I leaned over the railing and watched as He rode the escalator up to my floor. He was sitting on one of the steps and jumped up at the last moment. He strolled down to where I stood, took a big drink from the bottle of wine he carried, then leaned on the railing next to me.
“What’s the matter, Tiger? You look beat,” He said.
“I’m sick,” I said and blew my nose with a tissue from my pocket.
“I think you’ve got a bad case of S.A.D.”
“Seasonal Affectation Disorder? No, it’s not that. I have the flu.”
“I don’t doubt you have the flu, but I was talking about Seasonal Alcoholic Despair.”
I turned to Him. He smiled and drank.
“See, that’s when you can go to the gym at 2 A.M. every day, you can meditate, you can go to a meeting every week, but it doesn’t change the fact that you wasted all that time boozin’ and now you’re stuck with what you got.” He hoisted Himself up on His elbows, hocked up a huge mouthful of gluck and spit it over the edge. It landed two feet away from a woman in a business suit’s head.
“Dammit. Anyway, cheer up Ahab. At least you can take some comfort in the fact that you of all people have every reason to be depressed. I mean, if anybody has a reason to blow their brains out, it’s you.”
“I’m not even thinking about that,” I said and turned to walk up the skywalk to the parking garage. He double-timed His walking for a second so He could walk beside me.
“Eh, maybe not, but you are feeling that sting. The one all pathetic burnouts like you know so well.”
I stopped at the elevator and turned to Him, eyes sunken. “Look, I’m just weak today, okay? Because it’s really hard some days. And yes, on days like this, the only thing keeping me sober is knowing how much I’d let so many people down if I went back out. But at least I know that. I’m conscious of that. It would be really nice to have some sort of escape from this feeling, but I can’t. I won’t. I am just really sad today. So that’s what I’m doing. Letting myself be sad.”
“And that’s all well and good, but we both know it’s not the end. I give you a lot of credit, you tried a few things and they didn’t work. Well, actually you failed miserably at them,” He put His arm around my shoulders as the elevator ascended. I shrugged Him off. “You tried going to school and failed. You tried going back to the Humane Society. You screwed that one up royally. But, see, now? Now? You know you’re an idiot and you can’t do anything. And all these people you see passing by you here at the airport? The ones with successful careers and wives and husbands, children and lives? Now you know you’ll never be one of them. You’ll never be that young executive with the killer suit and the pretty wife. At your age, you’ll never even be the old executive with a wife that hates him and kids who resent him. That’s why this job at the airport is gonna suck this joyous holiday season. You’re gonna be reminded, every minute of every day, that you’re a 39 year-old wheelchair pusher scrambling for their scraps to make your rent. I imagine it’ll be especially sweet for you next month on your birthday. Driving the car your daddy gave you because you’re too broke to afford a car for yourself.”
I walked out onto the roof of the parking garage as the sun started to come up. Standing there with my hands in my pockets, He slid up beside me, never relenting.
“And you can feel good every now and then that you can still write, but what real good is it doing you? Your little blog? That cute little story you’re writing? And you must feel great about the fact that you have the story of a lifetime to write but you won’t do it because it’s too hard.” He put his arm around my shoulders again and adopted a tone of mock sympathy like He was talking to a child. “I mean, it’s awful scary isn’t it? Writing about big ol’ mean and nasty me and the brain surgery that jacked you up for good.” He took His hand off my shoulder and sat down in a cement block. He took a long pull from the bottle.
“Face it buddy boy,” He said. “You don’t work with animals, you have no dog to come home to after a day at your crappy job. And all that noble effort stuff you did with school and the Humane Society only served to teach you one thing: That you are the idiot you feared you were and the best you can look forward to is a dead-end job with no future. You have no identity anymore and nothing to look forward to. And you better get used to one of the zero positions like grocery store clerk or professional office monkey you had on that list because that’s all you’re ever going to be able to do. Oh, and that thing you have going with that woman you like so much? Please. Might as well forget about that too. She has it together and is realistic about things, and most of all, one of those things is the limited prospects you have, my friend. Go back to Plenty of Chumps or whatever that web site was called, because I guarantee the best you can hope for is a couple dates with a women or too before they realize that despite your charm and your heart of gold, you’re just another guy with limited potential who is really only poor and lonely because he has no other choice.”
I stared down at the driveway outside the airport 6 floors below. I turned to Him. I was tired, really tired. I had decided to go home early. But not before I did something very important.
“You’re not real, neither you nor the temptation you bear,” I said. “All you are is an illusion of the solution of going back out, of the false reality of drinking my problems away one more time. An empty shell of temptation. You bring all this shame and disillusionment to me and present it as reality, as my reality. You are right about two things, though. My heart is filled with despair now. And the thing keeping me sober at the moment is my friends, my family, the woman, my sponsor. And thank God for them, they will keep me sober again and again. Right now, here, on this rooftop, I face you alone. And you terrify me. But you are not the reality I ultimately choose. You don’t get to win. Remember when I told you over a year ago that I need you? Well it turns out I need you for quite a few things. One of them is to remind me how thankful I am to have the people that like me and love me that I do.”
Tears began streaming down my face. I wiped my eyes and nose with tissue. I sniffled a couple more times and swallowed.
“You’re not real. Neither you or the despair you bring into my heart.”