Flashlights

Rest in Peace

Flashlights
Photo by Alessandro Zambon on Unsplash

Back in high school, this kid Knoxin (who was later nicknamed Toxin), he was the premiere drug dealer in the south suburbs of Chicago. He left the heroin and cocaine deals to the big guys, though. His philosophy was if it was illegally made in a lab, he wouldn't sell it. "I'm not tryna kill nobody, man," he would say. "Just givin' people a chill time." What he meant by this was that he stuck to weed and pills like Adderall, Xanax, and OxyContin: legal in some states and legal for some people.

So one weekend, Knoxin starts spouting his mouth off about how his brother's friend sold him a whole bottle and a half of Xanax bars. The most he's ever gotten off one person. He was so excited, telling everyone to spread the word. Get him new clients, you know. The very same day, he gets a call from this kid a year younger than him but a real party-hard kinda kid. Like Knoxin had a reputation for selling pills, this kid was gaining a reputation for taking them.

Knoxin sells him about half of his stash: twenty pills. He thinks it's great. He's so absolutely thrilled about his new buddy that he invites the kid to hang with him at the big end-of-the-year rager that night. It's the perfect opportunity to bond with the first-time customer and really fill him in on all the product he's selling. The whole time, Knoxin didn't even notice the kid's eyes rolling in the back of his head.

Everybody said they saw the kid puking in the backyard, stumbling through the house but they just assumed he was drunk off his ass. They all thought it was funny, actually. A junior having too much to drink at a senior graduation party was always good for a laugh. Nobody noticed the kid with his little sandwich bag full of pills, taking one after another. He'd puke up the last pill and then take another to smooth out the edge of having his insides splatter to the outside. It wasn't long before the kid was horizontal, almost gasping for breath. All those celebrating high schoolers, they didn't want anything or anyone to ruin their good time, so they threw him on a couch in the corner.

A while after that, somebody noticed the kid wasn't even breathing. But a bunch of drunk teenagers and a dead kid don't mix as well as Red Bull and Smirnoff on a Friday night. Somebody mentioned seeing him with all the Xanax and that he must've ODed. That's when Knoxin lost it. After someone finally called the cops and they started questioning everybody, he couldn't talk, couldn't even look anybody in the eye. The cops ended up taking him to the hospital, thinking he was having a panic attack or something. A Xanax sure would've helped him out right about then.

The Monday after, nobody had heard from him but nobody really tried to contact him, either. The kid Knoxin sold all those pills to, when he died it shook everybody up pretty bad. No one wanted to take the blame for it so they all ended up blaming Knoxin. It wasn't long before the word "murderer" was being thrown around. That's how he got the name Toxin.

Naturally, Knoxin didn't attend the memorial service. Neither did any of the party-goers, other than my friends and I. It was a nice surprise, actually. I had never pegged any of my friends to be the kind of people who would pay their respects to a kid they barely knew. But to be fair, I didn't have much choice in making an appearance or not. The kid was my brother.

Brian.

He had never really been all that into drugs, just the usual Friday night bong hits and beer pong games. That's why it never even crossed my mind that he was overdosing at the party. I guess he saw all the older kids were past the juvenile party gimmicks and started moving on to the better stuff, the harder stuff. He didn't want to be left behind and he just got caught up in the idea of being cool and part of the in-crowd. He took it too far.

Brian's death wasn't really my fault but being his older sister, my parents saw it that way. The funeral took the place of my graduation ceremony and my parents' misplaced blame took place of our mourning period. Well, their mourning period. I, on the other hand, made it a point to go out as much as possible and honor my brother the only way I saw fit: I got trashed. Regularly.

It didn't take long for my parents to notice my constant intoxication. I didn't expect the outcome to be any different but they grounded me and when they realized I had taken to sneaking out my bedroom window, they told me to pack my shit and find somewhere else to live. They said they couldn't watch me "throw my life away the way Brian did" but we all knew they just couldn't stand looking at me without seeing the reason their precious baby boy bit the bullet.

It's been over three years since Brian died and I'm still being punished for it. How many twenty-one year olds do you know that have been sober for almost two and half months? And don't get me wrong, sobriety was not a healthy life choice. It was more of an I-need-to-pay-my-goddamn-bills life choice. I don't go to AA meetings. I go to work.

