THE NEXT MORNING:
The light filtering through the living room window is weak and diffuse. It’s a familiar light, in an unfamiliar window. I watch dust motes float through the beams for a moment before I even think to wonder where I am. Because those aren’t my dust motes. And this isn’t my couch.
I’m wrapped in a blanket, still in the clothes I put on last night and my mouth has never been so dry and so sour. I become aware that my pulse is pounding in my temples, and the room spins and I feel like I’m going to vomit. Not again, I think, although I can’t remember when the last time was – but judging by the rankness of my hair, my breath, my wrinkled clothing, I suspect that it wasn’t so long ago.
It takes an eternity to pull the blanket out from around my body and I’m sweating when I finally manage. As my feet touch the floor, the acute physical nausea of my hangover gives way to a quiet, creeping emotional nausea instead. A familiar dismay, the old what-did-I-do-last-night dread of things not yet remembered, blurred by an alcoholic haze. Actions and decisions start trying to slip out from the darkness of memory, like small hands clearing an alcohol-fogged window and for a second, I can almost remember the moment that everything changed.
“Hey beautiful, my credit card isn’t working, can I use yours?” G is at my side as I am finishing my beer, looking charmingly sheepish. “I’ll pay next time,” he adds, and there is a quiet pang deep in my stomach. The first little pockets of anxiety, the first little feelings of unease. The first of many, that I will deny, ignore and repress for the next couple of years. But this time I just swipe my card, adding the requisite polite tip.
This is not the moment.
THE NEXT MORNING:
My mouth still tastes sour but I have dry-swallowed some Advil and finished the cup of the coffee L made me drink before going back to the bar to retrieve my (dignity?) car, and hopefully my cell phone. The coffee helped a little, but gnawing despair still fills my belly and I know that life has changed, suddenly.
L, evidently, still feels bad for me and allows me to avoid the walk of shame, giving me a ride back to the bar. We park, get out and walk over to the “scene of the crime.” G’s car is parked on an angle, across two parking spots. The taillight on the driver’s side is smashed, and the pieces look like sharp plastic blood on the ground.
Not far away, lays the victim. The coffee shop’s drive-thru sign has been covered with a garbage bag and dragged off of to the side. Its forlorn shape under the black plastic is not unlike a body; semi-hysterical giggles threaten to escape the confines of my churning stomach.
L looks at the mess, then at my stricken face, and says, “So, obviously you need to break up with him. Anyone who would put you in a car and attempt to drive you home when they were that drunk doesn’t give a shit about you.”
I nod miserably. I know this.
Was going out for a smoke, but suddenly feel very, very sick. I try to hurry, but the distance between the bar and the door seems much, much further than I remember, and I only get through the inner door before I start to wretch. Most of it lands outside and none of it on my shoes, so I am glad. I spit, wipe my mouth with my hand, and head back inside. I will go out the back entrance for my smoke, and maybe no one will know that I just threw up.
G is at a table, laughing with strangers, and doesn’t see me pass by. Still, this is not the moment.
THE NEXT MORNING:
I let myself in the front door of my house. The phone is flashing, indicating messages. I didn’t find my cell phone. I’d collected my car, thanked L, and then drove home. I decide to leave the new message light blinking, grab a blanket and climb onto the couch. I will deal with the flashing, and the rest of the aftermath, after some sleep.
I am tired and I want to go home. But G is still laughing and talking next to me. I drank too much, trying to keep up. I squint around the bar. Not many people left and no one I know. Just him, next to me, not paying attention to my heavy head dropping towards the bar. I am making a concerted effort to sit up, and I put my hand on his arm. “Please – I need to go home. Call a cab?” I dig my card out of my wallet and hand it to him. “Ok, beautiful – soon,” he replies, then goes back to his beer. Finally, I let my head rest on my forearms on the bar. A little rest. Just until the cab gets here.
This is also not the moment.
THE NEXT MORNING:
I sleep for an hour and then shower. I pick up the phone to check the voicemail. There are three messages, eight missed calls. All from G. I’m sorry, where are you, please, let me, need to talk, worried, yadda yadda yadda. A litany of regret and contrition that I will later learn will never be real.
