Another chapter for your reading enjoyment. As always, comments and critiques welcome.
The Outback Experiment had not worked out as planned, but Kevin has not given up on his quest to moderate his drinking. Now he stands in the doorway of my bedroom while I sit at my computer desk. Despite the previous setback, Kevin’s determination to give his new social drinking scheme another chance remains strong, and he has poked his head into my room to ask me to go to a gay bar with him. I am less than thrilled.
“Pleeeeeeease!” my brother pleads in his most charming voice, an exaggerated smile pasted on his face. “I won’t ask you for anything else.”
“Yeah, right!” I laugh sarcastically.
“Oh, come on. Why not?”
I sigh, wondering why I have to point out what should be self-evident.
“Because you shouldn’t be drinking.”
“Please?” he begs again. “Just this one time.”
My left hand goes to my face, my thumb and middle finger massaging my temples briefly. I adopt a put upon tone.
“Kev. I don’t want to deal with…”
“Come ooooon! Please. Please, please…”
“No.” I spin my office chair away from him, turning back to my computer, signaling the conversation is over. Except it takes his cooperation to end it, which is not forthcoming.
Because I don’t want to hang out at a gay bar would be my honest answer. Selfishly, as an introvert, I go to quiet bars to talk to my friends, not strangers, and I also maintain vague hopes of meeting my soul mate who has magical sight and can spot my good qualities without exchanging a word and takes an interest in me. The odds of that happening at a gay bar are remote — there might be a fag hag or two there, but they’re not hanging out there to hook up with a random hetero. Not that I’ll hit on them anyway.
And while I just want to sit at home and play online video games with my friends, the heart of my objection is I don’t want Kevin out drinking and triggering a meth binge.
“Because you’re an alcoholic! You need to get this shit under control. And being out drinking is not helping!”
“I’m trying. I can’t do it all at once. Come on, Butthole. It’ll be fun.”
I stare determinedly at my monitor.
“Yeah, right, like last time?”
“Oh, come on. An hour. Please. Pleeeeeeeassssse.”
I button up, thinking if I stay silent, maybe he’ll get the message and go away. But it’s not working.
“An hour?” he says hopefully.
I pivot to face him.
“No! Besides, I don’t want to drive all the way to Phoenix,” I say resolutely as if this ends the discussion.
“It’s not in Phoenix. It’s a gay pub in Chandler,” he says, putting me in danger of checkmate.
Fuck. He’s outmaneuvered me. When the hell did Chandler get a gay pub? It is a lot closer, but I still decline to surrender.
“Why not?” Kevin’s charm offensive begins to lose steam.
“Because I don’t want to contribute to your addiction. Okay? How hard is that to understand?”
My answer comes out harsher than I’d intended. I feel like I’m teetering, but what am I signing up for? To be an alcoholic’s babysitter? The ultimate enabler? Kevin’s face and voice both harden.
“You know what — forget it. All I wanted was for you to help me for a couple of hours, and you can’t give me that. So, you know what? Fucking forget it!”
He leaves the room, and his anger irritates me, yet, I also feel a wave of guilt rolling over me. There is a loud bang in the kitchen.
I’ve won, but now I’m seconding guessing my victory; is it because his emotional blackmail is working, or my long-standing guilt over being a shitty older brother? As an introvert, I have a long history of refusing to cooperate, especially when it comes to going out if I’m not sold on the destination, even when, deep down, a tiny part of me thinks it might be fun. My ingrained obstinacy has led to a long history of mayhem and hard feelings.
“You take the goodness out of it,” my mother had once scolded me when I was sixteen and had complained stubbornly about going on a family outing, relenting but only after an uproar and being told to stay home.
God, why do I do this?
However, his request annoys me because I don’t feel it’s fair. He wants my help, but for something I’m convinced isn’t in his best interests. But the strengthening current of guilt pushes harder against me, forcing me in a direction I don’t want to go.
I begin doing a calculation in my head to decide on my best course of action. If he goes out by himself, there is a ninety-nine percent chance he won’t come home. If he stays home for the evening, there is a hundred percent chance I’ll be dealing with a bitchy gay guy all night. Plus, there will be the inevitable Level 5 beat downs to take into consideration.
But what if I go out with him? Sure, I’ll guarantee he makes it home, but I’ll be reinforcing what is already becoming a bad precedent. And his plan’s long-term viability is flawed. I won’t always be available. What happens then? I think we all know.
Man, what should I do to be a good brother?
After several minutes of Psychomachia, with a resigned sigh, I find my brother watching TV and reluctantly tell him I’ll go.
