General Fiction posted October 11, 2014

This work has reached the exceptional level
A character study

A Functional Drunk

by Spiritual Echo

On the raw side of sober there are no rainbows, no magic formulas and damn little to entice a man to live.

Inside a whisky-soaked oblivion is a place that allows me to dream, hope and dazzles me with illusions, but someone always tries to steal the fantasy.

Holy Christ, I'm in the middle of an intervention and not one of these bastards realize I've been sober for forty days and forty nights. I've done my penance. I'm ready for a drink. People would prefer to believe I'm drunk.

My colleagues are not fond of me drunk and they hate me now that I'm sober. With good reason--I'm telling it like it is. It's not much different at home.

"You didn't come to the science fair, Daddy. I got an honourable mention."

My daughter snorts up snot and pretends to be indignant.

Word for word, she copied the whole project from Wikipedia--and I'm supposed to be impressed or care?

"Tough break," I say, feigning concern. "Guess that means you lost."

"You didn't come to the presentation, Daddy. You don't love me! I hate you!"

Cool, I'm not too fond of you either, you bloody plagiarist. It sure as hell didn't merit committing an afternoon to you, did it? I don't say it out loud. What would be the point? Nobody gives a damn what I think. I'm playing a part now--the role of a dutiful husband and father. Damn, I could use a drink.

"You're an asshole, Jerry." Brenda runs out of the room, following Lindsey.

"I had meetings. There was no way to reschedule," I yell at Brenda's back as she disappears down the hallway.

The first week of sobriety was a bitch. I did it alone--more or less--if I don't count the AA meetings I attended. Cold turkey. Some of the people in the musty, church basement wanted to take me to emergency when they saw my tremors, but I earned them and I was determined to suffer. I sat in the back, huddled into my parka. Cold, I was freezing, even though it was early October and we'd yet to experience a frost.

One kind soul sat beside me, fetching for coffee for me, and kept cooing words of encouragement in my ear. "Let me be your sponsor," she suggested.

Not everyone at the meeting was there to get sober. I noticed that Greta stank of dried sweat and Listerine with a pervasive undertone of bourbon. What could she offer me? Sponsorship? Hell, no. She wanted to take some sucker back to whatever hole she crawled into each night. Clingy, needy and desperate, that's what she was, a used up excuse, trolling for someone or something to stave off her loneliness.

In all, I went to six different meetings, switching times and locations, moving from the suburbs to the business core. I liked the lunch meeting in the Manulife building, feeling the other suits had more in common with me, and spoke the same language.

My customers were used to the wining and dining. I hadn't figured out how to eat lunch without a beer, and I had no intention of sharing my experiment in sobriety with anyone. Some guy named Dave made an impressive speech about surviving in business without booze, but I didn't buy it. I suppose that even working had become an excuse to drink. I hated sales, but it's where I wound up. Getting through the day buzzed made my career palatable--barely. The truth was I hated my whole life--my job, my wife and especially Lindsey, my thirteen-year-old daughter.

I love her, but she makes it difficult to like her, striking poses and wearing attitude like it was a luxury fur. Saying 'Good morning' to the brat is like investing in a new argument. Being an only child, she takes centre stage with ease, acting as if every pubescent emotion entitles her to make her claim that the universe revolves around her every whim.

And Brenda, she encourages our daughter, admonishing me at every turn. "She's just thirteen. Can't you cut her some slack?"

Brenda was a beauty, and I suppose she still is, but I haven't looked at her that way in a long time. I honestly haven't looked at any woman that way. She's finally got the man she always wanted--sober, serious and boring. There was a time when we were playmates, exploring the world like two adventurers. We took a year off after college and back-packed our way across Europe. We laughed every day, a gleefulness that spilled into the bedroom. I couldn't get enough of her, always longing to get closer, lie in her arms and listen to her heartbeat. Ancient history.

We had so much to say to each other back then. Was it only fifteen years ago? Man I feel old. In a few minutes, give or take an hour, Brenda will come marching into the living room, hands on hips with that expression she's adopted--total disapproval. She'll give me three minutes to explain why a business meeting was more important than the science fair. Then on schedule, she'll rip me apart, conjure up every example of how I've failed as a father before slamming the bedroom door behind her. It's all so damn predictable.

I remove one more example, getting up to rinse plates and load the dishwasher. For good measure, I put in a new garbage bag, not stopping in the garage, but hauling out the trash to the curb. It's a gamble. I have no idea what day is garbage day, but Pete, my neighbour is stacking his recycle boxes at the end of his driveway. "Want a beer?"

