Dumped and Hungover: the other half

(This is the conclusion of part one from the other day.  It's me having been dumped a few weeks before my 30th birthday–several years ago.  I'd gotten smashed the night before, and was still trying to figure out why "Amy" had dumped me)

    As I park at my apartment, the infernal phone rings again.  It's Karen, my friend-girl.  Are we still on? Yes.  Are you sure you don't mind taking me to the Key West place? Sure.  Are you okay? Yes.  Do you want to pick me up? Uh, let's meet at O'Meara's Pub.  
    I hate the phone.     
    I'm filmy from sweating out last night's Scotch and this morning's sausage gravy, so I stumble upstairs and take a shower.  Ouch.    
    The shower wakes me up.  Not a gentle, soothing awakening, but an alarm clock buzzer/gunshot outside your window trauma.  You're never more vulnerable than when you are washing your hair, your head stuck under the spray, eyes closed against the shampoo, the noise pounding your skull like a bad drum solo.  Norman Bates knew what he was doing.  I see my blood swirling down the drain like Janet Leigh's chocolate syrup blood. I wonder if it really would swirl the opposite direction south of the equator.  My thimble-sized water heater empties, and the water chills.  I rinse myself as quickly as possible and get out.
    I walk into O'Meara's an hour and a half early.  The bar is cool and dark, a perpetual dusk insured by cigarette smoke and window tinting.  The pounding heat can't touch me here.  A man falls off his barstool cutting his head.  That's really gotta hurt.  The bar owner helps him outside and drives him home.  Not even six o'clock, and this man passed out.  Bad behavior.
    I order a beer.  The barmaid brings it, and I stare at the beer, debating with myself how exactly to drink it.  It stares back, a battle of wits.  It seems to know I was vanquished by Scotch last night.  The beer seems to know my stomach gurgles unhappily at its very smell.  Still, the beer wins, seducing me with its happy amber effervescence.  I take a tiny sip.  Alarms go off in my skull, but it goes down.  I drink my beer, alone with a dozen other people and their beers.  
    And somehow I feel better.  
    In a booth, a drunk man has convinced himself the pretty blonde waitress is in love with him.  I can almost hear his thoughts.  She smiled at me.  She's checking on me more than her other customers.  She doesn't care that I'm ugly, twice her age, and bald.  She craves an experienced man, and she senses my virility.  
    She takes him his check.  He reaches for a hug.  Her smile never fades as she slips away from his groping arms.  "I'll take that up when you're ready."  The man is left with an armful of air.  He throws a piece of money on the check and walks out, shaking his head.  
    The waitress catches me looking at her and smiles.  "He was drunk," she said.  Ah.  I suspect this girl has left many men hugging air.
    I wonder how she would describe me when I left, if I make a soppy, pathetic hug-lunge.  "He was drunk…and psychotic and manic-depressive and broody and had halitosis and a disturbed inner child.  Oh, yeah: plus he smoked."
    Amy would love this, me hunched over a beer with the sun still out, perched there on a barstool like a career alcoholic.  People who frequent bars in the middle of the afternoon tend to look at their beers with the same interest they'd look at someone talking to them, the same way I used to look at Amy.  I finish the beer.  
    The pretty blonde brings me another without me asking.  She's happy, and I feel better for seeing her.  Watching her youthful bounce, I know she's never concerned herself with commitment or stability.  She takes affection and love where she gets them, and when it ends, c'est la vie.  Suddenly, I want to fill up a bucket with beer, give this girl my keys, and have her drive me somewhere.  Like Montana.  Like Alaska.  Like Guam.  Damn, no four-wheel drive.  I suddenly no longer give a shit.  I just want to watch this girl bounce up the stairs at the I-475 Rest Area near Macon.  I want to see her tan legs jam the truck's gas pedal down.  I want -hell, she's probably married.
    A man screams from the pool table.  Another man groans.  Apparently, a great shot was made, money lost.  The drunk guy two barstools down from me stares at the tv set: a stock car race.  I hope he doesn't get any ideas.  That'd be great: some guy fired up on draft beer and the Some-city-in-the-South 500, controlling a motor vehicle.  Cool.
