Click, Clack Go The Dominoes

(Sally: Do not! Do not! Do not! You don’t want this in your head. I 100% promise you that. Do not open this link.)

(Everyone else: If you know me, this may change the way you see me and not in the same way as other stories may have changed the way you see me. This story is really dark. Be warned before proceeding.)

Right now, Jupiter can be viewed from earth by the naked eye. That doesn’t have a lot to do with the story I’m about to tell, but does have a lot to say about the importance of timing in our lives.

Timing is uncontrollable, and undeniable. There is this girl I had a crush on a while back, but I didn’t have her number so I couldn’t get in contact with her. One day I went to the gym (because even perfection needs maintenance) and realized once I got there I had left all of my swimming gear at home. I drove back to the house, grabbed my gear, and got back to the gym as quickly as I could. As I was walking through the lobby of the gym, the girl I had a crush on happened to be walking through at the exact same time. We talked for a few minutes, and I almost asked her out, but I am a huge sissy when it comes to asking out girls that I actually like, so I didn’t (I know, the ending is very anticlimactic, but it goes along with the theme). If I hadn’t forgotten my gym stuff, I would have already been in the pool swimming with absolutely no chance of running into her, the opportunity to ask her out would not have presented itself, and I would be able to live with the delusions I would ask her out if ever I randomly bumped into her out in public. Now, I can’t.

I don't believe in psychics, but I do believe in great entertainers.
I don’t believe in psychics, but I do believe in great entertainers.

The “psychic” Derren Brown talks about this phenomenon throughout many of his pieces. Even though it seems as though his subjects are making completely random and individual decisions, he has figured out a way to have them choose the correct card that has predicted which chair the subject will sit in, or not pick out the chocolate roll that has the razor blade in it. As he says often, life is not random.

A series of seemingly random events that all appear to be inconsequential in the moment can lead up to an amazing event you will never forget. It is like multiple sets of dominos have been set up ever so carefully over the course of years to one day be knocked down, each domino clacking into the next one in the sequence, not really making a difference in the immediate, but affecting the sum as a whole. Until one day, these lines of falling dominos fatedly cross paths, and the timing of their trajectories are so well planned that they click into each other stopping them from falling in their places.

This is a story of randomly falling domino lines in the lives of two people and how their timing was so perfect it possibly saved both of their lives.

This is the unfortunate story of a lovely girl named Kelly (it wasn’t Kelly) and myself, and how fate needed us to meet.

Kelly was born in a small Michigan town. She didn’t have a great home life, and was exceptionally excited when she could leave. As soon as she was 18 she bolted. Gone from her hometown and the sadness that seemed to follow her everywhere she went. I never knew why, I never thought to ask, but somehow she ended up moving to Manassas, VA. If anyone has been to Manassas you can understand my confusion on why someone would decide to move there for no real purpose. It’s not a big city, it’s pretty expensive to live there, it’s spread out, the public transportation is pretty poor or nonexistent, there are little to no redeeming qualities about the place. And that is where I grew up. (Click)

Yes, I grew up in this amazingly interesting city. People who are huge Civil War buffs enjoy coming to the city to visit the battlefield, or the museum they have there, they do reenactments a lot, but I never had the desire to go there, it just wasn’t anything I was interested in. I can’t complain about my childhood at all though. I grew up in a middle-class family, in a middle-class city, doing middle-class things like swim teams, little league, Sunday school and youth groups. My life could only be described as the average middle-class life. There was nothing special about it or anything bad about it, it was just an average life.

There is one thing that is an essential piece of information to the end of the story, but I don’t want to give the ending away, so I will say this: during my youth, I asked my dad a question on how to do something I was probably too young to actually need to know, but he taught me anyway. I then went on to teach other people this thing, perfecting my skill, which all comes into play long after Kelly and I meet (Clack). Just remember this part later.

