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Rum and Remorse
By Christopher Sloce
“Every really good horse is a freak.” - Buster Welch
A pin-point moment for the family unit: your son came home after begging the night before to go to a Halloween party after party. He is dressed like Conan O’Brien, wearing a god awful tie, hair dyed red. He walked inside, his brow furrowed, focused on getting to his bedroom with no questions. You know he is hating himself for what happened last night.
There was a girl at the Halloween party, plastered and holding walls, dressed like Alice. The after-party hosts tossed marshmallows at her, and he pitied her, but not enough to stand up. Instead of tossing marshmallows at her, he said he’d take the blame for it, hold the bag and eat them while she turns around to ask, “Who the fuck is throwing marshmallows at me?” Your son stood there as she slapped his stomach, hot feelings left there as she ran off, leaving him to shout, “What the fuck was that?” like a punchline. There was another girl there. He sold out.
The night before, he groveled so much, wanting to be cool, wanting to hop in the back of the truck, put his Wal-Mart suit jacket’s lapels up to his ears, ride through the near freezing air, sing in the truck bed, go and hang out with his best friends. He saw the full bar, and drinks being poured. He turned down all offers, and somebody made a fire. In the circle he had nothing to say until he asked everybody what their favorite horror movie is. When somebody couldn’t finish his Busch light, he took it and didn’t enjoy it. Later someone offered him a sip of rum, which he did enjoy.
Somebody at this party brought up the girl they tossed marshmallows at. He says what boys say, he is in the world of perceived men. The party turns into hypotheticals. Somebody asks what they’d sell their soul for. Ever the Baptist schoolboy, he said, he wouldn’t, but he’d imagine if he did, there’d only be a few things he would do it for, because if he ever considered it, he’d slid far down and mores meant nothing. The point remained that it would never happen. Your raising wasn’t useless.
He slept on the floor, he woke up in the morning, face imprinted in the small reeds of carpet, still wearing the suit. He went outside and got in somebody’s car, hoping for no mentions of last night. For all of your son’s failings, he is at least honest. If you ask what happens, he will tell the truth, because he expects the classic answer: Be careful if you do it, don’t do too much, because there also a running gag slash threat that you will get him so sick off of liquor that he will never drink again. He believed it to be kosher. When he hopped in the car, they say, “I’m glad we still have rum left.”
So when he walks in the house the next day, you know something is amiss. You ask, “Did you drink anything last night?” And he panics and answers as boys do. You continued to press him. He collapsed and threw up qualifiers. The disappointment in the room was stifling. He went to his room and thinks about what he did wrong. For him, it was the beginning of a long slide, the opening shot of his coming of age movie, him watching red hair dye fall out of his pompadour in the shower, pooling at his feet like an obvious metaphor washing off him and ending depending on whom he is lying to that day. The second act started when he blew off putting up that Christmas tree everybody hated to hang out with his friends. At least that night he stayed sober, but he came home with a broken camera.
What your son does not know or will never know is what you two said once he went off to his room and chastised himself: he never argued that alcohol was bad but if this is what it causes, then it must be. There is only the possibility you two sat and spoke about it, and there was disappointment and resignation; acceptance that he was growing up and his remorse was obvious. In the other room, a 6-year-old is in her own world. Maybe it occurred to you both that one day in ten years, she might be hiding in her room.
But your son wants her to be happy but hopes her desire to set herself apart from the crowd and to approach whatever she does has no body count. In the spirit of Buster Welch’s quote, he attempted to prove how good of a horse he was and in the process injured too many ranch-hands. What you saw as teenage rebellion in all honesty had a philosophical approach, and that is where this memory diverges. Your son found himself scared of bourgeois life and thought the only way to escape a life where he would be miserable and trapped instead of just miserable but free was a raging against Thomas’s dying light, if death and office jobs were comparable. Your son read too much Henry Miller. Your son had friends and he lost them all, the fracture starting when he jumped in the back of the Jeep and attempted to throttle his friend who made a drunken and innocuous comment about his girlfriend, and making itself truly clear when he rejected a handshake from the deadbeat ex of the girl who just three years prior he pretended to toss marshmallows at.
In your son’s quest for “enlightenment,” he proved how unenlightened he really was. You two didn’t see that his actions had unconscious motivations. And that’s the cruel thing about memory: your son could have, at any point, sat down, been honest, and said what he felt but he never did. Instead, he dragged his family along for a yearlong course in solipsistic depression and pity parties; the number one impetus of the literature high school males love the most.
And your son is sorry.