It’s dark outside. I am standing on the second floor balcony of what appears to be an apartment or hotel complex. I hear voices surrounding me, kids and their parents, presumably, panicked by an impending crash. I look up at the night sky to see what the commotion is about. There’s a helicopter spiraling out of control.
It’s directly above me, helplessly swaying around in circles like in all the movies I had seen. It looks like it’s going to crash right on top of me.
Knowing it’s only a dream, I remain calm. And it’s because it is a dream that I know exactly who the helicopter is coming for.
I admire the path it takes on its way down. The kids are screaming just like their presumable parents, and I wait in silence for its inevitable crash landing. I look straight up while it barrels down into me.
* * * * *
Trey turned 21 in September of 2011. The night before his birthday we drove out to Casino Morongo, played video roulette of all things. It was the first he or I ever gambled. We only played $200 apiece, but that was a lot of money to us back then. We left even. The following morning we flew to San Francisco for an all-guy vacation, and if we lost at the casino we would have been out about 40% of our collective budget for the trip.
But we didn’t, so who cares.
A lot was happening around then. Having seen one another a few months earlier, during the summer, my ex and I were on our best terms since she moved and broke up with me. We were talking every day, telling each other ‘I love you’ before we got off the phone. I wouldn’t go as far as saying we were on any direct line to get back together, but we couldn’t pass each other off as being “just friends,” or how you say. We were the same as we ever were; our relationship had simply taken a different form.
To that end, 2009 may as well have been an entire lifetime ago. In October, Brad — Trey’s older brother — got married. The Texas Rangers, my favorite baseball team, were in the middle of their second consecutive crushing World Series defeat. (Sports will forever be my point of reference.)
Even as Trey and I had grown closer than ever, I was still bugging John about splitting an apartment with me. It was always going to be soon that we moved out, only soon never arrived.
* * * * *
At some juncture in November, I got a phone call from Trey’s girlfriend (now wife), my ex’s best friend. It was nighttime. Trey called about 10 minutes earlier to tell me she might call, and to just deny everything. She had apparently found something out from a text someone sent her. My job was to be a best friend and not say anything.
So she called, and I told her Trey loved her, denied everything else. And that part of it was true. Trey was very much in love with her. That was it. She hung up.
I don’t like to lie, and the longer time goes the more I regret that I had to lie. This problem surfaced out of nowhere, and in a split second I effectively chose my best friend over my ex-girlfriend, whom I was still deeply in love with. And it’s amazing that, in spite of said love, I admit that I would make the same decision if I had to relive that moment again, and again. I would not sell Trey out under any circumstance. I stretched the truth as far as it could go, until there wasn’t anything to do but lie.
It was the week after Thanksgiving — roughly a week after I got the call from Trey’s girlfriend — and I sat in the office I shared with another woman from the auto auction place. By then I worked full-time in the accounting department, which consisted of, like, five people in total. It was a mundane afternoon, just like all of the others.
That is, until it wasn’t. My ex and I were texting back and forth all day, then there was an hour-long window where she got silent. I had no reason to be worried.
However, it quickly became apparent that lying to her best friend would not go unpunished. When she finally wrote back, the text cryptically read:
everything in transit.
I didn’t immediately know what she meant, I just understood that something awful had happened. Everything In Transit was the album title to the soundtrack of our summer; it was the anthem to our beach trips and bedroom hangouts and random drives to nowhere when we were together. When she wrote that I knew everything was about to change. Again.
Not two minutes later, Trey called. He sounded in a rush. “Can you come pick me up?” he asked.
“I’ll be right over,” I responded, without any further questions, and got my keys to get him at their apartment.
He got caught up by his girlfriend. He needed me to take him to the bank so he could take out all his money, because they had a joint account and he was worried she would do something. On the way he explained the situation, was grateful and apologetic. I was mainly just worried about him. I could attempt damage control with my ex another time.
A handful of days later, when things calmed down, his girlfriend moved back in with her parents, so Trey needed a roommate. He called while I was on break one afternoon and asked if I’d be down to move in with him, and of course I did.
For months I had been ready to move out of my parents house; I only needed a roommate. The circumstances surrounding why Trey suddenly needed one were not ideal, but it was nonetheless appropriate how quickly the situation resolved itself. We were best friends, so it couldn’t make any more sense.
That was ultimately John’s flaw: He was incapable of pulling the trigger. Trey, meanwhile, lived his life on the brink of pulling multiple triggers, all at once. Right or wrong, he does not hesitate.
It’s funny how the best friend roles were different between them. Since we were in high school, I never minded Trey assuming the alpha persona in our friendship. He liked to be the focal point of every situation, so I played the quiet best friend who rarely boasted while I was around anyone. Trey did so much of my talking for me. When John and I were out, socially at a party or around people in real life, it was the opposite. I was the one who took control and did most of the talking. We’re all alphas; I just flip the switch on or off depending who I’m around.
John won’t ever see my moving in with Trey from my perspective. He can play the martyr, the guy who got the short end of the stick when Trey came back around. But I could never find the recipe to make it work between the three of us. And I really did try. I just got tired of it.
