remember when we used to play a game
Take you by the hand and spin you very fast
Midspin, let you go, stop yourself
Switching into statues, rock hard
Necessary spinning in the front yard, necessary spinning in the front
Everybody's spinning in the front yard
Necessary spinning in the front yard
Sometimes I wish that I were nine years old again ... "
"Necessary Spinning," Translator
date isn't going well.
ran out of conversation ten minutes after he picked me up tonight. Who
is your favorite teacher? What kind of music do you like? Do you think
we'll win the State Track Meet next week?
Now we're parked in front
of Taco Time, in his orange Volkswagen Beetle, trying to decide how to
spend the remainder of our evening. Should we go see "The Sting"?
Should we drive downtown and walk around the Food Circus? Should we
cruise the neighborhood and see if we can find Adamson's
should we just sit here in this car for the next three and a half hours
and listen to the blood rushing in our ears?
am in despair. I really like this boy. He's cute, he's nice, he
drives ... he's got a smile that lights up a room like a bazillion-watt
light bulb ... plus he's a popular upperclassman, a lettered athlete
who usually dates blonde cheerleader types. The idea that he would
deign to ask me out -- me, a lowly Sophomore Nobody -- is almost beyond
my wildest romantic imaginings.
far as I can tell, he
likes me too:
his face turns an adorable shade of AB Negative whenever he smiles at
me. Considering the way this first date is going, though, I'm seriously
beginning to doubt whether there will be a second date.
that's when he asks me if I'd be interested in having "a drink."
got a bottle of gin at home," he says hesitantly, turning all moist
and pink around the edges again, as though he's just suggested that we
roll around semi-naked in the back seat of his Volkswagen. (Later,
after we've been dating for a few weeks, he tells me he was
afraid to suggest alcohol that first night because he'd heard a rumor
around school that I was a 'Jesus freak.')
don't know which of the two of us is more surprised when I say "OK."
park his car half a block from his house, presumably so his parents
won't hear the engine in the driveway and invite us in for
an evening of popcorn and interrogation. While he sneaks
to retrieve the bottle from its hiding place in his bedroom closet, I
sit shivering nervously in the orange VW. I am bombarded with second
third, and fourth) thoughts. What
am I getting myself into? Is it
too late to back out? Would
he notice if he came back to
the car and I was gone?
lives right across the street: maybe I could go knock on her door and
seek sanctuary there. But before I have time
to finish formulating an
escape plan, my new beau returns to the car. Triumphantly, he pulls an
unopened fifth of liquor from the inside of his blue and gold
hope you like dry
gin," he says. One look into
those twinkling blue eyes and that bazillion-watt smile ... and I am
gin is my favorite," I squeak.
stop at 7-11 to buy some mixer, and then we drive up to the abandoned
road overlooking the airport runway -- a notorious local make-out spot
-- to enjoy our very own private cocktail hour. As he hands me a paper
filled to the brim with dry gin and 7-Up, I think to myself, "Now
you're going to find out what it feels like to be drunk."
I take my first cautious sip.
tastes hideous: like carbonated fingernail polish remover with
undertones of fresh Christmas tree. I have trouble getting the first
swallow to go down. Then I have trouble getting the first swallow to stay
down: for one horrible moment, I am sure I am going to vomit gin and
Big Gulp all over the pristine interior of his Volkswagen. But somehow
I manage to keep the awful stuff down, and a few moments later a
wondrous thing happens: I feel a slow delicious warmth begin to spread
through my body, from the pit of my stomach to my fingers and my toes
and all the nerve centers in between. It reminds me of that light
floaty feeling I used to get as a kid, by spinning around and around in
circles in the middle of the yard and then throwing myself down on the
ground: that glorious, out-of-body sense of altered
conversation is effortless. Everything is funny, especially
In fact I've never been funnier, or
more confident, or more attractive. Before I'm quite aware of what's
happening, I've emptied the entire paper cup. When he asks me if I want
a refill, I giggle and say "Of course."
we are rolling around semi-naked in the back seat of his
I knew right
away that I
was an alcoholic.
At age sixteen or
seventeen I might not have articulated it precisely that way -- I might
have said that I had a drinking "problem," or pointed to some of the
other drinkers in the family and said "This
is where I get it from"
-- but I think I understood immediately that the way I drank and the
way 'regular people' drank was different.
Right away, for
instance, I was a lot more interested in drinking as a recreational
activity than any of my friends were. I was the one who suggested we
filch some Canadian Club from my dad's liquor supply and get drunk
before the basketball game, or that we skip the basketball game
altogether and go to Steve Peterson's keg, instead.
If my friends
didn't share my enthusiasm for drinking -- which they didn't,
lot of the time -- I stayed home and drank by myself, alone in my room,
listening to Moody Blues records and scribbling in my journal.
Right away I began
drinking inappropriately, too: in the mornings before school,
family get-togethers. Before choir practice or Wednesday Night Bible
Study. One time I snuck a flask of Canadian Club along on a youth group
rollerskating party. While the rest of my born-again friends were out
on the roller rink, witnessing for Jesus, I was barricaded in the
ladies room, quietly getting ripped in the middle stall.
And right away
began to get me in trouble.
morning. I am crawling out from under a noxious cloud of
weak and disoriented as a kitten trapped in the spin cycle all night.
I'm still wearing the clothes I was wearing when I crawled through my
bedroom window at 4 a.m. ... if
Dad heard me sneaking in, I'll be
grounded for eternity ... and I
feel wretched. Worse than the
roiling stomach, though -- worse than the brain-blistering headache, or
the bottom-of-the-diaper-pail taste in my mouth -- is this nagging
sense that I'm forgetting something.
roll around in the tangle of blankets and squint at the alarm clock.
7:15, it says, in blinking red numbers. 7:15. 7:15. 7:15.