“I’m only staying for an hour, though.”
If I had expected my magnanimous gesture to be warmly received, my brother quickly disabuses me of that notion.
“It’s too late. I don’t want to go now.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake. Now I have inadvertently invoked the presence of Miserable Kevin. God, I sure as hell don’t want to put up with him sulking for the rest of the evening.
“Look, I’ll go. Okay?”
“No! You never do anything the first time I ask you. You’ll only do it when it suits you, so fuck you.”
Anger superheats in me, but my guilt for having pushed things to this point helps me to emergency vent it. My brother prizes loyalty and the fact I did not act unconditionally has wounded him, and his emotional response is to dig his heels in. But I am now bound and determined to go to this goddamned gay pub, and a battle of wills ensues. He’s not budging, but I tell him I’m sorry, and if he changes his mind to let me know and then I go back to my room.
It takes about ten minutes for Kevin’s desire for fun to overcome his bitter feelings, and eventually, we are on our way to Chandler. Somehow, even though I have technically just won and got him to bury the hatchet, I kind of feel like I lost.
As we pull into the parking lot, the fact that Chandler has a gay pub still surprises me. Chandler butts up against Mesa, the original bastion of Mormonism in Arizona, and I’m a little nervous because even though it’s come a long way from its conservative, small town, country roots, there are still enough shit kickers around who wouldn’t mind beating up some fags for fun. And if I’m caught walking out of a gay pub, it’s homosexuality by association.
Inside, it looks like any other sports bar except for the high number of homo-erotic posters of athletic men on the walls. The place is dead, other than a couple of middle-aged men drinking at a table and a fashion disaster sitting at the bar who is challenging some well-established gay stereotypes. Over at the dartboard is a good-looking young man throwing darts by himself.
I decline Kev’s offer of a beer, opting for a Diet Coke instead. After finishing his beer, my brother heads to the men’s room, and on his way back, the dart player engages him in a conversation. Left on my own, I stare up at the TV, settling in for a boring time. Even though I’ve been to several gay establishments, sitting by myself makes me nervous — hetero men consider ourselves the hunters, and we don’t like the thought that the tables might be turned on us. But no one pays me any mind. After a while, my brother comes over to tell me he’s been invited to play darts and suggests I go home and then pick him up in two hours. I hesitate. While I really don’t want to hang out, I’m worried about letting Kevin out of my sight; also, it will be pretty hard to regulate his drinking while sitting at home playing video games.
“Seriously, I’ll be fine,” says Kevin.
I debate it for a second, but lazy, introverted Sean wins out, and I go home.
Two hours later, I return to pick up my brother. As I walk into the pub, I wonder what I’ll do if he’s not there. Business hasn’t picked up, and I’m relieved to see Kevin is still there with his dart-throwing buddy. He is in quite the festive mood and throws an arm around my shoulder as he introduces us.
“This is Sean. He’s my larger and less handsome brother,” he says, laughing and slaps my slightly plump stomach.
We shake hands, and I wonder if his new friend is a chemical connoisseur as well.
My brother is his typical convivial self when drinking, the boisterous life of the party. It’s always quite the metamorphosis. He reminds me of myself back in my twenties, using alcohol to try and blunt the edge of my crippling fear of rejection, though I don’t know if I ever completely came out of my shell as much as Kev does. I can sense that getting Kevin out of the bar might be harder than I had anticipated, and sure enough, he offers to buy me a drink, which I decline. I remind him that it’s time to go, and he says they need to finish their game, if that was okay, and I tell him to make it fast.
So, I sit down at the bar and watch Johnny Knoxville and the Jackass crew on the pub’s TV as they swim in shark-infested waters with steaks dangling from them. The longer the dart game drags on, the more annoyed I get. Finally, I see that they have finished their game, so I walk over and ask Kevin if he is ready.
“Yeah. Hey, listen, I appreciate you doing this. But is there any way we can stay a little longer?
I’ve been expecting this.
“Just a little bit. Please.”
“Look, Kev, I’ve already given you extra time…”
“I know, I know,” he says contritely. “And I appreciate it. But a little longer won’t hurt, will it?”
I shake my head and plant my battle standard. Surprisingly, his resistance is short-lived; he reluctantly agrees it’s time to leave and goes to say his goodbyes, and we depart.
