Choose your own poison was something people said to you when you were out and about doing things you probably shouldn’t, partaking of substances, or foods, or drinks that might have consequences. The people who said this often knew of the consequences and wanted to remove responsibility from themselves. I wasn’t certain where the saying came from, but I was certain if I had to partake of a poison I at least wanted to be the one choosing it. I noticed when I drank, or when I ordered dessert, and even when I was gambling with friends, this phrase was repeated often.
So what if I didn’t want a poison, I thought to myself in a room full of people who claimed to be my friends. I stared at each one of them. Lonnie was a banker. He had worked at the bank for twelve years. His wife was a glorified secretary, though she called herself an executive assistant. If she was assisting her boss with anything it was head on a regular basis. We all knew she was fucking him. That is everybody but Lonnie. She flounced in every day with her overdone make up and kissed him on his banker’s cheek asking what he wanted for dinner. And he’d say some outlandish shit like duck la ronge, and she would cook it.
But everybody didn’t have a wife with those kinds of skills. Gary’s wife could barely put a meal on the table. I mean she could cook, but between what they made financially, they barely had money for bills let alone food. His wife was a capricious sort, whether or not there was food on the table depended on how she felt when she came home. Thank goodness they hadn’t had any kids yet.
Roberta, Tony’s wife was a different sort of bitch from an affluent family who claimed she didn’t need him or his money and she could do what she wanted. Tony was henpecked, and mostly just happy to get out of the house four nights a week so he could get away from her.
My own wife had characteristics of her own. She was smart and resourceful. She didn’t bug me but she had moments when she probably wanted to take me out back and shoot me. If I wasn’t the only person she could trust to hide a body she might have done so long ago. Our twelve year old twin boys were old enough to hold their own without burning the house down so on the nights I went out with the boys, she made them pizza or something quick, made certain their chores and homework were done and found things she wanted to do for herself. I appreciated the way she didn’t give me grief about spending time with my friends. She liked Gary’s wife and sometimes they would do things together if she had a little extra and she knew Gary’s wife would enjoy having an outing. She didn’t care for Roberta and after hearing that Lonnie’s wife was cheating she didn’t want to have guilt by association. It didn’t take long for stuff like to get around the neighborhood. She didn’t think it would be long before Lonnie knew. She wasn’t certain how things would turn out once he accepted that it was true. On the nights we were out we were certain Lonnie’s wife used the time to rendezvous with her lover boss, and Roberta was out wasting Tony’s money that she claimed she didn’t need.
On Saturday the boys would come over to my house to play cards. We didn’t even like cards, we just wanted to drink and spend time together. We had a day at each house so we could give our own wives a night of respite away from our daily madness. My wife normally took a long bath and waited for me to come upstairs drunk so she could take advantage of me. As we sat down to the card table one of the fellas would say it, “Okay choose your poison and unpack a bag of liquor with everything from beer to whiskey.
I wasn’t a real drinker but it was fun having the opportunity to try a variety of different things in the comfort of my own home just in case I didn’t respond well. A couple of those times I woke sick as a dog and my wife just walked over me and shook her head.
But on this particular Saturday, Lonnie seemed strange. “If you were gonna kill yourself, what poison would you chose?”
That wasn’t the standard way the prompt was usually made. The others jumped right in and outlined their morbid death wishes. But I didn’t feel like playing this game. Lonnie looked serious and I wasn’t certain I wanted to buy into my own death just yet. He emptied a bag which appeared to contain a variety of different shaped bottles with labels I had never seen. Each of my friends grabbed a bottle and poured the odd-looking liquors into their glass.
“You been telling us for months to choose our poison I’m giving you the opportunity to actually do so.” Lonnie laughed, but the look on his face didn’t seem to look like humor I thought.
Tony tossed back his glass and immediately poured another. Gary was reluctant seeing my hesitance and looked at his drink more closely. He read the bottle. It was a sleeping drought which stated more than a glass might cause a deathlike sleep, but in small amounts could induce a sleep like euphoria that could last for hours. Gary poured a tiny bit into the glass and tossed it back to taste. I looked at the bottles and decided I would try one if I could find one that didn’t seem as if it would really kill me. The bottle that Tony drank from was marked Curare Infusion, though he had taken his third shot it was not a straight version of the poison. In its natural form it caused paralysis and death due to immobilizing the diaphragm, but in its present form the quantity necessary to cause death would have taken the entire bottle. There was no risk of Tony finishing the entire bottle, he was having difficulty moving and was out of breath. In moments he lay sprawled out in the chair unable to move anything at all except his eyes and breathing like he had run a marathon and was having difficulty catching his breath.
I loved my life and loved my wife, if I wanted anything it was just an opportunity for things to be lively every now and then, you know for life not to be predictable. Lonnie handed me a bottle. It was said to be an aphrodisiac, but it also said in small print in too large a quantity it could stop the heart. I literally took a drop. I didn’t mind rocking my wife’s world later if everyone else lived to go home. If not I would spend the night masturbating and trying to revive my stupid friends.
