On Fire (Part II)

     I’m plopped down on the kitchen floor in our old house.  “Our first dump,” my father would call it, but in my mind it’s magic.  I’m staring up at the fridge that’s towering over me; it’s pale, tan, and cool to the touch.  I run my hands over its bumpy, plasticy surface and notice its similarity to the linoleum floor beneath me.  I fight to free the door loose, straining every developing muscle I have under that chunky layer of baby pud protecting my delicate nature (I still have that nature by the way). I’m still as fragile as that soft spot we’re all so afraid of damaging when holding an infant.  We could drop the baby at any moment and change our world).  The cool air hits my face both exciting and scaring me as I begin to climb the metal racks in search of some excitement.  What did I want, I wonder?  Juice maybe?  Milk?  I did always enjoy drinking, I suppose (always searching for that “thing,” I suppose).  I grab for an egg sitting perfectly cupped in its little crate, and send it crashing to the floor beneath me.  I follow it, falling backward onto my rump.  The contents of the egg have begun leaking from its protective shell.  I reach out and touch the slippery stream of translucent matter before me.  It feels cold and wet and strangely like my own body as I break the gel between my palms.  I see my reflection in the yolk, it glistens and reflects my face, bright like fire, back at me.  I watch myself morph and melt as it oozes out and gets thin.  I begin to bat it across the floor.  I watch fascinated as it slithers across the linoleum picking up speed until it breaks.  I’ve destroyed something.  My reflection is distorting as the yolk spreads.  I’ve attempted something and failed.  I broke an egg.  I cry until my mother comes and picks me up.  We wait for my father together.

            It’s thirty years later and I’m breaking things again.  Like I did with the egg, I’m shattering my world.  I’m on the roof calling my father.  I’m slurring words over the phone

“I did it again, old man,” I was jumbling my thoughts with my words.

            “Yah well that’s OK buddy, just get inside and get some sleep.  Can you do that for me?” He asked.

            “I guess I just don’t know any more, old man.”  It was gibberish.  It was a drunken attempt to be tautological.  It was masking a cry for help.

            “What don’t you know H?”  He asked.  He was concerned.  He was hopelessly far away.

            “I just don’t.”  I hung up.  I left it at that.  I left all over again.

            I was looking over the edge now.  I was thinking about all of the ways the various elements would mangle my body before hitting the unkempt yard below.  I could bang into that rusty fire escape, which would hurl my body into a tailspin, circling head over teakettle coming to an end much less clean than I should hope.  I could fall right over that metal fence, breaking my back, bending me unnaturally backward, lips kissing toes.  What about those clotheslines?  They could slice me in three chunks sending me to the ground in three neat little packages, three little broken bits, oozing out like that fiery yolk.  I snapped to, leaned back from the edge and laid out on the warm black tar.

            My life is an immoral play.  A tragedy.

            My father has always been a caring man.  When anything happened in the community, he would always be in the forefront of the action.  When a young friend of my brother was hit and paralyzed by a drunken trucker, my father quickly organized a drive to pay for his mounting medical bills.  At times he would take me over to visit.  “You need to remember what’s important in this world son.  You should give to others in need.  You give yourself, you understand?” 

            “Sure, I got it dad,” I responded.  Oh, but I certainly did not.  I would sit and stare at the young man, maybe fourteen, fifteen years old.  He would just smile and laugh, unaware of the extreme nature of change that had occurred in his life.  My father would shake his hand, hug his broken body, ask him questions about baseball and girls; and I would just sit there and pity.  I could not see what my father saw.  I could not see the “blessed to be alive.”  I only saw the “what a shame,” and I would drift off into my own world, making this boy’s pain my own, shifting my pity into a selfish world in which I was the one injured, and how the world would break down into mourning and memorialize me.  Where my father is genuine, I genuinely didn’t care.

                        The next thing I remember after the roof is the paramedics.   My over it-had enough-no more chances-girlfriend had called them, because I was unconscious on my back and choking.  It must have been quite a sight to come home to, and unfortunately commonplace by this point.  She showed me the pictures, which I’ve saved as a daily reminder.  I’m a corpse, with my arms crossed over my chest.  My eyes are closed, puffy and crusted as though sewn shut for the last time.  I’m drenched in a bright violet, which has been streaming out of my mouth and onto my chest.  I was dead.  I’m awoken by a flashlight in my face.

            “Hey, Hans, can you hear me?”  Can you get up for us, bud?”  It’s a foreign voice, and I know what it means before I open my eyes.

