Torment and Hot Tea

Sullivan was still trying to remember what happened throughout the last seven days. It was a week that passed by with hard jerks, irrational moments. Sullivan had been swept up by a tornado of emotions, thrown and jerked around, discombobulated and confused. Suddenly she was plopped down in the middle of next week, which was now, this week. A serious bout of depression had set in and time was moving in slow motions. One minute would move forward and two minutes would move back. Sullivan hated being stuck in these ruts, in her own mind, for days. But what happened to last week? She just couldn’t figure out where the time went, how it was spent, and why she was so angry? Angry with her father. It was all a blur.

She thought back to the beginning of the week. All the talk of money, money spent, money lost, money missing, the stress of it all. She became angry. Irate because she wasn’t working. Livid that these bills were coming and Dad was worried, and sick, and she couldn’t do anything to help. Everything she had learned in therapy was washed away with her tidal wave of thoughts, stuck in her own head. Sad, scared, pissed off, Sullivan resorted to the very basic human reaction. Fight. Flight. Freeze. She replayed the last seven days back, trying to remember moments to put together the week.

Sulli let the vicious vocabulary vibrate all through the house. Words were flying out of her mouth, tears streaming down her face, like a little kid throwing a tantrum. Exhausting herself with her own dramatics. Topping off the tantrum with self loathing and anxiousness.

Sullivan fed up with fighting, with herself, found flight. She sped around the city for three days. Jude in tow. She ran both of them ragged until it was late enough to go home. What just transpired the last seven days? It was all a blur. A dark blur. The days went dark with her mood and demeanor. Finally falling flat she froze.

She sat, in the middle of next week, which was now, this week. Finally figuring out the fight, flight, freeze, Sulli felt…. failure. A flat broke, financial flop, a fucking failure. The days leading up to this revelation were dark and destitute, much like Sulli. She sat down, glad the storm was over. She was exhausted. She exhausted herself, sick of her own self, she couldn’t get away. She remembered days like these. She hadn’t felt like this in a long while. Sullivan thought back to before she had counseling, before she learned how to deal with her demons.

Sullivan subconsciously started to summon scenes and sadness from sometime ago. Still, she sat silently and slowly slipped away. Sulli stared into space and saw herself. Saw her skinny and skittish self stocking beer, just like any other day. She remembered now. It wasn’t just any other day.

Sulli’s back hurt. She was miserable. She was always hungover and when she wasn’t hungover, she was drunk. If she wasn’t one of those two things, she was sleeping, or stocking beer. And her back hurt. She lifted the last case up from the dungeon of a basement at Verdetto’s. It was a Thursday. Just one more day and she could party while she worked the weekend afternoon shifts at Sloppy Hoe’s. It had become an escape for Sulli. There were no rules at Sloppy Joe’s. She didn’t have the responsibilities like she did at Verdetto’s. The bosses were out of town again. Down South in North Carolina, enjoying their semi retirement. They deserved to get away, they were getting older and Sulli was young enough to stock the beer and take care of the bar while they enjoyed their beach house.

It had been a few weeks since Megan passed. Sullivan had packed another loss in the vault of her brain, stacked the sadness up with the other souls that left too soon. Every once in a while she’d be caught off guard, feel the twinge, the familiar pull of loneliness and sorrow that she had gotten good at ignoring. It made for a dark space that was just always there. If she were a cartoon drawing there would be a little rain cloud above her head. Sulli could feel herself staring into outer space, lost in thought, lost in life, wondering why, the unanswerable question. Insanity was not far off as often as Sullivan let herself wonder why, knowing there wasn’t an answer. Things happen. People die. She never could stop her mind from wondering though. Why were so many crazy cool, interesting, loving people taken away? Abruptly. These moments were somewhere between insanity and torture. Surviving while being sober sucked. Sullivan stocked the last of the beer and headed for her stool at the end of the bar. It was the slow time during the day. She could do the crossword and eat some lunch and be ready for the happy hour crowd, no problem.

