Saturday, April 12, 2008

Chapter 15: Bismarck, North Dakota


You don't pick your family. And friends are fine for poker night, or for helping you put up a garage door opener. But having someone you love the way I love Emily is all that truly matters. Emily knows that, and she thinks it's a big joke.

The seeds were planted years ago, before we even started dating. I showed Emily, in a million small ways, that I loved her too much, that I would tolerate neglect to be with her. That I would, just as Stainer said, rather have been miserable than alone. A small piece of her attention was enough to satisfy me. What's happening now is a direct result.

I was convinced that I'd never do better than her. Gradually, she learned that if she needed me, I'd be at her doorstep at a minute's notice no matter what my other priorities were, that she could puke in my car after a long night of drinking without any cleaning to worry about the next morning.

She'll never respect me, and I'll ache for her for the rest of my days. The only thing that will make me happy is Emily coming back, being mine and only mine. But she's found excitement now, true excitement, in the pursuit of a wealthy, desirable man who is just a bit out of her reach, the same way Emily is out of mine. She burns for him the way I burn for her; she lies awake at night, rehearsing every conversation, second-and third-guessing every outfit, just as I do, and now that she has tasted what Doug has to offer, I will never, ever get what I want.

I'm supposed to quietly shuffle off to my place at the back of the line and accept my fate. I'm supposed to passively absorb abuse until I finally die, get stuffed into a pine box and rot away underneath a couple of yards of dirt for all of eternity.

Fuck. That.

I can't have Emily. My job is a disaster. But, when I'm 85 years old, frail and desolate, sitting in a puddle of my own piss, it will be nice to know that at least I stood up for myself, that I didn't let some son of a bitch run roughshod over me. Yeah, I'm doing this.

I'm never getting away with it, though. I'm not one of these psychotic freaks with icewater running through their veins, who can look at you, stone-faced, and lie about killing someone. This will end badly.

I couldn't just kill Doug, then cruise back home and wash the blood off like a faceful of barbecue sauce after a messy picnic. I'm not capable of that.

It might be after my 9th green beer some St. Patrick's Day. Or it might be in bed, after Emily has made sweet love to me and told me that I could share anything at all with her. But sooner or later, the secret will jump out of me, and part of me will be glad, because I will need to hear that I was right and Doug was wrong, that he deserved it, that I am not a bad person, that--

Dammit. This isn't a fun train of thought. I need to be calm for what I'm about to do, not all sweaty-palmed and scatterbrained. I need a drink.

* * *

The midnight sky is more grey than black, and a cloudy mist rolls across my headlights like smoke from a brush fire. My windbreaker is suddenly not enough for the cold, and with shivering fingers, I turn up the heat in my car as high as it will go.

I've driven by Captain's 100 times, but never went inside before now. The closer I get to the entrance, the more I see why.

Captain's is a square yellow building which sits in the middle of a cracked patch of asphalt, between a gas station that went out of business two years ago and a check cashing place. It only has two windows, and they are so plastered over with scotch-taped signs that I can't see in.

The flimsy screen door slams shut behind me as I enter, and I'm met with the smell of buffalo wings and stale beer. A bare light bulb hangs over a pool table, its glow reflecting dully off the stained walls.

The stool creaks so loudly as I sit at the bar that I instinctively jump up, and a horrifyingly ugly woman behind the counter stops wiping the bar long enough to laugh at me. Doesn't ask what I want to drink, though.

This episode completes my humiliation. By this time tomorrow, I'll be in a morgue with a tag on my toe, or getting my mug shot taken. Most people in that situation go out gracefully; they find a halfway decent restaurant where they can enjoy a last meal, maybe even gather some loved ones to share it with. Me? I'm in a rickety old dump, alone, and hideous barmaids are laughing at me.

"Bar's almost closed," she says, finally, turning to face me directly. There's a huge mole next to the corner of her mouth, an orange knob that distracts me from her otherwise pale skin.

"I'll have a Kamikaze," I say, firmly. I've never had one before, but what better drink could there be for me now?

"We're all outta lime juice," she says, turning her droopy eyes up at me.

"How about a Screwdriver?"

She sighs loudly, whirls around, picks up an empty plastic jug and slams it back down. "All outta OJ too. Can't I just get you a beer?" she groans.

A Jeopardy! rerun blares from a TV set on a high shelf behind her.

Just perfect. A trio of nerds with photographic memories spewing out obscure facts, to remind me that, beyond my romantic failings, I am also intellectually inferior.

"This state capital was named for a famous German chancellor," Alex says.

A contestant named Greg rings in. "What is Bismarck, North Dakota?" he asks, and before Alex even tells him he is right, he's looking up at the board to make the next selection. I wish I could be that confident about anything.

He didn't think about the answer. He knew it, completely and totally, as if it were encoded in his DNA. Pressing the button on his controller and giving the correct question was a subconscious reflex for him, something he could have done while shaving or tying his shoes.

It seems to me that I could learn a lot from this dork. If I could have his confidence, maybe I wouldn't get stepped on so much. Confidence impresses people. They remember it. You become that guy, the one they better not try to argue with. And in real life, there is no game show host standing next to you with a stack of index cards to tell you you're wrong.

Wouldn't it be great if I could answer every question in the amount of time it took Greg to say, "Bismarck, North Dakota"? Wouldn't it become easy to silence every doubter, to solve every problem that came my way? If I could somehow manage to do that, I would become a completely different person. A guy like that wouldn't have to commit murder just to make a point...

...I need to go home and think.

Next... Chapter 16: A (bare)Backstabbing