As I have never had problems admitting I went through a period of time going through problems dealing with different drug addictions. I have admitted to the amount of ecstasy I have taken throughout my lie and I never have researched this but I remember someone telling me that you don’t make more serotonin and once you’re out, you’re out. I don’t think that’s true, because I am happier now than I have been possibly ever, and I’m also pretty sure I have done enough drugs to have depleted my serotonin levels so low it would be basically nonexistent. Either way, we’ll just say the amount of serotonin depleting drugs I have put into my body caused an extended period of my life in which my ability to think clearly, and rationally about my life was all but impossible (Click).

I met Kelly during this time period in which I was using a lot of drugs. By the time we met, I was very interested in cocaine and had moved back to Manassas to get away from my coke using friends only a few cities away. My sister got me a job as the daytime bartender at the restaurant she worked at, and I jumped at the chance. I wanted to get away from the lifestyle that was clearly dragging me down. I was losing friends. My family didn’t like me (They took a family vacation to England and didn’t tell me until long after they got back). I was slowly destroying my life. This was my opportunity to clean up, and get my life back.

On my very first shift at the restaurant I met Kelly. She was the server. I was the bartender. She quickly told me about the menu, and how to open the restaurant, and I was considered trained in their eyes. They threw me behind the bar, added me to the ABC Managers list, and that was how my four year stint at the restaurant began (Clack).

It's a hell of a drug.
It’s a hell of a drug.

It was also on this very first shift she and I were talking about the restaurant, and I was getting the gossip on everyone who worked there, and she divulged one little thing to me. With the exception of two of the employees, everyone there used cocaine. It even had a nickname because this fact, it was known around town as “Cokra’s.” Apparently if anyone wanted to get a gram, or two, or three and a half of blow they would come to our restaurant ask one of the employees and it would be there in a very short amount of time.

It was obvious on my first day of sobriety I was going to fail incredibly miserably. And of course I did. I got right back into my using of drugs, not that I had taken too much time off from using, but the attempt was what made it admirable. Kelly had in one shift reintroduced me to a world I was trying to escape, but apparently was destined to live in for a while later (Click).

Kelly was fired not too long after that. I don’t remember what the reasons were for her termination, but I think it was for being late or something. The owner, who is a huge dick, held grudges and then would fire people over mild things because he just didn’t like the person. He fired me four separate times over the course of the time I worked there; only one of them was justified. In all fairness though, I did quit two times, the second time though I never came back.

In between the time Kelly got fired, and I quit was somewhere around three years, and in that time she had disappeared. I had heard rumors of where she had gone, but I didn’t really know. I also didn’t really care. While she was fun, cute and always kind of a wild card, she was kind of dumb, and somewhat annoying. The fact that she was gone meant very little to my life.

I had quit working at the restaurant, bit the bullet and finally decided it was time to grow up and join the family business. In my eyes, I was going to have to settle for a life I never really wanted, but a life of greatness seemed to be out of my grasp, so I was going to have to settle for a life of mediocrity, selling real estate, living in Manassas, where I would meet a girl that went to my high school, we would get married, have 2 kids, get divorced after the kids turned 18, have a midlife crisis, date a 22 year old grad student I helped find an apartment, my kids would despise me for leaving their mother, and eventually I would die old and alone.

While I was growing up, and attempting to be the adult I thought I should be by this point in my life, I found out Kelly was also doing things to better herself. She had also cleaned up (I had been sober for a few years by this point). She went back to school at James Madison University and was studying anthropology and political science. I found all of this out from the joys of social media and Facebook when she randomly requested my friendship one day.

We messaged back and forth one night for a little bit, and she said she was back in Northern Virginia for an internship in D.C. and we should hang out sometime soon and catch up. I thought that was a great idea, and we made plans to hang out and get a couple of beers. It wasn’t anything serious; it was just two old friends catching up after a few years of being separated. It happens everyday all across the world and to many it seems meaningless (Clack).

A few nights later she came over and we hung out. She had definitely changed from the girl I had known before. She had become prettier. She was smarter. There was a less naïve quality about her. She radiated a confidence she definitely didn’t have before. I found myself very strongly attracted to her. But, this was Kelly. I couldn’t be with Kelly. She had a stigma attached to her. I could be her friend but I couldn’t be with her. Right? (Click).

