I was waiting outside when Kyra arrived in her beat-up Nissan Sentra. She pulled up next to me, rolled down the window, and said, “Get in. Oh shit, James. Have you seen your face?” she asked, “And are you drunk?”
“I just want to get her out of there. Go! Go! Go!”
“Where are we going?”
“I don’t know, just go. We’ll figure something out.”
She gunned it, blowing the first stop sign. The next block down, a trolley was stopping to pick up passengers. She slowed down until they were all on, and then she gunned it again. She went as fast as possible, blowing as many stop signs as she could and dodging trolley traffic.
“James!” shouted Laura. “This is it! This is life. This is marriage. This is what we signed up for!”
It was the spring of 2007. We were both thirty-five-years-old. Laura had taken a break from her career as an opera singer to try to have a baby with me. We had bought a house in one of the newer additions on the north side of Norman with a family in mind; three bedrooms.
I stumbled and fell back onto the couch. I was drunk as I had been every night for the last year.
“Look at you. Don’t you think that I’m upset, too? How many years do you think I’ve dreamed of having a baby?” she said.
“We shouldn’t have waited so long,” I said. “We should have done it right away.”
“Oh, and what about my career? I go straight from college to babies?”
“I’m just saying people who wait have a harder time.”
Given the circumstances, Laura’s parents were understanding about our new timeline. We had come over on a Sunday afternoon and shared my mother’s desire to see us wed before her passing. Mrs. Welch had shared the story of her own mother’s illness and passing and how she had not made it to her college graduation and what a regret that was.
We began to receive R.S.V.P cards daily until the last week of our preparations when a trickle dwindled to a full stop. More than 200 friends and family planned to attend; enough to fill the modest sanctuary and cost my parents a fortune in ribeye steak and chicken marsala for the reception.
I let Laura plan the ceremony except for the prelude; I wanted my parents’ prelude: “Trumpet Voluntary” by Jeremiah Clarke. She planned hymns to sing, a full communion, hired a soloist to sing Malotte’s famous Lord’s Prayer. She picked flowers to honor both her mother and mine. All these decisions I left to her, not because I didn’t care, but because she had been thinking about this event most of her life; she knew what she wanted, and I knew that I wanted her to get whatever she wanted.
“Are you drunk?” said Laura back at my apartment.
“I just had a few drinks with your parents,” I said, speech slurred.
“My parents? As in my dad and my mom?” she said.
“It’s no big deal, babe. I told your parents, and it went ok—for the most part.”
“What do you mean for the most part?” she asked, pacing my living room.
“Well, you were right about your dad. Calling him Frank changed everything. He was cool about it all, and it was his idea to drink, not mine,” I said.
“And my mom? She actually had a drink?”
“Yes, but lemme finish. She was upset at first, ya know? ‘What do you know about being a husband and all,’ she said. But I stood up to her. I told her how I really feel about you and that I will support you and that I’ll get a good job and that we’ll wait until we graduate.”
“Wait, what? You said, we would wait until we graduate?” she said, still agitated.
I was standing outside the church, smoking a cigarette, and once again, George showed up in his sweatshirt and jeans. I felt a surge of gratitude for him. Knowing I could call him had kept me sober for these few days. As he shook my hand, he looked me steadily in the eye with his grey-blue eyes as if he had nothing to hide. I had to look away.
“How are you coming along?” he said.
“Actually, I feel pretty good. Staying sober.”
“That’s great, James. A lot of guys feel good right off the bat…for a little while at least. This is not the time to let your guard down. This is a devil of a disease, something you must take one day at a time.”
“To be honest, I’m not even sure I have a problem. I feel like this should be harder.”
“You’re really the only one who can answer that, but can I ask you something? What made you come to the meeting yesterday?”
The next Monday after Choir, as I was putting up my folder, Laura approached me. She looked serious.
“Hey, James. We need to talk. Maybe we could get lunch over at O’Connell’s?”
“Ok. Like, right now?” I said.
“Yeah, if you’re available.”
“Is everything ok?”
“Come on; we’ll talk about it outside.”
