The warning signs are always there, but sometimes it’s hard to notice. Or maybe sometimes you just don’t think it’s important enough to notice.
We all know that money can’t buy happiness… kind of. It can help pay my bills, which will make me happy not to be out on my ass living out of a King Sooper’s shopping cart, but you know that ultimately the old adage is still true.
This weekend my fiancé and I were at a party at her brother’s mansion. Her brother has a lot of that green stuff, but he’s clearly not happy. It shows. When you first walk into the gigantic double doors, into a modern day palace that looks like it could only come straight out of a movie—exaggerated statues, exquisite paintings, a winding staircase, Mexican maids (ironically, for a Mexican family)—the only thing you can feel is that it’s big and empty. It doesn’t feel like an $8 million dream home. It feels lonely. It feels depressing. It feels too big for its own good. This is a house, but it’s certainly not a home.
The answering machine is maxed out on messages and flashes incessantly, perpetually ignored by the homeowner. The alarm on the wall has had the wrong time since whenever the hell daylight savings took effect and was last armed even some time before that. The only food in the entire house is a pantry full of Lucky Charms and fruit snacks. Again, my fiancé’s brother is not a happy man.
The night started well enough. I’m not big on parties, but the guest of honor, Meli’s other brother’s boyfriend, had invited a bunch of ‘bears’ to party. If you don’t know what a bear is, it’s not the big furry mammal that attacks men, though that description could be eerily close. A bear is a big burly gay man that has a thick beard, big muscles, and well, looks more like the Brawny Lumberjack than a gay man. They are gentle giants. They’re 6 foot 4, their biceps are as big as your legs, and they look like they could kick your ass…until they give you a huge hug, grab you a coaster so your drink doesn’t sweat on the wood, and ask with a tone that I don’t think I’ve even heard my own mother ask, “Would you like something to eat? You look hungry. Let me grab you something.”
So there I was, partying it up with the bears, and last minute we found out that there was no bartender. The bartender they planned to hire bailed on us, so I jumped behind the counter (which holds more liquor than my life is worth) and started dishing out drinks. Apparently I passed for a bartender, as I was asked quickly by patrons if I they could have a ‘seabreeze’ or a ‘red-headed slut’ or ‘my phone number’ (I think that last one was just a come on). I have no idea what any of those are, but they all sounded like frilly cocktail drinks, so I made some cranberry vodkas and surprisingly, didn’t receive any complaints. I made anyone what they asked for, as long as it was something my poor mixed drink dictionary could decipher, and though I didn’t realize it at first, there was a tip jar. In fact, the guy who I think kept coming up to order drinks just to talk to me kept handing me fives and telling me I was great. Grand total, I made out with $58 in ones and fives, and my wallet is so full I can’t close it. My wallet makes me look like I’m a baller, and the inside reveals that I might just be some kind of stripper.
This was the only highlight of the night, however, and things quickly turned sour. At 1 AM the police showed up, and I thought it was because of the noise, even though it’s been relatively tame, but no one’s saying anything. The music is killed. More police swarm in. Everyone’s asked to go outside, but I’m still behind the counter. My fiancé is panicking. Her mother is crying. Everyone rushes into her brother’s room.
What is seen is something that no one could ever forget; a not yet brother in law, in his bed, skin so pale it’s white as pearls. He is Mexican, and his skin is supposed to be brown. His lips are the same white color, the veins in his nose are thick and throbbing, and he’s choking on his own vomit. His mother drops to her knees at the foot of his bed and screams in Spanish that she’d rather die. Her son is OD’ing.
A family friend is wringing out a wash cloth on his face because he keeps trying to sleep. He’s trying to die. By some miracle one of the bears is a doctor and takes his pulse. It’s faint, but it’s there. He’s rushed out by stretcher to the ambulance while everyone is staring and gawking and the family is crying because no one knows if he’s going to make it.
It looks like he should make it, even after the doctors informed us that he had such a huge infection in his lungs that he wouldn’t make it through the night and we should say our goodbyes. And here I am, in Vegas, stuck in party city but spending my days and nights in a hospital waiting room that is most definitely living up to its name. It’s been 5 days and he’s just barely off of a breathing tube and forming coherent thoughts.
And yet… the thing I remember most about that night, as I’m standing outside of a mansion, with an arsenal of police cars, and a fire truck, and an ambulance on all sides of me, with people screaming and crying and asking “What’s happening? What’s happening?” is the sound of my feet shuffling on the grass… that overly loud, hollow sound that doesn’t sound like grass, because it’s not. The grass is fake. It’s some kind of tinselly looking green material, lain out across the entire estate, and I really can’t think of anything better to sum this up.
From far away the grass looks very neat, very green, well groomed, and happy, but up close it looks fake, neglected, and unhappy... and I’ve wondered how many people have ever stopped to notice this, besides myself.