--"Red Red Wine", UB40
I've been drinking comfortably for the last six or seven years that I sometimes forget that I got a really late start at it. Whereas most people engage in drinking in their teens, I didn't start drinking regularly until I was twenty-six. Before then, I was sure it was one of the quickest paths to hellfire and brimstone. Oh sure, slamming people's arms in car doors and burning their gifts was bad, but it wasn't even close to imbibing alcoholic beverages in terms of sinfulness--at least, not in my book back then. Not only did I refuse to partake of the stuff myself, but I treated people who did rather harshly. I felt above them. I felt that I was morally superior to them and that they were weak-willed. Time and time again I remember getting into fairly strong arguments with my friends because they would go off drinking and I would be forced to watch them. Or, worse yet, I would get a call from one of them. They'd be drunk and in need of a ride or some other assistance. I'd help them or talk to them, but I wouldn't be very happy about it. I would also never let them live it down.
"Yeah, you were a real ass back then," I heard Breanne say as we were staying once again really late into the afternoon at the Sheraton instead of going into the city.
"But you still say I'm an ass."
"Yeah, but back then you were a real
I put my arms around her, thinking that a few years ago I would have handled the situation differently. I would have tried to defend my actions more vehemently or perhaps played it off entirely. I probably would have gone the route of saying that I was still against drinking on principle and that my own drinking habits certainly paled in comparison to that of my friend. The conversation wouldn't have remained a friendly discussion of how insanely dogmatic I used to be; it would have turned ugly quickly.
In fact, I doubt I would have been discussing the issue at all a few years back--even with her. For a long time I was really sensitive about the subject because I was always getting trounced by those around me. It's easy to have a guiding principle when all one's friends are in agreement with you. It's much harder to remain resolute when they are all engaged in an activity you find next to reprehensible, yet still have the notion that you trust their judgment and believe that they are fundamentally good people. It was hard for me walking that line sometimes of being able to trust somebody like Breanne's judgment when it came to giving me advice, when every few weeks or so she would call me wasted or close to it and sounding basically like a blabbering idiot. There were times when I would hear some story about her passing out on a stranger's lawn that I would actually begin to re-think my opinion of her judgment, especially when it came to basically telling me what choices I should make. I figured if she couldn't handle her own well-being in a mature fashion, then how could I in good conscience ask her to look out for mine?
"What can I say? I changed my mind. Sometimes I do that."
"Doesn't happen often."
"Not often at all."
"But I guess when it does, it happens quickly. It was almost as if I was arguing with you that I could take care of myself one week and then quick as a cat's tail you were asking when we could go out drinking together."
"It wasn't that fast, was it?"
"Seems like it."
I closed my eyes, my head still faced directly at the back of her head. To me it didn't seem like all that long ago I was having a hard time remaining objective about her when it came to her drinking habits. I always felt it was one of my unwritten duties to watch out for her like an older brother or something. I would actually get into my head that if I were her older brother, I would have been taking a harder stance against her going out so much. I would have been a total dick to her and not allowed her to have any fun without me present.
It wasn't easy for me being so far away and so worried about her, but having neither the wherewithal or the familial ties that would give me the leverage to actually tell her what to do and have her listen.
There I'd be on the phone, shaking my head at the hijinx she was calling me in the middle of, and all I could think was what an unbelievably stupid girl she was. I would think of how I wasn't her friend and didn't want to rat her out to her parents, I would have been waking them up as soon as she called me unable to string more than five words together. And, oh, would I let her have it. I would yell. I would threaten. I would guilt-trap. I would pull out the whole repertoire of tools I had at my disposal--all in the vain hope that the crisis I was dealing with at the time would be the last one that was caused by alcohol I would have to deal with.
"We just grew up differently is all, Breannie. I couldn't understand where you were coming from because I was almost religiously opposed to drinking. I thought growing up I could actually go through an entire lifetime without touching a drop."
"And that was just because..."
"That was just because I saw firsthand what it did to people in my life. I mean--they weren't alcoholics, at least I don't think so, but they turned into real assholes sometimes after they'd had a lot to drink."
"I've seen that too."
"Then why do it?"
"Because, you know me, I always think I can handle anything."
I put my arm up on her shoulder.
"I'm not kidding you, there were times when you were younger that I just wanted to fly over and just drag you away from wherever you were. I just wanted to knock whatever bottle or glass you had in your hand and talk some sense into you."
