"Never lie, steal, cheat, or drink. But if you must cheat, cheat death."
Okay, so I'm going to give you a little introduction to the following piece: this came to me from inspiration of events that occurred about a little more than a year ago. I've always wanted to write something about it but never really had the chance or the right moment. In my non-fiction class we got to learn about memoir and mementos--objects that carry special meaning or memory--and the idea of writing about this came to me after a little exercise we did on class. We were asked if we had any mementos with us, I picked my chain that I wear around my neck and we got to talk about it. Later on as I was driving home I remembered the following event (described below) and I thought it would be the perfect thing to write about for the final Memoir exercise. What lies below is the finished piece. I might do revisions after I get it back from my professor, we will see. I'm taking a big risk writing about this since most people will completely disagree with the theme in the story and perhaps even scoff at it. Also because it's strictly personal, and clearly stupid and dangerous. Anyway, that's just what I think. It is also based on true events, and I guess it depends on the point of view of people to see if they believe it or not. It is also a really delicate issue, but I believe it's got great potential for a story. And so I'll leave you to it. Thoughts? Ideas? Comments? You can leave them at the comment section at the bottom of the page. If you'd like. Thanks for listening...and reading.
*** The Truth Is Complicated ***
Guardian From Above
If I wasn’t blessed when I drove drunk, then I was pretty goddamn lucky. There was no other explanation for the many times I’ve avoided death or something worse than death: a long time in prison. A lot of crucifixes and rosaries were wrapped around each other on the rearview mirror in my car. I had lost count after I had hung the tenth one. My mother kept giving me one after another whenever she got them in the mailbox. The idea of Jesus Christ or God looking out for me whenever I drove home after a night at the bars rarely crossed my mind. It was more the idea that somehow—from up above—my grandfather was sending out angels to protect me.
I’ve always been a Catholic, but right after grandpa passed away I started questioning God’s intentions; that and other life-changing events that would occur much later on. I also started thinking that having a rabbit’s foot in the glove compartment probably had something to do with my tendency to avoid vehicle collisions or getting pulled over. My driving record was clean and I kept cheating death, needless to say I was a happy man…but luck only carries you so far before you realize it must indeed be a higher power saving your ass from hitting a concrete wall. I started telling myself that the guy upstairs must like me; either that or that my grandfather was trying really hard to hold on to me. Makes me wish I could’ve held on to him instead, and then he would still be here to knock some sense into me. My mother did always say I was just as stubborn as him. Of course, it didn’t take long to realize it wasn’t stubbornness but stupidity that kept me doing the same thing over and over. I was so stupid I started believing that I was invincible; that somehow I had the power of God over me whenever I was behind the wheel of my car. I started taking these “lucky” moments for granted, and then one night as I laid face-down on the street, it happened. My grandfather came down from heaven.
It happened a year ago, right about the same time I had chosen to give up drinking alcohol. I knew it was something that I needed to do, but I kept telling myself it was a joke to even try. It wasn’t that I was addicted to drinking, or that by drinking I somehow found myself more relaxed, quite the contrary, whenever I got drunk I started to slowly break myself down. They don’t call it a depressant for anything; a lot of events had occurred in my life after the passing of my grandfather and since then I had resorted to drinking, something that clearly didn’t help me deal with these situations. It was an escape for me to avoid facing my problems; I chose to drink because it numbed away the pain and made me forget about the struggle. That’s what alcohol does, as any other drug, to the body and mind of an individual. I was aware of this fact but chose to ignore it, just like I did my problems. I was already living in Fort Collins but had planned to drive to Wyoming one weekend; I had gotten invited to a movie premiere of a friend who is pursuing filmmaking in college, and because it was during the summer I had plenty spare time.
Unaware of what would happen that weekend, I took to the highway for a five-hour drive to my destination. Once I arrived, visiting old friends and people I cared about was the first thing on my mind. Everything went great; the same people I had worked with four years ago at the grocery store in Riverton, Wyoming were still there and very surprised to see me. At this moment happiness overcame me. The natural feeling of being at home shaped a smile across my face and laughter filled the grocery store. It had been a while since I had seen these people and yet it felt like just yesterday when I moved to Colorado and left Wyoming in the rearview mirror. The next step was to get settled; a friend of my mother’s and also a co-worker at the grocery store let me stay at her house. Maxine had always been the life of the store as well as one of the closest friends of my family. At her house, I left my things in the guest room and wasting no time, left to explore once more the town I once called home.
