He looks…awful. It’s been days since he’s seen himself, maybe weeks since he’s really seen himself. The only reason he is in the bathroom today is because he smells bad. He can’t even remember the last time he stepped in here, but he knows he has and frequently; the acrid smell of piss weighs heavy in the air.
He catches a glimpse of his reflection, the shoddy florescent light blinking in and out of consciousness. In the moments of darkness, he feels a hammer inside his skull, and a voice calling his name from somewhere else. In the moments of light, he is disgusted.
There are reminders in his red-blotched nose and sallow skin, years of an untold, yet obvious and unremarkable story on the maps of broken capillary sprawling across his cheeks. Every shade of black and blue beneath his eyes and unexplained scar on his body is a tribute to another arc of his story that he’s been there for, but can’t remember. The voice calls again, sharp and grating like it’s coming from radio static. It’s familiar—almost comforting. It’s a friend, but he realizes that’s impossible. He is isolate by design.
The grey shirt that he’s worn for recent serving memory in all its hideous glory, is saturated with old and new sweat and he can feel it clinging to his skin. He feels the sweat bead along his hairline, bleeding into his ragged beard and collecting under
his nose in his mustache. He had decided a while ago, mostly implicitly, that the tremors interfere with shaving and why even bother.
There had been a time where he loved. A strong woman with long tendrils of southern blonde hair and a sharp wit about her that he adored. He adored everything about her, even the elegance in her long fingers as she shamefully puffed on Marlboros behind the garage at night.
But while she loved him fiercely, he did not love her enough in the way she deserved. There’s a fine balance and he wasn’t—isn’t strong enough to hold it. There’s evidence of his love in the form of a little girl that exists outside the confines of his asylum. Probably not so little anymore—but that’s all he knows of her. He doesn’t know what she looks like now. And even though there is still someone left for him to love, he doesn’t believe he’s capable of it anymore, or more importantly that he deserves it.
His stomach churns and his mouth salivates in anticipation of his nausea, but there’s nothing to come back up. He is sick of seeing himself in the mirror and turns away. His friend stands in the doorway. His friend does not speak this time, only blocks the way out.
“Move,” he grunts irately.
His friend watches him mournfully. He can’t see his friends face; the features are just barely out of focus like an old camera lens. But the more he concentrates on making out the features, the further out of focus his vision becomes. He can’t remember what his friend looks like.
“Goddamn it, Mark, get out of my way,” he yells angrily in a slur of strung together words.
He brings his trembling hand to Mark’s chest and pushes, but he only stumbles through Mark, through the threshold and onto the floor. Mark is gone but calls to him once more.
There’s a weight on him and his mind is foggy, like he’s trying to think through sticky syrup. He hasn’t spoken to Mark in years, but very recently in the ebbs of his moods, Mark appears. He knows Mark has never been there. Although he knows intrinsically that Mark was a good friend at some point, his memories of him
are dull, unclear and anachronistic.
There’s only one thing that he knows that will make the shaking subside. One thing to ease the thrashing of his heart, wane the headaches, make Mark go away—and bring him back to his sense of normalcy.
He lifts himself off the ground, but he feels encumbered, grabbing hold of the door frame to steady. He trudges past the living room, through to the kitchen and to the freezer where he grabs his cold, clear solution. The liquor, he knows, promises
only two things: release and death. Both offer the same sense of comfort, even death, albeit rather posthumously; but if he is going to die, then he deserves it.
He’s only concerned with here and now, and he drinks. A sip at first, then the gentle and oddly comforting glug glug as his throat opens hungrily for it; like the feeling of a lover’s heartbeat as
he lays his head across their breast. But there is no spreading warmth, no burning sensation, no buzzing in his head, not like the first time it ever touched his lips; a memory long forgotten in time. He feels nothing. He is nothing, just a husk of a man.
He hears his cellphone vibrate from the coffee table. He doesn’t recall the last time he’s touched it but scratches on the charging port remember differently. It’s a voicemail from an unknown number, and he listens:
“Hi…dad, it’s—ah,it’s your daughter.”
The voicemail continues, but he doesn’t hear it. He doesn’t delete the message but listens to it again. And again. Once more.
He fumbles the phone until he manages to dial a number—it took a few tries to get it right. In Mark’s comings and goings, he asked him to call; a request that always fell on deaf ears. The cellphone rings an outgoing call in his ear.
“Rick. Long time, no talk,” the voice replies, “this is a surprise.”
He speaks with Mark, and not the Mark that appears to him in his momentary withdrawals. It isn't a long conversation, but it's enough.
Rick staggers, a little steadier this time, back to the bathroom and grabs his toothbrush, stumbles along the hallway walls to his bedroom and begins to pack.
And he, with a little more spine, heads to the shower to wash.