Things Happened. Time Passed.
Two years ago, it was a Sunday night and you were probably sleeping. You were probably rolling to your side, lost in a dream that would not trouble you and you would not recall. You were in the third of eight hours of slumber and somewhere in an apartment, I was lighting a cigarette with the burned down end of another one. I was removing a Replacements CD from the player and inserting Tori Amos, dropping a little ash in the compartment and blowing it out. I was twirling around my living room (a great big room with no furniture except six bookcases and a powder room stool). I was searching around my apartment for where I set my glass of chardonnay and there it was--of course!--sitting on top of the toaster.
At some point in the spinning, George, my Chihuahua, trotted to the door and turned to me with his black doe eyes. So I put on a robe and some loafers and we went out to the common area of the apartment complex. I brought my glass. George sniffed the leaves and rocks and trees. I sipped my wine. The moon was full and round and celestial and the sky was deep and throbbing. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I was alive. I was physically and simply alive. I didn't have to think. I didn't have to ruminate. I didn't have to worry about bills and a threatening ex and looming deadlines. I didn't have to worry about where my career was going or if there was ever going to be any career to speak of. I didn't have to worry about atoms and death and decay. I was here. Now. Full of the moment and full of wine.
Perhaps you woke Monday morning with a clear head and clear thoughts and a clear vision of who you were, where you'd been, where you were headed. Perhaps you slipped from bed like a dancer to the shower, where you bathed and lathered with care and time and attention. Perhaps you stepped to the bath mat, spread lotion on your delicate skin and turned on morning radio. And so what if the next morning I woke up on the floor, wrapped in my comforter, the television on from late last night and George curled at my head? So what if my head was slightly pounding and I remembered I had a meeting first thing and I'd not prepared any materials? No one had been hurt. No one's life had been in danger. No one had been called (I checked my phone to confirm this). No one had been put in a position of discomfort, or lashed out upon, or anything at all. I’d walk in late and the admin would say “good morning, Jane” and I’d smile and run to my office. I would plod through the day and when it was over I would leave work a little early and pick up take-out and curl back up inside the same blanket. I'd snuggle with George and a diet soda and watch whatever was playing on TBS. And all would be well.
That's the way things were happening in my life. A day at work, maybe some time with friends, a new date, an old boyfriend, maybe a workout or a run or a movie, then disrobing from work attire or gym clothes into pajamas. Then maybe some hummus and carrots. And maybe some seltzer or crackers and cheese. But always, almost always, a glass of wine, and then another, and sometimes some more. A lot of the time it was just me, or just me and George, but not all of the time. Some of the time other people got involved. I would be getting drunk with someone else. Talking with a friend. Sharing. Comparing the experience of being alive, comparing childhoods and education and love (especially love gone wrong) and drug use and travel and books and art. Comparing siblings and dreams and jobs and indiscretions and airports and childhood fantasies. Things like that. These evenings and conversations were always so well intended and the drinking opened up something between the two of us that I couldn't otherwise access. It opened up a permission to do anything, say anything, give up anything. And I often did. I often gave up things. Secrets about my life or the lives of mutual friends. Declarations of love I didn't mean to impart, sometimes didn't even feel. And of course, physical intimacy. What more needs to be said about that. I got drunk. Things happened. Often, things I didn't want to happen. Things I didn't mean to happen. Suddenly the night would come back to me and I would see it like a movie. You are standing in a stairwell between apartment buildings. You are kissing someone. Someone you didn't mean to kiss. Someone who wasn't your boyfriend. Someone who was barely your friend. You are following him up the stairs, then inside, getting naked, then fucking, then passing out.
You were doing these things and then you weren't. You were doing them again, and then you weren't doing them anymore. You were slipping up and then back on track. You were evading situations and claiming victory, claiming: change. You were succumbing to a moment of folly and the next day proclaiming its absolute singularity, in the scheme of things, the scheme being the design of whatever suited your desired outcome.
Sometimes the mess ups weren't about sex at all. Sometimes they were about loneliness or desperation. Sometimes they were about depression or anxiety. And sometimes they were about your genetic predisposition to respond to booze the way a newborn puppy searches for its mother's source of milk.
