You Can Lead A Drunk To Water

Photo May 21, 9 50 33 AM

When you’re a drunk, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to realize that you’re a drunk. — Trust me.

But, it won’t be opportunity that makes you willing to change.

The day I realized I was alcoholic, I gave no fucks. I wasn’t in the wake of severe sickness or a heinous hangover. I didn’t have a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I recall it, what was ostensibly the most dramatic day of my life, was not very dramatic — at all.

On the contrary. My haphazard self-discovery occurred in the midst of what was an otherwise arbitrary moment. Completely ordinary. It was as though I had already made room for the information, as if I had been expecting it to arrive. And, in most ways, it felt as if nothing had happened at all. Except — something had happened.

On the day of my revelation, I was still enrolled in a state sanctioned outpatient rehab program as part of my sentence for DUI, which I’d been charged with earlier in the year. As was part of the routine, I’d been drug tested the Friday before — which meant I was in the clear to drink for several weeks before I’d be tested again.

I’d been living my life this way for months. And, even as I neared the end of my first stint in drug and alcohol treatment, I worked around it, diligently, continuing to drink when I knew I had enough time to detox before being tested again. Yes, I fucked the system. And, I fancied myself clever and rebellious for doing so. The majority of my rehab group was behaving in the same way. But, I remember feeling so above them all. I imagined that I was the only one who was truly “managing” my problem. Because, after all, I didn’t really have a problem. I’d just been caught in a low moment. Who hasn’t?

I ignored the warning from Jim, our rehab group leader, — “I know what you’re up to, Sarah. I can’t prove it, because you’re testing clean, but, this will catch up with you. Maybe it’ll be while you’re working with us in here, or, maybe it’ll be when you get back out there into the real world. Tread lightly, sweetheart.”  But, I knew better. Stupid, fucking Jim, I thought, he didn’t even know that I’d never left my “real world.”

Except — he totally knew. And, that’s what he was trying to tell me.

Of course, Jim was right. Everything would catch up with me. But, when it did, I would have no Willingness to change, whatsoever. And, that’s how it goes. We sometimes discover our truth in a moment when we have absolutely nothing to gain from it. — No hope. No momentum.

On the day of my revelation, I walked by my local pub and I stopped to peer in through the big, glass window. My fair-weather-friends sat ponied up to the bar, laughing. Amelia, one of my favorite bartenders, mixed her signature Sunday-Bloody-Mary in a pint glass. My small little world waited for me inside — a tall glass of infused vodka and tomato juice, topped with an excessive vegetable garnish — and all that sloppy, smarmy camaraderie. My only happiness, just feet away.

I was inclined to walk in, then and there. But, as soon as the thought entered my head, I knew I couldn’t. — I had errands to run. Several that involved the use of my car. And, between the breathalyzer I’d have to blow into to start the engine and the other adult-like tasks that needed doing, — I knew I couldn’t have that Sunday-Bloody-Mary. Not yet.

And, that was the moment. — The singularly unspectacular moment when I realized I was a drunk. I knew that if I had just one of Amelia’s Goddamned Sunday-Bloody-Mary’s, that my day was shot. — I’d be at that bar until it closed or until I was cut off and kicked out — whichever came first. And so, I scheduled my errands around the absolute certainty that once I was seated at that bar — I wasn’t getting up again until I was good and shitfaced.

This is the definition of alcoholism.

You would think discovering that my life revolved around something so meaningless, so empty, would lead me to some sort of existential reckoning. A reckoning that would get me some Willingness. A reckoning that would usher me out of my small, shitty life and into the bigger, better pastures for which I was destined. But, it didn’t.

The day I realized I was an alcoholic, I did what any good alcoholic would — I got the bullshit tasks I needed to get done, done. And then, I marched right back to that pub and I got down to business. — And, I drank to blackout.

Willingness is not born to those who acknowledge its necessity. Willingness is born to those who are ready to ask for help. And, help is the one thing that every drunk will need.