I supposed to be
7:15 this morning?
that moment, the white princess phone on my nightstand rings."Where ARE
you?" shouts my best friend Karen. "The bus is leaving in fifteen
that's when I
remember: today is the day our youth choir
is performing on Vashon Island. I'm supposed to play the big piano solo
in "My Gift of Love."
got the flu," I croak into the receiver ... head pounding, heart
sinking, gorge rising. I give Karen a ridiculous song-and-dance, all
about how this really awful influenza bug hit me last night, out of the
clear blue sky, and how it's probably better if I don't show up and
'infect' all of the other choir members. "Let Connie B. play my
piano part," I mumble.
is clearly not buying my story -- this isn't the first time I've let
the group down in a crunch lately -- but at this point there isn't much
she can do about it. "I'll tell Dave," she says tersely. The choir
director is going to be only slightly less sympathetic than my best
I'm sure. A moment later she slams the phone down in my ear
without a goodbye.
with self-loathing, I roll over in bed and plunge my throbbing head
beneath my pillows, offering up a weak prayer for forgiveness,
strength, healing ...
and a lobotomy, maybe.
I didn't grow up in a
It's not that Grandma
were teetotallers: I observed the
occasional glass of port with Christmas dinner, or the single can of
beer during a summer barbecue. But that was the exception,
There was no liquor cabinet in our house. No six-pack of
Olympia in the refrigerator. No half-empty bottles of Canadian Club,
stashed in a bedside nightstand behind a stack of old National
Geographics. During the ten years I lived with my grandparents, from
the ages of four to fourteen, alcohol simply wasn't part of our family
So I didn't think about
When I did
have occasion to think about alcohol and
drinking, as a child, it was rarely with any sense of longing or
Alcohol smelled bad. It tasted bad. It made grown-ups talk too loud and
hug too hard and act all silly and sloppy and clumsy, like Otis on The
Andy Griffith Show.
Plus drinking got you in big trouble with God. In
Mrs. Pierce's Sunday School class, we were taught that people who drank
-- along with people who smoked cigarettes, people who said bad words,
people who got divorced -- were sinners.
(In which case, I sadly
realized, both of my parents were
heading straight to hell.)
Hell was not a place
that Young Terri was interested in
visiting, thank you very much. And if that meant no drinking
well, I was more than fine with that.
is due home from work in less than an hour, and I am so drunk I can
long Saturday afternoon spent sunning in the backyard, drinking whiskey
& cola, has left me toasted in more ways than one. I've got
forty minutes to wash the dishes, clean up all the puppy poop, run the
vacuum cleaner around the living room, iron a couple of my father's
work shirts and gargle with enough extra-strength Listerine to mask the
smell of booze on my breath.
I'll have to water down Dad's fifth of Canadian Club some more.
hadn't planned to drink so much today. I hadn't planned to drink at
as a matter of fact: I was going to spend the weekend hitting the
books, not the bottle. I've got a Culture & Man final on
and I've got
to pass it: one more failed class and I'm
officially flunking out of junior college. As soon as I got up, shortly
after noon, I headed to the backyard with my textbooks
and my jumbo size bottle of Johnson's Baby Oil, determined to knuckle
down and get in some serious cramming ... plus a little sunbathing,
while I was at it.
a couple hours of
perspiration and patrilineal
descent, I decided that I'd earned a "reward" for my efforts. So I went
into the house and fixed myself a tall whiskey and Shasta Cola ...
heavy on the whiskey, siphoned directly from Dad's liquor supply. It
took me to that light "floaty" place right away. When the first drink
was gone, I fixed myself another. And another after that.
next thing I knew, I was having trouble folding my lawnchair.
the time Dad's car pulls into the driveway, I've
accomplished little more than throwing a T-shirt over my oily bathing
suit and dumping all of the dirty dishes into the sink. Dad takes one
look at the landfill in the kitchen -- and at my bleary, bloodshot eyes
-- and the jig is up.
is nice," he says sarcastically.
pretend I don't know what he's talking about. How
wash your day?
I inquire sweetly, holding onto the kitchen drainboard to keep
myself from tipping over. And then I launch into a ditzy, convoluted
story, all about how I accidentally brought the wrong textbook home
from school, then had to wait all afternoon for a friend to bring me
the correct book, then had to do my homework all over again from
why I couldn't do the houshwork," I conclude.
Dad isn't buying it. He's hot, he's cranky, he's exhausted from a long
day of driving a mail truck around Burien: the last thing in the
world he's in the mood for is a drunken twenty-year-old
daughter. (Especially a drunken twenty-year-old daughter
drunk on HIS
liquor.) The next thing we know, we're standing in the middle
kitchen screaming at each other. Or at least one of us is screaming. I'm
sick of living under your thumb!
I shout at him. I'm sick of
your tyranny and your stupid rules and your fucking
fifteen-dollars-a-week allowance! I'm an ADULT, forcryingoutloud: who
the fuck do you think you are, telling me
what to do??
then I hit him.
hard enough to hurt. It is more a sort of flailing, useless
thwack on the shoulder. Dad looks at me with murderous calm and says,
"You'd better not do that again."
of me -- the sober
part of me,
lodged inside the wild woman -- is watching all of this in horror. How
did things get so out of control, so fast?
But another part of me
-- the part of me fueled by anger and alcohol -- is exhilarated by a
heady sense of emotional freedom. I
can SAY what I want!
I can DO what I want!
father, meanwhile, is still watching
me. As I raise my hand to strike him again, he calmly
reaches out and grabs me by the wrist. I wrench myself free from his
grasp -- something in my wrist pops, in the process -- and I run down
the hallway to my room, where I slam the door shut and dial my
boyfriend's telephone number on my white princess phone.
got to come get me!" I sob hysterically. "My dad is beating me up!"
minutes later my boyfriend's Camaro screeches into the driveway. As I
run out the door, overnight bag in hand -- the nearly-empty bottle of
Canadian Club stashed into the bottom, along with my clothes and my
college textbooks -- I don't even look at my father.
back!" I scream at him. "Never!" With that, I wobble out
and climb into my boyfriend's car, and we drive off in a cloud of
defiant, wrong-headed twenty-year-old glory.
it turns out,
I never do go back. Ever.
in the sad, useless way we wonder about such
things -- how differently my life would have turned out if Grandma
hadn't had her heart attack.
