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Sing With Me If It's Just For Today...
If I should fall behind, Guyster, wait for me.
I keep writing this over and over again. Maybe someday I'll get it right.
If you didn’t already know that we lived in a non-smoking house, the twenty flyers Billy had plastered everywhere would have given you a clue. It had been a week since he'd first complained that he was short of breath, and drawing on what I considered to be my encyclopedic reserve of medical knowledge, I had insisted we both stop smoking immediately. I hammered this edict home by buying a box of nicotine patches the same day.

It was the Sunday before a holiday, if you consider Martin Luther King Day to be much more than an interruption in mail delivery, and after I surprised him with breakfast in bed, two slices of egg-in-the-hole, he finally got up and ambled into the kitchen while I washed the dishes. He stood by the back door, lifted his shirt, and said, “Put my patch on.

I obliged, of course, still in shock that he’d taken to a non-smoking lifestyle with the enthusiasm of a recent religious convert. We’d been trying to quit for years, and sometimes we’d even go for a few months without a cigarette, but then we would get into a fight or a few beers would come along, and we’d be back to Kool Milds and Camel shorts–Billy liked his menthols while I chose my grandfather’s brand loyalty.

I put it on his bicep, telling him to press the patch once it was on, a trick someone had once told me that was supposed to make it work better, and he leaned against the dryer doing just that, rubbing it like a genie’s lamp before he pulled his shirt back down, the long-sleeved one I’d given to him as one of his Christmas presents.

I asked him if he wanted to go see a movie, but when I told him that it was Gosford Park, he made his stink face and said, “Too much talking.”

“Well, then what do you want to do?"

“I think I’ll go over to Hal’s.” When he said that, I knew I’d soon be eating popcorn. I hated Hal, a man given to too much cologne and too many drugs, who called other men “girlfriend,” as if he were still roaming with the boys in the band. In fact, there weren’t any of Billy’s friends that I liked to hang out with. Billy claimed I was a snob, but I just found his friends dull and cloying, people who couldn’t even name the current Vice President, not that that opinion wasn’t a source of trouble in our house. For nine years, when he spent time with his friends, he usually did it stag.

We sat at the kitchen table with a large bag of croissants between us. I’d bought the bag a few days earlier, thinking Hell, what effective smoking cessation plan doesn’t include French pastry? I told him I was going to the movies anyway, without him, but he was more than welcome to join me if he changed his mind. He shrugged, chewed his croissant, and said he was going upstairs to mix music.

I might have asked him how he felt, or maybe I didn’t. Over the past week, he'd stated that he had chest pains, and a few times actually said, “I think I’m having a heart attack.” I even caught him saying so on videotape with the camcorder he gave me for Christmas.

After I made the bed and tidied up the front house, I made plans with our friend Tommy to see the movie, then bounded upstairs to see Billy and, as I expected, found him in headphones at his DJ stack, lost in his house music, dancing with the twelve-foot coiled cord swinging in time. All eighty pounds of Bob were sprawled on the couch, struggling to watch Billy as he slowly lost the battle to stay awake.

I mouthed, “Okay, I’m going,” which prompted Billy to un-cup one ear and ask what I’d said. “I’m leaving, Guyster,” I repeated, and asked him what time he’d be home. We arranged to have dinner together around five, and I left without stopping to kiss him goodbye.

I dropped Tommy off on the way back from the movie and headed to our favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant, a tiny place next to a 7-Eleven in a strip mall. Neither of us had a regular paycheck coming in, money was tight, but it was the night of the Golden Globes, so it was a forgivable splurge for us. I waited outside for the two orders of spaghetti with meatballs and mozzarella marinara, glancing at the convenience store where I’d bought my daily pack of smokes with just the tiniest bit of desperation.

The lights were off and it was chilly in the house when I got home. Bob was waiting in the green leather chair that he’d claimed as his own, his tail wagging as I opened the front door, and he slipped off the chair to follow me and sniff the bag I was carrying. I walked through the living room, left our dinner on the kitchen table, and climbed the stairs of the back house with Bob trotting behind me.

