Dave parked his car in the far corner of the liquor store lot and sat behind the wheel with the wipers on intermittent. Since being in recovery, he went there to put his life in perspective, where he’d been, where he was, where he might go. As he sat in the warm car watching the wipers push the rain around his windshield, his girlfriend’s car turned into the lot and parked in front of the neon Budweiser sign. What was she doing here? he wondered as his stomach knotted.
Angie got out of her car and rushed through the downpour into the liquor store. She’d been distant recently and now he knew why. Her recovery wasn’t going so well.
When Dave quit drinking he wasn’t surprised to find he didn’t have any friends who didn’t drink. People who didn’t drink had always made him uncomfortable. They weren’t living the alcoholic’s lie, the suspension of disbelief that all was well in spite of needing a drink in the shower just to deal. His friends were. They respected the lie and smiled that it was the truth.
Dave dried out on his own. The panic attacks were such that his fear of them returning kept him from drinking. He sensed his friends were hoping he’d fail so he’d return to the fold and stop making them uncomfortable. Only a recently sober drunk was worse to be around than a non-drinker.
Dave came from a long line of alcoholics–drunks and drinkers–going back several generations on both sides of his family. The difference between a drunk and a drinker was that the lie told to oneself was even greater with the drinker. They never got smashed. They never passed out. They didn’t black out. But they compared themselves to people who did and said, “See? I don’t have a problem.” All the while it affected every aspect of their lives and they needed that drink just as badly as the drunk.
Dave’s sister was a drinker and her husband was a drunk and their boys were approaching the age where they could sneak cans of beer from their dad’s stash in the garage. When Dave quit he tried to maintain his relationships with them, but drunks don’t respect themselves, nor do drinkers, especially drinkers who are married to drunks; they’re full of frustration, feeling that if it weren’t for the drunkenness of their spouse their life wouldn’t be so full of disappointments. And if you don’t respect yourself, you don’t respect others.
Dave tried visiting them in the afternoons before the drinking started, but he could smell the hangover in their sweat and sensed they were irritated with him for being their because they uncomfortable reaching for that first drink in front of him and the longer he was there the longer they would have to wait.
But what really bugged him was watching them snap at his nephews as it got passed down to the next generation. They were learning the coping skills, just as he had from his parents, that were supposed to get them through life. When stressed, when sad, reach for a drink.
Angie came out of the liquor store, a brown liter size paper bag tucked under her arm. Dave knew it was Grey Goose, her vodka of choice back when she was a drinker before they had met. He thought about how much fun it would be for them to drink together. He missed the freedom, the release of responsibility. They would get crazy and it would work for a while, until the self-loathing caught up with them and they turned on each other. He would be the drunk, and Angie the drinker, blaming him for everything sour in her life. And if they sobered up, they’d be over, never able to trust the other again, the same as if they’d both been cheating on the other.
Dave wasn’t going to go down that road with her. He believed that if he didn’t resolve his addictions in this lifetime, he would get saddled with them again in the next. He had lived the alcohol nightmare too many years and it had been too difficult a struggle to get ahead of it for him to toss it in and start from scratch in the next life. No one was worth risking that for.
As Angie started to get into her car, she looked up, as if she felt his gaze on her, and recognition flashed across her face as she saw him in his car parked across the lot. She walked through the rain, carrying her bottle like a baby cradled in her arms, and got in on the passenger side with a flurry of wind and water.
“Doing some thinking, huh?” she said. She knew about his trips to the liquor store parking lot.
He stared silently at the bag in her lap.
She looked down at it too. “It’s not what you think. I almost did, but I didn’t. I was going to buy a bottle of Goose, but I couldn’t. Something inside me said, ‘No, don’t do it.’” She pulled back the top of the brown paper bag and Dave saw the familiar red plastic cap of a liter of Coke. “I don’t even like Coke, but I was holding up the line and it was the nearest thing.”
Dave smiled. “Pass it over. I’ll drink it.”
Angie looked at him with raised eyebrows. “I didn’t think you liked Coke. Too much history with the Captain.”
“I loathe it, but at this moment it’s the best drink ever.”