One such night went down like this. It was a Friday, or maybe a Saturday. I was in a difficult and upsetting position in my life. I was twenty-eight, recently broken up with Ben Doran and pining for Alan, the man I'd begun seeing immediately after Ben. Alan and I had decided to be just friends. I wanted to be with him, but I wasn't ready. I was still entrenched in my previous relationship and I was not ready to believe in this person's love for me; indeed, I had no love for myself. Ben and I were friendly again. Friendly in a very toxic and dependent way. We were using each other for company and for familiarity. The familiarity was a very cruel and unhealthy dynamic and often involved booze of some variety as well as accusations, incriminations and degradations. On this evening, Alan had invited me over to his apartment to collect some things I'd left there over the course of our initial fling. I was sure he'd called me because he missed me and had used the excuse of the things in order to see me. I showered and dressed and groomed myself with a great deal of care. I wanted him to see me and feel something, the same thing I wanted to feel for myself. I'm not sure if I drank anything before I went over to his apartment (a fancy loft in the city) but I probably did. We spent about an hour or two together and then he announced he had a date and had to leave. I was stunned, but I acted as though this was the most natural thing in the world and I was even happy for him, I was proud of him. We drank a couple glasses of wine and I was feeling only the smallest bit buzzed, but the wine had made me bold so when he was about to call a cab to meet his date, I said: let me drive you; my car's right outside.
When we got in the car he received a call and spoke to someone (I assumed her--whoever she was) and I began to feel hopelessly desperate and pathetic. What in the hell was I doing? This was more than a little wretched. I decided that when I got back to my apartment I would get smashed. When we arrived at the destination he said something like, take care, and then he got out. I drove away and turned up the radio to drown out my icky feeling and then Ben called and said he was at a bar nearby and asked if I would join him. And although I really detested Ben and knew that nothing good could come from our continuing to spend time together, I told him I would be there as fast as I could.
When I got there, the bar seemed like a good choice. It was crowded and noisy, but not packed or deafening. The bartender poured me a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and when Ben went out to smoke the man to my right engaged me in a warm, friendly, unthreatening conversation. We were laughing and I was only on my first (large) glass and then the man swung his arms wide, in order to make a rather ineffable point, and in doing so his large glass of red wine went flying all over me. I was wearing white and the wine literally went all over me like a canvas. He was horrified and the bar was shocked and the bartenders were apologetic and I, in all honesty, did not care. I did not give a shit. I placated him and the staff and laughed and accepted a free glass of more wine--on the house--and when Ben came back he seemed amused. The whole thing was amusing, wasn’t it? What a mess, I thought. What a mess I am--ha ha ha! And I spun the circumstances into a big comedy, the comedy of real life, the comedy of folly and error and forgiveness and LIFE. This was a new outfit, a gift from my best friend and the clothes were expensive and the truth was, if I hadn't been drunk and if I hadn't known another glass was in the mail, I would have been heartbroken. But soon enough the girl to my left was talking to me and she seemed cool. She seemed real and nice and smart and down to earth. And I liked talking to her so much that I kept drinking! I barely noticed when two of Ben’s friends came to the bar to meet us.
The last thing I remember is getting into an altercation with the bartender, but about what, I have no idea. When I woke up in bed I wondered how things had rolled out. I wondered what the bartender said that got me upset and I wondered how I'd gotten home. Had I paid my tab? If so, did I leave a tip? Did I leave my card there? Hmm. It appeared Ben was in bed next to me. We were both in our clothes and I thought: Thank God. I probably said it out loud. I'm sure I paid and tipped and Ben drove me home and just stayed over because it was so late. I'm sure I was on autopilot and no one, except Ben, knew how drunk I was.
