Jessie will never know how many times she’s saved my life. When I feel helpless, hopeless, defeated, I like to play with my gun. One night, while I was mindlessly loading and unloading my gun, she jumped up on the couch and nudged me with her cold, wet nose. So I stopped fidgeting with my gun and gave her a good head scratching. Then I loaded the gun again and began spinning it on the table like I was playing Wheel of Fortune. I wondered who would take Jessie if I were gone. Probably Kelly, my ex-wife. I took a hard swallow of bourbon. It stopped burning two glasses ago. I kept spinning the gun.
Then there was a knock at the kitchen door. Jessie gave a little woof and jumped off the couch. She knew it was Kelly. So did I. She was carrying two grocery bags when I opened the door.
“Kelly, what brings you here this time?” Seeing her made my chest tighten. It had been a year since she left me. I wished she would either come back for good or just give up on me.
“I just came from grocery shopping. Thought you might be running low.” She set the two bags on the kitchen table. “There’s frozen stuff in there, so you’d better put it away quick. So how have you been?” she asked while I put the groceries away.
“Good, good.” The first lie.
“And how’s Jessie?”
“She’s good. Hey, Jessie. Come back in here, girl. Say, ‘Hi’ to Kelly again.” Jessie obliged. “How’ve you been?” I asked.
“I’m doin’ good,” she said.
“Can I get you a drink?”
“No thanks. I’m driving.”
“Well, have a seat.” I tried to keep us in the kitchen since my gun was in the living room.
“I see you’re still drinking. How much these days?”
“I’ve cut back to about about three a day.” The second lie.
“Are you getting out at all?”
“Yeah, I was out with Brian and Patrick just last week.” Another lie.
“That’s funny, Brian didn’t mention it the last time I spoke to him”
“It wasn’t a big deal. Just a couple of drinks down at Lucky’s.”
“Brian told me he hasn’t seen you in about a month.”
“A month, hmm. Has it been that long?” I brushed some crumbs off the table.
“Is it getting worse, John?”
“No. In fact I think it’s been a little better.” More lies.
“Don’t lie to me, John Flynn, we were married ten years. I know when you’re lying. When was the last time you went grocery shopping?”
“Did you actually go in the store?”
“No,” I said with a sigh. “I ordered them online.”
“John,” she said, “Did you at least go pick them up?”
“No, I had them delivered.” Here it comes, I thought, and took another hit of bourbon.
“John, why don’t you get some professional help?” And there it was.
“I don’t need any help. I’ve got Jessie. She’s all the help I need.”
“John, you’re buying your groceries online and having them delivered.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“It’s just another way to avoid leaving the house.”
“It’s convenient!” I was hoping she wouldn’t bring up the clothes, the dog food or the shoes that I also bought online. “Besides, I go to work everyday. That’s leaving the house.” That left her quiet for a minute, but only a minute.
“That’s not the same. You don’t have to go out in public. Work is a safe place for you.”
“It is the same. I go out every day. I do not have a problem,” I said with some authority.
“I remember once it took you two weeks to muster up the courage to go to AutoZone to buy a five dollar bulb to fix the taillight. You would spend hours dreading taking the trash down to the corner.”
“You’re exaggerating.” I knew she wasn’t.
“Listen, John, if you don’t want to get professional help, then at least ask Brian or Patrick or me for help.”
“Well I can’t ask Patrick.”
“The last time I saw him I’d had a little too much to drink and I think I took a swing at him. I missed him. But I think I really pissed him off.”
“I’m sure he’s forgotten all about it.”
“Oooh, I don’t think so. I might’ve said something about his wife too.”
“Well Brian then.”
“Brian is a good guy. But we’re really not that close.
“Then what about me?”
“Too much baggage.”
“C’mon, there must be something I can do for you. What can I do to help?”
“Look, Kelly, I know you’ve come over here with good intentions. But I just don’t need your help. The best thing you could do for me is leave me alone. Let me work this out by myself.”
“Because that’s worked so well for you in the past.”
“Other people face these same issues everyday. And they manage. I just need to figure this out.” I took another good hard swallow of bourbon hoping to find the words that would end this discussion. “Okay, we both know I have a few issues. Who doesn’t? But, like everyone else, I can work them out myself.” Lying again.
“Everyone does not work it out themselves. Who do you think is keeping all the pharmaceutical companies and therapists in business?”
“A man worth his salt can work these issues out himself. He doesn’t need a therapist.”
“John, needing help is not a measure of your worth. It’s not a competition. Nobody is keeping score.”
“I’m keeping score!” I slapped my open palm on the table. “What kind of man am I if I can’t come and go when I want?” I wanted to tell her more. I wanted her to know how I dreaded waking up every morning. How I felt like there was a weight on me that made everything painful. Every move was difficult and heavy. By the end of the day, I just wanted it all to go away. A real man would have this fear under control. He’d get things done, regardless. He wouldn’t feel like quitting.
“John,” she put her hand on my arm.”You’re comparing your inside life to everyone else’s outside life. It’s not a fair comparison. It will only make you miserable. Many people suffer from anxiety. They take medication, get professional help and get on with their lives. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” There was that word, anxiety. It made him feel like a feeble old woman.
“It’s not anxiety.” Another lie. “It’s just that I don’t like crowds. Lots of people hate crowds. It doesn’t mean they suffer from anxiety.”
“John, you have trouble leaving your house. It’s not all about crowds. And when you do go out it’s always to the same places like Lucky’s or O’Leary’s. You never go anyplace new or far from home.”
“I like Lucky’s. And I like O’Leary’s. Where’s the harm in that?”
“The problem is you won’t go anyplace else. Look, John, how about you and I go out for a drink at Pippen’s sometime this week? Just one drink. And we’ll leave whenever you want.”
“Okay, I’ll think about it. You should probably go now. I’m gettin’ kinda tired. But I promise I’ll think about Pippen’s.” More lies.
“Okay, I’ll go. But you’d better call me this week and let me know when you want to go.”
“I promise I’ll call,” I lied while moving her towards the door.
“I’m holding you to this.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll call,” I said practically pushing her out the door. “Goodnight,” I said.
After she left I returned to the living room and my gun on the coffee table. It was loaded. I picked it up. I could feel its weight. It felt substantial and real in my hand. I put it on the table and started spinning it again.
Talking with Kelly just made me feel worse. Knowing that there were people out there discussing my problems and trying to fix me made me feel like an invalid. Everyone worried about “Poor John” who couldn’t handle crowds. “Poor John” who had trouble leaving his house. “Poor John” who drank too much. I began to trace the gun with my finger.
The only one not judging me was Jessie. She didn’t care that I spent half a day working up enough courage to buy four screws at Home Depot. She didn’t care that I ordered groceries and dog food online to avoid leaving the house. She didn’t make me feel like an invalid because I couldn’t do what came easily to everyone else. When she greeted me at the door she didn’t think of me as “Poor John”. She was just happy I was home. As I passed the loaded gun from hand to hand, she jumped up on the couch and put her head in my lap, ears back, staring up at me. I could see the whites of her eyes. She knew something was wrong. Then she let out a barely audible whimper.
I can’t be sure whether she knew what she was doing or not. All I knew was that I couldn’t resist her deep brown unblinking eyes. I picked up the gun, released the clip, pulled the slide to remove the bullet in the chamber and put the empty gun on the table. Then I wrapped both arms around her neck and held her for several minutes, breathing in her yeasty, musky odor. I started to shed a few tears. I let go of her and wiped them on my sleeve. She settled her head back onto my lap and closed her eyes. I sat stroking her head. I’d made it through another day.