Finding ways to be social without booze felt…. impossible. I tried meeting friends for coffee before they went out drinking, but that left me with the hours of 8 to 11pm to hang out on my couch indiscriminately watching television. It was embarrassing how caught up I was on all my TV-watching. It was sad. I was sad. I leaned on Marty occasionally, though it was rarely exciting. But there was a bright spot: having coffee with friends rather than drinking with friends reminded me of why I liked them before they became my drinking buddies.
Two weeks without a drink and I had to figure out how to gather the energy to expose myself to Chicago’s version of March. The weather is something akin to what other cities might experience the first few days of January — air so cold it saps all the moisture from your face in under ten seconds and you lose the feeling in your toes in less than ten minutes. Chances of being able to survive outside on a bike were slim, but I was expected at Isabella’s show at the Art Institute. I left on two wheels at 4:30 with instructions to be fast blest Isabella missed her reservations at Balena. When I arrived, there appeared to be thousands of people filing in. What wasn’t immediately obvious was the line that started at the door to the gallery that snaked all the way around the block. I committed to see Isabella’s work and I was prepared to commit to that line. That long, cold line. With nothing to help me pass the time but my phone.
With apparently no imagination, I texted Marty knowing he was to return that evening from a work retreat in some far off town. But he hit a snag: he had left his keys with the parking attendant at work before the retreat, and got back too late to retrieve them. He was without a way to get into his car and his apartment. Instead he checked into a super fancy hotel downtown for the night. He invited me up after the show.
It took about an hour to shuffle into the building and then get herded to the elevator and up to the gallery, but I made it. I scrambled to find Isabella.
“Thank you so much for coming,” she gushed. “It means so much to me. You’re such a good friend.” That last part she said with a hint of saccharine, but I knew she meant it. She only stayed long enough to show me her prints of produce and then she was off to dinner.
I stayed a little longer, strolling through the gallery, admiring work that made me feel both inadequate and inspired. I turned up the gas when they starting kicking people out and pedaled up to Marty’s hotel. I went straight to his room and found him watching sports in a robe.
With basketball on in the background, he dazzled me stories of trust-falls, talent shows and the team cooking competitions. All I had to contribute was a long, relentless complaint about standing in line in the cold for an hour to get into the show that I could only enjoy for ten minutes. I must have repeated myself about the cold a few times because he mocked me about STANDING IN LINE FOR AN HOUR.
We laid in bed and the questions got increasingly personal. He needled me for a drunk-a-log and I accommodated him. I told him about the first time I quit drinking. It was a night when I had been over-served by 2am but continued drinking at a 4am bar. The last thing I remembered was doing a shot of Jameson with a Jameson and soda chaser. I had no recollection of how I got home that night but I didn’t bother to take off my clothes and I woke up covered in bruises. I found my bike four blocks away.
“Did you ever pee your pants?” he asked. This question I laughed at and answered in the affirmative.
“Did you ever drink alone?” he asked. This one I hesitated to answer, but I couldn’t lie.
“Yes,” I said. When I was drinking I was never ashamed about drinking alone, and I did it an awful lot. When I was put on the spot, I didn’t want to admit it to him or myself.
Marty ordered a pile of meat and fries to munch on while we watched Silver Linings Playbook. The insanity the movie was trying to illustrate was very real to me. Somehow, I could draw parallels between that story and the one that played out between me and Noah. It was painful in a way I couldn’t look away. Marty fell asleep and missed the whole thing.
The next morning, we figured out a way to get into his apartment, but since it wouldn’t be until 2pm, we snuck into a greasy diner near Rush Street for eggs, toast and coffee — a hangover breakfast without the hangover. After breakfast, we had more time to kill so we went to Barnes and Noble for coffee. I bought another Nora Ephron book. If I wasn’t going to be drinking anymore, I may as well be well-versed in all things romantic and comedic, I reasoned.
We sat at a table and Marty put his head down while I read. He didn’t have much interest in reading. About half-way through the second page I interrupted Marty’s nap.
“Can I tell you something?” I asked.
He lifted his head.
“When you asked me if I drank alone, I didn’t want to tell you I did.”
“I know,” he said. “And if you told me you didn’t, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
“It’s not fair,” I said. “I don’t want to be like this.”
“I know. It’ll get easier.”
“I need a good distraction,” I said. “Something besides work. I don’t like work enough to feel like it’s bettering me.”
“I need one, too,” said Marty. “Like a marathon or something healthy. A positive activity.”
“I’ve always wanted to do the marathon,” I said. “But I didn’t want the training to get in the way of my drinking.”
“Huh,” he said.