The first time I met Jamie Hollifield was in the kitchen of the Tunnel Road Olive Garden. I reminded him of that the second time I met him, years later and three sheets to the wind. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I'm sure I could look back through the stories I was writing at the time and get a close approximation. He was a character in most of them, though I don't know that I ever portrayed him in the fairest light.
By the time of that second meeting, he was 24 and a chef. His daughter, Autumn, was 7. He'd tattooed her name across the nape of his neck. It was still red and swollen at the edges. It's mentioned in his missing persons report, too, along with the flaming dice on one forearm and the spider web tattooed around his elbow. I never did see the "love" and "pain" tattoos across his knuckles that they mention—those must have come later, maybe after the second marriage didn't work out.
Anyway, Jamie Hollifield fell in love with me. I don't know why. I liked his sideburns and his pug nose and the way he always used to scratch on the break. I liked his rolled up Levis and the way his bowlegs looked in them. He looked to me like the kind of person that I would be attracted to. But I never loved him. I loved the free drinks and the cigarettes and the pool-playing advice and the flowers and the job he helped me to get, but him I never loved.
* * *
One night, after last call, we bought beers from the bartender and went back to his place. Everything in that house was brown and streaky filthy and the kitchen smelled like burnt ramen noodles. His roommate, Lucius, was home. I think he'd just dropped acid. We gave him a beer.
There was blood on the living room floor. Lucius was sitting on a broken footlocker, grinning. He didn't seem to notice.
"Hey," he said, "you met my dog?"
The dog was small and gray and limping. One of his paws was covered in duct tape, like how the gutter punks fixed their shoes. "You trying to make a fashion statement with that?" Jamie asked. I could tell he was nervous.
"Why's he walking all funny?" I pointed at the silver paw.
Lucius proceeded to go very suddenly and violently crazy. "Who put fucking duct tape on my fucking dog?" he yelled. He jumped up and down on the floor. He kicked the broken TV, the wobbly coffee table riddled with cigarette burns. "Who put that fucking shit on my fucking dog?"
Jamie held Lucius by the shoulders and gently pushed him back down to the floor. He possessed the tenderness of a man with a daughter. "Hold on, man," Jamie said. "Lemme look at it."
I was the one that noticed the thin trail of blood leaking out over the top of the tape. "He's bleeding," I said.
Lucius' arms flailed wildly. "Who the fuck cut up my fucking dog? Who the fuck put duct tape all over my fucking bleeding fucking dog?"
I looked over at Jamie. "I think I'm gonna go."
He nodded. "That's probably a good idea."
* * *
Jamie told my friend Amanda everything. "He says he hasn't felt this way about a girl since he was 15!" she said to me. She said other things too: that he'd sworn off heroin for good, that he was trying not to drink so much.
How fitting, then, that it was Amanda who told me that Jamie was dead. They found him in a field. He was a half mile from his house, in the woods, decomposing. He'd disappeared a month before, after the cops came to his house to clear up a domestic dispute. They don't know yet what killed him. I have my own ideas.
Oh Jamie. I worry that no one will ever write about you. I worry that you have passed through this world, come and gone in a storm of hurt and lostness. I never loved you, couldn't love you, but I can write about you, try to capture in words that nervous smile you always had about you when we would drink and drink and drown our sorrows; when you would sing along to Hank Williams songs in the sweaty, throbbing kitchen and call out for me to bring you the first shot of the night; when you watched me, wordlessly, from the dark corners of the bar. I never knew you, not really, and I won't pretend to something we didn't have. But we were alive then, you and I, and now you're not and I can only hope its better where you are.