alcohol · city · mental health · neighborhood · sobriety

Sing This With Me, This is Forty

Some days, it’d take me an airplane to get off the ground, though I’m not usually lying down. I just feel prone, as if my body’s debated the ground and found its position at once immutable and irrelevant, the ground fast becoming something of metaphor instead: a nethermost, a bellwether, some other fancy word that hints at bottom. Regardless, my two feet are still of rough employ, and my head still meets the sky at the same six-foot mark, so I’m upright at least, standing outside the Twiggs’ coffee shop in University Heights, five p.m. on a Sunday evening.

I get bored sometimes, and this is the main distraction, ladies and gentlemen, of my particular three-ring circus. Would that the boredom cease itself without me having to act its opposite, that would be ideal—just indolent.  I, after all, tell Cayde that ‘only boring people are bored’, so to continue as such, to languor in ennui, makes me not only terrifically dull right now, but also resolutely lazy. I should listen to myself. Stop being boring.

The intersection outside of Twiggs, I remark while cradling an Americano, is far from being boring. I take a seat at one of the patio tables to watch the simple crossway present itself as a Bermuda Triangle of sorts, one of its eerie if ephemeral powers being the ability to erase the right of way from all users’ minds. Sedans start and stop, horns blare (generally two seconds longer than is necessary), pedestrians leap back on curbs with middle fingers on point. There is a bar across the street, but its doors aren’t open yet for business, so imbibition can’t be blamed for this otherwise normal intersection gone punch-drunk. It’s just a University Heights phenomenon, a neighborhood cock-up on constant repeat, and I watch while my coffee cools and while the neighbors to the left of me discuss Norman Mailer, a white dog sitting resignedly at their feet.

It’s 5 p.m., which means most the morning papers are now overflowing the recycling cans. It’s enough to make me fidgety again, as if the news has expired for the day and that it’s now the unexceptional slouch toward bedtime, nothing more to report while the presses sleep. This of course is nonsense, as news is always happening and while a billion screens phosphor with electronic updates. The day just sometimes seems neatly divided, like a smartly creased morning tribune, there being daybreak done up in newsprint and evening set marked by its discard.

I open my laptop—the intersection has since corrected to an agreeable flow—and scan my feed. There are updates from two hours ago, twenty minutes ago, iterations and imprints of the morning’s headlines. The only important news is old news: that Bertolt Brecht has once again been proven correct when he said, “What times are these when a talk of trees is almost a crime because it implies silence about so many horrors?”   But I read, regardless—my cup of coffee is at a perfect temperature—and assign boredom away to be manhandled by the Fourth Estate gangsters, my guys in the press pool.

The news unreported: it’s been forty days since I’ve had a drink. I glance up from my laptop and catch sight of that bar under construction again. It’s going to be a New Zealand themed eatery with a selection of taps, and were I not presently sober, I’d be excited about its opening. Now it’s just another establishment with questionable parking, a door I won’t frequent, and an unrung tab for unpoured drinks.

Forty days is automatically biblical. For forty days, it rained while Noah’s Ark weathered the Flood. For forty days, Moses’ spies surveyed the Land of Milk and Honey for its eventual conquest by the Israelites. For forty days, Jesus walked the desert before the Ascension. And, most relevant to the recovering alcoholic, for forty days Jesus was tempted in the Wilderness.

The evocation of forty appears in Deuteronomy as well, when after forty years in the desert, Moses reiterates God’s code for his chosen people before they are to enter into the Promised Land. Moses, of course, isn’t allowed entrance—that’s another story involving drawing water from a stone and Moses showing a rare display of intemperance in the face of a miracle. God only allows Moses a glimpse into the Promised Land from a hillside vista, Moses’ reward? punishment? for four decades of messianic governance in the wasted and wanting desert. Moses got a raw deal.

My deal is not so raw. Aside from periods of crashing boredom, where my coffee grows cold before I realize that my hands have disappeared their proprioception, before I am left with phantom fingers around my mug, I enjoy a certain if uneventful relief. I’m free of the mornings where my vista was the broken-toothed back-alley fencing, green like the green of a faded pine freshener, me Lazarus puking himself back uncertainly into life amid the leaf litter and spent cigarette butts. Five o’clock every morning, the pre-echo of Jenn’s alarm in my head though it wasn’t set to go off for another half hour, I would hear stupid and repetitive chimes, a savant orchestra in my head. It was seeing inside my eyes, hearing inside my skull, a world reduced to the interior, acetaldehydes sluicing the brain and making perverse golems of chemistry. I was animate mud:  isoquinoline-addicted, amine-addled mud, shocked through with pathos and desirous of dirt.

Forty days. The lights click on outside Twiggs and the cars, in deference to the approaching dark, follow suit, their headlamps suddenly an orderly display at the intersection, the drivers only nocturnally amenable it seems, much like my chemistries these days. I feel a wash of relief, feel my lights click on, too. I’m still a synaptic mess, so I’m like the urban cliché of a streetlamp that buzzes on in three blinking attempts. Sometimes I fail to light, remaining extinguished instead, and it’s the aforementioned nethermost of being without stimulation, a kind of nothing where I am simultaneously grounded and groundless.

I close my laptop, finish my coffee. This could all be regarded as serenity, were I to reframe it as such, my chemistries at last resting after a years-long St. Vitus dance. I’ve a thirty-day token and some change weighing my pocket, a brain lightened of its toxic payload, and a sober lack of abandon marked by a quotidian diet of coffee and newspapers. Not that I’m entirely comfortable with this equanimity, though, for equanimity has its creeping cousin in dissociation and if anything I’m hyper-associative. Hell, they throw pills my way to mitigate my more Icarus tendencies. To wit, last year I wrote:

 “I fell asleep on the roof last night. And some people count sheep, but I was thinking of Chagall; I saw goat-things pass the moon and I climbed the side of the house so that I could better see the illumined clouds. I was on the roof, and I tucked myself in next to the attic and the moon was something within reach, the ground unreachable, and I fell asleep with the moon on my chest. I looked at the sky all dotted with things and smiled, smiled; these things that generally rest on closed eyes, just some eyes not.”

Oh where my head has been, and my body its malfunctioning retainer, servile to the point of near oblivion; it is time to rest. I gather my things from my coffeeshop station and shrug on my satchel. It is a quiet night and I toss my coffee cup among the discarded newspapers, the waste-bin signifier that the day, too, is done, extincting itself as I extinct part of me. I walk to my car and goat-things—they pass the moon. I have to squint, but they are there, and with dull movement that is not, I am encouraged.