As I drove by every place I could remember, I called my friend Veronica—who was having the movie premiere—and let her know I had arrived. I visited the community college from which I had graduated and also worked as a maintenance man. I saw familiar faces filled with amazement as I walked into the offices of the physical plant. More laughs were shared and memories revisited. I left the college and met up with Veronica at her house; familiar faces appeared again as her mother, brother, younger sister, and cousin sat on the dinner table in her living room as I entered the house. As it had become some kind of “tradition”to give me a hard time, her brother Carlos and her mom asked jokily if I had poured any sugar on alcoholic beverages lately. Their laughs and my dry grin across my face took me back to my first house party that Veronica had invited me to when we first met. It took place at her house and because her mom was such a laid-back person, she had bought enough hard liquor for Veronica to transform her kitchen into a bar. I quickly remembered the night when I had gotten so drunk I had stumbled around her kitchen looking for sugar—for a reason only God knows why—and managed to get up on the table while holding a red plastic cup that held a mix of different hard liquors (and a huge spoonful of sugar) enough to kill my liver, but somehow hadn’t. Veronica’s laugh brought me back to the present. It was time to head back to the college.
Much later after the movie, Veronica’s plan was to hit the bar and celebrate and I was excited to do so since because she was younger than me, she had just turned 21 and was legal to go to the bars. It would be our first time together at a bar and so in a way it was a new experience for both of us. I went to pick up my brother Matt—the only son out of the five that chose to remain in Wyoming—at his place and we went to the only bar I knew in town: Bomber’s. Besides The Boot, Bomber’s was the only bar in town. Riverton was a relative small town with only 9,000 people and so the bar selection was put to shame by the ones I encountered when I moved to Fort Collins. It managed to be enough, though, and as Matt and I entered Bomber’s, memories started to fly once more. One of my best friends, James, who I met through the college and later found out was friends with Veronica as well, was the first person I ever drank in a bar with. I remembered doing shots with him and playing pool while smoke covered the air and music blared in the background. Matt bought himself and me a couple of beers and a shot of Jäger to drink and as we sat around the beer-pong tables and talked, I started to miss James and his Louisiana accent.
James was a big guy; he was buff and tall and whoever met him for the first time would not know that despite his appearance, he was one of the nicest guys out there. Sure he could be intimidating, but once you got to talk to him you would come to the conclusion that he was like a child inside an adult’s body. We shared a deep interest for comic books, and the minute he showed me some really mint-condition old-school comics he owned, I knew we would become best friends. Because he was much older than me, his knowledge of things he had gone through and experienced helped me greatly to overcome much stress I encountered during my time at the college. We had met in my philosophy class and by listening to his ideas I began to know James’s way of thinking. He always told it like it was; he didn’t sugar-coat anything and was pretty firm about certain things. “Women are nuts!” he would tell me. “There’s a reason why men will never understand women!” He always knew what I was going through before I got the chance to fully explain to him. He helped me greatly and I valued his word whenever I got the chance to talk to him about personal matters. He helped me get through my break-up with my first girlfriend and managed to help me fight the struggles that came with my two following exes. The last time I saw him was in Fort Collins when he stayed at my house before driving to Florida to be with his family. “The Cajun,” as my father called him, wasn’t with me that day at the bar and I knew that had he been there, things would’ve gone completely different.
