For the past couple of months, I’ve been talking to a friend of Natalie’s. Apparently we went to school together at one point but me and memories of school are eh… not generally on speaking terms. Suffice it to say, for all intents and purposes, I met him at Natalie’s funeral. Really a nice guy. A great guy. And, he (like everyone else) loves? Loved? Loves. Loves Natalie. This is a huge thing we have in common. There are probably more but we haven’t finished talking about Nat yet so I can’t tell you what they are.
Anyway, he can be a talker. (Ryan, I say that with love) Like, talks on the phone. Anyone who knows me personally, knows I can’t stand to talk on the phone. I’m not entirely sure why but I’d rather do math than talk on the phone. I’d rather watch a golf tournament than talk on the phone. I have a phone call? Sorry, paint is about to dry! You get the picture.
So, I figure it would be easier to just get together and talk face to face. I hadn’t been feeling the greatest so Friday’s coffee date got rescheduled to Saturday and Saturday turned into a threesome instead of a twosome (as I was still a little iffy feeling and didn’t want to drive so Don became my chauffer).
We pulled into his driveway and I hop out of the car to ring the bell and let him know we’re here. He greets me and tells me he wants to show me some things. I follow him inside and see his mom at the bottom of the stairs. She stands, walks to the bottom of the stairs and stops. I think maybe she has arthritis like I do and stairs are not always an option. So I start to introduce myself and make my way down the stairs. I made really good time as by the second step, I slipped and fell down the stairs. Not exactly “fell”, more like rode down the steps, on my butt. Think Christmas sledding. Like that’d been my plan, minus the saucer/toboggan.
“Mel! Are you ok?” I heard it in stereo, as both Ryan and his mom were simultaneously asking.
And, like Christmas time, my face was a red as Rudolph’s nose or Santa’s ass.
Laughing I replied “I’m fine. Other than being completely embarrassed, I’m fine.”
We talk for a few minutes and she tells me how sorry she is for the loss of my sister.
It felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. I was used to hearing “I’m sorry about Natalie”. Natalie, was, someone else. Someone not necessarily my sister. Not so fucking close to me. At least that’s what I could pretend. The tears pricked my eyes and my throat started to close up.
Mercifully, Ryan changes the subject and we go upstairs to look at a couple of pictures.
Once that’s done, we pile into the car.
“Oh shit. I forgot something” Ryan says.
“I don’t want to make you guys stop. I just forgot to go to the liquor store.”
“It’s no problem, it’s close by?” Don asked
“Yeah, are you sure you don’t mind? I feel bad, I know you don’t drink…”
“Positive. Don’t give it a second thought.”
We pull into the parking lot and Ryan jumps out.
I, still stinging (literally from the rug burn) from before, get out to smoke. I grab Natalie’s zippo and flick the wheel. Nothing. Damn it. I just fucking filled this thing.
“I wonder if they sell lighter fluid inside?” I asked Don.
He was busy trying to get the lighter to catch a flame and I disappeared into the shop.
“Mel. What are you doing?” I heard Ryan’s voice.
“I need a light. I don’t know if they sell lighter fluid in here but they’ve got to at least sell lighters…”
“Oh, God. I thought you were coming in to buy… I just would’ve felt so bad if…”
I don’t remember if I laughed or not but it was sweet how concerned he was about my sobriety. Honestly, I had zero desire to drink. I needed another lighter like I need a hole in the head but that demon I’m willing to wrestle with…
Outside, I finally get to smoke. I hadn’t smoked in a year and a half, until Natalie died. Then, even with that, I didn’t smoke that much. I almost had to force myself in the beginning. I’d lite a cigarette and burst into tears. Maybe get two or three drags off the smoke before it was all ash. I kept at it though. Determination, right? Gotta have a focus… One day I might smoke as much as once a day… but for now, it’s nice to not have the pressure of being a non-smoker.
After a little small talk, once each of us had finished our cigs, we get back into the car. As we’re pulling out of the parking lot, something catches Don’s eye.
“Did you leave anything on the hood of the car?” He asks.
“What? No. Why would I do that?” I pat my pockets, make sure I have my phone and my smokes… and the new lighter I just purchased. I unintentionally take on an accusatory tone
“You have Natalie’s lighter, right?”
He feels in his pocket, satisfied.
“Yep. Right here.”
I shake my head and chalk it up to Don’s overactive imagination when it comes to my car and things breaking, making a funny sound or flying off the hood.
“Turn left here” Ryan directs us to a coffee house.
We pull into a Dunn Brothers with loud music, bright lights and louder laughter.
“Wow. Someone’s having a party!” I say.
There’s a brief discussion on if we should stay or not. We decide to stay and I reach into my purse to grab my wallet.
There is a sinking feeling in my stomach as I grab a pen case, my insulin kit, a spare pair of glasses… no wallet.
Did I leave it on the hood of the fucking car?
You bet I did.
Fantastic. I turn on the flashlight on my phone to search the floors and under the seats, knowing damn well it wasn’t under there.
We retrace our steps and pull into a nearly empty parking lot. This looks nowhere near like where we were (to me) when Don commented on something catching his eye before disappearing.
Son of a bitch. I JUST got my bank card in the mail yesterday! Pretty much the only money I have right now? Is in that wallet. I’m thinking of the photos and the insurance cards… all the personal info and trying not to vomit.
“Don’t worry Mel. It’s on the highway somewhere. It maybe a little beat up, but it’s not gone. It’s too dark out for anyone to be able to tell what it is.” Ryan tried to reassure me.
“Hey, guess who would think this was fun and funny?” He asked.
“Yeah, I’m sure she’s doing a hell of a lot more laughing than I am” I thought.
Just stay here, we’ll go look for it.
Don and Ryan disappeared into the tall grass and the darkness.
May as well smoke. I lit up, took two drags and thought I was going to be sick. I snuffed it out with my shoe and looked to the sky. I imagined my wallet on the road. A tire mark tattooing one side of it. A tire track, right through the center of the picture of Natalie. There was also a place for a pen and I imagined that being flattened as well, spewing ink all over everything…
What. Am. I. Going. To. Do?
A couple of minutes later, I heard familiar voices.
“We found it!” one of them said, holding it up high for me to see.
I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t have a mark on it. Everything was in its place, save for my pen (which Ryan offered to go back and look for).
“Who’s ready for coffee?” Ryan said with a grin.