He opened the refrigerator door and wondered if he could make it through today without alcohol. The world just seemed less illustrious under a sober eye. As if alcohol opened a magical portal that only the intoxicated could see. And maybe it does. They say, the brain is like the eye or the ear in that it is only a filter of the universal consciousness and as such can only pick up on part of the spectrum. The ear funnels the sound, the eye funnels sight, the brain funnels the day to day processing of the decisions and possibilities that make up his life. He liked to believe inebriation opened us up to some interstellar filtration of an otherwise untapped ether.
Excuses, they say.
But it felt like a warm cover he pulled over himself as a shelter from the world. A haven in which to process all that had emotionally befallen while he was busy holding down a job and raising three kids. Just give me this piece, he pleaded, but with whom he wasn't sure.
Nor why it was so valuable, this escape. As he imagined himself leaving on a boat of whiskey and rye, the pain in his heart for what was left on the shore was unbearable. His eyes welled with tears as he felt the burden of having to leave.
Did he have to leave?
It was such a mess he couldn't make sense of it to himself much less anyone else. He stared into the refrigerator and saw the simple things of stocked food and drink, leftovers for work. He could not see himself prepare this way, not in any way that brought him happiness beyond a rote motion of survival.
Something in the drink both gave him life and took it from him at the same time, a heavy price, a dangerous exchange. But he felt himself moving across the conveyor belt, this night assembling itself into another dark wager.
The ache that he lived with never left no matter his state. It only changed focus from near to far depending on which wavelength of the ether he would open himself up to tonight.
He closed the door. A simple action that required great restraint. A battle won. He tried to think of what to do next.
His coalition with alcohol was formed early on under the guise of stereotypical exploration. It was widely acceptable to get black out drunk while in college, in fact, it was considered outright weird to take any kind of high road. He shook his head remembering the irony of the personal assault that was felt under the denial of partaking.
“What’s the big DEAL?” his friends would gawk like caricatures of bullies from peer pressure educational videos his teachers made him watch in middle school. Only, it doesn’t seem like anyone explains at the time that these bullies with their big ugly noses and unflattering expressions, tattered clothing, and unfortunate upbringings will actually be your friends. They are characterized in a way that makes them villainous and rightly so, to avoid sentimental association to something you want your children to avoid. But the creators of this propaganda must’ve forgotten that sentimental association actually comes first.
Of course, no one would take a gateway drug from a drug dealer. But what about your closest confidante, someone you trusted, someone that helped you up on the playground when you fell, someone that you ran childhood races against when the warmth of the sun and the rush of the wind was the only life giving thrill that you needed or wanted to chase.
These programs and videos that tried to prepare him for real life scenarios left out an important detail. That real life would include people he trusted and had reason to trust that made bad choices or made choices without fully comprehending the consequences.
There were no “bad guys” he had realized. Unless he were the bad guy, which may have been true in some cases.
With a deep pang of sadness, he thought of her face. He remembered all the late evenings that turned into night they would sit under the awning of the crumbling sidewalk that enclosed the now empty city pool. They would walk around the drained concrete and smoke cigarettes and talk for hours on end about anything and everything and everyone they knew. It felt like an alliance that could not be broken.
She was the last person he would want to hurt and he would never have imagined having a reason or ability to do so. But the court ruling ten years ago would prove differently following one night on a snowy, icy mountain road. They were arguing. He was drunk. She stopped listening. He lost control. He grabbed the steering wheel. She lost control.
It was hard to see himself cast in the role of villainous bully drug dealer in the reflection of her eyes, but it was hard to deny how profoundly his actions aligned him with this character in that moment.
One might have thought this sobering fact would have punctuated his drinking habits as sharply as she punctuated their relationship. But in continued paradoxical fashion, it actually wound the bind tighter as the pain and guilt of his actions drove him deeper.
Where before his drinking seemed to concoct itself, he now actively sought its medicinal properties in an attempt to erase the bad decisions he had made with more bad decisions. He had a front row seat to his own painful cycle.
Until he was given a chance at redemption through meeting another girl who knew enough about “bad guys” to untangle them from the mess they created themselves and set them free through disciplined accountability. It was a tough love but love, no less, and maybe even more of a love than he had ever experienced with someone before. A love that saw him better than who he had become and remembered the little boy running fast over the hills into the wind and the sun with great joy. Even though she never met him, she saw him under the layers of self-loathing he now dressed in.
But even through the work and the mastery, building a new life from scratch, the hunger never went away and so he had to be vigilant of its power and its allure. He had to hold simultaneously in one hand this beast that was ever chained to him while keeping it from devouring everything he held so dearly.
A wife, children, a family, these were the substances of his heart but it couldn’t just be so simple as that. He had to protect them even if it were from himself. He could see with crystal-clear clarity the tearful appreciation of this second life, filled with all the joys he could have ever dreamed of for himself, and the poisonous fog of temptation that seemed to be rolling in just below the radar of alarm.
“What are you doing?” his youngest daughter had rounded the corner to find him lost in front of the refrigerator.
Her question had broken the spell and he tousled her hair saying, “Nothing,” quite gratefully.