The Survivalist, Prologue: “Valentine’s Day”

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April 2011

So hold me close/

Say you’re forever mine./

And tell me you’ll be my/

Lonely Valentine…”

Warren Eves let the final minute of “Valentine’s Day” – by his idol, Bruce Springsteen, off the Tunnel of Love album – play out on his iPhone. The synthesized chords, cheesy as they sounded, tugged at his heart. He lay on a couch – the couch of his best friend, Dan, and his wife, Laura – in their quaint, modern condo in Hoboken, New Jersey with his ear bud headphones jammed up against his ear drums, staring at the faint light on the ceiling from the streets below. It was night. His eyes began to well-up. This was the first time Warren cried in 7 days; it was the first time that the events of the past week were finally sinking in.

Melissa Chase was not going to marry him. No one was going to marry him. Warren was alone again.

He turned his head, and focused his eyes on the blinds that coated the window. He rose from the couch in his t-shirt and underwear, and walked across the parquet floor of Dan and Laura’s living room – “Quietly,” Dan begged him, “Please dude. Laura hates the squeaky floors in this place, and won’t stop thinking about it.” – towards the window. Intercut with the cheap aluminum was a view of downtown Hoboken, and beyond that: New York City. The moon was out tonight, and shone brightly down on The Financial District. In the distance, Warren could barely make out the red neon sign, “THE WATCHTOWER” in Brooklyn, atop the publishing offices of the Jehovah’s Witness newspaper. Brooklyn was only a few miles away, but it might as well have been in California. The sign burned in the summer night from Brooklyn Heights. To him, it had always been an anonymous piece of the skyline that he barely regarded on his train rides to and from his job in Manhattan. He was always too busy listening to Bruce on his iPhone, reading Rolling Stone, or thinking about… well, his “funny” path from rock musician to paper pusher. The last part, at first, greeted him with a crushing sense of sadness. He learned over the years to push it away, ignore it; he told himself he was happier with Melissa and their life together in Park Slope. And – after a while – it worked. In the last year, he was able to think about the whole thing and sort of smirk at the irony while the red neon looked over him. But tonight, “THE WATCHTOWER” was a landmark no more; tonight, it was actually doing its job and protecting the land beyond it from Warren’s rebel scum. Somewhere in the dark that covered Brooklyn, Melissa slept alone in the bed they once shared, in the apartment where they had been making plans.

For half-a-second, Warren wondered if Melissa had already brought home someone else. That would be fucking perfect, wouldn’t it? I sleep on Dan’s couch while she’s fucking some dipshit she met at Union Hall. Her first night as a free fucking woman. She might’ve met him two weeks ago on the train, and gave that asshole her number, because she knew she was going to break-up with me. FUCK. She’ll probably make him coffee in the morning and pour it in my Born To Run mug, and serve to that prick just to spite me, that fucking cu

Warren began crying again. He stifled himself, so as not to wake Dan and Laura (in addition to a squeaky floor, everything in their condo was chrome and granite – horrible acoustics for sobbing). He took a minute, and told himself to not think about any of that anymore. He was angry, but going insane over hypotheticals was too draining. There were many questions he had to answer, and it was getting late. He tip-toed back to the couch, and slipped under the comforter. He stared at the pack of Marlboro Reds on the coffee table; he had bought them that day – his second pack that week – and thought about slipping out onto the balcony to smoke one. He decided against it, and flipped to his back – staring, again, at the light on the ceiling.

“What the hell happened to my life?” he wondered.

*************

“Shit, sorry.” Warren said.

He put the homemade garlic bread back on his plate, and reached for a napkin at the center of the small table. With mechanical efficiency, he ran the napkin over the carb debris that had tumbled off his plate and dragged it to his cupped hand at the table’s edge. He looked up at Melissa – searching for some approval over a job well done – and was met with downward eyes. Melissa would rather poke at the penne and garlic beard Warren spent an hour making than talk to him. Warren closed his hand, and walked the crumbs to their resting place in the garbage…

Or wait? Does this go in compost? Shit. I don’t remember. If I ask, she’ll roll her eyes and say I never listen. Maybe I should just put it down the sink… no, then if we get another roach – I won’t hear the end of that, either. Fuuuuck. Okay. Trash. Put it in the trash, and just hope you’ll still get to watch The Long Goodbye tonight and she’ll go to bed, and there won’t be a fight.

Foot on the pedal of the trashcan. Lid opened with a metal squeak. Warren clapped his hands over the garbage, and tossed his napkin. Foot off the pedal. Lid thudded shut. He waited a moment – silence.

Thank Christ. he thought. Warren walked back to the table, and sat down.

It was quiet over dinner. It had been quiet for two weeks. Melissa had been dealing with a lot at work (most of which, Warren couldn’t remember), and she was still furious with him over the guitar. A Fender Esquire, which he had bought with part of their savings – $800, to be exact – ahead of consulting her. It was the same one Bruce Springsteen wore on the Born To Run album cover as he leaned on the shoulder of Clarence Clemens.