Hi, my name is Kat and I am financially unstable.

What's worse than being constantly sober is the realization that I don't have friends anymore. When you're my age, social calendars tend to revolve around drugs and alcohol. And when you can't afford drugs and alcohol, your social calendar becomes nonexistent. Trust me when I say that if you don't go to your friends when they call, they'll eventually just forget to call again.

No, instead I spend my nights serving assholes their burgers and cleaning up after them, assholes that leave three dollars on a fifty dollar bill. If this had just been a job to get some extra cash for some summer fun, I'd have quit a long time ago. Unfortunately, I've gotten used to having a roof and a bed. So I finish my shift without jacking anybody in the face and collect my eighty seven dollars in tips from that night.

Getting into my car and doing the math in my head, I realize that I have about seven dollars for anything I want to spend it on that isn't my rent, gas bill, electric bill, or cable and internet bill. And with the three dollars in change I have in my cup holder, I can buy a pack of cigarettes. So I drive across the street to the Mobil gas station on the corner.

The cashier is a dull-looking, twenty-something girl with dyed black hair. She doesn't put her book down when I walk up to the counter. I ask for a pack of Marlboro lights and begin counting out my change in neat piles for her. She scans the cigarettes and puts them on the counter without telling me the price is nine dollars and thirty-seven cents. I put two quarters in my pocket, giving the cashier nine dollars and fifty cents, and wait for my thirteen cents in change. I put that in my pocket, too.

I kind of laugh to myself as I walk back outside, thinking how awful of a waitress the cashier would make.

Hi, my name is Kat and I sure as hell would not tip you fifteen percent.

Standing in the too-chilly-to-be-May air, I unwrap the cigarettes and light one. From over by the gas pumps, a car door slams and I hear a familiar voice as I exhale.

"Kat?" the voice shouts in my direction. The boy starts walking over to me and I walk towards him. "What the hell," he says with a laugh that I recognize as my old friend's; Jake Aguirre. He used to be my best friend, actually, and the self-proclaimed leader of the stoners. Nobody questioned it. We all followed him around, anyway.

"Hey," I say, smiling when I notice the same ratty, denim jacket he used to wear everyday in high school. Still wears three years later, I guess.

"Dude, I can't believe it! I was just telling Toby that we should try to get ahold of you again. After all this time, you know?" Jake laughs and his attempt at sincerity is so off, just like I remember it. "You remember Toby?"

"Of course. He still trying to get with Marilyn?" I ask.

"Ah. He has succeeded. They've been dating for almost a year, now."

"Wow. Good for him." I nod my head and feel the awkward silence clouding around us that seems to be standard procedure during any reunion such as this. We get through the awful greeting period, make our way past the what-are-you-doing-now episode ("Just working, you?" "Just hanging around, same old shit, you know."), stop briefly at the are-you-serious sketch ("Jessica moved to Texas?!" "She got engaged to some guy she met on Facebook."), and conclude with the usual we-should-hang-out-sometime bit ("I'll call you, sometime." "Yeah! Everyone's missed you.").

Before I can get back into my car after we say our goodbyes, Jake yells to me "Wait! You doing anything tonight?" I'm slightly taken aback by the question. "I'm going to pick up Toby and Marilyn and we're trying to find something to do."

"Oh, well, I don't really have money to go out anywhere."

"We don't have to go out. You have your own apartment. I can pick up some beer or something and we'll just chill over there if you want."

"Sure. That's cool," I say, almost excited but not getting my hopes up.

We say goodbye again. I get into my car and drive home. It's not long before I get a message from Jake informing me that Toby and Marilyn "are down" to hang out with me and asking if I still drink Jameson.

I spend the next hour or so relocating the clutter in my living room and brainstorming funny or interesting things to say once my old friends arrive. There was the one time a customer stole the salt and pepper caddies and my manager made me pay him fifteen bucks for them. Or the time someone in my apartment building dumped all my clothes on the laundry room floor and I didn't have enough quarters to wash them again. And then there was the time I couldn't pay the gas bill and took cold showers for two weeks. Yeah. I've had some pretty good times over the past few years.

I come to terms with the fact that I won't have any good stories to tell and wait on the couch for the three of them to show up. And thirty minutes and two cigarettes later at ten o'clock, they do. Luckily, they're all stoned enough to make the greeting slightly less awkward than the one I went through with Jake earlier. And even luckier, Toby suggests we start the night with a shot of Jameson.

