Chapter 23

(20007)

For a moment, I looked at the broken angel, feeling hot anger and tears rise up to my head. It wasn’t fair. None of this was fair. I remembered my mother’s words when our dog Avogadro had died. It had thrown me into a tailspin of sulk and despair.

Finally, my mother had had enough, and she said, “James, you need to snap out of this. Avogadro is gone and is never coming back. You need to move on.”

To which I replied, “This isn’t fair, mom!”

“James, life isn’t fair. There are no guarantees that you will not experience loss and grief. God does not protect us from pain, but God can use our pain to bring about new growth, new life.”

But God never did. Eventually, the pain subsided, and I did move on, but I was no better for it, and we never got another dog.

God, I believed, was the author of my pain. My rage turned to ringing and salivation and obsession. I needed relief, and I needed it immediately. It was early. Amy was still in bed. I walked straight to the refrigerator and grabbed the bottle of pills out of the cabinet, laid them out on the counter, and poured a glass of water; seven pills. I knew it would only take six to get me high. I took them two at a time, choking briefly on the last one.

But the pills would not be enough, not immediate enough. I began thinking my way around the house; all the places I might have left a little bit of booze. I began searching the kitchen. Nothing. The living room. Nothing. Then I remembered my old briefcase which I had not used in months, the case that had been a college graduation gift from Laura, which I thought might be useful but was not. I carried it for a while because I liked the way it looked; thought it made me look important and professional, but I eventually cast it aside. I remembered, though, that I used to keep a half-pint just in case I needed a drink on the go. My closet was a mess, a pile of hangers, dirty clothes, and a box of books that I had knocked down one night in a drunken stupor. I saw the handle and yanked the briefcase out of the wreckage. I fumbled with the six-digit wheel lock for a moment until I got it.

There it was: an unopened half-pint of Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. I could already begin to feel the relief even before I unscrewed the plastic lid and broke the seal. I put the bottle to my lips and drank. It came in a rush of both numbness and intense feeling swirling together like a maelstrom of liquid and fire—numbness to my executive function and feelings of relief. I guzzled half the bottle before stopping for a breath; it’s stinging fume hanging around me and in my nostrils. Then everything, perhaps even my very cells, began to slow down from the booze, and the pills were starting to do their work in me. Sitting down on my undisturbed bed, I drank the rest of the bottle, a tiny thought forming in my brain: Amy. What would Amy say? I stood up and staggered a bit but managed to get to the bathroom where I brushed my teeth and rinsed with mouthwash, hoping that she would not smell the booze on me.

I went back into my room to lay on my bed, not wanting to be found in a shared space, and then something caught my eye. It was the bead that Heath’s guru had given me. I grabbed it and laid back to examine it. I thought of his prophecy that I would never drink again. I felt like such a fool. I was actually starting to believe that he could be right; that it had been a true premonition. What I believed to be my last vestige of faith drained from my consciousness, or was it something deeper than consciousness, perhaps my very core.

I floated for a while; my thoughts undisturbed, until another thought began to grow in some corner of my mind: powerlessness, then hopelessness. I was beyond hope, but in the moment, I didn’t care. I floated for a while longer until I heard Amy shuffle to the bathroom. She can’t see me like this, I thought. I stumbled to the door, closed it, and stood behind it for a moment, holding my balance with the knob. I heard a flush, and the bathroom door opened, more shuffling, then clunking around in the kitchen, the sound of her making the morning coffee. Then I heard her voice and her steps.

“James? Are you here?”

I froze, head buzzing, heart racing.

I crept back to the bed and laid down. A soft knock came at the door, just as my father’s had many times.

“James?” she said and opened the door. “What are you doing? I’ve never seen you lay down in here. What’s going on?”

I groaned, intending to fake it but finding that it was a real groan. “I’m sick,” I said.

She came closer and felt my forehead.

“You’re not feverish. What’s the matter?”

“I dunno. Just don’t feel well. Don’t worry about it; just get to work.”

She stood by me for a moment, as if she was trying to make a decision, then she said, “Ok. I’ll check in on you after the lunch rush.”

“That’s not necessary,” I slurred.

“No, you don’t sound right,” she said, then sniffed the air. “Did you use mouthwash or something?”

“Oh, yeah. My breath was pretty rank.”

“Ok, well call if you need me,” she said, leaving and closing the door behind her.

After she left, I made my way to the living room and sat down in my chair, letting the waves of drunkenness roll through me until I sank into a dreamless sleep.

When I awoke, my head was aching, so I took a couple of aspirin and washed it down with a few swigs of coffee. I checked my messages and saw that there was one from George.

“Hey buddy. Didn’t see you today at the meeting, just thought I’d check in on you.”

I was conflicted about how to respond. I knew that I wasn’t going to stay sober without help now, but I didn’t want him to know that I had relapsed. I also knew that committing to a program like this required some sort of commitment to God, and I could not do that.

I replied, “Just feeling a little sick today. I’ll make it another time.”

“Ok. Good deal. Call anytime.”

“Ok, thanks!” I added the exclamation point to make it seem like I was ok.