Veronica had called and it was already dark outside, she mentioned a new bar that had just been built in Riverton and had suggested we meet there. Matt and I walked two blocks from Bomber’s to Bar 10 and waited for Veronica and her group of people to arrive. Bar 10 was not Matt’s choice of bar mainly because it was for people who were younger and it wasn’t as open with space as Bomber’s was. There were booths instead of pool tables and it somehow felt like a cheap knock-off of what failed to become a restaurant. A huge surprise came to me when I entered the bar and the first face to see drinking was my old boss from the grocery store. It was an awkward moment if I ever saw one; he spotted me and as I said "hi," he patted me in the back and letting out a laugh he asked what I had been up to. I hadn’t seen him when I visited the grocery store earlier in the day, so after catching up a bit with him I spotted more familiar faces. It must’ve been close to thirty minutes when Veronica and a large group entered Bar 10. Her mom was with her, which set off another awkward moment, but I knew she had been there to keep Veronica from celebrating too much. We picked a booth and sat down. I pulled out my camera and I had Matt take pictures while we took shots of some green-colored drink that Veronica told me to get. By this time I started to feel the buzz hit my head and knew that everything would start to seem funnier. Alcohol ran through my veins and a lot more was soon to come.
Matt had enough of Bar 10 and so I managed to convince Veronica to go with us back to Bomber’s. Once there, Matt bought himself and me our own pitchers of beer. This was the first time I would drink a pitcher by myself, but as surprise filled my mind when I grabbed the big pitcher that had foam pouring out of its top, the alcohol inside me told me not to care and drink up. Veronica and I sat on the stools at the bar and ordered more shots. She had me try new drinks, as she always managed to do, and sooner than later I found myself swaying on the dance floor as music blared behind me and Veronica’s smile shone in front of me. She was saying something to me, but I couldn’t hear over the speakers booming behind my ears. All of a sudden a weird feeling hit my gut and as I moved back to the bar to grab my pitcher that I had left with Matt, I started to wobble a bit. I grabbed my camera and told Matt to get a picture with me. We both held our pitchers in the air and the camera flashed. I cannot recall what happened after that. I remember talking to a friend from high school that had happened to be there at the time who I hadn’t seen in what seemed forever, I remember hitting the restroom to wash my face with cold water, and I remember putting my pitcher back in the bar because I knew I had had enough. This was the point in time when I had chosen to leave the bar…by myself.
I remember crossing the street, no cars driving around, I knew I had been lucky despite the stoplight had been green when I crossed. I walked a block before the inevitable happened: I fell down. As I laid face-down on the street, it happened: I started getting anxious as flashbacks of events in the past crossed my mind. I remember a group of people walking by, asking if I was okay and me telling them I was fine. There was a black pick-up truck in front of me as I laid there unable to move. I knew that if the driver chose to back up I would’ve been run over instantly. I tried to get up, but couldn’t. You really screwed up, didn’t you? I thought. You are done, face it, you are in the street and cannot move. Let it go. Close your eyes and give up. My voice resonated in my head. All I wanted was to give in, to close my eyes and sleep and let whatever happened happen. I kept hearing myself thinking negatively and I did what I usually tended to do whenever I was drunk and anxious: I called Veronica. I could hear the music in the background
and as I muttered, “Save me, please,” I heard Veronica ask where I was. I told her that I was done, on the ground, and that I needed her to save me. I kept thinking of how scared I was; anxiety had really hit me hard. The depressant in the alcohol was at its full effect and as I kept pleading for Veronica, all I could hear was her distorted voice. I hung up and chose to close my eyes. You are weak, was my last thought.
I can’t remember how much time must’ve passed, but I do remember all of a sudden I heard something but couldn’t make up what it was. You can do this, you are stronger. You are better than this, my voice called out in my head. I slowly opened my eyes to see the pavement and the darkness surrounding me. I felt myself get up; my arms were extended, like someone was lifting me up from the back, but I knew there was nobody around. I could see no one around as I opened my eyes and moved my head slowly from side to side. Not a living soul walking the streets; I was alone, but someone—something—lifted me up. I was standing now and I kept closing and opening my eyes, fading in and out of consciousness. Help me, please…help me… I kept thinking. All of a sudden it felt like I was gone, that someone else was controlling my body. I stood and walked what seemed like an eternity. Then I faded to black.
