Are you coming to the party tonight?
Bryan hadn’t wanted to but he nonetheless made the short drive. After all, Cade was his best friend and it would mean a lot to him.
Bryan rang the doorbell and waited for someone to come to let him into the party. He had never felt particularly comfortable in groups of people that he was unfamiliar with but tonight that feeling was particularly pronounced.
I’ve made a huge mistake, he thought, as his mouth started to dry.
Sweat began to bead on his back and slowly rolled downwards, only making him more uncomfortable.
Why did he even think he was ready for this sort of thing? How could he be so foolish?
Bryan scolded himself and turned to leave when he heard the door swing open.
Bryan! Where are you going? Are you leaving, Cade asked.
Yea, I just remembered something that I really need to take care of, he said.
Well, Cade replied, we’ll be here for a while so come back after that. We haven’t seen you in a while. Then, after a pause, Cade quietly added after a pause, are you doing okay?
Yeah, okay. Sure. If I have time I will be back. And I am fine; thank you for asking, Bryan said. He turned away and shoved his hands deep into his pockets, unable to make eye contact. Bryan slipped back into his car and cranked the air conditioner up as cold as he could get it. Even though it was October, he could feel that his cheeks were flushed and the sweat had dampened his undershirt. His heavy, black sweater made him significantly hotter, but effectively hid his anxious perspiration and that was a trade that Bryan was willing to make. I would rather be too hot than visibly sweaty, he said to himself. He could hear his own pulse thumping in his ears.
This was the third time this month that Bryan had made it all the way to front door of a gathering only to panic and leave.
Plus, she could have been at any one of those parties.
Even if she wasn’t, her friends would be.
This town was only so big.
A cool, autumn rain was falling and it reminded him of the last time he saw her. Bryan let his mind slip deep into the past. The scene looked the same as it always did when he allowed himself to relive it: he was in the passenger seat of her car, busying himself memorizing every line and contour of her face as the gentle rain on the windshield threw small, swirling shadows over the scene; her words slowly sinking into the pit of his stomach. This very well might be the last time he ever saw her, her hair, and deep, brown eyes. She was still speaking but Bryan could hardly hear her now; it was over and that’s all he needed to know.
He’d seen the writing on the wall, though. It had been close to a month since she and Bryan had gone to a party together only to leave separately. Slowly but surely, their conversations grew shorter, superficial, and sporadic. It was as if she started to withdraw everything Bryan thought that he had known about her until she felt more like someone he was vaguely familiar with, rather than the girl he thought he would marry.
She had ended things in much the same fashion she started them: flippantly and with an air indifference. But it doesn’t matter how poorly you’ve been treated when you love someone. The head and the heart have a strange way of letting the bad things fade into the edges of your memory while also clinging desperately to the threads of the good, however thin they may be.
Life just wasn’t the same after that. He was not the first to get his heart broken and he certainly wouldn’t be the last. But in Bryan’s young, naïve mind, his heartbreak hurt the worst.
hat night was more than just the end of a relationship. It was the beginning of second guessing every word from everyone else’s mouth. The cracks behind the cheery veneer of childhood and early adulthood began to show and the ugly underbelly of life leered back at him.
Bringing himself to the present, Bryan looked at the rain-slicked street and into the open blinds of the home he had just walked away from. With sadness and self-loathing, he put the car in gear and drove off.
Tears began to well in his eyes and he cursed himself for letting old wounds hold him back. He didn’t feel like going home, however, so Bryan drove, made himself sad and listened to sadder music until the low fuel light came on. By the time he found a place to fill his empty tank, he was unsure of what part of town he was in.
The rain fell harder. A long, low rumble of thunder roiled in the night sky. As he stood next to the pump, Bryan stared at the glassy puddles that had gathered on the ruddy asphalt.
It would be so easy to just let his car lose control.
It was a tragic accident, they would all say. No one would say otherwise. The rain and wind had made the already unreliable county roads more treacherous than usual. His car would be found off the road in a ditch or at the bottom of the river somewhere.
He’d never have to worry about another party again and no one would have to worry about inviting him. Most of all, he wouldn’t have to be hurt again.
Maybe he would just go home and get drunk instead. No one would have to know, he told himself. He didn’t know anyone in this part of town anyways. It’s not like he would be seen. All he had to do was grab a six pack, get it out of his system, and then everything would be back to normal by the morning. After all, or a time, the alcohol was the only thing that made him feel like a person.
It would be a less final solution to the anxiety and grief that never seemed to relent. He had been sober for close to a year now and he deserved to have a little fun, just to take the edge off.
No, this was foolish and selfish. As painful as all this currently was, it paled in comparison to the destruction that substance abuse had wrought. Relationships ripped apart. Family fractured to pieces. Nightly blackouts and psych hospital stays…
He still wanted it. He wanted to leave the world behind for a night, or at the very least forget that it existed.
He just wanted to feel normal; to not feel the incessant sting of self-doubt and sadness.
Bryan hastily pulled the pump from his car. Breathing hard, he didn’t quite know what to do next. Going home was risky. He would be all alone with a growing craving for the very thing that derailed his life.
Or he could go back to the party.
He liked neither option.
But Bryan knew deep down what he had to do.
He couldn’t hide forever. Sooner or later, the things you were running from caught up to you and you had to face them. He could either let those fears swallow him whole or he could turn and confront them on his own terms; he could watch himself wither or he could put his foot down and not let himself be controlled by the pain and his past. There were no other options. Yes, his spirit was bruised, but wasn’t everyone else’s in their own way?
Bryan found his way back to the house, rang the doorbell, and waited for someone to come to let him into the party.
I’ve made a huge mistake, he thought, and his mouth started to dry.
Cade answered and smiled at Bryan.
I’m really glad you came back, Cade said.
Bryan smiled sheepishly and walked inside.