Doldrums

“The lovers that went wrong”

“Shaun thinks she’s your girlfriend,” she said. “Just something to think about.”

I.

In the parking lot of some fast food joint—maybe it’s Dairy Queen or Whataburger, but the details are foggy; this was nearly five years earlier—I walk out with a girl and her son. As she puts him in his car seat, I stand off to the side. The chill nips at my skin. My ears, despite the beanie, are cold. Don’t get me started on the ruby red skin tone my nose had taken.

She closes the door and heads around the car and pauses when I approach her. Without so much of a thought passing through my mind, I touch her face, lean in, and kiss her. It’s our first kiss. Cemented in memory.

She tries to form words, but nothing comes out. I’m as surprised as she. Because we both agreed that this wouldn’t happen. And the three words escape from my lips, punctuated by her name. Jenny.

Jenny. The girl from New Mexico. Jenny, the wife.

Interlude

“So there’s never been any moments when you guys have hung out? I don’t know, if I was hanging out with some guy every single weekend…”

II.

“Some times I want to be the little spoon, you know? There’s so much expected of me…a single moment of vulnerability and we’re perceived weak. So yeah, in the bedroom, after a long day of bullshit, I want whoever I’m with to accept me for all my strengths and vulnerabilities.”

“You can be the little spoon once in a while.”

And the words slip from my lips. Punctuated by her name. Selina. The girl from nearby. Selina, the wife.

Interlude

“What if I’m a bad kisser, Sam? Or that I’ve forgotten how to hold someone’s hand and mean it? What if something as simple as a date night becomes a complex labyrinth of small talks and questions about the weather? What happens then, Sam?”

III.

Her breath is bitter in my mouth. She’s hungry. She needs the control and I give it up with ease. Isn’t that who I’ve always been? Exactly what other people needed. She holds me down. Ties me up. She takes mouthfuls of me.

“I want to taste you,” she whispers in my ear. “Let me taste you.”

Her. This woman. Someone else’s wife.

Interlude

And if you’re still breathing, you’re the lucky ones.
‘Cause most of us are heaving through corrupted lungs.
Setting fire to our insides for fun
Collecting names of the lovers that went wrong
The lovers that went wrong

IV

I’m twentysomething, sitting in the waiting room at the university health service building. The weather outside is gloom and doom, creating the perfect atmosphere for the thoughts coursing through my head. In my hand is one of those waiting room pamphlets that decorate every clinic I’ve ever sat in.

“Do You Suffer From Depression?” it says on the top. Or some shit like that. I read through it. I tick off the boxes. I know there’s no use of lying. There’s a reason why this one called to me.

I don’t have suicidal thoughts, I think. Except when you do, the Voice says somewhere at the base of my skull.

Only four remain unticked. The suicidal is one of them. When the provider calls me in, she goes over all the tests. There’s nothing with me.

“I…uh…um…” I state meekly. “I saw this in the waiting room.” I hold up the pamphlet. “And I was thinking,” I began.

Interlude

“I formally and happily resign from the person I was before. I formally and readily resign from depression. I’m ending the relationship I have with the Voice. I resign from the world of ugly that has polluted my thoughts, haunted my dreams. I vow to no longer hold onto the past. But acknowledge the demons that I must exorcise before I do so.”

V

“Shaun thinks she’s your girlfriend,” Jeanna tells me. We’re sitting in the waiting room while we await for our son to come out from the door. We’ve been talking about our lives and those who linger within them.

My silence speaks volumes.

“He was talking about the things you all did together or what she and he did together. And I asked him, ‘Shaun? Who’s Virginia?’ And he said, ‘Daddy’s girlfriend?’ but like he wasn’t too sure.”

“Oh,” I reply.

“Just something to think about.”

Epilogue

It’s Saturday night. Or maybe it’s Sunday morning. And I can’t remember what we were just talking about. But we’re both tired. She yawns and stretches and I can’t help but to smile. Admire her. And she blushes. Laughs. And the moment passes over us and evaporates with my inability to move. When she leaves, I hug her and have to force my arms to release her from my embrace.

Because if I don’t, I’m unsure if I’ll ever stop. Because I don’t fall in love; I plunge.

Personal

“It’s Getting There”

First time I killed my father, I’d just turned 20. In some whirlwind of inspiration fueled by Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, I penned a short story I’d later call “David.”

He died again after writing an incomplete story about a man getting dressed for his father’s funeral. And again, later that year, about a man who remembers his father moments before he receives a phone call with the news of his passing. Oddly, both stories were titled (the first being a working title) after Bob Dylan songs.

A few years ago, during the throes of depression, I started planning a story about a man who returns home after his father’s death. I might have drafted the first few chapters, but nothing came of it. Mostly, because I realized that I seemed to pull my inspiration from the Jonathan Tropper novel, This Is Where I Leave You.

However, none of these writings prepared me for the actuality of it.

The day I learned my father was dying, we were eating at Burger King. My mother, after all these years, still doesn’t know how to broach the subject of death with me. So she does it awkwardly and quickly.

I took it in. Ingested it as I ate the Chicken Parmesan BK was still pimping. I’d known the man’s health wasn’t good. It wasn’t even ok, I think. But I expected him to come around. To live through this as he had everything else before. I didn’t even take into consideration his age.

“How long does he have?” I asked.

“Just a matter of time until his heart gives up,” she said.

I nodded. Whatever I felt up to that moment, slipped from me. I felt numb. Felt exhausted. Felt more like a version of me I hadn’t expected to encounter that day. Or ever. But I kept my face straight. Bottled that shit up nice and tight. I wouldn’t allow myself to feel until later that night.

When he smiled at me in his room at the MICU, it was the first pang of regret I felt about our distanced relationship. The years we spent estranged marred by self-pity and hardheadedness, vanished. And the reality of it set in.

My father was dying.

He passed away on 15 July. We arrived to the hospice after I got out of work. I walked to his room as my mom signed in the visitor’s log. I pushed open the door to his room and that’s when I noticed the sound. Or lack thereof. It took all I had not to drop the food and milkshake I held in my hand.

There my father lay, on his bed, with the TV on. The breathing machine that had been connected to him for a little over a week now stood silent in its corner. The empty crawled its way through my mind. The adrenaline pulsed. As my mother and nieces got close to the room, I looked at her.

“His machine is off,” I said. “Why would they turn off his machine?”

There wasn’t a doubt in my mind. I held the answer. I just didn’t believe. My father passed away sometime between the time I got out of work, picked up my dinner, and arrived at the hospice.

My father and I didn’t have a relationship. I went years without seeing him, without talking to him. We were more strangers than family at times. And I think that’s what hurts the most. Neither of us budged from our fixed places.

The Sunday before he died, I had a few moments alone with him. I leaned in close and I spoke. And while I won’t share with you in great detail, I will allow a few words to be printed here. “It’s ok if you have to go. I’ll be ok. We’ll be ok.”