I will say this: Whiskey does a delightful job of dispersing the awfully sobering pressure of long-awaited reunions.

The first cheers of the night Jake dedicates to me. The first beer of the night Toby dedicates to dropping small hints that he has coke and is it cool if he takes the mirror off the wall? Marilyn dedicates the first line's buzz to telling us (several times) how cute Toby is now that he grew a beard. And I dedicate the first hour of the get-together to the head rush I feel from being unfamiliar with being under the influence for the first time in a long time.

Hi, my name is Kat and I might already be drunk.

I make it through three more shots of Jameson and four beers okay and listen to the three of them fill me in on what they've been doing for the last year. I learn that Jake is still living with his dad and quit his job at Jewel after only a week of stocking shelves. Toby's dog died from a coyote attack and decided to grow a beard after Marilyn couldn't stop talking about her ex-boyfriend's and how good it looked on him. And Marilyn is ("Thank sweet, baby Jesus") not pregnant, although she admits she still forgets to take her birth control for days at a time.

Following protocol, the conversation turns from catching up with each other to filling me in on everyone else I hadn't seen in years. Toby cuts the four of us another line of his coke each, generously enough, and while I sniff up my own he says "Are you ready to hear some of this shit?" And thank sweet, baby Jesus I am already fucked up because I'm actually not so sure I'm ready to hear it.

One hour and too many stories later, I realize I was absolutely right.

There was Jimmy. He was actually kicked out before we all graduated. He stayed on my parents' couch for a few nights, too. Well, after a month of sleeping outside a different gas station every night, he decided to go into the city. It didn't take him long to figure out that there were a million other strangers to hustle and pan-handle from for his drug habits. I guess it turned out to be pretty profitable for him, too. So much so that one night this shady guy who was also a part of the homeless community tried to rob him while he was sleeping in a park. And Jimmy, the goddamned idiot, he tried to fight the guy and he ended up getting stabbed. He's still alive but he's basically useless now, just bumming around the suburbs and begging his mom to let him come back at least once a week.

And then Rory. He was mostly known for blacking out and puking at every party from drinking too much. He's actually been hospitalized about six times (that I know of) from alcohol poisoning. Anyway, he got his own apartment when he started college in the city. His parents paid for it. Well, the freshmen in college that he was, he had a party every weekend. He was kind of a jackass so that's probably why he was so popular. So, around spring time, he gets a bunch of his buddies to spread the word that he's throwing a huge Screw-Studying-For-Finals bash. He even gets two other kids on the floors directly below and above him to open up their apartments for the party. Naturally, Rory got completely plastered. At the end of the night, he forgot where he was and left his own apartment to go back to his apartment. Everyone thought it was hilarious. They let him go. He made it to a Brown line station waiting for the El train to take him wherever he thought he was going. He ended up passing out and falling off the platform onto the train tracks. After that he went crazy. Because of hitting his head so hard and the prolonged contact with the "high voltage" tracks, he was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. He's barely functioning anymore. He lives in his mom's basement now and I guess he hasn't stepped outside for at least seven months.

The one that hit me the hardest though was hearing about little Kimmy. Kim and I used to be real good friends in high school. Reacting to the premature nostalgia I assumed I'd be feeling years from then about my high school memories (You know, sitting in history class thinking how these are gonna be the best years of your life), I considered her my little sister. She was two months older than me but she always acted to sweet and innocent it was easy enough to forget our birthdays. Sometime during our junior year she developed a minor heroin habit. It really upset me at first but then she stopped talking to me. Apparently, her minor habit turned into a major one. She turned out like one of those girls you see on that TV show Intervention, giving blowjobs for one needle and for a bag she'll let the guy do whatever he wants. And that's not even the worst part. One night, after scoring for the first time in a while from some gang bang, I'll-kill-you-right-here kinda guy, she stays at his place to shoot up. She was so high she didn't even realize the guy had company or that he shot the other guy three times in the chest. Nobody knows why her dealer killed the guy because Kim doesn't even know, she was nodding out so bad. She was arrested when a neighbor called the cops. Little Kimmy is in the county jail now for at least seven years, charged with possession and consumption of illegal substances and accessory to murder.

