She sat down at the table; both Ernie and myself surprised in different definitions of the word. He felt her radiance instantly. It transferred much better in person rather than on the page. I could never create a perfect parallel for Ramona James. She was always far too complicated of an individual. If an alien abduction acquired Ramona as their test subject, they would have to reconsider all previous research on the race itself. She was an exception of shear dynamic magnitude; a thought that never quite managed to work its way out of the cerebral cortex, despite all the endorphins released, and temporary flashbacks to times designated for those who were attempting to forget. I was always excruciatingly bad at such a process.
“Well, I know you’re thinking about how much of a surprise this is right now, right?” She said the perfect thing right off the bat, cutting through the bullshit with pure precision. I felt lost in an abyss that was far too familiar. I was searching for inspiration from all those who were less than charitable, and then all of a sudden, I was twenty-two, standing in smoke-filled rooms, watching refutable subjects fall apart in passing. Scared little girls crying in corner over guys who said they loved them. Guys on phones telling their friends to come over. Our eyes meeting like there was a war in the background. I wanted to run away again, and to simply forget about the concept of tomorrow.
“Yeah. I’d say that’s it Ramona.”
“Well, I was expecting to see you either.”
“Yeah, this is troubling, huh?”
“You could say that.” Ernie stared blankly at the two of us, talking and living off of our once doomed relationship. He was confused and would never completely understand. Even after running through all the grammatical errors and missing words, Ernie couldn’t see in the finished product what I saw once again in Ramona that night, and what I would continue to see, even if it was simply a mere blast of utter remembrance. I had never completely fallen out of love with her, just faked it like a true-seasoned pro with later conquests, and then saw things differently with Lorna. I didn’t think about missing her, or what she was doing. Serving tables and stuffing singles into her apron. I was a bastard of honest caliber.
“Uh… I’m sorry. This is Ernie, my agent. Ernie this is Ramona. A… An old friend.”
“Nice to meet you Ramona.”
“You too Ernie.”
“But uh… Ya know, I think I saw somebody I know by the pinball machine, so I’m gonna let the two of you catch up, and I’ll take a look at this, and we’ll talk in a bit Jude.”
“Yeah, alright.” For once in the long and troublesome period of time that I knew Ernie, he understood. He walked off to the other end of the bar, and began to start from the beginning, rereading the new chapters, and occasionally looking up to see if I was in the right frame of mind. We ordered shots and mixtures to which I wouldn’t completely remember the next morning. I began to crawl back into myself and see the family sloppy mess of an individual, being social with somebody who I almost vowed to never speak to again.
She laughed at my jokes like we never met. I caught up quickly. Arthur had fallen through months after my retreat, a testament to which she had to see for herself. It wasn’t enough for Ramona to simply listen to my warnings. I was no soothsayer of perceived discourses, but rather just the person who knew all of them too well. My friends didn’t come with me. They talked to Ramona in the same way when she was with Arthur. Given, I had run for the hills, my trunk full of sentimentalities, but in any case, it didn’t seem right. None of it was right. Even though, she had lived her life in a way that I hadn’t thought about, it still seemed like I was doing heroine or once again lounging in the lights of former loves.
I could see the younger Jude standing drunk and alone on a snowy street corner in the city reiterating softly to himself that it wasn’t worth it. She wasn’t worth it. We were over. A betrayal of Judas-like proportions. I wasn’t even close to being a figure like Christ. I couldn’t bring myself to be a martyr. It would hurt too much.
All inclinations were resurfacing. I went to the bathroom and thought about opening the window and hopping out. A few passer-bys would stare, but other than that I could live with myself. My reflection always managed to look exactly the same. I had grown older and my sense of self had diminished with parades of fuck yous from younger more fully functioning atrocities. I hated them all and for reasons to which I could never completely justify to myself. Oscar was far too social to be my son. There were mix-ups. Hospital faults. I wasn’t meant to be there with both of them. I should have ran back to her, and sent checks in the mail. Arthur was meant to fall through. Why hadn’t I thought of it like that? Why was I so much happier when I avoided the inevitable thoughts of the future? It didn’t seem like me. I didn’t know me anymore, though.
She re-ordered us drinks. I saw them on the table as I walked out of the bathroom. Ernie stopped me two steps, smelling like cheap perfume and vodka. He looked happy for once; more levelheaded in the sense that one could easily see how shitty he was when he was drunk. Not as if he hid it better when he was sober so much as missed footsteps and incessant leaning seemed to suit the figurehead of Ernie better.