As we were walking out together, I saw Zach leaning up against a wall in the hallway, talking with a freshman girl. He looked up, gave me a wink, and continued talking to her.
We stepped outside into the cool, autumn air. The leaves on campus were turning, but I didn’t pay much attention to them. I was focused on Laura.
“So, what’s up?” I asked after we crossed Boyd Street, which ran across the north side of the music center.
When I arrived at home, Amy was cooking dinner. She did not seem to notice me coming in, so I went into the kitchen to say hello. She did not look up.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Nothing much. I just told someone that I was in love with them, and they stomped all over my heart. No big deal.”
I went to the cabinet out of habit to pour a drink and found it empty. It occurred to me that this could be harder than I expected. I needed some relief.
“You don’t want to be in a relationship with me, Amy.”
“I’m already in a relationship with you, James.”
“You know what I mean.”
She went quiet and stirred the chili on the stove.
“Look, I need to make a call,” I said.
I grabbed a pack of cigarettes and my lighter, went outside, and started looking for my phone contacts for George. I found it, but I hesitated. It was around dinner time; I didn’t want to disturb him. Instead, I lit a cigarette and took a few drags, hoping for some sort of relief. I hadn’t smoked all day, and the buzz came on strong, but it didn’t last. It wasn’t the same. I thought of the pills and realized that I hadn’t thrown them away with the booze. My arm had pretty much healed, and I was no longer in any pain from the accident, but it was medicine. How could medicine be bad? I thought, but even in my thinking, I could see the flaw. These were the same pills that got me into the hospital just days before. I finished up my cigarette and stamped it out on the sidewalk, then walked inside. Amy was not in the kitchen. I found the bottle of pills, and there were only a few left. Not enough to do any significant damage. I thought hard for a moment about what it would feel to take them. It would take the edge off my discomfort; give me some relief.
“So she just kissed you? Out of the blue?” said Zach as we found our seats on the bus.
“Yeah, it caught me off guard.”
“But she hasn’t said a word to you since,” he said.
“Right. I don’t really know what this means. I mean, does this mean she wants to get back together?”
“It’s gonna happen, James. She’s just testing the waters. Think about it. We had just sung one of the best performances any of us had ever sung, and she wanted to share that with you. That definitely means something. Like she said, you’re her person.”
“Do you think I should go try to talk to her?” I said.
“Naw, let her come to you. She’s taking her time. She asked for space, remember?”
We were quiet most of the rest of the way back to Norman. I watched the flat landscape of north-central Oklahoma roll by and began to feel a melancholy that I often felt at the end of momentous trips. I laid my head against the window. It was cool, and it calmed me, and I began to think about the kiss. I had not kissed her since the summer before my junior year.
Weeks had gone by, and I’d called every shelter in town. Although many knew Amy, none had seen her. I wondered if she were even in San Francisco anymore. I missed her greatly. I missed our mornings together at the kitchen table sipping coffee and reading the paper when she would sometimes pull a part of me out, examine it coarsely, and give it back to me with the hands of a child whose innocence had been taken by a man’s brutal hand. I missed having a purpose in sheltering her from whatever storms were chasing her.
Christmas was bearing down on me, and I could scarcely handle the weight of it. Every holiday jingle, Christmas light, and decorated tree reminded me that I would never wake up early on Christmas morning to fix Laura a cup of hot cocoa with a peppermint stick and that somewhere Amy might be alone, in danger, or hungry.
The next day, on campus, I felt different in little ways. I made more eye contact with people. I wanted to be seen. I felt good about the way I was looking after my buddy makeover. When I went to the computer lab, I noticed that Bijan had sent me an email at my school email account. He had wanted to meet me for lunch. He said he would be at Pinks at 11:30. I replied and hoped it wasn’t too late.
Pink’s was a small bar and grill named Pinks in the hopes that the frat kids would think it was a gay bar and would stay away. It was just across the street from Catlett and was a usual hangout for music majors and their friends.
When my morning classes ended, I walked across campus to find him. Though it was hot, he was waiting for me on the front patio. He’d found a shady spot and was sipping a Coke.