I went home last weekend to be with Melinda for the first anniversary of her husband’s death. Those 24 hours turned out to be about so much more than that.
Where I thought there would be tears, there was alcohol. As I lay in Melinda’s former marriage bed, now exiled to the guest room, I listen to her repeatedly throwing up. Later, she tells me she passed out on the bathroom floor. I wondered why the bathroom fan ran for so long. I am stone cold sober.
Meanwhile, her sister in law is audibly moaning in the living room, as she is drunkenly hooking up with a man who claims to have been a friend of her brother’s. I doubt the veracity of his story as any man who really was friends with her brother would not be having sex with her right now. The next morning, she will say she has no recollection of being with him. I recognize the extremely problematic nature of this entire situation, seeing as she was clearly blitzed at the bar and not able to consent. I do not say anything, as she isn’t enlightened about these matters to the extent I am and I don’t believe it’s my place to say anything now.
It’s 7:30am and I am the only one up. I get dressed and get in my car, driving to the nearest Starbucks. I want to return to Los Angeles right now. But Melinda is actually sleeping, and I don’t want to wake her, nor leave without saying good-bye. I am in Carlsbad. It’s cookie cutter gross, the rolling coastal hills packed to the gills with stucco tract housing that surely costs seven figures. My skin crawls. I feel claustrophobic. I take my time returning to the apartment. I decide to leave at 10am if Melinda is awake. She is, but then I feel guilty just running off so we hang out in her room and talk. I wait until 10:45am, then I make my move.
“Traffic will get even worse if I wait much longer,” I say. Pulling the traffic card always works when you are an Angeleno. She doesn’t resist. Her sister-in-law is throwing up in the bathroom while we talk. Melinda herself is hungover, her eyes drooping. She walks me out, we embrace and I cannot get out of there fast enough.
“I was a rebellious asshole! And you were always so nice! I’m sorry I was so mean.” I am in the bar with Tracy, someone I have known since middle school. She bullied me. Now she is a dissatisfied mother of three, holding her beer in one hand while yelling at me about her alcoholic mother and how mean she was Back in the Day. I’m nodding. I’m not really enjoying her mea culpa; this is not something I think about all that much anymore. What I am thinking about it is a night out in Hillcrest over ten years ago, where I am the designated driver and at the end of the night, my Honda is filled with people from my high school graduating class.
Nothing has changed. It’s like any other night out with Melinda when I lived there. We are older and that’s about it. It’s 12:30am. If my bag were in my car, I would drive the 90 minutes home right now.
“Come home! Come home you cunt!” Jena is yelling at me, her hands on my shoulders. “We’re your family and we’re here! I know you aren’t happy!” She’s not wrong, but I have no desire to go back to the future. That’s been made clear.
Two days later, I am sitting in traffic on the north 110 on my way to a job interview at an academic medical center. I look on the horizon and I see my San Gabriel Mountains, the downtown LA skyline, the faint outline of the Hollywood sign. I relax. I am home.