A New Holiday

By Elliot Norton

I had been awake forty-three hours and thirty minutes. I did the math as I smoked and talked. Bryant was there, and we stood on my front porch near River Street. Downtown looked hazy and blue in the early morning light, and always a good witness, Bryant had stayed up with me sipping a glass of water. I was comfortable around him; he had recently told everyone he was a homosexual, and I liked the idea he could live with a secret. It made us somehow more alone.


If I were to die, I told him, the people I knew would read every word I had ever written, and certain phrases would take on new meanings. He told me I should work harder so the writing stood on its own. He was right.


The scariest part, I said, was how functional I had become, how no one really knew how bad it had gotten, and soon I was telling him about my schedule and the mornings and the effort I had to make each day. He stood and listened and didn’t say anything. Later, I understood I was giving myself a pep-talk, one that someone needed to hear or it wouldn’t have mattered.


After sleeping through most of the afternoon, the day ended with my favorite team losing the Superbowl. I only saw glimpses of the game; I spent most of the broadcast lying on the bathroom floor whispering let me live, I want to get through this, help me, please, I’ll change if I survive (I don’t believe in God, so I don’t know who I was talking to). The only thing that calmed me were thoughts of my father. I remembered him drinking ginger ale and ice in the same short glass that used to hold his Irish whiskey.


I remembered him before rehab. My mother had told him to quit or move out and for a while he chose to live in a hotel. He was gone long enough that we were accustomed to his absence. The day he came back my mother took me to a movie. It ended, and the house lights came on, and we filed out of the theater walking up the center aisle. My father stood at the back. He wore new clothes and was clean-shaven. He asked if we liked the movie and then told my mother he was ready to change for his family. My family, he said, as if he had recently decided it meant something. My mother nodded slightly, and I looked up at him and asked if he had enjoyed the movie. He said it had been beautiful and turned to walk out of the theater, and I didn’t see his face again until we were under the red marquee, he teary-eyed and eager to hug me.