“Cheers,” she says as she lowers her glass toward hell. “Cheers to an Honest Abe.”
I shift my
eyes in her direction as I watch her lift the tiny glass a few inches from the
floor up to her pale lips. Bailey has been this way ever since the truth came
out twelve season changes ago on this very day. The bags under her brown eyes
and the black rats nest on top of her head is normal now. She always has a cigarette
tucked behind her ear, if not in between her lips, and a pint of “whatever is
on sale” stashed away in her purse for “emergency purposes”. The only bathing
she does anymore is submerging herself in helplessness and hopelessness, but
her whisky perfume covers up the stench. Her family doesn’t even question it;
they are in denial too.
“Another one please,” she shouts
across the bar. “And make this one a double”.
It would be an understatement to say
the tragedy of her father’s suicide put her through a spiraling grief cycle.
Too see the girl I grew up with and love like a sister go from an independent
woman to an alcohol dependent wreck overflows my heart with sadness. She had
her whole life laid out on the table and now that same table is cluttered with
grief. She lost her scholarship to her first choice school, Yale, when her GPA
dropped from a 4.0 to a 2.1 and her friends won’t even speak to her because
they say, “She is a negative influence on our lives”. Alcohol won her over.
Alcohol got the best of her.
We come to this small “hole in the
wall” bar every year because she refuses to go anywhere else. “This is where I
belong,” she says. The bartender is an old man named Cowboy who wears his hat
and listens to sob stories all night. He says he must have heard her story a
thousand times. The regulars, the biker
gang, old men who have never been married in their lives and an overly
enthusiastic jock who drinks his Miller Lite and stares at the TV screen all
night long alternate taking her home to “get some”.
“Do you know what bothers me the most?”
she asks. Cowboy slides her double across the table and she asks to add it to
“Cheers to abandonment”, she says.
I watch her choke it down. She
reaches across the table and chases the taste away with my half-empty cup of
Coca-Cola. She lets out a sarcastic “ah” as if the drink refreshed her and
satisfied her needs; the needs she has lacked for three years.
“What bothers me is he didn’t even
leave me a good-bye letter. What do
you make of that?”
Her father was the one she turned to
for advise on financial issues, car troubles, doing her taxes, etc…He always
said that, “I fell in love with you before I fell in love with your mom” and
“you are my no neck, no arms baby girl”. They had a close relationship, or so
I hesitantly answer, “Maybe yours got
lost. Your father loved you very much, you know?”
The letter didn’t get lost.
Unfortunately there was no letter left for anyone besides a statement at the
top of his planner on the day he jumped. “You don’t know her like I do”. The
planner was left open to that page at the bottom of the mountain that he jumped
off of in South Carolina where she lived.
“No. He loved his mistress,” she
shouts with tears streaming down her face. She makes sure the few people in the
bar hear her. “‘You don’t know her like I do?’. There wasn’t any other letter,
Kelly. She was the last thing on his
mind before he jumped.”
I grab a napkin off the table behind
us and reach over to dabble her cheeks where the mascara smudged. I scoot my
chair closer to her and place my arms around her neck and press my lips up to
her forehead. I grab her head and look her straight in her teary eyes and tell
her, “You can’t blame yourself. His mind was already made up. There was nothing
you could have done”.
And there wasn’t anything she could
have done. He spontaneously left her mother the year before the accident and
said, “I’m not leaving you. I’m leaving your mother”, but she didn’t feel that
way. He didn’t keep a close relationship with her, in fact the only time he saw
her was for a short dinner at his rundown apartment in Springfield on Sunday
She glares back at me and shakes her
head loose from my grip. Without saying a word, she excuses herself from our
conversation and stumbles her way to the other end of the bar.
A man with shaggy blonde hair wearing
a leather jacket with the words “Harley Davidson” embroidered into it turns his
chair to Bailey and puts his lips up to her ear. She pulls away from him and
smoothing the tattoos that creep up his arm. She gives him a smile. He strokes
his beard, hands her a napkin with black ink printed on it and turns away.
“Do you know what he promised me?” She
sets down two more shots of suppression and rolls her arm sleeves up, revealing
the reddish-brown scars that lay horizontal across her wrist. No amount of
beads she wears can hide her imperfection
My chest tightens and I hold my
breath and interrupt her.
“Wait. You didn’t agree to do anything with
that guy over there, did you?”
She crumples up the napkin and tucks it into
one of the five shot glasses that sit empty on our table. “Hell no. He bought
me these shots and gave me his number. I’m not going to call him, Kelly. I’m
I had to ask, knowing her reputation
for these men. “I’m just looking out for
She rolls her eyes at me in
disbelief. The left side of her lip raises and she takes her seat.
