day 77: bottles of christmas past

Tonight Facebook popped up with a photo from 8 years ago, their “Share a Memory/On This Day” feature.  In the dark, grainy picture is a meticulously ornate graham cracker house with intricate gum drop shrubbery, a carefully planned frosting sidewalk, wavy roof shingles and a cookie girl standing outside in the snow.  Beside it miserably stands a plastic Christmas tree with bits of tinsel replacing every few needles. Both are miniatures, at most 6” high, and take up most of the room on my tiny foldable desk.  The caption on my Facebook post reads a cheery “merry fucking christmas”.

I had picked them up at the grocery store checkout line where they entice you to buy just one more thing you didn’t know you needed.  Cynical but excited to have decorations, I carried them home with my booze and my dinner, back to that apartment in Pasadena where I was living by myself.  Putting it together while downing glass after glass of bourbon helped to separate me from the burden of the day and being alone with my thoughts.

A blow up mattress can be seen rested against the wall behind the A-frame confectionary home.  The unit I was renting was in every sense of the word a “studio”.  The room just big enough to fit the mattress on the floor at night.  I got lazy after a few weeks of this transition, deflated it, and started using a sleeping bag.  It was no big deal, I was always too drunk to feel any discomfort at night.  The hangovers in the morning were explicably worse than any muscle pain or stiffness from the concrete floor.

I had discovered Booker’s bourbon at the time, a departure from the Zinfandel’s and Syrah’s I had been purchasing weekly in boxes since discovering wine culture in California.  Booker’s is a top shelf 121 proof bourbon.  It saved my ego when I didn’t have to bend down to pick out the grain alcohol on nights when I needed it. The clerks always thought it was for a special occasion, making the repeated purchases a little less shameful.  And I told myself I was saving enough money to afford it by living in that shit hole apartment with dirt cheap rent.

There was a reason to get fucked up the night before, at least that’s what I told myself every morning.  My very first start-up couldn’t find a revenue stream or funding.  I had to watch the employees of the company peel off to bigger and better things.  My girlfriend and I had broken up.  She had moved across the country with the love of my life, my dog Bentley.  I felt like a failure, and the bourbon helped me not feel.

Nights merged into days as I started finishing entire bottles at a time. Once I tried to tell a close coworker I had a problem.  His response, “Wow, that must be expensive,” taught me not to talk to about it.  At lunch I’d sneak off, before anyone could ask what my plans were, to have a beer and two to three vodka tonics at the burger restaurant up the street, or at the Yardhouse in the other direction.  I’d lie to the bartenders that were becoming familiar with my face, explaining that I worked the morning shift and was headed home now that my day was over.

An old college acquaintance visited me there while passing through the city. He told me I smelled, and I did.  My apartment reeked of piss, like someone had relieved themselves in the corner and never cleaned it.  Honestly I never knew if I was the cause and never bothered to find out because the shame of knowing would’ve been too much.  On the day he left I met him at the train station early in the morning to have breakfast and see him off. I ordered Chardonnay with my eggs and he commented, “Isn’t it a bit early to be drinking?” Laughing, I replied “No, it’s the weekend and this is just wine, it’s fine.  I just need a glass or two to help my headache go away.”

That should have been my rock bottom.  I was in despair.  Vomiting every morning before going into work, yelling at co-workers, crying every day when I got home.  Riding my bike to and from my apartment drunk, almost dying one night when I fell into the road in front of a car, it swerving across lanes and honking as it sped off.  I remember wanting to die and suicidal ideation becoming more real.  The constant use of alcohol was unhinging my brain from reality.  Once over the phone I told a friend there wasn’t any point in going on, and I remember believing it to my core.

I thought it was just a dark time. That after a startup failed, people just did this.  I don’t recall if I even considered myself an alcoholic.  I don’t recall if I even thought about the possibility.

After I moved out of there and got a new job I didn’t touch bourbon for years. The smell and the taste of it always opened up a shoebox in my head, filled with the very same memories each time. The Weepies album I’d listen to walking home from work every day.  How cold it was without a coat or an umbrella every time it rained that winter.  The smell of that apartment and the sound of that broken Murphy bed that wouldn’t come down.  The stairway to the our office with the white peeling paint on the handrails, and the cold brick walls of that empty room with only three employees left.  The bartender at the burger joint who wore a white fur coat that swallowed her whole, a glamorous angel in a greasy and dingy tourist trap.  The first date I’d been on for years, and how I was already three whiskeys in before she even showed up, and how we talked about Woody Allen films through my slurred speech.  The last fight I had with the co-founder before I quit.  And that hard, cold floor.

Christmas is around the corner again, something I can’t escape, but something I’m finding the courage to face. I’m living AirBnB to AirBnB until I find a home, so no decorations this go round.  It will be my first sober Christmas in 17 years though.  A friend and old co-worker texted me yesterday, “Enjoy that new life”. I texted back, “Just gettin started.” And, yeah, thanks Facebook for the memories. It is a pretty Merry Fucking Christmas.