I was fourteen when I
was sent to live with my father, a sweet, funny, lovely man who
loved me to pieces but who knew absolutely nothing about raising a
teenaged daughter. If Grandma hadn't gotten sick -- if I'd continued to
grow up within the lovingly protective embrace of my grandparents --
have maintained a 4.0 GPA all through high school?
Or would I
have ended up graduating in the bottom third of my class?
Would I be
teaching Music Appreciation to a classrom full of third-graders
today, or would I still have dropped out of college
half a semester short of completion?
Would I have married
nice born-again boyfriend, or would I
still have abandoned Jesus for a Dixie cup full of gin and 7-Up?
Would my life have
turned out differently? Happier? Healthier? Better?
The danger with
this way, of course, is that it places the blame for my own
self-destructive behavior on everybody but me. Dad is to blame for
giving me too much freedom at too early an age. My grandparents are
to blame for getting sick and sending me away. My mother is
to blame for being mostly
absent from the situation. Everybody is at fault here except for the
person who made the crappy choices of her own free will: me. Plus it
overlooks the obvious factors of heredity, peer pressure, the culture
of the times, my own predisposition to run counter to authority.
it's easy for me to imagine a healthier, happier, squeakier-clean
version of myself at age 16 or 18 or 22 -- living in the rarified
atmosphere of my grandparents' home -- it is equally easy to imagine
that 16 or 18 or 22 year old version of myself chafing in
rebellion at what would have surely come to feel like an
values system eventually.
I think that in the
I still would have gone to hell in a handbasket. I simply would have
taken a different route getting there.
down!" I shriek, gripping the dashboard in white-knuckled terror.
the Balding Aluminum Sales Guy isn't paying any attention to me. High
on Peruvian Silver and Cuervo Gold, cigarette dangling from his lower
lip, he is manifesting himself as his hero, Hunter S. Thompson.
Smiling, he punches the gas pedal to the floor,
sending us careening across the bridge at 100 miles an hour.
going to die now, the little
voice inside my head says mournfully. I'm
going to die at age twenty-two, and I've never gotten married or had
children or written my book ...
life, I feel, has acquired a dangerous edge of dysfunction in recent
months. Our heady, sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll lifestyle -- a lifestyle
which seemed so deliciously, dangerously sophisticated for the first
six months or so that we lived together -- now just feels dangerous.
fight all the time lately. If we've been drinking or drugging, our
fights often turn physical, with me just as likely to throw the
first punch (or the first beer bottle) as he is. He's begun staying out
all night, occasionally, without letting me know where he is or when
he's coming home. Usually it means that he's out with Bruce and Randy,
hitting the bars, but once he spent the night in jail and I didn't even
know about it until he bailed himself out the next day. Money dribbles
through our fingers like Perrier: trendy clothes, pricey vacations we
can't afford, new cars, expensive toys, fast food, alcohol, drugs.
and LOTS of drugs.
BASG has recently started dealing coke out of our apartment, more to
supplement our habit, frankly, than our income. Shady characters
traipse in and out of our security complex at all hours of the day and
night; I find myself living in a constant state of near-nervous
collapse. I don't know whether it's the coke that's making me feel this
way, or paranoia. I suspect it's a lot of both.
praying that the move to Oregon next month will save us.
any luck, the transfer to his new job will keep The BASG too busy to
trouble, and my own job searching efforts will keep me too busy to
The BASG. Plus we'll be living hundreds of miles from our old friends,
our old lifestyle, our old temptations. Drugs, hopefully, will soon
become a thing of the past. In Oregon, we'll be able to wipe the slate
clean and begin a clean, happy, settled new life together.
he'll even re-think that vasectomy.
the time we finally reach the Bellevue side of the bridge, I am shaking
like a leaf. But at least we're both still in one piece. Home
safety -- are just minutes away. The BASG slams on the brakes and
brings the car to a screeching stop at the first stop light. He takes
another swig of Cuervo, straight from the bottle, and turns to me with
an expression of maniacal glee.
and me, Babe," he says. "The 80's
are going to be our
smile weakly at him in return. "Yep," I say. "Our decade."
we live that long.
I wasn't always faithful
to my drug of choice.
There was a brief but
memorable flirtation with hallucinogens in high school (pink elephants
on the Sophomore Biology classroom wall) ... my painfully-thin
... my extended marijuana phase during the college years. (I stuck a
bunch of dried flowers into my red ceramic bong, plopped it on top of
my bedroom TV, and told my dad that it was "a vase.")
Aluminum Sales Guy introduced me to cocaine, and for a long time that
replaced all others in my affections.
Later in life there
darker chemical infatuations that I don't talk about much (and won't
talk about until all three of the Tots are safely grown and out the
door and I am no longer paying their father child support, every
relationships were fun while they lasted. But always -- always -- I
returned to my first love:
Saturday night, and I am literally bored to tears.
is the third weekend in a row that I've been cooped up in this crappy
apartment: broke, hungry, alone, maddeningly sober. I can feel
myself sinking into another slippery black depression, like
one I went through last year when the Balding Aluminum Sales Guy
dumped me just days before we were due to move to Oregon. My roommates
are out on the town tonight -- neither one of them asked me to come
along, of course: I'm persona non grata with them both at the moment --
and all of my old friends and drinking companions seem to have
completely forgotten I'm alive.
did this happen??
