I sat on the couch and dragged a side table closer. I was winning. For the first time in three years, I read the label and strongly believed the constituents weren’t going to harm me. Ten bottles or more a day had reduced to one.
I unscrewed the cap.
Just a sip. Um… one more. Okay, okay—last sip.
The fluid burned as it crawled down my throat. I placed the bottle on the table and leaned back.
Like most mornings, the street was busy. Vespas and cars and trucks zoomed past; I could tell one from the other from the sounds of their engines. Morning sunlight filtered through the window on the left, highlighting parts of the room, including the center table. The beat-up TV opposite had a mind of its own, and it’d decided to display Ethan’s favorite show in black and white.
Ethan is three today. It’s just like yesterday.
I was sitting beside Mom in the waiting room, looking at sad, pleasant, and expressionless faces. Then I’d look down at Emily, standing between Mom’s legs, playing with her small toy. She had no idea: her mom had been taken away for a cesarean, and her dad deemed it right to get intoxicated before coming to the hospital.
Mom leaned close and said in a low voice, “You shouldn’t have come. You reek of it.” I wasn’t offended. It was the truth.
A few minutes later, Chris, my friend, appeared at the entrance and motioned to us to come. Mom carried Emily, and we walked to him together.
“Congrats, Greg.” He offered his hand. “Boys.”
The TV showed color, and Ethan raised his hands to celebrate its generosity, but less than a minute later it switched back. The disappointment in his face made me stand up and walk over to the cruel TV. I hit its side; sometimes discipline worked. But nothing happened. I hit it again on the top; that made it clearer.
At least I have achieved something.
“It will switch to color soon,” I said.
After I’d settled on the couch, Ethan climbed down from the chair and picked up the remote on the center table. Pointing it at the TV, he increased the volume. Mom asked him to come over and help in the kitchen, but he wasn’t interested. She knew he wouldn’t be interested.
“Do you need my help?” I asked her.
“No.” Her smile disappeared.
Inhaling the aroma of whatever she was stirring in the skillet, I felt bad that she had to purchase all we needed for Ethan’s birthday with her money. At thirty-two, I had no source of income. I even had to depend on her for money to indulge in my addiction.
Chris led us into the room, and my eyes fell on Marilyn. She looked tired like she went through labor. I almost stopped to ask if she was fine, but I continued to where my boys were; their cries filled the room.
They had the same features and looked so much like Marilyn. I turned to her and smiled, but I couldn’t go close because I was conscious of the fact that I “reeked of it.” Offending her was the last thing I wanted. She asked me to come, but I couldn’t. So, I watched the nurses get busy with my boys until Chris asked me to follow him. The moment we stepped into the hallway, he turned to me.
“Greg.” He moved close and lowered his voice. “I suggest rehab.”
“No. I can do it on my own.”
He placed a finger on the center of my chest. “If you continue drinking heavily, it can lead to cirrhosis—it often leads to cirrhosis—but we don’t want that to happen.” He dropped the finger. “We love you, Greg. It’s not like I’m trying to scare you or—”
“I understand,” I broke in. “Chris, I understand.”
One of the nurses came out of the room, walked across, and entered the room opposite.
“People addicted to other crazy stuff are brought here every day. I know it isn’t easy. Try. Fight. I’ll always have your back.
“Don’t let your dreams slip away. Think of your beautiful wife and children. Think of all the things you’re missing.”
He stopped talking for a moment and sighed. “You just have to win.”
Tears had formed in my eyes as he hugged me.
Before going inside, he reached into my pocket and pulled out the only bottle I had left. “You don’t need this.”
Ethan couldn’t help but nod to the beat playing as credits scrolled from right to left at the bottom of the screen. While some kids danced, others played with balloons—lots of balloons. The credits scrolled for about a minute. Then the show ended.
We can have his attention again.
“Ethan, I’ll mix the cake soon,” Mom said.
He got down from the chair and ran to the kitchen.
Moments later, he ran back to the living room and came to me.
“Dad, where—why can’t I go up up up when I jump?” He jumped to show what he meant.”
I pulled him close and adjusted his shirt. “Gravity.”
“Grafity,” he said.
“Gra - vi - ty,” I said.
“Grafity,” he said. “What is grafity?”
“A force that pulls you to the ground,” Mom said.
He looked at her and then back at me. He didn’t trust her answer, I guess.
After Marilyn gave birth, it got worse. The more I tried to stop, the harder it became.
