“Look at you,” She says.
“I’d rather not,” I tell her, my words slurred, my eyes unfocused.
“All hydro’d out and stinking of cheap whiskey. I hope you didn’t come here lookin’ to fuck, because you probably can’t even get it up. Assuming I’d do you. Which I won’t.”
“I’m not here to fuck,” I tell her. “I just…can I come in?”
She sighs, not quite with disgust, but with disappointment. I don’t blame her. I’m a mess.
We aren’t together, haven’t been in a long time. Occasionally, we’ll both get lonely at the same time, and we’ll hook up for a night or a weekend, but we don’t ever try to get back together anymore. Our bodies work together much better than our personalities do, and if we try to ignore that fact, we end up angry at each other.
We don’t discuss our lives much. That always leads to catty remarks or arguments. When we speak, we talk about music or movies or restaurants. Sometimes, we just watch something on TV, my arm around her, holding her, pretending.
Like little kids playing relationship.
I’ll hold her, and she’ll snuggle against me, and we’ll eat popcorn and drink soda, or we’ll eat pizza and drink beer, and we’ll be there with each other, for each other. And then sometimes we’ll go to bed or sometimes we’ll go our separate ways.
I miss her sometimes, when I leave. I feel a weight on my heart and I have to fight the urge to go back to her and beg her to try with me. Try to work things out, try to forgive, try to love.
But that never works—we’ve tried.
What we have, it isn’t a booty call, really—more like the equivalent involving hearts. Because although we never really work together, we work with others even less. And sometimes, life is just to much to deal with on your own.
“I’m sorry,” I tell her as I sit down on the couch.
“No good conversations start like that.” She goes into the kitchen and gets me a glass of ice water. I stare at the TV—Home Shopping Network, which means she was about to go to bed. She doesn’t watch TV, but she can’t get to sleep without the sound of polite voices babbling about the many pros of buying whatever it is they’re selling. She got addicted to it the first semester of college, the first time she was away from home. Her roommate loved the Home Shopping Channel (it didn’t have its own network back then), and ended up dropping out of school because she spent her student loans buying shit over the phone.
The ice rattles softly as she hands me my drink—plastic cup, good choice.
“What the hell is wrong with you, man?”
“You shouldn’t be drinking when you’re taking those pills.”
“I know. I wasn’t gonna take any pills tonight. Didn’t work out. Too…too much pain.”
“How much have you had to drink?”
“Not enough to kill me, so stop worrying.”
The pills, they’re hydrocodone. They help with pain, but they can twist up your brain pretty good, hyper-saturate your emotions. When you’re at a point in your life where you have to take pain pills, the last thing you need is a ride on an emotional roller coaster.
The instructions tell you to take one or two pills every six hours, for pain. They don’t specify which kind of pain. And that’s something you kind of need to watch out for.
Like if you have this pain because you just happened to catch The Matrix on HBO, and it got you to thinking about your ex, about how it used to be with her, back when you were both young and stupid enough so that you could get along. Like if you sit there watching Neo yanking Trinity up out of the helicopter and you start crying because you remember when you watched this with her, how you both cheered, and then you both felt really stupid. Like if you have this pain in your chest because you’re so tired of being alone, you probably don’t want to take these pills.
They don’t really help with that kind of pain. What they do with that kind of pain is they make it bigger, brighter, until it consumes you and you find yourself standing in the bathroom, staring into a mirror, giving yourself options. Serious options, for bad ideas.
And then, because you’ve had a few boiler-makers, and a couple of those big white pills that help with the wrong kind of pain, because you’re out of your fucking mind, you come up with an entirely new set of options for a totally different kind of bad idea.
So instead of killing yourself, you end up staggering ten blocks through the rain, and when you walk into the ALL-NITE PAWN, the dude behind the counter immediately reaches under the counter, and he doesn’t fool around about cocking whatever kind of gun he’s got under there. Subtlety, that’s not what he’s going for, the way the sound carries through the empty store, the way he glares at you.
You might try to do something silly, like try to explain that you aren’t here to rob the place, you don’t want any trouble, you’re just in love. Or maybe you’re not. But you’re so tired of being alone, with that big hollow place in your chest where love should be. But you miss her when you aren’t with her and that’s love right? Isn’t it? It seems like it.
And then he gives you a couple of options, because it really is a night for them. He gives you options like “You want I should call the cops or the loony bin?”
Some people just don’t have a flair for romance, I guess.
And you go, “I just want to buy an engagement ring.”
He points his chin at a display case, his hand still under the counter. You see your reflection in the tiny mirror on top of the glass case and you slur, “Goddam, I wouldn’t take my hand off that gun either, I was you.”
For some reason, this makes him laugh. And when you take out your wallet, take out whatever bills are inside and drop them sopping wet onto the case to count them out, he goes, “Show me love and I’ll show you heartbreak.”
At this point, you might say something like, “I’ve got a hundred and eight dollars here. Which one of these rings can I get?”
He’ll let go of whatever’s under the counter and he’ll take the key ring out of his pocket, and unlock the case. He’ll pull out three rings, they all look like something out of one of those machines at the front of a grocery store.
“A hundred and eight bucks doesn’t go very far, does it?”
“Look, pal, if you’re planning on proposing tonight, the ring ain’t gonna make any difference. You’re a fuckin’ mess. If she says yes, it’s because she loves you. She says no, I guaran-damn-tee you it ain’t because she didn’t like the ring.”
“Good point. That one.” You point, your finger shaky and swaying back and forth along with the rest of your body, and he shrugs and puts two of the rings back. It isn’t the one you tried to point at, but his judgment is probably better anyway, so it seems like the right idea to go along with the one he picked.
“I don’t suppose you gift wrap?”
