The Creative Cafe
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The Creative Cafe

Binge Until Tragedy (chapter 2)

*Update* Binge Until Tragedy is now available in ebook/Kindle and hard copy on Amazon and the publisher’s site.

There are sub chapter breaks within the titled chapter so you can come back.

***This excerpt contains explicit language and content***

New Jersey

I’m Joel Lupo, and my life has imploded and caved in and I’m stuck breathing in the dust. I sat in the passenger seat of our gigantic black SUV and watched as life passed by. I watched people stand in line for coffee with their faces buried in their phones, reading mindless updates about some fucking kid-celebrity-moron who’s only famous for God knew what reasons, I suppose. Is this really what has become of us? We stand in line, stare at a screen, grab our coffee, go to work, stare at a bigger screen, go to meals, stare at a bigger screen still, go to sleep, repeat, and then die. Was this the life that awaited me after graduation?

“Joel.”

“Yeah, Dad?”

“Your mother and I know how close you guys were,” he said. “Adam was like family.”

“Yeah.”

“You know he’d been struggling the past few years, and I don’t think he could hang in there anymore. He just couldn’t handle it, Joel.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“I wanted to tell you that your mother and I love you very much, and if you ever have any problems…”

“I’m not going to kill myself,” I snapped.

“Okay,” he responded, his eyes never leaving the road.

Adam, full name Adam Austin Reichman, and I had known each other since boyhood. We grew up on the same street and I long considered him my best friend. I had my brothers too, but Sal was older, more of a mentor, and Carlo was much younger. Adam and I, however, were the same age.

During the winter about five years ago, Adam was driving on Route 22, a godforsaken, menacingly designed commercial highway riddled with sudden merges and exits. A sedan sped out from a strip mall parking lot and Adam’s truck — a behemoth of a vehicle — crushed its side in. After a moment of fuzziness, Adam dropped from the truck and in frantic haste, peered into the broken, spider-webbed driver’s side window to find a screaming mother clutching her bloodied daughter.

Erika Tambor was only eight when she died. I choose these words purposely — she died — because what happened after the accident caused Adam years of grief and ultimately his demise, I suppose.

An eyewitness at the scene testified that Adam was driving at a reasonable speed. I had driven with him many times, and he was actually a cautious driver — something rare amongst my friends, and teenagers in general, I suppose. The witness called the police to report the crash. During the call, he said that Mrs. Tambor had her head down and seemed distracted, or something along those lines. An EMT found Mrs. Tambor’s phone, miraculously intact, a few feet from the destruction.

Adam walked away virtually unscathed, but inside he was crumbling. We got drunk this one time in my basement, and he started rocking back and forth on the couch screaming, “My baby! You killed her! What have you done, you monster?!” as if imitating a woman.

Adam was not charged criminally by the state, but was brought to civil court by the Tambors for “wrongful death” at the loss of their daughter. The Tambors had hired a shrewd, slick, and expensive lawyer who slandered Adam in every way possible, slipping in the two times that Adam was suspended from school: once for fighting a kid in the sixth grade and once for smelling like pot. He labeled Adam as a nihilist with no regard for human life, claiming he was emotionless at the sight of a dead eight-year-old. In reality, Adam was far from emotionless. That day stuck with him and slowly, steadily, ate away at his core, I suppose.

His parents brought him to a psychiatrist, who put him on a prescription of “happy pills” that didn’t do shit. They instead made him wildly irrational and irritable, with phases of, what seemed to me, intense depression. There were times when I would find him sitting alone, staring blankly at a black television screen.

Before the accident, Adam was motivated. He had dabbled in web and graphic design and was considering going to a college in the city. He was on the ice hockey team and the junior varsity baseball team, and every time winter began to fade and that first warm day in early April came, we would have a baseball catch in his backyard — it was a tradition. But we never had that catch that spring after the accident.

The next year, I had asked him a couple of times if he wanted to have a catch, but he always had different reasons to bail. When he told me that he had an appointment (he didn’t give me specifics) and couldn’t go out, I saw a few minutes later on Facebook that he had checked into Robot Farm, a mind-numbing online game. For the next four years I would attempt to get anything I could out of him, anything that might spark an interest or even a damn conversation, but he would just change the subject or not say anything at all, responding in grunts.

