Ever Present Past

Chapter One

January 19, 2004

Taylor heard the front door opening and closing. He lifted his head from the couch just enough to see his wife walking into the living room, their son on her hip and a rolling suitcase being dragged behind. His vision was blurry, but the disdain on her face was clear enough. Panic should have been rising in his throat; she was home early, and there was no way to hide how he’d spent the weekend.

“Babe, you’re out of-” Alex’s voice came from the hallway, trailing off. Taylor glanced back to see him standing there, bathrobe open enough to show that it was the only thing he wore. He looked at Tay, then Nat. He stared her down for a second, and she him, until he turned back towards the bedroom. She let out a long sigh and Tay looked her way again.

“Nat,” he started, but she held up a hand.

“You told me you were done,” she said. Her tone was so icy he shivered. He didn’t know if she was referring to Alex specifically, or to what always came along with him. Not that he could deny either one; the proof of the latter was right there on the family heirloom coffee table, and if Alex’s appearance wasn’t enough evidence of the former, his own naked form was.

“I thought I was.” He let his head fall back to the couch, his eyes closing. He heard Nat’s steps retreating into their son’s room, her voice whispering something to him. Taylor knew he needed to get up, to put some clothes on and try to clean up his mess. His entire life was a mess, and he knew he had no one to blame but himself.

His limbs felt like lead as he pushed himself up to a sitting position. His head was pounding and his lungs struggled to fill with air. His eyes stung like he’d gone swimming in a pool of sand. Tiny shafts of light sneaked past the boundaries of the curtains, piercing the otherwise near-dark room. Taylor looked around as his vision began to come into focus. The table was littered with remnants from the past two days’ partying; an empty vodka bottle, a pair of shot glasses, a rolled up bill. A few stray traces of powder, which Taylor felt at once drawn to and repulsed by. A couple foil packages lay on the carpet, unopened, forgotten in the heat of the moment.

It was like a twisted tableaux of all his failings as a husband and as a man, all laid out for him to reflect on.

He heard footsteps again, too heavy to be Natalie’s. Alex threw him a glance, a smirk and a wink, as he passed him by. The front door opened and closed a moment later with a dull thud. A few more minutes passed by, and Taylor started to wonder where Nat was. He looked around for some sort of clothing, finding a pair of boxers–maybe his, maybe not–half-under the couch. He pulled them on and stood, his knees cracking like firewood.

A feeling of dread sunk in as he made his way down the hall to the bedroom. He could hear noises, rustling of fabric and clinking of metal. As he reached the doorway he saw Natalie standing by the closet, flipping through her wardrobe. He was about to ask what she was looking for when she grabbed as many hangers as she could, carrying them in a pile over to the bed. Next to the two empty suitcases.

“Nat?” he asked, his voice cracking. She paused for a moment, but then resumed folding each piece of clothing and placing it in one of the cases. She didn’t look up from her task, even as he crossed the room to her side. She tensed a bit as he approached her, but still refused to look at him.

“If you want to kill yourself, I’m not going to stand in your way anymore. But I’ll be damned if you take me and Ezra with you.”

Taylor had nothing to say. She was right, as always. He had always battled with his inner demons, and where he should have taken strength from his family, instead he ran into the arms of another man and the drugs he was all too happy to provide.

Taylor thought back, tried to pinpoint where it had all gone wrong. He had been a different person once, full of life and hope. When had everything gone sour? Was it the teen pregnancy? No, he had technically met Alex first. Was it the party where he had met his dealer-turned-lover? No, it had been his desperate need to escape that had led to the fateful meeting.

Maybe it was just a sickness he had been born with, something in his head telling him he was never enough. Not good enough, not smart enough, not strong enough. He could never live up to the standards his parents set, or the even higher ones he set for himself. There were days when the voices in his head were almost too much to bear. So he had tried to fill the void with anything and everything. Drugs, a man, a woman… a child. His family had been so proud of him, for settling down with a nice girl and setting a good example. His parents praise should have eased his suffering, if not prevented it entirely, but instead it made him sick. He was living a lie, and had been all his life.

He still was; he had just managed to drag Natalie and Ezra into the lie. He and his wife played house for the rest of Taylor’s family, he the doting and devoted father and husband, she the loving, supporting wife. But behind closed doors, it couldn’t have been more different. He was no role model. Not for his younger siblings, and certainly not for his son. He could barely take care of himself; how was he supposed to take care of another person?

He stepped back and watched her work. He should’ve tried to stop her, or at least helped, or gone to hold his son for what could be the last time. But he just didn’t have the energy, for any of it. He was an empty shell, and worse, a burden. Poison to everything he touched. It was for the best, he told himself. They would be better off without him.

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