I've been praying to this painting of the Virgin Mary, the one on the back wall of this dive bar, Cal's, the one on Devon with icicle lights on the ceilings, while drinking well whiskey and cheap beer for the past two months. Or at least I've been trying to pray. My success or failure depends on the difference between church sanctioned prayer to a known religious icon and silently wishing my ex-girlfriend of the same name would come back and love me again.
Last night, I might have gotten a little too drunk and woke up with a hangover. So today, in an attempt to work out the residual alcohol from my blood stream, I went on a bike ride. I rode from my apartment in Rogers Park, working my way through the July sun, always too high and too hot, past mom and pop shops, potholes in the streets, Mexican fruit stands on the corners, and the Jesuit university looming over everything, down to the Loop, all tall buildings, shirtsleeves, and ex-girlfriend's-new-boyfriend idling next to me at a stoplight. His car's vanity plates were what did it. From three cars back, coasting over the crest of the bridge on Dearborn, I could read it. CHRISNUM1. Or maybe I couldn't read it. Maybe I just knew, with every foot I glided closer, that it had to be him. I felt a surge of something in my gut-- bile maybe? I stopped short of the front door, staring at the back of his head through the rear passenger window. My day off of work, and I'm strangling my handlebars, white knuckled, as he sits behind the wheel of his shiny new Mazda, probably driving off somewhere to do something that has something to do with moving from Chicago to Washington, DC with my girlfriend. Ex-girlfriend. Whatever.
Two months ago, around five in the evening, Mary turned to me as we were walking down Devon and called me boring. She said it without tone or inflection, as if it were my name. She said that all we did was go to Cal's and drink until we were ready to fall asleep. I didn't see what the problem was. She didn't mention that she had already replaced me or felt like she needed to. Just that I was boring. She swings her hips when she walks, like she's showing off. I said nothing, because that's the only thing I really know how to say. It wasn't the first time I'd been called boring, and chances are that it won't be the last.
Twenty-four minutes later, we were sitting belly-up to the bar, elbow to elbow with some of the best aging alcoholics in the city and listening to David Bowie, when she turned to me and said that I was boring again. Then she said "I can't deal with it anymore! I need something- someone more interesting. I'm done," in that breathless tone that she uses when she doesn't want a response. Then she walked out of the bar, leaving behind half a bottle of Schlitz and all of a shot of Bellows. I was also there, left behind and fighting tears, but it didn't feel like she was leaving me there. More like she was throwing me there. Discarding me there.
July is hot, and as I sit waiting for the light to turn so I can start to pedal, I notice the beads of sweat running down the front of my shins and start to curse the blacktop for reflecting so much heat. It takes my mind off of Chris sitting next to me, brown, coiffed hair bobbing back and forth, drumming his perfectly tanned fingers on the steering wheel, the bass from his speakers vibrating just so, just loud enough to notice without really hearing. Chris is listening to some god-awful electric dance music, modulated bass, distorted, shrill, high tones, glitchy vocals looped to incoherence. He's always liked that kind of stuff-- fast music that sounds terrible. Ever since we were kids.
Chris is, in the very real and not-at-all kidding way, my cousin. His mom and my mom are sisters. We have photos of us in the bath together. Blood relatives.
So it's not that weird for me to start fantasizing about grabbing the U-lock off of my handlebars and smashing his windows. It's not weird for me to imagine climbing through the broken window and wrapping my hands, bleeding and covered in glass shards, around his neck. But I could never do it. I want to wish him ill, but I can't. He's still my cousin. We're still blood. Maybe, though, I can jump the light. I can wait for him to hit the accelerator, always too hard, and then pull left and slide out and let him run me over. This isn't a terrible plan. This is feasible. This would make him stop, already feeling awful, already with knots in his stomach, step a shaky foot out of his nice car and see me lying there, bleeding. I bet he'd fall to his knees. I bet he wails.
He called me the day after Mary and I broke up. "I've got bad news, man…" he choked up, sniffed a few times to hold it together, continuing with "I fucked up man. I really fucked up." If I would have looked in a mirror, I could have imagined him speaking to me. Same jawline. Same eyebrows and nose. His eyes are green, mine are brown. He makes a lot of money and I'm full of shit. Our eyes fit us. He told me how they had been "hooking up for a few weeks."
The light was still red.
