At home, life resumed. Trudi and I persevered and compromised. We got off the coffee table. We bought an expensive gizmo, an IBM PC, and upgraded from Atari to Zork. For an exorbitant amount of dollars, what you got turned out to be sort of a downgrade; instead of a joystick and colorful mayhem, silent green phrases scrolled down a twelve-inch screen you manipulated from a keyboard. Running programs required multiple insertions of 5¼-inch floppy disks, the technological equivalent of a handloom. We would put Claire to bed and sit exploring Zork’s Great Underground Empire, confronting mutant peril with exchanges like ‘Stab troll’, What do you want to stab the troll with? ‘Stab troll with sword’, You are not holding sword.
A ways down Columbus Avenue from our apartment, my college friend, Ray, tended bar at a new, upscale Mexican restaurant. He covered alternate Sundays. Stowing Claire in the stroller, I could catch the beginning of his shift before the dinner crowd poured in. The little one was usually asleep by the time I got there. Eight stools, all empty. Ray would crack a Heineken, slide it across the bar, and I’d pull on it as we speculated on the issues of the day.
This Sunday, I showed up and requested a Perrier. He reached for the usual green bottle and the double take nearly dislocated his neck.
“Perrier, V?” said Ray, “Perrier? What the fuck?”
“Yeah, adios cerveza. I’m not drinking. I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to fuckin’ work anymore. Like it ever really did. It’s just now I sort of feel better.”
“You are the last person I could ever imagine without a drink in his hand.”
“I’m full of fucking surprises, man,” I said.
“Does Trudi know?”
“Oh, go fuck yourself, Ray.”
“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” he said.
“Yup,” I said with a snort, “It’s come to this.”
Ray loves to tell this story. Not soon after, he stopped drinking. We are the lucky sons-of-bitches.
It is typically delusional to assert that sobriety is a virtue, that it ennobles all behavior and every motive. In truth, sobriety simply is an end in itself. It offers no Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card, no absolution. Blaming alcohol, or more academically, alcoholism, for all assholic behavior may seem like a justifiable conclusion, but you stop drinking and the big surprise is you’re still you. The rediscovery of meanness or duplicity in one’s sober life is but a flicker of the human condition and not an excuse to find fault in the act of not drinking. Neurotic baggage is neurotic baggage. Even assholes can stay sober; this becomes apparent almost from the get-go. One must strive not to be one. Without my sense of humor, I would be doomed. I would be unable to appreciate my own personal absurdity. This inkling of absurdity allows for the wiggle room to develop the perspective to seek forgiveness and ask for help.
I was getting the ‘don’t drink and go to meetings’ thing down pretty good. Changing my behavior and my thinking, well, that would be a long slog down another muddy thoroughfare. I had glimmers, moments of clarity, which laid bare the absolute necessity for me to remain sober. It was a good thing, but it didn’t confer goodness upon me. Growing up was slow and complicated. What I really wanted in my heart was to be happy.