A Drunken Haze
The first part of his duty had been finished. While his presentation had been far from perfect, he had successfully presented his patient in their conference. It was purportedly the most challenging requirement during the rotation in psychiatry, and he had done it all by himself, without any help from his groupmates.
It wasn't that he was in disagreement with them, however. He simply felt that he could complete the presentation all by himself, and he did it with only one sleepless night. Despite his mistakes, particularly his use of formal English, he had come out relatively unscathed. He also had finished his required psychiatry report, and completed the rest of his requirements.
Although he had planned to wash up after returning home he was stopped by his groupmates and asked him to share a bottle of beer with them. He didn't have any problems with them: although they teased him to no end, they were also helpful people that adjusted to him just as he adjusted to them. He was grateful that he had them as their groupmates. Although he was supposed to be on duty, he decided to join them as it was only going to be one bottle anyway and it wouldn't take too long.
It all started innocuously, with the four being quietly seated in the middle of a local restaurant-bar. Gene had started smoking his Marlboro Lights, although he turned his back on the group because none of the others smoked. His two other companions, May and Ces, quietly started sipping their beer. Ces broke the ice by joking around with him. He was called Sal.
'I'm jealous of Sal, guys,' she said.
'Why is it?' May asked.
'Well,' Ces replied, 'he's not going to have any duties for three whole days! That's a huge thing!'
'What a lucky bastard,' May concluded.
Sal interjected. 'Well, you guys would be in pairs during your duty days, so it just balances things out.'
'But think about it, Gene!' Ces continued. 'It's three whole days!'
Gene kept quiet for a few moments and then offered his piece: 'I don't mind. I think I'll be as comfortable as him, then.'
'Bastards!' the two ladies spoke in chorus.
'No, actually, if you think about it,' Gene retorted, 'it just makes up for the fact that there are two of you in the group.'
Sal no longer said anything. He already said what he needed to say to them and was busy on refilling his glass with what remained of his half-a-liter bottle. Because he wanted to ensure that he retained his sense despite his inebriation, he poured a lot of ice on the glass before filling it with the golden liquid: he was, after all, going to return to duty after a while.
The group took pictures of each other, alternating between themselves so that everyone would be featured in snapshots that painted them struggling with the yoke of their duties yet still finding time to enjoy an occasional bottle of beer. The group had once again descended into silence: as they were quietly drinking their beers Sal slowly felt a flush rise up his face. It was often a warning sign for him that he was getting closer and closer to being inebriated, although he had not yet felt the kick.
Minutes passed in silence as Gene lit up another cigarette and blew his exhaust toward the poor plants that were nearby. May had been busy texting, and Sal assumed it was probably her boyfriend while Ces was quietly sipping the beer as Sal was.
He then felt warm.
When he looked at his arms they were redder than the usual pale brown that had colored them, and felt that his face was also heating up. Sal, had, after all, not drunk anything for the past few months. He was also quite allergic to alcohol (or so his mother had said), and it manifested by the reddening of his face, which had occurred.
'I want to dip my head in ice once more,' he said.
'That's just like what you did back when we were in Bacolod, right?' May asked him.
'Yes. I feel really warm,' he replied. Sal then stayed quiet once more, and kept on drinking. What started as a full glass had now become three-quarters of it.
Gene, feeling a bit contentious after he had finished his second cigarette, tried to test Sal by asking him a barbed question: 'So, Sal, did you like or even try to court May back then?'
'No,' Sal quickly replied. 'I didn't. There's a world of difference between saying a person is okay against formally courting them, and I didn't court her or had any plans to. She knows it herself.'
May stared at him without saying anything.
'Right, Ces?' Sal asked Ces. Ces merely nodded.
The lights then suddenly brightened, as if the incandescent bulbs sparkled like the stars in a clear night sky. He then took a gulp, and half a glass remained.
'So how are you and the girl?' Gene asked once more.
'If you were talking about my first love – ' Sal gulped a bit once more, 'I think that I can sincerely say that I am pretty much over her.'
'Stop kidding yourself, fag,' May threw a barb at him jokingly.
'No, really,' Sal replied. 'I saw her recent pictures when that purported rival of mine posted them, and I was surprised at myself. I believed, sincerely, that she was cute and I also took a huge risk on her but I realized when I saw her in those pictures that she wasn't altogether special. And frankly, I wonder why I really liked her, too. Maybe the stress of her year level got to her, or maybe my tired efforts have been bothering her, but I was just flabbergasted at realizing I didn't like her anymore. Is it really like that?'
'Like when you saw her face after not seeing it after a while you just realized you didn't like her?' Ces asked.
Sal's vision blurred even further. He was down to his last gulp, and he knew that he had to be sobered enough to even return to hospital duty. After emptying the glass, he replied: 'I frankly think I loved her then, and could have kept on loving her because I liked her for who she was and could have understood her even with her flaws. At one point in time she had been the world to me, even though most people thought that she was only cute. But I guess I couldn't wait forever – and I guess I couldn't last more than two years.'
'I told you from the beginning, right? It was pointless to pine for her, because she seemed to exist in a world of her own that you couldn't penetrate, especially because you're probably just as weird – and that's it. It took you two years and a drunken haze to realize that she couldn't love you, and that's good. That's good because while you will stagger walking toward the hospital and slowly gain sobriety you will realize that there are tons of beautiful girls out there who would like you back and like you for who you are,' Mae concluded.
'Come on, man,' Gene exhorted Sal. 'We're going back to the hospital.'
As Sal walked towards the exit he was accompanied by Gene on the left, and Mae on the right. Ces flanked his back. As his glower and the fog of his eyesight gradually cleared with the breakdown of alcohol, Sal awkwardly smiled. He had finally released what he had kept and hidden for some time.