After I left for college, I rarely heard from him, and I always had to text or call him first. He was never good at keeping in touch, even before the accident, and oftentimes my texts would go unanswered. When I was able to speak with him, our conversations usually fell flat, ending after a nothing much or how is everything? Throughout college, I would try and see him when I was home for holidays and the summers, but he was distant, a shell of his former self. The first Thanksgiving I came home, I was ecstatic to share with him how incredible college was, with the hopes of spurring some excitement in him to start applying to schools, but nothing worked. He was cold. He was silent. Each time I returned home from school I would see less of him. Spring break of my junior year I didn’t see him once — I was home for a week. I lost him before he took his own life, and looking back, I wish I would have just enjoyed the time I spent with him instead of trying to pry him open. I should have been a better friend.

“Dad, how’d he do it?” I asked. My father, born and raised in Newark, who I knew had seen some shit growing up, who was molded by the “old school,” fidgeted in his seat, adjusted the rearview mirror, cracked his knuckles, and cleared his throat.

“You… you… don’t want to know, Joel.” He fumbled over his words, clearing his throat again. I could feel the phlegm vibrate.

“Yes I do,” I said.

“Why? What good would that do?”

“I deserve to know.”

“It was graphic, Joel.”

“What do you mean?”

“I really don’t think you want to know.”

“Dad, you’re the only one who is going to tell me. Please.”

“When are we going to get some Yankees coverage? I’m tired of listening to the damn Phillies,” he said to himself while flipping through the FM presets.

My mind started to wander. The liquids in my stomach sloshed, and a sickness came over me when I pictured Adam hanging from somewhere in his room. The Reichmans didn’t own a gun, and I don’t know where Adam would have obtained one, and since Dad said it was graphic, I didn’t think it was an overdose. The second nauseating thought I had was that I even cared this much about how he did it. I didn’t stop to think about his parents or about his older sister. Holy fuck, how could they be handling this? Mrs. Reichman was a delicate woman; she must be devastated.

After a few minutes of silence, I asked if he hanged himself.

“No,” he said. As we sat at a red light, he turned to me, stuck out his arm, and made a slicing motion down his wrist. He then turned back and didn’t say a word. We sat in silence for the rest of the ride home.

___________________________________________________________________

I walked in the front door to a hysterical mother. With soaking eyes, she embraced me and wrapped her arms around my neck and whispered in my ear, “Oh, my poor baby. How are you holding up?”

I tried to respond, but my throat was closed and I couldn’t make a sound. My mother’s hair covered my face and caused a tickle in the back of my throat, and I began to cough uncontrollably. Any time I tried to say something, it turned into a cough. I pulled myself away from her shoulder and saw Carlo standing in the kitchen, unsure of what he should do. I kissed my mom on the cheek, walked past my brother (I didn’t want him to see me cry — I’m older, after all), and grabbed a bottle from the liquor cabinet: straight bourbon whiskey. I went into my room without a word of resistance from anyone.

“Go take a shower, Joelie. Go take a nice hot shower, my sweet boy,” she called after me as I disappeared down the hallway.

I sat on my bedroom floor. I had a bed and a comfortable recliner, but the floor fit my mood, I suppose.

I drank the bourbon straight from the bottle: no glass, no chaser. I had turned my phone off for the car ride home. I took a swig of whiskey, leaning against the side of my bed, my head tilted back. My throat was sore from the coughing and crying; the whiskey didn’t help. I took a swig and turned on my phone. After a few seconds, it began to vibrate.

OMG Joel! Are you okay!?!?!

Hey bro, I heard what happened. Are you okay?

Holy shit dude. Sorry…

Joel babe, call me!! ❤❤❤

(sad face emoji won’t transfer onto Medium, will be in book)

Yes, one of the texts was just a fucking sad face emoji. But my favorite was when someone I hadn’t spoken to in years would say something along the lines of, “If you need anything, tell me,” as if they would actually do shit had I asked.