Sometimes, help will stand right in front of you. Like Jim did, for me. But, if you’re a real drunk — you’ll likely ignore the many life rafts that float up along side you while you’re sipping your beverage du jour, floating downstream.

Jim was just my warning sign. A marker scratched into the door frame that documents my alcoholism’s many growing pains.

Willingness is that invisible hand for which, eventually, we reach out when there is nothing left for us to hold on to. It is the last notch we’ll gauge in the doorway. But how and when we decide to do these things, is still a mystery. But, be assured that someone, like Jim, will lead you to the water. And, maybe, on that day, you’ll gulp it down. But, if you’re like me, the chances are better that you’ll run from the oasis the first time you come upon it.

But, on some other day, you will find yourself with Willingness. Jim will be long gone. You’ll be staring through the glass window of the pub and you’ll decide — you don’t have to drink that day. And, you’ll think of Jim as you pass by door, whispering to yourself:

“Tread lightly, sweetheart.”

Hair Of The Dog

Photo May 31, 12 57 32 PM

9:47AM: I poured myself a third shot of vodka.

In the office, I sat alone at the beat-up, IKEA desk we’d purchased on Craigslist.  I felt appropriately contained in the tiny, windowless room at the back of the restaurant where I was the general manager. I’d come in early to write the schedule for the servers. The peak of Summer, it was hot. The air in the hall was thick with the rancid stink of the hamper, filled to the brim with dirty kitchen linens, which sat, a palpable presence, just outside the sliding office door.

The previous evening’s service had been a busy one. I’d stayed late with the chef-owner and drank. When the last customers left we turned up the music and laughed at our own jokes. Later, I took a cab home, drank more still, and blacked out. I woke up in my clothes, on the couch in my living room, my cat staring at me from her perch on the armrest. I splashed water on my face, brushed my teeth, changed, and reapplied my mascara quickly before returning to the restaurant.

And then, I was back in that office, as if I’d never left. Three shots in. And, suddenly, I was terrified. After printing the schedule and pinning it up on the cork bulletin board, I felt sick. Was this how the rest of my life was going to be? Drunk, still accomplishing my tasks with ease? The static motion of mediocrity in which no one challenged my insanity?

One of the cooks walked up to his locker and looked into the office, his eyes darted from my face to the the bottle of Seagram’s Extra Dry that sat beside a staunch, little cocktail glass, still wet from my last sip, for which I made no excuse. “Hair of the Dog?” he asked, laughing. I smiled.

But, it wasn’t. It wasn’t Hair of the Dog. — That was what I had become.

That day, was the day I became Willing. Willing to do whatever I had to do to be something other than what I was. It hadn’t been the day of my arrest, five months earlier, it hadn’t been an embarrassing or violent episode, it hadn’t been a blackout. — It was me, realizing the devastating normalcy of alcohol’s place in my daily life. It touched everything and nothing at all.

My life had become varying states of disconnectedness. I could do my job, see my friends, feed my cat. But, I was gone. Somewhere that, even I, could no longer find. I’d become something, I was no longer someone. I was a machine, and the cost of my fuel had left me penniless.

Willingness, this month’s theme in our Year of Happiness, is a concept that is often lumped-in with something else: Desire. When we want something, when we truly desire it — we tell ourselves that we’re willing to do anything for it. But, that isn’t true. Willingness is something that goes beyond desire. It is the turning point at which one is enabled to act. — To change.

I spent months dissecting my own desire to get sober. I went to 12-Step meetings and then, immediately following, b-lined to bars where I got shitfaced. I would go for 24, sometimes 36 hours without a drink, and then would stand at my kitchen sink and gulp down a full tumbler of Jim Beam, neat, like a glass of water. I had all this desire. — But, was unwilling to change.

How I came to be willing on that Summer morning in the restaurant office, I still don’t know. People have told me that Willingness comes from divine intervention, desperation, or love. I’m not sure that my Willingness was born from any one of those things. And, truthfully, it’s not really important to me that I discover my Willingness’ origin.

When we talk about Happiness and a means to finding it, we cannot avoid facing our own Willingness. We’ve been told Happiness is a choice — and it is. But, it’s possible make choices without being willing to act on those choices.

