“He’s fucking my mom, I know it.” Foley finished his beer. Signalled for another.
Chris scoffed. “How can you think about something like that?”
“People fuck. My mom is people. Easy, man.”
“How would Jerry even know her?” Chris was often purposely aloof, always leading Foley by the nose.
“Cause I invited him over to dinner. She wanted to meet him.”
Jerry was the mechanic and body shop guy Foley was apprenticing with. He was almost sixty, battled gout, and made inappropriate comments about the underage girls who passed by on the way to the coffee bar a block over. Sometimes he’d wander out front for a cigarette, always with a wrench. He’d toss it to the ground. “Help an old man grab his tool,” he’d ask, and you knew he was referring to his dick because of course he was referring to his dick.
Foley caught him masturbating in his office once. He had an anchor tattoo on his forearm but never served. His moustache always had food in it. He was just a big, sweaty dirt bag.
(But gave us two and a half tabs of acid once so in my eyes, Jerry was cool.)
“She was flirting with him before we even sat down to eat. And I swear I’ve heard his Mustang fire up at like six in the morning. He’s fucking her! At my house!” .
“You’re nuts. And if is true, who cares? Your dad is dead.”
“Not the point.”
“Has been for, what?” Chris winked at the server as she set down the fresh pitcher. He started to refill Foley’s glass. “Ten years? Your mother deserves to be happy again.”
“Yeah, I guess. But anyone but Jerry. He’s dirty. And a prick.”
I reminded him of the acid.
“It was shit, anyway. Irregardless, fuck him. It’s my mom. I have veto power.”
It was towards the end of summer. Chris was going back to college, Foley was drunk and lamenting another week apprenticing for the greasy asshole who he suspected (though really was) fucking his mother. We were drinking at some pub. Doesn’t matter. Maybe it does.
And you’re up to speed.
“What are you clearing now? Eighteen, nineteen an hour?” Chris spoke to us but kept he eyes fixed on the server.
“Seventeen fifty. But when I get my ticket, I can get about twenty three to start. And at a real place not run but a literal mother fucker.”
“That’s good coin for a trade,”
“I want to open my own shop. Call it ‘Foley’s Place’,”
I suggested Cactus Jack’s.
“Clever,” Chris tossed insincerity like pennies in a fountain. “So how about you, Danny? What did the gas station pay?”
Chris liked to talk about money. He’d stare at the Pottery Barn frame on his wall where his law degree would soon be nestled and dream of the retainer fees and billable hours that would someday quickly put a boat in his garage and obscene amounts of cocaine up his nose. Chris assumed everyone thought about money as much as he did. So he talked.
So I answered an answer he already knew: Six bucks. Thirty hours a week, just enough for rent and drugs.
“And what should unemployment net you?
Close to the same.
“You ever think of going back to school?”
“Just don’t start doing that shit, again, Danny.”
“You getting, tired, dad?” Foley stirred, taking his chance for a little verbal retribution. “Want to go home to the wife?”
“Fuck you.” Chris signalled for a fourth pitcher.
Foley lit a cigarette, “Then where to after this?”
“I don’t know, let’s see where this goes,” Chris said, hedging his bets with the server. He always thought the servers liked him, though cash was the only tip of his they’d ever place in their hands.
She sat the pitcher down. Another wink and she turned, sticking her ass out and smiling ever so slightly. Obviously she had Chris in there before.
“God damn,” Chris sighed, “I bet she tastes like cherries.”
“What the fuck does that mean?” Foley gave me the look we give each other when Chris said something sexually vague. I laughed.
“Her pussy. I was talking about her pussy.”
“My, that’s crass,” Foley sipped from his glass. “Vagina would be more appropriate.”
“Like you’d know,” Chris shook his head, “So, Danny, how did things go with that stoner chick from the other night?”
Tremendously. Saw a movie and got Big Gulps. Walked forever.
“You gonna see her again?”
“Shit, you better watch that,” Chris started to refill the glasses, “might end up with a girlfriend if you’re not careful. Commitment and welfare don’t mix.”
The waitress came and went with three shots of Jager. Chris paid cash for the round. We always settled the tab too early and went into overtime.
“To us, boys,” And we toasted.
Foley smirked, something catching his eye. He tapped Chris on the shoulder, gestured as the server embraced and planted a kiss on the lips of some meathead at the bar. Boyfriend.
“Look at him. What a cunt.”
“What do you care, Chrissy?” Foley found the edge of onion.
“I ain’t in the mood,” Chris had half the cigarette gone in two puffs, a Marlboro vacuum. “I hate that shit. You put in time, you flirt, and then out from under my nose, she’s with someone else. Don’t be a tease.”
“Calm down, man,” Foley was rarely the voice of reason. “You’ve got a wife. Practically. She‘s just some bar waitress eye-fucking you for the 20%. Don’t let that ruin your otherwise charming disposition.”
“Don’t get all high and mighty with me,” Chris was done with the cigarette. Tossed it onto the floor. “Yeah, I’m married. I love Anna. But she knows I mess around. We have an open-relationship.”
She didn’t and they don’t.
“Fucking point is, man,” Chris trailed off. He was staring at the boyfriend. Drunk and on-task, Chris was hard to gauge. He had a thousand yard stare usually reserved for those who come back from combat. His was, however, unearned.
“Dude, seriously. Forget it. You‘re weirding me out.”
“Shit.” Chris shook his head. It’s funny how the brain reverts to monosyllabic cussing when frustrated, stoned, sad or making love with or without a partner.
“Danny, you still have those mushrooms, right?” Foley tried to change the subject.
I certainly did.