“Tell ya what I’ll do for ya, kid—because you’re obviously such an upstanding member of society. I’ll throw in this chain for free.” He grabs a silver necklace off a display rack, and threads it through the ring. He squeezes most of the water out of the bills and tucks the wad into his pocket and then hands you the ring and the chain. “Here, put it on. Otherwise you’ll lose the thing before you get anywhere near her.”
Good thing it’s big enough to go over your entire head, too, because there’s no way you’d be able to manipulate the tiny latch on the necklace with your numb fingers, and it’d be way too awkward to try to get the pawn shop guy to fasten it for you.
“Thanks,” You call as you walk towards the door. “I’ll be sure to recommend you to all of my friends.”
“Please don’t. Good luck.”
Back into the rain, it’s really pouring, and it gets you to thinking about The Matrix again, and about what an idiot you are. Getting weepy about an action movie, blowing your grocery money on an engagement ring that’ll never witness a proposal.
Screw it, though. It’ll maybe make a good story someday, like the next time the two of you are hanging out or something. Well, maybe not next time, because that might freak her out, being so recent or whatever, but maybe some time.
Geez. What a maroon, as Bugs would say. Stupid. Insane. Kinda funny.
But here’s the thing: you get back to your place, you’re standing there in the rain, key in hand, and it’s like you can feel all those bad feelings waiting in there. And that heaviness, it’s creeping back into your chest, and you know there’s only more of it inside.
You have options, you always have options. Inside, where the dark things lie in wait, or a two mile walk through the rain. Hell, man, you don’t have to propose. I mean, you don’t even have to tell her about it, right? Just…I don’t know. Two miles really isn’t that far, she’s probably asleep anyway, so you could just turn around and come back, and by that time, maybe your head won’t be such a train wreck.
The ring was a stupid idea—the quickest way to end the fragile non-relationship the two of you have so carefully molded—and you think about opening the door just enough to toss it inside. But even that seems like too much, so you begin your walk.
The walking doesn’t clear your head, because when you start mixing booze and pills you really need something stronger to get out the cobwebs. Like a stomach pump. But it’s not altogether unpleasant, because the way your eyes don’t focus properly, it makes the rain look exceptionally pretty, especially when you pass by a street light.
And then there’s her apartment building, there’s her window, there’s her light. And you should just turn around, walk back home, walk anywhere.
But that weight in your chest, that stupid lump of whatever, that almost-hurt that never goes away, it gets all excited by the idea of turning around. It throbs, like the revving of an engine, it’s practically begging you to turn around, it wants to keep you company on the long walk back.
So you knock…
“What’s what?” I wasn’t quite dozing, but I was definitely drifting off.
“What’s that around your neck?”
“This? Oh, it’s…it’s a chain.” Shit. My brain’s all muddled, there’s no way I’ll be able to fabricate a believable story if she starts asking questions. The necklace is tucked down inside my shirt, so that’s good, but because I’m completely soaked, my shirt’s sticking to my chest, outlining the ring. And that’s bad.
“Yeah, I can see that. What’s on the end?”
“It’s nothing, really. I tried to sober up, I went for a walk. Believe it or not, I was trying not to bother you. I ended up at a pawn shop.”
“Wow. Bet they loved seein’ you walk in in the middle of the night.”
“It wasn’t what I would call a warm reception.”
“So you bought a necklace?”
“No, I bought a ring.” See? Shit. I could’ve said necklace, that would’ve been it. Maybe she would have wanted to see it, but whatever.
“A ring? Why a ring?”
“I don’t know.” I close my eyes, acting like I’m tired of keeping them open. I don’t have to act very much. But it isn’t enough, it wasn’t fast enough.
Her voice, which had been leaning to amused, is suddenly serious. “Why a ring?”
“If I was guessing, I’d say the same reason I’m doing anything at this point—because I’m blitzed outta my bean on booze and pills and I’m not thinking straight, and it seemed like a good idea to buy a ring.”
“An engagement ring?”
“Any ring. What the hell’s the matter with you?” I still can’t look at her. She can read my eyes like nobody’s business, and although I can usually hide shit from her if I really try, it’s no contest when I’m wasted.
Silence. And more silence. Until I finally have to look up. And that’s all she needs. Bitch.
“I think you should go,” She says.
“You’re jumping to conclusions.”
“Just go, okay? Go home, sober up.”
“You make stupid assumptions, you’re just gonna end up getting hurt or feeling foolish.”
“Look, can I just-”
“No. I really would like for you to leave right now.”
So, you know…I do.
That lump of heavy, it’s back as soon as she closes the door behind me, and it brought its good friend humiliation.
I wander out into the rain, into the shadows, into the night. Where it’s really dark, that’s where I sit down. I don’t cry, although it seems like if I was going to, now would be the time. I try to, I think about The Matrix and everything. But nothing.
I take the necklace off and let the ring swing in front of my face for a little bit. I can barely see it, but occasionally, a slice of stray streetlight will hit it, and it will glimmer like a shivering star.
After a while, I stand up. I walk back to her door, and as quietly as possible, I hang the necklace from the doorknob. Hanging there, it is beautiful, and for the first time in months, I feel like things will be all right.
I have no good reason for the feeling, but it doesn’t matter.
Maybe the ring will get stolen before she leaves in the morning, or maybe she’ll find it and throw it away. Maybe she’ll call me and tell me come get my stupid ring, maybe I’ll never hear from her again. Maybe she’ll show up at my place tomorrow to give the ring back, and I’ll tell her I love her and ask her to marry me.
There are a lot of maybes. A lot of options. Whatever will be will be, isn’t that what they say?
I smile, and take a deep breath, the heaviness no longer to restricting my breath. And I begin my walk home.