“Where’s Billy?” I asked Bob; he just looked back at me with his head tilted slightly to the left. I turned on the TV to watch Joan Rivers forcing women to show off their once-in-a-lifetime shoes, and took a couple of hits of pot from the wooden pipe that had been in our family for years. The bong that Billy bought me for Christmas was still downstairs.

I could hear footsteps on the stairs an hour later and the door swung open, Billy huffing as if he’d just run around the block. “Scoot over!” he said, and I sat up to give him room. He snatched the pipe from me, fired it up, and I asked him how his day was.

“I dunno. A day. How was your movie?”

“You wouldn’t have liked it. Too much talking.”

He took another toke, hopped off the couch, and went to the computer. “I have to post some more stuff.” Billy had started his own eBay business, selling random items he found in the neighborhood trash during his long walks with Bob. “But first I have to take some pictures.” He always gave a running commentary of what he was doing, just in case I didn’t notice or as if he needed to remind himself that he was doing it. More than once, he sat upright in bed while sleeping and proclaimed, “I’m tired,” to which my practiced response was, “Good thing you’re sleeping, then.”

It was cold upstairs, too, and I stretched out on the couch with a blanket over my legs, half covering Bob, who had curled himself into a black fur basketball at my feet. Billy worked on taking photos of his future sales, framing each one with Madison Avenue precision.

I looked over my shoulder, watching Billy set up his next shot, the tip of his tongue peeking out from his lips in concentration, and that’s all it took to bring it all back, that perfect, earnest magic he had, and with that, I fell in love with him again, finding him standing there as if I’d lost him in the fog of the overly familiar, as if anything could really hide that light. He was working hard to get his business off the ground and I was proud of him. The past several months had been very hard on him, on us, both unemployed and depressed, bad habits resurfacing, and still, there he was, on the other side of it. In that second, I could see how much he was enjoying himself, that he believed in himself, that he had his own future in control.

Nicole Kidman won, Moulin Rouge won, and the awards were over. For me, it was time for bed. “C’mon, Guyster, let’s go downstairs.”

“Okay.” He was back at the computer uploading pictures on eBay. “I want to finish up.” He flapped his hands shooing me away. “I’ll be down in a minute.”

“Come on, Bob.” Our dog trailed behind me as I shut the upstairs door.


29 comments or Leave a comment
welfy From: welfy Date: January 21st, 2008 02:49 am (UTC) (Link)
I love these stories. I can imagine it all so clearly in my head.
1271111271 From: 1271111271 Date: January 21st, 2008 03:00 am (UTC) (Link)
I've missed your presence here. It's good to see you back.
From: danman1969 Date: January 21st, 2008 03:02 am (UTC) (Link)
I've missed your stories about Billy--the good and the sad ones. And I've missed you, Terry. Glad to have you back even if just for today.
wordweaverlynn From: wordweaverlynn Date: January 21st, 2008 03:08 am (UTC) (Link)
You write so well.
ruralrob From: ruralrob Date: January 21st, 2008 03:35 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for this, td. Your writings about Billy are just electric.
calamityjake From: calamityjake Date: January 21st, 2008 03:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Good to see ya. These stories are always a little bit more [something] with the larger context in mind. He sounds like a great guy, and I'm sure he'd be happy that you're still thinking about him so much.

Hope things are good--I've been wondering when you'd turn up again.
journeyto From: journeyto Date: January 21st, 2008 03:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Does it get better, Terry? Or does it still hurt as much, as consistently?

guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: January 21st, 2008 05:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wish I could say it did get better. At work or when I'm with friends, I can lose myself for moments, but I'm really just a whisper away from collapse.

The hardest part is thinking about all of the things Billy has missed: me having a steady job, the new house, the new dogs, all of his dreams he used to tell me about. He never even had a fucking iPod!

That's the shit that kills me.
journeyto From: journeyto Date: January 22nd, 2008 12:14 am (UTC) (Link)
That seems about right with you. The missing him. But also missing the lost life you would have built together, all of the individual joys and the team wins, so to speak. Just participating in the daily moving forward with him, and all that brings. Time seems to take longer when it's moving without the person you love. That's what I think of each time you write about him.

