Reasons to Stop
“What’s the matter?” he asks, “You don’t drink?”
There’s a certain way this question sounds when people ask it here. Like you could replace the word drink with breathe, or believe in love.
“You know,” I say, “I used to, but I made some stupid decisions. Had some bad hangovers. I decided I wanted to be healthy.”
“How long have you been without drinking?”
How long have you been without breathing?
“Maybe three months now.”
Perhaps a second or two.
Almost a year.
“Damn, that’s a long time. I respect that. I have been thinking about cutting down on how much I drink. I wish I could stop, you know? I wish I could.”
“Yeah. I uh… I guess it’s pretty hard for some people.”
“I have done some stupid things when I have been drunk. You know? Just stupid things. I regret them after.”
Amongst the mountains of Korean food that fill the table sit five empty beer mugs—his—and one half-full mug of coke.
“What’s the worst thing you’ve done while you’ve been drunk?”
“Oh, man. The worst thing?”
“The worst thing.”
He thinks about it for a moment.
“Well, I got into a fight once. I don’t remember why that was. I had to run away before the cops came. Because I’m a foreigner, you know?”
“That sort of thing can get you kicked out of the country, yeah.”
“One time, I had sex with a girl in a karaoke booth. I was almost caught.”
“There was a security guard there. You know? They walk the corridors during the nights.”
“That was a bad decision. We had just met. I didn’t use a condom. Very stupid.”
This flood of honesty is probably another good reason to stop drinking. I mean, I just met this guy thirty minutes ago.
I make a mental note to avoid karaoke.
“Yeah, no. I get it.”
I pick at the food on the table — a lull in conversation I leave for him to fill.
“In Korea, I went to a crazy party. Korea, you know? Too much drinking. On the bus to my hotel, the way the bus was swaying, I knew I was going to be sick. But there were no toilets.”
I continue to pile my plate with food. Mental imagery be damned.
“So what’d you do?”
“I had to take everything out of my bag. And then I was sick in my bag.”
“That’s uh… unusually polite.”
“I couldn’t get the smell out of it. I had to throw it away. I loved that bag.”
“I guess even just remembering what happened every time you opened it kind of dampened that love a little, huh?”
“I don’t know why I do something so stupid, you know? You must have made some bad decisions if you decided to quit, huh?”
If there were ten empty beer mugs on the table, and five of them were mine, I would likely tell him this:
One time I got really, really drunk, and I fell asleep on the floor of a friend’s apartment in front of a girl who was the friend of a friend, and woke up with a feeling like I didn’t want to leave her — a strange sensation to have in place of a hangover. That sensation lasted three years, and ended with her taking a knife out of my back I wasn’t aware she’d put there in the first place — but by the time I bandaged it up, my favorite shirt was already ruined, anyway.
Does that make sense?
After that, the next time I got really, really drunk, I woke up after a live concert in bed with a girl I thought was too smart and too talented for a guy like me. Because, you know, she was. Two years later, she realized it too, and left me for the only thing that could really fulfil her — not a man, and not a woman, but a city.
And I could do nothing but completely understand exactly why she did it.
Because her New York City is my Tokyo.
And then, a little after that, I gave up on drinking.
But, there are not ten empty beer mugs on the table. Only five.
And then the Coke.
“When I get very badly drunk,” I say, “I tend to end up with either hangovers, or relationships. Sometimes, both. At the moment, I don’t know that I want either of those two things in my life.”
He laughs. Slides the drink menu over. “But how long before you drink again?”
I shrug. Slide the menu back.
“I’m not in any hurry at the moment.”
What he said.