According to Dr. Google, Patrick suffers from a mental health disorder. The early morning appointment was unplanned, the diagnosis unexpected, and the result comforting. At least now he knows.
Siri, always true to her promises, wakes him at exactly 4 a.m. The annoying alarm is unnecessary. Patrick’s been wide-eyed with insomnia for two, almost three hours, tortured with endless scenarios of betrayal and handcuffs on the wrist.
He remembers. None of this is a dream.
He untangles himself from the sheets and walks to the bathroom. The floor is tacky and cool under his bare feet. He lifts the lid and waits. A pause—then a drib, dribbity, dribble—followed by a burning sensation. He winces down at an almost orange stream of dehydration—a half bottle of Wild Turkey his body has refused to metabolize in the night is now splashing into the toilet. He’s got to stop before he kills himself or someone else.
He washes his hands, stares into the mirror, shocked by what he sees. What do they call it, Progeria? He’s forty going on eighty in a matter of days. He splashes ice cold water on his melting face.
On the bedside table, a copy of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol is waiting to be opened again. Lessons learned from Scrooge: a haunted man is a hopeful man.
Their relationship is as dead as Old Marley. But maybe, just maybe, the universe will find a way to sponge away the writing on this stone. It would be a resurrection of love. Christmas every day. He would feel light as a feather again and be merrier than a schoolboy. He would honor her in his heart. As if he were born again.
Neil Young’s, Old Man, is playing on an endless loop in his brain.
He brews some coffee, pours himself a cup, shuffles back to the bed, sipping and slurping along the way.
The best part of the day. The grand opening of the laptop. The blank screen. The first day of creation: Let there be light.
Exhaustion is no friend to the writer. But he’s only pages away—from what?
He clicks the Personal Hotspot on his iPhone and waits for a Wi-Fi connection.
He checks his texts. She hasn’t written since yesterday evening. Her last words weren’t promising. He feels the familiar nauseating gut punch of losing someone. Someone cherished. Someone irreplaceable.
Write for me. She always used to say that. One time she even wrote it on a yellow sticky and stuck it to his computer screen. The note is still in his possession, but he doesn’t have the courage to stare down at her sloppy, manly print. He will cry.
First, the normal delay tactics. E-mail. The laughable foolishness of Twitter. His WordPress blog stats (admittedly, a self-centered addiction which always drove her crazy to the point of anger and she would curse his ego). Fox News. Rush Limbaugh. Jack Vale and the Pooter on YouTube.
It’s the daily procrastination of a writer fearing failure.
The first page to appear on his computer screen is an article listing the ten sure signs of a sociopath. Clickbait. He bites. He clicks.
She accused him of being a sociopath only days ago, screaming with distended neck veins, a red tomato face, and blue ice water eyes. Now he wonders if he truly measures up or even deserves such a lofty accusation.
A SOCIOPATH IS:
Charming (so they say). Check.
Intelligent (humbly, yes, yes). Check. Gobble, gobble.
Pathological liar (yes, of course, he’s a writer). But his legendary fibs have often extended beyond the written page and into everyday life. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. It’s become rather difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is not. Some might call him crazy. So, check that one, too.
Manipulative (Certainly, yes, who isn’t, right? Let him who is without sin cast the first stone). Check, anyhow. One is sometimes compelled to redirect a fickle wind back into one’s favor.
Lack of remorse (hmm . . . not quite sure how he feels about this one, maybe nothing). He’s often very sorry for any pain he’s caused but hardly ever shows it. However, wait, wait, wait, a quick review of his shoulder shrug at being manipulative—well, maybe, possibly, yes.
Narcissistic (yes and no). Positive and negative cancel out each other and therefore this category does not earn or deserve a check. Drop that charge.
No long relationships (sadly, this is true). Every union has always been a countdown. Who will last the longest? Check.
Spontaneous (hell yes). An absolute absence of fear followed by a hundred incredible memories, a string of misdemeanors, three jail sentences, and one felony. Check.
Lack of love (hell no). Patrick loves her way more than himself. Now THAT’S a powerful love. Nevertheless, two levels have often conflicted: her agape over against his philautia. As for eros, that part has always burned as hot as the lake of fire between the sheets and everywhere else. As for philia, she still loves him but only as a brother. Recently, she mumbled this predictable and infuriating suggestion with the classic line of “Let’s just be friends.”
