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Sometime around the beginning of December, 2015, I received a Facebook message from Kelly, a woman whom I had dated back in 2011. We had started dating after Valentine's Day of that year and continued until the end of August, when she moved away to continue her education. After trying the long distance thing until the end of the year, we met up one last time and decided it was in both of our best interests if we just moved on. It broke my heart to do so, but I loved her enough to know that letting her go would be much better for her than trying to string things along.
We had discussed the possibility of transferring my college credits to where she was attending school, but they didn't have a degree program I was interested in pursuing. In the end, we decided that if it was meant to be, it would happen. I would torture myself over this decision for years to come, which led to a vicious cycle of meaningless relationships, excessive drinking and crippling depression. My relationship with her became the litmus test against which I held all others.
When I heard from her again at last, I was only a ghost of my former self. I had just lost the job I held for nine years because of my alcoholism. Due to my inability to find steady work, I was once again living with my mom. My drinking had progressed to the point that it was no longer fun; it was necessary. I could no longer physically function without a few shots of vodka in the morning. I worked a few odd jobs and drew up some tattoos for people when my shaking wasn't too bad, but I was only able to earn just enough to support my alcoholism.
I didn't remember Kelly's last name at first, but when I saw her profile picture, I knew exactly who she was. Excitement flooded through me as I opened the message. We had tried to keep in touch even after we had broken up, but our communication had fizzled to the point of non-existence shortly after.
"Hi Damien! Guess what? I'll be in Odessa visiting my parents next week. I'd really like to catch up with you! It's been a long time. Will you be able to hang out with me? Let me know soon so I can plan accordingly."
I sent a message back saying I would love to meet up with her and gave her my phone number. She sent me a friend request a few hours later, which I accepted. I did a little bit of profile snooping and found out she was engaged. No big deal. A beautiful woman like her had to have found another man by now. I was admittedly a little disappointed, but not devastatingly so. Just having the chance to catch up after so long was in and of itself enough to lift my spirits.
She called me a little over week later to set up our meeting. I suggested that we meet for drinks the next evening at my favorite bar, Fast Eddie's. She agreed to meet me there around eight PM. I figured I could steady my nerves enough by then so that my hands wouldn't be shaking and we could play a little pool while catching up.
When the next day arrived, I spent the morning getting ready. At ten AM I went to the liquor store and bought my usual fifth of vodka for later, plus a pint to get me through the day. I had washed my best clothes the night before, so I spent the day ironing them and doing my best to make myself presentable. I shaved my head and four days worth of stubble on my face. By the time I was done cleaning up, I actually looked somewhat presentable. My eyes still had that sunken, hollow look to them, but I managed to eat a decent meal, which hid that feature somewhat.
I arrived at Fast Eddie's an hour early and ordered a Shiner Bock with a double shot of Jack Daniels. Taylor, the buxomly bartender, saw that I was dressed up and said, "Wow! You didn't get all cleaned up for me, did you Damien?"
"Don't flatter yourself little lady," I teased her.
"No need to be rude, man," she quipped back. "But really, who's the lucky lady?"
"An old girlfriend from about four years ago," I answered.
"Oh," she said coyly. "You gonna try to rekindle the romance?"
"Nah, nothing like that," I replied. "Just catching up for old times' sake."
"Okay hun," she said, winking at me. "Just let me know when you want another one."
"I always do, don't I?" I asked. She smiled in reply and walked away to help another customer. I downed my double shot and chased it with a swig of beer. Having already finished the pint of vodka before I arrived, I just sipped on the beer, ordering another one half an hour later. Just as I had finished the second one, Kelly texted me, saying she was in the parking lot.
I went out to the parking lot to meet her, leaving my jacket on the barstool so that Taylor would know I was coming back. I never failed to pay my tab, but I figured it was courteous not to make my bartenders sweat. They took care of me when I was too drunk to make it home after all, calling me a cab or sometimes taking me home themselves. When you're an alcoholic, it pays to be friends with those who serve your drinks.
I spotted Kelly in the first row as soon as I stepped outside. She was just as beautiful as I remembered. Her strawberry-blonde hair was tied back neatly in a ponytail. She was dressed simply; wearing nicely fitting jeans, a red jacket that went down just below her waist, and a pair of white tennis shoes. I felt the familiar butterflies in my stomach from when we had first started dating. Those days are over, you hopeless fool, I had to remind myself. You're just friends catching up now. Don't embarrass yourself.
