What Might Have Been

I wake up by slow inches. My head pounds with a dull sickening weight. A relentless thirst makes it hard to swallow, impossible to sleep. My stomach roils and I pitch myself from the bed and to the toilet. I didn’t eat much yesterday, so I dry heave into the cool and clean porcelain bowl, once, twice, a third time. I rinse my mouth with water from the tap, then, exhausted, lie on the tile floor. Coolness kisses my cheek as I drift away. I like to be away. Away, all memory of last night is vast and blank. Away, I have nothing to regret, no secrets to hide. Away, I don’t wonder where I got the new bruise blooming on my inner thigh. 

“MOM!” I hear my older son yell. He’s outside the bedroom door, but it’s still too loud for this early in the morning. “MOM! Todd will not get up for school. I’m going to miss the bus if I don’t leave now.”

“Okay, honey,” my voice is rusty as I try to project it through the bedroom door. “I’m having a quick shower.” I stagger upright and turn on the water again. Will he know it’s just the sink and not the shower? Probably not. “Have a good day. I love you!”

“Love you,” he says. I know he will have his homework in his backpack and his lunch money in the pocket of his jeans. Mark is a good boy. He’s only ten, he shouldn’t be responsible for his little brother, who would sleep until afternoon if I let him. 

I lift the tank lid of the toilet bowl and pull out a fifth of vodka. Good. Half full. I take a long drink then another. Just enough to stop my hands shaking. Just enough to get everything into alignment. Eventually, I stash the vodka and brush my teeth. I drag a comb through my snarled hair, pull on sweat pants. They don’t match the t-shirt I slept in but I don’t change. I don’t care if the secretary in the main office judges me when I sign Todd in late again. I don’t care if she raises her eyebrows because I’m using the same thin excuse as yesterday. 

I think about the vodka still in the bottle in the bathroom. If I drank it, I’d care even less. But I don’t. Not yet. I need to get Todd to school and I am careful not to drink too much before I drive. I am a good mom. I love my kids. I’d never hurt them. 

I thrust my feet into sneakers. They’re bright pink and hurt my eyes. So don’t look down, I tell myself. Maybe today I won’t drink. Maybe today I’ll call my sponsor. Go to a meeting. I know I will be welcomed back without judgement. But then I think about how I have already had a drink today. My sponsor will know. She doesn’t take any shit off me. I might need a new sponsor. That’s fine. I can stop drinking tomorrow.

This piece of fiction came from the prompt “What Might Have Been.” There was a time in my 20s I felt sure I would become an alcoholic if I didn’t change my life. The first change led to other positive changes and a huge discovery–I’d been drinking to self-medicate in an effort to calm fear, anxiety and panic. I still don’t know how my subconscious knew I needed to make those changes, I’m just happy I listened.

Happiness Descending

colt3.FullSizeRender-3He wouldn’t give me the money. I had a gun on him and my calm must have told him I knew how to use it, but he didn’t care. “I’ve been feeling like it’s time to die lately, anyway,” he said. “So shoot me. You’ll be doing me a favor.”

I lowered the gun. I hadn’t planned on killing anyone other than possibly myself that day before I got the bright idea to find some illegal self-medication. I liked nothing more than the way, when I first got high, it felt as if God reached down and lay his hand on my head. Happiness descended through me, swimming in every cell.

The Colt revolver was twice, three times, as old as me. It was heavy. It might be worth something. An antique, once owned by my great-grandfather, a Pinkerton. I didn’t have any bullets for it, but still. I should have checked on eBay.

“I just want to be happy.”

“Happiness,” the bartender’s grunt sounded weary. “You want a drink?” He asked without moving.

“A hundred drinks won’t cover it.”

“Tell me about it,” he said.

That could have meant a couple of things. One: bartenders are paid to listen to sad stories, so he was just doing his job. Two: he understood how a hundred drinks wouldn’t lift the blackness. I bet on reason two.

“Call the cops,” I said.

“I already pushed the panic button,” he said. In the silence after his final words, I heard the sirens singing.

“Good,” I said.

The cop car skidded to a stop, someone kicked the door in. As I turned to the noise, I raised the gun toward the voices, thinking that one consolation in life is how you never stop learning, not until the last second, like when you know it’s the end, your ability to hear even the smallest sounds intensifies.

 

Facebook Love

Am still using the Flash! book by John Dufresne for ideas to spark flash fiction. This morning I had not one idea. My mind was a blank slate. I read on in Dufresne until I found a prompt that interested me. Two people talking to each other, both having totally different conversations. That got my fingers typing…

***

“It was just one of those Facebook things,” I tell my husband, knowing my excuse is lame and too late.

He doesn’t use Facebook, thinks it’s a waste of time. I can tell you this about the man I married: he doesn’t hardly like to talk to me, so why would he want to talk to almost everyone he’s ever known?

“You always do that,” he says.

“What?”

“I’m talking about our future and you bring up the past. That’s your problem.”

But I didn’t bring it up. He picked up my phone when it pinged and read my private messages and saw what he saw. Pictures, old ones, from when my Facebook love and I dated in high school. It was more than pictures, it was the whole crazy thing of me thinking I was not in love with my husband but with a guy I hadn’t seen in forty years.

“There will be penalties if we draw from the 401K now,” he says.

