I’m posting this excerpt from the memoir I’m writing because it sums up what happened to me again and again when hanging out with drinking friends. (I was 23 days’ sober at the time.)
That evening, I sat on a friend’s back porch, watching her smoke and drink the wine she’d poured from a bottle chilling in a bucket of ice. She’d bought my favorite kind, though I’d told her I wasn’t drinking.
She was completely at ease, stretched out in her chair, swirling her wine in the glass. In contrast, I was restless and jittery, as if I’d had way too much coffee. Even the cicadas’ insane trilling jarred my nerves.
Our conversation, so effortless while drinking, was now stilted, full of fits and starts, as if we’d just met, though we’d been friends for years. Drinking buddies, actually. Hours could pass and we’d barely notice, laughing and drinking under the huge oaks trees in her backyard. But now, I didn’t find her stories nearly as funny, and she could feel my impatience to leave.
Sober, it turns out, I couldn’t sit for hours, doing nothing but talking and watching her smoke. Wine was the glue that held us together, and we became strangers without it.
She went to top off her wine, and then reached across to fill the empty glass in front of me, as if by habit.
“No thanks,” I said.
She swatting at a cloud of gnats. “Why not just one glass?”
Eve, in the Garden of Eden.
I didn’t answer her. I just stared off into the trees, wondering why this was so hard.
I shouldn’t be here.
In the silence, I could sense her frustration with me for not being what she wanted … for not playing my role. I felt a flash of anger.
But you’re free to leave,I reminded myself.
Years later, I could recognize when a friendship faltered without the wine, and I’d have no trouble walking away the minute I felt like it. But on Day 23, I could only watch her drink — gesturing with the glass, refilling it again. I saw only that a drink could solve everything that was wrong in this moment — the discomfort and loneliness and anger.
As I sat across from her, my resolve melting like the ice cubes in the bucket, I felt just a whisper of pain —familiar and heart breaking. Betrayal.
Not hers, but mine.
As I reached across the table for the wine bottle, sweaty and slick with condensation, she took a long drag on her cigarette, eyeing me appraisingly. She blew out the smoke, snuffed out her cigarette, and smiled.
“Welcome back,” she said.