A few years ago at my annual physical exam, I pondered the question on the health intake form that asked “How often do you drink alcoholic beverages? One to three times per week?” That seemed impossibly often. “One to three times per month?” As if. I sighed and said ruefully to the Physician’s Assistant who has been my primary medical caregiver for ten years, “I’m sure I am the only patient who you wish drank more often.”It was not that I thought my health would benefit from greater intake of alcohol. But the question brought to mind the times when I might enjoy a drink: with a terrific restaurant meal on a date with my sweetheart; at a backyard barbecue laughing with friends; or at the end of a day that actually had an end, when I knew I could sip a glass of wine and not be worried I would relax too much to get back to all the chores still undone.
These images seemed like pictures from someone else’s life. My own life allowed none of them. I never took a drink because I never entered a space with the expectation of relaxing, lowering inhibitions, having fun.
In the past nine months, I’ve had more beer than I have had in the past five years. I’ve also had more of all the other things my life was lacking in that dark time: more raucous laughter, more workouts that leave me drenched, more snuggling with my daughter reading poetry and watching Glee. More adventures. More sex. More parties, more lovely meals in restaurants.In the past nine months I’ve logged hours in the neighborhood bar I walked past for nine years. I’ve been to a wine tasting in Vermont with the World Traveler, pulling out of her driveway on a bright autumn morning and waving goodbye to her stunned children and stalwart in-laws before driving north into a new phase of our friendship. I’ve eaten dim sum in New York’s Chinatown and Trinidadian food in DC. I’ve seen the friends of my youth: hiked with the Nectarine, eaten dinner with the Motherfucker (twice!). I’ve been to kickboxing and capoeira and boxing, played tennis and chase-ball and run stairs until I’m so spent I’m afraid I’ll fall forward and break my teeth. I’ve been to an admissions event at a seminary, a sci-fi con and a gender queer burlesque. I’ve had more of those fights with my sweetheart that end with deeper understanding and kindness towards one another, and fewer of those fights that sow silent, irresolvable rancor into our home.
What was the price of admission to the life for which I was longing?All I had to do to get everything I wanted was to give up the one thing I thought was indivisible from my life. The thing I thought defined me. All I had to do was lose something so big I did not believe it was separate from me. I did not think there could be a me without it.
I suffered a loss so enormous that when I finally wept for it I could not hold my body upright. In the high, inhuman sounds that came from my body, I understood the meaning of the word keening. I understood the wailing rituals of grief. The muscles in my neck stood out like ropes as I shrieked; they ached for days afterwards.I lost something so much a part of me I thought I would die without it. I was sure that I would walk out of my grief to a devastated landscape, that my life would be reduced to rubble without this one, essential thing.
But that was not the storm that hit my heart. Oh yes, it roared and rattled, the rain came down and I covered my head in terror. It shook me, it shook all of me and the earth I stood on. But when I came out of it I saw a world that was safe and whole. There are parts of this landscape that will never be the same again, hillsides sheared and trees remodeled. But nothing has been devastated. There was no loss of life, no loss of anything that cannot be survived. I am intact. And in the soft green morning light, I can smell new life beginning.