    My beer is half-empty (or half-full).  It's starting to hit my system, taking the edge off.  I feel warm, despite the ceiling fans.  I light another cigarette (Jesus, there are already two butts in the ashtray -could they be mine?).  The waitress is down the bar, talking to a regular.  Cool.  It's good to be a regular somewhere.  
    I miss bars.  I think of the bars I knew in college: student bars, with loud rock n roll; the biker bar, with it's fireproof terrazzo floor and frequent fights; this one dark lounge where lonely accountants and college professors drank cheap beer and listened to Patsy Cline on the jukebox.  
    There are bar people and no-bar-for-me-thanks people.  Amy was the latter.  Dance clubs? Sure, but she always wanted to dance.  And me with no rhythm! I sigh, and NASCAR man leaves, his stock car race over and a horse race coming on next.  
    The girl comes back to me, asking whether I want another.  I look at my watch.  Still almost an hour till dinner.  I nod.  She tells me the stock-car man just had his girlfriend move out on him, and he's sad.  I nod.  I seem to nod too much.  I resolve to speak more.  "That sucks."  "Yeah, Bob's a really nice guy…" and she continues.  This Bob character sat there once and poured his soul out to the girl.  She's tired of the burden, and she's passing it on to me, as I sit in my Garanimals priest raiments.  I should have been a priest.  I think of a life of quiet meditation and
    And I know I couldn't live without the blonde girl.  Or the proud-breasted flower girl.  Or even Amy.  Christ, a life without any possibility of red t-back panties hanging on my doorknob.  
    I'm not even Catholic.  
    It was an idea.  
    The girl finishes her story, empties my ashtray, and bounds off to take another pitcher of beer to a couple in the booth.  They're sitting next to each other, facing out the window, away from me.  I wish them well.  
    I look straight ahead and catch my reflection in the bar mirror.  My eyes are slits, my hair a mess (despite the shower), and I look mean holding the cigarette.  I watch myself take a sip of beer, then a long drag off the cigarette.  I don't look like I think I should.  I look older.  I think of my high school graduation picture, eyes clear and blue, face clean-shaven, smile of white teeth and promise.  Now, I look haggard, worn, half-dead.
    I don't want to eat Key West food -I know that.  I need something with cholesterol.  
    Shit, did I feed the cat before I left?
    "Are you hungry?"
    I focus again, eyes back on the blonde.  I'm not.  She tells me I seem sad.  I tell her about Amy, about "maybe we just need some time apart."  About "I don't know how I feel anymore."  I sense I'm whining, but this girl asks questions.  "Do you still love her?" I guess.  "Did you two always get along?" As far as I knew.  As the girl brings me another beer, "Did you show her enough affection?"
    God, what IS it with showing enough affection? I make a mental note to get a PhD in psychobiochemistry and invent an affection indicator patch, wherein the patch would turn green when enough affection had been shown to the wearer.  God, the brilliance! I could've slapped a patch on Amy's arm at the beginning of the evening, and kept my eye on it the whole night, hugging and kissing and stroking until it turned green.  An entire era of male confusion ended.  I'd be rich.
    I'm on beer number four, now, and I'm telling a strange girl about my now-defunct relationship.  Life is truly weird.  
    On the tv, a Boeing 747 soars above big, wonderfully lit clouds.  Not just wispy cirrus pansy clouds either.  Big, churning, Cecil B. DeMille The Ten Commandments type clouds.  It's a cool shot.  I quietly wish all the people in the plane's 450 seats good luck.  I wish I could fly.  What a great job: I take off, turn on the auto-pilot, and land.  Like a bus driver, only with six times the salary.  
    I hate turbulence, though.
    My hangover has given way to a slight buzz.  My brain has quit sputtering, now purring like a Jaguar V-12 on a highway.  
    In three gulps, I drain the rest of my fourth beer.  I stare at the cute blonde, my eyes daggers of drunken purpose, and tell her, in my best radio-announcer voice, that I'd like another beer.  She brings it quickly, and I catch myself thinking she's paying a bit more attention to me than the other patrons, perhaps sensing my experienced virility.  
    Check the watch: a quarter to seven.  Fifteen minutes to dinner.  My brain decides at that point that I will NOT be dining on any Key West cuisine this evening.  My mind immediately starts working on plans to blow off dinner once Karen shows up.  I ponder pleading the flu, depression, temporary agoraphobia.  The waitress carries a basket of slimy onion rings to the middle booth, and I know Amy's arteries are clogging in sympathy.  