On the ride home, Kevin isn’t in a bad mood, but his jolliness and talkativeness fade, and I can tell he isn’t satisfied with the festivities being cut short. At home, he gets a glass of water and sits on the couch to watch TV. I go to my bedroom and jump on the computer to play video games and chat online, maybe do some writing. I’m going tochange into a t-shirt. I have just unbuttoned my short-sleeved shirt when Messenger dings, so I sit down at my PC. It’s Cath, a former coworker from the Australian branch of our last company, with whom I am friendly. It is the middle of her workday in Sydney, and she is bored. We chat online fairly regularly because her husband’s brother has been battling heroin for years, and we share our recent war stories. I have just finished explaining how my brother seems to be making headway:
acebongboy [10:14 PM]
he admits hes got a drinkin problem and that’s the first step
doctacaz [10:14 PM]
That’s exciting. I so hope it works out for him
Right in the middle of typing a response, I hear the improperly installed garage door clanking in its best imitation of a medieval portcullis, an everyday sound that normally barely registers beyond the subconscious level. But this time, it sets off an air raid siren in my head as a car engine starts. Without thinking, I leap to my feet and dart out of my bedroom, sliding on the tiled floor in my socks while trying to get traction like Wile E. Coyote running on ice. Taking short steps as I corner, I make it into the garage and yank the door open in time to see Kevin backing dad’s car down the driveway — he’s been driving the HIckmobile instead of his own while Dad has been in Virginia. My brother spots me and hits the gas and swerves back out into the street as I bolt bare-chested down the driveway with my unbuttoned shirt flapping behind me.like a crazed white trash fugitive from COPS.
I run into the street to the driver’s side of the car and slam both palms onto the hood as Kev puts the Accord into drive and steps on the gas. The car surges past as its tires roll inches from my toes, and it accelerates down the street.
Luckily, I parked my car on the street. As I sprint over to it, a small, pointed rock jabs the tender sole of my foot me like a caltrop, hobbling me but adding fuel to my fiery outrage. How dare he try and sneak away and take dad’s car out on a drug binge. Not on my watch! I hop into my Celica and fire the engine up and haul the car around in a U-turn. I hit the garage door remote to close it as I tear up the street.
The chase is on.
Dad’s car has already disappeared around the corner onto Sossaman as my Celica roars down Pueblo Avenue, the engine howling and the RPMs climbing, and I corner through the green light feeling like Starsky and Hutch, my high-performance tires grabbing the pavement. Kev has a head start, so I’m not sure which set of brake lights is his. Are they the ones already through the intersection and heading toward the freeway or the ones turning right onto Southern? The freeway is the quickest way back into civilization, so it’s a natural choice, but maybe he has gone the other route if he thinks I might try to follow him. The freeway-bound taillights are far ahead, and I don’t think the pedestrian Accord could cover that distance so quickly.
It’s snap decision time — so, I turn onto Southern and let the momentum of the car carry me wide to the leftmost westbound lane as I mash the gas pedal, and I work the clutch, my metal, racing-style pedals feeling weird under my stockinged feet. Shifting like a madman, I accelerate over felony speeding as I close quickly on the car ahead, and it turns out to be the Hickmobile. My brother probably thought he was safe, but now my Celica is on his bumper as I flash my lights for him to pull over. He speeds up, but I stay right on the Accord’s ass. Kev takes a hard left onto Clearwater, and I follow. My Celica corners better and has more acceleration, so there is no way he is losing me, and he must realize it because he slows down and puts his right blinker on, hopefully signaling his surrender, and turns onto Hampton and then into a shopping complex. I follow him, and we park not far from PetSmart. I quickly button up my shirt before getting out, my heart pumping hard.
He steps over, and it feels weird having this confrontation standing here in my socks in the PetSmart parking lot. I’m not sure how this is going to go down, but I am hyped up and launch my offensive.
“Man, what the fuck? This is bullshit!” Regardless of my anger, I am trying to keep my voice below shouting level in public.
Having foiled his escape, I expect anger, but my brother’s calmness catches me off guard.
“Sean, I know you’re mad, but I’m not going out for meth.”
“Oh, bullshit! Why are you’re sneaking out then? Don’t fucking lie to me!”
“I’m not lying. I swear; I’m not going to do meth.”
“Why would I believe you?
“Okay. This is embarrassing…” His uncharacteristic sheepishness is throwing me off — his explanation stalls for a second before he plunges ahead.
“…I can’t believe I’m even telling you this — but I haven’t been with anyone in a while, and that guy back there was really cute, and he wanted me to come back.”
