Alcoholism, part one:
The small wooden house sat just off the curb on Patterson Avenue. It was in the shape of an “L” and an old woman had lived and passed on in the house just a few years prior to me and Tom Hamrick moving in. The garden was filled with perennial flowers jutting up through stone cracks and raised flowerbeds that the old woman had no doubt carefully designed and plotted over the years. The yard, even after the apathy of the former renters, was brilliant in the spring, especially in contrast with the house’s flaking paint—bits of white and brown rolling in oblong tunnels as the summer and winters of Ohio did their damage. It was as if the mums, tulips, and roses had their own steely resolve and sprouted up in spite of the crumbling house. There was a destroyed picket fence alongside the rear portion of the yard that marked it as a truly private, although there was a small house in the back. The house had several tenants during my four years on Patterson, but none that ever invited me inside.
Tom’s bedroom was smaller than mine, really just enough to hold his bed and a tiny dresser. My bedroom had a row of bookshelves and a wooden desk given to me by my uncle Pablo, who had pulled it from a pile of rubbish in the sixties and refinished it. I had a tiny Apple computer given to me by Ted Hattemer as well as a typewriter with which I wrote a great deal of poetry and made some stabs at fiction. I named one of these fictional stories “Napoleon Trees” and gave it to my first wife as a Christmas present. I did not keep a copy of it and can’t recall what it was about. My bedroom was that of an aspiring drunkard. I rarely washed the sheets, which were covered in dog hair, sweat, various body fluids, and the stale scent of alcohol.
Drinking was a way to connect not just to others but to myself; an avenue of discourse into the subtleties of a mind that refused to turn off and was always working. Alcohol allowed the laughter to flow and this, in turn, presented the opportunity to make people smile. The validation of laughter is one of the finest feelings a person can have, for joy is brief in most of our lives—a small jolt of pleasure in a desert of the mundane. Jerry, Jenny, and I were all gifted with the ability to wriggle smiles out of others. Jenny and Jerry, in spite of the darkness that crept around their edges, were two of the funniest people I have ever encountered. They had an ability to see the preposterousness of life, to cultivate the absurd and bring it into focus. Of course, laughter went hand-in-hand with drinking. Laughing at ghosts, indeed.
After starting to drink again in 1991, there was no turning back. At first I was hesitant and fearful of the drink, as if I were going to receive an electric shock from picking up the bottle, but after slowly nursing a few Jim Beam and waters the fear dispersed, climbing back to some hidden cavern of my psyche only to return with a subtle vengeance some eight years later. Drinking was pleasurable and comfortable most of the time, my mind sinking into an ethereal lazy-boy recliner, with the sweet scents of whiskey, water, and tobacco serving as a soft throw-blanket over my being. At other times there was the ugliness in the booze, nights when I was so frightened to go home alone that I would wait at the bar as the bartender slowly cleaned up, rising from the stool only when I knew I was only minutes from slumber. I had the drunken timing of a professional. Bars were essential in the formulation of our lives, not only for the alcohol that provided the fuel for sociability but more importantly for providing opportunities for the bizarre and unrehearsed.
Companionship was always welcome, and the fear of going home alone gripped nearly everyone, man and woman alike, at 2:30 A.M. Nobody was spared the trepidation of lying in bed alone while the bar emptied out onto the gray and at times shivering sidewalks of Columbus. It was as if sleep was just a fly’s wing away from death, and the warm body of a lover would provide both carnal sensations and, but more importantly, the vulnerable secrets of acceptance that only love making can bring. By the same degree, though, there was the fear of the next morning—the lurching headaches, the awkward nervousness of shaky good mornings, and the thoughts of the coming responsibilities of the day.
I had a lover with red hair, a nose ring, and a slender build during this time. We were wary of one another. Usually she would come over in the early evening, we would make love, and she would leave. It was a regular ritual for us, it was oddly normal, although in hindsight one could reckon that the only normalcy in each of us was emotional abnormality. She had no interest in seeing me get drunk and was one of the first women to tell me this. She said I acted “silly” when I drank, which annoyed me to no end as I always thought that the word “silly” is, well, silly itself. And stupid. She also was fond of the word “zany” which may have doomed the relationship from the outset. Only on a handful of occasions did we spend an entire night together, and this was fine for both of us. We had very little in common with the exception that we enjoyed each other’s bodies and hated being alone. The first time she came into my room, she glanced down at my hairy bed, with sheets that held countless drunken stories between the faded and frayed white fabric, and over to the side of the bed. Next to a stack of books that I would never be able to digest during my inebriated nights sat my brown bucket. “What is that?” she asked, staring at me with eyebrows askew.
“My bucket, in case I vomit.”
Still staring, she asked, “Why? Are you sick?”
“Nope, I just usually throw up around three o’clock most nights,” I answered, taking a long pull off my Black Label.
During the spring and summer of 1994, it wasn’t uncommon for me to vomit into the bucket three to four nights a week. I was also prone to brownouts, which are PG rated black-outs, and one time I woke up on my roof. When the room would spin, I liked to go outdoors and stare at the sky. Somehow the largeness of the heavens would calm the rattling of my stomach and soothe the civil war that was tearing apart my innards. A secret hope of mine was to venture into the celestial sphere when I passed on, to taste the violent beauty of space. At four A.M. I would think about this and how my inner world tumbled upside down. Amazingly enough, I hardly gained any weight, and I didn’t experience much of the surliness of so many alcoholics. I continued to live a blessed life, one that allowed me many opportunities to explore the world that I cared so much about, music, people, and more music. But I couldn’t imagine any of it without the help of alcohol.