He was, when sober, or not too drunk - an intelligent, articulate, humorous, and likable young man. He was, however; an alcoholic.
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The night was an ocean of darkness and booze. Robert Riffey waded through its thick waters, south on Clark Street towards his ex-girlfriend Marissa’s apartment. He swayed uncontrollably along the sidewalk as if the world was violently jerking from left to right in a playful, yet somewhat malevolent, attempt to sabotage his balance and knock him off his feet.
He had lost a shoe at the barbecue, and his bare left foot was bleeding from stepping on bits of broken glass. He left a little trail of blood as he stumbled along under the drunken silvery moon in a painless haze. Faintly aware of a full bladder, he turned into an alley and began urinating under the spotlight of a sickly orange streetlight. As he hummed to himself and peed, a giant rat scattered towards him from under a dumpster, and for some reason, Robert’s first instinct was to try to stomp on the creature with his bare bleeding left foot. This caused him to lose his balance, and he fell to the alley ground with his pants around his knees, still urinating.
With difficulty, he got back to his feet, and pulled up his now wet blue jeans and continued towards Marissa’s. He started singing to himself in a barely coherent slur – “Joeann puts the river… in yer loonely wooden tower… and she feedes you tea and orages that come all the way from China… mm hmmm hmm hm hmmm hmm hmm, you dont got love to giverr… and you’ve always been her lover cus shes all the way (hiccup) from china.”
Robert Riffey was an honor Student all his life: a medical student at the Feinberg School of medicine. And although he was currently in danger of flunking out, he was plenty smart enough to do exceedingly well. He was, when sober, or not too drunk – an intelligent, articulate, humorous, and likable young man. He was, however; an alcoholic. A mostly functioning alcoholic, but certainly an alcoholic, and his alcoholism had become much more pronounced since Marissa, his girlfriend of two years, broke up with him a week ago because of his alcoholism.
He was blacked out when she ended it, so he was shocked when he called her the following day and learned that they had broken up. It had been a pathetic drunken week since that night, and his alcoholism had spiraled into a deeper darker place then he had ever known before. His roommates were planning an intervention for him on Monday because of his behavior the last week. On Wednesday he had brought home a much older woman who stole several items including an iPad, a kindle, and a set of keys, the keys were particularly troubling. And early this morning, after many hours of drinking, he had come home at 5am and proceeded to turn on the stove, then fall asleep on the kitchen floor. One of his roommates awoke a few hours later and found Robert sleeping face down, and the flame on high.
Robert reached Marissa’s apartment building at about 2:40 in the morning. He spun in the revolving doors then spat out into the building like a drunken zombie, much to the surprise of the kind older doorman Phillip. He waddled over to Phillip’s desk, his foot bleeding, his pants soaked with urine, and his face a grotesque drunken mess. “Marrissa?! can.. Marissa..” Robert slurred. Phillip had previously met Robert and had liked him, it was distressing to see him in this state.
“I am sorry Robert, sir, but I have to ask you to leave.” Phillip said.
“Just.. Cmon.. Its fine. everything great.. I figured (hiccup) it out. Just call k?” Robert countered
“Young man it is late and you are not in a good state, please” Phillip said and gestured toward the door for him to leave.
“just… FUCK.. CMON…. its fine.. its fine. Just call her im here k?” Robert said.
At this point Phillip was worried about a physical confrontation. “Please wait right here” he said to Robert. He carefully phoned the police and spoke softly, “Yes hello, I am working here at 2023 N. Clark Street, there is a very disgruntled…”
“I’m Going Up!” Robert exclaimed and went past the desk through the corridor to the elevator. He pressed the up button and waited. But suddenly his eyes were heavy and he felt nauseous. “Gotta sit” he mumbled to himself as he went to the black leather bench chair, laid down, and promptly fell asleep.
Phillip walked to the elevator, and upon finding Robert passed out went back to the front desk and waited for the police to arrive.
The tall and large officer Johnson peered from his deep-seated eyes and acne scared face at the passed out Robert Riffey and sighed.
“O god, he pissed himself,” the much smaller, mouse-faced officer Beaty said and laughed. Officer Johnson shook Robert’s shoulder, “Buddy, wake up buddy” Officer Beaty then clapped above Robert’s face and exclaimed, “Hey!” but Robert remained steadfast asleep.