"You look absolutely resplendent," I said, smiling as I approached her.
"And your vocabulary is just as expansive as ever," she teased, smiling back at me. We then hugged each other warmly, and I smelled the familiar lavender-scented perfume she always wore. "It's so good to see you, Damien. I've missed you."
"I missed you too, Kelly," I replied. "It's been too long."
"Yeah. I meant to get in touch sooner, but I was so busy with school, and now my new job," she explained. "I know that's a poor excuse, but I really didn't mean to lose touch with you."
"It's okay. I'm just glad you remembered me," I replied. "Shall we go inside, where it's warm? I think my testicles are trying to crawl back into my belly."
"Still the refined gentleman I knew," she said, laughing. "Sure. Lets get some liquid warmth in us." We went inside and took our places at the bar. Kelly ordered an apple-tini and I ordered another Shiner Bock, deciding I was already buzzed enough to forgo the double shot of Jack Daniels. I didn't want to get shit-faced while I was catching up with the woman I had been missing for the past four years.
I managed to keep my drinking slow and steady while we caught up. She told me about her engagement to Steve, whom she had met two years after moving away. I listened politely, not really wanting to hear about it but knowing it was happening whether I liked it or not. She had a job as a dental assistant now and was still going to school to become a full-fledged dentist. I told her about how I had dropped out of school three and a half years previously to save money to transfer to the University of Texas, but had just not found the time to go back. We also discussed with some levity my failed relationships since we had split up.
"So let me get this straight," she said after my stories. "You let her know that you're going to hang out with your buddy to watch one of the biggest rivalry games of the year. You even invite her along, but she doesn't want to come. She gets upset when she calls you and you don't want to leave and decides to cheat on you for it. Then she tells you about it in a Facebook message and dumps you. Did I get that right?"
"That's pretty much the gist of it," I replied.
"Wow! She sounds like a real cunt," she said, causing me to snort beer out of my nose.
"She really was," I agreed as I wiped my nose off. "I didn't want to see it at the time, but I eventually wised up. My only regret is that it took so long."
"Did you love her though?" she asked. I had to think about that before I could answer.
"I had convinced myself I did," I replied. "But honestly, no, I didn't love her. I wanted to, but we were just too different. Plus, as you said, I knew deep down in the recesses of my mind that she really was a cunt." Kelly and I shared a laugh about the whole situation before she excused herself to go to the bathroom. As soon as she was out of sight, Taylor came over to refill our drinks.
"You're glowing, Damien," she said, smiling.
"Is it that obvious?" I asked.
"Yep," she replied. "You really loved her, didn't you?"
"It was a long time ago," I said, sighing. "She's engaged now. I'm just happy that she's happy."
"Whatever you say, hun," she replied, giving me a skeptical look.
When Kelly came back, she suggested we play a game of pool. Our game progressed slowly. We often forgot we were playing and just stood there talking. Luckily, it was a slow night and there was no one there to get impatient with us. We finally finished about a half hour before closing time. There was still time for one more drink, so we went back to the bar and ordered for last call.
"Where's your car?" Kelly asked as we exited the building.
"I walked here," I answered. "I live just a couple of blocks away, so I can
"Don't be silly," she said. "Let me take you home. It's really cold and you're pretty tipsy."
"You can tell?" I asked. She raised her eyebrows and nodded. I supposed it must have been more obvious than I thought. "Well, okay. You can be my chauffeur if you insist."
"Get in, you," she said, smiling and rolling her eyes. When we arrived at my apartment, she stopped me before I could get out. "Listen, will you have breakfast with me tomorrow? There's something I want to talk to you about."
"Sure, I'd love that," I replied.
"Okay, I'll pick you up around ten-ish," she said. "Goodnight Damien."
"Goodnight Kelly. I had a wonderful time with you tonight."
"Me too," she replied. I then got out and watched her drive off. A myriad of questions went through my head for the rest of the night. What did she want to talk to me about? Was she going to want to discuss some unresolved feelings? I knew I still had them. I was hopeful, yet apprehensive about the next morning. So, I did what I normally did when faced with an uncertain situation: I drank some of the vodka I had hidden away to help me pass out.
When I woke up the next morning, I polished off the rest of the vodka to help calm my shakes. I then brushed my teeth and got dressed. When Kelly arrived to pick me up, she gave me a strange, concerned look when I got in the car. She asked, "You feeling okay?"
