35. Vexing Valentine Cookies

Valentine-Sugar-CookiesI emerged from my pile of pillows and blankets only to find a messy apartment. I still had a handle of Jameson sitting on top of my refrigerator — three-quarters full. I’ll quit when I’m finished with that, I reasoned. But I didn’t want to have another drink. I didn’t want to have another hangover. It’s a simple solution: just don’t drink. In theory, it was easy to quit; in practice, I needed sober support.

I texted Marty.

“I like you, Marty. I would like to spend more time with you. What do you think?”

I got a text back immediately.

“That’s nice to hear, Brooks. I should tell you that I’m dating someone right now and I’d like to give this relationship a chance. I think you’re a great girl and I like hanging out with you (and you have some great freckles). It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to hang out. You make me laugh and smile. All good things. I hope you understand.”


He didn’t know that he felt like a big brother to me, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. I was excited for him to be my sober friend regardless of what he thought.

I made it through a day of lasagna and garlic bread, but I was still not rested and not relaxed. As the other ladies scoured hotel pans caked with cooked cheese, I creamed together butter and sugar to make cookies for Valentine’s Day. Holiday sugar cookies are the best; so simple, so delicious and nearly impossible to mess up.

Before cutting the dough into hearts, I texted Marty.


“I think I need to quit drinking. May I talk to you about this?”

I put my phone away before sliding a sheet pan of sweet hearts into the blisteringly hot oven. He didn’t respond… at least I didn’t get a response until the next day after I scrambled my eggs and fried my bacon and was well on my way to making rice pilaf.

“I’m sorry. I just saw this,” he wrote. “Of course you can talk to me about it.”

“It’s not as dramatic as it sounds,” I said. “I’m OK with it, it’s just a bummer.”

“Well, we can talk about it,” he said. “Do you want to come over tonight?”

“Yes,” I wrote. “I would like that.”


After an afternoon of painting pink frosting onto the heart-shaped cookies, I went to Marty’s. He suggested I pack a bag and I could stay over rather than riding home late in the cold. I didn’t know if there was another suggestion buried in that suggestion, but I went with it.

“What’s on your mind?” he asked as I got settled on his couch.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess it’s just time to stop drinking. Again.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Nothing good ever happens when I drink,” I said. “I’m an asshole.”

I told him about how I quit drinking for five whole months the previous year but that I fell off the wagon in November and picked up right where I left off: blacking out and waking up with no idea where I’d been or how I got home but with bruises as evidence that I had actually left my apartment.


“Alcoholism is a progressive disease. When you relapse, you find yourself exactly where you were when you quit drinking,” he schooled me. “You’ve already built up a tolerance that you can’t recover from the way you get out of shape if you stop exercising.” Does his analogy make sense? I wondered.

“Yeah, I know,” I pretended. “I know lots of things about alcoholism. That’s why it’s so sad that I continue to drink.”

“Do you want to go to a meeting?” he asked. “I’ll go with you.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m really shy.” What I was thinking was ‘Yes! Yes! Please take me to a meeting!’

“You don’t have to talk,” he said. “You can just listen. No one will judge you because they’re all in the same situation you’re in.”

“OK,” I said. “Thank you for talking to me about this.”


We watched a Girls and when it was time to go to sleep, he offered me a pair of his shorts. Then it got awkward. Painfully awkward.

I asked him for a blanket so I could sleep on his couch.

“You can sleep in my bed,” he said.

“I don’t want to disturb you when I get up at 5am.”

“It’ll be fine.”

Valentine-Sugar-CookiesWe climbed into bed together. Awkwardly. I scooted as far away from him as I possibly could. I wasn’t sure what this meant: I was nervous that he would try to kiss me and I was happy that we had a blossoming friendship. I liked Marty; I felt safe with him. And I knew that in 12 Step Programs, they discouraged people from getting romantically involved with anyone in the first 365 days of sobriety, so I thought that this automatically marked me as off-limits to Marty. But when he turned over to give me nocturnal affection, I welcomed it. It was a weird way to have a first kiss, but this was how sober people did it, right? Without booze, you have inhibitions so there’s no random making out in elevators or on rooftops. You just sit in your nervousness until it’s over? How do people endure such awkwardness?

Valentine-Sugar-CookiesWe made out for hours. It was nice. Until Marty interrupted it with a question.

“What is the likelihood of me having sex with you in the future?” he asked.

“Hmmmm. 70%” I answered.

“What is the 30% that is holding you back?”

“Well, in general, I’m slow about getting to know people and physical intimacy. It freaks me out. AND YOU’RE SEEING SOMEONE.”

Valentine-Sugar-Cookies“Oh.. that. Well, we haven’t really talked about it so I don’t know.”

We made out until we fell asleep.

The next day was Valentine’s Day. Marty invited me over again to watch a movie and have another sleepover. It did cross my mind again that he had, four days prior, told me that he was seeing someone, and it occurred to me on this particular holiday that if he were seeing someone, he’d be spending the evening with her, regardless of how silly the holiday might be. I ignored any questions about what we were doing — I was no longer capable of making decisions for myself so I just let things happen. It wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped; I had no idea they made them that small. Perhaps this is what I deserved.

So far, nothing about being sober was terribly exciting. It looked like life of beige and blandness was ahead of me. Retooling, rescheduling, rehabbing, reinventing.. boring. Just keep it simple, I thought; “simple” is impossible to mess up.

Simple Sugar Sugar Cookies

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • ⅛ tsp salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ½ tsp vanilla

Whisk together the flour and salt. Set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar and salt on medium speed until the mixture is fluffy. Add egg and beat until it’s well-combined. Continue mixing and gradually, add the flour. When it comes together as dough, form a ball, cover in plastic and refrigerate for one hour.

Preheat oven to 350℉. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to ⅛” thickness.
Cut out desired shapes. Transfer to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
Bake for about 9 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.



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