The End (Before the Start)

I’ve been back from Uganda for three months now.  I have a new job, doing similar work, which is ok.  I feel like the high or pleasure of working abroad is lost again. The people I use to work with seem more in tune with a simpler life.  The small things, such as sitting underneath a tree on a sunny day or the reward of a refreshing soda are lost.  Everyone is consumed by technology and what’s going on somewhere else.  No one seems to be wholly present.

I’m living by myself again and have started going to meetings.  The meetings help.  They’re a constant reminder of the worth that sobriety holds.  The ‘mother’s eyes’ have resurfaced from my family and friends.  Mom seems to be confident in me again.  It’s been a little over a year now since I boarded the train to the in-patient facility.

I pop in the bodega thinking about everything.  Again, I’m going out with Chuck, and Tony is even coming around tonight.  It’s another house party.  My first since the last time I went to one.  I grab a payday and walk past the cooler with forties, tallboys and six packs.  I slide the door open right next door and grab two Arizonas.

The guy in front of me has a six pack of ipa that looks good.  The memory of my first ipa comes back.  It was a harpoon ipa.  I remember cracking the top off with my teeth because I couldn’t a bottle opener or lighter.  The beer was smooth and tasteful.  It almost felt like six could substitute a meal, like a Guinness.  I search for a pack of gum to distract myself.

Chuck is supposed to already be at the party.  I piggyback off someone who is entering the building and let myself into the door that has music and chatter lingering down the hall.  The first room is full of little pods.  I don’t recognize anyone at first.  I see a pod by the window, smoking weed.  It’s an old friend, Jamel, that I use to hangout with.  I walk over.

“Heeey, what’s good man?”  He turns around and we give each other a quick hug.

“Holy, I haven’t seen you in a minute man.  What the fuck is good?”  Jamel takes a hit off the bowl they’re using.

“Just hanging out man, got back in the states a few months ago.  Have you seen Chuck?  I’m suppose to be meeting him here.”  He turns to the other two guys he’s with.

“This is Finny, back in the day this kid used to get fucking wreckless.  He just got back from Africa.”  I smile in embarrassment and give each of them a quick handshake.  It was just a quick clasp and up.  “I’ve seen Chuck.  I think he’s in the back talking to some people.” He gestures to hand me the bowl.

“I’m alright for now, I’ll catch up with you.”  I take out the Arizona in the bag.  I need something in my hand, something to keep them busy.  I don’t want a repeat.  I weave in and out of the little pods that have formed.  The hallway was a tight squeeze because three girls decided to have a conversation in the middle of it.  I peak my head in the first room, but I don’t see Chuck.  I finally find him in his own little pod in the third room.  I didn’t see him at first, but I hear his voice carrying over the music and the other chatter.

“Yo, Chuck.”  I stand behind, I don’t really pay attention to who he’s talking to.  The noise and amount of people is making me uncomfortable.  A little overwhelming.

“Finny!”  He turned around and gave me a huge hug.  I had seen him two days earlier, but each time, I got the same hug.  He lets go of me and I see who he’s talking to.  I scan the faces and finally land on one.  It’s Amelia.

“Finn?”  She looked the same.  Her brown eyes still have the same lure that they always have had.  She opened her arms and wrapped them around me. “You look great kid.”

“Hi,” I hadn’t seen or talked to Amelia since I went upstate.  I had inundated her with text and calls during my relapse.  I wanted to get back together with her.  She would humor me in hanging out, but never went any further.  She smelt the same, it was vanilla.  I didn’t want to let go, but realized I had to.  The others in the group were staring.  She held her end of the hug a moment longer.

A guy who was standing next to her inched his way towards me.  “Finn, this is Jake.  He’s my boyfriend.”  Jake extended his hand out.  I looked him in the eyes and shook his hand.  He seemed like a nice enough guy. “Jake this is Finny.”

“Nice to meet you, I’ve heard so much about you.  Amelia was talking about how you were in India or something?”  I looked to Chuck.  For some reason I felt like he should have warned me that Amelia was going to be there.  Even more, he should have told me she was dating.  It was naïve to think that she wouldn’t be dating someone.  I just wasn’t really in the state of mind to run into her.

“Africa, Uganda.”  Amelia corrected him.  She looked at me afterwards.

I surrendered a smile to her and him. “Yeah, I was in Uganda for six months.  I’ve been back for a few months now.”  I took a swig from the Arizona to hopefully let the subject be changed.

“That’s pretty wild.  What were you doing out there?”  I was in a position that I did not want to be in.  I was looking for Chuck to save me.  I was hoping he drag me to go say hey to someone else.  A little pod had been created, it was me, Amelia and Jake.  Chuck was still apart of the previous pod that was just a shoulder away.

