It all started with a Jackson 5 song, or was it The Dodos? Or maybe it was David Bowie? Regardless, it all started with a song. A song sung by little old drunken me at a karaoke bar in the middle of nowhere, a.k.a. Barstow, California. The bar, aptly named The Lonesome Cowboy, sat parallel to a highway in the middle of a desolate wasteland. When smoking a cigarette in front of the bar, it was easy to observe the eighteen-wheelers that would pass in slow-motion, following the speed limit to their distant destination.
If you don’t get the idea yet, I was in the middle of a fucking hell-hole surrounded by the dead souls that made up the majority of the bar population. As I pounded mixed drink after mixed drink on my military officer’s discount, I charted the trajectory of my life. Solemnly drunk, I sat perched in a barstool connecting the million different branches of a tree back to the tree itself. The tree was me. Unlike the common tree, my branches split outward but eventually came back to one point. They all ended at one eventual conclusion. The conclusion of death. This was a naturally occurring thought process whenever I happened to be inebriated. I had been to war twice, in two different countries. It was only logical for the idea of death to make a regular appearance in my mind.
Something was different about this night. I don’t know if there was something in my drink, or if I had simply decided to forget about my depression. Regardless of what it was, it hit me with the first sip of my fourth whiskey sour. As the night progressed into early morning, The Lonesome began its usual friday ritual. First, there was an emcee. Then, the speakers began to blare music. Then came the light show. One after another, sloshed idiots approached the mic stand and poured out raw emotion in the form of popular songs from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. My typical take on this display was generally something along the lines of: These fucking idiots, look at them making fools of themselves. But, like I said before, tonight was different. Oh yes, tonight was different.
What I had once viewed as a rite of passage designed by imbeciles transformed into a heartwarming social experience. As a particularly large white-trash woman finished a particularly sub-par performance of Pat Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot. I came to a philosophical revelation. Or, maybe I was just trying to prove my superiority to this crowd. Either way, I stumbled out of my seat and made my way to the microphone. I squinted through my temporarily impaired vision at the glow of a small blue screen and selected a song that I knew every word to. I don’t remember what song it was, but it’s an unrelated piece of evidence because it wasn’t my performance that was important. What happened next was truly amazing.
As the tin-can, wordless rendition of a popular song began to bounce of the walls of The Lonesome Cowboy, a truly spectacular rendition of god strode gracefully through the bar’s swinging doors. It was as if someone had turned every light in the bar up to full intensity, and even added additional photo-quality lights. As she floated across the threshold, a breeze picked up to part the hair across her flawless acorn-shaped face and reveal the two cobalt eyes of the Venus herself. Her presence alone lit up the room. I knew from that second that I had to know this girl. As our eyes met, confidence welled up in my stomach and I hit the high notes with ease. I may have just been a drunkard singing tone-deaf notes with immense pride, but her gaze made me feel like I had just won the lottery.
As the song began to fade with the final chorus, I tripped over the microphone cord and exited the stage. Her legs folded perfectly over the edge of a barstool, and she sat with poise and posture. I walked boldly toward her, determined to learn her name, determined to do anything to get her to take me home with her.
“Can I buy you a drink?” I squeezed from my nervously constricted throat. She swiveled around in her seat. I don’t know if I’m biased, but it seemed like every motion she made was perfectly executed. Like she kept every one of her movements from the beginning to the end of her lifetime in a well ordered list stored inside her head. When she looked at me, she saw right through me. The glisten of her smile could blind a man from prolonged exposure.
“Why, of course!” She spoke with a voice that used every extent of her vocal chords. It was like listening to an angelic choir speaking through one person. “I’ve never had a rockstar buy me a drink before.” She smiled again, with a hint of mischief in her eyes.
I sat beside her and ordered another whiskey sour and a lemon drop for her. In retrospect, I think I should have considered that a lemon drop was too sour for a sweet girl like her. “My name’s Andrew.” I stated, trying my best to sound relaxed.
“I’m Holly.” Jesus Christ. Holly. Not only was this girl an angel, but she was Christmas, too.
As the night flew by, I got to know my enchantress intimately. She was a waitress at a truck stop diner about thirty miles up the highway. Though she was cursed with a simple life, Holly loved to read and write. She loved poetry and music. Her favorite pastime was building sitcoms inside of her head. Inside of the intricate passageways of her mind was a cornucopia of original ideas the size of the library of congress.
I felt a strong connection with Holly. We were both intellectuals exiled from society; trapped in the dead-end lifestyle of mediocrity. We agreed that we were never really given a chance to be great. That we had always been held back by one thing after another. I explained how my father died of lung cancer when I was 16, and how I was the man of the house from that day on. Holly explained how she never had a father to lose. Holly said that it was hard to see past the sight lines of a desolate nowhere when you didn’t have any sort of stability. I told her how I had never been able to articulate that exact thought the way she did.