Willingness is our final phase of reconciliation before action. Without action, nothing changes. So, Willingness becomes the final impetus, the push that will begin the journey from Point A to Point B. And, maybe you’re curious — What does Willingness look like? Where will you find it? What must you do to become willing?

I wish I had the answer to those questions. I don’t. Not for you, anyway. Willingness is perhaps the most elusive and personal concept we’ll explore during this series. Because, what drives us to change — is something buried so deep within us, that even when we try to communicate it to someone else, we struggle in finding the right words.

What was the difference between the feeling that I never, ever wanted to drink again and actually walking into that same office where I had been piss drunk, days earlier, and giving my boss one month’s notice because I’d enrolled myself in a rehab program? — I cannot describe it. Willingness is an unpredictable internal catalyst. It’s sly. My Willingness came to me when I was already three sheets to the wind. A voice whispering in my ear, telling me that I was more than a sad drunk, and that the vacancy I had allowed myself to exist in, was wasted space.

This month, I will not advise you on how to find the Willingness that makes it possible for you to unearth your own Happiness. How you will go about uncovering that mysterious piece, is the part of the story only you can write.

On that Summer morning, after all the cooks arrived and began their prep and my servers were on the floor mopping under tables and brewing big carafes of coffee, I stepped outside and sat in my usual spot at the picnic table closest to the side door. I propped my feet up on the bench, my black Vans with white polka dots punctuating my legs like a sentence. I lit a Parliament, and with each drag off my cigarette, I could taste the cheap vodka I’d drank earlier that morning.

And, I still remember looking up into the hot sun, knowing, if I could just make it one more month, I’d never have to feel that way again.

 

 

 

The Proof And The Pudding

Photo May 03, 12 37 00 PM

I’m a believer. — It doesn’t take much.

There are days I’m a step up from gullible. But really, for the most part, it’s just that I have a enormous amount of faith. In people and in humanity. I live by my gut. And, some people will tell you this is my flaw — my hubris — but I believe that Belief is one of my greatest strengths.

So begins the second month in my Year of Happiness. And, you guessed it — our theme for the next four weeks is: Belief.

It may appear that I’ve taken things out of sequential order. Shouldn’t Belief come before Surrender, you ask? It’s a fair question. Believing in something before you Surrender yourself to it seems, well, logical. But, when it comes to Happiness, your logic is worthless. Your gut, however, — priceless.

You’ve heard it before: Seeing is Believing. It’s the hallmark slogan for the skeptical and faithless. For many, proof is required if they’re going to give an inch. People want to be sure when they invest their time, money, and yes, even their Happiness in something. They want a guarantee for the return on their investments. They want their dividends paid.

The thing is, when it comes to Happiness, there isn’t a formula. We can’t trade one stock for another and expect to finish out the day trading up twenty points. And, this is the reason we have to Surrender to Happiness before we believe in it. We have to turn ourselves over to Happiness long enough to buy into it. We take a risk. And, in doing so, we begin to see Happiness show up in our lives. We gain momentum. And, with that tiny bit of proof, we leverage enough confidence to believe in the possibility of our own Happiness.

Belief is more than knowing Happiness exists. Even if we are at the bottom of our barrel, we know that there is something more out there. We are designed to desire Happiness. It’s human nature. It’s achievement, I believe, is our purpose here on Earth. And Belief, when I talk about it in terms of Happiness, is intuiting and understanding that you are worthy of it.

In my career, I have played the part of the customer service guru. I know how to make you feel happy. I’ve worked with students, lawyers, chefs, corporate/celebrity clients, and upscale diners  — and it’s always been my job to identify what will make these people happy and get it to them quickly, and with a sparkling smile. Up until recent years, I believed that bringing other people joy was the thing that brought me the most joy. I was satisfied being a people-pleaser. — Or so I thought.

When I got sober, I realized that people-pleasing is its own drug. It gets you high, but, it’s euphoric buzz is short lived and it will bottom you out, fast. — Try falling helplessly in love with a heroin addict. You’ll learn very quickly, wanting to help and actually helping are two very different beasts.

