by Abe Merker, she/her
On the sidewalk, equidistant between Lonny’s hands, was a heads-up penny. In her drunken stupor, she had kept her eyes on that penny the way a spinning ballerina fixed her head to a singular spot. She was very dizzy. The pregame had turned to clubbing in a pair of strappy black heels that always left her feet red and raw. She had gone shot for shot with Carrie’s promoter, a six-foot-five ex-football player turned skeevy club rat in the unfortunate time of postgraduate purgatory. After eight competitive rounds, four lines, and half a bottle of champagne, Lonny found herself falling over the edge. She had passed through the happy phase of carefree drunk, to the depths of the grueling comedown, and now, body blinded and ravaged by liquor, she had picked up her face from the sidewalk and risen onto hands and knees. She felt around for the purse she had dropped when she fell whilst the sickness and the shame burnt in her stomach. She needed to get out of here.
“Fuck,” she slurred. Clumsily palming the cement, she began shoving her things haphazardly into her bag. She sent a text that was hopefully understandable and crawled to the brick exterior of the club. She curled up against it. A couple of synchronous heels came out of the building. Their flirtatious laughter stopped when they saw Lonny, and they asked if she was okay.
“Yup, I’m doin’ fine, thanks…waiting for my friend,” Lonny said with her eyes barely open. She offered a limp thumbs-up for good measure, but the two women persisted.
“Don’ worry ‘bout it, I’m fiiiiine,” she slurred, louder this time. The women left.
Lonny passed out; she wasn’t sure how long for, but she awoke to someone shaking her shoulder. Roused from her unconsciousness, she opened her eyes to see a man bending down to her, with brown eyes warm in the yellow glow of the streetlights, and brow wrinkled with concern.
“Tim,” Lonny said, shocked. “Why are you here?”
She was overcome with a wave of sickness. Lonny leaned away from Tim and vomited onto the sidewalk.
He looked at her with pity.
“Lonny, what happened? I was about to go to bed, and I got this text—”
“I texted you?”
“Yeah,” Tim said, turning his phone to show her. The lonely blue bubble read, tum pls com get me ay avenie amdrunk om sory.
Lonny buried her face in her hands. “Jesus, I was fucked up…I mean I still am but not like that…when?” She vaguely remembered stumbling down the stairs from the bathroom, coming outside—but she didn’t remember anything else. Her brain pulsated in her skull.
“About an hour ago? I would have gotten here sooner but the fucking downtown one,” Tim said, sitting down next to Lonny. “Tell me why you’re sleeping outside a club in the middle of January.”
“Carrie,” Lonny mumbled, suppressing a gag. . “She happened.”
“My friend from Vanderbilt.”
“Trust fund girl with the Bella Hadid nose job?”
Tim thought for a moment until his eyes flashed with recognition that turned almost immediately to disdain. “Oh, that Carrie.” That Carrie got her into this scene years ago. Lonny said nothing.
“Lon, it’s been six months.”
Lonny couldn’t look at him; instead, she decidedly analyzed the fresh pile of vomit.
She retched. After a moment, he reached over and gently held her hair back.
“I’m sorry,” Lonny said, so quietly that Tim could hardly hear her.
“Let’s go,” Tim said, pulling out his phone to get a cab.
“No, not yet,” Lonny said. “I’d yak in the cab and they’d charge for the clean.”
Tim sighed and put his phone away. They sat together in a heavy silence.
Lonny looked at her hands. There was puke on the back of one where she had wiped her mouth. On the other she noticed a cut. She wiped the blood on her dress—it wouldn’t show on the black, so it didn’t matter. She twisted her rings absentmindedly, closing her eyes as her insides continued to churn. Opening them again, she glanced at the thin gold band at the base of Tim’s ring finger. It was minimalistic, chic; she recalled when his wife, Allie, picked it out. Well, she remembered the corny post on Instagram. Lonny brought her knees close to her chest.
“Why did you do it, Lon?”
“Because I’m dumb.”
“Because I’m reckless.”
Lonny kept her eyes closed and sighed, exasperated by his silence. “I don’t know.”
“Remember what Dr. Fatar said about accountability—”
“Fine, Tim, because I’m self-destructive. Is that accountable enough? That’s what Dr. Fatar says, that I’m on a mission to destroy myself. We both know. You act like this is the first time you’ve had to show up and like, save me from myself.”
“Yeah, you’re self-destructive, but I meant why now. After six months clean. Everybody was so proud, your mom told me—”
“My mom? You’re still talking to my mom? I can barely get a call back from either of you but you’re out here chatting with Lisa fucking Dellinger?” Lonny’s mother, Lisa, had been close to Tim during his and Lonny’s six-year-long relationship. They stayed close after the engagement ended too, while Lonny was in rehab. Lisa never called her then. She sent Tim or Lonny’s sister as her proxy to tell of her love.
“That’s not fair, you know it’s not that simple. Dr. Fatar said we should only talk every two weeks. I can’t nurture dependence, but I’m still talking to your mom because I care. We talk about you,” Tim said gently.
“You don’t care,” Lonny spat.
