"Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but in reflection not having any big farewell parties is probably something I'll always regret," she said as tears rolled down her cheek, dotting the stained, crusty carpet at McCarren Airport.
Karen, love of my life for the only three months I've ever known happiness, flew away from me on a day when the official temperature in Las Vegas reached 117 degrees; it was in the 120's near my suburban home. Why, then, did I shiver down to my soul from the moment I woke up that morning?
I first met Karen at the Desert Tavern, a twenty-four hour bar/restaurant/video poker joint just a few miles from the Vegas strip. I worked there as a bartender, serving drinks to degenerate locals who loved gambling but hated tourists. Most of our clientele were old men so bitch-slapped by years of alcohol abuse their facial features had turned discolored and fleshy; and women with skin so sun-ravaged you could strike a match on it. The rest of the customers I referred to as bar props, because all they did was sit there and push buttons on the video poker machine, never saying a word the entire time. They had no stories to share, no jokes to tell, no love to lose. Karen was like that the first time she came in; prettier than most of our regulars but utterly silent and as drab as the architecture of the surrounding neighborhood.
I guess Karen just needed to warm up to the place, because the second time I saw her she ordered a Maker's Mark on the rocks and asked me if I knew of a decent independent record store. Four hours later my shift was over and we were in love.
I was determined to stay with her until the last second. For once I was glad the security checkpoint was backed up by asshole tourists who couldn't follow directions and bitter employees who acted like there was a prize for moving slowly. Karen was talking but I only heard every other word; too distracted by the ads for overpriced restaurants, overraught production shows, and has-been lounge acts to properly listen. If it wasn't for my daughter, I
would have left this tawdry shit shack a long time ago with the first woman who smiled at me, but there I was waiting for fully half of my sources of joy to board a plane and effectively disappear, because the other source needed me here.
When I said I only knew happiness through Karen that wasn't entirely true. My daughter made me so happy I was stupid with glee, but then I'd have to give her back to her sewer-gashed junkie mother. From the moment my little girl was born I knew I'd be trapped in Vegas until the day she went off to college, or until her mom finally overdosed. Every night I would pray to God for that woman to O.D. or get busted for possession; anything to prove how worthless she was so I could get custody of my child. As it stood, I couldn't prove a thing.
When we were almost at the front of the line, I thought about Karen's new life in Paris. Her going there had already been decided months before we met, and who was I to try and change her mind? I told her one more time how much I loved her and how much I'd miss her and a lot of other things guys don't like to say until fate forces us to act human. After she gave her boarding pass to an airport employee who smelled like an old raincoat, she turned to me just as one tear was hanging off the end of my nose like snot, and waved goodbye.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but in reflection not having any plan as to what to do after I kidnapped my daughter and strangled her mother is probably something I'll always regret, right up to the moment I'm strapped into that chair.