After a long, hard fallout following my people-pleasing years, I discovered that if you don’t believe in yourself and you don’t make your own Happiness a priority, — you’ll never serve anyone else to the best of your ability.

Belief in your own Happiness, above all else, is essential. And, like Surrender, it’s a hard sell. We fight hard against the inclination to put ourselves before others, because we want to help. We want to make positive changes in the world. We want to create a place that others can believe in. And, that requires a lot of hard work. But, when you find the Belief within yourself to find your own joy and Happiness, you actually make it easier on yourself when it comes time to help others.

I’ve found, in just this short time living for my own Happiness, I have been able to connect and influence people around me in positive ways, effortlessly. When you are happy and connected to your own Belief in yourself, locked in to your unique way of being and seeing the world — people feel that energy, and they respond to it. It sounds woo-woo. And, maybe it is. I don’t have proof. There is no irrefutable data I can present to you — only my experience and observations.

This month, we’ll dive into our Beliefs around Happiness. Because, what we believe influences how we feel and act, exponentially. Happiness is a Belief. It’s a choice. A choice we make with little or no evidence to assure us. And, much like religion, Happiness requires us to trust something we will not always see standing in front of us.

Happiness asks that we be devoted. Reverent. And, the faith and Belief we have, in ourselves, our worth, and our right to Happiness — is the return on our investment. It pays our dividends. The proof isn’t in the pudding. — It is the pudding.

This week, I am starting small. I’m identifying the core Beliefs that have kept me removed from my own Happiness. And, I’ll have to take these results back to the drawing board. Because, if your Beliefs do not lead you to Happiness — you’re doing it wrong.

That’s my gut feeling. — And, it’s proof enough for me.

 

While The Forgettin’s Good

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It still catches me off guard when I hear myself saying the words out loud. — “I don’t drink anymore.”

Like whoa.

It’s not the kind of thing you can say in passing. And this week, I found myself telling my “How I Got Sober Story,” twice. Friends and acquaintances find out that you’re sober and, immediately, they want to know more. How? and When? and Why? and Whyyyyyy? Sobriety is something that almost always requires an explanation. And, I do it. I explain. Not because I feel like an explanation is owed but because, to some, sobriety is this unthinkable, incomprehensible, impossibility. And, I feel obligated to dispel that notion.

Sometimes I forget I’m sober. I forget, I am the odd man out. And, maybe that’s the big-time-bonus after a long stretch of sobriety: Forgetting. — Forgetting everything.

While I played my tale of woe on repeat this week, for the first time, I felt something new. An astranged feeling — a disconnect. The cousin of insincerity, if you will. As the words left my mouth, I had to remind myself that those things that happened did, in fact, happen to me. I hardly recognize the woman in my own story. I don’t know how I ever knew her. It’s almost as if I couldn’t know her. — The small world where she used to live. The poor choices and the meager portions she allowed herself.

I think part of this revelation is, I’m no longer going to 12-Step meetings with regularity. So, I’ve been distanced from that narrative. A lot of rehashing goes on there. I’ve taken myself off the loop. And, after taking this big step back, I’m happy about deciding against wading into the murky lake that I once splashed around in with masochistic delight. My sorrow, these days, is watered by a different well. And, until this past week, I hadn’t taken the time to notice, much less appreciate, the big changes I’ve made.

I’m focused on my endgame. I forget to look around. This is why all those 12-Steppers were encouraging me to be consistent about meeting attendance. I need to be reminded. I need to remind others. And, on some level, that’s true. But, like most healthy relationships, breathing room is always a good idea. Truth be told, I think the space I’ve put between myself, my disease, and all that mea culpa-ing I was doing has allowed for this recent, rewarding reveal. I’m starting to discover that if I stop talking about being a mess. — I stop actually being a mess.

We all could stand to forget a thing or two. Our messes included. Go on, forget it! Forget the definitions we so rigidly create. Forget the people we hold accountable for so much of our pain. Forget the crap that still hurts.

