Funny Inspirational Contemporary

Dry January

The idea of a dry January came when Ray spilled his beer at a bar and started to cry. He dropped his head. Not again. What the hell? Jesus man, what’s with all the crying?  

He would tear up at the drop of a hat. A leaf could fall from a branch and he would break down. A mother and child putting milk in a grocery cart could make him sob by the cottage cheese.  

In short, he had lost total control of his emotions. Ever since the incident. 

After numerous tests he was diagnosed as having PBA - Pseudobulbar Affect. He was informed that PBA is a nervous system disorder that can occur with a traumatic brain injury. Researchers don’t know the exact cause and treatments are unproven. Doing an online search, Ray found that PBA is also called “emotional incontinence” and “pathological weeping and laughing”.

The incident that led to his troubles occurred last July 23. That morning Ray had rented a mountain bike and ridden solo up a trail called Porcupine Ridge. After pedaling up into the mountains three miles, he stopped and caught his breath. He swallowed a gulp of water, ate half a candy bar, then dug out the remains of a joint from his pack and took a couple tokes. 

After twenty minutes, Ray headed back down. He’d gone half a mile when he came to a sharp stone in the trail. He hit both brakes and then hit another stone and the front wheel locked and launched Ray over the handlebars, downhill to the left. He was shocked to be flying. In a flash, all went dark as he knuckled head first into a thick tree. Knocked out. Blunt force trauma. An hour later he was rescued by other riders who found his bent bike lying next to the trail. Ray was sprawled on his back under a pine, as if taking a nap. 

It was the talk of the town for a week, the EMT mountain biker rescue. Eventually, people moved on. All except Ray, who fell into a listless limbo. A black hole. A deep, dark well. 

Ever since the crash, he’d been trying to crawl out of the well. It was slow going, but over time he got better at managing his emotions and the PBA. He could feel the jags coming on and prepare for them. To be safe, he carried a bandana everywhere in case he broke down in public. He would joke to himself, is that a bandana in your pocket? Baby.  

He was now crying an average of 4.8 times a week - a figure he tabulated after months of recording his breakdowns in a journal. The rate had improved. Earlier he was crying over ten times a day. Over simple, mundane things. No idea why. He didn’t understand it. He was alive. Had survived an airborne head-on with an ages-old tree. A serious concussion. Almost broke his neck. Yet he wasn’t happy. He was distant from everything and everyone. Including himself.  

In the bar the night when he spilled his beer, Ray heard a man and woman talking about stopping drinking for the month of January - going dry. The woman said she wanted to try it. The man said no way, a dry January would kill him. He’d die of boredom. Ray erupted with a guffaw and had to hit the men’s room when he couldn’t stop cackling.  

In the can, it hit Ray. It’d be a good challenge. A dry January. Could he go the whole month without crying? No tears for 31 days? No breakdowns? No laughing at inappropriate times? He bet himself an expensive bottle of whiskey he could. If he made it dry all the way, he’d buy the premium booze. If not, he had to go without, stick to R&R per usual.

The first week of January he mostly stayed home other than walking to the convenience store for chips, canned chili, Reese’s Cups, and beer. He adjusted his TV viewing. Avoided anything with a hint of drama (movies, news, crime, animal shows). Kept the channel on antique appraisal programs and cooking shows, which he loathed. He knew he’d never lose it over a lace doily or pot roast. 

Laughing would often lead to crying so he avoided comedy. Irony was off limits. It would crack him up in any form. One day, the mailman on the sidewalk said, “Nothing for you.” Ray bent over on the porch and hooted. The hoot became a howl. He grabbed his sides to stop laughing but couldn’t. The mailman looked back with a what’s so funny glance.  

The mailman’s comment struck Ray as uproarious. Nothing for you. As if the mailman was handing out meat. Ray in a cage. Or Ray was in prison. You get nothing. No love for you! To Ray, it made sense. It was atonement.

His daughter texted to see if he wanted to meet for a drink and play pool. He begged off. Said he wasn’t feeling well, some other time. But he knew it was too risky to see her. Anything she said could make him start bawling. Just seeing her face, so much like her mother. 

Ray hadn’t told his daughter about the accident. Knew it would scare her, or make her mad. She would try again to get him to stop his solo roadtrips. No way. He did tell a couple friends about his problem, but they weren’t much help. Crying isn’t something guys talk about. It was just too damn embarrassing.  

He took the Challenge seriously. Wanted to get that fine bottle of whiskey. More than that, he wanted to win that bet. He hadn’t won anything in a long time. 

By mid-January Ray was getting cabin fever. Needed to get out. He decided to go to a bar where he’d never been. Nobody would know him. No expectations. He took a seat at the bar and ordered an IPA. He was careful not to knock it over. 

Halfway through a second beer, the bartender asked Ray what he was up to that night. 

“Not much,” Ray said. “Gettin’ out of the house.”

“Good idea,” the bartender grinned, filling a pint. “Life is a carnival.” 