Soon, the bartender announced that it was last call and we’d better get one last drink or get the hell out. In the neon glow of The Lonesome Cowboy’s sign, I stood with my eyes locked on Holly’s. Our breath hung in the air as we stared silently. “Well….” I was lost, I didn’t want this night to end.
“I’ll call a taxi,” Holly said with a disappointed tone. She walked to a pay phone and deposited a quarter. Soon after, she was back. “Look, you don’t have to pay for the taxi if….”
“If….” I looked at her with a confused expression.
“If you want to come home with me.” She smiled nervously.
“How could I refuse that?” I laughed, smiling back.
The first time we kissed that night was in the back of a taxi. The smell of leather filled the air, and our bodies stuck to the seats because the heat was on full blast. You know how there’s that cliché about seeing fireworks the first time you kiss the love of your life? That didn’t happen to me. Instead, I saw my future. I saw the branches of my tree expanding infinitely outward. Death became insignificant as I held Holly’s hand, stationed on a hospital gurney right next to her. Our hearts flatlined at the same moment. I saw our kids playing in a green field in front of a house with a white picket fence. I saw a pregnant Holly struggling to wash dishes in the kitchen sink, and me laughing as I kissed her playfully. There was no way this night wouldn’t go down in history as the best night of my life.
When we arrived at Holly’s single room on top of a garage, it was like we didn’t even have to take our clothes off. It was like they melted away from our bodies with the heat from our passion. I slid my fingers down her smooth legs. I examined her perfect build, and poked her belly button and chuckled. I felt her weightless body positioned on top of mine. It seemed as though we fit perfectly together like a puzzle. I brushed the blonde streaks away from her brow. Small beads of sweat glistened brilliantly on her forehead. Her lips were parted slightly, and her eyes were closed with the gentile relief of a deep sleep. After a while, we laid still and conversed into the early morning. Soon, we could talk no more.
With a night so seemingly perfect, it’s hard to think that anything could go wrong. We had gotten along incredibly. We matched and contradicted each other like a balanced scale. And yet, all good things must have an equally bad thing. I awoke to a pair of eyes. These eyes did not belong to my beloved. They didn’t even belong to a woman.
“Who the fuck are you?” spoke the man. Five o’clock shadow stained his face, and he smelled of liquor, cigarettes, and aftershave. “I’m going to ask you again, who the fuck are you?”
“I’m Andrew.” The man’s expression only grew angrier.
“Okay, Andrew. Now answer this for me please. Why the fuck are you in my house, and what are you doing in my bed?” He snarled, ready to explode.
I averted my eyes from his to see a wedding band sitting on the bedside table. Oh shit, I thought. With one hand, the man grabbed my clothes from the floor. With the other one, the one with a wedding band on the ring finger, he grabbed me by the arm. With one swift motion, I was pulled from the bed. As I stood in my underwear, the man shoved my clothes into my hands and shoved me out his front door.
“You’re lucky that I don’t beat your ass!” With that statement, he slammed the door in my face.
The loud slamming noise and the sight of the door must have knocked something loose in my head, because at that moment I had a flashback to the night before. I saw the night a little differently than I had before. When I approached Holly at the bar, she looked like a deer in the headlights. Her eyes glistened with the remnants of previous tears. Under her left eye was the slight discoloration of a fading bruise. I once again saw my hands tracing Holly’s thighs, but this time I saw that there were bruises under my finger tips. I remembered Holly’s speech about feeling held back in life, but this time there was a frog in her throat and she choked at the end of her sentence.
I knocked on the door of Holly’s home, and sure enough the asshole answered. “What, did you forget something, asshole?” He questioned, grinning with some sort of self-appreciation.
“Yeah, I forgot my–” With that, I reared my fist back with all of my might and delivered a haymaker across Holly’s abuser’s face. He stumbled backwards and took the curtains down with him. He was out cold. I spat at his feet, and began to walk down the highway.
From that point on, I returned to The Lonesome Cowboy on every Saturday night for karaoke. And no, I didn’t come for the karaoke. Each and every time I sat and stared at the doors, waiting patiently for that angel to grace me with her presence, and each and every time I left the bar disappointed. One night, I took a taxi up and down the highway and tried to remember the path to Holly’s, but I couldn’t recall it for the life of me. I must have paid that cabbie at least sixty bucks. After a while, I had given up entirely. I wish I had a number, or that I wasn’t so drunk that night, or that I knew where she worked. I longed to steal Holly away and drive at breakneck speeds towards the borders of California, to start a life with the woman of my dreams. But my wish was never granted, so Holly remained to be just that: the woman of my dreams.