Of course, we can’t forget everything. If we did, we couldn’t appreciate our big changes. We’d devalue our endgames. But, forgetting isn’t letting go. And, forgetting isn’t forever. — There’s always room for remembering. Later. We can put the pain aside and return to it later, with reverence. I promise. If we don’t make room for the new, good things, then the other things, sometimes the big things, slip through our fingers — not the least of which is time.

My sober story needs to be more present. Which, when I think about it, was always my goal. It’s important to remember how I got here, but, it’s also important to put away the things that don’t serve me anymore. It’s no longer about how I couldn’t hack it back then. It’s about now. It’s about what’s working.

It’s possible to tell your own story without throwing knives. It’s OK to make revisions. As the writer of your life, it’s a kindness that’s deserved. — Earned.

Next time I tell my “How I Got Sober Story,” it will be new and improved, rooted in the now. I’ve made some detailed mental notes. The first of which is: Just remember to forget — while the forgettin’s good.

 

 

 

 

 

Doing Things Badly

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This week, my people, has been tough.

A dry, dusty, depression wasteland.

But, rather than abandon you, my faithful, with nothing — I leave you with a morsel from one the zaniest and the most human of my favorite writers — Anne Lamott.

Her book, Grace, Eventually  started me down the road that led me to Baba Ram Dass, and shortly thereafter — to my own sobriety. She is a writer who had little trouble wiggling her way into my heart, and, I hope that this week you’ll devote the five minutes you might have spent reading my words to watching this short piece, and perhaps, you’ll allow her to wiggle her way into yours.

 

Artwork: Nicholas Roerich, “Issa and Giant’s Head”

 

 

 

 

 

 

With Our Bones

Photo Jan 06, 4 37 51 AM

My coworker tells a red-faced customer that the New Year starts with our bones.

He is referencing the seasonable cold front that, only just now, has arrived in New York City. But, as I stare from the coffee shop window out onto the still-dark avenue, I think it’s possible his theory has nothing at all to do with the weather.

He’s right though, the New Year does start with our bones. And, after letting some heavy weight drop, I am left again — feeling empty. Just a feeble frame.

This feeling is a familiar one.

September 9, 2012. I stood in the center of my Portland living room. I remember staring with empty eyes at my black, cubed, IKEA bookshelf. I read the title off the spine of every book I owned.

It was my first day sober, and, I didn’t know what else to do. I could not sit or walk or make calls or cook or watch TV. Most importantly — I could not drink. I could only do this one thing — stare at my shelf full of books. And then, I sat on the stoop outside my tiny kitchen, my elbows pressed into my knees, and I smoked an entire pack of Parliaments. A lonely skeleton.

Days and weeks past. Then, months. Now, years. And, where substance is concerned — I am human again. I can see myself in the mirror without having a drink. I have created something. That old skeleton — a spine, made up once from those of my books and my rib cage, made up once from twenty premium cigarettes — is now covered with flesh. I made matter with which to cloak myself. And, with practice, I learned how to uncover meaning in my own assembly.

Meaning will come and go. But, one thing is sure — Time will always create new bodies for us to build. And I have come to believe, despite the hardship, it is important we continue the difficult work. Unending. Tedious. Painful. Slow. Rewarding. Beautiful. Unexpected. — Grace.

We sew our veins, organs, and muscles into place. We cover ourselves in this — our skin. Unique. Never again to be duplicated. We all start out with these bones. And, at the end, which is never really the end, we are something we weren’t before. Original in our effort. We are our own life’s work. — We become our willingness to begin.

In the New Year, cold descends. We feel it. The work commences.

It starts with our bones.

 

Three Years On The See-Saw

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We wake up. Really slowly.

Maybe it takes a year or two to move one, rotten inch. And, it’s sneaky, the business of waking up. Fucking subtle. So, don’t expect it to hit you hard or for it to happen all at once. It’s not some invincible force that saves and redeems you. But, it happens. There is an awakening.