“Goddamn it, if I didn’t care, then why would I be here?”
“Obviously because I like making things as difficult as possible. Obviously because I thought ‘why not call Tim to come get me so he can clinically analyze me and look at me like he never loved me?’”
“Could you be more self-pitying? You know that’s not fair—”
“Stop talking about ‘fair’! Being like this isn’t fair and knowing that you watch me from your happy home with your little family fucking sucks. Look at me sitting here! I’m pathetic! And when I go home tonight, I’ll still be pathetic, and you’ll go home and sleep soundly knowing I’m not your problem anymore. You have a wife and a kid! All I have is myself, and I hate me. That’s not fair. And you know what, it was supposed to be me, Tim! I gave you six years. You refuse to talk about it, but we both know it was supposed to be us. We knew that back in Freshman year. Shit, when I was in rehab, we knew! You said after, we’d be fine, but that wasn’t true, was it? So now I’m stuck in this cycle, alone. And you’re gonna tell me what is and isn’t fair? This,” She waved her arms around her wilted body in a mocking bravado, “isn’t fucking fair.”
“That’s life, Lonny! You want me to feel bad for you? Fine, here’s some pity, take it,” Tim snapped, returning the mocking gesture as if to physically hand her his sympathies. Lonny’s body jolted as if she had been stung, her jaw clenched with anger. Snow had begun to fall on the city, flakes faintly glinting in the glowing signs of the restaurants and bars that straddled the avenue, cloaked with quiet.
“You were never a problem,” Tim said carefully, breaking the silence. Though he was controlled, she could feel his anger, too.
“Yeah, you have a problem, but that’s not you. I mean, Jesus, Lon, you’re sick! Addiction’s an illness. And you know what, things changed. I chose to go because it wasn’t healthy for either of us, but I didn’t just stop loving you. Do you remember how hard that was? Not just for you, but for me? Leaving was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but I had to choose myself, and now you’re gonna crucify me for it? You’re acting like I promised you the world and then took it away, and I didn’t. I was young and in love with an addict who couldn’t love me the same. I won’t feel guilty.” Tim took a deep breath as tears pricked his eyes. He licked his dry lips and inhaled again. “I didn’t abandon you, though. Come on, I could never. Look at me, I’m here. I’m with you and I’m not leaving right now, okay? Look at me, Lon.”
Tim grabbed her hand and Lonny turned, looking through him, like a phantom figment of a life she once knew. He acted like he was still there, but she didn’t think he was anymore. In her darkest moments, on her worst nights, she was undeniably alone. There was so much she wanted to say to him, but she didn’t know how.
“I’m not leaving right now,” Tim repeated.
“I heard you,” Lonny quipped.
After a moment, Lonny spoke again. “I lost my job.”
“Yeah. I got fired today,” Lonny said. “I don’t know what happened. I mean, I was doing fine, not my best but who actually does their best anymore?” Lonny laughed dryly. “Anyway, um, I guess they were making cuts.”
“Lonny, I’m sorry. Did you talk to Dr. Fatar?” Tim asked.
Lonny wasn’t surprised at this response. He had always wanted her to run straight to Dr. Fatar. Logically, she knew that’s what she should’ve done, but she just…didn’t. “No, she wasn’t available today, she’s out of town,” Lonny lied seamlessly. She decided not to tell Tim she hadn’t seen Dr. Fatar in over a month. She couldn’t.
“Look, I’m sorry I texted you. I shouldn’t be unloading all of this onto you because it’s definitely not your job, but they,” she gestured to the club and her party inside it, to Carrie, “wouldn’t care if I got home or washed up on the shore of the Hudson.”
“What did you tell Allie when you left?” she asked.
Tim hesitated for a moment before he answered. “I told her I was going on a walk to the bodega. Honestly, I know she wouldn’t have been happy if she knew why I was leaving so late. I didn’t want to upset her, and getting here was more important than a fight, you know?”
“Do you two fight a lot?” Lonny had never asked about his relationship. The darker parts of her hoped they were horribly unhappy, so much so that they became one of those couples that found sleeping in the same bed a chore. She fantasized more of a co-parenting situation than a marriage, no matter how selfish and unlikely that was. Tim and Allie had been married for two years, and their child, Noah, was now 3. They had him a year after the breakup, and for a long time, Lonny couldn’t physically bear the sober reality that Tim had conceived a child with a woman he had known for three months. Her anger was overwhelmed with seething jealousy.
“No, not at all,” Tim said. “She just gets upset, sometimes, with the amount of time I’ve devoted to you. That I still do.”
“We barely talk, though.”
“But consider the phone calls I have with your mom, with Angela, with Dr. Fatar—”
“You talk to Dr. Fatar?” Lonny asked. She had to hide her panic; she couldn’t give him a reason to suspect she had anything more to hide. “Not anymore, but I used to, to make sure you were going to your appointments. Allie made me stop, and Dr. Fatar told me I could trust you.”
“Oh.” Lonny thought that was kind of fucked up and that it had to violate some doctor-patient confidentially thing. She didn’t say anything.