"Yeah, just a little hungover," I replied. The ride to IHOP was much quieter than usual. I was worried that I may have said or done something to upset her, but I couldn't figure out what it could possibly be. Sam's Town was playing softly on her radio, so I said to her, "You realize this is the album we were listening to on our first date, right?"
"Is it?" she asked, furrowing her brow as if she was trying to remember. After a few seconds, she smiled and said, "You're right, it is."
Kelly seemed to be deep in thought as we sat down and ordered coffee. I figured she was trying to decide the best way to say what she had to say, so I just stayed silent and looked at the menu. I wasn't really hungry, but I knew I needed to eat something or my shakes would only get worse. The alcohol would calm them for a while, but if I didn't get some sustenance they would only come back even more intensely. Finally, she looked up at me and said, "Damien, what's with the beanie? You never used to wear hats."
"Well, I started going bald a couple of years ago and I'm a little self-conscious about it," I answered. "I decided to just embrace it and just shave my head though."
"Can I see?" she asked. I obligingly took off my beanie to let her see. She looked at me for a few seconds, before smiling and saying, "You pull it off well. How did you get those scars? You didn't have them when we were together."
"Car accident," I replied. Kelly nodded her head and looked me right in the eyes.
"Were you drunk?" she asked. I opened my mouth to answer, but couldn't think of what to say. Kelly pre-empted me by saying, "Damien, I'll admit that I've heard some disturbing things about you. You've never lied to me before. Please don't start now."
"Yes, I was actually still drunk from the night before," I answered, hanging my head in shame. "Luckily, no one died, but all of us very well could have."
"I went by your old job at Splash before I met you last night because I wanted to surprise you," she continued. "You're boss told me he fired you back in September because you kept showing up to work drunk, even after repeated warnings. That true?"
"Yes," I again answered. When I looked up, I not only saw her pain, but my own pain reflected in her eyes.
"Damien, please show me your hands," she said slowly. It was worded as a request, but I knew it was a command. I held out my hands and turned them palms up. In spite of my earlier alcoholic fortification, they still shook noticeably.
"My God, Damien," she said. "I had heard things, but I had no idea just how dark things have gotten for you. What happened?"
"I... I don't know," I replied. How could I tell her that it had all started when she left? I already drank regularly before that, but I took it to a whole new level when she was gone. Instead of a few beers after work, it became a pint of vodka every night with a few beers. I couldn't slow the advance of alcoholism. It only got worse until I had reached my current state, where I was consuming up to two fifths of vodka per day, plus all the Hurricane High Gravity I could guzzle. I couldn't tell her it was because I had lost her and never gotten over it. Putting that on her would have just been cruel, and I still loved her enough that doing that was unthinkable.
"I talked to Tristan a few months ago," she said. "He told me that you started drinking much more heavily after I left. It got to the point where he didn't want to hang out with you any more. He told me the last time he talked to you, you invited him to go see The Killers. He really wanted to go, but he was scared of riding with you because he knew you would be drinking on the way."
"Shelby actually drove most of the way there and back," I said. "He had the same concerns, and rightly so. I think I had already polished off a whole pint by the time I picked him up in Big Spring."
"I'm glad your friend kept you safe," Kelly replied. "And I'm glad you finally got to see The Killers. I know how much you love their music. But that was just one weekend, Damien. Do you have any idea how many times you could have died or killed someone else?"
"As you can see by my scars, I'm painfully aware of it," I answered somewhat defensively.
"I'm not here to judge you," she replied. "But I still care about you, even if we aren't together anymore. Seeing you like this is indescribably hard, Damien. You look like a ghost; a shell of what you used to be. Tell me something Damien, what would it take to make you happy?"
After a long pause, I replied, "I don't know if that's possible anymore. It's been so long that I have a hard time remembering what being happy is like." We sat in silence for a while, neither of us able to look the other in the eye. When our food finally arrived, I sat there for a while, unable to eat. I knew I needed sustenance, but I was afraid my body would reject the food, which happened far more often than I would care to admit.
"Damien, please eat," Kelly said softly. "You need to get your strength up." I tried to oblige, slowly picking at my eggs and hash browns. After eating less than half of the meal, I couldn't stomach any more. I pushed my plate aside. Kelly looked at me, shook her head, and sighed. After a few seconds' pause, she said to me, "Can you please try to eat just a little more?"
