one for the road

“Can I borrow this glass?”

My sister-in-law shakes the drink ware, rattling half-melted ice cubes. It’s not actually glass. I don’t own an actual glass. She has been imbibing from a blue plastic tumbler from a set of four purchased at Target. All my possessive instincts kick in. They aren’t fancy, but they are mine. I’m unwilling to part with a single one, even temporarily.

“Use this instead.”

I offer her a clear plastic tumbler that I stole from my university’s dining hall. To be clever, I told friends that I had “acquired” it. It was me using words to avoid acknowledging the truth. I’ve kept it for twenty years, four cross-country moves and a divorce. Despite our long history together, I’m willing to loan it to MJ. Why not add enabling to this cup’s illicit narrative?

I was surprised MJ needed a container today. She usually brings all the accoutrements: her own over-sized glass, a bag of ice, a two-liter, a bottle of Bacardi and a straw. “It’s my sippy cup,” she giggles, taking her own turn at using words to mask the truth. For this visit, she not only trusted me to have a cup, she even believed me when I assured her we had ice.

She accepts the cheap tumbler and empties the last of her rum and Diet Dr Pepper into it. One for the road. I keep mum about open container laws. Dottie, her partner of twenty-five years, is also her permanent designated driver.  No more party plates – MJ’s license is revoked.

She used to ask permission to bring liquor, wine or beer when visiting. She knows we won’t have any. Peter would say, “I don’t care.” Twenty years sober, he can be around others who drink.

But the phone will ring at 6:00 am. An inebriated MJ will cry over past slights, her lack of money and her failing health. Her brother has no patience for it. “She wouldn’t have diabetes if she would stop drinking,” Peter fumes. “She needs to sober up and get a fucking job.” But he knows that she doesn’t want to stop, not like he did. She attended court-mandated AA meetings after getting out of jail because she had to.

“These people are fucked up,” she told us.

I just listened, refraining from any mention of pots and kettles.

“She can’t even visit us for a couple of hours without drinking,” I complain to Peter. After another drunken phone call, I want to put my foot down. No, you can’t bring alcohol into our house. I want to tell her she’s a bad example for Philip. Yet, other than flushed skin and a tendency to repeat herself, her behavior is acceptable. Well, as acceptable as drinking yourself to death can be.

Despite her “sippy cup,” she is an adult. I decide that I am treating her as one even as I help her into the car. As someone who eats her feelings, who am I to judge?

“I love you guys,” she slurs.

“Love you, too,” we say. “Have a safe trip home.”

If only she loved herself enough to stop drinking.

24 thoughts on “one for the road

  1. In a few short paragraphs you created a compelling character, presented a personal dilemma, and explored family relationships. You are such a good writer. I’m always sorry when life keeps me from reading your blog for a few days.

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  2. I had an aunt like that and I loved her immensely. It ended up being the end of her and I always wondered why I didn’t prevent her from doing that? But you can’t stop someone from destroying themselves, much as you might try.

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    1. I recently read an advice columnist’s words in which she urged a young woman to stage an intervention. It’s not always that simple. If going to jail doesn’t motivate her to change, what could I say or do that would prevent her from drinking?

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    1. I was taken aback the first time she did this. I guess she has a ritual of assembling her drink from which she did not want to deviate. She lives about an hour away, stays for visits anywhere from two to four hours. She always brings alcohol with her.

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  3. That is so hard to deal with. You are a better friend than me, I’ll tell you that. Two years ago I totally broke off and away from my group of friends because they were all heavy drinkers and I found I had trouble quitting drinking myself when I wanted to because it was so hard to be around other drinkers. It’s great that you are supportive but remember to support yourself and your own happiness as well.

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  4. This is powerful and heartbreaking. It’s so hard to find that balance between being there for friends like these and trying to help them get better.

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  5. It is a difficult thing to acknowledge that a loved one has a problem, and even when you decide to no longer be an enabler, as you say “the pain of bearing witness is all the same.” Well said.

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  6. I love this, Cyn. I’ve been sitting on this thought recently that we’re all so fragile in different ways. Human fragility is a painful thing to know, but there’s something warming in the fact that we all share in it– and the ability to heal from it, through love. But I guess it all starts with loving ourselves first? Maybe? Too much coffee and not enough time to ponder these big issues, 🙂 but the read was perfect on my work break today. Thank you. ❤

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  7. I’ve never known anyone who was this into drinking. I’ve known and socialized with alcoholics who drank their weight in liquor, but never anyone who, at least to my knowledge, couldn’t spend an evening without booze. Watching someone, as you have, drink herself to death would break my heart, but we all travel our own roads I suppose. Thanks for this glimpse into how you cope with her struggle.

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