Highly competitive (only in terms of her attention). Check.
Count them. Eight or nine out of ten. Damn. He is a sociopath. She was right.
Okay, okay, okay. At least he’s not a psychopath—unless he’s drunk—then there’s a fine line that’s easily crossed. No one can really know the moment it will happen. The swerve. The head-on collision.
The article states that this “illness” is chronic, lifelong. There’s no medicine, no cure. However, symptoms may decrease with age. There is, of course, counseling available for affected family members.
Blah, blah, blah. He clicks an X and the Internet disappears.
No. He doesn’t believe any of it. AA teaches that a converted drunk will always be a recovering alcoholic. No, no, no. Either a man has recovered, or he has not. Just as a drunk chooses to drink or not to drink, the same man chooses to be a screw up and a self-centered asshole—or not.
You’ve made your choice. That’s what she said. This is the consequence.
Patrick checks his texts again. For what? The hundredth time? Nothing, of course. Shit, shit, shit. She’s been out on the town. Painting it red. Waking up in someone else’s bed.
No. She’s not like that at all. She’s still sleeping. In her own bed. Alone. Dreaming of someone else. Someone stable. Someone who’ll guard her heart. A Florida Gators fan, a repair man, a handsome dapper-dan. Hopefully someone with a sweaty gut, wads of navel lint, no ambition, and a flaccid, two-inch snub nose pistol with no sexual creativity—a mindless softy of a jackhammer with a whistle between the noticeable gap in his bleached white rabbit teeth every time he ejaculates prematurely. Patrick predicts she’ll often roll her eyes in the dark and remember his/her/their former limitless passion before stable boy came along with his scientific “perfect match” stats.
Zelda and Scott would’ve never matched online. They were obviously wrong for each other but somehow perfect together. They were simply meant to be.
She’s already blowing up eHarmony. It won’t be long. 3-2-1. October, November, December. By Christmas, someone one will offer her a ring. She will accept and that will be damn that. Someone to help her cope with the daily hassles of life. Big, big yawn. Responsible adults are so boring.
Show some respect. Wear black clothes. Pull out some hair. Go without eating or drinking. This is her alleged grieving period.
She didn’t even wait for his corpse to cool.
He wonders aloud how she’d feel if he grieved for her at a strip joint, tucking fives, tens, and twenties inside the tight elastic silky string of a stranger’s thong.
That’s the disturbing thing. The painful sorrow of a true love lost suffers alone. A lesser love goes out to play.
Patrick’s alone. Aimee is not.
She immediately turned off her phone locator because she doesn’t want him to know when and where she’ll be giving herself away. An obvious admission of guilt. But they’re broken up. That’s her rationalization. She can do whatever or whoever she wants.
He’s angry at himself the moment he thinks such a horrible and unfair thing. She was the faithful one. He was the wrecking ball. He ended it, not her.
Patrick spills coffee on the bed. He doesn’t care. He pours a little more from the hotel coffee pot but this time with a generous addition of Apple Jack whiskey. The breakfast of Al-Anons.
Time to write.
His novel is a weak but developing embryo in the second trimester. Always kicking—but less frequently now—likely to be born with fetal alcohol syndrome.
The main character is considering suicide today. Her eager finger is on the trigger.
But isn’t he, the author, really aiming at himself?
Patrick types a beautiful ugly sentence.
Bang. Lights out. What a mess.
No, no, no. Not like that.
He erases the words. The flat line disappears. The walls are clean again.
PQRST. She has a pulse. She’s still alive.
What now? It’s up to him. He is god. The Master of her Fate. The meddler.
He forces himself to give the redeemable protagonist some much-needed encouragement—long overdue—with a gentle tap of the keys.
Patrick places a warm hand on her soft cheek, lifts her head, searches her blue eyes for any viable, salvageable sign of a flickering love.
Cooling to cold. Barely a wisp of smoke. Not even a fleck of orange. Nothing to blow into flame.
She’ll require a miracle.
He starts writing again, examining her many perfections and blemishes, wanting to fight for her, wanting to keep her, deciding against it.
He opens a door in his mind.
Go on. Live your life.
She runs from him without looking back.