Today marks three years sober. And, like every year, for the past three years, I’ve spent the week, leading up to today, trying to figure out where, exactly, I fit into all of this. Sobriety. — A word I throw around somewhat haphazardly. — I often forget the weight of things. Honestly, I’d being lying if I told you I felt one way or the other about it. In truth, it feels like I’m standing right in the middle of an enormous see-saw.

I wasn’t always up for the balancing act. Three years ago today, I wouldn’t have been able to stand in the middle of anything. Everything was an extreme. — Loss or gain. In or out. Good or evil. God or none. — One side or the other.

Today, I’m not so sure. I find that I’m often open to things that I’m not privy to. Miracles. Fate. Divine intervention. Maybe even some chaos and anarchy. — But, I’m open. That’s for sure.

The night before I got sober, I got cut off at my favorite pub. The owner told me, “Happy Birthday,” as I walked out of his bar, shitfaced. He knew all about sober anniversaries. He was a good guy who was happy to see me go. I, on the other hand, wasn’t so happy. I knew my drinking was bad news, but, I wasn’t so sure that the alternative was better. I think about her — Good ol’ shitfaced me. The girl who was so uncertain about the possibility of something genuinely good coming her way. And, three years later, I look back on that time, wide awake. I didn’t know how to comfort myself back then, because — I wasn’t there. But, now, I’m here every day. And all my voices speak.

The voice that reminds me to cry. The voice that tells me to step up. The voice that ushers me, with care, away from the people and places that no longer serve me. And, the voice that honors all that I’ve lost in these three years. — Together, we kneel at the graves of the many versions of myself that I’ve buried because they didn’t learn the right lessons.

I stand in the middle now, with confidence. Because I know, sooner or later, like it or not — this see-saw’s gonna flip and I’ll see what each end has to offer. I’ll stand high and I’ll sink low. Tides turn. And, I’m not afraid of the change anymore.

It’s nothing I can mark on paper. It’s not even a feeling. Three years is nothing but a notch I use to keep my place in the mess of cogs — a system in flux. Something that, next year, will be even more expansive. Awake and limitless, without warnings or boundaries. I count the years even though I know now — they mean nothing.

Just more room. Room for losses and gains. Ins and outs. Gods and none.

And me. There’s finally room for me.

And, I’m standing, three years deep — in the middle of it all.

 

 

Artwork: Life’s See-saw By: Brad Stroman; http://convergencegallery.com/stroman/stroman.html

 

As-Is, Oregonian

Oregonian

We don’t have to say goodbye. To the people. The places. The things.

We can just let them be. — Who they are. Where they are. As they are.

This is my big lesson in letting go. The one I needed to learn. My unavoidable and inevitable truth.

My mother and I pack up my apartment, and, I wish it were different. I wish that my last moments here, in this place, weren’t tip-toeing around my life’s possessions, all of which are strewn haphazardly across the floor. I wish that the big, black garbage bags — one for Goodwill and one for the dumpster — didn’t sit in the middle of my living room, slinking, dark portals to the sad and hopeless lost worlds that await my unwanted past. But we continue — dismantling this world as I know it, piece by piece.

It helps to remember that — I can come back. Maybe in 5 years. Maybe 10. On a plane, or, in a car. On another road trip — maybe with some new beau, or on business, or I don’t know — with a baby. I can’t know how I’ll return to this place. And, I think that’s the thing that scares and excites me the most. Who will I become without this place? Will I like her? Will I miss this woman I am now? Revile her?

Who can say what I’ll be when I return to Portland? I don’t know. — I can’t know. — What I’ll be wearing. What job I’ll have taken time off from to make the trip back. Until that moment, I will not know whether or not I’ve found the illusive thing I’ve always been seeking.

So, instead, I do it. I let go. — I make peace with what’s here. Now. — Who I am. Now.

The most difficult thing, is this: Letting go of everything. Allowing it all to just be — as is. Not knowing how my dreams will return to me, or, how I’ll return to them. In 12-Step, this is called — turning it over. And, it’s the thing that I have always wanted to do, but, never actually did. And, here I am, — allowing it. Placing it all into someone else’s hands, because I am tired of wringing my own.

