COWARD

Anonymous

“Frank?” I asked out loud, “What the hell is he calling me for?”

The voice on the other end was one I hadn’t heard in awhile. Its owner was a backstabbing bastard of a friend that I had severed ties with months ago. He was always trying to move in on this girl I was with back then. It was a pretty slick move. He’d catch her when I was distracted for a few moments, and he’d take full advantage of it. I was the only one that thought it was obvious though. He came up right behind her and unexpectedly swept her off her feet. Or maybe she saw it coming and just decided I wasn’t quite what she had in mind.

“Adam,” he sounded nervous, like he was trembling. Good, he ought to be afraid of me, I thought. “You need to come here, she’s in bad shape,” he mumbled.

“Who’s in bad shape?”

“Kelly, and she won’t let anyone help her but you.”

“But me?”

“You.” Now he sounded pissed off.

“Sure, yeah I’ll be there.” Leave it to me. I can’t just be content with a drunken high school party, a girl to go home with at night, and a now satisfied case of the munchies. That’s all anyone is looking for at 16-anyone except me. I have to have this “saving people” complex. So I got a friend and his car and we headed over there.

They were in a house near where the party was, a friend of Kelly’s. This girl’s parents were gone for the weekend, and when we pulled up I already had this nervous feeling: Why me? Why only talk to me when the new and improved boyfriend was only feet away? I mean, she always preferred to talk to him when we were together anyways.

We rolled into the house, my friend telling me what a shitty idea this was, warning me that’d she’d be fine, “He’s just overreacting a little bit and decided to call you. You know Frank, he’s a bitch,” my friend said. I went in, he said he’d stay out and smoke a stogey.

When I walked into the living room it was completely dark and she was lying on the couch. It was intensely quiet, so her soft mumblings of, “I need Adam, I need Adam,” were the only sounds to be heard. Frank sat across the room in a chair, his head between his hands. He looked demoralized. It made me feel triumphant.

I sat down on the couch next to her, checked her pulse, felt how slow it was. She was in bad shape. It seemed so odd. “Get away from me you stupid prick, I want Adam,” she said. She had developed an obnoxious, annoying, and wholly inappropriate mouth since we ended things.

“I am Adam.”

“Oh, okay.” And out she went again.

I pulled her from the couch, got her standing, and tried to get her moving. There’d be no hospital visits tonight. I might have a “saving people” complex, but if it requires hospitals, then he’s on his own. She’s not my responsibility right? It scared me to think of the being pushed to such a limitation? Would I risk my own neck for this girl? Would I take her to the hospital, where everything would just become an underage drinking advertisement? She got to the bathroom and puked three times. I held her hair back, not because I wanted to but because I heard that’s what you do for a girl when you care.

She rolled herself from over the toilet to the floor. She lay curled up in the fetal position, her head hitting my lap. She looked straight up at me. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Me too,” I told her. These were the moments I lived for. I felt like I actually mattered, like someone in this world needed me to keep breathing. I was someone’s pulse, and when I faltered, so did they. It gave a purpose to life, a purpose to wake up everyday. Moments like those kept me coming back for more. They made me different from all the rest, better even.

I told her we needed to take another little walk and pulled her up to her feet. She shifted her weight against me. We took a few steps out of the bathroom and I tried to get her to stand with some of her own strength. Then it all happened, in one of those television moments where when the great tragedy occurs and everything freezes, goes in slow motion, then picks up again.

I see her right shoulder falling first. It pulls her body along with it and her frail arm slides out from behind my back. I realize what’s happening; it’s too late already. I watch, helplessly like the coward I am as her body falls to the floor. She’s too drunk to catch herself. You watch someone fall and you expect them to at least make some small, slight effort to break the fall. You never quite see anyone just hit the ground. She did. Her body slammed to the floor, her hands not in front of her like you’d expect, but at her sides. Her head hits last, then bounces up, and comes to a rest. For a second, it looks like she didn’t even feel it.

The slow motion comes to an abrupt halt. Everything hits at once and it’s sensory overload. I literally jump into the air. Whether my jump or my feet carried me from her body in the kitchen to the darkened living room, I had no idea. I jumped like a coward though. Moment of truth.

Who am I? goes from a lifelong journey of discovery to a question that has to be answered at a moment’s notice. “Why’d I get myself into this?” I think, “I don’t even care about this friggin girl.”

I bend down, back in the kitchen now, and check her pulse. This isn’t normal, this isn’t right. She’s not that drunk. How’d she get so fucked up? How’d he let her do this to herself? My mind searches for reasons a girl might crumble to the floor and lose all sense of control. Drugs, nah she’s too innocent behind that mouth of hers. Medicine.

“Kelly wake up, wake up, what medicine did you take this morning?”

“Adurol.”

“Smooth move letting her get away with that one,” I said to Frank who’s scared shitless-probably wondering how in the world he allowed his girlfriend to pass out drunk and lose her to the guy he swept her away from all in the same night. “Didn’t ever think to cut her off I take it?” He puts his head down. The situation must disgust him.

Meanwhile my friend was done with his stogey and came inside when he heard her fall. “Man, we gotta get the hell out of here, we’re past curfew, I’m not even drunk anymore,” he tells me. Being sober is a wonderful thing if it’s your biggest problem.

“Alright. Frank let’s get her up on the couch.” We get her up. She passes out again. By now a few of her friends have shown up. She won’t let them touch her either. She’s like a four-year-old brat with the mouth of a twenty-year old kid from Harlem. She spends her only energy telling everyone but me to, “Fuck off.”

“I’ll call you,” I tell Frank as we head for the door. “Give her water, keep her moving, don’t let her pass out.”

And off we went. I go from a hero to a coward in fifteen seconds. I call Frank a couple times out of guilt. I check up on her, make sure she’s doing better. At least I’m home before curfew.

4 AM and my phone rings. It’s all right though; I can’t sleep anyways. I can’t sleep regularly because of her though, so it’s really nothing new. I look at my phone. I thought I was drunk for a second. “Kelly.”

I stroll outside, not wanting to wake anyone up. It’s one of those fall nights where the cold air feels refreshing. The problems of the world can suffocate you, but every so often a winter night during fall seems to bring a sigh of relief. It’s enough to make a man think he can throw it all away and start over again. I sit out on the hood of my buddy’s car under a streetlight and look up.

“Adam,” I hear. She has this weakened voice, but I’m glad to know she’s still able to talk. “Thank you, for everything.”

“Where’s Frank?” I ask her.

“I locked him outside the room. I wanted to talk to you.” I laugh at this, it’s fun to know he’s probably outside thinking his relationship is over. It’s not though, and at this point I’m probably the only one who knows it.

“Adam,” she says to me, “You were there for me. I needed you, and you came. You always meant something more to me. I just always knew you’d be there. I want you to know I love you.”

“I’ll always be there. I love you too.” Silence. I look up at the sky. Call it a Freudian slip. She’s still drunk, I know. But she said it. She locked herself in a room and she called me, and she said it. In the morning she won’t remember ever even calling me. We’ll never speak of it again. The call’s enough though, enough to keep me coming back. Not just to her, but to all of them. I come back thinking this one will be different, thinking this slip isn’t just a slip. I play my part. In the morning, they never remember.

My arms are at my side, and my head hits last. It bounces back up again, and then comes to a rest. I get up, and I fall again. But I keep getting up. Coward.