by Chris Burns
In the spring, I wasn't feeling well. I imagined a doctor saying, "Well, you need to start taking better care of yourself. Get some exercise, be more careful with your diet, and let's slow down on the drinking. Here's something to help you sleep." I never made it to the doctor's office. My girlfriend listed my symptoms over the phone and after a short pause the doctor said, "You need to call 911 or an ambulance. Now." My girlfriend drove me to the hospital.
In the ER waiting room, fatigue, shortness of breath, sleeplessness and an erratic heartbeat move you to the front of the line. I didn't have time to write my name.
New Year's Eve Guide
The ER guys were young and loose and friendly. One of them was my next-door neighbor. They hooked me up to the relevant scanners, looked at the corresponding monitors and someone said, "You're a weed-whacker." My heart rate was almost 200 beats per minute. Still, the scene felt calm, and comments like "We just need to slow your rhythm down" and "You'll be done in a few hours" held the day. But then I was being admitted. Upstairs. Intensive care. Wait. What? This isn't going to be a day trip? They put the tubes in my arms, stuck the wires in my chest and plugged me into the wall. New words in the room: "arrhythmia," "cardiomyopathy," "congenital heart failure."
I was 35 years old.
The hospital staff made vague comments about a possible pre-existing condition or disease, but everyone in the room knew better. I was a drunk. I had been drinking way too hard, way too long. I had spent the last decade or so drinking, breathlessly anticipating my next drink or grimly recovering from my last one. But I'd done it all with such a pleasant demeanor, never missed a day or even arrived late for a shift at the undemanding job I loved and which loved me in return. I was compulsively careful about my driving habits, so while much more temperate friends than I were savaged by DUIs, I remained legally unscathed. My girlfriend was a smart and together girl, but her love for me and for us wouldn't allow her to fully admit just how scary I was.
So I probably could have gone on living in my perpetual binge forever, always a little exhausted, always a little too quick to grin, and with just one tipsy foot on the threshold of the actual world. But then my sick heart rolled me right under the bus.
In the first hours, torso-deep in denial, I told my girlfriend, "Look, we don't know how this is going to play out. Let's keep this away from my family." She smiled with understanding and said, "Of course, baby," then left the room and called my family. Good girl. Family ensued. But they were loving and fine. Nobody judged, and my mother was actually openly happy that my body had turned me in. The seriousness of my condition left me no wiggle room.
The five days in the hospital were frustrating and embarrassing. The night nurse was a mean woman who made it very clear that she felt I was too young to be in the state I was in (no shit). Vengefully, late at night I ripped all the cords out of my body, and this helped nothing. Once during my stay a priest stopped by to talk, an innocent and benign gesture. I asked him, "Is there something I can help you with?" He withdrew.
After a few days the drugs had done their work. I was sent away with prescriptions and appointments. Shortly after returning to our house, I told my girlfriend I wanted to have one last martini with my best friend. She smiled and said, "Nope." Good girl.
Drunks who have heart problems have certain obligations, most pressing being that they're not allowed to be drunks anymore. So empty hours became something of a hazard and time management a life-or-death thing. I started reading. I read 27 books in the last seven months of 2007. One of them was by Dostoevsky. I swear.
Also, my body started calling some shots. I started walking, then running. I'm up to five miles a day. Really. I've lost forty pounds. And my last echo indicated that the arrhythmia is gone and my heart rate is normal. Everyone is proud as hell. Everyone says I look great.
But in the waning days of the year, I find myself conflicted over all the praise heaped upon my new self. I'm not convinced my old self was all that bad of a guy. He never hurt anyone (besides himself), he wasn't nervous all the time, and he did a great job of finding the right girl.
I came home a few months back to discover my girlfriend had been crying. She had stumbled across a picture of the two of us just months before the hospital. The image choked her with guilty sobs. She couldn't believe she had let me get so sick. I looked at the picture. I could not deny the chubby red cheeks or vague, lost glint in the eyes of my drinking self. But I looked happy, and so did she.
So at the end of the year, I'll make an empty toast to the me of the previous decade. I guess it's for the best he's gone. I just wish the skinny face in the mirror looked a little more familiar. I just hope all these sober thoughts don't always taste so strange.
Play It As It Lays
by Jonathan Ritzman
It's simple, really: I didn't get laid.
