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Otto treaded through his empty living room, absently trailing his fingers through his hair as he stopped in front of the shabby front door. He peered through the window at the trees that gave shade in the summer, bright colors in autumn and sparseness in this awkward phase between fall and winter.
A clothesline was ripped into two and hanging from its rusting metal poles. All the lawn furniture was gone, and the lawn itself was brown from the lack of rain. He saw all of this, and at the same time, none of it.
All of his furniture had been sold off that morning, the new stuff that they’d bought after the wedding—she left that for him at least. The cats were gone, carted away by strangers to live in an unfamiliar house, just as he would be soon.
His daughter was beautiful, she had his blue eyes and careless smile; and her mother had done enough brainwashing in the two years since they’d left each other that his sweet little girl now looked at him like a stranger with a dark coat and a bad motive.
“You shouldn’t have had children so soon, honey”, his mother had said. She kept her eyes on the sink of dishes she was washing, and wouldn’t meet his eyes. Otto had come to ask for some money so that he could have a cushion to live on now that he was alone and broke. “You could have finished your education; you wouldn’t have gotten married and divorced before your daughter turned two. You would have money. And maybe you wouldn’t have a drug habit. If you couldn’t think about your future at seventeen years old, you’re certainly going to be thinking about it now.”
Otto didn’t think he’d be able to answer her, but after a moment of incredulous gaping, he did. “So you’re just going to leave me.”
“It’s your decision to leave, not mine.” his mother replied gently. She still didn’t look at him, and he had turned and let the screen door slam behind him.
And here he was. He was twenty-one years old, divorced already to a girl he’d married so that her parents wouldn’t kill them for having a child. She had taken everything he had with the divorce, even what they’d bought together. She’d taken their child and made her believe that her daddy was a bad man.
Otto had, as his mother had stiffly put it, a drug habit that cost him well over four hundred dollars a month, and no job to support it because of his lovely wife stopping in at his boss’s office for a little chat and some badmouthing. Not being able to support himself, he’d given away the cats, who were the last friends and only solace he still had.
Now he sprawled on his back on the porch, wishing for a fix, or even for sleep to take him for a few hours. Tonight he’d leave for the city, and he hoped that a fresh start would make everything look a little better through the fog. He still had barely any money, but he’d called about making a down-payment on an apartment in the south Bronx, and he had fifty bucks in his pocket so he’d be able to eat this month. It was a start.
He wondered in a vague sort of way what would happen when it was time to find a job—wasn’t the city for drug dealers and college educated guys? He was neither, and he didn’t care to become either, despite (or maybe because of) his family’s urging to enroll in a part-time college.
He had his guitar and he knew how to play it, and he knew that they had street performers in the city. He guessed he might become one of them for awhile, and he picked it out of the pile of his possessions on the porch and shakily strummed out a few chords that came to his mind, he thought from a Bob Dylan song but couldn’t be sure. It had been so long since he’d been able to play or listen to anything.
Pale moths clicked against Otto’s body comfortably as if he were one of them. He was still resting on the hard wood of the porch floor, and he gradually became aware of the cold night air and where he was. He’d fallen asleep with the guitar still resting in his lap, and he let his fingers explore the strings, restlessly tweaking and curling his fingers as his mind raced ahead of them.
He was beginning to panic somewhere deep inside his mind and he wondered where this idea had even come from. What was he going to do in the city? No education, no job—no friends, no connections. Before he’d let himself fall into a false sense of security, as if a fresh start would make everything better again, but who was he kidding?
He had nothing. Nothing had him, and right now it was holding him tight, suffocating him in its tight grip.
Otto got up and walked through the house again, to the medicine cabinet that he didn’t plan on emptying before he left. He shuffled through bottle after bottle of pills, baggie after baggie of the good stuff. His fingers closed around a bottle of Prozac and he turned and let himself slide to the bathroom floor.
“Remember who loves you”, he murmured, eyes closed tightly against the bright light. His girl had written that at the bottom of the note when she picked up and left, and he’d memorized every loop in her scripted handwriting in the days that followed. The line that had saved his life in times past, when he was feeling too much despair or just too dissatisfied with himself to carry on. Tonight it only made everything more intense, emphasized that he had no one and nothing left to love.
He fumbled the lid off with shaking fingers and poured a last fix, and his sweaty hands clasped in a deathgrip as he made his way back outside. He pulled his guitar into his lap and sang words that made sense only to him. The moths were the ones that heard it, and they fell back into their rhythm, striking his body quietly as he sat against the wall. The sunrise approached unrelentingly, and when it reached the empty house with the shabby front door, Otto had burned out.