Momentarily blind, he squints at the sunlight streaming in through the open door of the smoky bar, lifts the half-filled glass of beer to his lips and drains it. His thoughts muddled from the beer and the hundreds of memories he tries to drown. But tonight, the memories refuse to leave.
He’s always been the strong one, the quiet one, the one who lead the way, however, tonight he just wants to be the one left alone. Alone from the people and alone from the memories. He lifts the glass again and drains it then gives the bartender a friendly wave as he sets the glass on the worn wood.
The oldest of four children he was the one whom at eight years old filled the gap when his father walked away. It was nineteen forty and the country was just coming out of the depression, not knowing that a war was about to start, and that the life of the family was about to get worse. He helped his Mother to chop and stack the wood, feed the animals, and take care of his younger brothers and sister. They worked hard just to survive. And yet, he yearned for the peace of being alone.
In the spring, he tilled the ground and planted seeds, tending to them as they grew each day. The summer heat scorched his skin as he weeded and watered the fragile sprouts. Occasionally, he had time to ride his bike with his sister. She was a year younger than him and had also stepped up to help the family by cleaning the house and learning how to cook. He loved his sister more than any other person and loved spending time with her.
The door to the bar opens again. This time the light from a streetlamp fills the gap. He picks up his glass, drains it once again and sets it on the bar with a thump. Time to go home. The memories were now a murky pond sitting in the back of his mind and no longer screaming at him for attention. Stumbling slightly as he stands, he waits a moment before heading outside. The lot was near empty, and he was for now, alone.
Another day, another bar, another beer, another chance to forget. Life got a little easier when his Mother re-married. His stepfather was a son of a b*tch, demanding the older kids work to pay the bills and showed extreme favoritism to the youngest boy by adopting him and not the others.
Nineteen fifty-one. He graduated high school and got the hell out of town by joining the Army. Anything to get away and hopefully be alone. The Army wasn’t hard, but it wasn’t easy either. He made new friends and experienced things he never would have back home. He dreamed of racing cars and of living a life unrestrained.
That all changed the day he met her. Young and vibrant, her smile lit up the room. They met and married in nine days. Forced from the military because the government would not allow married women to serve, she stayed home as he finished out his contract.
Life was good for many years. They lived in the country. He worked. She tended the house. He fished and hunted and believed that life couldn’t get any better. And unfortunately, he was right. In nineteen sixty-two she got pregnant. In the cold, winter month of February in nineteen sixty-three, they welcomed twin babies. A boy and a girl. Before the month was over, they buried them both.
He cried. Not in front of her, but he cried. His heart shattered in a million tiny pieces. They struggled together to get through the pain, but nothing would ever be the same again. He dreamt of being alone.
A little over two years later, another child was born. A boy. This should have been a time of joy. Instead, this was the beginning of the pain. To dull the anxiety and fear, he began to have a beer or two after work. At first it was subtle. Nothing to be concerned about. The drinking didn’t interfere with his life. He worked to support his family and drank to forget them.
A few years later, another child. A girl this time born days before the birth and death of the twins. It was almost too much. However, he already knew how to dull the pain. How to forget the past. A couple of beers turned into a six pack then into more.
Blinking, he tries to focus on the room around him. The smoke no longer abundant in the air and yet it is difficult to focus. Rising from his chair, he stumbles across the room, down the hallway and into the room marked for men. Fumbling with his zipper, he bounces a little to keep from peeing his pants. At last, he is free and able to relieve himself into the bowl and not his shorts. He grasps the top of the divider to keep from falling over.
He waves at the bartender as he crosses the room to the door. The air is cool, the pavement wet. A storm passed through in the hours he had been inside the bar. He makes his way slowly down the sidewalk and past the parking lot. His apartment sits a block away. Key in the lock, he shoulders the door open and steps inside.
The room is dark and quiet. Straining to see and hear, he looks around. Eyes drawn to the mirror hanging on the wall, he frowns at the face of the old man staring back at him. Momentarily confused, it takes a moment to remember that she’s not there. He flips on the light then carefully crosses the room and slips into his chair.
His eyes land on the picture across the room as the memories he thought he washed away flooded back.
Nineteen ninety-nine. Deep asleep it took a moment for his son’s voice to penetrate his brain, but once it did, he sprang out of bed. There she was, in the livingroom slumped over on her desk. He ordered his son to get the neighbor and call 911. Gently, he slid her off the desk and chair and onto the floor. Digging into his memories he began CPR. Time meant nothing as he blew each breath into her and begged her to return. He didn’t want to be alone.
He swipes the tears from his cheeks and kicks the chair back before turning on the tv for company. In just a few minutes, he drifts off to sleep. Peaceful, alone, and unaware that in the morning the memories will be gone for good… and so will he.