I made new friends who had no plans of quitting, and we’d drink from morning till night. Most were homeless, but I had a home. Anytime I staggered into the house, regardless of the time, Marilyn was always there, waiting. While Mom screamed and cursed and cried, she’d just stare. She always saved her words for the mornings, just the two of us. Our morning discussions often ended with her saying, “I married an intelligent, successful engineer, and I still love him.”
I hardly carried Eric or Ethan, but I loved to stare at them while they were asleep. If they had been laid side by side, I couldn’t tell one from another. They grew bigger and bigger. They were progressing with life, but I wasn’t.
After several mornings and months of advice, Marilyn got tired.
She and Mom would yell at me anytime I came home wasted. I became angry with myself and everyone. The only “good” people in the world were those hopeless like me; those who wouldn’t judge me or insult me. So I decided to leave. I grabbed a backpack and stuffed some clothes into it. Marilyn, Mom, Emily, Ethan, and Eric were asleep. I scribbled a note, put it beside one of the boys, and left at dawn.
“Ethan, do you really want to know what gravity is?”
He nodded and fiddled with my shirt buttons. His pouty lips and deep-set eyes were just like Marilyn’s, as were his face shape and hair color. When he looked at me, it was as if she was staring at me.
I wonder why people say he resembles me.
A week after I left my family, I returned. Seven days without Marilyn felt like forever.
Mom expressed her love of me in the same way: she spoke at the top of her lungs and told me I was irresponsible. But Marilyn waited till midnight and had a heart-to-heart talk with me. There was nothing new about all she told me, but for some reason, we wept.
Two days later, I left again.
Three weeks later, I returned.
The third time, I spent seven weeks away from home drowning in my addiction. And when I returned, things went downhill, totally.
“Ethan, your mom is gravity,” I heard myself say.
The boys had turned nine months. I still mixed them up sometimes.
Nothing was working. No one was happy. The tension in the house grew. Marilyn and I argued over little things. Then one evening the inevitable happened: I hit her face, hard.
My apologies and Mom’s pleading weren’t going to change her mind. She was leaving. I’d never seen her so furious before. She often hid what she was going through from her parents, but that night she called them and swore that she was leaving me.
Eventually, Mom calmed her down. But I could see it in her eyes that she disliked everything around her, except our children.
A few days later, I barged into the house, drunk, and found Mom holding one of the boys.
“She left with Emily and Eric,” Mom said.
No one knew where she was. Maybe some of her friends lied, maybe her parents lied, but no one knew. The note she left was in my bedside drawer:
“I loved you, Greg. Please don’t look for us. We will be fine.”
Ethan tapped my chest. “Dad, why is Mom grafity?”
“Greg, tell him what gravity is,” Mom said. “You were also inquisitive when you were his age.”
“Your mom is gravity because when I go I always come back, but now she’s gone and I’m floating away.”
“Greg.” Mom was staring at me with her hands resting on her waist. “Tell him what gravity is.”
Ethan was satisfied with my answer and went to the kitchen.
A few minutes later, Mom announced that she was going to the grocery store. Ethan wanted to follow, but she refused. “Tell me anything you want, and I’ll get it for you.”
He mentioned a few things, but he still wanted to follow. “So I walked over to where they were and lifted him off the ground. I held him in my arms and tickled him. He giggled until Mom left.
About ten minutes later, he’d started building something with his toy bricks, and I was feeling damn sleepy. A knock on the door jolted me back to the moment as I was nodding off.
Could it be Mom? Maybe she forgot something.
Ethan rushed to the door, stood on his toes, and opened it.
His eyes widened.
My heart skipped a beat. I wondered what he was staring at. I hurried to the door and saw another Ethan standing beside a taller Emily. A big, brown box was beside them. On the street, a cab driver, I guess, pulled another box from the trunk of a cab, and Marilyn was standing beside him.
Ethan tapped my leg. “Dad, he is just like me.”
“Dad,” Emily said and glanced back. Eric was also staring at Ethan. He was wearing a white shirt tucked into black pants. His black shoes were shiny. Ethan’s shirt was also white, but his was tucked into khaki shorts.
“Good morning, sir.” The man placed the second box beside the other. “Your sons look just like you.”
Marilyn paid him.
He drove off.
If this is a dream, I don’t want to ever wake up. With every step she took toward the house, my heart pulsed faster.
“Happy birthday, Ethan.” She carried him and gave him a long kiss on the cheek. His eyes were fixed on me. He wanted explanations.
“Greg,” she said.
“I’m a better man now.” The words tumbled out of my mouth.
“Greg I—” Tears rolled down her cheeks.
They entered, and I followed behind with the boxes. Once I closed the door, she put Ethan down and kissed life into me.
“Hope this isn’t a visit?” I asked.
“No. It isn’t.”