I decline his offer. Sober, Pete is not the least bit interesting, but he's a good guy. I close the garage door, taking a glance at Pete puffing on his renegade cigar. He's not permitted to smoke in the house. No damn wonder he spends all his time in the garden. He keeps tearing out bushes and replanting. "It's a hobby," he once told me, but I don't believe him. He's got six kids. There's always an argument that drifts over to our property when the windows are open.

Inside the garage, I stop and look at the tools, all fresh and new, neatly displayed on a pegboard backsplash, framing an unscarred work bench.  A derisive laugh escapes from my throat and I shake my head, remembering how I'd made up my mind to take up woodworking as a hobby. What was I thinking? The first time I pulled out the power tools, I nearly took off my thumb with the Skill saw. I took it as a sign. I'd worked at fitting in, being part of suburbia, but like every diversion, I'd come to the conclusion that I never felt at home anywhere. One failure after another was stored in the rafters--skis, fishing equipment--it's all here.

The only thing that has never let me down is alcohol. It's been my friend, my companion and my excuse, the tinted shades I have been wearing to hide my unhappiness. I don't know why I decided to quit drinking--that's not true--I knew I had put on a coat of Teflon, letting life slide down my back, pooling around my ankles making every step I take feel like I'm walking through quicksand.

I wanted to see who I'd become. It's not a pretty picture. I was never an angry drunk. I've never raised my voice or hand to Brenda or Lindsey. I learned early in my marriage to shut up, keep my head down and let Brenda determine where we were going. People jump to a lot of conclusions when a couple never fights. Once Brenda's father asked me how I did it. "We fight all the time, the wife and I. How do you do it, son?"

I like my father-in-law. The fishing rods are a testament to my efforts to be the kind of son-in-law he deserved--a man's man--but I failed that test, a dismal, water-soaked weekend where I fell out of the boat after I hooked myself, a side trip to the hospital for stitches.

"Well," I said to the old man, hoping that my answer might make an impression. "Brenda and I have a perfect partnership. She makes the small decisions; what we eat, where we live and she assigns household chores. I make the serious decisions; when to launch nuclear bombs and negotiate with aliens."

The old man howled, but he had the perfect marriage--not me.

Some people think a person needs to hit rock bottom to get sober. That's not true in my case. I woke up one morning, the usual dull throb in my temples and I couldn't find any Tylenol. It wasn't the lack of booze that stopped me. Hell, no. I have a fully stocked bar--thousands of dollars of booze, but I couldn't find a damn pain tablet.

Brenda hasn't noticed I'm not drinking. Why would she? She hasn't noticed we're hardly living. My wife has her job, her friends and her club. She likes the hoity-toity country club that I pay for--fees higher than a mortgage--but she's entitled, I suppose. She's already casing out the families, making liaisons, preparing Lindsey for a matchmaker's wedding.

The house is quiet. I flop down into one of the floral wing chairs that I hate and wait for Brenda. What have I got to complain about? Nothing, I guess, but Brenda will likely remind me--dump my list of sins in my lap. I mindlessly flip channels and don't notice her enter the room. "Lindsey's asleep. She was pretty upset.'

"I noticed," I say, but I'm afraid to look at Brenda. The temperature in the room has changed. She's not yelling.

"Jerry, I think you need to do something about your drinking?"

Say what? I glare at Brenda. What the hell is she talking about?

"The last few weeks, you've changed. You're mean, saying things you've never said before. I think the alcohol has finally caught up to you. Maybe you need to think about rehab."

"Things? What things have I said that are so mean?"

"Aside from standing up your own daughter and telling her she was a loser?"

There's no point explaining that Lindsey's creativity amounted to nothing more than a Google search. "Okay, besides that."

"Yesterday you told me the pot roast tasted like shoe leather."

"It was awful."

"You always said you loved my pot roast. That's the point, Jerry. All of a sudden you have an opinion about everything."

"Alright, I'm sorry about the pot roast. What else?"

"When I told you we were going to my parents' for Thanksgiving, you told me to enjoy the trip as if you have no intention of going."

"We've been going there for twenty years. Can't we just do one damn thing differently than we always have?"

"Just what's going on, Jerry? What's got into you?" Brenda didn't wait for an answer. She remained consistent, slamming the bedroom door as if responding to stage directions.

For some reason, the entire conversation struck me as funny. I tried not to laugh out loud, failed and stumbled into the kitchen to add a buffer, extra walls to muffle my giggles.

Who was I kidding? I've been self-medicating for decades--and it worked--for everybody. And sober--it's not working for anyone.

I grab a bottle of Jack Daniels and my car keys. This is as good a place to sleep as any other. Cold stone sober, I turn the ignition key, adjust the seat, open the windows and crack open the bottle. I'm staring at my shiny new tools and I'm ready to sleep.


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