"Neblett takes us through a wonderfully imagined, captivating interface between reality and the virtual reality of next-generation video games."
Adrian Winstanley author High Hopes Silver Linings
Friday, August 29, 2014
Love In A Bottle by BJ Neblett
As promised, here is another chapter from my in progress follow up memoir to Ice Cream Camelot titled A Change Is Gonna Come. It is the '80's, as this chapter examines my reaction to my fiancee Cindy's death at the hands of a drunk driver. Look for A Change Is Gonna Come spring of 2015. Please be sure to like, link, comment and share the love. And you can follow my career as a romance writer by clicking on the image to the right. Enjoy Ponytail - Never Say Uncle in this month's Romance Magazine. And look for a new story in September's issue, available soon.
The year and a half following
Cindy’s murder is a blur in my life. From what I’ve been able to piece together
of the eighteen months, that’s probably a good thing. There’s not much of a
view from the bottom of a bottle of self pity and guilt. What you do see isn’t
worth remembering; what you remember you try to forget. What I remember about
the fall of 1984 and all of 1985 is a dark, angry, bitter, confused and mostly
drunk face staring back at me in the mirror. The face wasn’t even recognizable
as my own.
I didn’t shave for weeks at a time.
Personal hygiene wasn’t high on my list of priorities. Forgetting was number
one. I did manage a presentable façade at the station. Work was the only thing
besides gin that took my mind off of Cindy. And even gin wasn’t doing too good
of a job. If it had I’m sure I would have drunk myself to death.
I almost did.
You think I would have learned.
In high school, I lost three close
friends to drinking. As a disenfranchised young teen I nearly lost my life
during an alcohol induce impromptu bonfire with my buddies. Working in clubs
you have a front row seat, witnessing what alcohol is capable of doing. Cindy’s
mom was an alcoholic. Cindy died at the hands of a worthless drunk who had been
given more chances than he ever gave Cindy.
You think I would have learned.
One rainy night, drunk and high on
ecstasy, I drove my beloved De Soto into a cement bridge abutment. I wasn’t
seriously injured, but in a twist of irony two good Samaritans drove me to the
hospital. I was cited for leaving the scene of an accident and kept my driver’s
license. But I wore steering wheel welts across my eyes and chest, and a deep
parking brake handle gash in my left knee for weeks.
My best friend Bill talked me into
seeing a psychologist. Reluctantly I agreed, but her well meaning, expensive
psycho babble went in one ear and out the other. She said I was subconsciously
trying to destroy not just myself, but one of my last tangible links to Cindy.
She was right of course. Our first official date was in that car. Cindy formed
a curious fascination and affection to the be-finned antique. I teased her
about having a fetish for anything that was old.
The De Soto wasn’t totaled. I’ve
fixed worse, including the De Soto when I first got her. But I had neither the
desire to repair her, nor the heart to see her junked and parted out. In one of
my more lucid moments, I gave the old reliable classic a fitting burial. A
friend of mine was in the heavy construction business. Cement pouring was
scheduled to start in a few days for an office complex near Houston’s
InterContinental Airport. We trucked the old De Soto up to the site and he
bulldozed out a pit. With Rock ‘n’ Roll
Heaven blasting from the speakers, and Cindy’s photo smiling at me from the
dashboard, I drove my trusted old black and white friend for the last time, and
then sadly watched as she was covered over. Days later a few thousand metric
tons of cement sealed her fate. To this day she rests beneath a multi-level
Neither the accident nor the loss of
my old De Soto managed to slow me down.
Almost losing my job did…almost.
I managed to hold onto a modicum of
sobriety at work. But being sober didn’t help my attitude. The Lite Rock format
was taking over Houston’s air waves. My show was important to the station’s
success. As it turned out no one was interested in listening to, or talking
with, a bitter, cynical love songs host. Radio is a strange medium. No matter
how hard you may try to mask them, your emotions shine through. Your moods and
demeanor manifest themselves in your speech and your comments, even in your
music. If you are happy the listeners are aware. If you are pissed they know
that, too. And so does your boss. I went through the motions, putting no
interest or effort into my work; drawing on my years of experience to get me
through the night and to my next drink. The ruse fooled no one. Four days
before Christmas, 1984, my friend and boss Pamela Dunlap called me into her
I was waiting when Pam entered. “You
look like hell.”
