They Said They had Reported You Dead
“What the hell do I care if you just take off to another state for good? I mean it’s not like we’re serious or anything. Right James”
“Kristen, just, just listen to me ok. That wasn’t what you-”
“Yeah I know it wasn’t what I think it was, you’ve been saying that for 3 days James. If I haven’t believed it yet why would I now?”
I run a frustrated hand through my hair “Because, I’m not lying, because you can ask anyone on my team…. On the penguins what was going on that night and they’ll tell you the truth! They never lied for me in the past and they won’t start now. You should believe me because, when I met you, it all just fell into place; you made me grow up, take responsibility for my actions, Kristen I didn’t cheat on you. And, I want you to go to Nashville with me”
“We both know you aren’t a one girl man, and let’s face it, I’m not a one man type of girl either. Just go to Nashville James”
She saunters out of my apartment like she didn’t just drop a bomb, I can’t help but just stare at the space she left stunned, for once I’m not the one leaving, well I am but I’m not running away, for the first time I wanted the relationship as the shock wears off “But I love you” falls out of my mouth even though she’s long gone out of my apartment, like somehow James Neal known for playing left wing to Evgeni Malkin and being the Pittsburgh king of the one night stand confessing he’s in love will bring the girl back. I shake my head staring at the open door to my apartment for a moment before taking a deep breath and slamming the door, hell if it’s so easy for her, it will be even easier for me.
The move was a mess, it’s taken me 2 weeks to get all of my stuff sorted back out and I still have yet to find my laptop or half of my coffee cups. The heat in this city is ridiculous; the only thing keeping me sane is the invitation from some of the guys from the Predators to go out tonight, as a proper introduction to the team. I stare at my closet full of clothes unaware of what is proper attire for going out in Nashville, do I wear jeans and a pull over, or do I wear a flannel I mean this is the country music capital after all. Kristen would know what I should wear; I think and then shake the thought from my mind grabbing a t-shirt and jeans.The city is nice, my reputation has clearly preceded me and every girl in the bar is hanging on me like I’m a Greek god. At the end of the night I’m pretty sure I’m carried out of the bar by guys I don’t recognize yet without numbers adorning their backs and I wake up in my apartment missing a shoe. I check my pockets finding my keys wallet and phone “Only lost a shoe, you’re getting better Nealer” I say patting myself on the shoulder. I plug my phone in and turn it on seeing a text from Geno pop up on the screen
Lazy, need to check e-mail, now!!!!
I can just about hear him muttering in Russian light heartedly calling me names that I’ve come to understand. I make one more good natured look for my laptop and find an unpacked box containing the device. I plug it in quickly and power it up waiting for it to turn on and connect to the wifi. I open my e-mail half expecting it to be a video of something random Geno knows we’ll both find funny, what I see makes my jaw drop “No, no, no, no” I repeat like saying it more times will magically reverse what’s happened
“Pittsburgh Woman Found Dead: Apparent Suicide” is the headline the first sentence that follows makes the hollow feeling in my stomach grow “Pittsburgh native Kristen Antonio was found dead in her apartment Monday morning, the police say no foul play was involved, and the overdose appears to be self induced”
I pace my apartment, stumbling into furniture in the still unfamiliar place; I sit on the couch squeezing my eyes shut so tightly little flashes of color start to appear in the blank space. At this point I don’t know if the bile rising to the back of my throat is due to my hangover or the news I just read. I reach for my phone hoping I’ll wake up from this nightmare or that this is a sick joke, when her phone goes right to voicemail my heart sinks. This doesn’t make sense.