One thing we each shared was the capacity to be all-or-nothing with people. The reason Trey and I, and John and I, were such close friends, is because we basically rejected every other person who could have potentially threatened that spot on the mantle. We could never exist as friends unless we were best friends. Otherwise it would have been pointless.
I haven’t spoken to John in a few years, but I’ll never have any ill-will towards him. It’s the opposite, actually. In my heart I could never turn my back on the person who was there during my darkest hours, even if that’s exactly what I did at the time. It came down to Trey or John, and it wasn’t a serious decision.
* * * * *
Following the episode, the communications with my ex were not pretty. Christmas of 2011 rolled around, and she didn’t visit when she came home from Texas. It was just Trey and I hanging out at our apartment.
The breakup was hard on him. Pretty sure I can count on two or three fingers the number of times I’ve seen him cry, but this was one of them. He lamented what he’d done, bawled out while he explained how different everything would be if given another chance. I just listened, because all there was to do was listen.
It reminded me of how I spoke to my mom, when my own relationship ended. This was what it looks like when you really love someone.
Their standoff only lasted about a month before his girlfriend started coming around again. That was also the time we went to the casino all the fucking time.
Unironically, Trey and I gambled more when we had less money. Blackjack was our game of choice. When we started it was $100 here or $200 there, and there were some lucrative nights. We’d win $1,000 or so, go back the next night and lose it all. That process repeated itself about a dozen times when we went everyday.
Slowly, like a broken record, my ex and I started talking again. Every time we got in an argument and went on a week- or two-week-long hiatus, I would tell myself that was it. That the next time we spoke everything would change, and I would be nice.
It rarely translated.
Trey and I posted this video on March 6, 2012. A week later, on the 13th, I got really heated with one of my coworkers and walked out of the auto auction place. I fucking quit. At that moment things must not have been going well between my ex and I and, since I lived vicariously through how she felt about me, I let it bleed into my job. Which is where I made money. Which is how I paid half the rent at the apartment Trey and I shared. It was a mistake.
I will never be able to justify to a reasonable person how one woman could affect me so much, and so long after the fact. When I was 19 and had a hard time sleeping, pretty much nightly, I would sometimes close my eyes and interlace my fingers, pray to god to convince her to give me one more chance. Bring her back, I pleaded, and I’ll never ask for anything, ever again.
Well, she did come back. But I never held up my end of the bargain. I needed more chances, and more chances, and more chances. And every new chance she gave was treated the same as the last. I was much further from growing up than I had imagined.
After I left the auto auction place, Trey and I went to the casino a lot less. I used up the rest of the money I had in the bank on rent for March, April and May, and then finally moved back into my parent’s house. The lease would be up in a few months, and Trey and his girlfriend would get a house.
My new summer of discontent was in 2012. I was alone again, fresh off moving back in with my parents for the second time in four years, and had a hard time finding a job. I remember I wanted to work at a few different restaurants, but I didn’t have any experience and I guess they didn’t like me, because I never made it past the interview.
That’s the shitty part about being unemployed. After facing rejection enough times it really saps the life out, making it harder and harder to go out. That could have had to do with living with my parents, though. I got comfortable.
I was also depressed again.
Trey regularly invited me out with him, or him and his girlfriend. I don’t think it came from sympathy inasmuch as just trying to cheer me up a bit, because he knew I felt like shit. He knew the ruts I occasionally got in.
We had been to the casino so many times by that point, all the dealers knew us. Since we both tipped well, they all liked when Trey and I played at their table. Over the course of the previous nine months, he and I had probably gambled about 50 times. (Maybe more, I don’t remember.) And it was his idea, simply from me counting cards faster than the dealer was, that that’s what I should do. Be a dealer.
In October of 2012, my ex visited from Texas. Our mutual standing was tenuous, which could be considered a positive after where we were after I lied to her best friend on Trey’s behalf almost a year earlier.
She let me take her out for drinks. We went to our favorite restaurant from when we were dating. I got a couple Jack and Coke’s, and she got a couple vodka somethings. This was not a romantic evening, it was more of a What the fuck were you thinking, Eric? evening.
It was one of our most honest conversations. I told her I wouldn’t betray my best friend, no matter what. That I knew the implications of my decision and went through with it anyway.
She was set in whatever view she had of me. I was a big ball of potential, and was failing with it. She fluctuated between being friendly and agitated with me. She bemoaned things I’d said, or done to her in the past. And she also said I was the only person she would have done anything for. That was me, baby.
When we left, we sat in my Ford Ranger and talked some more, argued some more. There was a sour taste in my mouth, like I had this golden opportunity and couldn’t say anything that wouldn’t make my position more fucked up than it already was. So I stopped talking, put the keys in my truck and we left. We held hands on the drive home.
On the freeway, I told her my plans of becoming a dealer in the casino. She seemed amused, almost as if it wasn’t a serious thought. When she realized it wasn’t a ruse, she told me I had gone to school for writing, that being a writer was my dream, and here I was now giving up on it to deal cards, of all things. But if that’s what you wanna do. . . .
I walked her to her door, hugged her, pulled back. A lot like how we did at the airport when I returned from Virginia for spring break in 2009. Then, just as we had three and a half years earlier, we gently pulled each other back in, started kissing. Then she went inside, and I walked back to my truck to drive home.
Circa Survive was playing through my stereo.