A modern day love story.
| I left the Dew Drop Inn early that night. Early, for me, meant before the bar closed. It had been my favorite watering hole for a month now; ever since the doctor shook up my little corner of reality, but something just didn't feel right. So, I downed my fourth or fifth beer, and coat in hand, walked out into the rain.
It was a dark, moonless night, but I didn't care because I wasn't looking where I was going anyway. That's how I stumbled upon the place. It was a basement level bar and, without looking, I had literally stumbled down the stairwell leading to its entrance. Catching myself halfway down, I looked up. "Mulberry Street," I thought to myself, "Interesting name for a bar." I half expected one of those comic strip balloons to appear beside my head showing my thoughts, which simply proved to myself I was still a bit drunk from my beers at the Dew Drop Inn. Very wet, and simply tired of wandering, I entered the bar.
It was a quaint place; juke box in the corner, an old fashioned coke machine for decoration, dart board, a couple of foosball tables and, obviously, a bar with bar stools. It seemed like a typical tavern. Except for the bartender, it appeared empty. I sat on a stool at the center of the bar. Feeling cold from the rain, I wanted to warm up, so I ordered a double scotch on the rocks, Johnnie Walker Black. Roy Orbison's "Only The Lonely" was playing on the juke box.
I quickly finished my drink and ordered another hoping to encourage whatever chills I had left to depart or simply numb myself from reality as usual. I'm not sure which. Finishing that, I ordered a Heineken and asked the bartender for the darts. He handed me a draught and six darts. I took a swallow and fired my first projectile, barely hitting the dart board. Just then "Behind Blue Eyes" by The Who began to play. The song struck a chord with my mood but I couldn't decide whether I was the “bad man” or the “sad man.”
Slowly I finished my beer and my round of darts and the bartender got me another Heineken while I retrieved the missiles from the board. I sipped the beer, slowing down a bit, and reached for a dart. Before picking it up I hesitated to listen to the next song as "Special Lady" came on. I grabbed for a dart and it fell, bouncing off my foot and landing on the other side of my stool. I turned and bent down to pick it up. As I grasped the errant missile, I noticed the legs and something told me not to look up.
I stood slowly to not upset my precarious balance and our eyes met. It was good that I was drunk because sober I'm not sure I could have handled just how beautiful she was. She had brown curls down to forever and a million dollar smile. And she had green eyes. The kind that seemed like glowing green marbles. If there's anything I melt under it's always been the allure of glowing green eyes.
I was lost, swimming somewhere in the depths of her eyes. She said, "hello" and I blinked. My mouth paralyzed, I was temporarily incapable of speech, and alcohol had nothing to do with it, so I searched for some strength and found it in my beer. As I grabbed the bottle all I could hear in my head was Zac Brown singing “my heart won’t tell my mind to tell my mouth what it should say.” I took a long swallow, still gazing at her, and tried again.
"Hi, I'm Pete," I managed.
"I'm Karen," she replied, still smiling, but with kindness, not pity.
I offered to buy her a drink and she pointed to my beer.
"One of those would be fine," she accepted.
Wow! That was it. Green eyes and she drinks Heineken. I knew I was drunk but I also knew that, somehow, defying all logic and probability, I was in love. I didn't want to just pick up this woman. I didn't even want to simply marry her. I wanted to spend each and every moment of my life with her. I knew this a high degree of clarity that only a dying drunk man could possibly achieve. After a few more beers I even told her all this, but she just laughed. Her laughter didn't match the intensity of her eyes or the radiance of her smile but it was beautiful nonetheless, even if it seemed a bit sad.
We laughed a lot in the next couple of hours and talked even more. I never thought about my depressing mess of a life and she seemed to forget whatever cares she had that had brought her to this bar, alone, on such a dismal night. When the bartender wanted to close we finished our beers and I helped her on with her coat. It was a pale yellow and made her eyes glow even more. The room was spinning, or my mind was spinning, or maybe both, as I was giddy from the alcohol and intoxicated with Cupid’s poison. I spun her around and swam, once more into those glowing green eyes before kissing her.
"Come home with me," I invited, imploringly, as my heart stood silent, waiting
An eternity passed, and I was getting ready to plead, when she responded with an immediately eager and breathless yes.
A cab conveyed us to my apartment and I pulled a couple of Heinekens from my fridge when we got there. The beers were never touched once I put them down. Before I could even speak we found ourselves in my bedroom, mostly naked. I hesitated, briefly, as something in my mind attempted to cry out. This particular cry went unheeded. Our lips met again and again with a desperation that could not be ignored. There was no longer any hesitation; just passion and the proverbial fireworks. Sometime later we fell asleep with my arms wrapped around her. I slept more soundly than I had in a month.
I awoke abruptly, several hours later, to the sound of my front door slamming shut and realized that Karen was gone. The pounding of my heart and the empty feeling in my stomach told me I was right. I had fallen in love. I went into the kitchen, thinking I needed a drink, when I found her note. It simply said, "Darling, please forgive me." Then my knees hit the floor and I screamed.