Lonnie had a bottle of Jack Daniels, only a bottle I had never seen. It must have cost a fortune. Into it he put two drops from a black bottle marked nightshade and returned the top.
“All of you are stupid selfish morons. The poison you chose is indicative of the type of lives you lead. Tony here is paralyzed in the same way he is in his daily life, allowing his bitch of a wife to spend every cent he makes, talk to him crazy and treat him like shit. All he really needs to do is grow a fucking spine and tell that bitch how it ‘s going to be and if she doesn’t need him or his money she can go,” said Lonnie.
Tony had tears in his eyes, he couldn’t move but we could tell that what Lonnie had said had hurt his feelings, all the more because it was the truth.
He looked over at Gary who was now hallucinating strange ideas about how to increase his financial success. He was wandering around the room sounding like an inventor on an idea high. They may have been things he had thought of in his waking hours but he was too settled into the job he had and was afraid in this current economy to take any risks.
Lonnie shook his head again. “You gonna sit around and think about it for the rest of your life, while your pretty wife either works herself to death, loses her mind from the stress, or leaves you for some dude more capable of taking care of her. Or you gonna get up and try some of those ideas you keep having that you don’t do nothing about? You sitting around scared to live, watching your relationship die a day at a time, that’s just plain stupid.”
He was on a roll, and he did not stop when he got to me. “Don’t think you’re getting off the hook because this is your house. You got a good life, a good wife, two beautiful boys, and all you do is sit around and complain about how you wish things could be more interesting. That must mean that you’re a boring fuck cause if it was me I would be the one keeping it interesting. You don’t need no alcohol or no spirited elixir to give your wife a run for her money. She’s a beautiful girl. If she was my wife and I had gotten bored, I’d be somewhere thinking up shit to excite her, and there’s plenty you can do to make life fun for your sons. But if you want to sit there and let the time pass, by all means, go ahead.” he said a tear in his eye.
He wiped his eye and stood to leave. He cleared the bottles from the table. Y’all don’t need these, all you need to do is take control of the lives you have and make them what you want them to be. I’m the only one got some shit I can’t fix. That was the first thing that he had said this evening that had given me a clue that he had somehow discovered the truth about his wife. But he did not confirm this only left by my patio door. I tried to follow but that tonic was taking affect and I was not going to be able to do anything else but obey my own body tonight. I corralled Gary the “walking dreamer” and made him help me get Tony into the car to take them both home. My next door neighbor Dan agreed to ride with me, “Looks like you guys had a harder night than usual,” he said, “he’s breathing kind of funny, he gonna be okay.”
“Yeah, he’s just upset and he had too much to drink. He’ll be okay in the morning. ” I said.
“Gary seems kind of out of it too but not in a bad way.” Dan said.
“Some sleep should improve his current state.” I said uncertain.
Tony’s wife had not yet arrived home. We put him to bed and then dropped Gary at his house.
His wife looked at him funny, “What’s wrong with him?” she asked.
“Nothing a good night sleep won’t fix, help him take a bath and relax and put him to bed tomorrow he’ll be himself again.” I told her but I was wrong.
I drove back to my house and spent the rest of my evening quietly and contentedly seducing my wife. She was amazed at my attention to her every detail and fell asleep beside me smiling. She had done that before, but it had been awhile. I sat up afterward; the effects of the elixir were wearing off. I wondered what it would have been like if I had taken more. I hoped the guys would be okay. I was trying not to allow my attention to wander to Lonnie. I did not know what he had put in the Jack Daniels or why and he sounded like he had decided to do something drastic. I didn’t want to imagine what, especially since I had allowed him to leave in that state.
I woke the next morning to a wonderful breakfast. My sons were at the table ready to eat and anticipating some outdoor activity. My wife smiled and sang as she moved about the kitchen. My sons giggled and said, “Whatever happened to mom yesterday needs to happen more often, we like her this way.”
I laughed with them, I liked her this way too.
At noon, Tony’s wife called. “I’m sorry to bother you on Sunday,” she apologized, “Tony seemed to think I owed you and your wife an apology and would not let it wait until tomorrow so I was calling to say I’m sorry that I’ve been so terrible, I hope you’ll forgive me.”
I stood frozen at the end of the phone with my wife asking, “Who is it?” in the background.
“It’s okay, Roberta we’ve been up awhile, Tony okay?”
“Well he’s not himself, but he’s not sick or anything if that’s what you mean.”
That morning Tony had risen, packed his wife’s belongings and told her he was tired of her mistreating him and if she wanted someone else she was welcome to find him but he was no longer taking her shit or wasting his money. She was free to leave and go back to her father’s house whenever she was ready. She had looked at him in disbelief at first, and attempted to utilize her previous tactics, to which Tony replied, “Let me call you a cab.”