I'm in the Hampton Inn when I learn that Darrent Williams has been shot and killed. It's just a few blocks from where I parted ways with my friends, all of whom had girls in tow. I'm drinking flat champagne and thinking about how terrifying an ordeal it all is. I think of his parents and what a tough phone call that must be. But mostly, I'm wondering why a 23-year-old, good-natured soul like myself isn't getting laid on New Year's. I pour some champagne on the carpet.
The next day I learn that President Ford has died. The flags are at half-mast. This will represent my manhood in the year to come: 2007 will be unforgiving for many souls, but in my eyes, it will do most harm to my sexual existence. I will not get laid this year.
It's early February, and Anna Nicole Smith is dead. This does not affect my life, but does reflect it. An eerie metaphor of stagnancy. A woman whom I'd welcomed into my most private dreams dies an early death. What are you trying to say to me, '07? Surely this must be an isolated incident. What's next? Will they imprison a sex symbol? They will.
On June 3, Paris Hilton will be sent to jail. My libido is far from half-mast.
It's the morning of April 16, and Wolf Blitzer looks like he just fucked my mom. I'm not sure he hasn't. I'm in bed watching CNN, alone. In the room next to me I can hear my roommate. He and his flavor of the month are giggling about something. I wonder what they are giggling about. They are probably fighting over covers. That sounds fun. Wolf Blitzer isn't giggling. He tells me a kid in Blacksburg, Virginia, has killed a bunch of his classmates. He is narrating eyewitness footage over and over. He talks about the kid who did it. It is clear to me the culprit wasn't getting laid, either.
My bed is too big for me. I go back to sleep.
A few months pass, and I'm at the multiplex on Colorado Boulevard. My friend Spencer doesn't have enough money for the new Die Hard movie. I buy him his ticket and we get some good seats. John McClane's skills are ridiculous. If I had even a fraction of his abilities, I would not be buying my dude-friend a ticket, but a beautiful girl instead. A girl who appreciates the intricacies of action movies like I do.
There is no such girl. There is a couple in front of us unaffected by the dangers John McClane encounters. They are feeding each other Jujubes. I want to be fed Jujubes. I hate Jujubes.
I turn 24 on August 18. I am given $200. This is not nearly enough money for what I am looking for.
Even September 11 comes with no action.
Now it's December, and 2007 is coming to a close. For me, it's been a year to forget. Now I'm ready to kiss 2007 goodbye. I suppose the year could have been worse, but really, I just want to kiss something, anything.
So a kiss goodbye to you, '07: You really fucked me, when no one else would.
When Worse Comes to Worst
Why am I excited for 2007 to be over? Well, I was a firm believer in thinking that maybe this year would be better than the last, but alas, such was not the case. It began with ringing in the year 2007 alone in the middle of Iowa sitting on a picnic bench staring at an owl while my boyfriend partied with his friends at someone's apartment. It was really cold, too. I was crying on the phone to my friends back in Boulder, and my phone froze to my face. I was really excited, as it was my first New Year's where I actually had a boyfriend and what I thought would be a guaranteed New Year's kiss, because I'm one of those sappy, hopeless romantics. That didn't happen. He ended up coming back wasted.
Things only got worse when I finally returned to Boulder. I got wasted with my friends since we couldn't do New Year's together, and let's just say the next three months of my last year in college were spent in a drunken stupor that included an embarrassingly drunken night at the Fox Theatre during a concert I never got to experience thanks to Long Islands and tequila shots. Two of my roommates had to come and pick up my drunk ass, and one attempted to carry me inside. Instead, he dropped me on the front steps and stood over me trying not to laugh. At least he got me a bucket, and I spent most of my night throwing up Jimmy John's and copious amounts of liquor. I graduated, however, which was an accomplishment in itself, and went to Hawaii with my boyfriend to celebrate. He proposed to me in the hotel room while I was sitting naked on the bed, and I was dumb enough to accept, although my first thought was, "Wow, this has got to be the ugliest ring box ever."
I moved out to Iowa to be with him, which I think just caps off the horrendous experience, because seriously, who moves to Iowa? Because I was so lonely and couldn't make any friends since everyone I met was married with children, my fiancé bought me a puppy that ended up having a severe heart murmur and will only live to the age of seven if he's lucky. His breeder refused to give us a refund or replacement puppy, so now I'm stuck with a dog that gets winded after climbing three flights of stairs. We broke up three months after I gave up everything to be with him and spent thousands of dollars moving out there. My boyfriend and I lived together for three more months before I moved back to Colorado. Before leaving, I ended up getting pregnant by him and had to get an abortion, which was traumatic. When I got back to Denver, he wanted to try the relationship again, which I conceded to, and then he broke up with me again for no reason four months ago. During that time he gave me HPV, and I had to have more than half of my cervix removed.