“Umm,” I took a deep breath in, “working in development.”  I never enjoyed talking to people about my work.  I had the hardest time talking about what it’s like to even my close friends.  I was not going there to save the world, as most people envisioned the work.  It was a challenging job, almost more so than something people would get rich off of.  The challenge was what lured me in.  Plus, meeting new people and learning a different culture, but it wasn’t this altruistic thing people thought it to be. “We worked with rural farmers, trying to figure out capacity building projects and value chain manipulation.”

“That’s pretty cool.”  He resigned and his interest came across as sincere.

“He also did the same thing in India for six months, about last year.”  Amelia was now talking for me.  The fact that she did this frustrated me.  We haven’t talked in a year, why was she talking about me.  The frustration of our relationship started to boil in my mind.

“Yeah.  It’s pretty cool work.”  I stood there smiling.  I had nothing else to say.  I looked at the floor when someone grabbed my shoulder and applied pressure.  I turn around, it’s Tony.

“Hey sweetheart,” I look at him and smile.  “Hey Amelia.”  Amelia gave him a kiss on the cheek.

“Tony this is Jake.”  She turned towards Jake.

“Hey,” Tony didn’t extend his hand and just gave a head nod.  “Sorry guys, Monica is here and she’s still mad at Finny for not seeing her since he’s gotten back.”  He turned his head towards me and winked.

“It was nice seeing you Lia.”  I turned towards Jake and extended my hand, “and it was nice meeting you.”

“You too, I’m sure we’ll bump into each other again.”  He said it while he was shaking my hand.  I was looking at Amelia.  She went on her tippy toes and gave me a kiss on the cheek.

“I’ll talk to you soon Finn.  You look happy.”

“Yup.”

Monica was standing in another room.  She was saying hi to her close friends.  “Sorry man, I didn’t know she was going to be here.  I don’t think Chuck did either.  He texted me before I showed up telling me that she was here.”

“No worries, I haven’t spoken to her since.”  I fumbled my words a little.  “Since I went up state.”  I smiled in assurance that I was okay.

“Well, just let me know if you want to get out of here and we can go somewhere else.”

“I’m good.”  Monica saw us walking up towards her.

“You little shit!”  She opened her arms and gave the best bear hug she could manage.

“Hey Monica, sorry.  I was just trying to settle in before coming out.”  I returned the hug.  The two had been dating for a long time and she treated me just as well as she treated him.  Usually when the three of us were at the same party, I’d hangout with her more than him.  She wasn’t a huge fan of parties, drinking, etc.  So we made good company together.

“You look fucking great.”  She turned to her friend she was just talking to. “Doesn’t this guy look fucking fuckable?”  My face flushed red and I gave an embarrassed smile.  “We need to find you a good girl to meet.”

“And how do you know that I don’t already have one?”  The comfort of seeing her brought the playfulness out in my voice.

“Because, you have terrible taste.”  She started to laugh.

I clasped my hands over my heart.  “You’re breaking me right now.”

We were able to find an opening on the couch and chair in the living room.  This time it was different.  I was with Tony and Monica.  Monica kept talking, she talked about whatever she wanted.  Tony kept his ‘mother’s eyes’ on me and joined in on Monica’s banter.  Tony nursed a twenty-two.  I never witnessed someone drink so slow.  Monica smoked a bowl every once in a while when it was passed around.

Amelia and Jake walked through the room twice.  I pretended not to notice them.  A few old friends trickled in and said their hellos.  Some lingering for a while and others moving on to the next pod.  The night was going well.  Chuck even sat and hung out with us longer than he usually does when there’s a party going on around.  The three of us hung out so often that we never expect to cling to one another at a party, but the two of them were watching over me.

I stood up and headed to the bathroom.  There was someone in the toilet and a small line of people waiting to jump in.  I cracked opened the second Arizona.  After a few minutes Chuck floated by giving me a wink as he passed.  He was following a cute girl who was holding his hand as she guided him to the kitchen.

“Finnnnny?”  It was a loud voice that came from behind me.  I turned around, it was Alex.  I didn’t hold any resentment towards him.

“Hey, what’s up man?”  We did a quick bro hug.

“Not much man, it’s been a fucking while.  Chuck was telling me you were out of the country again?  That’s sick dude.”  His head swiveled at the people passing by.

“Yeah, I went out for six months again.  It was fun.  You still doing the thing with kids?”  It was good to see him.  We had a lot in common and he was cool to talk to.

“Yup, yup.  Still doing the same shit.”  He whipped out a vaporizer.  Took a hit and then handed it to me.  I shook my head, declining it.  “I have to go tell my girl I’m here.  You remember her, Nicole?  I think the last time I saw you, the two of you met.”  I racked my mind trying to think who she was.