“But yeah, things are good with us.”
Lonny turned away from him again, curling up even tighter and letting the weight of her eyelids slowly fall shut.
“Ready to go home?”
Lonny gently nodded, her chin rubbing her bare arm.
Tim summoned a cab. Lonny was consumed by the guilt that came from nights like this.
After a few minutes, the cab arrived. Tim guided Lonny into the car, and she slumped against the window like an old doll.
“I’m not gonna tell your mom about this,” Tim said, “but this is your fourth relapse. You have to talk to your sponsor and Dr. Fatar, and honestly, consider going back in-patient. I’ll call Angela and let her know, and she won’t tell, but she’ll take you to your appointments. Lonny, you have to promise me, because I’m really worried…”
Lonny stared at the storefronts passing by: the laundromats and Chinese restaurants and overpriced boutiques. She stared at the overflowing garbage cans, the groups of young women staggering around in their stilettos, the drunk college kids eating ninety-nine cent pizza and laughing through the smoke of their menthols. All of these people, she thought, probably felt untouchable, like they were finally getting it all together, or maybe like they already had it, and that after everything they’ve already been through, nothing could go wrong. They could never be a lapsed alcoholic in a car with their ex-fiancé, unemployed and slowly killing themselves. They had it under control. She was humiliated.
She imagined the look on Angela’s face when she showed up at her door tomorrow, demanding answers, and shuddered. Her loving eyes could be cruel and their darkness, overwhelming.
“I don’t know,” Lonny said, still looking out the window. “But I’ll try.”
Tim sighed. “We’ll talk more later.”
Lonny let her body flop at the waist, laying her head in Tim’s lap. He placed his hand on her head and began to stroke her hair. Though her eyes were shut, Lonny was aware of every bump and pothole in the road, the movement of his fingers across her kinky curls. Tim laid his jacket over her like a blanket, and the warmth and comfort was so familiar that she was almost lulled to sleep, until the car came to a smooth stop and the feeling dissolved.
Tim walked her to the stoop of her building, the one they used to live in together. “Haven’t seen this place in a while,” he said.
“Yeah, it’s been a minute.”
The two stood together, quiet for a moment. They both knew the last time he was here was when Allie was pregnant with Noah. It was a few months before the wedding—Lonny had just finished rehab, and Tim, for once, was the unstable one. He was scared shitless and wanted to talk about it with someone who knew him—someone who watched him become a man, someone who had seen him at his best and worst, someone who understood him. He showed up at her door and asked to come in; she said yes. One thing led to another and they fucked, the type of passionate sex that makes you think the past can come back to life. At least Lonny did. Tim didn’t tell her he had proposed; she found out two weeks later via Allie’s Instagram, when she posted photos from her bridal shower. Of course, she immediately went for the bottle. Still, as they stood together, Lonny loved him as if he had done her no wrong. And that was her problem.
“I’d better go. I have to take Noah to pre-school tomorrow.”
“He has school tomorrow?”
“Yeah, it’s Thursday.”
She nodded. “Thanks again, for everything.”
She handed him back his jacket and the two said their goodbyes and hugged, an embrace just too long that made her heart swell.
“Love you,” Lonny whispered to him. They pulled away and looked at each other, the gaze between them electric and confused. There was something there, Lonny was sure of it, but she wondered if it was what they had or who she was with him that she craved more. Who did she really miss?
Tim didn’t say anything, just looked at her and hugged her again, quickly this time. He let go, hailed a cab, and disappeared into the glittering New York night.
When she got into her apartment, she took her shoes off, stripped, and showered, sober enough at this point to know and care that she was filthy. Her brown skin was sallow. She looked at herself in the mirror: full lips, under eye circles, a mass of dark curls, black eyes that were full of indeterminate yearning and so unlike the cold blue of her mother’s. She felt like an imitation of herself, what she once was. She imagined herself as her mother – a wealthy divorcé with a bob who spent her days living full-time in the Hamptons and sipping martinis, acting like constant “refreshers” weren’t a problem. Eleven drinks became three, and thus acceptable. This was the only thing they had in common – she didn’t feel like her mother’s daughter, and people had often thought she wasn’t when they were together. But at least she inherited something from her. She saw herself as she was: a 28-year-old addict, clinging to dead things, unemployed, desperate to love something, to want to be in her own body, in her own mind
Lonny got into bed, burrowing deep into her comforter, and let herself drift off to sleep. She had a dream that night that everything was as it should be. She was sober, still had her job, and didn’t need to be rescued by her perfect ex. She never stopped going to therapy or AA, she didn’t block her sponsor’s number, and she walked home arm-in-arm with Tim after dinner at their favorite trattoria. Tim didn’t hail a cab; with her, he was home. She was who she knew she could be but couldn’t seem to fulfill in reality. She would wake up in the morning with one thought to comfort her: last night was just another night indistinguishable from the messy torrent of nights she had had before. It was a footnote in a string of stories, narrating the numerous ways she had acted horribly and without sense whilst gripped in the claws of her illness. Another that she would tell her fellow AA members when she finally came to. It was just blood on a black dress.