by Tamuira Reid
I haven't had a drink in nearly a decade. Still think I should've gone out with more style. I chose beer to be my last drink. It was Corona. I remember because I cut my finger slicing the lime.
A decade. That's ten whole years. A lot can happen in ten years. Cities are built and destroyed. World records are broken. Lives begin and end.
Sometimes I would drink Corona and pretend to be on a beach in Mexico. I would wear big, colorful sombreros and curl my toes into the sand.
“I'm just taking a break.”
“I don't know. To see if I can, I guess.”
“Sounds pointless to me. It's not like you have a problem.”
Everyone has a drinking story. Everyone eventually shares it.
Corona tastes even better if accompanied by tortilla chips and some good pico de gallo.
I used to be a bartender myself. I learned that putting an alcoholic behind the bar is a lot like throwing water on a grease fire; it just makes everything worse. The managers all came at me the same way, with eyes cast down, wringing their hands. Words come out unevenly. “This is hard for me.” “We're going to miss you.” “Need to break professional ties.” There's only so many ways to tell someone they're getting fired. I'd nod my head and collect my stuff, usually a few scattered CD's, some cigarettes, and a copy of People magazine hidden behind the margarita machine for when it was slow.
I write about drunk people. Some of them are strangers. The postman who carries shooters in his saddlebag. The bank teller at Chase Manhattan who breathes whiskey fire when she asks “And how would you like your bills?” The teenage boy who runs the Laundromat next door, with his slurred speech and heavy gold eyes, clumsily doling out quarters to the women with their baskets of dirty clothes and half-naked children. He prefers to drink a forty of Old E that he carries around in a recycled brown bag.
Sometimes I know the drunk people I write about. Sometimes they are my cousin or my mother or my friend from college.
I try to make their stories sound more important. Less severe.
A lot of times this doesn't work and they sound just as bad as all the other drunks I don't know by name and I rip the pages from my notebook, crumpling them into a tight little ball. My room is full of paper balls. My room is full of their broken stories.
People in California like to drink frothy drinks. Coladas, Mai Tais, frozen fruited margaritas, Mojitos, Mint Juleps. Frothy drinks to break the heat, to sip leisurely at backyard barbecues and pool parties and bonfires. Californians like to order pitchers of beer at ball games and at pubs with outside dining area; places where they can sit around and drink for hours till the moon steadily rises over the sleepy Pacific and they reluctantly head home.
New Yorkers tend to be more sophisticated drinkers. I guess you've got to be if you're shelling out ten bucks a drink. People in New York like martinis. Dirty martinis. Dry martinis. Apple martinis. They know how to carry them through crowded bars and jam-packed dance floors without spilling a drop, holding them by the long skinny stem or cradling the base with an upturned palm. A martini isn't just a drink; it's an accessory. My boyfriend drinks martinis. I think he looks sexy.
Some people hear voices. I hear trucks. Big trucks. Big trucks with big wheels rolling over and over, burning holes into my mind. It's not fun to live with a truck inside of you. It gets to be too much.
I wonder if my son will drink. I wonder what I will say to him if he does.
Beer tastes better out of the can. There's something comforting about that metallic taste, the sound of the tab popping over, the small explosion of foam. Reminds me of summer, of warm places and good, solid people. Hard-working people. Reminds me of baseball down at the park. I held my father's hand in mine.
Sometimes I would stash the empty cans under my bed, the trashcan getting too full. Sometimes I'd think of building something with all of those cans. Like a model house or a miniature Eiffel Tower.
“I'm on the wagon.”
“Really? What does that make it? Five times already this year?”
“This time is different. I'm tired.”
“Sure. It's always different.”
In Texas the cowboys wrangle wild bulls, curbing the animal's unruly behavior with an incredible strength and lots of rope. I've never seen a real cowboy, come face to face with that weathered skin, those gnarled hands, that sideways smile. I've only seen cowboys in advertisements, resting their backs against the wooden beam of a corral, hat drooping over the side of their face, shadowing the beginnings of a scruffy beard.
“I want to marry a cowboy,” I told my mother when I was ten.
“Cowboys drink too much,” she said.
I didn't see what was so wrong with that.
I should have gone out with more drama. Invited friends and co-workers over to celebrate. I don't think anyone would have come.
I used to hide a bottle of cheap vodka in my closet. In-between the extra bedding for company and Spanish textbooks from my freshman year of high school. After locking my door and putting on an old Patsy Cline record, I'd pull the bottle out from hiding and sit on the edge of my unmade bed, taking steady swigs with Patsy, her voice uncovering the gaps in my heart.
There are moments when I still wish I could get loaded. There are moments when I hate being dry.
Scientists say that alcohol depresses the central nervous system, that it slows down the body's functions, similar to a general anesthetic. They also say that if your parents are alcoholics you have more of a chance of becoming one yourself. This gives “Like mother, like daughter” new meaning.
Sometimes I am stunned by her beauty. Amazed by her face. It is a vast terrain of feeling and texture. Lines like rivers. Eyes like the ocean. I am not mad at my mother anymore. It's not her fault I followed in her footsteps. She didn't know where I was walking.
The Romans drink lots of wine. They look cute in their cigarette pants and leather sandals. Surrounded by cathedrals and vespas and old ruinous buildings. They uncork bottles of Grappa and Merlot and Cabernet as the Italian sun sets in circles behind them.
I wonder what my invitation would have looked like.
Come help me celebrate.
Come to the party to end all parties.
Tamuira is cleaning-up her life!
“So what will you drink when we go out?”
“Water, I guess. Or club soda with lime?”
“Sounds like fun.”
No umbrellas in a drink. Umbrellas are silly. Who ever looked tough with a big pink paper umbrella sticking out from their glass?
I wonder what kind of drinks they have in Iceland. Or Norway. Or in Nome, Alaska. I heard it stays dark for most of the day there.
Sometimes I don't know who I loved more; my family or my booze.
Not everybody drinks. Not everybody has a problem with it when they do. Not everyone drinks four or five cocktails in a row. Some people stop at just one. My little sister is one of these people. She has her own apartment and a steady job and control of her young life. Sometimes I hate her.
I almost fell off my fire escape once. It's hard to balance after six beers and a shot of Jaeger.
A decade. That's ten whole years. A lot can happen in ten years.
Club soda actually doesn't taste so bad if you squeeze enough lime into it. You can rotate lime with lemon. I like mine on plenty of ice.