My 41st birthday was two and a half weeks ago. It was a Sunday. It was spitting snow. It was raw and cold and...
I didn't open one gift. No one gave me a present. I have to give Paul Bunyan some credit because he and I had been working tirelessly to get the space over his shop ready for one of the Wombats who needed to move in immediately. She has left her husband.
She moved in on my birthday.
The Friday night before we got invited to go to Mud's house for dinner. She had salmon. I was bringing steaks. The sun was out. We hadn't seen it for awhile, so it felt good on our faces and backs. The kids jumped around outside after school. Paul Bunyan and I cracked a beer at 4:00. We finished building the bed frame by 5:00. When we got to Mud's house Paul Bunyan and I cracked another beer. It was 5:30. We were heading around the field for a walk with the dogs. Paul Bunyan went inside for another beer because he slammed his second one. While we waited on the hill, Mud with her gin and tonic, me with my beer, I made a snarky comment to Addy, Mud's daughter. She's Claire's age and taller than me, with a heart the size of a horse. It was vacation week and she was greasy from playing, and not showering.
Me, smiling: "Addy, When was the last time you took a shower?"
Her, embarrassed, looking away: "I don't want to say..."
I laughed it off. We walked, drank, laughed. 6:00 cracked a beer. 6:30 cracked a beer. I don't know how many I drank. I piled the empties in the box so I wouldn't see them. Paul Bunyan stopped at 4. I remember crushing more of Mud's dilapidated patio furniture and throwing it on the fire; I've been known to do this. I did it last Spring after drinking a half gallon of a homemade rum punch I brought over to share. I burned her failing table that night- trying to be funny. Later that same night I called my husband gay- trying to be funny.
At some point on Friday Mud and I were talking about how we would stay sober enough to go pick up our children at parties if they needed rides home. It was baffling to us. We ate (at least at this dinner I remember eating). We drank more. And then the kids came to say it was time to go. We rounded up our stuff; I meandered around the kitchen and found only my nearly empty case of beer with a few (2) leftover for me to crack open when we got home. I cradled it to my chest and said my good byes. Things are murky from here but this is what I remember:
I called Addy trailer trash.
She ran away upstairs in tears.
Someone (Paul Bunyan) had to tell me to go upstairs to apologize.
I still clutched my case of beer (maybe).
I tried to open her door, apologizing, telling her I was only kidding.
She pushed from the other side.
When I came back down Claire called me mean.
I saw the disappointment in everyone's eyes.
I clutched my case of empties.
I LOOKED LIKE WHAT I THOUGHT MY DAD USED TO FEEL WHEN HE DID THE SAME THING.
adjective: sheepish (of a person or expression) showing embarrassment from shame or a lack of self-confidence.
I had turned into my father.
I don't want to go into the details about all the nasty nights I've witnessed my dad, who was always trying to be "funny", be so critical and mean to me, my brother, my mother, my teammates, my friends. All you need to know is that in that ONE moment that I felt Addy push against the door to NOT let me in I realized I was him. And every piece of my body does NOT want to be him.
And so I'm done. I'm done with the alcohol and it's not going to be easy and it's not going to be fun and I've been crying for two and half whole weeks at the loss of something I've found so enjoyable for 20 years. There is so much work to be done and there is so much redefining that has to be done and there is so much fear that has to be suppressed and there is so much joy to be found in sobriety. But right now I'm just plain sad.
It took Paul Bunyan 5 (give or take) years to quit his addiction to tobacco. It was finally a $1,000 bet he made with his buddy Jon. I hope I don't struggle as much as he did. I have a feeling that whenever I have a craving to go back all I'll have to do is feel Addy pushing back against that door, trying to keep me out. I was that girl. I know how that feels.
Claire has been playing this song every time we're in the car:
"Tell the world that we finally got it all right"
And so I choose you.
I choose you.
And most importantly, I choose me. The greatest birthday gift anyone could give me.