I find out that the asshole is dating some huge cow of a girl, because apparently 110 pounds isn't as good as 140 pounds. And now I'm alone, slightly bitter, and my hopes of finding a man are greatly diminished, because every single guy I meet seems to be gay. But you know what? Maybe 2008 will be a good year. I don't think it can get any worse than 2007.
Bon Voyage, 2007
by Rebecca Jean Kraft
It seems, at the end of every year, we're all ready to kiss the last twelve months goodbye, ready to welcome in a fresh batch of political scandals, drunken celebrities and badly misbehaving schoolteachers. But if you don't yet have a reason to kiss 2007 goodbye, perhaps I can provide you with one or two:
The Walt Disney Co. eliminated smoking from all the films released under its label, leaving nothing for Mickey and Minnie to do after sex.
Jennifer Lopez announced that she's pregnant with twins. Which means that, in another month or so, we'll be able to see her ass from space.
Texas executed its 400th inmate since the state resumed capital punishment in 1982. You know the Texas motto: Every time an inmate is executed, an angel gets its wings.
Seven in ten Americans believe the United States and its allies are losing the global war on terror. At least we're winning the war on fruits and vegetables.
A man in southern India married a female dog in a traditional Hindu ceremony as an attempt to atone for stoning two other dogs to death. He'll know the honeymoon period is over when she takes a dump on his side of the bed.
President Bush welcomed Queen Elizabeth II to the White House with an uncharacteristic display of high pomp. For instance, all of the Ding Dongs were tiered.
There was no sign of Janet Jackson's boob at Super Bowl XLI, making for an early spring.
New episodes of Sesame Street went on TV in Israel and the Palestinian territories, where kids couldn't wait for the episode where Bert blows himself up on a public bus.
Studies showed that fewer babies have been named "Katrina" after the devastating hurricane in 2005. Also declining in popularity: "Tsunami of 2004."
Playboy, responsible for shooting Anna Nicole Smith to fame, paid tribute to the late Playmate in its May 2007 issue. It was so nice to remember Anna Nicole as just plain naked instead of as the center of a scandal.
Earth Day was out of control this year. Alec Baldwin celebrated by yelling at his daughter from a hybrid car.
Seven new wonders of the world were named. President Bush was terribly upset that, once again, helicopter hats didn't make the list.
A planned Holy Week exhibition of a nude, anatomically correct chocolate sculpture of Jesus Christ was canceled after outraged Catholics complained. So it's on to the artist's next project: a giant Jesus Peep.
Paris Hilton's Hollywood Hills home went on the market for a cool $4.25 million, a price that included the Spanish-style drunk tank.
The White House disclosed that President Bush was treated for Lyme disease over the summer, causing the president to wonder how such a tiny fruit could be so dangerous.
Toymaker Mattel voluntarily recalled nine million of its toys because of hazards to children and admitted that the vat of cholesterol that comes with Heart Attack Barbie probably wasn't a good idea.
Vice President Dick Cheney's office acknowledged for the first time that it has dozens of documents related to the administration's warrantless surveillance program. Unfortunately, the documents became worthless after Cheney had a heart attack all over them.
Animal expert Jack Hanna and an eleven-month-old flamingo became trapped while trying to squeeze through an airport security turnstile. Which is funny, but not as funny as the time Hanna got caught in a security turnstile with a priest and a rabbi.
Britney Spears's new single "Gimme More" turned into a hit on Top 40 radio. Yeah, it's a great track...if you can get over the sound of Britney's thighs rubbing together.
O.J. Simpson's book If I Did It flew off the shelves. Readers couldn't resist that hilarious pop-up of O.J. pointing a gun at them.
The government showed off the new $5 bill. Instead of Abraham Lincoln, there's a picture of Senator Craig playing footsie in a public restroom.
Hardee's rolled out its new Country Breakfast Burrito, which contains 920 calories and 60 grams of fat. The thing's filled with tater tots, cheese and little bits of overweight children.
Rocker Kid Rock was arrested in Atlanta after getting into a brawl at a Waffle House. Rock later said that his happy-face pancakes were giving him a dirty look.
Michael Vick put his $4.5 million Georgia home on the market. It has six bedrooms, five baths and two pet cemeteries.
