He is born in the city; seven pounds, eight ounces. Unemployed, alcoholic father; downtrodden, dependable mother. They name him Tony; Anthony on his birth certificate. He learns to talk at six months; learns to walk three months later. His first word is car. Dad owns a Ford. He drives sober; he drives drunk. It makes no difference to him. Not then.
They move to the suburbs when his dad gets a job; move back to the city when he loses it two months later. Pre-school comes along and so does his sister.
Helen, they call her. She is cute. Fifth birthday party. Clowns and balloons. Sixth birthday party. More of the same. Long, hot summers; three of them. Friends, lemonade, and laughter. His first kiss, which is yukky, followed by the first white Christmas in twenty years. Auld Lang Syne. Dad hits another bottle, then hits the pavement. The police keep him in a cell for three days.
Mum is pregnant again, but she has an abortion. Ten years old; double figures. He gets beaten up behind the school huts. Bust lip; black eye. Has a crush on the nurse. Puberty. School with the big kids. He tells his dad to fuck off, kisses with his tongue, and thinks about sex. A lot.
Mum has an affair and dad gets a promotion. Dad takes his friend Jack Daniels for a drive but doesn’t see the Stop sign, the red light, or the oncoming car. No seatbelt; no chance. Kills himself and takes three others with him. Small funeral; few friends; fewer tears. Mum cries, but only just.
Her lover moves in two months later. He’s a jerk but mum loves him. He touches Helen, so Tony knocks him out. Mum shouts and screams then marries the jerk. Tony loses his virginity at sixteen. Messy, awkward, no condom, but you can’t make a baby the first time. School exams. Not enough study but he passes. He wants to be a lawyer. Helen is bullied at school so he fights.
He is tougher now so he gives better than he gets. Step-dad cheats once, twice, maybe more. Mum gets wise and tells him to leave.
More exams. Still not enough study. Fails a couple. First real girlfriend at seventeen. Emma. Mum says she’s a bad influence. Helen agrees. Emma smokes dope and likes to experiment. Tony refuses to join in, but only at first. A few joints, then a couple of tablets, then a line or two. He doesn’t really like it but after a while it doesn’t seem to matter. Emma takes heroin but Tony draws the line there. They split after seven months. Mum says good riddance.
He gets into studying and passes both his re-sits. He is accepted into university a week before he turns eighteen. A man now but he still doesn’t drink because his dad was an asshole when he did. He has sex a few more times with a few more women. One night stands. University starts. A new beginning. New friends. He spends many nights studying and being good, but many more being bad. The police question him about a stolen car, but he is innocent, then about a burglary. He lies and says he knows nothing. The wrong crowd. It happens.
He takes driving lessons, passes, and buys a small car on interest free terms. He meets a girl in the library, gets to know her, gets her pregnant.
Her name is Denise and because he believes in doing it properly, her last name is soon the same as his. He leaves university and two months later his daughter is born. She is perfect. Ten fingers and ten toes.
He gets a factory job. It’s not great but it pays the bills. He argues with Denise. They fight about money, about freedom, about most things. His daughter is sick, and suddenly his daughter is dead. Just like that. Cot death they call it. The tragedy brings them closer. Denise tries to take her own life but Tony walks into the bathroom before she puts the blade to her wrist. The doctor says she is depressed and gives her some pills.
Tony wants another child but it’s too soon. He bumps into a friend he hasn’t seen for ten years. Still the same, only older. They catch up then go their separate ways. People move on. It’s the way it goes. He celebrates one, two, three years of marriage. His mum has a heart attack but she is soon back on her feet. Close call, nonetheless. Helen gets married but gets a divorce soon after. Easy come, easy go.
Tony and Denise move into the country to get away from the memories, but the one thing you can’t run away from is yourself. Life gets better, as it sometimes does. His wife is smiling again, his mum is strong again, and his sister is engaged again. It’s for real this time, she assures him.
Tony finds a job with more money and less hours, and soon he and Denise are thinking about starting a family. Again. Denise is scared at first but cries with happiness when the test is positive.
He comes home from work at the same time every day, but today he leaves early because his wife is in labour. He drives to the hospital a little faster than he should. A little too fast. The road is wet but he takes his chances anyway. He tries to brake, tries to turn, but hits the tree square.
No seatbelt, just like dad. No chance either. What goes around, comes around.
Splashed on the bonnet. Blood everywhere. His whole life flashing before him. Twenty five years in a heartbeat. Lub-dup. All the ups, downs, and in-betweens. Triumph and tragedy, side by side. Tony thinks about Denise, and hopes this time it’s a boy.
He knows that when he closes his eyes it will be for the last time.
So he does.
And it is.