Sulli was certain her survival was a sentencing. The span of seconds were sluggish and slow but she still stayed steady. She somehow showed up everyday to the continue the same game she was playing by herself. Keeping busy each wretched second to avoid herself and the deep unhappiness that seemed to become stronger each day. She was lonely. She didn’t want to be around anyone but she didn’t want to be around herself either. The self loathing that would sneak up and tag along with her despair always came as a surprise. As if someone were hiding around a dark corner and jumped out to yell, ‘Boo!’ it would startle Sulli every time Whether she was doing tedious tasks such as cleaning the ketchup bottles, bleaching the glasses, reorganizing the snacks, the darkness still seeped into her thoughts. It was like Sullivan had a crack in her mind and the despair trickled in like a leak in the wall from the constant dramatic rainstorm.

At the time Sulli didn’t know of the diagnosis of anxiety and depression. She really didn’t think it existed let alone plagued her everyday. Maybe if she had been more sober and known about the popular ‘self care’ that is advertised in present day, she wouldn’t have nearly destroyed herself with pathetic self pity and isolation all those years.

Sulli sat at the end of the empty bar, stared at her empty crossword. She was lost in thought of the last picture on her camera. The last picture that was her and Megan. She had bought a new camera since then and stuck the old one in a drawer. It was time anyway. Just before her bosses called to check in from North Carolina, and just after Sulli was lost in her own thoughts, the door to Verdetto’s swung open. She looked up, expected one of the union guys getting off work early. Muddy boots and a baseball cap, just finishing up at the new site where they were building the city’s first casino, down by the rivers and the stadiums. She stood up to grab a six pack and realized it wasn’t a union guy. It was a beautiful blonde with big blue eyes. It was Beth. Sulli was surprised and happy, but wondered why she hadn’t called? Planned her visit days in advance.

Beth never stopped by Verdetto’s without giving Sulli at least three days notice and a lengthy phone call. She never stopped by without having it scheduled and in her planner for the week. Sulli ran to Beth and gave her a big hug and a good look in her eyes. They weren’t the usual blue color of water, they had a gray undertone to them and it looked as if she had been crying. They sat down at a high top table together across from the bar. Sulli sat down as if she wasn’t working but no one was in the bar anyway. It was the perfect time for Beth to stop by, in the middle of the empty afternoon.

‘What’s up? This is a surprise visit, I love it. But is something wrong? Do you want something to drink? Do you want something to eat? Is everything ok?’ Sulli fired question after question at Beth as she settled in and set her purse down. Sulli knew by looking at Beth’s face this wasn’t just a friendly visit, something happened, something was bothering Beth.

‘No. No. I’m fine. I just had to stop by and see you. Everything isn’t ok. I had to come and tell you in person because I am worried about you. I know you’re not doing so well and we just lost Megan.’ She paused for a moment, looked down in her lap, twisted the ring on her finger. Sulli felt like she was in a movie again. She could feel it in the pit of her stomach, the ache of fear building inside her and knew it was something she didn’t want to hear.

‘Ian died this weekend Sulli. Ian’s gone. He had an accidental overdose.’

This was the first time Sulli heard that term, ‘accidental overdose’, but it wouldn’t have been the last. This was the first person Sulli would lose in a way that was so unusual, unheard of at the time, but it would become very common over the next decade. This was the beginning of what would become widely known as ‘the opiate epidemic’. It would effect families in all classes and demographics. But this first loss, this first time that Sulli met this type of loss, was devastating in a way that made Sulli’s heart and spirit break that day. She sat stunned, expected tears to run down her face, expected to collapse onto the floor and not have the energy to get up for hours and hours. She just looked at Beth, into her blue gray eyes that had tears welling up in the corners.

‘I just wanted to come and tell you in person. I didn’t know how you were going to react and just wanted to give you a great big hug.’ Beth held out her arms to embrace Sulli. And that’s what they did for a long time. They stood there and embraced each other, and the tears came, and Sulli was so grateful to have Beth in her life once again. Ian was gone. Another piece of Sulli was gone.

After Sullivan convinced Beth she would be okay and sent her on her way she ran into the bathroom, locked the door. She sat in there for what seemed like hours and cried and cried. She cried for her mother, her sister, her cousin, for Megan, and now Ian. She had to finish out the day but couldn’t control herself. How was she going to smile? Open beer bottle for the thirsty happy hour crowd? She was definitely losing it, she was a train wreck. The Verdetto’s wouldn’t be returning from North Carolina until later this week. Sullivan made a decision right in that moment.