“Then let’s cool it on the drinks, chill out for a while, and then head down to the river. We’ll get fucked up, maybe grab some Big Gulps. It’ll be like high school. Come on, Chris, forget about that bitch. She’s perpetual motion, time travel and dinosaurs: un-fuckin’-attainable”
There was a pause. We sipped our beers in unison. I racked my brain for a topic to steer Chris’ mood back to tolerable. I could see Foley doing the same, with the grace of a legless ballerina.
“When was the last time you were in a fight, Danny?”
We were too late.
“Danny, I asked you a question.” We had passed the moment when the words are clear and when they are not. Chris’s eyes had an instant spark. “When was the last time you got in a fight?”
Never, I said.
“Well, let‘s change that,”
“Three against one, might get out some of your aggression,”
Not the one who needed to blow off steam, bud.
“Fuck you then. Sit here and watch me beat this poser,”
“Don’t be an asshole, Chris,” Foley finished his beer, collected his cigarette package and cracked his knuckles. He knew where it was going. “I want to come back here, maybe eventually. The decorum is nice.”
“Fuck that fucking asshole!”
And that was exactly who Chris Perdue was, in three seconds flat. I had known him for ten years. I grew up with him. I knew him better than I knew myself. I’d seen him grow from an insecure teenager who projected confidence in preppy clothing and degrading insults about the fat girl in biology class to an insecure college kid who couldn’t hold his liquor or his tongue. Maybe he needed to catch a beating. Maybe he needed to end up in the hospital with his wife crying at the bedside. Maybe he needed to miss finals and drop a quarter of a grade point and lose his scholarship and end up working at his dad’s warehouse with $60 000 of student loan debt and too much pride to go back and finish the semester. Maybe that would humble him and turn him into a person.
Maybe. Maybe not.
The guy was big. Too big. Chris slurred a few words and at least called him a faggot twice. He tried to grab the waitress, or maybe just got too close. Chris caught three punches before Foley leapt from his chair like a mother bear catching wolves circling her cub. I don’t know if that nature analogy works but I swear to god I never saw Foley move so fast.
Those three punches were more than enough, and Chris fell like a tree, smashing his skull on the barroom floor. It must have been the sound, the visual, but I shot from my seat and hit the other guy in the face. As hard as I could. He swung back once, reactionary at best, and hit me right on the eye. I stumbled back, waited for the next shot that never came. His girlfriend jumped in front of him and by then the bartender was telling all of us to get the fuck out.
Foley and I carried Chris out of the bar with one arm under each of his. He was bleeding from the mouth, nose and ears. We didn’t think it was that bad until we stood him up at the edge of the parking lot and he instantly collapsed under his own weight, shaking uncontrollably. He was like a human slinky, all out of slink. At a payphone on the edge of the parking lot, Foley called 911 while I had a panic attack and smoked a hundred cigarettes.
Concussion. I forget what grade exactly but it was bad. Chris was unresponsive, and while the doctor presented the worst case scenario, Foley and I rationed it was probably just all the alcohol and blow he had done alone in the bathroom before. He may have had a skull fracture from the fall, and the convulsions were not a good sign.
Anna cried, barely able to look us in the eye. I mean, all we could offer was a few insincere words. “He’ll be okay”. But we didn’t fucking know. She said it best: Chris wasn’t good for us, and weren’t good for Chris. It wouldn’t become official until a few days later.
After six hours in the waiting room, Anna went to get coffee and clean up so the doctor let Foley and I in to see Chris. He was doped up on something, head bandaged but eyes open. He smirked.
“Did I at least get a few good shots in?”
Foley placated Chris while I fought to contain my disapproval, my anger, my disappointment. I was glad he was okay, but that smile was that of a man who had not learned his lesson.
It may seem trite. The drama, the equivocal bouts of self-aggrandizing pain. The drugs that we did and what we did when we did them. But that was my life, and our world in Olympia. Grow up broke, eek through school. Get a job. Experience heartbreak. Equate your problems to that of Christ and/or Holden Caulfield. Up on the cross with a joint and a Mickey, waiting for lightning or divine intervention.
People are shit.
I am the smartest and most misunderstood person in the room.
I deserve greatness.
I think of everything as I lay on the cheap motel mattress, the ceiling fan swirling with a concerning hum. I finish the bottle and crack another beer. I’ve got that tingling feeling in my knees and hands, buzzed, excited, but entirely alone. I think about the town, the friends, what I’ve lost and in the grand scheme of things how fucking meagre it all is. It’s 2002. The country is at war. I’m old enough to serve but too big of a pussy to even serve a purpose. I mean, I could enlist. Half-ass my way through basic training, doing just enough to earn that M16 and tan flack jacket. Take the sixteen hour plane ride, swallow some sand and rush headfirst into a million Taliban bullets. Maybe I take a few terrorists out before my head explodes and I’m shipped back on the same plane that flew me in. “Just drive around the block, I won’t be long!” At least then my death wouldn’t be a total loss. The media hasn’t shown a single flag-draped casket but I’m sure they’d call me a hero. Alone in a desert, alone in a motel.
They say suicide is selfish, that what you leave behind and the reasons you choose to take your own life don’t equate or justify the action. It can get better. You just have to work at it. In other people I can believe that. In myself? The ceiling fan does not offer any further insight.
There are always other girls, other friends, I tell myself.
The last bit of suds swirl in the bottle with a sip. That warm, mostly foamy syrup that you can either let sit for the server to collect on her next pass or choke back and make your four bucks really count. Except there’s no server coming my way..
Alone in the desert. Alone in a motel.
At least Osama has a fucking cave.