Okay, this is an unexpected turn in our conversation, and a definite violation of the Layton family Don’t Ask; Please Don’t Tell code. As much as Kevin didn’t want to say it, I don’t want to hear it. My reaction isn’t homophobic as much as it is homo-uncomfortable. However, his honesty takes the hot wind out of my sails.
“I’m not going to do drugs.”
I sigh and say: “Kev, I don’t even know what to believe anymore.”
“I swear on mom’s grave; I won’t use meth.”
“Uh, huh. You promised her you wouldn’t use when she was alive.”
My words deliver a stinging slap across his face.
“You’re right — I’m an asshole. I know I keep making mistakes, and you have no reason to trust me. But I’m not going to do it. That’s all I can tell you.”
He pulls out his wallet and takes out his ATM card and holds it out to me.
“I’m not lying. Give this back to me when I get home. You won’t have to worry about me taking out money to get drugs.”
I hesitate. If I take my brother’s card, am I giving him my tacit approval to put himself in a situation where he might use? I want to believe him, but as mom always used to say — The road to hell is paved with good intentions. However, my defensive wall of righteous indignation has developed serious cracks.
I take the plastic rectangle with its dove hologram and hold it gingerly, its hard edges pressing against my thumb and the base of my fingers. I don’t feel good about it, but I can’t watch over him 24/7. If he is going to use, he’s going to use, no matter how much I browbeat him. At least this way, I can maybe have some control.
I run up the white flag in surrender.
“How much cash you got?” He pulls out his money. Twenty-four dollars. I’m not sure what meth runs, but I don’t think that will get him a lot.
“When are you going to be back?”
“Tomorrow morning — I swear.”
“You’re a good brother,” he says.
“Yeah, whatever. You better be back tomorrow.
“I promise, Tubbles. I’ll be back early tomorrow morning.”
He gets in dad’s car and starts it. I don’t know whether I am naively stupid or stupidly naive, but as he drives off toward Southern, I watch until his taillights disappear as he turns and then I go home.
The next morning, I get up late and, disquieted, I notice Kevin isn’t home yet. I’m equal parts annoyed and worried, and even though it’s approaching noon, it’s still technically morning. As the minutes crawl by, I pace around waiting, but still, he doesn’t appear, and my calls go straight to voice mail. I begin creating fictional scenarios that get more and more dramatic, and I end up reading him the riot act.
By the time he calls me on dad’s landline from a payphone, I’ve worked myself into a lather, mad at him for shit he hasn’t, to my knowledge, done yet. But I am also relieved to hear his voice on the line — until he tells me he’s going to need me to pick him up.
“Why do I have to pick you up? What’s wrong with dad’s car? Did you get in an accident?”
“No! Nothing’s wrong with it. It’s parked at an apartment complex.
“Well, then why do I have to pick you up then?”
“Because — I just can’t remember which one.”
“This is unfucking believable. Are you kidding me? You lost dad’s car?”
“I didn’t lose it!”
“Well, you don’t know where it’s at, and the last time I looked in the dictionary, that’s the fucking definition of lost.”
“Just shut up and pick me up and help me find it!”
Annoyed, I drive out to Phoenix, muttering and complaining to myself the entire way. I am in a pissy mood by the time I pick him up outside of a convenience store, hungover and looking like someone has dragged him through a hedge and in no mood for a tongue lashing. He’d been drinking hard with the dart thrower, and at some point, my brother ended up in a park, though he doesn’t remember much. He’d woken up under a bush, stripped down to his boxers. Some alarmed jogger had stumbled upon him, so Kevin had gotten dressed and beat a hasty retreat. He’d ended up hiding when he spotted a police car cruising the area, assuming he was the object of its search.
“I feel like shit,” he groans. “I drank so much. I don’t even remember going to the park.”
“Dude, you could’ve been robbed or killed.”
I don’t want to think about the violence he could have been subjected to if the wrong people had discovered him. Kevin believes he has a general idea of where he thinks the complex might be. He remembers it has a red brick facade — which would stand out amongst all the stuccoed complexes. We cruise the area for around twenty minutes as I continue to passive-aggressively snipe at him. At this point, I think we’re never finding the car and wondering what we do next. Can you even file a police report on a car that’s not stolen? God, I do not want to be around when someone has to tell Dad that Kevin lost his car.
Suddenly, my brother points as we both spot the brick facade at the same time. Hoping against hope, I pull into the parking lot and drive slowly through it, and there, safe and sound, sits the Hickmobile. Kevin retrieves it, and then we head home so that he can recover from the brown bottle flu.
We don’t say much once we get home, but I think we both realize that my brief career as an alcohol regulator has officially ended.