"I'm full," I answered simply. "I might puke if I try to eat any more."
"Okay," she replied sadly. After another pause, she said, "Damien, I've been thinking. I know you went to rehab after you saw The Killers, and that it didn't work out for you. Would you be willing to try again? I mean, I know detoxing is hard, but in a facility you would at least have medical assistance. What do you think? Would you be willing to give it another try?"
"I dunno," I replied. "Honestly, all I thought about last time I went was how soon I could drink again. Plus, they say the 'only way' to stay sober is to believe in a higher power. You know I don't believe in God. How is that supposed to work for me?"
"I can't answer that," she said. "But maybe if you just had some time away to get your shit together... I really want you to get help, Damien. Seeing you like this breaks my heart. If I can find a place to take you in, would you be willing to give it another try?"
"Maybe," I answered.
"I tell you what," she said. "I'm gonna take you home to get some rest. I want you to think about it. I'll look around and see what I can find for you. If I find you a place, would you let me take you there?"
"I suppose," I replied after a short pause. "If you think it will help." Kelly sighed with relief, her shoulders visibly sagging as if she had been holding her breath for a long time.
"Thank you, Damien," she said. "I'm not trying to pressure you or anything, but I really think you need help. I only want what's best for you."
Kelly drove me home after we paid our checks. She seemed to be in much better spirits, but I was highly apprehensive. I didn't like the idea of being cooped up for an extended period of time. Not being able to come and go as I please would be extremely taxing on my nerves, as it had been the last time I sought help. However, this woman whom I loved was doing everything in her power to help me, so I figured I owed it to her to at least give it another try.
Some time in the early afternoon, Kelly called and told me she had found a place for me. It was a rehab center in Odessa called Turning Point, and they would have a bed open for me the next day. I had to be there by ten AM. The facility was state-funded, so I wouldn't have to pay a penny. This came as a huge relief because my last time through treatment had cost about $35,000. Fortunately, I had still been on my mom's insurance at that point.
Kelly suggested that we go see a movie that night. She said she wanted me to have a little fun before I went away, as well as a chance to spend more time with me before she had to leave. I readily agreed, relishing the chance to hang out with her again. She was doing everything she could to help me and I was very grateful for that.
I spent the rest of the afternoon doing laundry and packing my suitcase. Naturally, I went to the liquor store to pick up a couple of fifths, plus a pint to sip on during the movie. I had explained to Kelly that if I tried to stop cold-turkey, it could cause me to have seizures. This was actually true. A couple of years back I had tried quitting without medical assistance and had several seizures. Fortunately, she had done her research and agreed to placate me, albeit reluctantly.
When Kelly picked me up at seven PM, I was in much better spirits (pun intended). I had taken a few shots before she arrived and had the pint of vodka tucked away in my pocket. We decided to see Daddy's Home because, quite frankly, I needed a good laugh. I bought a Sprite to help wash down the vodka I was sipping on.
While sitting in the theater, I couldn't help but remember the first time I had taken Kelly to a movie. She sat leaning against me, her head on my shoulder just like she used to. I was overcome by a sad sense of longing for days past. Happy memories flooded through my head, making it difficult to pay attention to the movie. After it was over, I reluctantly allowed her to take me home. I desperately wanted to spend the rest of the night with her, but I knew that those times were over. She dropped me off at my apartment and bid me goodnight.
Once inside, I fished behind the couch for the rest of the first fifth I had stashed away. I looked at the bottle, knowing deep down that this would be my last time drinking. I would finish this fifth and half of the other, leaving me just enough to steady my nerves before I went in to rehab. This was it. I was finally ready for a change, for things to finally start getting better. I may not be able to be with Kelly, but I was certain that once my mind was clear and I was healthy, I would be able to move on with my life. The alcohol had been an anchor holding me down for far too long, and I was ready to finally break free of the darkness.
I woke up at seven AM the next morning feeling apprehensive. The alcoholic fortification had worn off, so I was no longer sure about what I was about to do. When I reached for the remaining vodka bottle, it was only about a quarter full. Shit! I must have woken up during the night and taken a few more shots to get back to sleep. I couldn't go into rehab with less than a pint in my system! The liquor store wouldn't be open until after I was supposed to be at Turning Point. What the fuck was I going to do?