Next thing I know, I was sitting at the curb, with my phone in my ear speaking to someone. I can’t recall who, but it was a girl’s voice. I remembered sticking my finger down my throat, saying to myself, “I need to do this.” It all played out in my head like an out-of-body experience. I could see myself there, sitting at the curb, trying to make myself throw up and mumbling words I could not make out. Then I saw myself stand up again and it all turned into first person again, I was wobbling down the sidewalk, I crossed a street and managed to lean onto a metal fence. I could see the fence in front of me as I stared down at the grass and then it happened: I threw up and felt a hard pain in my stomach. My head was filled with thoughts and my voice kept mumbling words. I faded to black again.
I was walking, I couldn’t tell where, but somehow I knew my destination. Again, it seemed to me like I was walking hours on end until I finally reached the parking lot where I had left my car. My red Oldsmobile was sitting there and as I kept flashing in and out, I found myself sitting inside my car. I turned the ignition on, I put it on reverse, and I backed out of the parking lot. I remember it felt like I was no longer in control, a deeply disturbing experience. I was driving then; the streets were empty for the exception of a few cars in Main Street and next thing I knew I told myself, don’t close your eyes. I kept my eyes open and then noticed the crucifixes and crosses hanging from the rear-view mirror. Lifting my right hand and keeping my left on the steering wheel, I grabbed the crucifixes and crosses. I wrapped my hand around it, I felt the metal cover my hand and bind it, like a snake. I whispered, “God help me,” and then a huge part of the drive is missing. I cannot remember it. All I can remember is the metal around my hand and how hard I was grabbing it. All of a sudden I found myself turning into the house complex where I was staying. My eyes hurt from how hard I had been fighting to keep them open. I reached the house, parked the car, and got out and slowly paced myself from the driveway to inside the house. I reached the guest room, took my shoes off, moved the blankets, fell on the bed, and as I let out a sigh…I blacked out.
I woke up around 9:00 a.m. and noticed I was still wearing my clothes; the first thing to hit my head was the thought of acquiring a large amount of painkillers for the tension in my neck and the pounding in my head. I stood up from bed and realized I felt something in my left pocket hurting the side of my leg. I reached into my pocket and took out my “lucky dice.” Up until this very day I carry with me three dice; they are common die which you could probably find inside any board game, but to me, they are special. I cannot recall how it came to be, or how I came into possession of them, but I called them my lucky dice because most—not all—but must of the times when I roll them, I get two same numbers and one odd one. It rarely fails, and when it does, I keep rolling them until I get two of the same and one odd, followed by putting them in my jean pocket. Then I feel as if the power of luck resides with me throughout the whole day. I cannot explain why I do it, but I never leave anywhere without them. I’ve become attached to them as I have with other things, and I seek no explanation for my behavior other than I feel safe with them. Back at that moment, I held my dice in my hand and as I rolled them on top the bed, two same numbers and one odd stared back at me. I grabbed my dice, put them in my left pocket, put my shoes on, and walked out into the living room where Maxine was speaking with her granddaughter. I said hello and
walked outside to see my car; I had been worried that since I had driven drunk I could’ve hit something and wanted to make sure my car was okay.
I walked down her porch and stared at my car; no damage. I walked to it and opened the driver’s side and sat inside, feeling the morning sun shining on me, the heat starting to burn. I sat there for ten minutes, staring at the crucifixes. A golden Jesus and a silver Mary hung there, so calm, unmoved. I can tell you at that moment I felt time stop and the image of my grandfather crossed my mind. I remembered the day he died, prior to his passing at 2:00 a.m. I had been inside his room that afternoon with my younger brother massaging his feet. The cancer in his bones had already overtaken him; he was in deep pain, and as my younger brother and I struggled to ease his suffering, he looked at us both and let out the last words I ever heard him say, “Look at you two, you are both like little angels from heaven.” I smiled and as I took out my wallet and opened it, I reached into it and took out a photograph. I stared at the bent edges on it, the small tear from being inside my wallet for over seven years and let out a chuckle. That photograph was of my grandfather, before he ever got sick, before he passed away, before I had started drinking, before this day...
Gracias, Lolo, I thought.
"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread."
“The guardian angels of life sometimes fly so high as to be beyond our sight, but they are always looking down upon us.”