No promises or commitments. Just time and space. A strange, uncertain portal to my destination — like the garbage bags, sitting in the middle of the living room floor.

But, that’s the way I want to tie it all up. My sobriety. My love. My city. — My letting go. Memorizing all the people, places, and things that held me together. Keeping them somewhere safe, as I turn, and walk the other way.

I will place all these moments into a cranial time capsule. I don’t know that it’s something that I want to write. It’s something I prefer to feel. And, feeling, that’s something I learned to do here — in Portland.

I tape up boxes. I clank through kitchen drawers and cupboards. I clear my cache. I pack up what I need and I throw the rest into the black-hole-garbage-bags in the middle of the living room floor. — I make room for new things. I convince myself to forget about the ways in which I’ll leave, and return, to this place.

In just hours, I will no longer be an Oregonian. And, maybe, I never was one. But, in order for me to leave — I have to believe: I was. I have to believe that in the same way this place made me who I am, it also allowed me to become what it is. Oregon is inside me now. An integral part. Maybe even the central part.

So, I don’t have to say goodbye. — Not even to myself. I can allow it all to just be. As is.

Me. My Oregon. My Portland.

The people. The places. The things. — Who they are. Where they are. As they are.

 

Photo: Allison Webber; http://www.allisonwebber.photography/

 

If I Could Talk Drunk To You

Photo Jul 14, 9 32 20 PM

Oregon, if I could talk drunk to you — I’d say too much.

But, in between botched and blurred sentences, I’d speak those gems. I’d say things that my heart kept pad-locked-up until we went ahead and blasted the doors off with a fifth of Jim Beam and a couple of cold, tall pints.

It’s been a long time since we’ve opened those doors. And it’s been even longer since my heart allowed me to hear the things you’ve been trying to say. But baby, if I could talk drunk to you, I’d ask you — Do you remember being young? Not that you’re some old man, but — we’re old enough now that when we’re asked if we remember being young — we know the answer.

Do you remember loving her? Some girl. Any girl. This girl. Maybe she was quiet and lost. Maybe she walked up and down your coast. Maybe she stood in the arch of The Vista House, her hair flying wildly over The Gorge as she screamed out your name across the Columbia River and cursed you. But, do you remember loving her? Do you remember how you’d give anything for her to just call, or show up at your door? She’d look at you in a way that made you feel. Like you were really there — like you existed. Not only existed, but, existed just for her. Do you remember — feeling that way?

Love made you feel. Can you remember when love was humbling? When you’d bow down before it, sovereign, wanting nothing more than for it to look upon you? Just. One. Brief. Moment. — To crown you? We all felt it when we were young. Sometimes, because we didn’t know any better. But, more often than not — we did. Know better.

It’s not something you can escape. It captures you. And baby, I may feel old, but when I love you — when I let you go — I’m young. And my heart was once your happy captive. Those ideals that you thought I’d soon abandon, well, — maybe I will someday — but not today. Not today. Today this love rules me. It runs laps around my heart. It crushes me with its casual distance. And maybe, after our most recent repairs — your heart looks pretty shabby too, baby.  But, if I could talk drunk to you, I’d tell you — It’s worth piecing together.

If I could talk drunk to you, I’d ask you to love me with that same, reckless abandon. I’d ask you to forget your old man heart and dive into mine, where things aren’t nearly as broken and battered as they were when I found you. I’d ask you why people give up on love when they’re finally old enough to feel it. I’d tell you, I may be young and stupid — but there are parts of me that are old — and I know more now than your green heart could handle. I’d tell you — I’m worth it. All of it. I’m that girl you couldn’t have back when you were seventeen. I’m the comfort that you never got from the women who held out their hands to light your cigarettes. I’m all that passion you beat down into your guts because you never thought you’d find someone who could match it.

Here I am.

If I could talk drunk to you, I’d tell you that — back then — before I met you, my love was like a paper cut. But now, your love fuels some massive inferno that turns my insides red-hot, and if it ever goes out, all that will remain is a burnt up cross where my heart used to be.