Like any alcoholic in this situation, I panicked. I cleaned up as best I could and walked to HEB. A couple of High Gravities wouldn't be anywhere near enough to calm my nerves, but I figured they could tide me over until I was able to buy some liquor. Rehab could wait; I was sure they would let me in if I showed up around noon. I needed my drink!
Kelly called me at about 8:45, asking if I was ready. I made a bullshit excuse about how I needed to get some things in order before I went, asking her to check with the center and see if it was okay if I was late. She called back about a half hour later to tell me they would hold on to my bed until 11 AM, and that I had better hurry. I sat out on the patio and guzzled the two beers, waiting for ten AM so I could buy the vodka I so desperately needed. I was at the liquor store promptly at ten AM. Instead of the pint I had promised myself, I bought my usual two fifths along with the pint. I have no idea why I did it, but for some reason, I just knew I had to.
I went home and hid my vodka in the usual place behind the couch, pocketing the pint. Then I decided to take a walk. I no longer wanted to go to rehab. The alcohol and my own stubbornness convincing me that I didn't need it. At 10:45 AM Kelly called, demanding to know where I was at. She was already at my apartment and was furious that I had left. I let her go on for a little while before I just simply told her, "I'm sorry love, but I just can't." I hung up before she could respond.
I spent the rest of the day wandering around my neighborhood. Whenever I saw a car that looked even remotely like Kelly's, I would duck into an alley or deeper into the park. She left several texts and voicemails on my phone, pleading with me to reconsider. I felt like an asshole for ignoring her, but I was now terrified at the prospect of rehab. The calls and texts stopped completely by five PM. At this point, I had consumed two and a half pint bottles, and had stashed another behind the air conditioning unit in front of my apartment. After another hour of wandering around, I finished the last of the third pint and made my way to Fast Eddie's.
When I sat at the bar, I ordered my usual Shiner Bock and double of Jack Daniel's. Taylor made an offhand comment about how I looked like shit, to which I just noncommittally shrugged. When she came back to see if I needed a refill, she asked me what was wrong. I told her the whole story of the past two days, barely able to keep my voice from breaking. When I was finished, I said, "I think I may have just lost her forever, Taylor."
"Well, don't be so sure about that, hun," she replied. "I'm sure if she loves you as much as you love her, she's not going to give up on you."
"Ye of way too fucking much faith," I said miserably. Taylor just clicked her tongue, rolled her eyes, and walked away. Thirty minutes later, a woman sat down next to me. Normally I would take this as a cue, but I was too depressed to talk to anyone at the moment. I saw the girl looking at me out of the corner of my eye. She seemed vaguely familiar, but I was too jaded to care.
"What are you having?" Taylor asked the woman.
"Just a Dr. Pepper, and I'll pay for his drinks too," I heard Kelly say. I looked over in disbelief. Sure enough, she was sitting right next to me.
"What? How did you find me?" I asked incredulously.
"I figured you'd come in here sooner or later," she replied. "I gave Taylor fifty dollars to call me if you showed up. Looks like my intuition was right."
"Kelly..." I started to say.
"Damien, I'm not here to cuss you out or berate you," she interrupted. "I wish you would go to rehab, but I know I can't make you. You're too strong willed to force the issue on, and too smart to be tricked into it. This is my last night here, so if you won't go, I just want to hang out with you one last time and make sure you get home without killing yourself."
I sat in silence for a while, contemplating the gravity of what she had just said. One last time. Did this mean I would never see her again? I had already lost her once, and I wasn't sure I could bear it again. Then again, at least I had the chance to see her one more time. That had to count for something, right? She did do everything she could, more than most people would have, trying to get me out of my own darkness. In the end, all I could come up with to say was, "Thank you, Kelly."
She didn't say anything in reply, just reached over and squeezed my hand. Her eyes were so sad, and I felt like a monster for doing this to her. I knew I was being selfish, but I was tormented by the thought of completely changing myself. I just didn't think I had it in me anymore, that I was beyond help. It seemed as though there was no turning back for me, that I would just have to struggle on to the bitter end until, finally, I died the horrible death I had earned for myself.
After a while, Kelly got up and went over to the jukebox. I didn't pay much attention to her, just continued drinking my beer and ordered another double. When she came back over, she put her hand on my shoulder and squeezed. It was the most comforting gesture I had felt in a long time, and I almost melted right there.