a couple of months ago I was the toast of the East Side: cruising
around town in my red Dodge Dart Swinger, answering phones at the
health club by day, partying at the bars until closing time by night. I
had my choice of cute bartender boyfriends, and a free pass to all the
hottest clubs in Bellevue. Now here I sit with no car, no job, no
social life, no boyfriend, and -- unless I can come up with two hundred
and seventy-five bucks by Monday morning -- no place to live. I'm going
to be sleeping on my father's sofa by the end of the month, I just
damn Terry and Ray. I blame them
for all of my current misery. My
former roommate and her stupid boyfriend not only wrecked my
they wrecked my life. Of course, the argument could be made that I had
a hand in my own downfall. I'm the one who
handed the keys to my roommate that night and said "Sure. You can
then again, she's
the one who ran the red light. That makes it her fault.
wander into the kitchen, stomach rumbling. My shelf in the refrigerator
is distressingly empty: half a jar of
dill pickles, a bag of stale hot dog buns, a couple of rubbery
radishes. Naturally there isn't so much as a drop of alcohol, anywhere
in the entire apartment: I've looked. Apparently my roommates have
learned not to leave their beer sitting around unless they're here to
guard it. I've got two dollars and thirty-seven cents in change,
rattling around in the bottom of my purse: all the money I have left in
the world. Maybe I should walk to the nearest source of alcohol and
food -- the crappy little Chinese restaurant, half a mile down the road
-- and hang out in the Wah Me lounge. I can buy a small vodka
screwdriver and nurse it for a while, just long enough to fill up on
the free chicken wings ... maybe sweet-talk some nice accomodating old
geezer into buying my drinks for the rest of the evening ... maybe meet
the fabulous next Mr. Right who is going to rescue me from all this.
else maybe I can just sit here in the apartment and feel sorry for
myself some more.
just about to curl up on the sofa with a blanket and "Love Boat" on the
tube -- I've decided that feeling sorry for myself requires less effort
than getting dressed and going out -- when my private pity party is
interrupted by a knock at the door. Cautiously, I crack the door open
and peer around the chain guard. I am astonished to see Terry's dopey
boyfriend Ray standing on my doorstep.
I t-t-t-talk to you for a minute?" he says quietly.
a moment I'm tempted to slam the door shut in his face -- Thanks
for wrecking my car, asshole! --
but something stops me. He doesn't
seem particularly menacing, for one thing. He's dressed all in white,
from head to toe -- white jeans, white shirt, white tennis shoes -- but
on his head he's wearing a ridiculous black cowboy hat with a feather
poking out of the brim.
another thing: he's carrying a five-pack of beer.
invite him into the apartment, and we sit down on the edge of the sofa,
miles apart from each other. He offers me a beer -- "Thanks," I say,
chugging down half of it in one swallow -- and then he opens one for
himself. As we drink, he explains why he's here. He and Terry have
split up, he says ... this time for good. She skipped town a few days
ago ("She still owes me a hundred bucks," he says morosely: obviously
he knows he's never going to see that
money again) and he
hasn't seen her/talked to her/thought about her since. Now that she's
gone, he felt obligated to come by and unload his conscience
about something. Before she left town, it seems, Terry
stashed a lot of personal items in his carport.
Ray stammers, "but I think that some of the stuff is y-y-yours."
inventories some of the loot: record albums, clothes, jewelry
items, a guitar, a hairdryer, a couple of suitcases. There's also some
sort of little round jewelry box: when you lift the lid, he says, it
plays a tune. "It l-l-looks pretty old," he tells me.
That's my grandmother's music box.
didn't even know any of this stuff was missing,"
flabbergasted. When I moved out of Terry's apartment last summer, I
just tossed everything into boxes and fled. I didn't pay a lot of
attention to what I was packing, and the boxes have been sitting in
storage ever since. I haven't felt *at home* enough, anywhere I've
lived since then, to unpack any of it.
look at Ray with mingled gratitude ... and curiousity. Why did he do
this? Why did he drive all the way across town, on a perfectly good
Saturday night, just to warn me about Terry ripping me off? What's in
it for him? It's not like he and I are friends, exactly. While he and
Terry were going together, I privately thought he was sort of creepy.
That whole hearing-impairment thing: it's very difficult to have a
meaningful conversation with him. And it's not like we're attracted to
each other now or anything. He's not really my type.
(Although I have
to admit that he does
have pretty hair, and nice brown eyes,
and he looks a little bit like Doug Henning, that magician guy on TV.)
both crack open another beer.
says that he would be glad to haul my stuff over in his van, any night
that's convenient. Or, he suggests bashfully, he could drive me over to
house right now. "M-m-m-maybe we could stop at The Somewhere Else and
have a couple of b-b-beers, on the way," he says.
If I don't already
have plans, that is.
get my coat," I tell him.
I didn't get
love, or for sex, or for money, or for any of the usual reasons people
I got married because
I was tired of
how I would pay my rent next month. I was tired of never having a place
to hang my clothes. I was tired of new relationships turning into old
relationships before the first side of the album was over. I was tired
of bars, and I was tired of dating, and I was tired of waking up in the
morning and finding myself laying next to strangers.
Most of all, I was
of worrying about whether or not I was ever going to get married.
I didn't consciously
out to marry an alcoholic, of course. That wasn't my plan.
you spend all your time, say, in a potato chip factory -- if the only
people you ever spend time with are other potato chip makers, or the
friends and family of potato chip makers, or other people who like to
hang around with potato chip makers -- the chances are pretty good that
you're going to hook up with a potato chip maker yourself, eventually.
And that's what
when you spend all your time sitting on a barstool.
