In early November, I quit drinking for the 87th time. What disgusted me was how I kept cracking beer after beer on a Friday night, complaining to the kids about their deadbeat father. His laziness was hardly a newsflash to them. I woke the next morning with a headache and joined the AA meeting at Queen of Angels. The speaker was Cameron, my former sponsor. I called her later to report my heroic purge: three cans of craft brew and $90 worth of marijuana tossed down the chute to the dumpster. She responded with a text: Whenever you feel the urge to drink, ask God for help. That’s always worked for me.
Sobriety lasted for 19 days, not bad for a drinker of my type. I had wine at Thanksgiving, two glasses of white, followed by a Mexican lager.
On the spot, I forged a new resolution: booze once a month, three days in a row. This month I would drink at Thanksgiving, and the two days that followed, a leisurely stretch that included dinner with a poet friend and a solitary lunch in San Clemente, spoonfuls of asparagus soup that tasted like the clouds of heaven.
My new plan was to stick to coffee and sparkling water for the next three weeks, till mid-December. I will, I will, I will. After three days of holiday drinking, I was tempted at Cliff Drive Park, where I stopped to read Psalm 131, after looking up the Spanish translation and discovering the word amamantado, which in English is the ugly-sounding weaned. Like a weaned child with its mother….como un nino recien amamantado.
As I pondered this line, I kept thinking of a cold one at Chihuahua, where I used to go each Sunday after church. I loved to sit with my journal and a plastic cup of Weekend Vibes, sipping away at brunch-time, enjoying the sun. It would be so easy to drive down to the Peninsula and take my seat again, but I tried a delay tactic, telling myself I could go in the evening after a few hours of checking essays for inappropriate use of AI. As soon as I got home, the desire to drink faded, and I started thinking how good it would feel to wake up on Monday with an actual shot at keeping my new plan intact: three days of drinking, one weekend a month.
The beer that prompted me to quit for the 87th time was the fifth one, of course. I’d bent the rule limiting my consumption to three. Like everyone else, I am a natural-born lawbreaker, prone to making idols out of pleasure and warped pride. I deserve this beer, I work so hard…What I suspect is that little unseen devils were exploiting my genetics to make an alcoholic out of me. I don’t claim to understand much about the spirit world, but my hunch is this: the glass of white wine that somehow appeared at my booze-free wedding, set before my place at the sweetheart table, was planted by Christ’s enemy. One taste, and I was reeling with discovery: the delicious citrine liquid tickled my brain like nothing else. Though I only drank that one glass, in the days that followed, I wanted more. On my honeymoon with Tim in Kauai, I kept spotting a bar in Hanalei, where happy tipplers were sipping on rum and Chardonnay. I wanted more.
We were thankful and hopeful back then, both of us glad to be married, me for the second time after Danny walked away in a cloud of cigar smoke, Tim for the first time, a virgin at age 39. While I was confident a little glass of wine wouldn’t come between us, I didn’t realize that others things would, terrible things: rats and rages, insanity.
He hated my drinking, and I hated him. Now that I’ve left Tim, I pity him. He’s a broken man. Having a spouse desert you breaks you in a way that will never completely heal. Tim will always walk with a limp, like I do, or drive too fast, like I do when the lawyer is late and I’ve got an hour to spare, and my phone tells me Left Coast Brewing is only five minutes away. This happens the Friday after the Sunday when I resisted the lure of Chihuahua, and now there is a new rule: drinking only on weekends. That’s better than I was doing before, hitting Burger Lounge on Tuesdays and Thursdays, nibbling little gummy bears of pure THC. Better is better: that’s what I see on a website touting moderation and harm reduction. Better is better than AA, where you’re expected to give it up for good, exhorted by drunks who haven’t touched a drop since 1993, and you think back to what you were doing then, certainly not drinking, since you didn’t know the misery of Tim. He calls me at Left Coast, and I pick up. In the Friday din of a brewery full of salaried escapees, he keeps saying honey and tells me he wants the condo, plus a quarter million dollars. I hang up and take a few deeply satisfying sips of Trestles, a brew named for a surfing and bird-watching spot at the county line. Later, the lawyer runs the numbers on DissoMaster and tells me I could surrender what Tim wants or give him half my take-home pay for life. I study the man’s lithe body across the table. He most likely plays tennis or runs, rising early while his spray-tanned wife snores in a gorgeous heap; he was nerdy in school but now lives on a hilltop with sparkling lights, grilling tri-tip as he surveys his reward. He starts speaking percentages, a language as foreign to me as Burmese, and I tune him out as I picture a Trestles, a full golden glass, waiting for me with its poison, relief.
Laurie Barton is a Pushcart Prize nominee, Best of the Net finalist, and winner of the New Southerner Literary Prize in Poetry. Her work has appeared in juked, Glass, Word Riot, Lunch Ticket, Jabberwock Review and Snakeskin UK. She holds an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles and received a scholarship to attend the Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal. A resident of southern California, she teaches English to speakers of other languages.