Bummed Out in Kalama – Tom
“She looked good. If I close my eyes I can see her now, walking across the room.”
My eyes rove around the room, surveying the empty cans and pizza boxes. I look out the window at the parking lot of this drab motel, up to the dusty mountain ridge in the distance. Open a new can and try to forget the day that was going to be, that wasn’t, and that has slipped away.
Jack is asleep on the floor, his hands tucked up under his ear, no pillow. In sleep there is peace. He had been great today, patient and accepting of boredom and sugar bribery. Tantrums could not have made the day much worse, but him being happy had made it seem a little less disappointing.
“Now I had known her for a while. I used to go into that office fairly often. But I’d never really thought about her that way. And at that time, I was on a losing streak. Let’s just say that things had been dry for me for quite a bit. If it had not been for a friend with benefits situation, infrequent though it was, the stench of desperation coming off of me would never have allowed us to connect.”
I’m giving off a stench of desperation. Instead of a long weekend hiking and swimming I’m swilling cheap beer and eating cardboard pizza listening to some old story of my brother Ben’s that is focused on the incredible ass and light blue underwear of a woman he had a short fling with five years ago.
Every time I think I’ve turned a corner I seem to find myself in the same old mess. Here I am again, broke down and broke, sitting in an ugly motel getting drunk with my brother, kid asleep on the floor, hoping my credit card will pass muster when the car is finally fixed. Then, and only then, I’ll tuck my tail between my legs and bid a retreat home
“Stink of desperation,” I mutter.
“Come on man, you don’t have it that bad. You can’t let a dead fuel pump destroy you. It is what it is. What can you do? Got to make the best of it.”
“Getting hammered on PBR in downtown Kalama’s cheapest motel on a beautiful Friday night: that’s making the best of it? Damn – and I took today off too.”
Ben rolls his eyes.
“So – we end up back at her place, and I get rid of any hint of desperation. We have a lovely evening.”
“Aside from reveling in some past conquest, do you have a point here? Do you want to walk – somewhere – anywhere and look for some action? Feeling a little zesty? You can always get a little alone time in the bathroom if you need it.”
“Look – my story does have a point. True, I am reveling in some past joy, despite the fact that I am happily tied down.”
“The old ball and chain.”
“Shelly hates that. She also hates it when you refer to a boy’s weekend away as a hall pass.”
“She also thinks you’re grumpy and all too easily bummed out.”
“Thanks man – super helpful.”
“Look – I know this sucks. But what are you going to do? Sulking is not going to fix the car. Get over it man. Don’t be so uptight.”
“I know. I’m trying. But sometimes you just feel like you are on the brink. Afraid to go forward, afraid to turnaround. That or it’s one step forward, two steps back.”
“I know – you’ve got all the answers, still failing the test. Those of us who’ve known you forever are amazed you’ve gotten this far.”
I shrug. My eyes glaze. I sip at another beer. Stare out the window. Watch the TV with the sound off. I watch my sleeping child and try not to think. Before long I am laying down on the floor next to Jack.
Ben wakes me not long after dawn, says that he and Jack are going downstairs for some complimentary continental breakfast. I roll over, back to sleep, I wish. My head pounds from the beer and the floor. I seem to remember Ben offering to take the floor, but I was too sleepy. All too quickly, morning is here.
I hear them rumble back to the room. I can smell the burnt watery coffee and sense an ancient Danish that will make up my morning nutrition.
“Dad, look at me.”
I open my eyes and stare ahead. Then try to hide my face, too late.
“Burst shot!” exclaims Jack. “Uncle Ben set it so I can take, like, ten pictures of you in a second. And then pick the best one.”
They survey them and giggle.
“You look bad Dad. I bet you wish you hadn’t drunk all that beer now.”
I reach for the phone and lose the subsequent game of keep away. I soon find myself pinned to the floor by my eight year old. Ben reaches in and shows me the phone. It is a picture of him from a ways back, he’s staring into the camera, hair disheveled, looking worse than I feel currently.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“I told you my story had a point.”
“Not for you Jack. Maybe someday you can hear all of it. Go brush your teeth.” He turns to me, “So, it’s the next morning. She’s sauntering out of the bathroom when someone buzzes at the front door to the building. She checks the intercom, but I can’t hear what she says. She runs in – quick she says, into the closet. It’s my boyfriend – he’s on his way up.”
“I take cover in the closet, worried about the turn this adventure has taken. I hear voices at the door and in the living room. I’m quietly trying to put stuff over my head. I hear someone – her, please be her – walk into the bedroom. The closet door opens, and in comes a cell phone that takes my picture. Flash and all. Then she starts laughing. Just kidding she says.”
“I don’t know who it was at the door. She never told me. But she laughed and laughed. Do I look like I am stressed in the picture?”
“A little, maybe.”
“You look better than Dad looks in his picture today,” Jack adds, helpfully.
“I aged years in those long moments in the closet. I thought I might have to jump out the window or something.”
“Did you stay in touch with her?”
“I tried to, but she lost interest in me pretty quick. Her texting me this photo was the last I ever heard. Perhaps if I’d been ready to fight for her instead of hide? Who knows?”
“Amazing you never told me before. Perhaps she did not have as much fun as you did.”
“Thanks, family man.”
“So why now? Or yesterday”
“Because it’s funny and you were having a shitty day. You are no fun to be around if there is no laughing.”
“Jack,” Ben says, “pick one of them and show me.”
They huddle over Ben’s phone laughing. My protests are ignored. Then my phone buzzes, lets me know I’ve been tagged on Instagram: #hungoverdad. The giggling is infectious. Laughing, we grab our stuff and head out to the painfully bright sunshine, hopefully ready to face what the day deals.