I began to notice a pattern in the music after a few songs. They were all sad, yet hopeful. It seemed as though she was trying to reach me through music, as logic and reason had failed to do. Let Love In, Time is Running Out, When You Were Young, Bittersweet Symphony, Sometime Around Midnight; all of these and more blared out one after the other. When I turned to look at Kelly again, she was looking back at me with a small smile on her face.
"It's not gonna work, you know," I said to her.
"I know, but I figured it couldn't hurt to try and guilt trip you into changing your mind," she replied. "Music always speaks to you when nothing else does. That's one of the things I've always loved about you."
We passed most of the time in silence, only occasionally commenting on one insignificant thing or another. Last call eventually rolled around, so I ordered one more Shiner Bock and a double of Jack. I was pretty wasted at this point, but still somehow able to walk when I was finished. As we walked out the door, Taylor called out to Kelly and asked, "You gonna make sure he gets home okay, hun?"
"Don't worry. I'll get him there," Kelly replied.
"Alright hun, it was nice to meet you," Taylor called.
"You too," Kelly answered. I can normally walk home, but I must admit that it was nice to be in Kelly's car. She still wore that lavender scented perfume I loved so much, and the smell permeated the interior. It was incredibly comforting on what was otherwise a horrible night. When we pulled up to my apartment, Kelly stopped me as I was about to get out and said, "If you don't mind, I'd like to talk to you a little while longer."
"Still trying to change my mind?" I asked.
"No," she replied. "I'm just... I'm terrified that this may be the last time I see you alive. I'm scared of what the future holds for you, so I just want to make what little time we have together count."
"I... see," I said, not sure how else to reply. "Well, there's a nice little barbecue area near the swimming pool, and it's a pleasant night. Not too cold. Would you like to sit with me out there?"
"Okay," she replied. We got out of the car and started walking up the sidewalk. I stopped by the air conditioning unit in front of my apartment and fished the pint of vodka from behind it. Kelly gave me an exasperated look and asked, "Do you really need that?"
"Probably not," I answered. "It's just a comforting thing to have in case I want to take a sip though." Kelly shook her head and motioned for me to continue with her. It had been much warmer the past couple of days; a typical, west Texas weather turn around. The temperature was probably in the mid fifties, so the night air was cool and comfortable. We sat side-by-side at one of the picnic tables. She put her arm around my waist and drew me close, once again laying her head on my shoulder. I caught the scent of her lavender perfume once again, filling me with a sense of familiarity and comfort.
"Damien, what happened?" she asked after we had been sitting there for a few minutes. "You used to be so happy and full of life. Why are you so sad now? Why are you punishing yourself like this? You do know you're going to die if you keep this up right?"
"A lot has happened since you left," I answered. "I guess things didn't go as planned. Dropping out of college and not being able to go back yet, all the failed relationships, and Skiddles died back in August. You remember her?"
"Your little Munchkin cat?" she replied. "Yeah, I remember her. I'm so sorry, Damien. I know she was your baby."
"And Peter isn't far behind," I continued. "He's been losing weight and I don't know what's wrong with him. The vet hasn't found anything yet. I think losing her broke him too. I just don't know, Kelly. It seems like when I get a leg up, it all comes crashing down again."
"I knew you were a drinker when we first met, but it was never a problem then," she said. "You always had a handle on it. What changed? When did you start losing control?"
"I guess it was when..." I replied, stopping just short of saying what I was thinking. I couldn't put that on her. As much as I wanted her to know how much I really cared about her, I felt it wouldn't be fair to her, especially now that she was engaged. However, Kelly was far too perceptive for me to put this past her.
"It was when I left, wasn't it?" she said slowly. "Is that what you've been beating yourself up for all these years?" There it was. It was out in the open now and I could no longer deny it.
"Yeah," I whispered. "I just... every time things get bad, I look back and think of how great it was when we were together. I think about how we tried so hard to make it work when you left. I just think about what I could have done differently. I loved you so much that I thought it would be best to just let you get on with your life, but I didn't think about what it would do to me until it was too late. Now there's this big hole in my soul and I have no idea how to fill it."
"Damien, it..." she began, seemingly struggling with what to say next. After a few moments, she said, "It wasn't your fault, or mine. We tried so hard and it just didn't work out. I don't know what else we could have done."
"I feel like I could have done more, but I just don't know what," I said.