“So uh… I met this girl over there. Tammy is her name, I think, I’m going home with her.”
“Alright that’s fine.”
“So are you going to be able to handle yourself? I mean, get back on track with the novel and everything?”
“I think I’ll be able to figure it out Ernie.”
“Okay, cool. Well, have a good night tiger.”
“Thanks. You too.” I heard them laughing like alley cats as I sat back down at our table. I didn’t want to drink anymore. Too much had sunk in for me that night. The perfect picture of what could have been was now only slightly disoriented. She told me things I didn’t want to hear about. The brief history of Ramona was a mess with zero breaks in-between. After Arthur there was a slew of losers with various occupations. Then the marriage. A friend of her cousin’s. They met on the Fourth of July and proceeded to make bad decisions together after that. She moved to a different city with him, before he cheated on her and she considered abortion. It was too late, though. Annie was already one.
They moved back in with her parents as she attempted to figure her life out. A college degree sat silently in a desk drawer for awhile as she worked in all the wrong places, before getting a call back from an agency, miles away from my current staple. Annie and her moved there that summer, and were attempting to become somewhat settled, just the two of them, a mess of indecisiveness. I felt shades of pity, portions of remorse, and above all else regrettable sympathy. I didn’t want that for her. She almost looked happy walking into the bar the night, as if she had it all figured out. I could have helped. I would have been there through all of it. It hurt to think about regrets that were only surfacing that night.
I wanted some aspects of my life to just be simple. I wished for it to be worse. However dull it was, I still had some things to fall back on. I wanted to be cut loose and yet knew that I would be no different from any of the others if that happened. I didn’t want to be Arthur anymore. I was perfectly okay with just Jude. He did the right thing, and I hated him for it, but it was what had managed to happen. Ideals from different foreshadowed figures all coming together to make decisions so much easier. I was Jesus and Buddha, my father and my mother’s son. I was drunk and lifeless. She would understand. I couldn’t be him anymore. It didn’t fit.
“So do you wanna come back to my place after this beer?”
“Annie’s at some party. She met some guy and they’re there, but uh… Do you wanna come over to my place?”
“I’m married. I have a son, a mortgage, a shitty job, and the worst of dispositions Ramona. Why would you wanna sleep with me now?”
“I didn’t say we were gonna sleep with each other. I was just being friendly. Inviting you over for further conversation.”
“I told myself that I was done talking to you a long time ago.”
“I thought things change.”
“They do, and uh… I hope everything works out for you. There are tons of others who are down and out right now. You just gotta look around for them.”
“You told yourself you would do this if we ever ran into each other again, didn’t you? No matter what we talk about, how each of us feel, you wouldn’t fall right back in, would you?”
“You’re dead on again Ramona.”
“You always hated that about me.”
“Yeah, I know.” I paid and walked out of the bar. I can still see the image of her sitting alone at that table, like it was burned into my very soul. I was always the worst at walking away. In fact, it had never occurred to me to do so up until that point. It’s even stranger to think about now. I was crazy and still wishing to be twenty years younger. Nothing was improving other than my spite for all those previous incidents. They were somehow magically a part of who I was, and that was the last of them. I attended Arthur’s funeral on a Sunday. His brother called me out of the blue to fill me in. Ramona wasn’t there. Our lives had moved on at that point.
I drove home with little direction. I was dreading thoughts of the next morning, impending hangovers and half-finished sentences with little to no grounds for improvement. I saw two cop cars pulling over some teenager. It felt good to just drive by unnoticed for once. It brought me back to the way things were. I barely recognized him as I passed. I didn’t want to turn around, but knew I was going to have to. It was somewhere in the bi-laws. Even a drunken reminiscent mess of a father has some kind of responsibility.
“Oh, hey Oscar. I’m glad you could make it.”
“Yeah, me too. This is kind of crazy, huh?”
“Yeah, you could definitely say that. Where’s Harris?”
“He’s off somewhere with Elisha.”
“Uh yeah, that’s the one.”
“Are those two dating or something?”
“I don’t know really. They’re just kind of fooling around I think.”
“Oh, well… She’s a pretty big slut.”
“Is she? I wouldn’t really know.”
“Craig’s cousin said she jumps around a lot.”
“How would he know?”
“Both him and Craig were guys she jumped around to.”
