"What do you want?" I ask.
"You bastard!" She screams. "You asshole!" My phone, it's a piece of crap, some puke-yellow throwback from the 1970s that I got at a garage sale for like twenty-five cents. So when she screams, everything on my end goes a little static-y for a second, like when you lose reception on your radio or whatever.
I shake my head, the way you do when you're trying to convey to someone in the room that you're frustrated with the person on the other end of the phone. But there's no one to see me shake my head, there's no one to give me a knowing grin--hey, man, I feel ya, we've all been there--there's no one to tell me to hurry up and get off the phone. There's just me and this huge bottle of bourbon and this crazy woman screaming that I'm a bastard. That I'm an asshole.
I stay quiet, because, honestly, I can't argue. She goes on for a bit, and I'm sure she's really cutting into me, I'm sure she's saying some really hurtful things, but I'm not paying any attention. Her voice, it's a familiar thing, and as I sit alone in the dark with my haunted memories and bourbon, I could use a familiar voice.
I tune out her words and listen to her voice, and I drink my bourbon and I get back to the business of hating myself.
"It's your fault," she says. Eventually. "This is all your fault."
I don't know if I just happened to start paying attention right then, or if something about her accusation made me perk up, but I'm suddenly back in the conversation. "What? What's my fault?"
"The accident! The car accident! The DUI! All of it!"
"You bastard!" And she hangs up. It's that loud thing, like when you slam a phone down. Pay phone, home phone, I don't know.
I put the cheap plastic receiver back on its cradle and I take another drink and I think about how that crazy bitch has my teddy bear. Teddy. I had him as long as I could remember, I think since I was two, my mom said. And this chick, this lunatic bitch who calls up and screams that I'm a bastard, she's got him now. Damn it.
Back when we still pretended to love each other. She was lonely, she missed me. I gave her Teddy, I told her he'd take care of her, I told her that he'd scare away her nightmares just like he used to do for me. I told her the story about how one night I got so sad that my parents were fighting, and I blamed it on Teddy, and I put him in the closet because I was mad. Mad at him, because it was his fault, even though it wasn't.
And that night, I cried and I cried, until my dad came in and said if I didn't quit crying, he'd give me something to cry about, and I couldn't quit, so he hit me with a belt. What would have been a regular spanking, except for the booze; it messed with his aim, so the belt hit my legs, my ass, my back. And when he was done giving me something to cry about, when he was done giving me welts and bruises and hurts that bled, he left the room, slamming the door behind him, and I crawled to the closet and I slept in there with Teddy, who kept me safe from nightmares.
I was drunk when I told her that, of course--that's not the kind of thing you tell people when you're sober, unless you really like to kill a party. I told her that aside from her, Teddy was the most important thing in my life, and as I told her, I winked at Teddy, just kidding, big guy, you know you're more important, I'll have you back in no time.
But shit happens, and she ended up with him, and that's what I'm thinking about as I take another drink and stare at the blank wall in the dark room.
The phone rings again. I glare at it, tell it to shut up, but it rings again.
"I'll give you something to ring about," I tell it, and I pick up the receiver. I immediately hear her, crying.
"What do you want?" I ask. Again.
"I hate you!" Mad at me, because it's my fault, even though it's not.
I shrug, and don't care that she can't see it. Everyone who loves me hates me. And if they don't, they will.
"You think it didn't hurt me? You think you're the only one, Mr. Look-I'm-So-Sensitive? Well fuck you!"
"It isn't a competition. I'm fucked up, you're fucked up. It happens."
"Ooooh! Oh, yeah, Mr. Philosophy? You think you're so smart? You think you're so fuckin' smart!"
I can't help but chuckle. The last thing I think I am is smart. Confused? Yep. Lost? For sure. Doomed and damned? Absolutely. But smart? Yet another demonstration of how much this woman never knew me.
"You think it's funny? You think it's funny? I almost died tonight!"
"Well why didn't you?" I ask her, and I light another cigarette, hoping that this is the one that has some super-evolved form of cancer, something that'll kill me before I have to wake up another day.
"Why didn't I what?"
"I'll give you something to cry about," I mumble, and I wipe away a tear. Stoic-like, like something hit me in the eye, not because I'd ever cry about memories or lost potential or…well, whatever.
"I hate you."
"Why can't you just deal with this like a normal person?"
I laugh then. I laugh harder and longer than I've laughed in months. Why? I don't know, but I can't stop. Jesus, can it be that funny?
I look down at the little card, the little card that's always turning up, it says something on one side about what a gift life is, and how if we don't appreciate it, we'll be cast into the lakes of fire down in Hell. On the other side, there's a picture of a loving Jesus, arms outspread, wanting to accept us all. One of the old ladies gave it to me. She told me it wasn't too late, but we knew the truth, her and I. She's some loser in a parking lot, and so am I, and I'm there for one reason and she's there for another reason, but we're both there for the same reason. Jesus, can it be that funny?
He doesn't answer. On my own once again.
"How would a normal person deal with this?" I ask her. "Tell me--I'm curious."
"You just move on. You don't be so selfish, like let it ruin your life. You care about other people."
"Are you insane? Do you even understand? This was me! I could have told you no. I could have told you that I wouldn't pay for it, I could have refused to drive you. I could have done everything in my power to stop it. It's your body, but in the end, it was my weakness that allowed this to happen."
She laughs then, and I feel like I've missed something. The laugh, it's kind of familiar. It's got that thing, that mean thing. I haven't heard it come from her before, but I've heard it before, and I know that it means something bad is about to happen.
"That? That's why you put yourself on this pedestal or whatever? I would've done it anyway. There are girls from the dorm who will drive you. They send around the coffee can every week, for any girl who can't afford it, or whose boyfriend won't pay for it, they pitch in, everyone on the floor, everyone in the building. I would have done it even if you would've said no. Idiot."
Oh, Teddy, I could for sure use you at the moment. The replacement is Jack, but he's bitter and fickle, and not nearly as good, and as I knock back a shot, the thought passes through my head, I just wanna go home, but it's fleeting, and quickly replaced with the thought that I want to die.
"What's my fault then?" I ask. I light a cigarette, take a drag, but when I move to set it in the ash tray, I realize there's already one burning. I take the older cigarette, and crush it in my hand. The smell of ash and burning flesh fills the room, and I stare out the window, wishing for a full moon to wish on.
"The accident! Didn't you listen to me at all?" She's yelling, still yelling, I don't even care. I just want to throw up.
"I was drunk, and I hit a gas pump. I was pulling in to get gas."
"And that's my fault?"
"I was drinking because you didn't answer your phone earlier tonight!"
"Listen to me," I tell her, but I know she won't. "Don't call here again. It's important that you understand I hate you, and I never want to talk to you again."
"What do you mean?"
"You're the only person in the world I wish was dead more than myself. Don't call here again."
I hang up the phone, her voice still spewing from the earpiece like water from a broken pipe.
I pour another drink and light another cigarette.
I'll give me something to die about.