            “Well, here we go again,” I say as I jut up and attempt to act casual.  The room laughs at the absurd nature of a ghoul crossing its legs and acting as though all is well with the world.

            “So how much have you had to drink today?  They ask.

            “Oh, not that much.  Maybe a little red wine.”  I look over as one of the paramedics inspects the drained liquor bottles.

“These were full this morning,” I hear, and I knew they would take me again.

            It had happened before.  Numerous times.  Hospital stays.  On many an occasion.  Fighting going to treatments.  Staying "dry."  Rebounds.  Relapses.  Promises made.  Promises burned.  One month.  Two months.  It was fun at first.  Yah, it got worse later.  But, fun at first…

  Day drinking, as I’ve now been told, is a classic sign of an alcoholic, at least it’s on one of the checklists on one of those pamphlets we’d all like to avoid.  For me day drinking started off like a wonderful holiday.  “It’s drinking Christmas,” Megg and I would joke.  “Let’s go out and ‘day-make!”  And we would.  We’d get liquored up with vodka and beers and head out to noon-day-bar-hop to our favorite haunts, stopping at any number of stores in between, but it was all-innocent.  We’d wake up with hangovers, and I’d go through my pockets to see where we’d gone.   We’d make discoveries and laugh our asses off.  “You bought a tuxedo!” she said as she pulled a suit from the closet. 

            “I made an eye appointment for next Wednesday?  Should I go?” I was crying-laughing.

            “Why not?  It’s the responsible thing to do.”  She’d say as she recycled the old liquor bottles. 

Then of course there’s the time I woke up to a rabbit peeing on my chest.  No memory of how.  We named her Frannie.  She’s sweet, and she’s for another time. 

                Then those day-drinks became more regular, not so jovial, more just me and not us.  The fun had shifted to the necessary, and I couldn’t see it.  Wouldn’t see it.  I could have used one of those damn pamphlets then.

            Yah, the fun at first…  quickly dissipates.

            I read recently that there are over two billion people in this world that have an admitted problem with alcohol (plus one more, if you please).  I suppose I knew something like that statistic already but didn’t grasp it.  I’ve heard it said that an alcoholic can affect roughly two hundred people around them with their drinking.  It’s like a whiskey-fueled butterfly effect.  I start my list with my father and usually end up somewhere around the mailman that had to help me up the stairs to my apartment once.  I’ve discovered that one can’t really pinpoint where the problem starts.  As much as we’d like, there’s no blame to be placed on anyone but ourselves--our two billion and one selves.  We go to dingy basement meetings and hypothesize about what may have been the root of our problems.  The match that lit our fuse.  Well, I come from a long line of alcoholics in my family and… But others don’t.  I drank to fit in in high school… Others didn’t.  It’s society… Come on.  I was abused… I wasn’t.  My parents were drunks… Mine weren’t.  I drank, because I loved the way it made me feel… Same here. I just couldn’t stop…  Me neither.  I’m scared… So am I.  Our two billion and one selves.

            I spurn the gift from Prometheus.

            My mother always says I look just like my father.  A shorter version, I suppose.  Same skinny frame, skinny neck, fat cheeks and jutting nose.  My uncle has told me stories of “what a crazy guy” he used to be.  Playing his acoustic guitar in his dorm at South Dakota State, under his poster of the band Bread hanging on his wall.  This of course was before he saw my mother walking to class out that same dorm room window and exclaimed to his roommate Dale, “I’m going to marry that girl!”  Which he did.  Times were more romantic then, I suppose.   My father’s older now, sixty-six; when I think on that I start to feel alone.  We catastrophize, us two-billion and one.  We don’t see the blessed years to come.  No, we see how our family and friends all leave us too young.  We see our mortality in others.  We’re selfish that way.  We see life’s death, and pity ourselves, like I did when I was with that paralyzed boy so many years ago.  Our fires are in constant danger of dwindling.

            I meditate now.  I pray.  Eat healthy.  Don’t smoke.  Yes, I struggle, I suppose.  And as “Peeta the Greeta” says in the dingy basement on Seventy-Ninth and First, “It doesn’t matter what we do, Hans.  We just don’t drink for today.”  His eyes bulge behind his thick, muddy lenses.  His voice couldn’t be more gravely than if it were a country road.  He reaches out to shake my hand every time he sees me and asks, “Do you think the Mets’ll pull it off kid?”

            “I don’t know Pete.  I think so,” I reply.

            “Well as long as we don’t drink, I suppose,” He’ll say.

            “I suppose so, Pete,” and I go take my seat in the back corner.