That morning, there was a knock on my door. Through the peephole, stretched and distorted was Mary. We had dated for two years. I had told her once I thought we should move-in together, but she just smiled straight, perfect teeth and shook her head "no." Her orange hair caught the light, even when it was dark. She said that she wasn't ready for that kind of a commitment. Chris and Mary had been dating for two months. They are moving-in together. Across the country.
"This should be the last of it," she said into the box in her arms. She had stopped saying words to me.
"Cool, thanks. So… excited for the move?" my breath this morning smelled like rotten milk. I skipped brushing my teeth last night as well as this morning in favor of another shot of whiskey and hiding from the daylight under my covers, respectively.
"We don't have to do this whole thing. This whole… talking thing." Mary was wearing dark lipstick, like wine dripping from her mouth. Part of me wanted to taste it. Part of me wanted to vomit.
"Oh. Ok." I took the box. Inside were things I hadn't missed. A belt buckle/bottle opener. A red, fuzzy teddy bear I won in a claw game. A warm bottle of beer- "Mary's Beer" from some microbrewery in Ohio. A scarf. I looked up from the box and she was already halfway down the stairs. Two flights, three flights, out the front door, a trail of her perfume hanging behind her. It smelled like petrichor and lilacs. I thought lilacs were supposed to be calming. My heart just beat faster.
I went inside, threw the box onto the coffee table, and thought about Chris. This was his fault. They met last Thanksgiving and became instant friends. They hung out without me. I never had a good feeling about it. Mary would always talk about what he was doing. His job at an advertising firm downtown. His loft apartment in the Loop. I was content skating by without a college degree, twenty five and happy to have been promoted to "Associate Team Member," a ten cent raise, while selling overpriced soaps to tourists at a department store on State Street.
Mary let me know that Chris' firm made ads for the shop I worked at. That was a month before we broke up. That's when I started to hate Chris.
The cross traffic on Wacker is slowing down or speeding up, the light turning yellow, which meant that if I want Chris to know exactly how I feel, I have about five seconds to decide. I look at my cut off jean shorts, my sleeveless, cigarette burned t-shirt. I think about my back, dark with sweat. I think about Chris' air conditioning, the trunk of his car probably filled with moving boxes. I level my pedals for a quick takeoff. I start thinking about my lack of insurance and the Mazda's acceleration, about how Chris bragged about torque and horsepower when he first got it a year ago. About him and I going a hundred and ten miles-an-hour on route twelve through Wisconsin, laughing about something, singing along to the classic rock station on the radio. About Mary and him doing the same, heading east towards their new home. I lean forward on the seat, and start pushing down with my right foot. Everything moves slower and slower, the adrenaline coursing through every vein. The light blinks, the yellow turns off, the red lights up.
I start pushing, hard. I start pushing down and pushing down, my bike jumping out into the intersection. Chris probably doesn't see me. I'm in position. I hear the Mazda's engine scream, feel my tires grip into the street. Sunlight, flashing off of a high-rise window, hits my eye and all I can see is Mary walking down the stairs. I try to blink it away and she's curled up next to me on the couch, her head in my lap as I trace her ear with my ring finger. I start to smile, my chain grinding on the hub. The air freezes everything around me, the heat still rising from the street. Another flash of sunlight and I'm nine years old, Chris and I making fun of Lily Schwick while we ride our bikes past her, before laughing and calling girls "stupid" even though we both desperately want to hold their hands. There's only a second left to fall in front of Chris' car.
But I let up and watch the silver Mazda go past, faster than it should. I didn't really want to die. I just felt like it. I'll probably feel like it for the majority of my miserable existence. I still don't think he saw me. Maybe he did. Maybe he sped off to avoid a run in. Maybe he was trying to throw me off balance-- I don't know. What I do know is that while Chris and Mary are off, driving across the country, laughing and smiling together until Mary starts to think that he's gotten boring, I'll be selling soap and drinking until my skin is yellow and leathery. Tomorrow is another day of drinking, but at least it's another day. I cut across traffic when I could, heading east to the lake, over onto the bike path and rode slow, back up to Roger Park.
BIO: Wyl Villacres is a writer/award-winning blogger from Chicago. His work can be found in Good Men Project, Newsweek's Tumblr, Time Out Chicago, and Newcity, among others. You can find him in his digital fortress of solitude at wylvillacres.net.