It didn't seem like
a bad idea at the time. Marrying someone who liked to party seemed like
a convenient way to ensure that my own good time would contine
uninterrupted. And marrying a drinker who was even further along than
*I* was down the alcoholism road seemed like a good way to make sure my
own dysfunction was always eclipsed by his.
have a beeeeeeautiful baby," croons Fat Jennifer, leaning across the
corner pocket and peering into the wicker Moses
a Virginia Slim in one hand, wedged between dimpled fingers, and a
schooner of Rainier in the other hand. Inside the basket, parked
carefully in the middle of the pool table, my one-week-old daughter
slumbers peacefully beneath an avalanche of yellow receiving blankets,
oblivious to the tavern noises going on all around her.
the jukebox, Eddie Rabbitt is singing about how much he loves a rainy
you," I wince, shifting uncomfortably on the bar stool. The episiotomy
stitches still bite when I move around, and my butt feels bruised and
tender, the way it did after the car accident last year. This is my
first excursion out into the *real world* since Jamie was born last
week -- a combination early holiday/late birthday celebration -- and
I'm not at all sure that this is where I want to be. In my smelly
maternity pants and my twenty extra pounds of postpartum weight, I'm
feeling frumpy and dumpy and decidedly un-festive. There is a fake
Christmas tree set up in one corner of the bar, and a jar of broken
candy canes on every table. Above me, a string of Christmas lights
shaped like miniature chili peppers hangs across the top of the bar,
except that all the red lights have burned out, leaving nothing but the
green and yellow lights, twinkling frantically.
some reason all of this just makes me feel worse.
the other side of the tavern, I spot my husband in huddled conversation
with Mikey R. and One-Armed Cindy. I wave at him in what I hope is a
discreet fashion, trying to get his attention. Maybe we can just pick
up a half-case of Rainier and an Athen's pizza and have a little
party-for-two at home. But Ray steadfastly refuses to look in my
direction ... whether by accident or by design, I'm not sure. From the
intensity of their discussion, I assume they're either talking about
the football pool or drugs. I hope it's the football money, or else
we'll never get out of here.
unwrap another broken candy cane. On the jukebox, Joan Jett is singing
about how much she loves rock and roll.
Jennifer is prattling on and on about birth weight and car seat
regulations. As far as I know, Fat Jennifer does not have any children
of her own. I watch nervously as she waves her cigarette around in the
air above the basket, her unattended cigarette ash growing longer and
longer. Just as I'm sure the ash is about to dislodge and drop directly
onto my baby's head, Dave The Bartender appears out of nowhere, placing
a clean ashtray in front of Fat Jennifer and a schooner of beer on the
bar in front of me, right next to my abandoned Tab.
Little Mama," he says jovially. "On the house."
what the hell. It's Christmas.
minutes and five schooners of Rainier later, I'm feeling lit from
within ... like a Jack O'Lantern, hollowed out and warmed by candle
glow. This is my home,
I say to myself, gazing fondly around
the little tavern. And these
people are my family. I've spun
down a couple of levels to the place I like best: the gentle, easy,
floaty place where the world is beautiful and everybody is my friend
and no problem is so great that it can't be solved with another spin or
around the yard.
the middle of the pool table, my infant daughter continues to sleep the
sleep of the untroubled. On the jukebox, John Cougar is singing about
how sometimes love don't feel like it should.
Jennifer and I are now official best friends. We've swapped life
stories. We've traded phone numbers: I have hers written down in black
eyeliner pencil on a paper napkin in my purse. I can't remember ever
feeling closer to another human being in my whole life. In fact, I'm
thinking of asking her to be Jamie's grandmother. (Or godmother: I
can't remember which, exactly, but it's the
where she promises to take care of Jamie if something ever happens to
husband sidles up to me, just then, with our jackets slung over his arm
and Jamie's diaper bag in his hand.
ready?" he says. "I'm going to
get some beer to go."
are we leaving so soon?" I pout. "I was just starting to have fun."
The beauty of
co-dependent relationship is that everybody gets what they want.
At least for a
The "problem" drinker
the person whose drinking is causing the most visible disruption, in
his life and in the lives of those around him -- has somebody to clean
up after him, and to call in sick for him, and to generally act as a
buffer between him and a harsh, unforgiving, disapproving world.
And what does the
partner get, you ask?
The partner gets to
case, blaming my alcoholic husband for all of the things that went
wrong in our lives and in our marriage -- became just as addictive for
me, in its own way, as alcohol or drugs ever were.
Ray was the one who
stayed out all night. He was the one who came home after a weekend
bender, stinking of beer and cigarettes. He was the one who
picked the fights. He was the one who wrecked our cars and spent our
money and went
He was The Bad
Meanwhile, I was the
virtuous spouse who
stayed home with the babies ... who indulged only on the weekends, and
then "only" a couple of beers, here and there ... who tried to keep her
dysfunctional little family together as best she could, without any
support or help or encouragement from her big screw-up of a husband.
I was The Good Guy.
In some sad, sick way,
we were both perfectly comfortable with the arrangement for a long
announces four-year-old Jamie, as we're standing in the middle of the
I'm pretty sure they can
hear her all the way over in
the Produce Department.
I whirl around and glare
at my small noisy
daughter. "For your information," I sniff, "I was looking at the POP."
I open the cooler door and, ignoring the Rainier Beer completely, I
extract a six-pack of Diet 7-Up and dump it into the shopping cart,
next to my sleeping infant son. And
stick my nose into the air.
I say, with elaborate
Jamie and her three-year-old sister Kacie both
dissolve into giggles.
Grocery shopping is one
of my favorite things
about our new life. I love getting into my car and going to the
supermarket, any time I feel like it. I love buying anything I want to
buy, without having to ask someone for permission or advice or twenty
bucks. I love clipping coupons and making grocery lists and looking for
bargains. I love pushing the cart around the store, with my baby son
tucked into the front basket and both of the girls trailing along
behind, like a couple of baby ducklings. I love the freedom I feel, and
the independence, and the brand-new sense of being in charge of my own
destiny for the very first time ever.
(The only thing I don't
love about grocery shopping is paying for everything with food stamps.
The reasonable part of me knows that there's no shame in being on
public assistance, especially when you're a single mother with three
small children. The unreasonable part of me is terrified the check-out
clerk will turn out to be someone I went to high school with.)