She and I started hanging out a lot after that. We would talk about politics, and religion, and our dreams, and our pasts, and how we got over our drug use, and how life was funny, and whatever else we could thing of (Clack). I started to like her, and she started to like me, and soon we were going out on proper dates. Eventually turning into dates where one of us would stay at the others house. Even though we never slept together during this time.

This was because she had just been dating this guy named Brennin, and he had kind of run over her emotionally. We discussed that she just wasn’t ready for a relationship, and soon she would be going back to school so there really wasn’t a point to jumping into anything. I understood. Nobody wanted to be in a relationship with someone when they just weren’t ready and our bond grew stronger. It honestly felt like my first truly adult relationship, without the pesky relationship part. We hung out a few more times over the next few weeks, then she disappeared back to JMU, for her senior year.

We weren't bubble proof. Nobody ever is.
We weren’t bubble proof. Nobody ever is.

As many people know, the real estate market in the D.C. area, much as the rest of country, had been inflated due to a very large bubble effect that caused house prices to skyrocket and real estate agents, like myself, had started out making a lot of money. Thinking that our area was “bubble-proof” due to its proximity to D.C. we thought the cash would continue to flow. Many of us had realized this was nothing more than a pipedream by the time Kelly went back to school. I had not realized it quite yet, since I had Kelly as a distraction from the fledgling market, and my dwindling bank accounts.

There is this moment of clarity you have when you realize you haven’t sold a house in months, the mortgage on your house in around $2,500 a month, you only have $3,000 in the bank, and need to pay all of your bills. Suddenly, your body is weighed down with a level of stress that can only be described as debilitating. Everyday I was finding it harder and harder to get out of bed, even though I knew I had to find someone to buy a house from me soon, otherwise I was going to default on my mortgage.

I don’t know what a heart attack feels like exactly, but if it feels like the steely cold hand of death reaching into your chest, grabbing onto your heart and squeezing it until you want to sob about the patheticness of your life, I was living with that at an almost constant rate. The only time I felt better about myself was when I was drinking. They say alcohol is a depressant, but during these times the clarity I experienced while I was sober depressed me a lot more than the lies I convinced myself of when I was drunk. This being said, I was drinking a lot. A lot.

Some would say I was in the middle of a full on bender, but for me it was just a normal series of events. Drink until you felt normal. Drink, drink, drink until you forgot you were broke. Drink, drink, drink until you knew everything would be ok. Drink, drink, drink until you could convince yourself you are not a loser. Drink, drink, drink until you could convince yourself you are not a failure. Even though it was obvious to everyone else none of the things you were trying to convince yourself of were even remotely true (click).

During this time Kelly was slowly getting over Brennin and started getting really into the idea of religion. She and I had discussed how I was raised Christian and how I still believed in God even though I didn’t go to church or anything. Because of this fact she would text me every once in a while asking me an innocuous question about God, and why I believed in Him (this has all changed since then, even though many people would say that this story should keep my faith alive). I would text her back and we would have these theological discussions late at night via text message when I was too drunk to realize what I was saying or even doing (Click, Clack, Click, Clack).

(I just remembered this; the Red Sox won the World Series that year. I just realized how long ago this was. That may have been the last good thing that happened to me that year.)

The real estate market still hadn’t turned around (and it didn’t for many years after this). I was living paycheck to paycheck but I didn’t ever know when the next paycheck was coming. I would go back to my home and just pray the lights would turn on. Every time I walked into my front door reached out slightly to my right and turned the switch in the upward position, my heart stopped a little in that fraction of a second in which the darkness still hadn’t changed to light.

Will Smith one time said, “There is rich people broke, and poor people broke. I was poor people broke.” I understood what he meant by that sentiment.

December had rolled around. Yay, for Christmas time and being broke and depressed. While everyone around me had the joyous cheer that seems to be infectious during the season, I felt bogged down with sadness and remorse. I had nothing. I couldn’t afford to drink anymore, so I had to walk through life sober all the time. I didn’t have the one thing that made me feel human anymore. Occasionally my friends would offer to buy me a beer if I would come out, but I knew one beer wouldn’t do anything except make me regret more.