The plane back to Pittsburgh has me chewing on my finger nails; my mind is running at 100 miles per hour, is this my fault? I replay the last conversation in my head, she was so angry with me, but entirely adamant in her ability to replace me, how did she go from that to this? Could I have stopped this? A stewardess breaks me of my thoughts asking if I want a drink and I nod asking for alcohol of any kind. When I land I’m quick to grab my bag and make my way out of the airport to my hotel, I collapse on the bed, in the quiet of the room the reality sets in the need to throw up rises again, this time I quiet it by emptying the mini bar onto the bed and taking the cap off of the first small bottle. I’m ¾ of the way through the bottles when there’s a knock on the door I open it to reveal Sid and Geno, I should have figured they would show up “Nealer, you look like hell” Sid says patting me on the shoulder “Geno wanted to come check on you, said you’ve been ignoring him, I talked him out of making it a team intervention.” He says surveying the empty bottles strewn across the floor
“Don’t lecture me Captain” I slur figuring he’s about to make a comment about the amount I’ve drank, he just shakes his head a somber look on his face and starts throwing the empties in the trash.
“Crying” Geno says stuck in the doorway still looking at me like he’s seen a ghost, it’s not phrased as a question; it’s a statement and a shocked one at that.
“Well really this is what she wanted isn’t it?” I stammer “She wanted to see real emotion from me, because of course no one believes I’m capable of falling in love right? I’m just the asshole that will take home every girl at the bar, I don’t have feelings. Why would I care right? I totally don’t feel helpless because I should have been able to help her to do something; anything, but no I was all the way in Nashville doing exactly what the fuck everyone thinks I would be doing drinking and flirting. Meanwhile the only woman I’ve ever really cared about just ends it and I don’t even get to say anything to her. How is that fair huh? Is that what you wanted Krissy? To make me a mess? It worked!” I’m stumbling around the room and yelling by the time I finish my rant, I don’t care that I look like hell, I definitely don’t care that I’ve knocked a ton of stuff over or pulled the sheets right off the bed I sit with a thud on the chair.
“Sometimes, is okay to be mess, James, being sad, normal, is…” he trails mumbling in Russian
“Is accepted, allowed, expected” I say listing words for him to choose from
“Yes, to all. No one ever say hockey players strong always, sad happens, sad no can care if is James Neal or is guy down street” I nod, letting him know I understand where he’s trying to go and after a few moments of silence the two of them leave.
I lay back down on the bed staring once again at the ceiling, the nagging feeling of being able to help in some way is eating at me and I find myself just stuck in one position thinking about all the time we spent together and how if there were any signs I missed them. At some point I must fall asleep because my alarm going off wakes me from a restless sleep. Reality hits almost as hard as my headache today I have to go to her funeral, this is how I will meet her parents, I don’t know if she had any siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents. We were our own little world when we were together what was outside of our homes didn’t matter, we’d talk about everything from the weather to how our day was to the personal stuff like gross habits and everything in between except family. Looking on that now seems weird because I realize she always shot down the conversation when I brought up my family and she never volunteered information about hers, maybe she always counted on me never meeting them.
I shower, shave, brush my teeth and hope the mouth wash and large amounts of coffee get rid of any remnants of alcohol on my breath. I make my way to the funeral home and walk in quietly hoping to go unnoticed. A woman probably in her late 50s comes up to me quietly, she must be Kristen’s mother because the resemblance is uncanny “James?” she asks in a hushed hoarse voice and I nod “Kristen, she uh, well she left… this is for you” she says wiping a tear and handing me an envelope.
“Mrs. Antonio, I’m so sorry” I say and she gives me a small attempt at a smile. I sit down on a chair in the back and carefully open the envelope with my name written across the front to reveal a note.
I’m sorry I let you go. I’m starting to realize I should have gone too. You’ll be fine I know, but for what it’s worth, I loved you too.
Three sentences, it’s all I get, my final goodbye, the only acknowledgement I have of the 3 months we spent together, the confession that she had to have been somewhere outside my apartment to have heard me say that I loved her. But she didn’t come back, and I didn’t go after her and that was all either of us needed to know. I see a tear hit the paper before I realize I’m crying and I feel a gentle hand on my shoulder I look to the left to see her mother and I wipe my eyes.
“I just wanted to let you know, despite what people think of me, I loved your daughter. I’m just so sorry I wasn’t there to save her” I say quietly and she just pats my arm nodding and crying with me.
Song- Hotel Ceiling, Rixton.