As I sat on the floor of my room — bottle between my legs, head in my palms — I thought about Adam. I had resisted this long asking why because I thought I already knew, but I caught myself asking the question anyway. Had he not thought about his family? Had he not thought about how his death would kill his mother? I took a swig. Had he not thought about me? This last question scared me a little. A knock on the door startled me and I almost dropped the bourbon, but the stuff was so good I would’ve sucked it right out of the carpet.

“Joelie, can I come in?” asked my mom.

“I’m okay, Ma. I want to be alone,” I said.

“Okay, honey. The wake is tomorrow; the funeral will be on Wednesday. If you need anything… just… anything at all, you call for me, okay?”

“Okay, Ma,” I said, bringing the bottle down from my lips. I heard her back away from the door, as if hoping I would swing it open, calling for her to hold me, but I didn’t budge. She finally turned and walked down the hall, making our old hardwood floor wail under her feet.

The first thing that went through my head was, Which church did the Reichmans even belong to? Were they Lutheran or Episcopalian, or Presbyterian or Baptist? Fuck, were they Catholic? I can’t remember the last time Adam stepped foot inside of a church. There was only one time after the accident I remember him stating something about religion.

It was the following winter, so about a year after the accident, and Adam and I were sitting in his basement. We hadn’t spoken a word to each other in about ten minutes, until he turned to me and said, “Life isn’t always as simple as angels and demons, Joel.” He didn’t add anything. My spine tingled and my lip dropped; his words coursed through me like a drug. Except this drug skipped the high that is so desired by its users and immediately brought on a deflating feeling of sorrow.

Thinking it over now, Adam’s statement wasn’t very revolutionary. It was basically a different way of saying “not everything in life is black-and-white.” But it was the way he said it, how he turned his head, how he looked me in the eyes — something he hadn’t done in a long time, perhaps since the accident. His demeanor had been robotic or something possessed, and it was then that I remembered that his eyes were emerald green.

___________________________________________________________________

I woke up, head throbbing, to Sal knocking on my door. I fell asleep in my jeans and guinea tee: a term my father despises. If you haven’t noticed already, my name is Italian. My surname, that is. In my father’s eyes, if it was Italian it was better: the food, the wine, the cars, the art, and especially the women. Given the chance, my father would remind us how he had a girlfriend in college, an exchange student from Naples who “took care of him.” With every ounce of strength, I tried not to visualize my hairy, olive-skinned, bowling ball of a father mounting some poor, innocent European girl who just wanted a better education — and yes, I believe he was just as rotund when he was twenty-one.

When his first son was born, my father refused to name him anything other than Salvatore, after my grandfather. My grandfather was a World War II veteran who witnessed the sky rain fire at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. He later “island hopped” across the Pacific to fight the Japanese, who, in his own words, were “fearless yellow sons o’ bitches who ate a sorry excuse for pasta.”

He never went into detail about the war, but he was never amused by my generation’s obsession with all things Japanese. Once, when I was seven, we went to his house for Thanksgiving, and I was carrying a binder filled with Pokémon cards, completely in Japanese. He took one look at them and then yelled something before storming into the kitchen and yelling at my father — I had to put my binder in the car.

However, for all of my dad’s pan-Italianism, he did not marry an Italian girl. My mother was born and raised in Connecticut and has traced zero percent of her bloodline back to Italy — trust me, Dad had her take one of those genealogy cheek swab tests. She is a professed “mutt” and is a mix of Germanic, Nordic, and Celtic peoples. My father reminded her that Germanic tribes invaded Italy during the fall of Rome; he hoped she was a Lombard.

When she was pregnant with me, she demanded that she choose my name without any interference, so she went with Joel. Joel was the name of her grandfather, a man I never met. Supposedly he was funny and smart and very successful, but he died before I was born. Actually, I have never met another person named Joel.

More knocks hammered the door. “Joel, wake up, buddy. Breakfast in ten,” called Sal.

I had to piss but needed to wait, because I had morning wood and couldn’t walk to the bathroom with a hard-on. There was an empty glass next to a damp spot on the carpet. My mom must’ve come in the middle of the night and left the water on the nightstand because I hadn’t left my cave; the bourbon — or what was left of it — was missing, too. I turned to my side and saw that my suit was hanging on my door, just back from the cleaners. My head pounded, again. I needed a good night’s sleep. I swung my legs around the side of the bed, stared at the floor, and attempted to gather my thoughts.