Life without my husband
is turning out to be
much easier -- and a lot more fun, frankly -- than I'd ever dreamed.
The kids and I moved
into our moldy little
apartment two months ago. Privately I refer to the place as "The Crack
Apartments," because the first night we lived here I encountered a
of teenagers getting high in the stairwell next to our front door. But
of course I don't tell the kids that. This apartment is all we can
anyway. Technically, my husband and I are separated. After he
job last summer -- right after our son was born, and our rental house
was sold out from under us -- we made the decision to split up. It was
mostly an economic decision, we told everyone. I would take the kids
and go on public assistance for a while: Ray would move in with friends
and look for work. This would give us both time to regroup and recover
and figure out where our marriage -- and our family -- would go from
Of course I've
already made MY decision.
"Can we get some Cocoa
Pups?" asks Kacie, as we
roll our shopping cart past a towering display of overpriced kiddie
cereal. Oh why not? My children deserve the occasional indulgence.
It's been two months
since I've had anything to
drink: not even a beer or a wine cooler or a watery Denny's cocktail.
Except for third trimester abstinence, it's the longest I've gone
without alcohol since I was seventeen years old. I've never felt
better in my whole life. I wake up in the morning and I'm filled with
energy and resolve: I crawl into bed at night, after a long day of
childcare and housework, and I sleep the sleep of the righteously
exhausted. I'm losing weight, too. By next month I'll be able to
squeeze into the Size 12 Levi's. My mother, herself a recovering
alcoholic, is beside herself with joy over my transformation. She
says that I've begun to lose that peculiar, jaundiced look I'd been
sporting the past couple of years.
"I'm very proud of you,"
me, and I bask in the warm glow of her approval.
I'm so in love with my
new life -- and with all these new feelings of self-confidence and
empowerment -- that I don't even miss my Saturday night beer binges.
Once they were the
centerpiece of my week. Now
they seem like part of another life altogether.
When we've finished
shopping, the kids and I
load our groceries into the trunk of my car -- a beat-up 1971 Chevy
Malibu, purchased with my first welfare check and a loan from Grandma
-- and we head for home, singing along to the tinny AM radio. As we
pull into the parking lot, I notice someone loitering near the
stairwell next to my front door, smoking a cigarette.
"It's Daddy!" shouts
Jamie, joyously. She and
Kacie race across the parking lot and hurl themselves at their father
like two pigtailed torpedos.
My heart sinks. I knew
Ray would probably
materialize on my doorstep eventually this weekend -- he doesn't seem
to be taking our 'separation' quite as seriously as I am -- but I was
hoping he wouldn't show up until tomorrow night. Tonight I just wanted
to cook a nice dinner for the kids, and watch some TV, and spend a
quiet, relaxing Friday night alone with my children. Now, instead, I'll
be spending the entire damn weekend cleaning up after him ... watching
him eat my groceries and read my newspaper ... fending off his clumsy
sexual advances ...
... and trying to ignore
*his* half-case of
Rainier sitting in *my* refrigerator.
The first time I tried
to quit drinking, it was for all kinds of good reasons.
to feel better. I wanted to look
better. (Serious weight loss
was impossible, I'd discovered, when you're washing down your Lean
Cuisine entree with a six-pack of beer.) I wanted to live
wanted to create a better life for my children, and for myself, and for
the fabulous second husband I was certain was waiting for me out there
in the world somewhere.
(As soon as I got rid of my pesky first
The attempt failed,
ultimately, because I wasn't quitting for the one reason that really
counts: if I
drinking, it would kill me.
Secretly I nursed the
belief that someday -- after I'd been sober for a while, and the damage
caused by ten years of alcohol abuse had been magically reversed -- I
would be able to return to the drinking life. I could become a social
drinker: one of those people who can walk into a bar and order one
screwdriver or one beer or one glass of wine ... and not
automatically want to order a second.
Let alone a third, or
fourth, or an eighteenth.
I didn't know enough
about the nature of my disease -- nor about the peculiar way that my
addict's brain is wired -- to understand that quitting was going to
have to be more than a temporary means of losing weight or attracting
I didn't understand
it was going to have to be permanent.
I can hear him in
the car, cracking open another can of beer ... for years, my
least-favorite sound in the universe. But for once it
me want to scream at him or call him names or run right out and file
It only makes me
weep for him.
The hospital parking
lot is starting to fill up. When we first got here, half an hour ago,
the place was a veritable ghost town: now all of the Tuesday morning
physical therapy appointments are beginning to arrive. I've been
walking back and forth between the parking area and the rear entrance
of the hospital for the past thirty minutes, pretending to admire the
flowerbeds ... pretending to feed the ground squirrels ... pretending
that I'm not a woman on the edge of blind, blithering panic.
What I've really
been doing, of course, is giving him a chance to say goodbye to alcohol
I glance back toward
the car. He is still sitting there, hunched over in the driver's
seat, taking occasional furtive sips of his Rainier. I can
tell by the
way his shoulders heave up and down that he's crying again. He's
saying goodbye to his best friend,
I realize. In the fifteen years
that I've known him -- fourteen of those years as husband and wife -- I
can't recall a single day when he didn't have a can or a bottle or a
schooner of Rainier in his hand.
This is going to be
a huge change for all of us.
I look up at the
sky. "This is one of those pivotal days, isn't it?" I say out loud, to
nobody in particular. I never thought this day would come. I
never, ever in a
bazillion years thought that my husband would be walking into a rehab
center, of his own free will, asking for help. Of course,
technically this wasn't
his idea. His boss is the one who laid
down the ultimatum: check yourself into rehab or you're fired.
But it's still hard to believe this is actually happening. I honestly
thought that he would continue drinking until it finally killed him.
(And that we would
both be trapped in this marriage until that happened.)
