The last time I came home ripped was supposed to be the last time I came home ripped.

I can’t say I don’t know what I was thinking when thinking was the last thing on my mind. But I feel now like tumbling down to the square, scrambling up on some sort of soapbox, and rambling on to all or anyone who still might care—that my brain is finally, truly, irredeemably beyond repair. Now I know. Now I know for sure. Now we all know.

The last time was two years ago yesterday, but just now seems like yesterday. She asked why couldn’t it just be something else? Even another woman—someone younger, more energetic, even prettier than her? That was something she could understand, deal with, and perhaps even forgive. But there had never been another woman. There’d been some booze-fueled stupidities, some messes, but no other woman, no one I ever wanted besides her. Not when I was sober.

Instead, I got drunk again—disorderly, darkly—after nine months away from bars and booze and blackouts. Somehow she took me back again. Barely. She said she couldn’t help but love me, said somebody had to, god knows, but this was absolutely the end of the ride. If ever there were a next time, she said, she’d be gone before I sobered up. And she was.

She was gone.

I raised my arm to wipe the tears and dirt from my cheek onto my shirt, then spotted something on the floor. A photograph. Ripped. In the half I picked up and wiped off on a clean part my shirt, there was Ella, relaxing at the beach last summer, iced tea on the little wrought-iron table beside the chaise. She was tanned, softly smiling, seemingly at peace. I had been there too, but I was no longer in the picture.booze