A Drink Before I Die
I have often thought of the works of Hemingway nights like this.
The air was cold, and the thin walls at the Colonial Apartment did little good to keep out the cold. I was sitting in my old computer chair, staring at my copy of The Old Man in the Sea. “Scary how much I related to the old man in the story,” I thought aloud. Much like how Santiago was chasing a dream that I’m more than likely would never be able to attain.
Santiago wanted to capture the biggest fish in the ocean; and though he came very close to getting what he wanted, in the end it was a dream which never became reality.
It’s amazing the things we give up for our dreams, I thought as I poured myself a shot of Jack Daniels.
I was three shots down now as I shook my bottle of Pepsi. To my dismay there was tiny brown puddles forming in the divots in the bottom of the bottle.
Pile of bills and notices for doctor’s appointments that I pretended to forget about. These notices were piling up. Growing up, I gobbled up short stories by authors like Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury and JK Rowling. But it wasn’t until my 11th-grade year when I read The Old Man in the Sea that I truly found my calling.
Don’t get it twisted my dear reader. Obsession with this man did not begin because of his strong male characters, his dedication to the everyman, or his ability to tell complex stories surrounding unpleasant social topics.
I became infatuated with the idea of being like Hemingway as a person. My 10th grade English class we watched the documentary about the life of Ernest Hemingway. I was enamored by the fact that he had several wives, whom all seem to love him for some reason or another.
Well, I was engaged for a while. And I say “was” for a reason… About 3 months later, the major pile of shit hit the fan. And by a pile of shit, I mean of course: your narrator.
Right about now you’re probably asking yourself who was stupid enough to fall in love with me? Her name was Bethany and she was beautiful. Her curves gave her the body of a goddess. That girl I tell you, she had a smile that could light up a room. And she wasn’t just beautiful. She has a big heart, she spends her days volunteering at a local animal shelter and her weekend volunteering at a soup kitchen at her family’s church.
I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t screw that up. One night I got drunk at a party and ended up in the bathroom with my face between the legs of a tall skinny redhead… and well, you know the rest. I’ll never forget the look on Bethany’s face when she walked in. She went through the wringer and gave her piece right in my face. I can’t say I blame her, but all my dumbass could say was, “I spent $400 on that ring”. I threw all that away, and I don’t even remember redhead’s name anymore.
The night was crisp and cold. I was scrolling through my phone looking at old texts and photos. Just that morning, Bethany sent me a text telling me how much she loved me and how she hoped I had a good morning. She was wondering if I wanted to meet her at the Tex-Mex place for lunch that weekend.
Scrolling through the messages I began to get that sickly feeling in my stomach as the acid sloshed around. It was tart and disgusting like a lemon that had been left to rot in the desert sun.
I scroll through my phone some more and I found a message from my cousin, which just said “call me”. I looked at the clock. I knew it was only a little after 8 at my cousin’s place. I took a shot in the dark and I gave him a call. I figured if it was a bad time to text him, like if he was getting laid, getting stoned or taking a shit, I could just say that I hit the wrong button and decided to go with it.
“Hey Ben, you told me to call ya,” my slurred voice sounding drunker than my body felt.
“Yeah so, I’ve been looking for somebody to help me around the farm and I know you’ve been hard up for cash,” Ben said.
I knew it was just like Ben to throw me a life preserver. When I was drowning myself in a seemingly endless sea of off-brand liquor, and nameless bar whores with poorly made-up faces. I know I said I thought I found my calling before, but at this moment I felt like I was on a direct phone call God himself.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” I said.
“Yes, sir. This is my chance to prove I had more in common with Ernest Hemingway than a just a serious drinking problem.” I smiled a kind of secret smile. I quietly packed for the red-eye to Nebraska.
The armrest on the plane felt cold and dry against my skin, but I did my best to curl up in my new Buffalo Bills sweatshirt.
“Traveling a long way from home, aren’t you kid?” the man in the white overcoat asked.
I muttered a half-hearted, “Yeah.” I was in no mood for conversation. I turned my head to the window.
