Creature of Habit

I open a bottle of Cass with tweezers and skin my knuckles in the process. As with most things, this takes effort. And, unlike most things, I find it in myself to persevere. I’ve got things to avoid.

The beer costs less than the bandaids I place over the wounds but only one of them allows me to swaddle the screaming suspicion that, despite being 7000 miles away from home, I am still stuck with myself. I start buying beer in plastic bottles instead.

This proves to be a marginal improvement. My knuckles are safe but my upper lip fattens against the impatience of two liters being thrust into it with the same force used to start a lawnmower. I begin to consider that this isn’t an issue of glass vs. plastic but rather, an attempt to curate pain. Decorating myself with wounds I can tolerate in favor of confronting the hurt that is integral to the structure.

He never said anything after I ended it for the fourth time. You know, that guy I was seeing — Brent or Brett or whatever — who sleeps in my old bed now because I couldn’t bring it with me to Korea. The one who kicked me out of his apartment at 3am after we’d been trading swigs from a bottle of Maker’s. The one who begged me back on a hill near Wattles Mansion, performing a 40-minute soliloquy that boiled down to wanting to give me everything while I silently interrupted with, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” I replaced it with an audible, “I trust you.” Not because it was true but because being proven wrong is a kind of pain I can endure.

Self-respect can be hard.

I convince myself that I’m okay as long as I rotate the corner stores where I buy my piss-beer. However, since there are only two, my concept of self-respect is as secure as a gallon of milk in a wet paper bag.

The first joint announces my entrance with a jingly version of Für Elise that seems to chime throughout my casual attempt to wind through the aisles of squid-flavored chips before greeting the columns of beer with a shrug. A dangerously overweight dog behind the register barks as I empty my coins on to the counter as if to say, “I have this many.” There are no price tags on anything so I treat the exchange like I’m playing a game of Cliffhanger. Except, instead of the watching the mountain climber plummet to his demise — along with my dreams of owning a catamaran — I slide coins over to the shopkeep until he puts up a “don’t go there” hand as I watch the patience drain from his eyes.

The other one usually finds me stumbling into a scene in which the owners are sitting on the floor with 15 other barefoot people, peeling ginger root as if they’re part of a very specific Burning Man theme camp. It always seems to be ginger root. And, of course, as they watch me pretend to consider a choco-pie, they must think, “It always seems to be booze.”

I loathe each of these scenarios equally, which only highlights how much more I hate the feeling of sobriety.

After a few months of this, I have a one-person intervention in which I see my fattening face in the mirror and decide that, while I am unburdened with the reality of being a functional alcoholic, I cannot do it while looking like a cheeseburger.

So I quit. For five months.

“I usually have a bottle of wine every night,” I confess. He absorbs the news with a confident nod, the way a therapist does when you’ve admitted something fucked up about yourself that they’ve known all along.

I’m trying to be vulnerable this time. You know, with Brent or Brett or whatever. After a cordial email exchange, we discover that our love for each other never went away. This leads to an agreement to carry on a cross-continental relationship. He needs me, he says. He wants all of me, even. Meanwhile, I’m consumed with a familiar suspicion that my love is just pity with an alibi. Since that pain is in the bones by now, I reach for diversions.

I mindlessly go through half a bottle of whiskey during one of our six-hour FaceTime calls and only seem to remember that I told him I liked the name Cordelia. Afterward, when I tell him that I was so hungover that I passed out under the shower for three hours, I laugh it off as if I’m reminiscing about the time I watched a crow eat a piece of pizza out of a dumpster.

He gently offers, “You know, you can quit if you want to.”

I can’t tell if he’s talking about our relationship or the booze but, either way, I hastily push out an, “I know.”

As if to talk me out of it, he warns, “It’s not easy.”

I end the conversation with, “It’s not hard.”

That night, I copy the entirety of Joan Didion’s On Self-Respect into an empty journal, assigning focused legibility to, “…we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously un-comfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves.”

But here I am, anyway. Tired, but approaching my second wind.


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