Today is my best friend’s wake. I’ll dress in black. I’ll shake hands and hold back tears. Every once in a while I’ll glance over at the casket surrounded by flowers. God, I hope it’s not an open casket. I’ll see people I haven’t seen in years. They’ll ask me how things are going and what my plans are for after college and I’ll smile. I’ll make small talk but avoid eye contact; maybe I’ll wear sunglasses. I wish I wore sunglasses more often and people knew me as someone who always wears sunglasses so today it wouldn’t be so noticeable. I might wear them anyway. I’ll stand next to the Reichmans and Adam’s older sister, Olivia, who flew in from Dallas. I’ll spend most of the time staring at the carpet as I listen to Mrs. Reichman weep. My palms will sweat and I’ll get self-conscious about my handshakes, constantly rubbing my hands on my pants. Eventually a line will form and people will peer into their phones, looking at pictures of food they’re never going to make or places they’re never going to visit. They’ll do this instead of thinking about what they’re going to say to the Reichmans or to me. They’ll reach us and stumble over a phrase or say something generic. Nothing original will enter the funeral home today.

When I got to the kitchen, the coffee was already brewed. I took it black with extra sugar — no milk or cream. My dad was sitting at the table in his robe, which was dangerously loose, both hands wrapped around his mug. He saw me come in and immediately threw on a smile.

“Hey, bud, what’s the word?” he attempted.

“No one says that.” I sat at the table across from him. ESPN played on the small flat-screen television mounted on our kitchen wall. It was always on in the background of our lives, like a piano that serenades the lobby of a four-star hotel. The Star Ledger was open and scattered across the table with olive oil stains seeping through the political section. The headline read: “Wright Accuses President of Being a Communist, Again.”

Clayton Wright, the poster child of the Republican Party, was a common headliner in politics lately. His father served as Secretary of State in the nineties and Wright lost the 2012 presidential election. Wright was exactly what the right-wing population craved. He was young, attractive, bombastic, and white. As a Yale alum with deep-rooted family history in American politics, Wright had an unmatched pedigree and a witless, bland motto: Wright for the Right! The guy was an absolute nightmare, but the media ate him up. He made all those promises that tickle the voters’ ears: lower taxes, hard on crime, cuts in spending, etc. He clean-shaved his baby face and parted his chestnut hair. He spoke with a Southern accent even though his entire family was from New England. He has appeared on the same talk show since I was in middle school. On the show, he demanded that voters have laser-eye identification screening before casting their ballot, and that Muslims must take a test proving their allegiance to the country instead of to “Allah.” He accused President Meyer of being a KGB spy and claimed he had been a Black Panther during the Civil Rights Movement. The president denied these accusations.

Meyer was an anomaly in American politics. He was born in upstate New York to a Jewish father and a black mother from the lower middle class. He attended Brandeis University for his undergrad and Harvard for law school. He eventually became a senator in Massachusetts and was virtually unknown to the larger American public until he took the country by storm when he ran for president.

Everyone was obsessed with Jerome Meyer, the mixed-raced young liberal who promised the national legalization of gay marriage and pot, the redistribution of wealth, the federal overtaking of the healthcare system, and the amnesty of immigrants already residing in the country. And by “everyone,” I mean my college. Fervor burned through the school, igniting demonstrations and a handful of counter-demonstrations by the few Wright supporters.

Politics is nasty. Faux alliances are formed on beliefs that people possess for possession’s sake. Accusations are flung like water balloons at a child’s birthday party. Liberals view Conservatives as sadists: heartless and out of touch. Conservatives view Liberals as naïve, bleeding-heart pussies; no one gives a fuck about the Moderates. The war-thirsty “Hawks” are vultures. The pacifist “Doves,” pigeons. Self-interest groups would spring up all over campus, promoting their “causes” and slandering all objectors. The gay rights group clashed with the religious ruffians; the environmentalist clan clashed with the “let them drill!” guild; the African-American, Asian-American, Latino-American, and any other group who couldn’t be just “American” combined forces with the white guilt of our liberal arts colleges to create a formidable abomination of self-identity chaos. What’s left are the apathetic, drinking our beer in the nooks and crannies. Did I mention I’m a politics major?

