The Price of a Drink

Electro house music crackled through the speakers as blue lights sent shadows drifting across nameless faces around me. More than once I thought I recognized someone from home, but I knew that was nearly impossible. I ran away from my abusive dad in the Connecticut suburbs, hours away from this shack of a bar in Brooklyn.

After my fourth week of working long hours in the city, my new friend, or whatever he is, James, and I were dancing and drinking away our fourth weekend in a bar. We left bills unpaid on the kitchen counter in our mouse-infested flat, so we could afford the New York nightlife.

“I need a cigarette,” I said, nodding towards the stairs.

‘What Kaitlyn?” James yelled over the music. He took another sip of his fifteen-dollar drink.

I raised two fingers to my lips and yelled, “smoke!”

James hid our drinks behind a speaker at the DJ booth and guided me with his hand at the small of my back up the stairs. The affection sent warmth through my hips as we ascended onto the cold street. Outside, he took off his vest and wrapped it around my bare shoulders. I wasn’t used to someone being so kind.

“I really like you,” James said.

I blew smoke circles into the Brooklyn air and scooted close to him. I found James on Craigslist. He was looking for a roommate, not a girlfriend. I liked him too, but wasn’t ready to admit it yet.

I flicked the butt of my cigarette and let out one last puff of smoke. “Ready?” I asked. James nodded.

Inside, he retrieved our drinks and we danced our way through the crowd until we found an opening on the dance floor. We synchronized our breaths with the beat, with each other.

After the set change, James downed the last drop of vodka from his cup and asked, “Do you feel okay?”

I nodded. I was safe beneath the disco lights. It was one place that remained constant. The place I could go when things went south at home.

“Something’s not right,” he said. I stopped dancing. James’ eyes were unfocused and his body swayed uncontrollably.

“James?” I asked. “Are you okay?” In the back of my mind, I already knew he wasn’t. Someone had slipped something in his drink and it was likely meant for me.

“I think so,” he yawned. “I need to go to bed.”

I wrapped his arm around my shoulder, and my knees threatened to buckle under his limp body. It didn’t matter. “Let’s get you home,” I said. I could feel his breath slowing against my neck. “Stay with me, James,” I said. I dug my heels in to get him up the stairs. Not one person looked. Maybe too many drunks pass by night after night to notice.

Outside, city lights glimmered beyond Brooklyn, now quiet except the whooshing cars in the distance and the clacking of my heels against the concrete.

“Kaitlyn,” he whispered into my ear, “I think somebody roofied me.”

“Shh. It’s okay, James,” I said. “We’re almost home now.”

When we reached the subway stairs, James collapsed. “James!” I shouted. I knelt beside him and grabbed his collar, shaking him. “Wake up, James!” He didn’t respond. I grabbed my phone from my back pocket and dialed 911. The gravity of not having him seemed too heavy to hold. Would I make it here alone?

“9-1-1. What’s your emergency?”

“Oh God. I think this guy…my friend…er boyfriend..was drugged.”

“Okay, Miss. Can you tell me where you are?”

“Umm….Yeah…I’m at the Bedford L train station stairs. Please hurry. He won’t wake up.”

***

Ten minutes later, James was being strapped to a gurney.

“Will he be okay?” I asked the paramedic, who responded by shaking her head uncertainly.

“We won’t know for sure until we run tests at the hospital.”

Please let him be okay. He’s all I have.”

Photo courtesy of Pexels

300 Words on 3 Days Sober

Seventy-two hours without a drink in my hand and thoughts are no longer smothered by pressure to reach for a glass, but instead eagerly hovering over the keys with clarity and ambition, reaching for ways to display their excitement through words.

I see expression in myself, my children, and my world that I never knew was there. It’s like I’ve been living with the lights out and ears muffed, stumbling and bumping into things, never quite sure of which direction to take. After making the conscious choice to drink less, the energy around me is palpable and bright.

My lungs are expanding with greater capacity and the crispness of air refreshes my mind, bringing focus to my little space in the universe.

But it’s the moments between each breath, where a feathery touch or tinkling laugh make me realize that staying present will continue to benefit me in ways I never knew were possible with a drink in my hand. These moments were ones the bottle convinced me to ignore most, draining vibrancy from my life.

Though these feelings prove that I am worthy of sobriety, my head continues to persuade me that I am missing out on good times without a glass of my favorite red. It’s a gentle tug pulling me backwards.

I’m hesitant to say that I am free, because I know I’m not. The days ahead of me will be long and filled with uniquely challenging pressures that I haven’t yet prepared myself for. But I will figure them out one by one.

Tonight, I’ll have a glass of wine because it’s the weekend and because I’m flawed. Maybe tomorrow night I’ll have steamy chamomile tea with a teaspoon of honey instead.

And for now, I stand here: three days sober, seeing the clear skies ahead.

Photo courtesy of Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Just Below the Surface: My Relationship With Alcohol

I have this frequent nightmare where I’m underwater, just below the surface of a pool. The water is as grey as the skies above, and I’m cold. So cold. There are brown autumn leaves resting on top of the water, gently rippling from the breeze above. Somehow I know that they are from my parents’ Catalpa tree.  I’m in their pool.  I stretch my hand toward the air, but for some reason I can’t reach the space where water and breeze meet.  And throughout the dream I’m calm. Too calm, even though I know I’m drowning.

Awake, I know the dream isn’t real.  But it is.

It starts with the sound of the cork squeaking out of the bottle, making my heart skip with anticipation.  Even as often as I hear it, it still feels forbidden and exciting. As I pour it, the weight of the bottle feels as familiar as that dream, down to the gurgling sound of the pool filling up.