Every choice I had made had led me to this point. I stopped chasing my dreams, and decided to go after the life I thought I was supposed to have at this point, and not the life I wanted to have. My chest constantly felt as though a one hundred pound weight was resting inside of it. I couldn’t breathe, and I had the constant feeling I was going to vomit from stress.

I could fake my way through most days though. I don’t think many people realized what I was going through at the time. If they did, they were all too terrified to bring it up to me. My friend Ryan knew about my problems and on a rather regular occasion he would tell me just to come up to his bar and I could drink for free. He just paid for everything out of his own pocket. In all honesty, it was those nights that kept me going as long as I was able to (Click, Clack).

I opened up my bank account online to see exactly how close to broke I was, knowing I had no checks coming for quite some time, I had just paid off all my bills which was good, but my cars gas light had come on, and I was going to have to fill it. I stared at my computer screen in utter disbelief as I saw the total in my checking account. $2.74. I swallowed hard and hoped I had enough gas to get to work the next day.

Casey called me as I sat there in the dark, staring at the off grey color of the powered off television, with a blanket wrapped around me while I attempted to do anything except cry. He told me his bar was having its Christmas party that night and I was invited. It was going to be an open bar. He told me I should come, get out of the house and be around people. I thought was probably best, because I did not like the thoughts rushing though my head at the time.

I don’t remember what I was thinking here at the time. It may have been if I could just get one area of my life clean, all areas would seem cleaner by proxy. If just one little thing happened that made my life seem more organized, I wouldn’t be as depressed constantly, I wouldn’t feel so much of a failure. I don’t know why I thought that this needed to be done this night, I don’t know why I considered this to be the most important thing to clean in a lifetime of messes that were bogging me down and holding me in the depths of a failed life. This night though, I (stupidly) decided to try out the self-cleaner on my oven, and I forgot to turn it off.

Everyone but me felt this way about that night.
Everyone but me felt this way about that night.

I went to the Christmas party, but oddly enough I was not in the partying mood. It was the first time the (free) alcohol didn’t act as a distraction to the life I was living, but instead acted as the depressant many people insist that it is. I wanted to party, and be jovial, and be the guy that so many people had come to know and love, but that night, that guy was nowhere to be found. Instead there was a shell of him sitting by himself at the bar, drinking his free beer and shots, smoking whatever cigarettes he could bum off of anyone who was willing to give him one, and when last call was called, he quietly stood up, walked out to his car and drove home.

Nothing seemed amiss upon arriving to the condo building in which I resided. There were no signs of distress anywhere. Nothing was out of the ordinary. Just another night in which I had arrived home pretty intoxicated and just wanted to get into my bed and pass out.

I rounded the corner to my apartment, and as I got closer I noticed their was a white note taped to the green door standing out immensely in the dimmed night lighting they used to save electricity. I started to see the door was also slightly ajar, which was weird, since I always, always locked my door. I pulled the note down from the door and read it:

Dear tenant,

I am the fire chief from Manassas Park Fire Department. We were called to a call at your apartment that was caused by excessive smoke coming from the self-cleaning feature on your oven. We attempted to enter the house without breaking in, but in the end we had to break your doorframe in order to enter the property and take care of the situation. If you have any questions please call once you return home.

Chief (I don’t remember)

My hands shook as I pushed the door open easily and could see the broken frame smashed to splinters all over the foyer. The house was still filled with the strong scent of smoke, even though they had opened all of the windows, which also made the house a very chilly 34 degrees. I watched my breath rise through the dark living room, lit up from the light of an outside streetlight. I started to cry.

Immediately I reached in my pocket and pulled out my phone. I needed to talk to someone, but whom could I call? It was 2:30 in the morning. All of my friends were asleep or passed out. I started dialing anyway.

“Just give me anyone to talk to,” I thought. “Just a conversation and I’ll be fine.”

I called my sister, no answer. I called my cousin, no answer. I called my friend Liz, no answer. I called, and called, and called. Hoping and praying that someone would answer, I gave up after 14 calls and no pick-ups.