At 9 a.m., I circle
back to the car and tap on the window. "Time to go," I say to him
He nods and lifts
beer to his lips one last time. When he's
finished draining the can, he crunches it with one hand -- the soft
aluminum caves inward with a 'pop' -- and he stows it beneath his seat,
with the rest of the empties. I'll have to remember to clean them out
when I drive the car home later.
As we walk down the
long concrete pathway toward the hospital entrance, he instinctively
reaches out and takes my hand. "I'm s-s-scared," he says shakily.
"I know," I reply.
And I squeeze his hand in return.
Maybe I won't go
back to the office today, after all. After I get Ray admitted -- after
we meet his counselor and sign all the papers and get him checked into
the hospital, his 'home' for the next four weeks -- maybe I can call my
boss and tell him that I'd like to take the rest of the day off. I can
say that this whole thing has been a lot more 'emotionally draining'
than I'd expected it to be. My own attendance at work has been pretty
spotty the past few months -- lots of "stomach flu" and "family
emergencies" -- but I don't see how my hard-hearted boss can fail to
understand something like this. Then I can just go home and spend the
rest of the day relaxing. Maybe I'll plan grocery lists for the next
four weeks. (While Ray is in the hospital, I'm in charge of everything
from bill-paying to grocery shopping to jump-starting the car in the
Maybe I'll make some phone calls and break the news to the
rest of the family. Maybe I'll take the kids out to dinner tonight,
when they get home from school. Maybe I'll just curl up on the sofa and
take a long afternoon nap.
But first ... I
think I'll stop and pick up a bottle of wine on the way home.
That's what happens
one partner stops using and the other doesn't: all of a sudden, he
became The Good Spouse, and I became The Bad/Weak/Destructive/Dangerous
I paid lip service to
his efforts to stay clean and rebuild his life. I made sure he got to
his AA meetings on time ... but I never went to a meeting with him. I
encouraged him to read his Twelve-Step book ... but I never picked it
up and looked at it myself. I told other people how "proud" I was of
him ... but privately I all but stopped speaking to him altogether.
I supported his
to stay sober ... but I continued to drink.
I'd spent almost
fourteen years blaming him for all of the problems in our marriage --
everything from financial trouble, to lack of communication, to the
simple fact that I didn't love him the way a wife is supposed to love
her husband, and I probably never would -- and now I had to face the
fact that *I* was just as much to blame for the mess our lives had
become as he was.
It was a bitter pill
swallow ... especially when I tried to wash it down with a gallon of
I have made an
amazing discovery this summer: if you drink every night, you're never
Or you're not as
hungover as you would
been, say, if you'd enjoyed a Wednesday night chablis-and-chat-room
bender, and then you waited until Saturday night to drink again. I've
found that when you do that -- when you wait too long between drinking
nights -- you actually allow your body too
much time to
recover. By the time Saturday rolls around, your body is so thoroughly
detoxified that you get drunk way too fast. You're basically worthless
after one carafe. Plus the next hangover is completely
This simply isn't a
workable system for me.
through trial and error, that if I drink a little bit every single
night -- one of the small carafes of Paul Masson, maybe, or half of a
big bottle plus a couple of wine coolers, or a four-pack of wine
coolers plus a small bottle of Lancer's -- that I can drink for five or
six nights in a row without a single 'down' day. I still feel
lousy in the morning when I first wake up -- I actually threw up on my
steering wheel last week, driving to work -- but by
the worst of the hangover has usually burned off. By the time I get
home from work, I'm feeling almost normal and ready to drink
again. Sometimes I vomit up the first glass of lukewarm
almost as soon as I finish drinking it. But then I simply force myself
to guzzle a quick "medicinal" second glass, and eventually the wine
stays down, and the rest of the residual hangover dissipates, and
pretty soon I'm enjoying that nice light floaty feeling again.
most importantly, I never miss a night in the chat room.
My cyber boyfriend
expects me to be online every night. The nights when I fail to show up,
he says, "break his heart." Of course he doesn't know that I didn't
sign on because I was hungover: I tell him that I was "tired," or that
I had to go somewhere with my kids, or that the husband was
lurking nearby all evening, monitoring my computer activities. My
boyfriend knows that I drink, of course: I joke about it in the chat
room all the time. ("I'm
on another cheap chablis run!"
I'll type. "Anyone need
anything while I'm at the store?"
then I pretend to take all of these stupid fake orders for pork rinds
and red licorice and Camel Non-Filters.) But I think he
drinking references are simply part of the whole goofy SecraTerri
persona ... like typing backwards in the chat room, or referring to
myself in the third person, or sneaking into the room using a silly
temporary alias that everybody recognizes immediately, like
"TerraSecri" or "GuessHooIYam." I suppose that if he was aware of how
frequently (and how much) I'm actually drinking, every single day now,
he'd have something to say about it, the way he has
something to say about smoking and caffeine consumption and Metallica
He IS a doctor,
So I'm careful to
never let him know when I'm hungover, just like I'm careful never to
let him know when I'm drinking in the first place. Fortunately we have
a nice safe three-hour time difference between us. By the time we both
get online at night it's almost bedtime for him over on the East Coast,
but here on the West Coast, my evening -- and my buzz -- are just
beginning. He "sees" me only during my quick and funny
first-bottle-of-wine period: he isn't online at midnight, when I'm
slumped over the keyboard, typing with two fingers, struggling to
Next month we'll be
meeting face-to-face for the first time: a six-day medical conference
in the Caribbean. My husband believes that I'm going on this
"a group of friends" from the chat room. (I have no idea what story The
Doc is telling his spouse, but I hope she's as gullible as mine
I'm very nervous. Obviously I'm not going to be able to drink while
we're on the trip together. As a matter of fact, I
know what scares me more: the idea of him seeing me naked ...
... or seeing me
Alcoholism and the
Internet went han-in-hand for me.