"Damien, I struggled with it too," she replied. "I was torn between going to school and staying. It killed me to move away from you, but you were right to tell me to go. I know you wanted to come with me, but I thought you would be better off sticking to your plan and going UT Austin. I had no idea you would self-destruct like this. I don't think anyone did, including yourself. If I had... I think I would have begged you to come with me."
"I wish you would have, and I wish I would have gone," I replied. "If I'd known what I would become... I just don't know anymore. Nothing seems to matter. Everything I try to do just falls apart."
"I don't mean to nag," Kelly said. "But I'm sure your drinking has a lot to do with that."
"I know it does," I answered. "But I'm to the point where it's painful not to drink. I don't do it for fun anymore; I do it just to function. I don't really even want to, but I have to. I see no way out. I know it's killing me, and sometimes I wish it would just get it over with quickly."
"I wish you wouldn't say that," Kelly admonished. "You're still in there. I can see it when I look in your eyes. The real you is trapped, desperately crying to get out. I want to help you, Damien, but I know it's beyond my control. I tried so hard, but you have to want it for yourself."
I looked down at the pint in my hand and saw that it was still mostly full. After taking another sip, I asked Kelly, "Why do you want to help me? Even I feel like I'm too far gone. You had to know it might turn out like this."
"I feel like I owed it to you, even if we aren't together anymore," she replied. "You brought me out of my own darkness, remember?"
"Yes," she replied. "Before you, I had been with three other guys. All three of them were emotionally abusive, though I was too immature to realize it at the time. I broke up with the last guy because he hit me, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember you telling me that," I said.
"Remember what you said to him at school about a month after we started dating and he threatened us?" she asked.
"That I would gouge out his eyes and skull-fuck him to death if he ever even looked at you wrong again," I replied, smiling at that memory. Kelly broke out in a smile as well, seemingly satisfied that I did indeed remember.
"That's the you I miss," she said. "You were so full of this crazy zeal for life that I could only wish for. He outweighed you by at least fifty pounds, but the way you came at him terrified him nonetheless. After you said that to him, he went out of his way to avoid me."
"Served him right," I said.
"It wasn't just that one time," she continued. "Remember when you chased off those guys giving Tristan a hard time for being gay? You look out for people you care about, even if you pretend to be aloof. You helped me to feel like a worthy person. I'll never forget that Damien."
"I never did stop caring about you, Kelly," I said. "I know it's over between us, but I can't just shove the old feelings under the rug. I'm at a loss as to what to do."
"I'll always care about you," she said. "But you have to find a way to move on. You've... mostly... been a perfect gentleman while I've been here. I still want to be your friend Damien..."
"I want to be your friend too," I interrupted. "I know it's over, but I'll always want what's best for you, even at my own expense."
"Damien, I..." she started to say. She seemed to have difficulty with what to say next. After a few moments, she continued. "I want what's best for you too, which is why I want you to get help. I'll always care about you, but... I just can't watch while you kill yourself. If you're not going to get help... I just... I'm not trying to be mean, but I have to look after my interests too. If you won't get help, I don't want to speak to you anymore."
I sat in silence for a minute, contemplating what she had just said. This was it. She had just come back into my life, even if only as a friend, and I was about to lose her all over again. I was completely crushed and at a loss for what to say. Finally, I simply told her, "I understand."
"I'm sorry, Damien. I really am," she said, choking back her tears. "I don't mean for that to be an ultimatum, but like I said, it's too heartbreaking to watch you slowly kill yourself. I have to go now. I'm leaving at noon tomorrow. If you change your mind, I will take you to Turning Point. Otherwise, I don't want to see or hear from you again. I'm so sorry, Damien."
She turned and gave me one last hug, then got up and walked off. I sat there for a few moments before pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. I felt terribly sad and even wanted to cry. My soul was crying out in pain, but my body and mind were completely numb. A war was raging inside of me that I had no idea how to win. I took a couple more swigs of vodka, finished my cigarette, and walked back to my apartment.
When I reached the door, I happened to look over at the parking lot. Kelly's car was still there, so I went over to see why. I could just see through the driver's side window. Kelly had her hands on the steering wheel, but her head was slumped against it. I knocked on the window to make sure she was okay. When she looked up at me, I saw that her makeup had run down her cheeks. She was crying.