Well, not just a politics major — a politics–international relations double major with a focus in Middle Eastern studies and a minor in French. “Why?” you might be saying to yourself. Go ask Freshman Joel to find the answer. I considered going to law school after college, but decided against it because I’m not a masochist. So on the cusp of graduation, I was lost with my dick in my hand, probably having to work for some NGO who think they’re God’s gift to the putrid earth. I sipped my coffee.

“I don’t know how you drink it like that,” said Sal.

“He studied in France, remember? That’s what they do over there,” my father added. “Right, Joel? Isn’t that right?”

“Yeah. I mean no. Sorta,” I responded with the intention of not explaining the difference between a drip and French press, espresso and filter. It was a conversation I could’ve sworn we’d had before. I ate a piece of burnt, dry toast and excused myself from the table. Again, no one stopped me. I went back to bed.

I woke up to a pool of drool flowing from my pillow to the mattress. Adam’s wake would begin in a few hours and I could barely think. I stared at the grooves and cracks on my ceiling that I had studied since I was a child. As a kid, I was often sent to my room. I had already read all of my books, and without a television, computer, or smartphone, I was confined to those grooves and cracks to kill time. I counted twenty-seven cracks, six blots, and a greenish-blue dot that completed the constellation that kept me company.

When I closed my eyes, all I could see was blood. Blood on white tile, blood on white marble, soaked into the carpet that hugged the toilet. I imagined Adam in gym shorts and a t-shirt. Does one dress for such an occasion? I could see him sitting on the floor against the tub, one arm at his side, the other draped across his lap, both open, both bleeding out. When I pictured his face, I didn’t see his eyes. I didn’t see his nose, ears, or chin. I only saw a smile; probably the first smile he had in a long time.

I set the shower to scalding. My forehead rested against the tile; the water beat the back of my neck. I hadn’t showered in two days. I needed to clean myself but was immobile. I watched as the water ran off my nose and mouth, hitting the floor of the tub with a thud. I could feel the water trapped in my beard, which after a few months had grown to a respectable length. I was surprised Mom hadn’t told me to shave it. She was probably hesitant to be demanding. You’ll stay a little longer, my friend.

When I got out of the shower, my neck and shoulders had crimsoned. I looked into the mirror and realized I needed to start working out again. My once chiseled abs had turned into a gut, due to the copious amounts of beer and whiskey and vodka and tequila and rum and gin and Rumple Minze. The tattoo on my right side, right on the ribs, read Survive in black ink. I was eighteen when I had it done, when I thought that’s all I needed to do: survive. Survive my youth and everything would be okay; I was such a pussy.

As I stared at myself in the mirror, contemplating attempting a sit-up for the first time in weeks, I received a text. Text from Chloe: 10:15 a.m.: Hey Joel, hope you are okay. Txt me if you need ANYTHING. We never were an official couple, but we were virtually together for most of my senior year. She’s two grades below me and decided to go to school locally, which ensured that she was always around when I came home.

On command, she would send naked photos, and on nights when I returned to an empty bed, I would text Chloe and she would tell me she missed me. Sometimes I wondered why I didn’t just make her my girlfriend. She was good to me and seemed to actually care. There was also that time I had a girlfriend for a couple of months at school sophomore year, and when Chloe found out, she sent me an armada of texts about how upset she was and posted on my Facebook wall four or five times about it. I had to call her to tell her to stop. She said she never wanted to see me again. I texted Chloe when we broke up. We fucked that Thanksgiving break.

Then I thought about how easy it all was with Chloe, and if it was this easy for me, how was she with the other guys? This was always at the back of my head, I suppose, and therefore Chloe was always on the back burner.

I cranked out a few sit-ups and push-ups and went to change into my suit. I hated wearing suits. The neck size on my shirt was always off and I’d get those red bumps where I’d have to shave; at least I was avoiding that this time.

