Tate looked at his watch. Any minute now his plane would be landing, and he would be back in his home town for the first time in ten years. A loud dinging filled his ears as the flight attendant announced their arrival in Cincinnati. He snapped his seatbelt into place and braced himself for the bumpy landing. As he stepped off the plane and into the terminal, he almost immediately heard the loud squeals of his mother as she came barreling towards him.
“My baby!” she cried, tears streaming from her bright blue eyes. Tate wiggled uncomfortably, trying his best to squeeze his way out of her tight grasp. She stepped back, wiped her eyes, and smiled a sad smile. “I’ve missed you so much,” she said in almost a whisper.
“I’ve missed you too, mom.”
Tate lugged his single suitcase behind him as his mom led him through the maze of people and back to her tiny bright green mini cooper. “Don’t you just love it?” She held out her arms towards the car as though she were Vanna White showing off her prize. The bold green color made him feel queasy, but he nodded his head and climbed inside.
As they rolled out of the airport parking lot, Tate’s mother chattered happily about all the things she had been up to since the last time they had talked. He only half listened as he peered out the window. The town that he had grown up in flew past him like scenes from an old movie. Each one brought back memories he had hoped to forget.
On the corner of the street at the shell station sat thirteen-year-old Tate, his hands clinched tightly. He shivered as a drop of sweat slithered down his spine. He looked as though he were waiting for someone and glanced suspiciously in every direction. Before he even had the chance to react, his friend Craig came bounding out of the store full speed. “Run!” he screamed, and the two of them took off towards the alleyways. Craig tossed him the stolen liquor and soon they were safely tucked away behind a dumpster. Tate took a sip and let himself slowly slip into bliss.
“So are you excited for your reunion?” His mother’s question pulled him out of his thoughts and brought him back to reality. Reunion? He had almost completely forgotten about that, but it was the only reason he had come back. Tomorrow was the day of his ten year high school reunion, the one he hadn’t even wanted to attend. However, his therapist had suggested that he go. “It will be good for you to face your past,” she had said. Tate wasn’t sure if he agreed with her, but decided to give it a try. As they pulled into the driveway of his childhood home, he was hit hard with a painful flashback.
There he was, only fifteen, holding a brown paper bag in between his shaking hands. It was a quarter past midnight, and he knew that he was way past his curfew. He took a deep drink from the bottle and tossed the bag out behind the bushes. As he stumbled into the house, the lights flicked on and his angry father sat menacingly on the couch. “Are you drunk?!” he barked as Tate fumbled into the room. Tate laughed and tripped over the rug.
“Earth to Tate!” His eyes blinked as his mother waved her hands in front of his face. “Come on inside! I’m making dinner.”
Up in his room, Tate glanced around at all of his old things. It was just as he had left it. A model airplane that he and his dad had started working on still laid half unfinished on his old desk. A pair of dusty sneakers were thrown lazily into the corner, and his pillows were tousled as though he had slept there the night before rather than ten years ago. “I wonder…” he said to no one in particular as he leaned down to feel underneath his bed. Just as he had suspected, his fingertips gently grazed the cool metal of an empty flask. As he pulled it out, he was hit with another memory.
Screaming. That’s all he heard as he angrily threw his things into his bag. He was eighteen. He was an adult. He wasn’t going to let them tell him what to do anymore. Tate took a swig from his flask as his mother continued to bang her fists into his locked bedroom door, demanding that he open it. He continued to pack his back, ignoring her furious cries. Suddenly, the door flew open, and his dad came barreling in. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?” Tate could smell the alcohol on his breath. He laughed. “As far away from you as I can,” he said smoothly as he stared deep into his father’s eyes. His father stumbled towards him, fists flying, but Tate dodged his swings and quickly ran out the door. “I don’t need him. I don’t need any of them!” he thought to himself, and soon he was flying down the highway.
The flask made a loud clang as it hit the hardwood floor. Tate blinked. He was back in his room. Back in his town. It was as though nothing had even changed. No. Something had changed. Someone was missing. Another flashback came.
The call had come late at night while his cellphone sat on the counter of the bar. It was a number he recognized. His mother’s. Tate ignored it and called to the bar attendant for another drink. His phone continued to buzz noisily. He continued to ignore it. The dinging sound let him know that he had a new voicemail. Should he even listen to it? He hesitated for a moment, but finally decided to press play. “Tate…” his mother said softly. “It’s your father. He’s dead.” Tate dropped the phone. He could hear it clang against the hard floor as he the threw his bottle of whiskey across the counter. It smashed against the wall sending tiny shards of glistening glass trickling around the room. The hot tears burned as they fell.
Liver disease. That’s what had killed him. His excessive drinking has finally caught up to him, sending him to the grave at only fifty years old. He was too young to die. Tate picked up the empty flask and threw it at the wall. After his father had died, he had stopped drinking altogether. It had been hard, but he knew he wasn’t ready to face his father’s same fate. It hadn’t been easy. How many times had the bottle called out to him, tempting him with just one tiny sip? He closed his eyes. The pain cut him deep. His father had tried to stop him. Tried to make him better. But his own abusive use of alcohol had lead Tate spiraling down the same path towards destruction.
The sound of his mother downstairs in the kitchen, the haunting chime of the clock in the hall, the creaking of the wooden floor beneath his feet. It was almost too much to bare. The memories. The heartache. The pain. He shouldn’t have come back. He shouldn’t be here. Tate flung open the door of his closet and desperately threw out all of his things. “Where the hell is it?!” he snarled between clenched teeth before feeling his hand touch the smooth surface of a well-hidden bottle. He grasped the bottle between his shaking hands and raised it towards the ceiling. He knew what he should do. He knew that he needed to smash it, to rid himself of this poison for good. But something inside of that bottle called out to him once more. His pain, too great to bare, threatened to break him, but the bottle, he knew what it could do. He knew it could make him forget all of this.
His sudden burst of energy now gone, Tate sank to the floor on his knees, cracked open the bottle, and took a deep drink. He felt the warmth of the liquor as the tears began to fall.