I screamed, not because she was gone, but because I had killed her. I fell in love with Karen and murdered her all in the same night. She certainly wasn't dead yet, but for the last month, I'd known I have AIDS. That's why I had been drinking so much. I felt like a killer, except maybe more guilty than if I had been a crazed psycho who had simply butchered Karen. I was worse. I had condemned her to a slow death. I fell in love, had nothing left to show for it beside an apologetic note, and was essentially guilty of extinguishing her life. I figured that somehow there could be more drama in all this, but only the writers of “Grey’s Anatomy” could figure out how.
The week that followed made the previous month seem like a trip to Aruba. I didn't have the guts to be a killer, let alone face my victim, so I never tried to tell her. I had no way of finding her anyway, as she disappeared before I ever got her address or phone number. I didn't even have her last name. I could have gone back to Mulberry Street to look but I just could not face someone I loved to tell her she was dying and it was my fault. Somehow, I actually spent the week sober for fear of killing someone else; although I knew my love for Karen would keep me from doing that, even if morality did not. A week was all I could take. I returned to the Dew Drop Inn where I spent the next three weeks continuously inebriated. When the bar was closed I either slept or kept up my drinking binge at home.
One morning, or maybe afternoon, well, during the day anyway, I woke up sober. My fridge was finally empty so I stayed that way long enough to start thinking; really thinking. I accepted I had to try and find Karen. That night, torn between my love for Karen, my self-hatred, and my fear of both, I headed for Mulberry Street.
When I stepped outside it was raining. I shivered, not from the rain, but from the chill that traveled my spine as I realized it was a very similar night when I met Karen; raining, slight chill in the air and no moon. I decided to walk, figuring my sobriety should be the only difference. Eighty minutes later I found the place.
I walked down the stairs timidly and put my hand on the door. I shook off another chill, as well as some rain water, and went inside. The same bartender was there, but again, it was void of customers. He remembered me and told me that Karen had been a regular customer but hadn't shown up since leaving with me that night. I looked around at the emptiness and wondered just what a "regular customer" was for the place. Thanking the bartender, I started to leave. The juke box was playing "Special Lady" and I smiled sadly, realizing for the first time, just how appropriate the song had been when I heard it the month before.
Taking a deep breath, I started out the door and walked right into an incoming customer. As I was apologizing for my clumsiness I froze. I had forgotten just how green those eyes were. Lightning, or maybe cupid, or perhaps just stupidity, struck a second time as I fell in love with the woman I loved. Before I could wonder if that was even possible, instinct kicked in and I moved to hold her. I stopped myself before pulling her close.
"We need to talk," I said with profound sadness.
"You're right, we do," was her simple, seemingly arctic reply.
From that response I assumed she already knew, though how she could have found out so quickly eluded me. Rather than go inside we went out to talk in the rain. The silence echoed all around us for a moment before she spoke.
"Pete," she said, "have you seen a doctor lately?"
The last time I saw one had been two months earlier when I was given the test results and the damning news.
"No," I replied.
"Do you remember the note I left you," she asked.
Without a sound, I pulled the worn out note from the back pocket of my rain soaked jeans.
"Peter," she hesitated, “Peter, I have AIDS.”
We stopped walking as I leaned against a building and began to cry. I was sobbing and she began to comfort me. When I could speak again I started to apologize and stopped.
"How could you be this nice to me?" I demanded. "Why don't you hate me?"
"Hate you?" she questioned. "I've loved you since the night we met. It's you who should hate me!"
Overwhelmed with confusion and besieged by befuddlement I looked again at the note, still in my hand, and suddenly realized what was happening. Truly, it was improbable and beyond all rationality, but nothing else made sense. The shock was still settling in as I realized she was telling me she already had AIDS and believed she had infected me. I leaned over and kissed her strongly and urgently, trying to convey with my lips, relief and reassurance. Then I just held her for a few minutes, my body pressed against hers and both arms enveloping her, while I endeavored to keep the rest of reality at bay. Reluctantly, at last, I let go and then explained everything.
I ended with, "and I've loved you since our eyes first met," as I swam again in the deepness of those beautiful green eyes. Turning a living nightmare into the bliss of a most unexpected fairy tale I got down on one knee, in a puddle, and proposed to her. Her eyes never shimmered so brightly as they did that moment.
Five days later we were husband and wife. This all took place six years ago. We agreed immediately that because of our condition we should not have kids, concerned about the effects it might have on any children we conceived. This was before we knew she was already pregnant with our daughter, Karlene, from our first encounter. We buried Karen yesterday and I was at her side the last time she flashed her million dollar smile and closed her glowing green eyes. I'll miss those eyes. I'll miss her. It's okay, though, because the illness is slowly taking me and I'll be with her again, soon.
I never touched alcohol after we got married but today I had one Heineken to honor my departed wife while listening to my Ipod play "Special Lady." I smiled as I realized all is not lost in the world. Karlene, who is perfectly healthy, will be taken care of when I die. Karen's parents will take her in and continue to raise her well. They and the rest of the world will have something to remember Karen by, as do I for as long as I'm still here. Karlene has her mother's eyes.