I remember my talk with L and I don’t call him back. It is over. Anyone who would put me in a car when I was blackout drunk and attempt to drive when THEY were almost as drunk does. not. give. a. shit. about. me. I know this all the way down in my bones.
No second chances.
But the truth is, there have already been other concerning signs. Other quiet red flags. Reality is, none of this will matter in an hour when G shows up on my porch and pleads and cries. Reality is, I have signed up to ride this roller coaster for the next two years – I just don’t know it yet.
I am not sure how I got into the car. It isn’t my car – it’s G’s. I am in the passenger side and suddenly, he is in the driver’s side and the car is running and why are we driving, we are too drunk – he is too drunk to be driving. He is too drunk. He will crash us, he will kill us, he will kill someone else, he is too drunk. Too drunk. Too. DRUNK. To be reversing out of the parking space, to be pulling out of the parking lot, to be navigating the streets. To be going to my house. He is too drunk. I am too drunk. I can’t think, I can’t speak, I can’t stop this. He is too drunk, and we… CRASH. Believe it or not – this, is NOT the moment.
“Do you have ID?” The female officer is leaning into the driver’s side, where G was, just a few minutes ago. I can see him now, out in front of the car, talking to her male counterpart. I hand her my wallet, then feel the bile fill my throat –she is going to know who I am and wonder and look down and feel pity for me.
I push open the passenger side door and lean out and start to vomit, again. The male officer who was just coming around the side of the car jumps back in time to avoid the stream and I am too sick to even feel embarrassed. What does it matter now? I sit back in the seat, and wait and watch as the female officer says something to the male officer. He returns to my side of the car and bends down to talk to me. I can see he is careful to avoid the puddle.
“You need to get out of the car,” he says, not unkindly, “we are taking your friend to jail and you can’t stay here.”
I am confused and I am lost and I shake my head and start to sob again. “What do I do?” I cry.
He gestures to the coffee shop door and says, “They are still open – you should go have a coffee, sober up a little and then go home.”
I don’t know if I thank him. I don’t know if I say anything. I am out of the car, and I am stumbling down the road. But friends and neighbours, this is STILL not the moment.
I am standing in the dimly-lit hallway of the bar. I have no idea what time it is. I am in the early-stages of drunk – still happy(ish), still hopeful that the night might go well. And Sean is there with me – not G. G is outside smoking and talking and trying to be charming. Sean is here though. My friend, who’s been witness to this thing with me and G since it started. My friend, who’s been supportive but cautious. My friend, who is looking so intently at me right now. My friend, who is leaning towards me as I put my hands on his shoulders. My friend, who is suddenly all I can see. And there is nothing else in the world except this moment, this hallway, and the tilt of my head.
Yes, THIS is the moment. The moment everything changes. The moment things become simultaneously so confusing and so very clear. The moment I kiss him. Sean. Not G. It feels so right and so easy – everything that kissing G should have been, but never was. I am surprised by it, and I think Sean is too. We pull back.
And then there is the sudden sound of the back door clunking open, and G calls out, “Hey, beautiful! Let’s get another drink!”
“I kissed him,” I told L that morning. “I think I love him.” I could tell she didn’t believe me. I could tell she wanted that moment to be part of the train wreck, the story of “that night.” But it wasn’t. It was separate and right and good. That moment got me through the next two years of G’s physical, emotional and financial abuse. That moment showed me the possibilities, and allowed me to hope. That moment was everything that the rest of the moments weren’t.
That moment was not the moment that I met my love, but it was the moment I realized what he was to me. What he could be.
And that moment was everything.
Chantel Sandbach’s job is a prison, literally. She’s a parole officer in a penitentiary by day, out of necessity, and a writer by night (and day, and on weekends and holidays and anytime the inspiration strikes her), also out of necessity; the soul-fulfilling kind of necessity. She still doesn’t know what she really wants to write when she grows up, but has had one piece of flash fiction published, to date (and one upcoming). She is from Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. Connect with her on Twitter: @SandbachChantel