For weeks, Warren had been waking up with night sweats. He couldn’t focus on anything. Even worse: the littlest instances – a dropped plate of food, a foot plopped in his lap for an expected rub – all seemed to set him off.   He tried to talk about what was going on in his head, but Melissa only ever rolled her eyes at him. It was infuriating. Not to mention: their looming wedding did not make anything better in their house. Five months of engagement were not painting a happy picture of domesticity.

He felt trapped. Though he couldn’t articulate it, Warren was disappearing. At first, it was barely noticeable: somehow, a polo t-shirt appeared in his closet. And then it snowballed fast towards him: he worked in sales for a pharmaceutical company; his Chuck Taylors were replaced by Sperry boat shoes; his Friday nights ended around 10:00 p.m.; he knew way more about Ru-Paul’s Drag Race than he ever wanted to. One morning as Warren shaved with an Oprah-recommended Remington Electric (always at a “1” because Melissa hated stubble), he did not recognize the guy that peered back at him. This guy had sold off Warren’s original guitar years ago, and was constantly arguing with Melissa about leaving Warren’s massive CD collection on their building’s stoop to be picked over by scavengers. This was not Warren Eves. Warren Eves was either invisible, or dead, and this guy – “Waarren” – had taken his place. A momentary lapse in concentration caused “Waarren” to cut himself at the corner of his mouth. He shakily put down the razor and grabbed a towel. Beads of sweat appeared on “Waarren”’s forehead, his breathing quickened, and the heartburn he battled for the last year became a painful inferno in his chest. Warren wanted his body back; “Waarren” had to die.

When Melissa saw the bank statement from their joint savings account, she went silent. She walked into the living room, where Warren was reading Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth at her behest, and shoved the statement right into his face.

“Explain.” she said, curtly.

“I, um…” Warren couldn’t say anything. Instead, he put down the book, and went into their bedroom. He returned with a brown unopened shipping box from under their bed. He cut the box open, and plunged his fingers into the packing peanuts, wrapping them around the serpentine neck of the guitar. He pulled it out – taped up in a cellophane bag – and carefully removed it. He strapped the Fender Esquire around his torso, stopping to admire his fingers grazing the fret board strings – something about him suddenly looked visible. He looked up at Melissa, smiled: “…surprise…!” he meekly uttered.

“Waarren” was dead; long live, Warren Eves, irstwhile hero to neutered fiancés.

Melissa looked at him, wordless, “Eight hundred dollars.”, she said “That money was going to get us a condo in Brooklyn Heights.”

Melissa did not speak a word to him for two weeks after. Barely a “Hi.”, “Okay.”, or “I love you.” came from her lips. She was embroiled with a huge campaign for Chase Bank at work, and didn’t have time for Warren’s latest crisis. Warren responded by doing anything to get her attention: cooking, cleaning, DVRing every single reality show she loved and she knew he hated. But it was late. All of the effort; it was too late. It was kind of pathetic. None of it changed the fact that he had made a big purchase without telling her; with their money, which was really her money. Warren seemed to approach his sales job with the bare minimum effort. Warren was not following the game plan. And she was getting tired of waiting for him to open the playbook, or even bother to take a note.

“I don’t want to marry you.” she said, looking up from her penne as Warren sat back down at the table.

“Why?”, Warren was shocked.

“Warren – why do you think?” Melissa replied “We’re not happy anymore. We don’t want the same things.”

*************

It was now 2:47 in the morning. Warren thought about smoking a third cigarette, but the tip-toe’ing back and forth to the balcony was ridiculous. Instead, he sat up on the couch in Dan and Laura’s condo, and slurped down another triple of Jameson. The earbuds were back in, his final conversation with Melissa played over in his head while “The Secret Garden” hit its high point. The whiskey didn’t make anything feel better, but at least the buzz was finally making him tired. As Bruce whispered to him, Warren let the alcohol take hold. He chugged the last third of his whiskey and curled into the fetal position. His eyes slowly slitted down, and the last thing he could see – on the other side of the room – was the Fender. It lay atop a stack of four boxes, all of them containing Warren’s entire CD collection.

Warren both loved and hated that guitar. It was fire stolen from the gods, and a call to an ex-girlfriend in his phone history. It was him, through and through: a beautiful, pitiful fuck-up. He closed his eyes, as the new verse of lyrics carried him past the bridge…

You’ve gone a million miles, how far’d you get?/

To that place where you can’t remember/

And you can’t forget.

She’ll lead you down the path/

There’ll be tenderness in the air/

She’ll let you come just far enough, so you know she’s really there./

And she’ll look at you and smile/

And her eyes will see/

She’s got a secret garden, where everything you want, where everything you need./

Will always stay./

A million miles away.”

What the fuck am I going to do with my life? Warren wondered as he finally fell asleep.

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