I walked to the fridge and I opened it up. Staring up at me was the only thing that was in the fridge: one solitary beer. How poignant.

Just this picture gives me chills.
Just this picture gives me chills.

I pulled it out and sat down on the cheap futon couch I had adopted at some point and looked around. I was done. I had nothing left in me. That was when I saw it. Lying there on the floor next to me was the orange extension cord I had used to vacuum with and had never put away. It was a 25 foot one. I picked up the extension cord, and stared at it for a minute as I slowly sipped on my beer. Then I utilized a skill I had learned when I was ten years old. A skill I had learned when I asked my dad how people did this. A skill I worked 18 years on perfecting. I made two loops, carefully wrapping the excess orange rubber cord around them, lacing the rest through the top loop, and tightening the loop so it held it together, perfect for supporting my weight.  That night I tied the last noose I ever tied.

I jumped up on the futon, tying the cord around a series of pillars, columns, doorknobs and furniture just to make sure the knot wouldn’t come out. I wanted this to hold me.

I even put my iPod on a certain song I had on repeat, but I am keeping that memory for myself (Every time I hear the song to this day, though, I do tear up).

I stepped up on a chair and put the orange cord around my neck. I took the last sip of beer from the can, dropping it on the floor. I’m certain someone would clean that up one day. I tightened the cord so it was as snug as a well-tied double Windsor, feeling the cold rubber burning my neck ever so slightly as it rubbed across the skin as I moved my head from side to side. I stood on the chair breathing heavily, getting ready to tip the chair and end all of the misery I was dealing with on a daily basis.

“It’s time,” I thought.

I shifted my weight, tilting the chair to the right, getting ready to shove all of my weight the other way in order to get the chair to fall violently to the floor, and then my body would plummet the foot or so, neck snapping in the process, ending it all, when my phone rang.

I settled my weight and thought about not answering it, but I pulled it out of my pocket anyway. Just to see who was calling me back.

I smiled slightly as I saw on the screen of my phone that it wasn’t any of the people I called, but instead, Kelly was calling me. I decided to let it go to voicemail, and continue with the task at hand. I put the phone back in my pocket and started getting to the point where I would be ready to tip the chair and not have to worry about any of the problems that plagued me at that moment.

I took a deep breath, and my phone rang again. I exhaled, and pulled it out once again. It was Kelly calling me back. I decided I should probably answer it. She had called me twice at 3:00 in the morning. I could see what she wanted and then go back to what I was doing. It would be my last good deed before I left this world.

“Hello?” I said, noose still around my neck.

“Hey, did I wake you?” she asked. She was upset.

“No,” I said. “What’s up?”

“Well….”

(Click, Clack, Click, Cla…)

I’m not going to say what we talked about. We spanned many conversations and topics that night. She needed advice on life and relationships, and she said I was the only one she entrusted with giving her the advice. Eventually I took the noose off, turned off the song, and she and I just talked until the sun came up. I didn’t tell her what I was doing at that time. I didn’t need to. She needed me to be there as a friend for her, so I was. She didn’t need to know about my shit.

I never told her about that night, or how big of an impact that she had on my life, and is basically the reason that I am still alive. I would occasionally thank her for something that she never knew what I was talking about.

She and I did date for a little bit, but it didn’t work out, just like other relationships I write about. We didn’t end badly or anything, and even if we had I think I would still hold her in the regard in which I do.

I love her for what she did. She had the most impeccable timing in the entire world, and because of her timing I get to be here writing this story for anyone out there who wants to read it.

Kelly married Brennin (which I thought was a mistake), and I think she works at the Goodall Institute, which she always said she wanted to do. I haven’t spoken to her in years, but if she ever needs me to talk to her about anything, I will drop whatever I am doing to make that phone call. I only hope my timing is just as flawless as hers.

I could tell you what happened next in my life and how I became the guy writing these stories, but that is a story for another day. Now go outside, find Jupiter in the sky and take a look at it before you aren’t able to do that anymore.

Welcome to Jupiter! Have a gas!
Welcome to Jupiter! Have a gas!

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