A 5.6-magnitude earthquake shook the San Francisco Bay area. Turns out it was only Barry Bonds's steroids falling off the shelf.
To honor the Red Sox's four-game World Series sweep of the Colorado Rockies, staff at the Franklin Park Zoo named a baby giraffe "Sox." There was a giraffe born during the World Series in Colorado, too, but he was named "Not a Chance in Hell."
Lance Armstrong began dating Ashley Olsen. Which means that soon everyone will be wearing rubber bracelets supporting his decision to break up with her.
Bill Nye (the Science Guy) asked a Los Angeles County judge for protection from his wife after she pulled a late-night raid on his flower and produce gardens. Never again will he fill his wife with baking soda and vinegar.
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt bought a Toyota Prius. A hybrid that runs on the blood of adopted children.
And a Maryland couple was charged after leaving a young child in a car while they shopped for "Leave Me Stranded in the Car Elmo."
So bon voyage, 2007. May you serve your full hour of jail time in your Hollywood mansion, may you get caught playing footsie in an airport bathroom stall, may you run over a slew of photographers in a fit of celebrity meltdown, may you be exposed in front of your mega-church for soliciting gay sex on the way.
New Year's Cleanup
by Anne Strobridge
My twenty-year-old son wants me to buy him a mop. What better way to end the 348 days he spent hating my guts?
This year started with the usual late adolescent irritation. Going back to college after New Year's, he complained, "You're taking me to the airport two hours early? I'll just have to hang around for nothing." He'd ratcheted up the stages of his withdrawal to disdain ("Yoga? You're doing yoga?"), then outrage (#%@!!*), to contempt. "The Whites and Vigils are coming to dinner and want to see you," I'd said. He'd responded, "Well, that's their thing." And then he didn't show up.
I must have been a terrible mother. While I knew these declarations of independence were normal, I still felt guilty about what a nasty creature I'd produced. He was mean. He was careless. He had a limitless tolerance for filth. Had I pushed too hard in maintaining a 2 a.m. curfew? I know I let him watch too much TV, and I regret to this day having brought video games into the house. Other people's children were out building schools for amputee orphans. What parenting book had they read that I hadn't?
He spent the summer working on a ranch outside Taos. He screened my weekly calls. After I hadn't heard from him in three weeks, he borrowed a friend's cell phone and said, "I dropped mine in the water." Then a month went by. "I went to visit my Dad," he said.
When fall semester started, he called a couple of times, then stopped altogether. And as another month went by, and then six weeks, I felt not only guilty about my bad parenting, but astronomically worried. So, yes, I'd been a really bad mother, so my son hates me, but he might also be dead!
My worst-case-scenario mode went into overdrive. What if he were in jail? What if he'd been beaten up, or sliced to ribbons in some knife fight and couldn't call? Or what if he was hospitalized? He longboards, rides his bike without a helmet, and he and his friends go caving outside of Tucson. What if he was in the morgue with no ID so that nobody knew who to call?
I sent an e-mail saying "expect a visit" and flew down to Tucson. I called his roommate when I got there. My son came on and said, "Hi, Mom. I have class until noon. Why don't we meet at the Starbucks on University? 12:30?"
Arriving early, of course, and trying not to check my watch, I scanned the crowds. And I saw him. He was walking with an easy stride, tanned and smiling, talking with his friends, and when he caught sight of me, he gave me the head bob of recognition, the one I knew from six seasons of waiting outside a lot of hockey locker rooms. I didn't know yet if I should trust the little flicker of hope that started burning in my mother's heart.
He talked all through lunch about his classes. He and his friends launched into discussions of the deep, meaning-of-life questions, typical college-boy questions, but then he turned the conversation back to include me. "What would you like to do while you're here?" he asked, and suggested some bike trails, some hikes. He asked if I could take him to the cell-phone place so that he could get his account transferred from the broken cell phone to an old one that worked. Then I offered to take him to Costco.
"That'd be great."
"What's on your list?"
"Eggos, salami, bread, the usual."
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"No, but I'd like to get a mop."
My boy was back. Not back as he was before he hated me. Not the little guy who'd run up and throw his arms around me, not the fifth-grader who would recite Simpsons episodes verbatim in the back seat of the car on the way back from hockey games.
But he'd hit rock bottom in squalor, in meanness and in irresponsibility, and somehow, he'd climbed back. Maybe I had done some things right as a mother. Here was a new young man. One whom I'm going to enjoy getting to know in 2008.