Oregon, you taught me to love. And, some days, I fear the love I have for you. You’ve broken me before. But, when you touch me, you spin that golden thread that pumps through my veins, straight to my heart. A drug that I’ll choose to give up, but, somewhere, I’ll always seek.

I should tell you — I’ve watched the sun rise over your head. And, that first time I told you I loved you, your sky said, “Oh baby, I love you too,” like I already knew, but, — I didn’t know. I never knew.

If I could talk drunk to you, I’d say that my love is crazy, and if you could see it, if it were an actual thing you could touch or hold — I know you’d want it. You’d want to keep it. You wouldn’t leave it on a shelf or stash it in some drawer. You’d wear it. You’d protect it. You’d carry it until whatever made you, made you no more.

If I could talk drunk to you, I’d tell you that — I know — I think too much. I wish it were that simple.

But, it’s not. Simple.

It’s time for me to go. But, you knew that already.

And, what good is talking drunk to you if I’m just telling you the things that you already know?

 

Photo: Allison Webber; http://www.allisonwebber.photography/

Bitter(s).

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I sit at a bar shaped like a horseshoe and I order soda with Angostura bitters.

My 12-Step friends will hold the bitters against me — the same way they do when I lick the side of the vanilla extract bottle while I’m baking. I decide I don’t care.

I’ve been waiting for this.

I sit across from a hipster-geek in a wool, skull cap. The weather’s too warm for that, but, in Portland, no one cares. The bartender showcases a tequila bottle I don’t recognize for two drunk women at the end of the bar. They snack on fried food and chew with their mouths open and they don’t realize how old they look, bat-bat-batting their eyelashes and laugh-laugh-laughing at something the bartender says, but, everyone knows without hearing — it isn’t funny. Their husbands are outside smirking and smoking cigarettes. They turn to gawk at a group of three, tall twenty-somethings who walk by in patterned leggings that hug their perky, little asses.

I hammer my straw down into the ice, like I’m breaking something up. I stir — like there’s whiskey at the bottom of my glass. There isn’t. But, I continue eyeballing the good shit on the shelf.

I pass this bar every day. I look in its big, rectangular windows. Behind my own reflection, I see smiling lips that leave blots of red lipstick on the edges of tumblers and the tips of little, black straws. I wanted this — to sit here. To feel it. Soft leather. My purse dangling from a hook at my knees. I wanted to breathe out. — A release. A homecoming. My heels drawn up against the sides of a bar stool. — I’ve waited.

The perfect conditions. The right amount of cloud cover. The slice of evening right before the Saturday crowds filter in through the angled, double doors. A hum, a quiet energy — like something might happen. But it doesn’t.

I can’t explain it. — It’s not what I wanted.

The hipster-geek doesn’t look up from his smart phone, even when his hand searches along the bar for his drink, which, I am certain, is an old fashioned. The older women, who think they’re young, wave their hands back and forth. Pinot gris sloshing at the sides of their glasses, just barely contained. The bartender reaches for his bar rag, but, in the end — doesn’t need it.

I ask for my bill.

“All you had was soda. Right? We don’t charge for soda.” The bartender walks away from me. So, I thank his back. This is what being castrated feels like — I imagine. Suddenly, I’m worth even less than the dollar it cost for me to keep the seat warm.

Whatever it was I was hoping I’d feel — I know now — I can’t anymore.

The chewing, cackling hags. The lechers with cigarettes that dangle from their lips. The bartender’s display of insincerity and faded tattoos. The smell of spilled beer and dirty mop water. It’s hardly a return to the days I used to live for. — His hand grabbing for mine, while we poured over menus, the sun sinking into another river. Here, I’m lonely. And, the wood of this bar is scratched.

At home, I crawl into bed and I lay very still. I bury a feeling I didn’t know I still had.

I just wanted a moment in the bar. But, the moment’s gone.

Rain taps the window and the cat swats the venetian blind and I miss things I haven’t missed in a long time. Adam. And New York. And our railroad apartment. And they way the sun spilled over Nassau Avenue in the summer when I was twenty-five.