I was eighteen the first time that I was sucker punched by life. It was the summer before I left for college, and I had moved out on my own. My stepbrother owned a small house near a graveyard a few miles from my parents, so I moved in the remainder of things that I owned, and tucked all of my new dorm items into a corner… waiting for the moment that life would be better. The moment I could escape it all.
My stepbrother rarely came home. Instead, he slept sitting upright in a recliner at my parent’s house. He never did like to be alone. Myself on the other hand, it’s all I ever wanted.
I had only a few weeks before I packed everything into my Xterra and drove off into the show-me state sunset. That’s why I answered the night that my ex-girlfriend called. It was the first time we had spoken in a year.
Her father found out that we were dating when we were sixteen years old. He threatened to kill me, and called my parents house at six am cursing me to hell. Finally, my mother placed a restraining order against him, but I never got over her. Eventually, trying to sneak around to see each other and speak to each other became too difficult. She fell in love with a mutual friend, and I was no longer a part of the equation.
She wanted to see me. I wanted to see her. So I called my best friend to come over and be my cover up for the evening. We would put my friends car in the front, hide my ex’s car in the back, and the three of us would hang out and catch up over all the things that two years found itself filled with. The evening started off simply enough, but then the bottle of Bacardi Zombie came out. Two eighteen year olds and a seventeen year old passed around the gallon of liquor and before we knew it, we were all lit.
The two of them had always had chemistry. Years prior, my “too adult” sixteen year old self thought that it would be fun for the three of us to make out together. What it really created was an immeasurable amount of jealousy on my part. That’s actually how her father found out to begin with. We were all sitting in the jacuzzi when he turned the corner to find the two of them making out as I watched with discomfort. Combine that history with an unhealthy amount of alcohol, and we were reliving my worst nightmare.
My ex insisted on sleeping in the middle. Next thing I knew they were cuddling. I stood up angrily, slurring something about how things never changed and went to the other room to be by myself. What I didn’t realize was that in just a few hours everything would change.
Sometime through the middle of the night I made my way back to the bed. I had work at seven am, and still needed to get some decent sleep. Around five-thirty my best friends phone rang. It was her father. He wanted to speak to me.
My stomach sank. Did he know that we drank the night before? Why did he want to speak to me?
When I got on the phone his voice was shaking. “I need you to bring her home. Now. We will get her truck later.”
“Ok. Everything alright?” I already knew the answer was no.
“It’s her mom. She shot herself last night. Don’t tell her anything yet, just get here.”
The sucker punch of life. How does an eighteen year old take on that much responsibility?
“We have to go.” I told her. “Your dad said leave your car. He will get it later.”
“What’s wrong?” She could read it on my face. “Fucking tell me.”
“I’m sorry. Your dad will talk to you when you get home.” My ex looked at me with concern, but subtle understanding.
“Just go home, and he will explain it all.” She tried to encourage, despite the fact she was still slurring her words.
I managed to get her in the car through her tears. The next ten minutes were the slowest of my life. With each turn down that long dark gravel road, I felt like I was approaching the end of whatever life I had known.
When we arrived, her father was scrubbing blood and meat off of the wall. Her mother had turned a shotgun around on herself, and blew a hole through her stomach. She wasn’t happy with her life, or her marriage. She couldn’t find any other way to deal with it.
I watched my best friend hit her knees as her father told her what had happened. My mind went into auto-pilot. Her father asked me to leave so they could get to the hospital. I got into my car and began driving to work.
Life doesn’t stop just because you want it to. It doesn’t get easier just because things have been tough. When I thought that things couldn’t get any worse, my phone rang. It was my ex. She was still drunk when she left my house, and in light of the morning’s turmoil she wasn’t paying attention to the road. She drove her car up an embankment and into my grandparents pig-pen.
She was ok, but my grandparents came off the hill to check on whoever had wrecked beside their house. My grandmother recognized her, but my ex lied about her name. My grandfather could smell the alcohol on her breath, and saw the remaining Zombie in the back seat. For whatever reason, when her friend showed up he allowed him to take the alcohol out of the car in case the police arrived.
When they were certain that she was alright, my grandparents let her call a tow truck to carry her car to the county line. She would then call another truck to take it home, terrified of what her father would say if he found out where she had been.
He never found out. She and I spoke a few more times over the years, but for the most part we were done. My friends mother survived. She even remarried later on. Our friendship dwindled after that. I went off to college, and my friend joined the military. She met a wonderful young woman who I am convinced she will marry. Seven years later, and I still think back to that morning. It still makes my heart sink, and turns my stomach.
I am still terrified of what life is capable of… Because when you’re not looking – and not careful – life can throw punches whose blow you may or may not be able to withstand. Fortunately, the outcome was better than worse. I feel stronger because of what I have endured, but I still question if I could ever endure anything similar again.
You face what you have to when it comes. It will be hard as hell. Life isn’t always easy, but we will always survive. We have no other choice. Don’t take this life for granted. It is far too important to waste on stupid fights, drunken nights, and reckless mistakes. Pray for the best, but stay prepared for anything. You never know what right hook is waiting for you.