Hugh wakes to realize he has only five days left of his twenties. He
looks in the mirror and opens his mouth. His teeth are OK, his face has the
complexion he’d had since high school. It’s better now, of course,
seeing as how he doesn’t spend several hours a day standing over
hamburgers that spray a sheen of grease in his face. He decides to spend
the entire week drinking. His 20’s will go out with a bang.
Wakes up early. He'd gone to sleep around 10 pm after a long day at
work. He’d gone out to eat the night before, had one beer and ended up
slurry and headachy. The Nachos were substandard and stale. Work went as usual
and Hugh ended up mourning his 20’s most of the day and ate lunch alone - no
one feels like listening to him lament his birthday. He’s desperate to
somehow change the flow of time. Maybe if he just set all of his clocks back a
few years. Will Windows NT run properly if continually set back to
1992? He listens to "Pretty Hate Machine" for five minutes
before slipping into a deep depression. He never thought that
"Head Like a Hole" would make him feel as if he were preparing for
He sits out back smoking and reads more of “Neverwhere”. The
cool comfort of a Neil Gaiman novel sends him back to the days when he
bought “Sandman” on a regular basis and read it greedily. But the book
makes him feel alone and tired. The yellow bug light makes his skin look old
and jaundiced. He realizes this only after sitting outside for a few hours.
He’s grateful for the tall fence that hides him from the view of his prying
neighbors. He drinks tea and shivers, it’s late March and still a little
chilly this evening. He fixes himself a shot of whiskey and sips it slowly,
fixes another and drinks half. He’s out of smokes and goes to bed. On
the way upstairs he trips over the cat and hits his shin on a stair.
He's aging in dog years now and wants to chase the cat out of the house.
The pressure is building and Hugh starts to examine the hair in the bathtub
drain. It’s too long to be his so he assumes its his wife’s. He’s
relieved. Looking in the mirror he checks his hairline and stares at the
wrinkle that formed a few years ago beside his mouth. It’s more of a
smile line; he calls it a smirk line because he only smiles with half of his
mouth. He looks at the photograph on his work badge and holds his thumb over
half his face. One half smiles, the other looks dead and lifeless. This
picture is almost six months old. Hugh realizes with some shock that he has a
split face. There is very little symmetry between sides and this disturbs
him. He thinks back to a Learning Channel program that talked about
beauty. The conclusion of it was: “symmetry is beauty” . I am not beautiful.
He thinks this with a little sadness. But I never have been. He shrugs
and gives his reflection a sidelong smirk. If only both sides of his face were
like the left side. Damn. He notices the time and realizes he’s late.
Work is typical and he leaves early to hang out with friends again. They pull
out the “age card” and waggle it in his face over and over. They always
gave him a hard time about being older but now it is different - he’s
hitting 30 first and they have no intention of letting him forget it.
Frustrated and depressed, he leaves early and grabs food at Wendy’s on the
way home. He eats until he’s sick.
Again, he leaves work early and gets ready for some kind of party.
They go to a nightclub and dance. He drinks, heavily. He’s not drunk
though and this makes his desperation to drink more a little disconcerting.
It’s not that he wants to get sick, he just wants to forget (for
just a moment) that he’s turning 30. He goes to the bathroom and looks in
the mirror. He’s been dancing all night. He dances as if he’s taking an
aerobics class, feet stomping, arms flailing, head jolting… He’s a mess
on the dance floor and it shows… He looks like a broken windup toy. In the
mirror he can see that the exertion has made his face turn sunburn red. His
face is blotchy and his hair is matted with sweat. His shirt is stained dark
with sweat in the armpits and across his chest. He’s not attractive at all
- how does Maggie stand looking at me? He washes cool water over his
face and pads it with paper towels. This doesn’t make him look better or
feel any better. He looks at his watch and sees that he has five more minutes
left of his twenties. Hugh runs back to the bar and orders three shots of 151. He drinks two, in desperate gulps, while standing at the bar. His
friends and wife are standing at a far, corner table chatting. He takes the
third back and they toast the death of his youth. It is not his last drink
of the evening.
30. Hugh wakes up at 8 am, staggers to the bathroom and stares in
the mirror. His face is pale from dehydration and his lips are chapped
and bright red. He tries to drink more water but pukes it up immediately
along with some type of black gunk. He can only assume it is leftover from
the Rum and Cokes which finished the night. His head is ringing, his stomach
burns and he feels like absolute shit. This is how he expected to feel at
30 and he’s angry with himself for not trying to moderate his drinking. He’s
kneeling in front of the toilet with kitty litter crushing into his knees
and he’s struck by the fact that this is exactly how he normally
feels after drinking too much. He stands, brushs the litter from his legs and
looks again at the mirror. The line in his face seems less defined by his
pale, pale face. He tries another glass of water. He tries to hold it down. He
stares at his reflection as if the other guy can somehow provide mental
support. It fails and he spins around, retching again. He’s puking up his
20’s like a bad meal and feels as if he can’t stop. When he finally does
he’s shaking and his eyes are tearing. He cleans his face at the sink
and smiles. He makes a declaration that will go unheeded for many years to
come. I’m too old for this - it’s time to stop drinking like a
kid. Yea, right. He staggers back to bed to pass out, hits his skull on
the headboard - bang! - waking Maggie's bleary complaints. He
rubs the back of his head and settles into the pillow. He's up at 3 pm. It’s a brand new day and he wakes with a smile, there's a party
tonight. That wasn't so bad.