The Face Of The Hammer, The Head Of The Nail

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I leaned against the kitchen counter, exhausted. The taste of vomit, fresh in my mouth.

I had been arrested the night before and released from police holding at 5AM that morning.

The officer behind a slate colored, wire divider pushed a clear bag filled with my personal belongings through a long, rectangular slot. Inside, the necklace my father gave me for my 18th birthday, a silver pendant, had been placed carefully into a little, plastic bag, where it glinted in the florescent light. Next to it, lay the bright white laces of my shoes and the long white string from my hoodie, all of which the booking officer had carefully removed from my person while I stood, silently crying.

My phone. My wallet. My house keys. These were the possessions that I had with me. My property. As I ran my fingers along the outline of each item in the bag, I felt like a criminal.

Later, in my apartment, my eyes kept returning to the clear, plastic bag sitting on the edge of my small, dining room table. I kept weeping. Again and again. I lost count of the times I forced myself to cease my sobbing and regain composure.

I had taken a cab back to the apartment after walking out into the stark, empty street in downtown Portland.Β  Darkness permeated everything on that eeriest of mornings. The cold, punishing brick of the building from which I had just emerged, loomed behind me, threatening violence. I had only six hours before I had to return to that very street and appear in court for my arraignment. But, by that time, the city would be awake, lit by the winter sun and full of scurrying worker-bees. Now, it was just dark, silent, still.

My mouth felt dry and tasted of stale liquor. I could feel that my eyes were red and the cold stung my chapped, peeling lips. I remember wanting to die. Hoping to somehow be struck by lightening or to suffer a heart attack or be hit by a stray bullet. I wanted something big and powerful to sweep in and take me. Something to wake me from that heavy, dream-like haze.

In the cab home, I told myself: Sarah. This, isΒ  a very human lesson.

If only humanity were a better teacher, then perhaps, I would have learned that lesson long before having to learn it the hard way. But, in that moment, I was too tired for regret. I focused only on staying awake long enough to get home. Long enough to get into bed and sleep, which seemed like the only plausible way to wake from that unending nightmare.

I did sleep, though, it was the restless kind with haunted dreams. I woke and, like a robot, dressed myself for court. I appeared before the judge, still unaware of myself. Floating in space. Lost. Alone. I had called Tony, my dear friend, dazed, and asked for a ride. My car had be seized. He drove me downtown to court, and, on the ride, we were both solemn. The sad look on my face upon climbing back into his car after court, where I’d been handed a stack of paperwork and been yelled at by a judge who had little pity for sad, drunken white girls, informed Tony that things hadn’t improved. On most days, he could make me laugh without any effort at all, but, on that day, he didn’t even try.

“You have to tell them,” he said as he ate from our shared plate of tater tots at DOTS. “You won’t be able to keep it a secret. They know you’ve had a rough time this year. They’ll get it. They’ll help you. You have to tell them.”

I didn’t answer him because, I knew he was right. But, I couldn’t get the words out just yet. I couldn’t eat either, but Tony pushed the plate toward me and gestured at the tots. “Shitbird, you gotta eat.”

Later, alone in my apartment, leaning on the kitchen counter, the words finally started to bubble up in my throat, thick and sour, like witch’s brew. That’s when I vomited in the sink.

There was no way to explain it away. It could only be an admission. A confession. A plea for forgiveness.

Me: A drunk. A failure. And now, a criminal. Those are the words I wouldn’t speak, but, that would be silently woven into my careful explanation.

I walked over to the dining room table and pulled the small, clear plastic bag from inside the larger one. I hung my little pendant around my neck again, where it rested on my clavicle like a weight. I felt along its edges and in its grooves with the tip of my index finger and I tried to remember how things felt before everything happened. Hours ago. Days ago. Weeks ago. Months ago. Years ago. But — I can’t. And, in that moment, I knew, there would be parts of me that would never will feel the same, ever again.

It was too late to explain the means to my end. It was too many things. Too many moments. Too many people. Too many places. Too many drinks. Too many losses. Too many goodbyes. And in that moment, the face of the hammer and the head of the nail mattered not. Only the force of the blow.

I pressed the green “SEND” button at the base of my phone.

“Dad. Something bad happened. Do you have a minute? I have to tell you something.”

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.”Β  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,Β 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.”

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.