Why?”
“I was thinking about giving it a try.”“Whatever gets you through the night my friend.”
Keith Wood has successfully escaped from Philadelphia, Austin, and is now back home where he belongs in Mississippi. You can get him at: email@example.com. He sends most of his stories and poems to Underground Voices and Cherry Bleeds, and hopes that his mom isn’t reading any of them.