Maria nursed her fourth shot of vodka in her hands. As the warm sting surged down her throat, she marveled at her capacity to destroy anything that was good in her pathetic life. She slammed the shot glass down on the counter. “Another,” she commanded without eye contact. The bartender shot a slightly irritated look in her direction and returned with another shot, which she downed thanklessly once it was within reach. The burn from the vodka was starting to die down. Drinking now longer caused pain, but was filling her with relief. The goddamned world that she found herself trudging through was starting to become a blur, a distant memory.
And the cycle continued.
Henry Martin noticed the woman sitting alone in a dimly lit corner of the bar. The atmosphere in this hole-in-the-wall dump that masqueraded as a bar was anything but lively. Unintelligible music blared from every direction. It was a hodgepodge of varying genres and time periods as if it were trying desperately to appease every patron—at least those who paid attention or could even recognize the songs. The whole place reeked of failure and despair, whatever that smells like. Even the bartenders looked like they were not there of their own volition. If the marketing for this location were “Where dreams come to die,” it would certainly live up to its reputation.
Henry took in a deep breath and walked purposefully toward the woman. He ran his hands through his hair, checked his breath, and adjusted his outfit. First impressions were everything. Just barely of legal drinking age, Henry tried to ignore the quizzical looks of the other men and women in the room who were mainly in their forties or older. During the rare times when this bar was unfathomably lively and active, there would be a decent assortment of young men and women looking to fill their adolescent desires. Yes, a bar where people go to forget about life or walk away with a one-night stand. How original!
The burn of the vodka had all but subsided now. Maria was beginning to forget about what made her go to this bar in the first place. Just a few more drinks left until that would become a reality. She’d stumble home as she usually did and wake up the next morning with a splitting headache, but the stain of her pitiful would be temporarily alleviated as a result. The ends justified her means.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the young man approach her. He took a seat right next her, gave her a nod and a smile and ordered a beer, a Guinness stout. He tipped the bartender and took a hearty swig of the beer, letting the flavors fill his mouth. After that he set his glass down and wiped off a pencil thin foam mustache. Regaining his composure, he turned to face Maria. “What brings you here?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“I actually would. I didn’t walk all the way over here for the silent treatment.”
Maria didn’t really feel like playing the usual rejection game she’s perfected over the years. There were simply too many overzealous male candidates that tried in trite ways to pique her interest with only one thing on their mind. And she had no interest in that. But this man didn’t like he was going to crack as easily as the others. This time, her bitch move was not effective. He shot her another relaxed, confident smile.
Kid’s got confidence. I like it. But he’s too young for me. Maria was pushing forty and Henry had to be in his early twenties. Maria knew she had the body that attracted both men and women, but she did have limits when it came to age. As charming as this man was, he was still a kid in her eyes and she was not going to ski down that slippery slope. Playing jump rope with her moral limits never fared well for her. At least she learned that much. And as a plus, having a guy talk to her kept the other sex-crazed males away from her. Maria decided to at least humor him.
“Good point! But I’m going be honest with you…”
“Henry,” he quickly added.
“Henry. I’m going to be honest with you, Henry. I appreciate your effort, but I’m not interested in any kind of relationship with you. I’m sorry. You seem like a wonderful young man.”
“That’s good because I’m not here for that kind of relationship, the kind I think you’re implying right now. I actually came here because I wanted to talk to you, to finally meet you.” He smiled the whole time he spoke as if nothing could faze him and steal away his happiness.
Maria arched a pencil-thin eyebrow. “Meet me?”
“In a way, yes, but we’ve already met. We met quite a long time ago.”
“When? I don’t remember you at all. I’m pretty good with faces but yours eludes me.”
“I wouldn’t think you would remember me anyway. It was a long time go.”
These mind games were starting to annoy Maria. She shot Henry a look that he was now on thin ice. “Henry, you’re starting to get only nerves. Say what you need to say or please walk away.” Maria crossed her hands and leaned back as far as she could on the bar stools without losing her balance and crossed her arms.
“Yes, sorry.” He drew out an orange envelope that he had concealed under his coat. He studied the papers for a second, and handed them back to Maria.
“What are these?” she asked as she started skimming the paper.
“They’re adoption papers. Apparently, Martin is not what my true last name should be. Apparently, I am a Holden. I am the son of one Maria Holden, born in Illinois in 1999. I was put up for adoption at birth.”
Maria stared blankly at the papers in front of her as if the contents would not register in her mind.
“After my adopted parents told me the truth, I was dead set on finding my birth mother. It took months, but I was finally able to track you down to this city. It was fortunate for me that you didn’t stray too far.” He smiled again as Maria continued to force words out of her mouth.
“You…you….you’re my son?” The tears started flowing freely down her cheeks. The reality of this moment seemed like a dream that you never wanted to end. Maria still remembered, and regretted that day, as if it were yesterday.
High school was an awkward time for Maria. She had moved in during her senior year and didn’t really know anyone. Back then she was shy and didn’t have the highest self-esteem. But Marc changed all that. He made her feel wanted, feel special, feel beautiful. She fell fast for him and fell hard. She remembered how relieved she was to find out that those feelings were reciprocated. They began dating after about a month of flirting.
The fairy tale didn’t last long as Marc developed a one-track mind a few weeks into dating. He pressured her into having sex with him out of what he argued was a sign that they loved each other. Why was she so stupid back then? And why did it feel like not much had changed since then. Her life was still worthless in her eyes. Marc broke up with her soon after. While his reputation grew among his buds for being able to “bang the new girl,” Maria went even more inside herself and barely talked for the remainder of the year.
It was hard but she managed to keep her pregnancy a secret from her school life until she graduated. Her family knew about it and, once they got over the initial shock, offered their full support. Maria didn’t attend college, but she later got her GED. Now, she worked in a dead end job, barely making ends meet, lacking the courage or the resolve to pursue something better.
Maria made the hard decision to put her baby boy up for adoption as she didn’t feel that she was capable of raising a child yet. Her family was very understanding and supportive of her decision and helped in finding a good family for her newborn son. A wonderful family by the name of Martin jumped on the opportunity and the rest was history.
“Yes, mom, and I’m so glad I found you after all these years!” Henry got off his barstool and embraced his mother in a long, tearful embrace.
They talked for a long time. They talked to each other like they were long-time friends. Henry shared about his life and Maria shared a little bit about hers. She mostly explained why she put him up for adoption and how she did it because she loved him and wanted the best life for him, a life she didn’t feel she would be able to provide at that point in time. But as the conversation went on, the confident, carefree personality of Henry faded until he was a more reserved, nervous version of himself.
“Maria, there’s something else I have to tell you.”
“What is it?” Maria rested her elbows on her thighs and leaned in close to hear what Henry was about to say.
“Well, I’ve been searching for you for years. Through my research, I uncovered some other things that really bothered me. They’re about my dad, my birth father. He’s not the guy who you thought he was.”
“Of course he’s not! He was just a jerk.”
“No, there’s more to it. I think…”
But Maria didn’t hear what Henry had to say. The last thing she realized was that she was on the floor of the bar looking up at the ceiling. She felt reality slipping away until everything was enveloped in complete darkness.