“We were in love once. A long time ago.” As I say it, I realize I could be talking about my husband or the Facebook guy or any number of men I had loved. Too many, too often, to ill effect. Is love like that for everyone? Is anybody happy?

“On the other hand, Florida has no state tax.”

We are sitting at the table in the dining room. There’s a whirring sound as pages spit from the printer in the corner.  “We’re gonna need a new file,” he says.

I pick up the pages. The history of  Facebook friend’s messages from first to last.  Here’s one from the middle: It feels so good to finally say I love you and mean it. The pages pile up even though we have not communicated in months. Today his text is brief. You okay?

I’m not sure but it seems I am supposed to add these little love notes to our files of financial information. Unlike the shiny clean sheets in the printer, each page of our financial history has been worn thin by many readings.

I like to buy pretty new file folders for the old abused papers. There are white ones with little gold stars, pink ones with gold hearts, pink and gold striped ones. I put the texts from my Facebook love in one of the gold heart files.

I don’t touch the other papers. I’m not a finance person, but I know that on paper we have wealth, just the wrong kind. The kind that can disappear overnight.

“I just, I don’t know, it was like I went crazy for a minute. Like I was sixteen again.” I was over it, whatever it had been, because I’d spent the last few months in bed in a sugar coma. “I’ll never be over it.”

“If we use the Roth IRA’s first, that should see us through until social security kicks in.” Also on the table: his busy calculator.

“Did you ever think that when we got old we’d still care about things like love?”

“I think we’re done here,” he said, gathering the remaining papers and putting them in their proper files. “What’s for dinner?”

 

Flash Fiction Facts

I admit, I’m addicted. Here’s why I love flash fiction: 1. It’s short 2. It’s fun 3. I like having a new category on my blog. I’ve been blogging since 2002 so this is a refreshing change.

My Florida writing group, particularly our leader Doraine Riley (pictured with me above) is the reason I started posting flash fiction. She brought in an article that referenced John Dufresne, author of the book Flash! Writing the Very Short Story and challenged us to try it. I was flummoxed. I didn’t know the shape of flash fiction. I wasn’t sure how to start or for that matter end a very short story.

So I bought Dufresne’s book and not only does he explain what to do, and how to do it, but he has loads of examples of flash fiction by some of the best writers working in the genre. I fell in love with those stories and wanted to try it myself.

Which is the short version of why I have been posting flash fiction.

Origin Story

I can’t remember a single happy goodbye in my life. There is no such thing, far as I can see. I don’t know why people say it when it is so obviously stupid and wrong. Why would you want to leave a concert or your mom or your dad or your best friend or anybody? Leaving school is good, but nobody says goodbye to a building. Act like that and soon you’ll have no friends to say goodbye to, because everyone will think you’re crazy and avoid you like you’re not in the band anymore.

I am crazy, but it’s a secret so don’t tell anyone. I have to admit, now I’m thinking about it, I’m always happy to leave my shrink’s office. There are, in fact, moments of exuberant goodbyes. Don’t tell anyone I have a shrink, either, okay? My parents are divorced and they thought I wasn’t coping well because of all the goodbyes involved so they make me come to therapy.

My therapist is an idiot. He just sits there in his chair with his notepad and pen and waits for me to talk, like I’m going to spill all the horrors in my head, as if they will roll from my tongue like a tapeworm he can pull out with his silence. When I get tired of looking at the box of tissues on the table between us, I tell him my theory about goodbyes not being good.

He totally doesn’t say his usual “and why do you believe that?” Instead, explains, with out of proportion enthusiasm, that the word originated from the old English phrase “God Be With You.” So I say “namaste” and bow my head. He doesn’t get the joke. He is not on his game today at all. Inside I’m laughing. My mom has been practicing yoga forever, so I know “namaste” means essentially the same thing as “god be with you” depending on your version of God.

I ruminate a bit on how it’s kind of cool that way back when they were changing the lexicon in a very radical way. We are not the first generation to LOL. My shrink explains in painful detail, “god” was turned into “good.” BWY (Be With You) was turned into “bye” and ‘bye is what I want to say to this supposed therapist who is sucking on a mint and not doing a damn thing to earn his pay. I already have teachers endlessly cramming useless facts into my head. He’s supposed to make me less angry. He’s not. They’ve got me on medication and that’s what has stolen my rage. Even the guys in the band notice. They say I’m losing my intensity, but they take it easy on me because a couple of them have divorced parents too.

Rage was the one thing about this new life of goodbyes that was mine and of course they took it from me the way they took everything else. What nobody knows, so let’s keep this just between us, is that I flush the pills down the toilet now. Nobody’s caught on. When my rage comes back, I will keep it inside like all the other things I don’t want people to see. Maybe I’ll write a song about it. I think someone ancient already did a poem. Raging against death, I think he was. I can use his lyrics because way back then there was no such thing as plagiarism.

I know what that dead poet guy means, raging against death. Our family died even though we are all still alive. Goodbye family. Goodbye Mom. Hello Dad. Goodbye Dad. Hello Mom. It can get pretty monotonous in this head without the rage, but it will live again and it will be furious. Before the meds, I liked to feel rage building and then I’d channel it through my guitar, but maybe now rage will have it’s own way. Everyone knows you silence rage at your own risk.