It was a day like any other. My head hurt and my heart ached. I decided to shower, hoping to rinse away some of the filth which clung to me like a second skin. I felt fat and old. I badly needed a haircut, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen now. I put on a clean pair of jeans and a yellow Lacoste shirt – a throwback to an easier time when something still worked. I wasn’t exactly depressed; a little mad, a little mean maybe, but mostly I thought of my life as a waste. I thought that somewhere there must be a better answer, but hard as I tried I came up empty.
It was a quiet spring day with sunlight coming in the windows. I let the dog out even though I didn’t like him. He’d eaten a pair of my shoes once, and when I got mad and shoved him he bit me. Poor dog, he didn’t deserve to live here either. I hugged the cat and even though she didn’t like hugs she put up with me this time.
I had decided today would be the day. It was a perfect day for it, really; nothing was great, nothing was wrong and they would be going out tonight for the big anniversary dinner. I couldn’t conceive of celebrating 25 years of marriage to anyone – certainly not the way that they did it.
He came home from work early to shower before going out. That was a rarity for him; I suspect he even shaved. He always smelled of stale bourbon, meat, and sweat. Mother never seemed to mind, but I did. He was colorblind, so his wife laid out his best suit on the bed with a matching shirt and tie. She wore a royal blue dress that hid her ample hips, making her almost attractive. She put on the jewelry he had bought her as though they were loving gifts, rather than baubles to keep her quiet. She had been to the hairdresser; she even had her nails done. It was a grand evening in the making.
As I watched them coming down the stairs I noticed that the blue of her dress matched the carpet, though I did also think my mother was pretty that night. He, as always, looked like the cat that swallowed the canary.
I held my breath, waiting for them to leave. I told my mother she looked nice. I noticed him watching me (as he always did) out of the corner of his eye. His shoes looked cheap. He’d probably bought them off the back of a truck.
When I was sure they were gone I went into the kitchen to get a glass of vodka. I opened the refrigerator to figure out what I could mix with the vodka – a memorable occasion deserved a memorable drink. Since I couldn’t make up my mind I went out on the back porch (a fully enclosed room that overlooked the backyard) and poured 6-8 ounces of straight vodka. No need to rush, the night was young, and I didn’t want to lose my nerve. I found some flat tonic water and filled the rest of the glass. I didn’t bother with ice; it wouldn’t be around that long.
I sat down on the uncomfortable leopard skin couch and turned on the TV. I didn’t settle on anything, my mind was elsewhere. The liquor began to warm my body. It was time for another, this time no tonic water and just a little lime. Now I began to get angry. I got up and went downstairs. I looked into the gun cabinet. There it was: the gun my father had taught me to shoot with. If a gun could be pretty, this one was. The wood was walnut, smooth and sleek. It also happened to be the only unregistered gun in the house. That in itself didn’t mean very much (there were weapons everywhere), but it meant something to me. It was an extra little bonus.
On Sunday afternoons my father used to take my brother and me to Ray’s Shooting Range on Route 22 for target practice. It pissed my brother off to know that I said I was the best shot, but I was. Of course he’d resented me since the day I was born anyway. He, like his father, seemed to thrive on anger and violence. I just liked target shooting; the idea of shooting an animal sickened me.
So many thoughts ran through my head as I stared at the gun. I remembered the above ground pool in the backyard of our little house on Grant Avenue. My father putting his hand down the back of my bathing suit. I was 4 years old and my world was forever changed. Time for another drink.
I walked from room to room as though I was under house arrest. There was no longer freedom in the bottom of the glass. For quite a few months nothing had meant anything to me. It was hard just to get out of bed in the morning and take a shower. I had endless conversations in my head because there was no one to talk to, and even if there were, I was pretty sure they would find what I had to say unbelievable. My father had made sure of that. He told everyone I was a whack job and you could never believe anything I said.
I pulled the phone cord out of the wall. Another little bonus.
I stood by the window in what used to be my brother’s room, looking over at the Mulroney’s house, remembering the time I ran into a little tree on their front lawn while playing tag. Mrs. Mulroney came running out of the house in her nightgown. Her face was bloated and red. She pulled me up by the back of my shirt screaming at me to look at what I’d done to her tree. I blinked back my tears while rubbing my knee. Kathy Mulroney yelled at her mother for yelling at me. Carol, their daughter who was my age, could only cower as I limped across the street into my own battlefield. I knew that I couldn’t do anything to make it right, besides, the other kids wouldn’t miss me. I was better off on my own. That night Rocko Romano was over at the Mulroney’s while Mr. Mulroney was out of town. Mr. Romano was Mr. Mulroney’s boss. There were many secrets on our block.
More memories were flooding back. It seemed that all the vodka in the world could not slow down the images flashing through my brain; like when Mark Esposito hung himself and my brother went to his house to pick him up for school and Cari came to the door screaming. They had an open casket and you could see the ligature marks on his neck. There was that kid whose name I couldn’t remember who sat on the railroad tracks. The train never saw him, it didn’t slow down, and there wasn’t much left to recover. Then there was Bill Murphy who had told his sister Maureen and I to be careful not to drink and drive on the previous New Year’s Eve. He’d died that night because one of his own friends was driving drunk.
Those memories kept spinning around in my head as I double checked to see that the rifle was properly loaded. I didn’t want another mishap like last time, when the gun jammed. My hands were sweaty. I fired a test shot into the wall. All systems were a go.
I drained the rest of my glass of vodka in one long swallow. My vanity said no head shot. I raised the rifle and leaned the barrel against my chest, my arms were stretched all the way out to reach the trigger, I closed my eyes and…
I lay there for a moment, the smell of cordite in the air. I realized that I was still conscious. I stood up, brought my glass into the kitchen, and put the gun away. I have always been tidy. I went back upstairs. It was getting harder to breathe, so I went into my room and lay down on the Castro convertible.
I was surprised that I felt no pain. I lay there, awake and curiously sober, reviewing my sorry life. I was an angry woman of 21 years, alert to the fact that I could no longer cope or dream of escaping the sick dynamic I was at the center of. I really wanted to punish them, but this death thing was just for me. It would be my last weapon.
I realized that I had to go to the bathroom, so I got up and stumbled down the hall. The front door opened.
I saw my mother.
My mother saw me.
I had begun coughing up blood. I didn’t bother to try to clean it off my face.
She said, “Susan, did you shoot yourself?”
Susan Barth is a singer/songwriter currently residing in Los Angeles, CA.
Please visit: www.susanbarth.com
© 2011 Susan Barth