My family was waiting for me at the bottom of the staircase — solemn and dressed in their Sunday best, they looked like the cover of a Christian rock album.

The five of us packed into our SUV and headed to the funeral home. My dad turned on the radio; he flipped through a few stations and after finding nothing he could tolerate, turned it off in frustration. We sat in silence for the ten-minute ride. Halfway through, I realized this was Carlo’s first real experience with death. When our neighbor Mr. Tomasello passed away, Carlo was at baseball camp and didn’t attend the funeral. And when my uncle died, my dad’s brother, Carlo was so young that my mom sent him to her sister’s house in Connecticut — that was still the only time I’d ever seen my father cry.

It was in the pew at church. I sat next to Sal, who was next to Dad. The priest had been in the middle of a sermon on the frailty of life and was reciting a line from the Gospel of Matthew: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. I can remember it in such detail because as I was following along in the flimsy, paperback Bible, I heard a deep groan. I turned to see my father with his thumb and middle finger plugging his eyes. His chest pulsed and contracted, and he was gasping for air. My mother rubbed his back and Sal leaned against his shoulder. When he took his hand away from his face, I could see his bloodshot eyes and glistening cheeks. I felt awkward. I looked down at my Bible and randomly thumbed to a page and pretended to read it. I didn’t look up from the Book for the rest of the funeral, but was trapped by the brutal sobbing of the toughest man I knew.

I stared out the window but didn’t really look at anything. What am I going to say to Adam’s parents? Will I shake Mr. R’s hand or give him a hug? What about his mom? Definitely a hug, perhaps a kiss on the cheek? No, that might be weird. Then I remembered my uncle’s wake had had an open casket.

I had been petrified at the sight of my overweight uncle snug in the casket, surrounded by my weeping family, Nonna covered in black, holding a gold handkerchief, delicately blotting her wrinkled cheeks.

We arrived at the funeral home quicker than I had anticipated. I hate that. My timing was off. I’m not ready for this.

At the front door, I scanned the room. I saw familiar faces but couldn’t remember many names. Some were sad; others, neutral. Before I could enter, a hand grabbed my elbow.

“Hey Joel. It’s Mr. Green, Josh’s dad.” I nearly jumped out of my suit. “Aren’t you a senior this year? Any plans for after you graduate?” I felt my face flush and overheat. My hands instinctively formed fists and I bit my bottom lip really fucking hard. Mr. Green stared at me as clueless as a Labrador. My mom, who was only a few steps away, diffused the potential disaster.

“Joel just lost his friend, Glen. He doesn’t want to talk about that right now.”

“Oh, yeah, of course. We’ll talk later, Joel.”

With her hand on my shoulder, I stepped into the funeral home. The electric red carpet clashed with the black suits and dresses of the mourning. In the back of the main room, I could see an array of flowers, a cacophony of colors pulling me closer. As I approached, I heard my name whispered amongst the small groups of people; I ignored them. I was transcending toward something larger. In a place frequented by the dead, I felt alive, drunk in color. The violets spoke to me and the tulips made me smile. The lilies sang while the roses called my name — perhaps it was the roses I could hear. In my sober stupor, I stumbled upon Adam, snug in his casket.

I froze. His somber appearance made me wilt. He was in a suit and tie, black with a white shirt. I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen him in a suit.

Another hand grabbed my shoulder and squeezed gently. I turned to see a puffy-eyed Mr. Reichman holding an envelope while holding back tears. In a defeated voice, he said, “Hello, Joel. I’m happy that you made it. Adam left this for you.” His hand remained on my shoulder. “He told his mother and me not to open it and to give it directly to you.” He started to lean on me; his breath was putrid and he had white crust in the corners of his mouth. “Adam was a good boy. You know that, right?” he asked, as if he had been asking the same question all day.

“Yes, of course I do,” I responded.

“Yes, yes you do. He loved you, Joel.”

At this point, I was physically supporting the man. As he pushed his weight onto me, I looked over his shoulder and saw people beginning to notice the scene.

“I could have done more, Joel,” he pleaded into my ear. Mrs. Reichman came over and hugged her husband, relieving me of his dead weight.

“Honey, come with me,” she said.