My desire to communicate
with other people -- coupled with an
absolute lack of social confidence, a lifetime of self-esteem issues
and a spectacularly awful marriage -- made me a perfect candidate for
The online world was the engine that breathed life
into my ideas, my words, my feelings ... and my self-destructive
Alcohol simply provided
September 15, 1998
I've been looking at
this same glass of lukewarm chablis for over an hour now, willing
myself to take a sip.
on the desktop in front of my computer monitor, right next to the
unpaid utility bills and the slice of four-day-old pizza. I can see the
liquid, glistening in my very best thrift-store wine glass. I can smell
the acrid fruity smell of it in my nose and on my lips and in the back
of my throat. I can feel that last swallow, still percolating in the
pit of my stomach, an hour after I forced it down.
What I can't
seem to bring myself to do is drink it.
As I sit here in
silence, looking at the untouched wine, The Oregon Boyfiend's voice
ricochets through my head like Jiffy Pop gone berserk. Don't
calling later, he said when he
was driving me home from work
tonight. You're just going to
go home and get drunk, anyway.
And he dropped me off in front of my apartment building, without
ceremony, gunning the Jimmy down the little crooked alley without
further comment. What irks me the most about the whole thing, of course
-- more than his snotty tone of voice, more than his refusal to stay
and finish the argument, more than the fact that we're probably
breaking up again for the bazillionth time -- is the fact that he's
The first thing I
did when I walked into the apartment was head straight for the kitchen.
I yanked the
nearly-empty bottle out from under the kitchen sink and dumped the
remaining chablis into my solitary wine glass. As I raised it to my
lips, my stomach clutched in protest. You
said we weren't going to
do this anymore! it groaned.
After last week's three-day bender --
and the apocalyptic hangover that followed -- I had finally decided
that this was it.
I was going to quit
drinking ... for good, this time.
It wasn't a
spur-of-the-moment decision. This is something I'd been thinking about
seriously for weeks. I'm forty years old, and my life is in
embarrassing disarray. I'm living alone in a crappy little apartment a
million miles away from my children ... I'm making
dollars an hour at a knife factory ... I have
eighteen dollars in the bank ... and I've just
fudk up my third romantic relationship (my marriage, my affair with The
Doc and my rebound relationship with The Oregon Boyfiend) in less
than a year. It's starting to feel like time is running out:
don't do something to pull myself together, now, I'm not going to get
Plus -- and this is
a big plus -- I'm sick of
hangovers. I'm sick of feeling low-level horrible all the time, even
on the days when I haven't been drinking the previous night. My head
always aches. My eyes always burn. I always feel like I'm running a
fever, even though the thermometer says otherwise. I alternate between
sleeping too much and sleeping too little: either way, I'm exhausted
all the time. Food tastes like nothing. Sex is more work than it's
worth. Walking down the little crooked alley to my bus stop every
morning leaves me winded and sweaty for hours afterward. I can't even
remember what a regular bowel movement feels like.
I'm sick and tired,
as they say, of feeling sick and tired.
But the main reason
I want to quit -- the main reason I'm ready
to quit -- is
because I understand something, finally, that I've never fully
understood until now.
If I don't stop
drinking, it's going to kill me.
It might not be
liver failure or heart disease or alcohol-related stroke that does it.
It's just as likely to be something stupid, like falling down a flight
of stairs, or passing out with the stove burners on, or running my car
into a freeway embankment. But one way or another, I'm going to be
And I'm not ready to
be dead yet.
I've been doing
pretty well so far this week, too. I'd gone three whole days without so
much as a millisecond of temptation, even with a quarter of a bottle of
leftover chablis foolishly stashed beneath my kitchen sink. But then
The Oregon Boyfiend went and messed things up tonight, with his snotty
voice and his know-it-all attitude. You're
just going to go in
there and get drunk, anyway ... You're just going to go in there and
get drunk, anyway ... You're just going to go in there and get drunk
God, I hate him.
But The Boyfiend's
voice isn't the only voice haunting me tonight. As I sit here,
waiting in vain for a nice light floaty feeling I know is never going
to come again, even if I drink a thousand boxes of Mountain
I hear a veritable Who's Who of voices.
I hear the voice of
school boyfriend, offering me a paper cup full of liquid courage. I
hear my ex-husband on the phone, broken and weeping, after I walked out
on him on our sixteenth wedding anniversary. I hear my grandmother on
her deathbed, telling me that I'm a wonderful mother. I hear my oldest
daughter's message on my answering machine, shouting that she has
no mother. I hear my Sunday School teacher telling me that people who
drink alcohol are an abomination unto the Lord. I hear my father
warning me that I'd "better not do that again." I hear my boss, looking
at my bloodshot eyes and asking if I need to "talk." I hear
mother telling me that she's proud of me.
And above the chorus
betrayal and disappointment and abandonment -- above the voices of
people I've loved and people I've left and people I've fucked over -- I
hear the voice of a sick, exhausted, dizzy little kid.
spinning," she says plaintively.
"Can we stop now?"
On any other night,
would probably tell her to suck it up and quit complaining. This is the
life we chose, I would say to her. This is who we are. This is what
we are. "You can't get that nice floaty feeling," I would remind
"without a little necessary spinning."
But tonight, for a
change, she and
I are on the same page.
I get up and walk
into the kitchen, and -- without ceremony -- quietly dump the glass of
wine down the kitchen sink. And then I get a fresh Hefty bag out of the
drawer, and I drop the empty chablis bottle into it, along with the
wine glass and the corkscrew collection and all of other empties from
under the sink, and I carry the bag out the door and up the stairs to
the dumpster. As I climb the stairs, I imagine I hear the chorus of
voices cheering me on.
It's funny. I always
thought that when this moment came -- when I stopped spinning, finally,
knowing in my heart that I had stopped spinning for good -- I would be
doing it all alone.
But it turns out
I've got an audience, after all.
throw a rock