Well, thought Ted, I guess I better throw up.
First came the recent stuff. The memo battle he had somehow ended up in with Gabriella from Marketing. All the hassles with the implementation of the new file architecture on the “universal” server stack. The weird pushback he had been getting from his previously well behaved staff. Oh, and of course, having to dodge Raji the sysadmin’s pathetically clumsy sexual advances. That was growing pretty tiresome.
But that was just the light stuff, the kind of thing everyone has to swallow just to get by in daily life. No way that was the problem, thought Ted, not with how sick he felt.
Then, of course, came the stuff about Janice. Stupid fucking Janice. He wasn’t surprising to see how undigested that stuff was. He told everybody that he was over her, and sometimes he believed it himself. But anyone who knew him knew that it would be a while before that wound would heal. To have her leave him after two years of what he thought was a very solid and durable relationship was bad enough. But to leave him for some idiot ex-jock with the IQ of a turnip and the manners of an ape?
When they were together, they mocked that kind of person and everything they represented. Now, that ape was fucking her and Ted was left out in the cold. There’s just plain no justice in love, thought Ted. No justice, no fairness, no morality, no law, no predictability, and absolutely no rules, not even the law of the jungle.
Getting rid of that made Ted feel a little better, and gave him time to splash some cold water on his face, gargle some Scope, and give the toilet a flush.
As the contents of the bowl swirled and disappeared, Ted felt a feeling like a ghost had just left his body. Goodbye, demons, thought Ted, though part of him already missed them.
Then the nausea came on again, twice as strong and ready to drag him through Hell like Satan’s own Clydesdales. Up came his hot, intense, and thoroughly insane relationship with Lorelei, whom he’d met in rehab. Then rehab itself, that confusing miasma of pain and words and people who seemed like ghosts in the fog compared to the enormity and potency of his withdrawal’s exquisite and delicate tower of agony and torture.
He saw that his certificate for “graduating” rehab still in the bowl. He couldn’t help but sneer. He was the scion of the Reynolds family and didn’t appreciate being treated like he was in kindergarten. Sure, he had gone astray and developed a prescription pill addiction during his time in Afghanistan, but in his mind, there was never any doubt that given the chance to collect himself in a place with no possibility of acquiring his favorite pills, he would be able to power through the withdrawal symptoms and become Ted Reynolds of the Palisades Park Reynolds again.
Ted was not surprised when the nausea didn’t relent after he had flushed all that rehab bullshit down (goodbye, ghost!). Nothing after the war really counted anyway. He’d been living the life of another man every since they shipped him home. No matter how deep he waded into the pool of life, with all its complications and distractions, he knew he was still there. Left behind.
Things got really ugly then, as he knew they would. Up came chunks of charred flesh. twisted bits of melted metal, hair from the beards of the dying, thousands of pills of various size, shape, and color, and then, as always, the bullets.
Thousands and thousands of bullets, thrown up in huge gut-twisting handfuls. He could taste the metal and the cordite and feel the bullets’ terrible, terrible hollowness.
Before the war, when he was a brash young college graduate (Systems Programming, cum laude, of course) who felt he had a duty to go to war and bring back glory for the Reynolds’, he had thought the worst thing he would see is innocent people dying for no reason.
But during the war, he soon learned that what really stuck with you and ate you up inside was the ones where you knew the reason and the reason was terrible. People dying for tiny, petty, pathetic reasons like someone wanted to impress a girl they liked so they made an IED, or someone had a bet with a friend over who could “bag” more “targets” in a day, or someone turned someone else into the authorities because he wanted their land.
The worst thing we do with war, Ted thought as the bullets poured like hail from his mouth into the toilet, is pretend it makes sense. It doesn’t make sense. Any sense you make of it after the fact is the product of your mind trying to heal. It has nothing to do with reality. War is stupid, ugly, pointless, and utterly devoid of meaning for those who fight it.
And the people back home can just go fuck themselves. What the fuck do they know? They treat it like it’s a sport. They have no idea why the politicians they elected really go to war. They just enjoy the show.
The bullets were bad, but when they ran out, it would be worse. When the last one fell from his lips, fear and dread stabbed Ted in the heart. He tried to choke back what he knew came next, but it was far too late for that. There was no stopping the process now. This could only end one way.
With Fatima, of course. That was the flower she always carried floating in the bowl atop a thin, deep vein of blood. Fatima, of the bell-pure ringing laughter and the sweet, dark, gentle eyes. Fatima, of the flashing wit and gentle touch. Fatima, the woman he had loved with all his heart right up until the moment she had shouted “Allah Ackbar” and stabbed him in it.
That’s what had led him to the pills. She had never loved him. She had merely been looking for a big dumb soldier to cast her spell on then betray, and Ted, the big romantic lion who always led with his heart, was the perfect target.
In the hospital, they told him he was neither her first or last victim. Rumor was that UN soldiers had killed her husband and children in a “targeted” drone strike, and she had been stalking and killing them ever since.
It was when he was in the hospital that he had started with the pills. What did it matter what he did to himself? He was dead. He’d died the moment that blade had struck home. The person walking around wearing Ted Reynolds’ body was someone else. There are some wounds from which no man can recover.
The last thing Ted threw up was the receipt from the restaurant where they had first met for a terrible, wonderful first date where everything had gone wrong and everything had been wonderful anyway.
There was more, Ted knew, but he was exhausted and felt cold and empty inside and all he wanted to do was crawl into a warm bed and forget everything for a while.
He stood up, and went to leave, but happened to catch a glimpse of himself in the bathroom mirror, and could not help but stop and stare in abject horror.
Who the hell is that? thought Ted.