Part 3 of "Dry Drunk" is posted here. This is Part 4.
A work of fiction
Back in high school, my eccentric, but nevertheless lovable English teacher tried to diagnose me, to explain away why her star pupil had stopped making superlative grades and had plunged downward towards a confusing mediocrity. My problems had become well-known among the faculty, and I think one-by-one they were trying to find a way to keep me alive. She employed a French phrase I have forgotten, but I remember the translation well. Look for the woman.
I am tempted to dismiss that notion as quaint, until I realize how true it is. Or at least how true it was for me. With me, there’s always been a woman in the mix. A born pursuer like me always knows his options and carefully weighs action with chance. I’m a strange combination of smooth and awkward, a skill set that has served me remarkably well. If I really wanted something, I could make it happen, and in her case, it didn’t take me long. Even with my best days past me, it was nice to know I hadn’t lost everything.
She self-consciously cocked her head to the side frequently, as if she didn’t believe me. Tall and lanky, she admitted she was the in-bed-at-ten type usually, but had tried something different for once. At a glance, I could tell she’d once been an athlete, either a basketball player or a volleyball player or both. She pulled her perfectly straight hair downward, around her face, with a few strategic hairpins and a lot of willpower.
She was a working class girl from a small town and never got caught up in the professional scene. It would have never occurred to her. Instead, she was a manager in a grocery store, proud of her efficiency, supportive of those who worked one rung down, employer of a few stock phrases to be dusted off for small talk. I won’t lie. I wanted her from the minute I saw her. What I saw was home, personified, and for some reason, after running from it for years, home is exactly what appealed to me most.
I’d been coaxed to play a set by a friend, along with some other nefarious characters, which I saw for the most part as an old timer’s game, full of out of shape athletes chucking air balls well past their prime. Oddly enough, when it was my turn at the mic, some of those old rhythms came back, and with it a few starstruck admirers lingered, like the old days. I saw her saunter my way, all elbows, knees, and shoulders, and I hoped she wasn’t inquiring about the location of the bathroom or any number of inane and demoralizing requests.
She was a gentle soul, and after a few shyly delivered inquiries from both sides she told me her age. Forty years old and never been married. A life story in a sentence. By then I was only a few years younger myself. Though downplayed slightly, there was purpose to her talk. She wasn’t an appreciative but glancing blow, the sort I used to get all the time from women being blown every direction at once, like chaff in the middle of a windstorm.
Her was the reason I was here. Her was where I was belonged, despite my efforts to trade up and redeem my starting point through hard work. In the end, we were tired of being alone. We’d both come from places where the default was to get married at twenty-two and have three kids by the time thirty came calling. That approach clearly never worked for either of us. And though she never vocalized it, I could sense loneliness acutely, like sonar. Her hair was thin, her complexion was pale, and I only hoped I was the proper antidote.
I hid it from her for a long time. I even kept it mostly under control, but my job had me travel and I went on benders when she wasn’t there. I didn’t call when I was too drunk, too thick-tongued, and at first she thought I was avoiding her, until she realized I was too embarrassed to subject her to relative incoherence.
Mostly I thought about her the whole time I had to be away. I craved that skinny, lean, freckled body. The more perplexed she was that I wanted her, the more it motivated me to ask for more. It kept me awake at night when I was away, remembering the calm logic she used when forming her thoughts, so familiar, such a strange tranquilizer. I loved her, loved staring those tender brown eyes full in the face. In my prime, it would have been seen as incomprehensible if I’d fallen hard for the girl-next-door, but times were different now.