There was a time when he was younger that Frankie wished he would die, that someone or something would end it accidentally. Frankie was a goddamned master at finding himself in perilous situations, none of which were ever planned or his fault. He was the poster boy for chaos theory: shit happens.
A lot of people thought he had a death wish. He assured me one night that it was much darker than that. He could consume an impossible quantity of alcohol. The more he drank, the more he talked, the more I believed him. He almost got his wish one night—while looking down the barrel of a 30.06 hunting rifle.
This would be the story of Pam, Pamela Anne. She was stunning, looked a little like David Bowie. Pam wore her hair, in 1976, in what would become the ‘80s mullet. She was a trendsetter, a stoner beauty, voice of an angel and Frankie’s friend.
It was a cold autumn night. He walked into The Lovely, Turf’s Tavern, not so much an actual bar as a hole where he went to get drunk and high and listen to Lynard Skynard’s “Freebird” over and over and over on the jukebox, like that was the only song on the damn thing. Just that fucking song. Like, not one person in that hole could figure out another song to play, ever.
Turf’s was in some weird, angry time warp: every day, every night was the same as the last. The night always ended when Jack, the bartender, bought the last round. A shot of Jack Daniels that would invariably have Frankie running out the door puking between clenched teeth and then stumbling into the street, or—on more than one occasion—a snow bank, where he slept until the cops came along and dragged him home. To this day, he cannot stand that song, Jack Daniels Tennessee Sippin’ Whiskey, or anything about the South. At least, that’s what he says.
He saw Pam’s friend, Patty, sitting in the corner, drunk and crying. Empty shot glasses, once filled with cheap tequila, rolled around the table beside half-full bottles of Rolling Rock beer. Patty said Pam was with Billy, at his house. He was fucked-up on heroin. Frankie had been dreaming of a reason to kill this asshole since the day they met.
Kevin Tyson was his best friend at the moment. Most of Frankie’s relationships had a short shelf life. He got up and left Patty and walked over to Tyson and said he needed a ride to Goshen. Tyson was kind of an idiot and made some remark about picking up babes. Frankie took Tyson’s beer from the bar and Tyson, naturally, followed him like a small, stupid dog out the door.
Tyson’s car was a rolling garbage can, a 1960-something Dodge Dart. Beer cans and cigarette butts everywhere, rolling papers, baggies of weed. The ride to Goshen was perilous but uneventful. Tyson played some crap on a cassette tape he had made, proudly saying it was his “band,” and Frankie just looked out of the window and listened to the empty beer bottles clink in the back seat, a sound far less annoying than the sound of the band.
Pam was one of the hundred or so true loves of Frankie’s life, and he hated Billy Martin, it seemed, since birth, and a thousand-fold more now that he knew Pam was with him. Frankie lived by a bizarre and twisted personal moral code: everything Frankie did was okay, as long as he didn’t get caught and people didn’t fuck with his friends, especially Pam.
Billy’s family had a lot of money, old money. Not surprisingly, their house was a mansion. Frankie had never been inside the house before, had never even been invited. He had happily pissed in their driveway on more than one occasion.
Tyson and Frankie pulled up to the house. The driveway had a gate that was open. Tyson killed the headlights, and they drove to about fifteen feet from the front door.
The house was creepy, with only one light on in an upstairs window. A cold wind blew over the grounds, tossing dead leaves and sticks in the air. The trees were barren, the flowers in the gardens lining the driveway, dead.
Tyson said the place looked haunted. Frankie assured him that he was drunk and it was October, so the place should look haunted.
They needed a plan, fast. Frankie only wanted to get to Pam and Billy. He didn’t think much about a plan. He tried the door and found it was locked. He started screaming an endless string of obscenities at the top of his lungs. The only words Tyson could make out were “fucking,” “asshole,” and “motherfucker,” interlaced with words not nearly as clear.
Tyson looked up as he heard a window open, and he screamed at Frankie that someone had a gun. A couple of shots rang out, shattering the silence. Frankie bolted for Tyson’s Dodge. Looking back as he ran, he spotted three shadows standing in the open windows, all three firing at him.
He hit the dirt behind the Dodge and looked into the terrified eyes of his friend. When Tyson was scared, his eyes literally bulged. It was funny and freaky at the same time. On more than one occasion, Frankie had wondered if he hit Tyson in the back of his head, would they just pop out and roll around on the ground.
Relatively safe behind the Dodge, all the pair could say to each other was “who the fuck?” and “what the fuck?”
It didn’t take Frankie long to realize the shots had landed nowhere near him. Either the people in the house were too fucked up to be able to shoot, or they only wanted to scare them.
The silhouettes in the window looked down at them. It was a cool, moonlit night, and it was easy to see everything on the ground. Frankie was angry and humiliated, never a good place for him and one he found himself in a little too often.