“Nah man, I’m sorry I don’t.  It’s been a pretty long time since we last saw each other.   A little over a year, I think.”  The person got out of the bathroom and I was next in line.

“True, true.  Well fuck man, we’ll catch up later.  Nice seeing you!”  He patted me on the shoulder and walked towards the back.

Monica saved my spot on the couch.  She saw me walking over and moved her bag.  Tony was on the chair talking to her about how they needed to buy new curtains.  I looked at the two of them started laughing.

“You guys are like an old married couple.  Curtains?  At a party?  Come on.”  I looked at Tony.  He was always serious about having a certain type of life.  He liked nice things and wanted to live in a certain concept of comfortable.

“Yeah, I’m with Finny on this one.  Can’t we talk about something else love?”  Tony looked at the two of us.  He held up his hands and drew his lips in tight.  He admitted defeat.

“I just ran into Alex.  Did you tell him about anything?”  I looked at Tony, he was friends with Alex.  The two of them would collaborate on music from time to time.

“That’s cool.  How was that?  No, that’s not my business to tell.”  He looked at Monica it was a look of concern.

“It was good.  Normal.  Nothing weird about it.  Thanks, I appreciate that.”  I smiled and moved the subject along.  “Y’all want to get some food soon.  I know Ms. Peach is going to be hungry soon.”

“Yes.”

“I guess, I don’t have a choice in the matter.”  Tony looked at Monica and realized that she was pretty stoned.  Her eyes were glazed over and barely open. She had one hand in a bag of Utz.

Chuck decided to come to get food with us.  I told him that it wasn’t necessary that I was going to Monica and Tony.  The girl I had seen him with while waiting for the bathroom was next to him.  He asked her if she was up for it and she seemed like she was.  The five us said quick goodbyes to everyone we knew.  I hovered in the back and just gave short waves.  Monica lingered with me in most of them.  Our last goodbye was to Amelia and Jake.  The two were talking to someone I didn’t know.  I didn’t acknowledge Jake and just stared at Amelia.  I gave them a quick wave and Monica grabbed my deli bag from me right after.  My attention was distracted.  She was looking inside and found the payday.  She looked up at me.

“Mine? Mine.”  She held the payday shuffling from one hand to another.

“Half and half.”  I said in compromising.

“Third, third and third?” Chuck jumped in.

Tony started to cough.  “Alright, fuck it.  Everyone gets a piece.”  Before I finished Monica was breaking apiece off for all of us.

We walked down the stairs.  I was talking to Tony about the options of places we could go to.  No one else lived in the neighborhood anymore and couldn’t remember when things closed.

“Finny?”

I looked up, or more appropriately down the stairs.  It was two girls.  I thought I heard my name, but I didn’t recognize either of them.  I turned my head back to Tony when I realized I did recognize one of them.

“Sofia?”  It was her.  I hadn’t spoken to her since that one night.  I never responded to her text.  I was distracted and confused the night I met her.  It wasn’t a good night to meet.  Tony looked at me questioningly.  The two didn’t know each other, which I was pretty sure of.  Chuck didn’t even know her.

“Yeah, hey.  How are you?”  I looked at Tony.  I gave him a nod of assurance.  Monica smiled.  Chuck ignored us talking to the girl he was with.

“Hey, I’m doing well.”  Sofia’s friend told her she was going to walk up.  I looked at Tony, “Hey, you guys can go ahead.  Food truck by my place.  I’ll meet up with you soon.”  The four of them waved goodbye.  Sofia gave a curt wave to them and looked back at me.  “Hey, sorry.  How are you?”

“I’m good.  Good.  It’s been a really long time.  And you never got back to me.”

“Yeah, sorry.  That was just a weird time for me.  I umm,” a couple was walking past us.  When they were out of earshot I continued, “sorry.  That wasn’t great of me.  I am in recovery.  And the night I met you.  I, well.  I shouldn’t have been drinking.  I was just really embarrassed.”  I looked down at the floor.

“No worries, I know you’re in recovery.  You kind of told me that.  You said something like you hadn’t had a drink for a really long time that night when I dropped you off.  I have three years clean.  I told you that it’s ok and that tomorrow was a new day.”  When she said she had three years clean I looked up.  I had never seen her at meetings.  “You were fading out at that point though.  But, I heard you went abroad again.  That’s cool.”

“Oh wow, I didn’t realize that.  I could have sworn I saw you drink that night I met you.  Maybe it was soda or something.  I don’t remember it very well.  Yeah, I’ve been clean again for a little over a year.”  She smiled at me, shaking her head up and down.  “How have you been?