Just even seeing you here makes the internet a better place. Just so you know.
shay_writes From: shay_writes Date: January 21st, 2008 03:59 am (UTC) (Link)
*hugs you tightly*
brianrdu From: brianrdu Date: January 21st, 2008 04:56 am (UTC) (Link)
Yep, just as vivid as ever. I imagine every nuance and every angle, through your words. I have worried about you over the years, because I'd like to think that I would have moved on. That's easy to say, isn't it? I'd be in the same place as you, pretty positive of that.

That being said, I'm glad you are still here, still connected to me, even if you don't feel that yourself.
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: January 21st, 2008 05:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, B.
littlezen From: littlezen Date: January 21st, 2008 06:57 am (UTC) (Link)
I have been wondering about you and hoping you were well. You write beautifully as always.
stutts From: stutts Date: January 21st, 2008 07:04 am (UTC) (Link)
I've never understood the point of smoking menthol. It's like some kind of horrible mint that's ground into your tongue via sandpaper.

More than once, he sat upright in bed while sleeping and proclaimed, “I’m tired,”

That is pretty much the cutest thing ever.
spleenless From: spleenless Date: January 21st, 2008 01:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heya - good to see you back at the keyboard.
privatesector From: privatesector Date: January 21st, 2008 03:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's time to write the script.

Could any actors do it justice?
lapalomita From: lapalomita Date: January 21st, 2008 03:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've missed you & your writing so, so much!

Ahh, this just makes my morning. *bearhug*
raptorboy From: raptorboy Date: January 21st, 2008 04:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ditto to the comments above. Your writing style always captivates me.

Oh, and was the Italian food from Alejo's?
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: January 21st, 2008 05:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yep, Alejo's was at least once a week for us. That was the last time I ate their food.

And thank you.
From: inkprincess Date: January 21st, 2008 04:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've missed you!!

twillhead From: twillhead Date: January 21st, 2008 07:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
You have been on my mind a lot lately... wondering how things are going for you? Bear hugs to you and Billy.
From: kelly_green Date: January 22nd, 2008 02:53 am (UTC) (Link)
You should write a book... it would be a bestseller.
petulant From: petulant Date: January 27th, 2008 06:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've kept this window tabbed open because I want to say something, but I'm so afraid you'll think I'm making light of your pain. I suppose, I mean.
Well, on the 19th it was the anniversary of Brody's death. And for some reason or another I was in my userinfo and your name caught my eye. I realized that you hadn't updated in a while and was worried but I was too wrapped up in myself to say anything. But then later I was thinking about Brod and realizing how much more pain you must be experiencing and I truly felt for you.

This is coming out almost condescending so I'm going to stop there, but I guess the point is that I was thinking of you, I am thinking of you, and I hope there are moments you can look back at your time together and laugh.
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: January 27th, 2008 06:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Beautifully stated with my heartfelt gratitude. And there are plenty of times that I laugh because he was a really funny guy, we were funny together, and then that just makes me miss him all the more.

Sometimes my shoulders are back and I barrel through, sometimes they just slump. This is a slumped time of year, as it must be for you when you think of Brody.
petulant From: petulant Date: January 27th, 2008 07:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I feel bad continuing to compare Brody to your mister-man, but it's the most recent loss I've had, and I know you understand about dogs. Anyway, I know what you're saying about missing him all the more when you laugh - I've realized that physically, with the belly-shaking and shoulders-shaking and hands-covering-face-ing, that laughing and crying are very similar and so sometimes laughing turns into crying, and easily. It goes the opposite way, too, but maybe not as often.

It is for me as well, but it's far easier for me than you. I'm able to say that I'll honor Brody's memory by giving Darce the best life I can, and I do. I even set my alarm for fifteen minutes earlier than I have to get up just so I can play around with him and rub his belly before we actually get up. But there isn't such an easy solution when it comes to people who are missing.
hotlavamonster From: hotlavamonster Date: February 2nd, 2008 10:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: February 6th, 2008 05:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Aw, baby. I miss you.
hotlavamonster From: hotlavamonster Date: February 6th, 2008 05:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was checking here occasionally and then I did the other day and you'd come back! I'm not really here writing, mostly reading, but I was so glad to see you.
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: February 7th, 2008 05:44 am (UTC) (Link)
I miss you, too, S. You're one of my favorite parts about this place.
29 comments or Leave a comment