I sank back down in the chair and put my feet up on the ottoman. I thought back to that magical drink of 25-year-old scotch and what it had meant to my father, an angel of death, a specter, but in the end, a good friend. The angels I had met had not been my friend. I thought back to the day on the farm. Hadn’t something happened there? I could no longer remember my dreams about it. The way I survived that ordeal was still a mystery; even if what seemed to happen had really happened, it was a mystery that I didn’t feel like I could ever solve.

Thinking it would be good if I ate something, I went to the fridge to see what there was to eat. I found the leftover chili in a bowl covered with plastic wrap. I popped it into the microwave and dug around in the pantry, hoping to find some corn chips but found none. When the microwave beeped, I opened it and stirred the chili then tested it with my finger. It was warm enough. I only ate about half of, covered it again and put it back into the refrigerator. Then I sat back down into my chair and turned on the TV to an old episode of M*A*S*H.

When Amy came home, I still felt a little out of it but more coherent.

“Hey! She said, how’s the patient?” she said, putting down a bag of groceries.

I turned off the TV, and I thought of the coolness of the bottom of the paper grocery bags I had helped my mother unload from the back of our Ford Fairmont station wagon, filled with vegetables, oranges, and ground beef wrapped in butcher’s paper.

“Much better. Thanks. You know, I don’t expect you to cook for me.”

“You take care of me; I take care of you. That’s the deal.”

“Well, I’m going to take a shower,” I said, standing, feeling more solid on my feet.

“Ok, I’ll start dinner.”

As the hot water cleansed my body, it seemed that it could not cleanse what was inside of me. I felt a dirty sort of guilt. I wondered if I would ever find a way out of this. I wondered how many people I would hurt; how many people I had already hurt in my life. I thought of the disappointment I was going to cause Amy and Kyra and George if they found out I was drinking again. When I turned off the shower, I thought I heard a voice, a male voice, and so I dried off quickly. I heard it again, then I heard Amy scream, “Get the fuck away from me! I’m not alone. James is here. He’ll be out any minute!”

I tied a towel around my waist and tore out of the bathroom into the living room. Amy was standing in the middle of the living room. The front door was wide open, and standing inside the threshold with blind fury on his face was Amy’s father. A white Camry was parked behind him on the street with the passenger door open. His fists were clenched, his hairy forearms bared under his rolled-up sleeves. Before I could do anything, he lunged at her, grabbed her by the wrist, and slammed her in the face with his open hand. She fell to the ground, stunned and unable to speak, and I shouted, “What the fuck are you doing, asshole!” and I rushed him.

But he grabbed me by the shoulders, using my momentum against me and threw me to the floor.

“If you’re smart, you will stay down, Roberts. Whatever this is,” he said, gesturing between the two of us, “it is over. Amy, you’re coming home.”

She was weeping and getting to her feet, her face red where it had met his hand. “I’m not doing shit with you!” she shouted.

I felt the strength return to my legs, adrenaline pumping, heart pounding, and I jumped up, losing my towel, shoved him hard and tried to slug him, but he ducked, and before I had a chance to defend myself he jabbed me in the face so hard that it knocked me on my bare ass. I tried to get up, but I was too woozy. Little pinpricks of light were buzzing around me, and I was only faintly aware that he was grabbing Amy by the arm and dragging her out of the apartment, me helpless to stop him.

Before I could regain my footing, the door was slamming, and they were gone. I could hear her shouting, then a car door slammed, and an engine roared and faded into the distance.

I touched my face. It was hot and throbbing, and my jaw felt misaligned and stiff. I became aware that I was naked. When I finally came to, I got up one leg at a time. I went as fast as I could, given my disorientation and increasing pain to the bedroom to dress. I didn’t bother with underwear, and I fell down trying to get my leg into my jeans. When I finally got them on, I ran out onto the street, barefoot and shirtless, the concrete cool and greasy and rough under my feet. I had no car and no way to know where he was taking her. I looked up and down the street, listening and looking for any sign, but there was none.

A car turned on to my block, and I walked back to the sidewalk. I touched my jaw again; it was swelling. I didn’t know if it was broken or not, but the pain was dull and steady. Taking one last look up and down the street, I walked back inside the apartment, shut the door, and began pacing around the room, not knowing what to do.

I considered calling the police. I picked up my phone to dial 911 but stopped. If I called the police and they found Amy, they might bust the guy, but they would take her into custody, and I might not see her again. She would be pissed. I dialed Kyra instead.

She answered on the fourth ring.

“Hello? James?”

“Hey. He got her. Her dad…he was at my apartment and he dragged her off. I have no idea where they are, but we have to find her.”

“Are you ok?”

“I’m a little beat up, but I’m fine. Kyra, we have to move and move quick.”

“Ok. I’m on my way over.”

As I headed back to my bedroom to finish getting dressed, I stepped on the pieces of the broken angel, which gave me a sharp pain in my foot. “Shit! Fuck!” I shouted, dusting the pieces off. I dressed, and as I did, panic began to overcome me. Where would we go to find her? They could be anywhere. He would hurt her. I was sure of it. In desperation, I dropped to my knees and lifted my hands to the ceiling. ”God! Listen to me! Listen to me! Please show mercy on me—on Amy. Please, Lord. Please. Help me! Show me the way! Help me find her.” I lowered my arms and slumped down. “Help me find her. You owe me this.”

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