Ralph Langer RalphLanger.com

   Despite bleary eyes, I manage to find Joey's parking lot and coast into a slot next to a small SUV with a spare tire on the rear with a canvas cover featuring a bright yellow Smiley Face proclaiming: "LIFE IS GOOD."

   Now the ass-end of a car is lying to me.

   My favorite booth in the back corner is unoccupied and I walk to it with my head down, eyes watching the floor and sit before surveying the room.  A familiar place but without familiar faces.

   "Welcome to Joey's," a waitress says.  "Been here before?"

   "I'm pretty sure I have.  Double Jack Black rocks."

   She brings my friend, Jack.  She doesn't have to introduce us.

   "And another," I tell her as I cuddle the glass in both hands.

   It can't be a coincidence that we have the same first name.

   I finger the rim, watching Jack bathe the crystal-clear cubes, releasing his all-too-familiar seductive aroma.  I hold Mr. Daniels up to the light and renew my love for the magical golden liquid that is so beautiful I can't look away.  We haven't been together for months.

   My known universe shrinks to the booth.  I empty the glass in one swallow and reach for the second helping, already on the table.

   Fleeting family images of our 21-year marriage whizz by on my internal screen. I relive some good times before my demons rose again from the dead.  Putting a Nerf ball over and over on Erik's waist-high tee; tripping on the training wheels while helping Carli ride her new shocking-pink bike and falling on my butt. Reading "The Cat in the Hat" for the 30th time. Using duct tape to keep Erik's soccer shin guards from slipping down his skinny legs.

   Glimpses fly by of my monthly "Date Nights" with Carli when she turned 12, officially an enthusiastic--but to me frightening--pre-teen. Unpacking boxes in our new home and creating our family nest.  All four of us mini-van trekking to Disney World to mingle with a giant mouse wearing black shorts and a huge duck walking around without pants.

   And the fourth-grade Valentine I created to tell her in uneven, red-crayon block letters that she was..."lots more interesting than the other girls in our class." And  "P.S. You are the prettiest too!)

   After the Avatar movie I began saying to her, "I see you," that wonderful greeting enriched with love and the intimate connection between two people when it's heartfelt and they both understand its deepest meaning.  I deeply see everything that is you.

   In one of our arguments after I injured Erik, I clumsily tried to re-convey my feelings for her.

   "I see you."

   "No," she said. "You don't see me at all."

   Two familiar faces drift in and out of my mind.  Then I hear them, too.

                                Hello darkness, my old friend,

                               I've come to talk with you again

   A ghostly white flash blows past my face so close that I feel its wind on my cheeks as Simon and Garfunkel disappear.

   "Oh, good, you're alive," Joey says, rubbing my table with his white, clean-up towel that he'd flicked in my face. He sits across from me, leans forward and gives me the universal, two-finger gesture at my eyes and then to his own that demands, 'pay attention to me.'