“I’m glad you came over tonight,” said Mike, hitting the 5 ball into a corner pocket.
It was around 1 am, and Mike and I had been enjoying the solitude of his “man cave” basement, away from wives, boyfriends, and mothers. Hanging out with Mike was a rare occurrence, made even more rare by newly shared adulthood. I was trying to cut back on Dex at that point, though I knew I couldn’t go off of it completely without depression overwhelming me. I was mostly sober that night, with only half of a Smirnoff Ice in my system. The other half was going flat lingering in my hand. Mike was on his sixth beer and third shot. He was still beating me at pool, however.
“Hey, it’s good to see you, man, we don’t get together enough,” I said with a smile. I had given up on the game a good ten minutes earlier; it was basically just an excuse to have something to do while we talked. I was not a fan of alcohol for myself, but I was impressed seeing how much my brother could down in just a few short hours and still be coherent and upright. I knew he had practice every night, but I hadn’t realized just how much. One of the few things we had in common, it seemed.
Fermentation made him much more easy-going and loosened his tongue to talk about things he would probably prefer not to think about. It also gave him some monikum of introspection. I always enjoyed him drunk.
“You know,” he said out of nowhere, “I’m gonna tell you a story.”
“…Okay?” I was confused but intrigued. I took a small sip of the tasty, warm beverage in my hand. Mike began to weave his tale.
Once upon a time, there was a boy whose mother married a new man after she left his father. The boy was already eleven years old at this time and wasn’t keen on having a new dad. He watched his mom completely change her life and his around this new man: they moved to a new state for his job, Mom sold her car to ride in his nicer one, she gave this man all her attention, and left the boy alone to deal with his five-year-old younger brother. The two adults would often go out to eat together, leaving the boys home to fend for themselves. The older boy learned how to cook fairly quickly after that. When he finally questioned his mom about why he couldn’t go with, she informed him that the new man did not want either of them there since they weren’t “his” kids. The next week, she announced that they were pregnant. The boy was absolutely alone except for his brother, who was basically his child at that point.
What had started out as unease over a new person in his life morphed into resentment and hate. He desperately wanted this man to act like a father and love him, but he would also not let him get that close. He was…hard on the man. A problem step child if ever there was one. He would call him terrible names, say he was not his real father, never listen to him, and just outright ignore that he existed.
At this point, Mike’s wife had made her way downstairs and was as enraptured by his story as I was, albeit for different reasons. She looked at me. “Who is this about?” she quietly inquired.
“My father,” I murmured, never taking my eyes off my brother.
The moment things culminated for the boy took place a few months after his mom’s new child was born. He, his mom, his brother, and his new little sister were walking a mile to the neighborhood grocery store. Mom pushed a stroller while holding little Paul’s hand. Mike walked unaided. Suddenly, Mike heard a familiar engine sound coming from behind them. He turned around to see his stepfather’s car rumbling down the road towards them. Mike felt his face flush red. Mom had told him that David wouldn’t drive them to the store because it was “his car.” But here he was, driving down the same road they were walking on! The car slowed down and beeped its horn lightly. Mike assumed David was stopping to pick them up. Instead? He smiled cheerfully from inside the air-conditioned vehicle and waved to them before speeding back up and disappearing. Mom never even acknowledged his presence, staring straight ahead with her chin raised. Mike felt a searing hatred flow through him. A car. Cars were the key to freedom and dignity. At that moment, he vowed to never have to walk anywhere when he grew up. He’d show him.
He’d show them all.
“So, that’s why I love my cars so much,” Mike sighed, taking another swig of his beer. “Cadillac in the garage, Civic out back, another Cadillac on its way. Cars were my escape. I was so humiliated that day. I never wanted to be in that kind of position again.” Mike’s wife and I stood in place, silent. It seemed wrong to speak. Mike went over to the mini fridge near the pool table and grabbed a bottle of whiskey, pouring himself another shot.
“The thing is,” he said, staring into the amber liquid, “it was all for nothing.” He knocked back the shot with the skill of a seasoned drinker. “It wasn’t true. David had offered to drive us that day, but Mom had told him no. She said it was a nice day for a walk and she wanted some alone time with us. So, when he drove by, in his mind, there was nothing wrong. To add to the charade, Mom even gave him the silent treatment the rest of the day. She always seemed to be mad at him for something. I guess that made it easier for me to be, too.” He took a long pause. I looked at the dirt on my shoes for a minute or two.
“I regret it, you know. Being so hard on him.” I looked up, confused. “He was a decent guy trying his best in a shit situation.” For the first time during his entire story, Mike looked up and looked me in the eye. “If I met him today, you can bet I’d be better to him.”