“Anyways,” she says sarcastically. “He
looked me dead in the eye and promised me on our living room floor he would
never attempt it again.”
I can see the guilt in her eyes. Even
though she won’t admit it, it is there waiting to be shared with me. When
attending his wake she refused to stand in the line and receive hugs and
support from the people she was once close to. At his funeral she didn’t shed
one tear until everyone left and she was left alone with him. She placed a note
in the pocket by his heart that said, “You promised”, and left the funeral home
without any notice.
She picks up one of her shots and
throws it back.
“Cheers to broken promises.”
Her droopy brown eyes lay fixated on
that empty glass searching for unattainable answers to the fictitious queries
her mind created about her dad. Three years later and I’m listening to the same
speech and watching the same act in the same bar with the same stranger I once knew.
Her dad was a liar I will give her that. It’s a tragedy that but her life is her choice and these behavior
were not acceptable.
“Did you know he told me he had cancer?”
She hunches over to the edge of the
table and rests her chin in the palm of her right hand. With her left, she
reaches over and pulls my Coca-Cola close to her chest and sips on it like
there is no bottom. She pierces her lips and rolls her eyes once then hints at
me to empathize with her reply.
“Found out that wasn’t true. His
weight loss was from all the coke he was snorting. What a two-timing,
double-crossing, lying bastard.”
a Sunday night at his raggedy apartment he held her hand and told her he had
cancer. He said it was stage 4 and that he didn’t know how much time he had
left. He went on a “all organic” diet and snorted coke daily to lose the weight
to accompany his lie. He was hiding the truth of his real intensions of suicide
with something natural.
I take her by the hand that was
supporting the weight of her head and grasp it, like I’m never going to let it
go. A short silence passes then I open my mouth trying not to stutter over my
words and hoping that what comes out won’t guide her back to Jack. “You know
that you have people that care for you. I will always be here.” I squeeze her
hand even tighter. I can see the black dripping down her face leaving tread
marks where the blush used to lie. She frees her hand that was circling the ice
in my cup and reaches for the lonely shooter.
“Cheers to keeping secrets,” she
cries as the empty glass slides through her fingers and falls to the table. The
pupils in her eyes disappear and all that is left is pure white. She begins to
nod off and in seconds the weight of her head is resting half on the table,
half on top of my hand. I wrap the loose pieces of her hair behind her ears and
lift her head upright.
Cowboy makes his way to our side of
the bar eager to take our drink order. I motion my hand horizontally across my
neck and put my pointer finger up to my lips, pointing at my dear friend with
the other. I mouth the words,” Water, please. Thank you.” He gives me the O.K
signal and walks off.
“Do you remember the time when your
dad coached our basketball team?” I whisper quietly into her ear, holding the
weight of her body into my chest. I run my fingers through my hair while she
cries quietly to herself. “When we went to Hilton Head Island and our games
were canceled due to the hurricane?”
She looks up at me with her
pain-filled eyes and gives me a partial smile. She takes a second to regulate
her speech then shows me a smile I haven’t seen in years. “Yeah. Remember when
all of us girls were on our periods at the same time?”
Cowboy makes his way back to our
table and places a cup of water in front of each of us. “It’s the last call,”
he says. “We will be closing in fifteen.” I nod and ask him for her tab and
return my focus onto Bailey.
“We were all so moody.” I said. I
hold the cup of water up to her mouth and tilt the straw towards her. “Your dad
ran to the nearest grocery store in the pouring rain just to get us tampons and
Reese’s peanut butter cups.”
We laugh simShe takes a large
mouthful of the refreshing remedy and chuckles, “We went through ten bags in
I hand the cup over to her and tell
her, “Drink it slowly. You don’t want to throw up this good memory.” She laughs
at my pun and sips on her water.
“Here is your bill sweetie,” The
waitress hands it over to my friend but I grab it out of her hands before she
can grab it. I give her a $50 and tell her to keep the change. She says thank
you and right before she is about to leave Bailey stops her.
“Wait! Bring us two shot glasses
please,” she says. “Empty ones.”
I squint my eyes at her.
“What are you doing?” I ask confused.
“You’ll see. It’s a surprise.”
Two empty shooters are handed to us.
Bailey takes each of them and pours them up with water. She holds hers up
toward heaven and hands me one, telling me to do the same.
“Cheers,” she says. She hits the side
of my glass with hers. “Cheers to new beginnings.”