Mr. Reichman turned to see the silent mourners staring at him, stumbled backward a few steps, and gathered himself. He buttoned his jacket and fixed his tie as if he were about to begin a business meeting, then handed me an envelope and walked away. Joel was written in sloppy script on the front. I turned toward Adam, and there was my father, looking down into the pillowed box. What if this had been Carlo’s wake, or mine? Would the toughest man on Earth crumble in front of staring mourners? Would sorrow overtake him? The kind of sorrow that makes a man’s knees shake? I watched as he rubbed the side of the casket and took a deep breath. He absolutely would; the fear of great men is to outlive their sons, I suppose.

I walked to the casket. After a moment of mutual silence, Dad said, “Say whatever you need to now. This will be the last time you see him.”

I kneeled in front of him, hands clenched at my waist, eyes closed. I listened. I could hear banter float across the room, along with the occasional sniffle of a runny nose. I pictured Adam six years ago, baseball glove on his hand, the sun burning the backs of our necks, and I prayed. I prayed for the first time in years. I asked God to look over another lost soul, to welcome him into the flock. I didn’t speak like that, but it’s what came out. Then a thought came to me, and I felt my stomach turn and I became nauseous — I even clutched the side of the casket for support, which might have appeared like I was in deep prayer, but I was really trying to hold down vomit: What if Adam went to Hell? Maybe it would be better if there wasn’t a God. I said goodbye to my friend, walked out of the funeral home, and sat in the car. My family members left the funeral home one by one, first Carlo — who still hadn’t shed a tear — then Sal, with my mother following not far behind, and then my father. No one spoke when they took their seats in the SUV, and we drove home in silence; my father still couldn’t find anything adequate on the radio.

I lay on my bed and ran my hand over my jacket where the letter still sat snug in the inside pocket. When did Adam write it? The night before? Hours before he ended it? I held it in my hands, my palm sweat smearing the ink in which my name was written. The edge had a tear in it; someone had begun to open it and stopped. I unfolded the loose-leaf paper and read the note quietly to myself.

Joel,

If you’re reading this, then it means I did it. I killed myself. It also means that my parents aren’t as gutless as they seem. My decision was not rushed. I will not regret what I am going to do. I’m lost, Joel, a limping lamb, a whimpering sheep. My final years on Earth have not been living. Instead, I suffocate inside of a blood-filled shell. I will ask Erika for forgiveness. Hopefully her smile brings light back to my soul. Please don’t worry about me. There was nothing you could do, I promise. One day we’ll see each other again. Until then, I’ll be up there kissing angels.

I love you, Joel.

Your friend,

Adam

P.S. Don’t forget to put coins on my eyes, heaven isn’t free

I read the letter three times over with a pit in my stomach. I had questions that would never be answered.

Dinner was quiet. Dad asked for the rice. Sal asked about the wine vintage. It was a vacant meal that filled nothing but our stomachs. Mrs. Reichman called my mother and asked if I would speak at the funeral. Mom said she would ask me and get back to her. In bed, I recited Adam’s letter in my head. I already had it memorized. I had never heard him speak that way before — profoundly, metaphorically. I went to sleep without drinking a sip of alcohol. It was the first time in weeks I didn’t drink whiskey or wine; I couldn’t stomach the stuff, I suppose.

That night I didn’t dream about Adam. I didn’t dream about death, darkness, or despair. Instead my dream was nonsensical, meaningless. In it were people I barely knew. Friends? No. Acquaintances? Sure. There was confusion. People introduced themselves with different names than I had known them by. Rick was Mark, Steve was Joe, and Caroline was a girl I used to fuck freshman year. They say dreams focus on the last things you are imagining before falling asleep. This cannot be true. I wanted a nightmare. I woke up warm and cozy, feeling guilty.

Ben D’Alessio lives and writes in New Orleans, LA. Binge Until Tragedy is his debut novel. Follow him on twitter and facebook.

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Ben D'Alessio

Ben D'Alessio

Author of the novels: Binge Until Tragedy, Lunchmeat, The Neon God, & 6 Harlots: Rebirth of a Nation | Linwood, NJ https://www.bendalessio.com/