“Thanks,” I replied, giving her a
sour look, “Merry Christmas to you, too.”
She glared at me from behind wire
rimmed reading glasses as she sat down. Deep in my bitterness, I found a
flicker of remorse for my uncalled for remark. Through everything that had
happened, Pam had remained a good friend. And in my present condition I was
quickly running out of friends. “Don’t even mess with me today, Billy! Shut up,
listen to what I have to say then politely thank me and get out of my sight!
I swallowed another sarcastic remark
and nodded. Pam took a deep breath. I could tell this wasn’t easy for her.
“Okay, I know it’s only been four months since Cindy’s death. I am aware of how
much you are hurting.” She held up a hand cutting off my comment. “That still
doesn’t excuse your behavior. If you remember, I offered you as much time off
as you needed. You refused. At the time I agreed thinking maybe work would help
you get through it. But…”
Okay, I thought, here it comes,
happy holidays and good bye.
“… but it didn’t. You’ve been late.
You disappeared for over a week in October to who knows where. You are
constantly drinking.” She picked up a pencil and then threw it back down on the
desk. “You of all people should understand that what you do on the outside does reflect on the station. Your
attitude towards your show is totally unacceptable. Sloppy work is one thing,
but when you start to alienate listeners something needs to be done.”
Pam turned her chair and gazed out
the window. She couldn’t look at me. I couldn’t blame her. Everything she had
said was true. And she had been gentle with her remarks. I may not have been
able to remember specifics from the last few months, but I was keenly aware of
my disagreeable disposition. It was affecting every aspect of my life. I had
lost a lot of weight and nearly everyone close to me. I felt much older than my
thirty-three years and looked twice the age.
The day after Cindy’s death, as Bill
drove me to his house, I recalled a day in May a long time ago. I was twelve
and had just witnessed my best friend Chris electrocuted to death by a high
tension electric wire. Dad had put a hand to my shoulder in a comforting
gesture. But his words sent confused, mixed messages: “Sorry, Billy. But a man
doesn’t cry. He doesn’t ask for help and he doesn’t show his feelings.” Those
were the only words of comfort ever afforded me about the tragedy. When Cindy
was killed I took those words to heart, alienating everyone who cared about me
in the process.
We sat in Pam’s office in silence.
Even with everything that was happening, all I wanted was a drink. I tried to
clear my mind. On the wall hung the Houston
City Paper photo of the Porn-rock couple. I could see Cindy’s lovely face;
hear her velveteen laughter as Misty related the story to her over crab cakes
and corn on the cob at Phillips in Baltimore. The image made my head spin.
Ironically, right next to the photo hung a more recent newspaper clipping from
the Houston Post. It was an article
about my sudden departure and surprising switch from the old station to this
one. I barely recognized the happy looking young guy in the accompanying
picture, posed wide eyed behind the microphone. It had been less than two years
ago. It felt like a lifetime.
Pam stirred uncomfortably in her
chair. “You’re too good a DJ, a person, to do this to yourself, Billy. You have
to let it go.”
She was right.
Her words fell on deaf ears.
Taking a deep breath, Pam seemed to
make up her mind. “Right now you are off the air. You’ve got the next three
weeks to clean up your act. I want you back here Sunday night, January 13. You’ll
take over the midnight to six A.M. shift. I don’t want to see you or hear about
you! Screw up once more and you’ll be lucky to get a job doing farm reports in
Nebraska. I mean this! Now get out of here.”
She didn’t turn around, continuing
to stare blankly out the window. I eased out of my chair, stole another quick
glance at the news clippings on the wall, and then made my way to the door.
“Thanks, Boss,” I called as I exited.
Three days later I awoke in Bill and
Shirley’s guest bedroom, my head pounding. I could tell by the angle of the
shadows on the drawn curtains it was late in the day. I tried to sit up but my
eyes blurred and my head spun. The knocking on the bedroom door felt like
Shirley entered carrying a glass of
orange juice and a bottle of aspirin. “You look like hell.”