She didn’t want to be here and she wanted to quit, she let her emotions take the wheel. Sulli wiped her face, grabbed her bag, locked the door, and stuck the keys in the mailbox. She left Verdetto’s and she wouldn’t ever look back. She lost too much, she ran from the bar, from her job, she ran from herself. Sulli was distraught and distressed and stupidly thought she could get away from it all.

She looked back in her rear view mirror and saw the building of Verdetto’s fading into the distance. Sullivan knew it wasn’t right what she was doing, locking the doors and just quitting after seven years. She wasn’t even sure why she was doing it. The Verdetto’s would have to come home early from North Carolina. They would have to find someone to replace her shift that she worked everyday. Train someone new, with no notice from Sullivan. She didn’t care. She didn’t care about anything in those moments except for her breaking heart, the darkness that now took over her whole mind. She couldn’t shake the feeling of doom, of loneliness, of nothing but fear and failure. Sullivan was entering a depression that would last years. She just kept losing people and now she lost herself. She wanted to go home and curl up in the blankets and never come out. That’s what she did.

A week later Ian was laid out at a funeral home way out in Penn Hills. Sullivan went by herself and found it with nothing but the GPS guiding her. She walked into the small funeral home and the familiar scent of death and lillies wafted over her. She felt at home now in these places. Comforted by the smell of flowers and cleanliness, and death. She was alone. There were people milling about, talking quietly in small groups. His parents were sitting in a corner by themselves, they didn’t look like they wanted to talk to anyone and Sullivan wouldn’t know what to say anyway.

She walked up to the casket and there lay Ian. He looked the same, he looked like himself as if he were going to jump up and crack a joke and make Sullivan laugh as he always did. Sulli felt the tears welling up behind her eyes. She knelt down in front of him and prayed to God with all her might that he was at peace and he was better off and wished she were with him. It was the first of many times Sullivan would wish to be with the ones she lost. She didn’t want to be stuck down here in misery, now jobless, and alone. She finished up her prayer and from what she remembers , she sprinted out of the funeral home , thinking the faster she left , the more likely she would be unnoticed.

Safely back in the confines of her SUV Sullivan completely lost it. Letting out wails and sobbing uncontrollably, she was glad she made it to the car. She sat there letting the tears flow like a river and glad that she was able to hold it together until she got to her car. She sat there forever. For an hour at least. She just couldn’t stop crying. Ian. Ian was gone. Why were all these beautiful, funny, honest, good people being taken from this Earth and Sullivan was stuck here? The question she asked over and over again, stuck in the insanity of grief. Suffering and failing and quitting and hating her self as each day passed. She didn’t know. She finally was able to pull out of the parking lot and have GPS guide her back to the city.

She hated life, she hated death, she hated herself. Sullivan went to drink. She would drink until she could forget all the pain and the tears and the days that made her lonely and depressed. She wanted to sit in her alcohol and self loathing and never come out. What was the point? She didn’t understand anything. The darkness was here to stay and Sullivan eventually learned to live with it. It became normal.

Sullivan snapped out of it. She wanted to forget the last seven days and rip them out of her planner as if they never happened. It made her remember those months after Megan and Ian passed, back to back. She was making hot tea the way her Dad liked it. She wanted to settle down and have time with him. She wanted to forget the last seven days, hoped that he would too. Boil the water and add in the sugar and honey. She also made herself a mug of coffee.

Sulli realized she was running from herself again last week. She almost slipped into the insanity that drove her in those months and years of self loathing. She popped under pressure, diminished and deteriorated everything she learned in therapy. Almost colossally crashed from her carelessness. She didn’t want that distant dark shadow of who she used to be to ever appear again. The demon of depression and doom could detonate her dreams any day. It was a always a possibility that she didn’t want to let be possible. Sullivan heard the tea kettle whistle, poured the boiling water over the tea bag, dissolve the sugar and honey, slowly stirring with care.

Triggers. That’s what they were. Triggers.

Sullivan walked into the living room where her Dad always rested. She settled down next to him and set his tea on the table.

He smiled at her and said as he always did, ‘Me and you Sull’.

‘Yep. Me and you Dad.’ Sullivan replied. He winked and she felt at ease. She knew the last seven demonic days weren’t in his planner anymore either.

The past will always haunts, but it’s moments like these that capture sanity, happiness. Sullivan sipped and smiled to herself. She looked forward to a better tomorrow, to her better self. She had to remember the friends and family that were lost would want her to be better than okay.


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