Frankie crawled across the ground to Billy’s car, a brand new Corvette. Frankie hated the car almost as much as he hated Billy. He grabbed a few big rocks and started smashing the hot, red and white, shiny ‘Vette, while screaming to Billy, calling him all sort of unfriendly names and body parts.
The front door of the house flew open. Billy came charging at Frankie, exactly as Frankie had hoped he would. Frankie got up, dove into Billy’s gut, and they both flew to the ground. This wasn’t a pretty fight: Billy was wasted, and Frankie was a little insane. In seconds, Frankie was kneeling on Billy’s chest and pummeling his face with hard, well-placed punches. Blood began to flow. Frankie tasted Billy’s blood as it spattered on his face. As each punch landed on Billy’s face, a deep satisfaction in Frankie only made him want to hit harder and deeper. With his last punch, Frankie felt like he broke a bone in his hand.
Frankie heard another gunshot. He swears to this day he felt the bullet fly past his face. Billy lay underneath him, motionless, looking quite dead. Frankie looked to his right and saw Pam, his friend, the girl he had come to rescue, holding the gun by her waist, a finger on the trigger.
Frankie stood to approach her. She raised the rifle to her eye and was about to shoot him when Tyson came screaming out of the bushes and launched between them, himself scared to death and realizing this act of heroism was totally out of character and a complete mistake. Tyson stood there, arms extended, like a cop stopping traffic in both directions. He started shaking and pissing himself.
Like a statue, Frankie stood, paralyzed with confusion.
Pam dropped the gun and ran over to Billy.
Tyson grabbed Frankie and dragged him back to the Dodge, shoved him inside, and ran around to the driver’s side. He started the car before he was in the seat and took off out of there, gravel and dirt flying.
In the distance, they could hear a siren but could not tell if it was a cop or an ambulance. As they drove away, it dawned on Tyson that he was now, in fact, quite possibly an accessory to murder. All Frankie would say was, “He’s not dead. He was still breathing. Just drive, please; just drive.” The rest of the drive back to the bar was in silence, except for Tyson’s heavy breathing.
They stopped at a gas station for beer and cigarettes. The guy at the register knew Tyson and commented on the blood on Frankie’s face. He joined them outside, and Frankie passed around beers.
As they stood there in the chilly air, Frankie took a long drag off his smoke, coughed so hard he thought was about to pass out, and took a longer drink of his beer. He looked up at the moon and thought about Pam. Finally, he said, “I just can’t believe it. I can’t believe she wants to be with that asshole.”
At this second, Tyson completely lost his mind. “You are probably an hour away from being arrested for murder—me with you—and all you can fucking worry about is who is fucking Pam?”
Frankie rolled his fingers into the palm of his hand, evaluating if that hand could, in fact, be broken again. He said he was really just pissed off about Pam, but part of him was broken.
I’ve wondered at times how long a person can survive with a constantly broken heart, with a pulverized spirit and an empty soul, or perhaps no soul. Pam could do that without intent, simply by being Pam. She was the party-waiting-to-happen. She was everyone’s friend, including Frankie’s. Frankie never saw it that way.
The guys finished their beers and drove back to the bar. For a second, Tyson thought he heard Frankie crying. When he asked him if he was okay, Frankie’s response was simply “Shut up, Kevin.”
They drove down the nearly abandoned avenue in silence and pulled into The Lovely. Jack, the bartender, was out back with a couple of girls smoking a joint. Jack and Frankie were not close friends, but they kind of understood each other. They shared the same code. Jack followed Frankie into the bar, leaving the girls with Kevin. Then he walked behind the bar. Frankie silently sat there staring at the dark, stained, ancient oak bar top. He held his hands on the raised edge like he was holding on to keep from falling.
Jack asked him how the hand felt. It looked broken. He handed him a shot of vodka and a Rolling Rock and stood there waiting, silently.
“It hurts, Jack, it hurts really fucking bad, motherfucking bitch, what the fuck.” Frankie and Pam had a long and twisted friendship. She worked, occasionally, as a prostitute to pay the bills. Frankie was always telling himself he was okay with it, but he never was. He fell in love with her hard and fast. He thought that maybe it was love-at-first-sight, but he never believed in that crap.
Still, the first time he saw her, he was mesmerized. They were young and she was a cashier in a grocery store. Even a few years later, when he stood outside her apartment, watching as another guy went inside and closed the door, the reality of who she was and what she did for a living—part time, of course—never really sank in with Frankie.
Still, the first time he saw her, he was mesmerized. They were young and she was a cashier in a grocery store. Even a few years later, when he stood outside her apartment, watching as another guy went into her apartment and closed the door, the reality of who she was and what she did for a living—part time, of course—never really sank in with Frankie.
