"I once complained I had no shoes
until I met a man who had no feet..."

The open sign was brightly lit. One red sign, blinking on and off in an empty back street. The technical term for the place would probably be a "hole in the wall." Bikers and gang bangers are the most loyal patrons...and me. I come here because it's dark. It's secluded. And they don't ID. Money is the only thing the bartender demands and you could drink until you can't see straight if that's your desire. That's my desire.

My brother says I use alcohol as a crutch. Heh, and he only knows about how much I drink at home. But I needed to get out tonight. It's strange but, coming to this place, I feel almost normal. Nobody knows that under this hat and coat is not your ordinary drunk. And nobody cares. They just let me sit at my table in the corner in peace.

Tonight, as I look around, I feel like I'm in one of those AA meetings. I just wanna stand up and say, "Hi, I'm Raphael and I'm an alcoholic. Oh, and in case you're too drunk to realize, I'm also a turtle."

That would sober them up real quick. But as much fun as that sounds in my present state, I just sit quietly and wait for the alcohol to work it's magic before stumbling home and ignoring the lectures that I'll be sure to get.

If I'm lucky, Leo will be the only one waiting up for me. It's easy enough to tell him to screw off before going to my room to pass out. If the fates really wanna fuck with me, Splinter will be up. I don't recommend telling him to screw off. Been there, done that, have the scar to prove it. Telling him that it could be worse, I could be on drugs too, is also not a smart move. Hey, I've never claimed to be intelligent sober. When I'm drunk, I'm just an idiot. So, I pray to whatever god that gives a damn about me that it'll just be Leo. But by the time I'm ready to go home, I probably won't care either way.

I don't exactly remember when I started using alcohol as an escape. Probably when everything else stopped working. Not that there was really much to begin with. But in all honesty, I think it was the day that Splinter said, "You are now old enough, and capable enough to handle a bit of freedom..."

Freedom? Yeah right. Freedom to hide in the shadows and play in the darkness. Ever been to Central Park at night and seen the teenagers making out? Or watch them driving in their limos and fancy cars the night of big school dances? Once, when Mike and I were about 14, we watched an entire prom through the skylight of a hotel.
Later on that night, after we got home, I think I heard Mikey cry himself to sleep.

I take a long swallow of whatever it is I'm drinking. I can't even remember anymore.
Freedom? Shit, that's about as big a joke as I am.

"May I join you?"

I look up and see a man dressed in a black business suit holding a drink. I've never seen him before. His kind usually doesn't bother with places like this. They prefer fancy bars, with good looking bar maids that they can go screw around with without their wives knowing about it. And I know he's never seen me. In these last few years, I've learned that there are 3 kinds of drunks. There are the ones who get all rowdy and wanna fight everyone in sight. There are those who get all weepy and cry in their drinks and there are those like me who shut up and stumble out when their money's gone. But don't screw with me. This is the third bar I've been to. I've been banned from two others for fighting. Last time, I just barely made it out before the cops showed up. Gave me kind of a reputation. Just leave me alone.

As I look up at this guy, I'm ready to tell him where he can put that glass he's holding. But, for some reason, I tell him to take a seat. Must be the alcohol.

"I'm James," he says extending a hand. His voice is mellow and smooth. That must've been his first drink.

I ignore his hand. "Raphael," I mutter.

He gave a small laugh. "Parents must've been wasted the day they named you."

I glare at him. That's what being nice gets you. Shame I'm gonna have to kill this guy. I'm running out of bars.

But James nodded as he took a sip of his drink. "Interesting name though. Has character. You do know what it means don't you?"

You know, it never occurred to me before. Maybe Splinter was wasted the day he named us. You would think that with everything else stacked against us, he would have at least thought of giving us normal names. At least my brothers' names could be shortened to something decent. My name's screwed up no matter how you say it. I shake my head in answer to James's question. Fuck if I know what Raphael means.

"It means 'God has healed'. Maybe instead of wasted, your parents thought that you were special in some way."

I stare at him in disbelief for a second before saying, "No, I think he was wasted."

The guy laughed and I've quickly decided that I didn't like him. He was distracting me from my goal. I downed my drink and before I could call for another, James ordered one for me.

"I'll buy this round," he said.

When the drinks arrived he raised his glass. "What do we drink to?"

I tap the table for a few seconds. I'm usually not so patient and I'm really tempted to tell him to go to hell. But hey, he bought me a drink. I'll polish this off in a second and then head home. I've accomplished my objective for the night.

I raise my glass. "Your money. Your toast."

His hand lowered a bit and he said, "You know Raphael. All of us, we come here, we pick up these crutches in an attempt to drive away the demons that plague us. You don't know what brought me here and I don't know what brought you here. But tonight I want to toast to those who are worse off than me." He raised his glass again and then downed his drink in one gulp.

I pause before following suit. "That's kind of an odd toast," I tell him.

James shrugged and stood, dropping a large tip on the table. "Raphael, I can tell you stories about myself that would probably leave you with nightmares. I've had to stand by and watch my wife and son die a brutal death and I could do nothing to save them Do you know the guilt you feel, when you look back and remember that your dying son's last words were, 'Daddy, why don't you help us?'" He smiled and leaned his hands against the table. "But I'm still here. I'm still living. God made life a gamble, Raphael. And I'm still playing the game. And so are you. Gotta go, Kid."

I watch him leave and realize two things. The first is that for once in the last 3 years, I'm hoping my entire family will be up when I get home. And the second is that I am completely sober.

"So here's to all the soldiers, who have ever died in vain.
The insane locked up in themselves. The homeless down on Main.
To those who stand on empty shores and spit against the wind
And those who wait forever, for ships that don't come in"