“Should I tase him?” Officer Beaty joked. Officer Johnson shot him a disapproving glance; he was not a fan of Officer Beaty’s relentless distasteful humor.
Officer Johnson gave him another shake “wake up!”
“Jesus, He is really out,” Officer Beaty said.
“Might have to call a bus” Officer Johnson said
“A fucking ambulance?? Why don’t we just load him up and let him get sober in a cell?” asked officer Beaty.
“Because that’s not what we’re doing,” Officer Johnson said irritatedly. “Do you not remember the mope Donnie brought back last week that died in the cell?”
Officer Beaty considered this, “ya all right” he conceded. “Not my ER bill…. Plus he pissed himself, who needs that in the car.”
Satisfied with their diagnosis of the problem, Officer Johnson turned to Phillip, “There any coffee left in that machine ya got?”
“Yessir, keep it full for these night shifts.” Phillip Answered.
“Good man… this guy is not going anywhere. ” Officer Johnson said.
The three walked back to the front desk and left Robert to his drunken sleep. Suddenly Robert Riffey got a deep snore stuck in his throat and coughed him self awake. He shot up with a newfound manic drunken energy, “I’m Coming Marissa” he mumbled proudly. In a noble but misguided and overly ambitious gesture he headed to the staircase, and flew up the stairs quickly at first, like a drunken Olympian of love. He slowed down at the tenth floor, but continued to leap the stairs two at a time, grunting, panting, and sweating profusely, it was a staggering display of physical assertion from a severely intoxicated man.
But, after the fifteenth floor, his drunken instability returned, he stepped short of a stair, the front of his foot sliding off, and he fell forward violently, his head hitting the concrete with a dangerous amount of force. His limp body slid down the stairs, and he groaned loudly. His head was bleeding; he closed his eyes and once again fell asleep, this time into a deep drunken slumber.
The cops were finishing their cups of coffee, talking about baseball with Phillip, when the ambulance arrived. The young and tired looking paramedics came through the doors wearily. “Hey boys, this way,” Officer Johnson shouted, and lead them towards the elevators. They reached the spot where Robert Riffey was sleeping and found the bench empty.
“Well, I’ll be damned.” said officer Beaty.
They stood around the empty chair unsure of what to do next.
“So….” the paramedic said.
Officer Johnson looked around the room. “Well, I guess he is able-bodied enough… sorry to bother you boys.”
“Great… not like there is a bunch of people getting shot tonight.” The paramedic said sarcastically. The two walked off and left Phillip, Officer Johnson, and officer Beaty standing puzzled.
“What floor does this young lady live on?” Officer Johnson asked Phillip.
“28, unit 2814”
“All right, lets go.”
The two police officers took the elevator up in silence to the 28th floor, where they both stepped out and looked down opposite sides of the hallway.
“Must be this way” Officer Johnson said, and they walked down the lime green carpet towards the last door at the end of the narrow hallway.
“Maybe she had mercy on the poor bastard” Officer Beaty wondered out loud.
Officer Johnson pulled the silver knocker back and gave three sharp knocks. The two waited.
Officer Beaty then pounded the door with his fist and called out “Police!”
Officer Johnson shook his head in annoyance.
“Hello, who’s there?” A small voice came from behind the door.
“The police Ma’am…. there was a drunk young man trying to get up to this apartment, we just wanted to make sure everything was ok.”
There was a moment of silence as the girl behind the door viewed the officers through the peephole. The door then unlocked with a thick thud that reverberated through the hallway, and the heavy wooden door opened carefully.
“What happened?” The small girl asked
“Sorry to wake you. There was a very drunk man trying to see a girl in this unit, we wanted to make sure he was not causing any trouble.”
“Ugghhhh, Idiot..” The small black haired girl said. “I’ll go get her” she added, but just then Marissa stepped towards them and asked, “What’s going on?”
“Your idiot boyfriend,” the small girl said with disdain.
“He’s not my boyfriend, Claire” Marissa said calmly, as Claire shuffled back toward her room grumpily.
“I’m sorry, what’s going on?” Marissa asked the cops as she stepped into the light pouring in from the hallway. Even just awoken without makeup, Marissa was beautiful; she had bright emerald eyes that were so full of life it made your heart hurt. The cops were both momentarily speechless.