From his first glance of her, he never felt himself worthy of her. That was the day he put her on a pedestal, one she did not want or accept. Pam liked Frankie; in fact, she liked Frankie a lot, and she wished he would calm down a little. He seemed to be way more invested in her than she was in him.
Back at Billy’s house, Frankie had somehow fallen off a cliff tonight, realizing that all those annoying voices in his head, the ones telling him to see her for what she was, had been true. He sank deep. It felt a lot like falling, endlessly, not particularly fast or slow, an endless fall from which he could never return. He might never hit bottom, just fall aimlessly, endlessly through time. Pam had literally pulled the ground out from underneath him, and this night, sitting in The Lovely, inhaling shots of vodka as fast as Jack could pour them, Frankie knew, but could not fully accept, that the woman who was the love of his life, the one he would actually have taken a bullet for, was none of that.
The realization she had been fucking Billy actually upset Frankie more than her gunshot had. He lived every day of his life with this nagging denial, but there were brief flashes, moments, when they were together, where he believed that she loved him. He was committed to her totally, which made little or no sense to anyone else who knew the saga, because, well… she was a prostitute. Things of this nature, the impossible juxtapositions of wildly different realities, being forced to accept the unacceptable, accepting things he hated and enraged him, things he had to take on faith and never as they seemed, pushed him toward madness. He told me one time how sick to death he was of hearing from friends, Pam’s friends and his, to wake up and see what was going on around him, but he could not. He had to accept this raging, roaring noise as rumor and believe in the girl above all others. He could internalize all this, but it only served to fuel his rage and it felt to him at times that believing in Pam and believing in God were often and much the same and equally impossible to accept.
Deep inside, Frankie thought he could fix all this with Pam. It would only take money and time and a scheme. He was pretty convinced he could fix anything with the right scheme. As he watched Frankie get drunk, Jack told me he actually thought he could see him getting sadder, instead of getting bolder; as if this cloud, this pervasive mist of reality that Frankie could always outrun, keeping it, at times, only inches from his heels, had finally overtaken him. It was not unlike watching someone suffocate, but there was nothing to do or say, simply watch as the man he knew seemed to change.
Jack and a handful of others had waited for this day. Pam was not a bad girl or a bad person, but she was not the woman Frankie had placed so high on the pedestal.
Frankie wrote this about Pam one time:
Find the one who makes you shake just thinking about her.
Find the one you can’t stop thinking about, at all, for a second.
Find the one who makes you feel like a fool, but you don’t care.
Find the one who stops time, the one who, when you are with her, nothing else exists. Find the one who you would crawl over broken glass to be with. Then think about that and realize you’d actually do it.
Find the one who changes you in ways you don’t understand or even like.
Find the one who makes you fight, every day, who makes you try to deny how much you love her every day.
Find the one who makes you hate how much you need her and want her.
Find the one who, when you touch her, it feels like you’ve been punched in the heart, and you lose your breath and a little of your mind.
Find the one who makes you question your sanity, often; the one who makes you worry you may lose her because you know in your heart you are not worthy of her.
After reading that the night Frankie wrote it, sitting alone at a darkened corner of the bar, huddled with a pencil and paper he’d borrowed from Jack, Jack said to him, “Frankie, that is beautiful and touching and total bullshit. Pam is not that girl.”
Frankie glared at Jack for a long time, in silence, sucking on beers and vodka. Jack’s words never left Frankie. That night, I think they may have started to solidify and ring true, to hit home.
This night, the night he felt the bullet pass, in a way, felt like Frankie’s first defeat in the ring, the first of many. Something just reached inside of him and snuffed out his strength. He sat there feeling completely vacant, not even angry or sad, but empty, hollow. We were sitting next to him. In the silence, we could almost hear the sound of glass breaking, and the moaning sound of a great metal structure as its foundation collapsed and it slowly, agonizingly, crashed onto itself and into the ground. Frankie sat there in total silence, rolling the now-empty Rolling Rock beer bottle in small circles on the wooden bar, staring off into nothingness.
He had always questioned whether his love for her was real and healthy, or an obsession born out of a need never identified. His love, or whatever it was, instantly changed into a feeling of the worst kind of betrayal. There was no tear in his eye as he sat there silently, occasionally shuddering, as if his mind and his body had begun to accept and absorb what had happened in the hour before. Under the stubble of a two-day beard, his skin appeared ashen, ghost like.
I found something years later that Frankie had written about this night. He wrote that this was the night that he realized that the unspoken, but cherished, promise was, in fact, a lie. It would take years for him to realize he didn’t lose the girl. He lost his illusion of who the girl was.
Losing the dream is what took Frankie down that night.
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