    A message board bears the words "Try our DELICIOUS fried cheese! $3.95." DELICIOUS little cholesterol bombs? Only $3.95? Sure! Hey, as long as the blonde keeps bringing me beers, I'll drop a few fried cheese bombs on my arteries.  
    This beer is going down like water.  Two sips at a time.  BLAM! Here, liver, deal with this!
    My brain feels sharp as a razor.  The fog has dissipated.  Every thought is blinding.  I remember Amy, her beautiful face, her sapphire blue eyes, her model's body.  I remember her perpetual bottles of designer water.  I remember her picked-over salads as I munched on beef.  I remember her nursed white wine as I gulped beer or gin or Scotch.  I remember, "We should spend some time apart," and I feel black clouds of loathing blowing into my brain.  I feel anger (the unsaid "What the FUCK do you mean, `spend some time apart?'").  I remember last night, slugging down very brown Scotch-and-waters, on the verge of bitter tears.  I remember feeling wounded.  Now, to hell with her.  I know I truly could run her over on the sidewalk.  Remorseless.  Innocent conscience.  Cajoling me for one more bench-press then -when I give it to her -calling for three more.  Fuck that.  I know her scam, her game, her bag.  Bleeding me dry.
    Karen sits down beside me, and I answer her questions.  Oh, fine (a lie).  Maybe a half hour (a half-truth).  Three beers (a 75% truth).  Answering questions, avoiding the dinner issue.  I order her a beer before she can say "Nothing for me, thanks."  Her beer comes, and I order another.  
    There's always an awkward pause before you can synch into conversation with somebody, as if the conversation gods have the clutch depressed until two personalities can mesh properly.  Karen sips her beer demurely; I gulp at mine.  She asks if I'm drunk.  I respond, "Not yet.  Why?"  
    Because my Southern accent is very pronounced.  I smile (do other people see my smile as I think it looks? I glance in the bar mirror to check).  "Way-ull?" I'm kidding, I think, just putting on the southern accent for her bemusement.  Still, I can't stop.  
    I don't know.  
    She asks if I'm okay, and I respond that I am, even as I launch into a laundry list of the things that aren't bothering me: Amy; Amy's panties hanging on my door; the entire "we should spend some time apart" thing; the fact that we still have hotel reservations in Key West for Labor Day; the fact that I've grown quite accustomed to having her around over the past fourteen months.  Karen's a dear friend, and yet I can't tell her the real reason why I'm sitting in a bar on a Saturday evening, quickly and resolutely drunk: am I sad because Amy and I have apparently broken up, or am I sad because she dumped me instead of allowing me to dump her?
    Am I even sad? I don't know.  
    Bars are wonderful things.  Sitting at a booth or a table doesn't give you the full beauty of being in a bar.  When you're at the bar, you can face forward, and not look at the person you're talking to.  In my case, I can look at the tv while I'm telling Karen how I feel.  I can bitch about Amy's bottled water even as I see a Mountain Dew commercial.  I move onto the "Gosh, I thought things were going so well" diatribe, and the tv segues into an ad for a Japanese off-road vehicle.  I half think about what I'm saying, and half ponder the little truck, grunting as I think about my American truck's superior horsepower.  I can talk to Karen, and not have to look at her.  I can flit from thought to thought.    
    My beer is apparently empty, and the blonde vision appears, asking me if I desire another.  I gaze longingly, imploring as best as my drunk-slit eyes can that I WOULD like another.  She takes my glass, and heads off to the Budweiser tap.  God bless this girl.  God bless us every one.
    Another scream from the pool table, and Karen says something about loud alcoholics.  She's dissing my people now.  I feel one with the shouting and screaming drunk pool-players.  I feel unity with NASCAR Bob.  I feel a certain liver-damaged brotherhood with the guy who fell off his barstool back when I was mortal.  Karen doesn't know that I am one of the drunks she lambasted.  She doesn't think that I could be so uncouth as to be hammered in public on a chamber of commerce Saturday evening, quickly and resolutely drunk in a bar as a postcard sunset rages outside.  My girlfriend dumped me, and yet I'm still emotionally stable, just based on my friendship with her -that's how Karen sees it.  These people are bad; I'm just having a bad day.