“Thanks,” I replied, trying to chase
the cotton from my mouth. “I hear that a lot these days.”
She purposely slammed the bottle and
glass down on the night stand, spilling some of the juice and driving a spike
through my skull. “Gee, I wonder why,” she countered, closing the door too
hard. I managed to down three aspirins and spill half the glass of orange juice
down the front of my T shirt before I passed out.
A couple of hours later I came to,
feeling a bit better. Bill silently slipped into the room and scooted the desk
chair up next to the bed. “Happy Birthday, buddy, how are you feeling?”
“How do I look?”
The grin I’d come to know and love
all these years crept across his face. “Like hell.”
I ignored his comment. Then it hit
me. “What did you say?”
“I said you look like hell and
that’s giving you the better of it.”
“No, no… the other thing…”
“Oh, you mean Happy Birthday?”
I looked towards the window. It was
now dark outside. The clock on the night stand read 6:15. “What day is this?”
Bill’s grin grew as he tried in vain
to hide his amusement. “It’s Monday, Christmas Eve. It’s your birthday. Shirley
wanted to greet you with hats and horns.”
“Monday…?” My head began to swim
again. I swallowed two more aspirins and what remained of the juice. “Monday…
how, what happened? How’d I get here?”
Bill made one of his famous okay, you asked for it, here it comes
faces and sucked in his lower lip. I knew from past experience that this wasn’t
going to be good.
“Well, let’s see, where do I begin?”
His look turned thoughtful.
“Cut the crap and get on with it
will ya, while I’m still alive to hear.”
“Okay, okay. Boy you sure are grumpy
for a birthday boy.” He was enjoying this. “On Friday afternoon your boss, Pam
called… you remember her… she was looking for you. She was leaving to go home
and your Plymouth was still in the parking lot. She said you had left the
station late that morning.”
I thought about what he said.
Nothing, I drew a complete blank. Bill took a deep breath and continued. “You
showed up here around four this morning.”
“Oh, yeah… Anyway, you shall we say
noisily arrived here around four in your new car with Mandy and two of her
stripper girlfriends in tow.”
“A new car…?”
Bill nodded again.
“And two of her friends,” he replied,
grinning and nodding like a bobble head.
I though again. There was still
“You and your lady friends had quite
a time riding the wooden reindeer on my front lawn. It took some doing but
Shirley and I managed to get you inside and say good bye to your playmates.”
“Oh, well, that’s good.”
“Not so good.” Bill’s expression
turned serious. “That’s when you tried to dance with Shirley. You started
lining the belt to her bathrobe with five dollar bills. By the way, she said
she’s keeping them.”
I closed my eyes. At least it
couldn’t get any worse.
My friend shook his head. “We got
you calmed down somewhat, but not for long. First you nearly ransacked the
house looking for a drink. Then you knocked down the Christmas tree trying to
get to the bathroom. You didn’t make it. You puked in the living room and then
passed out on the sofa.”
I pulled the covers up over my head.
I wished it was six feet of dirt. “No wonder she…”
“Yeah,” Bill laughed. “There’s
“You gotta be kidding me,” I moaned
from under the covers.
“Mandy called a while ago. She
wanted to know how you were doing. You know, she really is a nice girl. You’ve
known her for what, since we first came to Houston. That’s been about…”
Pulling the covers down, I shot Bill
a threatening look. “Just get on with it!”
“Okay, okay, keep your shorts on.”
He laughed again. “Oh, that’s right, you’re not wearing any. Anyway, Mandy
filled me in on your weekend, what she could remember about it. Seems you
walked away from the station Friday in a daze. At least that’s how Mandy said
you seemed when you showed up at The Second Look around two P.M.
“Pretty much, yeah,” he replied.
“According to Mandy you walked in, lifted her off the stage in mid-dance,
carried her over to a corner table, pulled out your Gold Card – she gave it
back to me, by the way – and announced, ‘Everything for everyone till closing
time’.” Reaching into his pocket, Bill pulled out several pieces of paper and
began to study them.
I watched, confused. “You had to
“Hey, man, I may write a book!”
“Whatever, go on.”