"It wouldn't have made a difference, Eeyore."
"You still would have gone on stubbornly defying me..."
"Probably," I heard her slyly laugh. "What I mean to say is that I wouldn't have called if I didn't think I was heading somewhere I didn't think I can handle myself. And the best help you could have ever given me in that situation is what exactly you did."
"Stay on the phone and tell me how disappointed you were."
"You liked me being disappointed with you?"
"No, but I liked hearing in your voice that you cared what happened to me. It might not have made me stop, but more than once it made me reconsider some bad choices I was considering."
I think I'm a self-defeatist by nature. I set these lofty goals for myself that are out of my reach and then get rather disappointed when I don't achieve them. Like I said, one of my goals for a good portion of my life was to watch out for her and make sure she never got into trouble. Up until that point in Chicago recently, I always thought I'd failed her on the drinking front. I always believed that if I'd tried harder she wouldn't have gotten into so many embarrassing, sometimes dangerous, situations at parties when it came to getting drunk. I always thought I was a bad friend for allowing so much that was so wrong to happen to her. In my head I thought I was stupid to not get her mother more involved in this secret life of hers.
But hearing that, it made me feel like I did an okay job at being her friend and maybe as an older brother.
I looked around the suite from the bed. It was a large room, but I was still paranoid about people being able to hear from next door. I didn't feel like revealing all my secrets to the whole world, but I wanted to continue discussing this line of discussion with her without fear of eavesdropping. Not that I knew what value my silly little viewpoints had for other people, but it's always been a concern of mine that people value my opinion even if they didn't quite understand it. I believe that's why I try to retain so much useless information because I never want somebody to come to me for advice or an answer to a question and me not be able to provide that for them. I want to at least be able to take a stab at every concern somebody decides to throw my away.
I looked back at her. She looked as full of grace as she normally did. I couldn't think of another time when I would feel as relaxed with her on this trip as I did at that point. I decided to chance telling her a few things.
I tapped her on the shoulder, indicating for her to turn around.
She acquiesced quietly and without a lot of fuss. Once more, I was staring at those oceanic blue-green of hers, like some tidal pools, so trusting and so unwavering in their loyalty. There would never be a better time to spell out just how insidious my perspective had really been and how deeply into me it had reached.
"I was this close to writing you off completely. I didn't want to, but there were times where I just felt powerless to get you to stop. And you just wouldn't stop, weekend after weekend it just felt like you were getting worse. And I came close to saying those dreaded words, you either give up drinking or I can't be your friend anymore."
"Really. I was really torn about you for a long time when it came to that sort of thing. I hated you drinking, especially when you were like barely into high school. I thought that was so wrong."
"And you would have left?"
I brushed the chestnut brown bangs off her forehead. As long as I live I will always use that technique to forestall the inevitable. One, I think it's adorable when a woman's bangs drop so casually into her face. Two, it still gives me a little charge having that intimacy with someone. And three, it's just a long enough pause to give the impression that I gain no great pleasure from whatever I'm about to say or do.
I watched as her blue-green eyes retreated upon themselves and her eyelids close after them. I heard as she took a soft, deep breath. I felt as her heart sank just a tad.
"But how many times have I threatened to do that, Breanne? You know I would have came calling you right back in a few days. I always do," I tried to excuse myself with. "You wouldn't have taken me seriously."
Her eyes opened with a flourish.
"Actually, at the time, I probably would have stopped if I really thought you meant it."
"You would have?"
"Hmmm. Getting drunk off my lily-white ass once in a while or losing my best friend? Hell's bells, Patrick, what do you think I would have chosen? I don't like drinking that much."
"Still, it would have been silly for me to get that huffy over something as small as drinking. I feel like an idiot for even thinking like that. I'm sorry, Breanne."
I heard her hurricane of a laugh, distinct and unmistakable.
"What are you apologizing for? You didn't do anything wrong."
"Just because... I'm an idiot."
I felt her push me back to the bed, pinning my arms down to the mattress. I was about to suggest that we start getting ready for the day ahead of us, but that indicated to me she had something else more fun in mind. I stared deep into her dimpled face, waiting for the suggestion to work its way to her lips. I was hedging that my psychic abilities were finally manifesting themselves and I could correctly guess the next words she was about to say. In fact, I had just started to tug my boxers down in anticipation.