“You can’t fool me, kiddo,” said the man in the white tuxedo jacket. “I know you’re not sleeping.”
“Seriously, what the hell do you want?!” My voice was dripping with venom.
“I want to sober you up and have a real conversation!” The stranger had a kind of authority to his voice.
I muttered some four-letter words and sat up.
“Look here, you fruitcake,” I said to try in vain to sound just as powerful. “I’m 22 years old, I’m not a child. How many drinks I had tonight is none of your business. And by the way, I’m an atheist, so if you want me to join some sort of space cult or something, you’re out of luck.”
I turned away again, “Boy,” He said, his voice soft and patient. “I’ve been through what you’re going through. I know it’s hard to believe, but it will be okay. And you’ve got seven and a half hours. If you don’t want to talk to me after this, I’ll leave you alone.”
“So tell me about yourself…” I raised an eyebrow.
“My name is Maurice,” the old man said. “I’m really old, but I can still eat steak and I had a date with Marilyn Monroe. Oh and if you can do me a favor when the stewardess comes by, please ask for 2 cups of coffee. I know you like cream and sugar in yours.” He was right, the black stuff gives me heartburn.
When the flight attendant came by I ordered two cups of coffee, both with cream and sugar.
“She’s hot, ain’t she?” said the old man. “I tell you what if I were, a couple thousand years younger…” he said as we both laughed. “7 and a half hour flight, huh? What are you running from?”
A feeling of sadness washed over me, and I took a sip of the coffee. “Her name is Bethany. I cheated on her and she wants nothing to do with me.”
The strange old man put his hand on my shoulder.
“Why Nebraska?” asked the weirdo sitting next to me.
“My cousin. He’s one of my best friends and he’s always there for me. Well he needs help on his farm and…” My voice shook with sadness. “This was our 5 year plan,” I said. “You see, being a writer takes hard work and a lot of dedication. My dream was to be a writer. Hemingway is my favorite. I’m a hard worker and I love animals and Bethany was waiting to see if she can get in Veterinary school. She was going to be a large animal veterinarian working on our family’s farm.”
“Living in the past isn’t going to make it any better, kiddo,” said the old man, making a lot of noise sipping his coffee.
“I know,” I said quietly. “I just don’t know what else to do. This was our plan, you know?” I said in tears now.
The old man put his hand on my shoulder, which reminded me of how my dad used to try to comfort me when my peewee football team would lose a game.
“Your soulmate is out there somewhere,” he said with a smile. The tone in his voice filled me with hope. The thing is she might be anywhere including the great beyond. I looked at him, my face full of confusion. This guy was weird, or maybe I was just that drunk, who knows.
“Remember how you were drunk trying to walk to the store to get Pepsi to go with your jack? That’s your drink of choice, isn’t it?”
“You’re walking down the stairs and you’re having trouble standing. You slipped and you fell back and cracked your head open. There was blood all over the beige carpet in the room with the vending machines. Bethany didn’t call you for 2 weeks, after that did she? Even though you were in the hospital? Cheating is a two-way street, kid,” he said.
My mouth was hanging open, “Have you been following me?” I screeched.
He looked me dead in the eye, his eyes were amber yellow. “Kid, I see everything. I always do! I got bad news for you. You’re not going to make it to Nebraska. In fact, you’re not going to make it off this plane. I’m so sorry. You can come with me and everything will be okay. It won’t hurt, just trust me. Follow me and don’t look down.”
As I floated through the walls of the cabin, I could see myself slumped over. Many passengers had their oxygen masks on, but it didn’t seem to be doing that much good.
The man in the overcoat put his hand on my shoulder to hold me close and guide me down the tunnel. We had to go slowly. I had to send one last text message.
“I need you to know. I know I fucked up. But I love you and I will miss you, with everything fiber of my being. My soul will be watching over you. Finish school and get those show horses we talked about. “
At 3:03 a.m., my love received the last text message she ever would receive from me. It will take a long time to get to where we need to be, but I’ll be okay. I’ve always liked long walks.