The Pain of Living with an Alcoholic

Under the influence, life happens one six-pack at a time

| September-October 2000

Start small. The bottle cap. Silver on the underside, green and black on the top. It's fluted around the edge, like a pie crust, and dented in the middle, like a felt hat. The green is the green of grass; beer companies like to associate their products with nature. When I poke the cap with my finger it skitters across the desktop, making a sound that isn't unpleasant. It's a sound I'm accustomed to, for she will often toss the caps onto the kitchen floor—they make great cat toys. We know an artist who creates beautiful, expensive murals using nothing but bottle tops and flip tabs. The murals look like aquariums, all gleam and fluidity, like daydreams of cold liquid.

I study one amber-hued beer bottle. It's slender, nine inches high, and seductive in the way that bottles often are. This one looks to me like a human torso, and my instinct is to hold it, covet it. I don't drink, but I want to experience what the serious drinker experiences. With no one to witness my foolishness, I surrender to the process. Lifting the bottle to my mouth is a small turn-on. My lips fit perfectly around the opening. I feel a charge, a subtle electricity. My throat feels as though it's vibrating: a little air, a little liquid, a little moisture left on the lips. One kisses a bottle mouth—she taught me that.

She refers to herself as a drunk.

When I think about her, I don't think: drunk. I think: runner. I think: artist. I see her dancing around our apartment, mouthing the words to Motown songs but miming disco moves. I consider how her voice deepens when she wants to talk about something serious, how she has no tolerance for indirect conversation or ambiguous language. I remember how my hands trembled when I met her. She wakes up in the morning in the middle of a conversation, asking, "What's the difference between a barnacle and a crustacean?" She has a long list of wacky endearments for me, including "my fresh coat of paint" and "my little prize-winning chicken," and she's in the very small group of people who think I'm fun—even when she's sober.

Okay. (Say it!) Sometimes I think: drunk.

I tell her I'm thinking of writing this essay and ask if she'd be okay about it. She says sure. I'd like to conduct an interview, and one night we sit down for about 30 minutes, side by side. I have a notebook and a pen, she has a bottle. She's drunk from start to finish, drinking as we talk; therefore, more drunk toward the end than at the beginning. When we're through she says, "Let's do it again, same questions, when I'm sober." I agree, but I'm not sure my writing schedule and her drinking schedule will allow for that possibility.

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