I had it all planned out, everything I would say to him. The next time he called, either he would bring up his brother's birthday dinner or I would. A few weeks ago, you asked me to go to that dinner with you, I would say. And then you never brought it up again, which is a pretty subtle way of un-inviting someone, I have to say. I think that's a pretty clear signal. And I can take a hint. So, I'm done, Luke. Done.
But as with all the best-laid plans, it didn't exactly work out that way.
Later that very same night, the night of the dinner that broke the camel's back, my phone rang. Now, when phones ring in the middle of the night, it's usually for one of two reasons: either the caller is drunk, or something has happened. In this case, it was both. When I answered, he began talking so calmly, so nonchalantly, that at first I thought he had just called to chat at 3:30 in the morning. My still sleeping brain struggled to keep up; "Why are you calling me?" I kept repeating. Blah blah blah Rochester, blah blah blah emergency room...he said. "But why are you calling me?" I repeated, my brain still working on a significant delay. Blah blah blah emergency room, he said again, and then finally it clicked. "What?" I said. "Wait, what?"
His brother had pissed him off, he said, and so he, Luke, ended up losing it and putting his fist through a window. Now he was in the ER waiting on stitches and x-rays. Even in my still sleep-befuddled state, red flags started popping up. Uh oh, anger issues, the red flags said. Though this didn't make much sense, because the Luke I knew was a gentle giant, even-keeled and mild-tempered, and I had never seen him approach anything even resembling anger before. And besides, wasn't it better that he punch a window instead of his brother? "Well, what happened?" I asked. "What did your brother do?"
"He accused me of sleeping with his girlfriend," he said. More and more red flags. I composed my next question carefully.
"Why did he say that?" I asked.
"I don't know," he said. "He was really drunk."
I decided to circle back to that one later. "Ok, but...why are you calling me?" I said again, trying to reconcile this suddenly boyfriend-like behavior from a man I hadn't heard anything from in days, and who had already made it abundantly clear that whatever was going on between us wasn't going to go any farther than it already had.
"I don't know," he said. "I just felt like I should."
I mulled that over. "I don't even know what to say," I said. "That's all just...wow." My mind swirled as more and more questions bubbled into consciousness, begging to be asked. Times, locations, and unifying details suddenly seemed of utmost importance. "Whose window did you break? And who is with you in the emergency room?" I started to ask, going into investigative reporter mode. (Once upon a time I dated a guy who made up an emergency room visit as a cover for having gone MIA on Valentine's Day. I decided I believed him, because who would make something like that up? I finally found out the truth a year later, and if you think something like that won't scar you for the rest of your life, think again.) But before I could give voice to even the first question, the line suddenly went dead. I tried calling him back twice, but it just rang and went to voicemail. I lay in bed wide awake, no point in even trying to sleep now, with my mind racing and adrenaline pumping, and even though it was the weekend I had to be at work at the apartments in a few hours. He didn't call back that night.
He finally called back sometime after noon the next day. I was at work, but the office had been slow, and so I had time to talk to him. "You hung up on me," I accused him.
"Sorry about that," he replied, "the x-ray machines scrambled my phone."
I decided to let this go for the moment and move on to more pressing matters. "Ok," I said. "So...what happened last night?"
They had gone out to a restaurant, he said, (perhaps hoping I had forgotten the significance of the event), and then they went back to his brother's house. His brother got really drunk and then just kind of lost it. He started yelling at his girlfriend, calling her a whore, and accusing her of sleeping with all these guys. Then he turned on Luke, saying he couldn't believe he would do something like that, that he was the worst person he knew. He started shoving him. Luke walked outside, but his brother followed him, kept shoving him, and then, at some point, Luke got so upset, he punched a window on the porch. A friend assessed the damage (a seven inch long gash further up on his bicep), wrapped a shirt around his arm, and hustled him off to the ER, where he received so many stitches, they stopped counting after thirty-two. After they left, apparently his brother started to get physical with his girlfriend, who called the police. "This morning she packed her bags and left," he concluded. "I don't know why my brother would say that to me," he then said, sounding genuinely baffled. "Carrie and I don't even talk. We don't hang out or anything. And this morning my brother kept insisting he hadn't done anything wrong. I don't even know how much he remembers of last night. My parents are pretty worried about him."
"Huh," I said. "Wow."
"I'm on my way back to Mythaca now," he said, "so if you want to watch a movie or something tonight, give me a call."
"Ok," I said.
"Oh, wait, that's my brother calling now," he said. "I should take this. I'll call you back."
"Ok," I said again.
But he didn't call back. I finished work and went home, and thought about things. He had called me from the ER, I decided, because he was confused, and in pain, and probably feeling pretty sorry for himself. It didn't necessarily mean anything. But then again, as Pete said when as I rehashed things with him, "He called you. I mean, he called you." I would go and see him tonight, I decided. We would talk, and I would bring up the dinner un-vitation, and I would tell him how that made me feel. I didn't necessarily expect anything to be different, but then again, sometimes traumatic events change things for people.
I still hadn't heard back from Luke, though, so at about 6:30 I texted him. How are you feeling? I asked. He took a while to respond. Then, tired, he said. I waited, but he didn't add anything else.
I bet, I said. Want some company?
I'm at my parents' house, he said.
I blinked, an old, familiar feeling rising up in me, wondering what exactly I had missed this time. Again, he volunteered no further explanation. But you said you were on your way back to Mythaca when we talked before? I typed. Read aloud, I realized, it would sound like I was talking to a very small child.
I was, he replied, but then mom called. She wanted to talk to my brother as a family.
In spite of myself, I felt anger rising in me. I tried to stop it. I can't, I can't make this about me, I told myself. I can't get mad at him in the middle of his family drama. But it wasn't about that, it wasn't about what he was going through, it was about him doing the same old things that he had always done. Him flaking, him not calling, and always having an excuse--he had lost track of time, something had come up, he had fallen asleep. I couldn't believe I had actually been thinking about giving him another chance; nothing had changed. I refrained from texting him the choice phrases I really wanted to in the heat of the moment--no point adding drama to drama--and instead said, Call me when you get a chance. But he didn't, of course. How many times had I made the same request over the last few weeks--call me when you get a chance--and how many times had he responded? Not once.
Hours later, I got a second middle-of-the-night phone call in as many days. But I didn't answer this time. He followed that up with a text. Hi, I'm sorry. Just woke up. Soo tired.
But I didn't respond. I wondered what I would say if I heard from him again, and I also wondered what I would do if I didn't.