The solemn voice of the eleven o’clock news anchor complemented the melancholy atmosphere of the living room. He sat alone on the couch hunched over the wooden coffee table, where he worked meticulously on his project by the dim light of an ancient TV set. His nimble fingers paused only for the sudden flash of high beams in the driveway, illuminating the room between the dusty verticals. The rattling engine was abruptly silenced as the lights vanished and the car door slammed shut. He let out a long sigh and went back to work as the front door creaked open and the sound of high-heeled boots moved down the hall. She stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room, glaring at him. He didn’t look up to acknowledge her presence, but kept rolling the thin papers before him. She removed her long overcoat and sat on the chair opposite the couch. She stared at him for a while, waiting for the eye contact that would commence today’s talk. Finally, she broke her silence.
“Why’d you leave today, Tommy?” she asked. Her quiet voice sounded nothing like an interrogation. He closed his eyes and hoped that she would be gone when he opened them. “Tommy, please, you have to talk to me,” her voice trembled as she leaned over and put her hand on his, stopping his fluid work effort. “Who told you?” he asked as he lit the blunt and brought it to his lips. “God, it doesn’t matter who!” she said defiantly. “Why did you leave?” she asked again. “Come on, Ange, you know why,” Tommy said but still avoided eye contact. He took a deep breath in and leaned back onto the couch. She looked at him and scoffed, “Wow! This, again? I thought we were over this.” He let out a puff of foul smelling smoke and looked away. “No,” he mumbled, “I guess I’m not.” She brought her hands together in prayer-like motion and hung her head low for a moment. “You guess?” she whispered and glanced at the ground. “You guess,” she repeated a little louder in disbelief. She stood up and walked across the room to the window. Angie took a look at her car and thought to herself, “Didn’t it used to shine?” “Well what else are you guessing about, huh, Tommy?” she yelled, now facing him. “Me? Your mom? Your life? Are they all just guesses?” She looked at the abundant marijuana spread on the table. “Or wait, is it all about just how much you need for the next dealer?” she said pointing to the filled bags.
Tommy’s eyes bulged out and he jumped from the couch and kicked the table over. “I need this!” he roared back at her. “It’s about me! I need this to get me through the day!” His cheeks grew red as his eyes darted from the scattered merchandise on the floor to Angie’s shocked face. “Do you think I actually WANT this?” his fury spiked with every step he took towards her. “Do you think I’m proud that I have to fall back on weed?” She tried to chime in but he cut her off with a quick hand motion. “Do you think I like knowing that I have a death sentence?” He turned away from her and ran his hands over his smooth head. “This stuff,” he pointed back to the mess on the floor, “it keeps me sane. It eases the pain and the stress. I need just a little or I’ll lose it again, like today.”
His fury subsided for a moment and his voice regained its normal tone. He looked at her sadly, “I had to get out of there, Ange. I couldn’t take it anymore, and I’ll tell you something else, I’m not going back.” It was then that Angie broke her silence. “What?” she cried out in desperation. “You have to go back! Don’t you get it? The treatments are saving you! Don’t you want to be saved?” she asked. He said nothing but cast a sideways glance to the floor. Angie moved closer to him and tried to hold his hand, “I know you, Tommy, the real you,” she said.
He moved away sharply. “Oh really?” he said smugly. “You know the real me? And this guy standing in front of you, is he just a fake? Is he just some sad, miserable junkie? Somebody who doesn’t care about his mom blowing her life savings on stupid treatments, somebody who loves biopsies and blood work? Is that the story you’re telling, Ange?” He scrunched his eyebrows together and shot her a condescending look. Angie stood speechless, with her arms across her chest. “No honey, you don’t know me at all,” Tommy sneered at her. He walked over to his high school graduation picture hanging above the mantle and pulled it off. He looked at it for a moment and said, “You know him.” He shook his head and pointed at his much younger reflection. “He’s the guy that carried your books to class and brought you flowers on Wednesdays. And I swear, every time you look at me, you’re hoping to find him.” He was boiling now, “But I can’t live up to the torch you’re carryin’ for him! I’m not hiding a halo in my back pocket!” he belted out, as he threw the frame on the floor and proceeded to crush it. With every heartbreaking stomp Angie let out another sob and shielded her eyes from the truth.
Once the tiny glass fragments were scattered across the floor, Tommy stopped and looked at this sad scene before him. He couldn’t tell if the heavy breathing he heard was Angie’s or his own. “It’s over,” Tommy said, as he threw his hands up in the air. “It’s my choice, all of it. And I want to live, for however long I’ve got left, in peace.” Angie gazed at the old photograph on the ground, as if in a trance. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tommy pick up the coffee table and retrieve the fallen blunt. He dusted off the glass particles and fell back into the couch. She wiped the running mascara from her cheeks and grabbed her coat and car keys. She stopped and looked at her beautiful wedding band for a moment before slowly removing it. She then hesitantly placed it on the coffee table. “The Tommy I knew,” she said in a very defeated voice, “would fight to live, even if he was scared. He would fight for us, for the life we made and the one we wanted. This choice you’re making, it’s for me too,” she said with a stream of new tears glided down her face. “But you’re right, it’s over.” Angie walked to into the doorway, and stopped to glance back at him. “When you see my Tommy, tell him I miss him and that I need him here, fighting with me.” Her footsteps were louder and slower this time down the hall. Tommy heard the front door close and the racket of the blue, Model-T Ford’s old engine. He knew that Angie would wait. She would give him a moment to come running out. A chance to tell her that he was sorry and ready to fight with her, as she had so many times before. But Tommy didn’t move from the couch. “She doesn’t know it now,” he thought, “but letting her go is how I’ll fight for her. She needs a life after me.”