But the truth is, I was kidding myself. If I were being honest, I would've admitted that everyone in the bar knew how drunk I was. How? Oh, well, I'll tell you. I was talking to this girl, drinking my wine (it must have been my fifth glass) and looking at Ben out of the corner of my eye. I felt sorry for myself. He was talking to his friends and I was alone at the bar in wine-soaked clothes and I knew I was drunk, though not as drunk as I remember thinking I wanted or needed to be. Alan was on a date with someone undoubtedly more together than me and he was probably thinking he narrowly missed a bullet. I felt like my life had been derailed by fate or chance or circumstance. Maybe it was Ben’s fault. Maybe it was this city’s fault or the University's or my friends’. Whatever. I would drink and the feeling would subside and I was making friends with this girl. That was good. Right? I remember us getting on very well. But at some point I started to sort of paw at her. You see, she was with other friends and she had turned back to them to say something and I sort of leaned in as well, reaching out, trying to get her attention. I was tapping at her and saying things like: wait, I just, listen. And she was being very sweet and saying: I'm listening, uh-huh, oh and the like. After my wine I ordered a beer--obvious choice--and it came in a tall glass and when I reached for it (lunged, really) I fell forward. I grasped at something, anything, to break my fall and luckily my hands found the bar. I steadied myself, my knees buckling beneath me and my hair swinging around and by the time I regained some semblance of balance everyone in the place had stood up and Ben had crossed the room and met the eyes of the bartender in time to say: no need to say it--we're leaving. At the end, I walked through the bar, held up by Ben and told the bartender who was following us out: you're a fucking asshole. He turned to Ben and said, do not come back here again.
This was a story I kept to myself. Girlfriends and sisters share stories of drunken mistakes and indiscretions and hook-ups and hangovers during morning meetings. But clinging to a bar?
After I finally excised Ben from my life, I was able to be with Alan in a way that felt real, loving, healthy. I recall the circumstances of my and Alan’s first date. He'd proposed meeting at a coffee shop, a place in the city that sold coffee drinks and chocolate confections. I replied: how about a place that serves drinks?
He told this story sometimes to friends and everyone always laughed. Hahaha, isn't it funny that I'm bad, that I'm kind of scandalous, that I'm almost male. I absolutely wanted to have some kind of power, some leverage, and drinking gave me that--it made me think so anyway. Of course, it weakened me, it led me around by the nose, it made me stupid and bombastic and mendacious and obnoxious, and it made me sloppy. But, I chose to view those nights as the outliers. The real nights were sexy and smart and I was brimming over with poise, confidence, humor and warmth. In my mind, I was a classy broad who could keep up with men, and maybe even surpass them.
It was getting harder and harder, though, to keep track of which nights were which. When you are drinking, you lose track of time. Of course, I am referring to the phenomenon of 8:30 p.m. inexplicably becoming 11:00 p.m. and again, inexplicably, becoming 1:48 a.m., but what I really mean is you lose whole years. One afternoon, you're twenty-three sitting in a New York City restaurant with pink tablecloths, having a glass of wine with your equally young, attractive best friend and her older male boss, and the next afternoon, you're in your thirties, pouring a glass of wine from the eco-box in the refrigerator into a coffee mug, because, you know, fuck it. The afternoon in New York could be yesterday. But it isn't. It's nearly a decade ago now. And you aren't visiting your girlfriend and immersing yourself for the weekend in her commercial real estate world of wine with lunch and cigarettes under awnings and taxi cab backseat giggling. No. You're in another eastern city, working a job that pays well but is in no sense gratifying or challenging. You're living with a man, the first real man you've ever been involved with who expects something of you. And what he expects, is that you won't come home from ladies’ night tonight and, again, be trashed.
But, unfortunately, you are. You simply aren't ready to not be trashed. You aren't ready to sit with your thoughts and your feelings. You aren't ready to say goodbye to the past. You aren't ready to act on your biggest fears. You thought you were brave, bold, brazen, but you are beginning to see that you're not so powerful as you think. In fact, maybe you aren't bold at all. Maybe you're hiding. Running. Pointing any finger you can at any man, job, friend, time in life that didn't go your way or tell you that you were wonderful. Fuck them, you say, uncorking a bottle of wine. And in the morning, you wake up, dazed and angry and disappointed and full of self-contempt. This won't be the morning where you realize you have to give up drinking, but it's an important morning. It's a morning that pushes you closer. And closer. Until you're ready to be there.