“Whatever. I’m not gonna really worry about it.”
“Yeah, I guess you shouldn’t. It’s just that your friend might get hurt.”
“Getting hurt’s an inevitable part of life Gina.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right.” She passively paused, browsing the living room for further exploits. It was a mess of aspects displaying the human condition as a mere target on a dartboard; something that could be easily forgotten with enough alcohol and self-loathing. I would learn to break away from similar events and displays of partial affection later in life, but at that point, I was basking in the glory of petty and available escapism. I wasn’t the person who enjoyed parties. Later I would go for the sake of causing scenes, but at that very moment, I felt as if I was enjoying it, even if it was brief and superficially drawn out.
“So I think I’m gonna go talk to the guys over there. If I don’t see you later, have a good night Oscar.”
“Yeah, alright…” She walked away as if there was some sort of quota she needed to fill. I couldn’t provide any kind of interesting outlet for future endeavors, and while aspect of my former self felt as if my appearance at that particular social outing was a mere stepping stone in the latter developments which would inevitably occur between Gina and myself, the small vague whispers of a conscience which I had been regularly ignoring for the past few hours or so, began to reiterate all the known fact as if it were a monkey banging cymbals together.
This was how it was going to be for some time. We couldn’t simply transfer over to other sides, and while I saw sparks of firecrackers going off in the background of my head, she simply saw me as somebody who was a regular customer in her deadweight job. I began to slowly fall out of love with Gina Gearhart that night, a constant descending chain that is still violently fleeting to this day. I was a drunken fish out of water and alcohol.
I stood in line for about ten minutes before the football player four people ahead of me walked away from the kicked keg. I looked for Rosa only to find her tonguing with Malcolm Breyer by the basement door. Every person was pairing off like it was somehow a part of their disillusioned destiny. I tried calling Harris only to get his voicemail. I felt lousy, intoxicated and above all else utterly alone. It wasn’t even that late. Almost eleven during the summer felt like six in the winter. I walked out the front door, past some smokers and back onto the disheveled sidewalk.
I was becoming too good at recognizing disappointments moments before they happened. It was a trait that would stay with me through the thick lies and pleasant facades from girls with varying perspectives of the world and guys who only wanted to sound interesting for long enough to sleep with them. I could see through all the bullshit, and yet it only turned me into a less than likeable person. I would meet those who seemed as if they shared a similar life’s philosophy, only to have it quickly shatter in similar recognizable moments, myself stationed in the most admirable of corners in rented living rooms.
I would fall in love occasionally only to later have it flesh out into a mere infatuation. I would run away from stagnant plans of shallowness, only to later regret it while lying on the cold mattress alone, full of nothing but sequential answers to all the primordial questions. I would become uniquely alone, and later long for the days full of less than nothing to do. Lorna and Jude would have the basement redone my sophomore year, and I would eventually fall into place in first a city and later another hole. My sons would hate me, and my daughter would date every kind of wrong imaginable. I didn’t understand it too much then. It just felt like the inevitable sinking that goes along with youth.
My father picked me up on the side of the road, looking beyond drunk and somewhat regretful. It was a side that I wasn’t in the least bit familiar with. He was all of a sudden human again that night, as I rolled down the window to allow both of us the room to breathe out loud. His breaths were deeper, took longer, and seemed more fully realized. He was in another place all together.
“So should I ask?”
“No, don’t. It sucked. I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“What about you?”
“Let’s just say I have a lot to write about again.”
“So Ernie’s not staying at our house tonight, is he?”
“I don’t think so. He met somebody at the bar. She looked like a regular, but it’s not like that matters to him. He comes into town to go to different bars and sleep with all the regulars.”
“Well that’s kind of fucked up.”
“Not much isn’t nowadays.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right dad.” We both silently listened to the radio after that. He stayed up in the office for awhile as I could hear the faintest sound of the keyboard in-between songs. Lorna came home late and the house became silent. His second book managed to go somewhere. I have yet to read it. There were so many others projects to work on. I couldn’t find the time to breathe let alone try and attempt to see things the way my father did. His protagonists always started out so unlikable. I hated the fact that I could relate to them so well at the start of things. Harris filled me in on the rest of the night the following morning. Our tradition of thoughtless suburban rambunctious tribulations continued the rest of that summer. Time slowed down to a crawl as we listened to some of the same songs on repeat. They always managed to sum things up better than the both of us ever could.