To keep myself from throwing up, I curse under my breath and take a sip off my beer as Toby finishes story-time.

"Yeah, man." He runs his left hand through his hair while his right hand rubs Marilyn's back who started falling asleep somewhere between the carefully chosen phrases "Jimmy's such a bum nowadays" and "Rory's a fucking nutcase."

"Shit's fucked," Jake chimes in. "But at least they're all still breathing." His face sags casually as he looks at the ground and back up at me. He lights a cigarette and hands it to me after lighting his own. I exhale a small grin of gratitude and accept the Marlboro before turning back to Toby.

"What happened to Luke?"

"Oh yeah. Him." He pushes Marilyn up, off his lap and motions to the bottle of Jameson on the table next to me. I reach over to hand it to him.

"He went to rehab a couple months ago," Marilyn says through a polite, very lady-like yawn. "Nobody's talked to him since. Toby's still mad."

"Who does that asshole think he is?" Toby takes a swig off the whiskey bottle and sets it back down aggressively enough I worry about the paint job on my five dollar, garage sale coffee table.

"Shut up, dude. You remember how upset he was when Kim got locked up," Jake says, reminding me that they dated for a while in high school.

"Yeah, but he's been out for a while now and doesn't bother to call any of his friends? That's bullshit."

"He's doing what's best for him. It's a good thing." Jake stands up to go to the bathroom.

"I mean, come on, Kat. If your best friend just stopped talking to you, totally out of the blue without any explanation at all, wouldn't you be a little mad, too?"

"I dunno. I guess. . .I mean, I'd be upset. But," I shift in my seat to cross my legs underneath me. "Wouldn't you want what's best for him?"

"Fuck that." He shakes his head.

"You're such a drama queen, Toby." Marilyn ruffles his hair with a little giggle.

Jake comes out of the bathroom, belching and yawning almost simultaneously, which I find rather impressive. I watch as he walks back to the couch and sinks into the cushions next to me. "I think I'm gonna have myself one more shot of that whiskey and call it a night, guys."

"Yeah. Marilyn's up past her bedtime, anyway," Toby agrees, pulling the four shot glasses towards him and the Jameson bottle.

"Bite me," Marilyn tells him but not convincingly enough to intimidate even an infant.

Each of us takes our shot glass and leans forward a little in our seats. "To reunions," Jake declares, nudging me slightly in the ribs with his elbow and raising his glass.

"Nah." Toby sighs in disapproval and raises his own shot higher than Jake's. "To ruining our lives responsibly." The other three laugh and swallow their whiskey in unison. I think on it a minute, feeling a hot, sticky mucus rising in my throat. I restrain myself from vomiting all over myself and force the shot down.

Hi, my name is Kat and I do not drink Jameson anymore.

Toby rises first, pulling Marilyn up with him. Jake does the same and they walk the few steps to the door. I stand with them to be polite and regret it immediately. My head spins and the urge to fall right back down surfaces. I resist and walk (or rather stumble) my way to the door to let my friends out.

"Well, thanks for coming, guys."

"Yeah. Let's do it again, sometime." Jake hugs me. Toby basically repeats his exact words and Marilyn says nothing before they walk out. I shut the door behind them, turn the lock, and sit on the ground. Closing my eyes, I picture Jake wrapping his car around a lamp post on his way home. The desire to regurgitate the past four hours swells inside my stomach again and I press myself against the ratty carpet. I cry a little bit before passing out.

Hi, my name is Kat and I am an emotional drunk.

I wake up six hours later, my head pounding and blurred and my face hot with the imprint of the stiff carpet. Standing up, I'm shaky on my feet but move to the couch. I check my phone and the screen tells me that Jake and Marilyn both have texted me. Marilyn had "such a great time" talking to me again and Jake will "totally" buy my beer if I come to some party tonight.

I ignore the messages and the only thought I can think is "Toxin was the perfect goddamned nickname for that douchebag."

In my hung over state, I decide to call my mom but I get her voicemail.

"Hi, my name is Kat and I'm your daughter."

I try calling again but she still doesn't answer.

"Hi, my name is Kat and would like to come back home."

I call a third time.

"Hi, my name is Kat and I'm sorry your son died."

For the last time.

"Can you come with me to visit Brian, please?"

literature
Mary Slattery
Mary Slattery
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Mary Slattery

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