“Uhh.. sorry to bother you young lady. There was a young man who was very drunk. He fell asleep in the lobby but then disappeared, we just wanted to make sure everything was all right, he was in a pretty bad state.”
Marissa sighed with exhaustion. “Yea, that is my ex-boyfriend… He has not been here though.”
“Do you have any reason to fear this young man, has he been prone to violence in the past?” Officer Johnson asked
“No, Definitely not.” Marissa said with weary surprise, “He wouldn’t hurt a fly, he just drinks too much…. I am not worried about anything like that”.
“Ok, well, we are going to look around the building in case he is still around… If he comes here to cause any trouble, you give us a call, and we will come right back. Have a good night ma’am, and sorry for waking you.”
“Ok.. its ok.. thank you,” Marissa said.
“Have a good night now” Officer Beaty added with a smile.
“You too,” Marissa said, as she closed the door with relief, the way the little mouse faced cop leered at her made her uncomfortable.
Marissa returned to her room. She turned out the light and got back into bed, but her thoughts raced, and she suddenly felt miles away from being able to sleep. She couldn’t help thinking and worrying about Robert. God, she wished he could just quit drinking. He was one of the kindest, most charming and intelligent men she had ever known, and there was a time she truly believed they would get married.
She imagined them both running there own successful practices somewhere on the west coast. They would have money but wouldn’t flaunt it, would be influential but humble. They would be an especially tight-knit family, going on hiking trips together, bonding in a deeper way then most families did. She saw this all and knew he was the one … But then slowly… the realization came little by little, growing like a thick darkness, getting more suffocating and heavy every day, until she knew she had to leave him.
He would not get better, he would not quit drinking, he would not stop embarrassing her and worrying her and breaking her heart. He was drowning, and she could not save him, only drown with him. She had tried, she had done everything she could… but she was weary and desperate for the shore. Marissa had to turn her back and walk away from someone she loved deeply, and the world was irrevocably harsher and sadder because of it.
The two officers walked back toward the elevator.
“The things I would do to her. lordie” Officer Beaty said.
Officer Johnson felt a stab of anger but remained silent. When they reached the ground floor, he opened the grey staircase door and called out, “anybody there?” His words echoed and were returned only by the hum of the bright white fluorescent lights. “This guy is gone.”
They walked back out to the front lobby.
“If this idiot surfaces you give us a call” Officer Johnson said to Phillip.
“I certainly will officers, thank you.”
The officers stepped out into the black morning and drove away, and Phillip sat down in the stiff leather chair and turned back on the little tv.
The booming voice of a maintenance worker a few floors below woke Robert up around 8am on Sunday morning. His body had spent hours in a very unnatural position. He felt paralyzed. A throbbing aching shot up from the soles of his feet to the top of his skull. His head was foggy and heavy and filled with pain. He could only remember traces from last night after arriving at the barbecue, he knew he was in the stairwell of Marissa’s building, but did not remember how he ended up here. He hoped he had not further ruined his chances of winning Marissa back. Why the fuck did he do this? It was awful and empty and chasing away the people he loved most in this world.
With great difficulty, Robert was slowly able to ascend from the staircase and stand wobbly on his right foot, his cut-up left foot in too much pain to absorb any pressure. He put a hand on the rail to steady himself, and tried to ignore the overwhelming mixture of nausea and panic in his stomach, he needed a thousand Ativans, a thousand Gatorades, and a thousand hours of sleep. He opened the door to the 16th floor and walked towards the elevators, hoping somehow he could get out of this building without anyone seeing him. But the elevator opened. And there She was.
“Jesus Christ… what the hell Robert?… your head – are you okay?”
Robert solemnly stepped into the elevator; he stared down at his feet, feeling ashamed and pathetic, completely lost in this world.
“I don’t know what happened, I woke up in the staircase. I’m sorry.”
The elevator door closed, and they began descending. Robert looked up at Marissa. He saw the tears in her eyes, and he felt every bit of devastation he had caused her. He felt the crushingly heavy burden that was her love for him. Marissa struggled from breaking down, and her words came out soft and trembling.
“You have to stop Robert. Please. Please get help.”
Robert fixed his gaze back at his feet. If shame were lethal, he would have died right then.
Robert closed his eyes and tried to keep from crying. The elevator door opened to the lobby.
When he looked up, she was already gone.