Kelly quickly wiped her eyes, opened her door, and stepped out. She put her hands around my waist and stared up into my eyes, silently pleading with me. I stared back, unable to put into words the torment I was going through. I desperately wanted her help, but another part of me was too proud to accept it. Finally, she pulled me into a tight hug and just stood there holding me for a while.
"I'm so sorry, Kelly," I finally whispered in her ear. We stood embracing each other for a little while longer.
"Please get help, Damien," she finally whispered back. "I know it's hard, but if there is anyone in the world who can beat this, it's you. You're so much stronger than you know."
I closed my eyes for a few minutes, just taking in her warmth and scent. Finally, I pulled away, looked into those beautiful blue eyes one last time, and said to her, "Goodbye Kelly."
She looked back at me sadly, the saddest I had ever seen her. She then leaned in and kissed me on the cheek. "Goodbye Damien, and God help you."
I watched as she turned away, wiping her eyes. She then got in her car and started the engine, giving me one last forlorn look before she pulled out of the parking space. I watched her leave, still not fully comprehending that this would be the last time I ever saw her. After she had gone, I took my vodka out of my pocket. There were still a couple of shots left, so I figured I would just finish it off while I made my way to the dumpster to throw the bottle away.
Once I had gone through the gate into the alley, I took the last shot and looked down at the bottle. In that moment, all of my suppressed misery, sadness, and self-loathing boiled up to the surface. I let out an anguished scream and threw the bottle as hard as I could into the side of the dumpster. It was a plastic bottle, so I didn't get the satisfaction of shattering it. Luckily, there were plenty of glass beer bottles strewn about the alley.
"What have I done?" I screamed as I picked up the closest bottle and threw it against the dumpster, shattering it. I frantically picked up more bottles and shattered them one by one, littering the alley with broken glass. When I could no longer find any more bottles, I screamed, "Everything I touch turns to shit! I'm King Fucking Mierdes!"
At this point, I had finally exhausted myself. I sank to my knees and felt the tears I had been unable to cry earlier finally start flowing. All I could do for a while was sit there sobbing and shaking uncontrollably. I was finally able to regain my composure after a few minutes, so I stood up and made my way back to my apartment.
"Dude, was that you making all that noise?" I heard one of my neighbors ask as I was walking back. I just looked at him and shook my head, knowing I must have looked like hell. He gave me a quizzical look and asked, "You alright man? Wanna come in for a beer?"
I thought about it for a few seconds before responding, "No thanks. I just want to go to bed now."
"Okay, man. Have a good night. Try not to wake anyone else up, okay?" I just nodded and continued on my way.
I wish I could say that that night was the darkness before the dawn; that I finally saw the error of my ways, got help, and finally changed my life for the better. That would be too good to be true though. As painful as that night was, it was nowhere near my darkest moment. It would take almost two more years of tormenting myself before I was finally ready to change completely.
In February of 2016, I finally did go in for treatment. I had managed to clean up long enough to get a job, but promptly lost it when I returned to my old drinking habits shortly afterward. The night before I went to treatment, I texted Kelly, telling her once again that I was sorry and had finally decided to get help.
I was hoping to hear from her when I completed treatment. However, she never texted me back, and I'm pretty sure she blocked me on Facebook. Instead of moving on, I used this as an excuse to get drunk again, the same day I got out of rehab, no less. I honestly don't blame her for doing that. What I did was pretty shitty and selfish. Someone who has never faced an addiction problem would never understand why I made the decision that I did. Hell, I don't even understand it. The only way to really explain it is that alcohol had its claws in me, and I was no longer capable of escaping its hold of my own cognizance.
I never saw or heard from Kelly again. It was a hard thing to forgive myself for, and I'm not sure even now that I have fully done so. Losing her was completely my fault. I've come to terms with the fact that I will most likely never see her again, and it's probably for the best for both of us. If it happened, it may only serve to reopen old wounds.
The next day I went back to Fast Eddie's. I was understandably in a shitty mood, and all I wanted was to disappear into the noise of the place. Another bartender was working that afternoon, a guy named Carson. He said to me, "Damn, dude! You look like you just got dumped!"
I gave him a withering glare and said to him, "That's not even remotely funny. Don't say shit like that to me right now."
"Fair enough man," he replied. "You having the usual?"
"Yes, please," I answered. "And if you don't mind, I'd like to just be left alone. No talking."
"Alright man," he said. "Shiner Bock and a double shot of Jack, coming right up."