By the time the taxi arrived she realized it was not a joke. He put her bags into the trunk and gave the driver her father’s address. He handed her a piece of paper. “You’ve been nasty to my friends, if you decide you have anything you want to say to me ever again then maybe you should call and apologized to him and his wife. They’ve never been anything but nice to you.” He closed the taxi door and sent it on his way and turned and went back into the house. He cleaned it from top to bottom, fixed himself some breakfast, and laid down for a nap.
Gary too had woken in a different state. He discussed getting a better job, suggested his wife cut her schedule to part-time, and consider going back to school so she could work somewhere she earned better pay doing something she liked. In the meantime he had some ideas he had been working over in his mind that might generate some extra financial support until he could get a better job. She stood like I had, mesmerized at first waiting for him to laugh or let her know it was a joke or in some way she had been dreaming. That never happened.
It was a week before we found out what happened to Lonnie. I had called to make sure he hadn’t killed himself and was ecstatic to hear his voice when he answered the phone. But he sounded serious and said, “I’m in the middle of something important, I’ll have to call you back.”
A week later having skipped all of our regular outings, Lonnie showed up at the door, bag in hand. Gary and Tony arrived half an hour later. Lonnie put the bag on the table. We all sat quietly staring at the bag, and wondering if Lonnie was going to share with us what happened. He looked down at his feet for a long time.
When he looked up he said, “Sometimes for people to admit they’ve done wrong they have to get caught first. My wife had gotten that expensive bottle of liquor from her boss. I know she tasted it because it was open when I found it. I didn’t ask her about it and she didn’t say anything about it. I simply gave her an opportunity to come clean. I wiped it off and put it back where she left it. When she went to find it I followed her and asked her what she had. She tried to lie at first, saying it was a surprise, but when I asked where she got it she fumbled and stuttered until finally she admitted it was a gift from her boss. I told her she had to give it back, that it wasn’t appropriate for a man to be buying such expensive gifts for someone else’s wife. She tried to behave as if it was the first time and that she didn’t know I would get upset about it and agreed to return it.
But since it was one of our nights out she decided they would get together and drink it. They were in an expensive suite at a downtown hotel and had probably just started to have sex because when the paramedics found them they were still naked joined convulsing lying on the hotel room floor with the room door wide open. How the door got opened no one was certain but many people had passed the room and seemed to think they were in the throes of passion. A concerned visitor notified the front desk. The manager went to the room and when he found them he called the paramedics and the police. When the police called me to the hospital, I had no idea where she had gone and was genuinely surprised to learn they had found her in the middle of a sex act having convulsions. I asked why she would be having convulsions. The police suggested according to accounts that they had been sneaking around for some time and they had been given information to suggest that she was going to call it off. A coworker had said they’d had a loud argument about her husband having discovered her hiding a gift and made her return it. Apparently he was angry but was later overheard asking her to meet him at the hotel. The police think he tried to kill her to avoid having his wife find out. They found an empty bottle from some expensive liquor, it had residue of deadly nightshade. Both were very ill and hospitalized. The police want to know who put the nightshade into the liquor. Both claim they did not, but suspect the other. However neither is pressing charges against the other. Also some scandalous photos have surfaced. Our family lawyer says the bank president’s behavior is actionable. I am waiting to see what my wife will do.”
“So fellas choose your poison,” he said and took several bottles of beer from the bag.
Happy to see it was just beer, everyone took a bottle and said nothing. I was the only one who had seen Lonnie put something into the Jack Daniels bottle but even I didn’t know what. He had never mentioned to his wife knowing that the bottle was open, and she had not told him she had tasted it.
The following week, the bank settled out of court. Though she was completely at fault Lonnie’s wife asked for a divorce, he requested half the settlement for his pain and suffering, his wife and the judge agreed.
On Saturday Lonnie showed up at our door the same as always carrying a bag of liquor which I emptied onto the table. My happy singing wife had made snacks for our card game and gone to the show with Roberta and Gary’s wife. My sons sat on the floor playing Monopoly with Uncle Gary and Uncle Tony making bets on who’d win.
Roberta and Tony were seeing a marriage counselor and he had not let her come home but she had been told by her father that she had chosen her husband and she would have to work it out, she wasn’t a little girl and she couldn’t come running home every time she made a mistake.
“Choose your poison,” I said loudly.
“Gladly,” said Lonnie picking up a bottle, “as long as I can choose the consequences that go with it, I’m okay with that.”
That was the last time I remember saying or hearing that, until my sons graduated from college and were having friends over to celebrate. I stood at the patio door, and through the screen I heard them say together, “Choose your poison.”
Choose Your Own Poison © DJuna Blackmon 2014, All Rights Reserved