    This beer is going down fast, too fast.  Conversation with Karen becomes difficult; my mind retreats into itself, pondering, wondering if the blonde waitress would leave with me.  Man, sweet butter-like sex in sleeping bags, the truck rocking under starry perfect bug-free skies; we eat in diners, money no object.  Let Karen and her boyfriend and Amy and the rest of the fucking world just dissolve.  I think of the Appalachicola National Forest, of college, of reading Shakespeare on the hood of my old  Toyota, sweet poverty and pollen and Benadryl comas.  
    Karen says something about missing Tim.  I nod, maybe grunt emphatically to show my sympathy (Christ, I seem to grunt a lot).  I miss Amy, but I feel closer to universal truth with each swallow of cold draft; each drop brings me closer.  
    Again, Karen says -a hint of toddler-mother sternness in her voice -that I'm drunk.  I wish I knew what I said to elicit that comment.  My brain and my soul are separated by many time zones, my mouth on autopilot.  I wish I knew what I'd said, but I don't really care.  I don't want to hurt Karen, and yet she is the Grand Inquisitor of my buzz, asking me probing questions, awaiting lucid replies even as I have no lucidity to give.  
    God, her problems with Tim seem so simple compared to mine.  He travels too much for work: develop a hobby.  He seems distant sometimes: give him some space.  He doesn't seem to show enough affection: dump him mercilessly -it worked for Amy.
    My beer is now empty, and the blonde goddess brings another.  Karen asks if we are still going to dinner.  I tell her I'm not ready to be out in public yet.  She asks why this bar doesn't qualify in my zone as public, and I tell her bars are exempt.  She tells me again I'm drunk.  I tell her again that I'm not really, but the declaration drains me too much.  Fine.
    Gulp.  Quiet burp.  Gulp.  Silence.
    She asks if I want to come over and watch a movie, maybe order a pizza.  I tell her I just want to go home and try to sleep.  She nods, probably a bit upset that we never made the Key West restaurant, and yet she's cool.  I stare at my reflection, and Karen talks about work.  Another pool table shout yanks me out of my Narcissistic trance.  I look over my shoulder, and see that the couple in the booth are both women, and that they're leaving.  Fine.  I make a big check sign with my right forefinger.  The blonde brings our check.  I throw two large pieces of money down, drain my beer and walk out with Karen, the night steamy after the air-conditioned bar.  She hugs me, telling me she's sorry I'm so sad.  I hug her back, burying my nose in her sweet-smelling neck, remembering hugging Amy (she was a few inches taller and smelled different), wondering what it would be like to hug the blonde waitress.  
    The ride home is lovely and horrible, a sinister video game.  Keep from hitting anything and survive.  I park and find my way into my apartment.  The cat meows.  Damn, I didn't feed him.  It's barely dark, and I crawl into bed.  
    I see Amy on a bicycle then a broomstick.  I see Karen petting her cats, awaiting pizza, a look of slight disappointment on her face.  I see another man on my barstool; the blonde goddess leans across the bar to kiss him.   Grouper woman splashes in the pool outside, and I remember Karen's hug, a gift.     I'm a liquid now.  I soak into my mattress and head towards sleep, my mind swirling from gulped beer and confusion.    
    The phone rings.  "I'm sorry.  I miss you; can we talk?" I sigh in the dark and, hearing Amy's voice, I melt.  

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6 Responses to “Dumped and Hungover: the other half”

  1. I'm a liquid now.I don't know why that particular line sticks with me, but it does. I've felt that before, on the pavement outside a movie theater. *sighs* life, life, life…

  2. [this is really good]

  3. You can't have been that wasted, since you are able to recall your misery with such detail. But misery is kinda funny that way—we all seem to remember it more vividly than our moments of joy.This is good—hope you try to work this into a book, a memoir.

  4. This IS good. Sigh.

  5. heartache seems to be a unifying factor.

  6. Great writing again specially since the "chapter" before this one… The whole bar experience it was almost like you're(us the readers…) there.
    It's funny I always think about stuff like the "affection indicator patch" when things don't go my way on relationship confusion land. + Nice touch on the whole water / clogging arteries thing.

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