The four words jolted Ray. Life is a carnival. So true. It made Ray think of the song of the same name by The Band. A favorite tune from his youth. Life is a carnival, believe it or not … Life is a carnival, two bits a shot. 

He stopped pondering the song. Oldies and nostalgia were hoses that made his eye wells fill. He closed his orbs tight and drank his beer down in one swig. Then left. No carnival for him. Not this month. 

He considered stopping drinking until the end of January, but the thought of it near made him wretch so he grabbed a beer from the fridge and followed it with two more. Everything in moderation. He was careful not to get drunk. That was a gateway to tears. As much as it went against his nature, he sought boredom. Tedium. Limbo.  

Across the street a dozen crows landed on a lawn, nodding their beaks up and down on the grass. Dark and hunched, the birds reminded him of the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz, the movie that had frightened him to the bone so long ago. He closed the blinds and retreated to his bedroom. 

He didn’t trust himself to read a book (fiction, nonfiction, certainly not poetry) so he dug out his vehicle owner’s manual and began paging through it. When he came to a line that said - When performing the unlocking procedure after performing the locking procedure, perform the locking procedure twice again… - he almost lost it. As a writer, he saw it as a monstrous use of language. Threw the manual back under the bed. 

With one week to go in January, Ray was a nervous wreck. His body trembled like a leaf throughout the day. His stomach whimpered. His mind skipped about like a pinball. If he thought about something too long he might tilt, get emotional. So he moved from topic to topic. Weather. Taxes. Grocery lists. Chores. Cleaning the toilet. 

He tried to focus on the liquor store, bringing the bottle home. He envisioned himself in the kitchen pouring a tumbler of the premium label he had in mind. He couldn’t say the brand because it would bring up a funny memory of the first time he drank it. Laughing lives next door to crying. Don’t go there. 

On the last day of January, Ray stayed in bed later than usual. When he got up to relieve himself he felt dizzy and stumbled a bit. Had to wipe up the floor. After using the toilet, legs shaky, he got back in bed. 

He allowed himself to think of it. He was going to win the Dry January Challenge. He hadn’t spilled a single tear in the month so far. He bit his lip, knocked on the wood end table. 

But as much as he kept a tight leash on his thoughts, some thoughts you can’t control. Ray’s thinking turned negative. He was due for a breakdown, he knew. He could feel it coming. The tide was rising, the levee wouldn’t hold long. He’d soon crack. 

Finally, he got up and put on a white t-shirt, gray socks, and the most yawn-inspiring pants he had - tan Dockers, wrinkled from years in the closet. They barely fit. 

For lunch, he had a grilled cheese sandwich and cottage cheese. Afterwards, he played solitaire, checked bank accounts, dusted the shelves, and vacuumed the entire house - all while keeping a close eye on his mind, not letting it wander off.  

Standing in the living room he looked down at the stereo and his toe lifted to tap. A little music would be nice. Maybe something dull. Slow. No lyrics. But no, he couldn’t risk it, not this close to the end. No music, no TV, no reading, no writing, no booze, no cannabis, no sensory input. 

He sat in a chair by the front window and crossed his legs. His mind settled, stopped rippling. His heart slowed and for the first time in forever he felt relaxed, at peace. Like being high, only he wasn’t high. More like meditation. Floating on an air mattress in a pool. A weightless astronaut in a bike helmet. 

He closed his eyes for a moment. 

When he opened them, he reached over and raised the blinds and saw the sun sinking over the rooftops. His eyes caught a movement on the sidewalk, a woman walking a dog, a black and brown Aussie, and in an instant he saw Lulu, who seemed to have come alive right there, though their pooch had passed a decade ago. He saw her in the back seat as he drove to the vet to put her down. Saw her nose out the window one last time. Saw her turn to him with misty eyes, showing she knew this was her last car ride.  

In a snap, a spigot turned. Like spinning sprinklers, Ray’s eyes sprung tears, tiny drops arcing onto his cheeks. He tried to knot the hose, dug his fists in the sockets, but it was too late.  

“Nooooooo!” he yelled and fell back on the couch. “Dammit! You gotta be fucking kidding me!” The dike collapsed. He took out his bandana to stanch the flow, but let the wells run dry. 

Later, empty of tears, fists unclenched, no longer shaking, Ray felt immense relief. He realized he missed crying. Missed breaking down. Missed guffawing. Missed irony. Missed seeing and seeking humor and beauty in mundane things. 

Breaking down made him feel better. That’s all that mattered. Life is a carnival, believe it or not. He busted a gut and didn’t stop. 

January 17, 2024 19:30

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Luca King Greek
13:31 Jan 25, 2024

Very clever, very funny, and moved at a compelling pace in the first half. I think it could have been edited a bit in the second half to sustain the pace, but overall, it was a good story!


Tom Vandel
21:54 Jan 25, 2024

Thank you, Luca, for the good and informative review! I'll take a look at that second half of the story.


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