Boy, was I ever wrong.
"Why'd you stop?"
"Being so hung-up about people drinking or you drinking for that matter?"
This time it was my turn to laugh.
"I thought you were going to ask something else. Silly me."
I wanted to build it up. I wanted to lend the gravitas an explanation of this magnitude deserved, but in all honesty I wasn't feeling the same way as I had when I had come to the decision.
"It had something to do with DeAnn, right?"
"Wait, you must have talked to her, didn't you?"
"No. I'm thinking backwards here. It was right after you two..."
"Went kaput? Yeah, that's around when it was."
I leaned my head back into the pillow and sighed slightly. I hate telling stories like that in person. I spend all this time and energy trying to put bad memories behind me. Maybe I let a few slip out here on this site, but for the most part once I forget about something I try never to discuss them ever again with a person. It only serves to depress them and then depress me. That's when I start re-examining my life for the umpteenth time and convince myself I've made both a mockery and a mess of everything. I didn't want to rehash it all. Not with her. Not there. Besides, I had other plans in mind.
But I also knew how stubborn she was and how, once she asked a question, she expected an answer to be given. She would never let this go until I told her.
So I described it all to her. I rambled on for fifteen minutes how hurt I was after DeAnn had ended things. I went into detail about the humiliation I felt in having to move back home because I couldn't keep our place on my salary alone. I described how difficult everyday activities were because she wasn't around--going to the movies by myself, eating by myself, shopping by myself. I listed all these activities I had to get acclimated to doing alone again. It was rough, to say the least.
I then went into even more detail on how during that time I had started seeing Jennifer off and on, twice in one month, four months later, &c... and how she convinced me that life is too short to waste on compiling my own personal commandments. I described for Breanne just then how Jennifer phrased it, how she had said that there are going to be a lot of things I'm naturally not going to like, how she thought it was imbecilic to place drinking especially on top of that list without ever having giving it a serious shot.
So she started taking me drinking. Like I said earlier, I was very resolute in my stand during those first couple of times. But after I'd given an honest effort, I had found that it wasn't as evil as I thought it was going to be. I didn't turn into a jerk like some of my family when they were drunk. I didn't ditch my common sense completely like I thought I would. Hell, I didn't even start stumbling around like a loon until well over a year after my first real drinking experience.
"But you know what really put me over the edge onto the side of those who drink as opposed to those who don't?"
"What's that, darling?"
"I just kept thinking that if this makes me forget about her quicker, then why shouldn't I do? Don't I deserve to move on, you know?"
"So you started drinking to forget?"
I kissed Breanne on the cheek as a signal that I had passed through the worst of what I wanted to tell her. I really hadn't had the opportunity to detail this to her as it was happening because, as I was probably having the worst three or four years of my life, she was off getting married and acting like a newlywed with the bore of a husband she had. It just didn't seem appropriate to drag her completely into the dumps with me. It was my job to make sure I took care of her at all times. I didn't feel she was under the same obligation in regards to me. I'm pretty sure she knew I was hurting, but I never wanted to get fully into it with her.
She deserved to enjoy her happiness more than I needed someone to make me feel better about everything going on with my life.
We had about ten minutes before we absolutely had to get up to start the rest of our day, but I had one thing else I wanted to tell her before that happened.
"I also kind of did it for another reason."
"And that was?" I heard her ask simply.
"You always seemed to like it and I eventually came around to the mentality that, guess what, if it was good enough for Breannie then, hell, it was good enough for me too."
I watched her smile just a bit at that remark.
"It's true," I continued. "I saw that I wasted a lot of time focusing on how that made us different. I wasted a lot of time trying to get you to change to how I see things, when the easiest thing I could have done was really take a look at how you saw things. I should have just trusted that you weren't really trying to kill yourself and that I would be okay too once I got started."
"I've been telling you all along, you're always wrong and I'm always right, sugar."
I pulled the blankets and comforter over us as I decided that we could afford another thirty minutes to nap. As Camera Obscura might have said, "what did the city have to offer us?" I could only think of one thing to make myself even more relaxed and care-free than I was at that moment.
"You know what I need right now, Breanne?"
"Let me guess. A drink?"
I shut my eyes and spooned in behind her.
Labels: Change, compromises, Drinking, standards