“Well, Friday night into Saturday is
kind of a blur to her, too. It seems the four of you, Mandy, you, Candi and Yum-Yum
put on quite a show for the customers at Denny’s. Luckily Angie was working,
although I don’t think she wants to see you back there for a while. Then all of
you spent the night at Candi’s house. She didn’t go into much detail. But large
amounts of alcohol, ecstasy and coke were involved, as was Candi’s hot tub.”
For the first time in my life I saw
my best friend blush. The covers returned to my head as I felt myself sinking
into the bed. Regaining his composure, Bill continued to read from his notes.
“Late Saturday afternoon you discovered you were without a car, so – that’s a
very nice Mustang. And you got a great deal on it by paying cash – Saturday
night Yum-Yum got a yen for sea food. I thought you were allergic?”
“I am, very allergic. It could kill
me. Too bad I didn’t eat any.”
“Sarcasm…? You must be feeling
better.” I could hear him rustling through more papers. “Guido’s Seafood House
on Galveston Island requests that you do not return. And a Captain George
Wright of the Galveston City Police Department would like to speak with you if
you do return… to Galveston Island, not to Guido’s. By the way, I washed the sand
and saltwater from your car for you. It would be a shame to ruin that nice new
shiny black paint.”
This was a nightmare. I groaned and
That was a mistake.
This time I made it to the bathroom.
When I returned, I found Bill
sitting next to his wife in the living room. Shirley glared at me. A second
later her gold capped front tooth shone like a Christmas tree topper as she
burst out in laughter. “You look like hell.”
I just looked at her and flopped
down in the recliner.
Bill’s grin matched his wife’s, as
he perused his notes, “Ready for the rest?”
Always the smart ass, he studied the
papers closer, “Oh, yeah!”
“Just the highlights, please,” I
replied, bracing for the worse.
“Oh, no, this is much too good for
just the cleft notes. It seems none of you are very clear about Sunday. Judging
from the condition of your clothes we figured the four of you spent at least
part of Saturday night and Sunday morning on the beach somewhere. It too
included a lot of drinking. Somewhere along the way Candi got a tattoo before
you returned to the city. All three girls wanted you to know they are very
pleased with their Christmas presents from the jewelry store in the Galleria
Mall. And you all ended up at The Forum where again the four of you put on
quite a show for the customers.” Bill looked up from his notes. “By the way,
how is Harvey doing? It’s been a while since we were there. Boy, I remember the
times…” He had to stop and catch his breath as Shirley’s elbow found his ribs.
“Are we done here?” I asked, praying
Still taking sadistic pleasure in my
situation, he once again closely examined the notes in his hand and then looked
at Shirley. “I don’t have anything else, do you?”
Shirley looked at me. “Nope, that’s
about all, except you owe me seventy-five bucks for carpet cleaning.”
Bill and Shirley, God bless them,
once again took care of me. We rang in 1985 together and sober. For Christmas
Shirley presented me with a bottle of Aqua di Silva. The expensive, lush
cologne resurrected ghosts of Angel and Montreal and simpler times. I felt my
eyes welling up with the memories.
I almost learned my lesson this
I did cut back on my drinking and
partying somewhat. And I managed to hang on to my radio job. I didn’t have a
choice once the bills began arriving. $9,000 and change, that’s what my weekend
cost me, not counting the new car.
The car I bought turned out to be a
beautiful black 1985 Mustang. The T topped GT model came brand new, right off
of the showroom floor, from the same dealer and salesman from whom I’d
purchased Cindy’s car. It mirrored Cindy’s Mustang perfectly; the one she was
driving the night she was killed. I didn’t have the heart to get rid of it.
The rest of the year is still a
blur, partly from my slipping back into old habits; partly because I subconsciously
chose to block it out. At least that’s what the psychologist said.
In one of my deeper moods of
depression I rashly bought a house. The down payment took what little money I
had left. I reasoned I needed a change, to get away from the apartment that
held so many memories; so many ghosts. I became a grass mowing, barbequing,
commuting suburbanite. The change and the added responsibility helped a bit.
But my salvation would soon arrive unexpectedly in the guise of 105 pounds of
funny, caring, inquisitive, needy wonder.