Alcoholism in the Present Tense
I’m still drunk when Melanie wakes me. She has to go, and I’m presented with a choice: I can either leave now or stay until she gets back at 4 pm. That’s a long time. Since I’m hopeful that Courtney might want to see me, I decide to leave. Walking to the bus, I find that I’m off balance. I try to get my head straight by smoking a cigarette. I just want to talk to Courtney but I fear that the night before – which I can’t remember all the way – didn’t go so well.
Let’s look at the most important fact: I went out to be with Courtney, and I woke up in Melanie’s bed. That, my friend, is what we call a bad sign.
On the bus I text Courtney, “Hey, you awake?” It’s 10:30 in the morning. I lean my head against the bus window and fall asleep. An hour later the bus will be parked at the terminal, and the driver will shake me until I’m awake again.
NoDa is the trendy arts district in Charlotte, and on a hot summer afternoon I’m having lunch with my father, my mother, and my wife. My father has been intolerable to be around. Earlier in the day, he walked down one side of the street while me, my mother, and my wife walked down the other.
“I want a beer,” he says, looking over the menu. “Have a beer with me.”
“I can’t,” I tell him. I don’t tell him that I’ve stopped drinking. That I’ve been in AA and that I’ve decided alcohol is destroying my life. “You go ahead and have one.”
He looks at me. “Why can’t you have a beer? Come on, have a beer with your old man.”
“If I have one beer, I’ll want more,” I say. “And if I don’t have more, I’ll be thinking about it all day and I’ll be miserable.”
“It’s one beer,” he says and laughs. “Come on, have a drink with your dad.”
“He doesn’t want a drink,” my wife says. “Please, you go ahead and just have one yourself.”
He looks irritated. “Well, if he’s not having one, then I’m not either.”
It’s hard for me to figure why my father doesn’t understand. He’s seen me before. He knows how things get when I drink. I don’t know why he doesn’t remember the Thanksgiving when I couldn’t stop drinking and cursed at my sister, or all the nights I spent in the basement drinking by myself. Or the time I went out in his station wagon and when I came back I was drunk and it was smashed.
“I’d really like a beer,” he says over and over again during the course our lunch. Finally he orders one. He takes a long gulp and says, “Are you sure you don’t want one? Come on. One beer.”
Courtney hasn’t responded to the two texts I’ve sent. This is not like her at all. She has never NOT responded when I’ve texted her. The second text I sent was a vague apology. I know she’s mad at me but I’m not sure why. I’ve spent the whole day in bed. I can’t think and I can’t move. All I remember is drinking beer and later rum and doing shots and singing “Don’t Stop Believing” and having Melanie talk on the phone to the cab driver to tell him where to take me.
I’ve had this feeling before. The feeling that I’ve done something awful that I can’t remember. It’s the worst feeling in the world. Lying in bed, I wonder how many people hate me after my black out night and I wonder how much they hate me. The “why” isn’t even important anymore.
It’s about 8:30 at night, and Courtney finally decides to speak to me. “Don’t do that again,” she says on Facebook chat. “You freaked me out and it was fucked.”
I type, “To be honest, I don’t remember everything. What exactly did I do that was fucked?”
There’s a long pause before she answers. Maybe it isn’t that long, but to me it seems that way.
“You pushed me into the corner of the bar, and you wouldn’t let me go. You yelled at me and called me a bitch.”
I feel devastated reading this. I apologize. Over and over again.
“I know that isn’t you,” she writes. “I guess it would be best to forget it and move on.”
That she could want to “forget it and move on” makes me feel worse. We talk for the rest of the night about other things. Fred Phelps and dead soldiers, abortion and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The entire time I think back to Sunday morning, when I texted her and I thought we could do something fun. How could I have had no idea that I’d taken her by the arms and held her so she couldn’t move?
My sister Kim sends me a message. I had sent her one earlier, telling her what I did, because I felt I needed to tell someone.
“She’s an angel for even wanting to forgive you,” Kim says. “Well, bro, the only way to get your shit together is to lessen the booze or stop completely. I don’t think it’s doing you any good. I mean, honestly speaking, do you want to be like this the rest of your life?”
Some Morning about Five Years Ago
“The marriage counselor says I should leave you,” Betty tells me. I’m curled up on the couch. My school had a field trip today and I missed it. I teach at an elementary school. I wonder if my kids are having a good time.
“Do you remember last night?” Betty asks. I don’t. The only thing I seem to remember is watching Ryan Howard strike out during the Phillies/Braves game. “You were out of control,” she says. “You threw your glasses against the wall and you were screaming. You called me terrible things. I sat at the computer crying. Then you wanted me to hit you, and you kept screaming about it and I wouldn’t do it. I was scared.”
I remember how it started. Betty came home and I had already drunk about half a bottle of Vodka by myself. We sat out on the porch. I was thinking about baseball.
“I can’t wait to have kids,” I said to her. “I want to be their baseball coach. I’ll be really good at it. It’ll be so much fun to teach my kids how to play baseball.”
She stares off into the day. “I’m not having kids with you,” she says. “Not like this.”
It turns out Courtney and I will be at the same bar Friday night. She doesn’t sound too enthusiastic about it. I tell her that I won’t be drinking. It’ll be a sober night. I don’t go into why because I assume she knows.
At the bar, I try to have fun. I cheer my friends on while they play in a beer pong tournament. Other friends joke around with me. I feel strong in my conviction to not drink. People try to buy me drinks and I tell them I’m having a sober night. Then they tilt my head towards the light so they can see the scar from when I fell down on a beer mug a few weeks ago and split my eyebrow open.
Courtney shows up, walks near to where I’m standing, and doesn’t even make eye contact with me. When she looks at me, we awkwardly wave ‘hello’ and have a very short conversation. I don’t want to pester her or make her feel uncomfortable. I walk over to some friends. An hour passes. Courtney hasn’t moved and I don’t feel she particularly wants to talk to me at all. Maybe I’m wrong. She could just want to hang out with her co-worker friends, and it’s my shame that makes me think this. Still, it’s hard to take. Only a week earlier, I felt really close to her. Tonight, the longest we speak is when I put on my jacket, walk over to her, and say goodbye.
Leaving the bar, I think about all the people I’ve lost to alcohol. I lost my wife, Betty. I’ve lost too many friends to count. Now I suppose I’ve lost Courtney too. I feel shattered. After I take a cab home, I go to the store and buy two large jugs of beer. Sitting in my apartment by myself, I start drinking.
Then I remember that this is supposed to be sober night. The beer isn’t doing it for me anyways. I’m exhausted and I simply don’t want to drink. I put my beer in the refrigerator, saving it for another night, turn the lights off, and go to sleep.