But it’s the first sip that really gets me. The taste of the tart white or bitter red on my tongue. The feeling of warmth that coats my belly, gives me courage and makes me believe I’m funnier. It tells me I’m better with it, and I nod my head yes in agreement. I know I should stop at the bottom of the first glass, but I pour another and sometimes another.  My head is still above water, I think. I keep drinking.

And when I do, it drags me swiftly down. Instead of thrashing to save myself, I go calmly with chagrin upon my face. I know the place it takes me all too well, and I’m comfortable there, despite knowing the extent it holds me back and pushes me down.

At the bottom of my third glass, the numbness comes. Pain, hurt, bills, everything is gone. It’s only me and my stemless glass. Eventually, I sink.

I’m drowning again.

I’ve heard plenty of stories about how my grandfather loved the bottle a little too much. He would come home angry from the bars night after night, frightening my mom into tears.  And my mom started smoking as a young girl. She tried to quit for years, but never could.

Am I addicted? Hell if I know. I know I don’t feel addicted. I feel stuck. And I know I don’t want to be an addict. I don’t want the blood of an alcoholic, or a smoker, or this ticking time bomb of DNA to define me.  I want my work, my mind, and my kind nature to define me.  I want me to define me.

I am so fucking tired of the cycle. I’m tired of the headache every morning. And I’m tired of that nightmare. I want to dream of blue skies and rays of sunshine instead of grey waters and chill in my bones. I want to watch my children play with clear eyes, instead of through the fog induced by last night’s choices.

I’m also completely afraid. Afraid of knowing who I am sober. Afraid of regaining control. Afraid of asking for help. Afraid of not drinking. Am I ready to commit to that? Is that what I want? What I need?

That’s it. This is where it ends. It won’t control me, like it controlled my grandfather. I will not drown at the bottom of the bottle. It stops today, I swear.

Right after I finish this glass.

***

I wrote the essay above months ago with editing help from the folks at Yeah Write, but didn’t share it out of fear. And my situation hasn’t changed. I drink at least two glasses of wine five nights out of the week. I hate to read that on paper, but I don’t know how to change. Or where to begin the change. Maybe this essay will be it. Maybe not. But I have to start somewhere, because I deserve the chance.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

Hard Ciders, Hip Hop Legends and Some Crow’s Feet.

My thirty-fifth birthday is around the corner and it has me wondering all kinds of strange almost-middle-aged things. Such as, where do I get Botox for my crow’s feet? Or why won’t those extra pounds come off like they used too? And, why am I so freaking tired all the time? Some days I feel like I’m falling apart at the seams, but then others, like my double date from the other day, have me feeling like thirty-five might be the best year, yet.

***

We followed the growing number of people through rolling green hills toward the entrance of Wolf Trap, an open air concert venue in Vienna, Virginia. The last time I went to a concert was before I had children, in my twenties. Seriously.

I casually held hands with my husband and some of our best friends were at our sides doing the same. Our kids and their kids were all safe at home with sitters.

Smiles plastered our faces. We finally had a night out and what cooler way to celebrate than with hip-hop legends? We ordered ten dollar drinks, because we’re adults and can make stupid purchasing decisions without anyone shaking a finger at us, anymore.

But we weren’t allowed to bring drinks of any kind into our seats (lame, I know), so we found a spot to finish them next to the lawn seats, a sea of blankets and people boozing it up. We watched the scenery as the sun turned from neon to rouge while Tone Loc belted out his famous Wild Thing. Bass vibrated our feet and treble rang in our ears as the crowd danced in rhythm. Some of the dancers’ moves more closely resembled full-body dry heaves, but by the looks on their faces, those people were having the most fun.

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“Bottom’s up!” I shouted when Coolio was announced. We rushed to finish our hard ciders just as he started singing Fantastic Voyage. He rapped a few other songs I am unfamiliar with in between, but ended on a poetic note, singing Gangsta’s Paradise barefoot. The whole crowd sang along with him.

After that, we saw Color Me Badd (I Wanna Sex You Up = best make-out song EVER! Wait, can I even say make-out anymore? Sure…I think.) and we missed All-4-One for a second round of drinks and a bathroom break. This time we chose something a bit stronger for thirteen dollars, because why not?

We danced clumsily back to our seats just in time for Rob Base. Oh the JOY. He brought back memories from my youth that I’d forgotten all about. For the love of dance music candy, Get on the Dancefloor, Joy and Pain, and It Takes Two are three of his musical masterpieces.  Sorry for the earworms. Not.

Lastly, Salt-N-Pepa with Spinderella took the stage and they killed it. Completely and totally killed it. They looked amazing, twerked better than Miley, and sounded so put together.  And after thirty years of touring, they’re still best friends who love what they do. They’re a testament to what true friendship looks like. No frills or bullshit. Just two people sticking it out, no matter what. Where my girls at?

***

The next morning my ears were still ringing and I needed an extra cup of coffee, but the fun was so worth it. And you know what, if being almost-thirty-five means going to concerts where the musicians are considered legends, having great life-long friends, drinking expensive drinks that don’t break the bank, and coming home to a couple of cute kids, then almost-thirty-five ain’t so bad.

But I’m still thinking about that Botox. Early Birthday present, maybe?

Photos courtesy of Jay Parrish.


 

 

Empty Bottle

The wine bottle is half empty,

But it still doesn’t let me

Forget the painful past.

My cup has stayed  full,

As my mind has been pulled

Back to the breath you took last.

So I poor another cup,

As I try to add up

The reasons God took you away.

I’ll keep on drinking,

Until I stop thinking

About that painful day.

My tears just keep falling,

And my life has been stalling.

Tomorrow I’ll get back on track.

But today it still pains me,

That your smile; I can’t see

I only want my mom back.