I love you more than anything right now. I love you even when you’re shitty beer or at the bottom of somebody's abandoned cocktail glass left on a sticky bar or when I drink an entire bottle of wine before a first date and then head to the bar, already knowing I’ll probably do something I regret. I love you more than the four iPhones, two friendships, and one pair of shoes I’ve lost or broken while drunk.
It wasn’t a straightforward romance. I knew I was looking for something but I didn’t know it would be you. After all, bulimia and I were flirting pretty hard and heavy when I was introduced to you, a month after I turned 16. I met you via tequila shots in my friend Viv’s basement after a homecoming game. My hands were chapped from the cold of walking the mile from the football field to her house without gloves and I hated the way my cracked skin tasted as I licked the salt that lay above the knuckle on my thumb. I hated the way the tequila burned down my throat. But I did four shots anyway. Afterwards I felt alive, funny, enervated. The world seemed a lot less scary and cold.
Still, for a long time, we maintained a pretty tepid affair. My main concern was the calories. I wanted to be skinny more than anything else and I didn’t know how to reconcile the amount of booze it would take to get a buzz with the endless minutes on the treadmill or the effort it took to find an empty bathroom stall and stick my finger down my throat. Maybe I would have tried coke but by then, I was attending a rural woman’s college and the idea of trying find it seemed far too daunting. Besides, I was an annoyingly good girl—one of those people who never missed a lecture, who always had her hand raised, who felt guilty if she skipped a workout.
But I was also hungry—for carbs, always, but also for adventure, for breaking the rules, for the dark corners of my mind I was afraid to explore. And so even though I didn’t drink a all the time, I still went out a lot. I felt the rush of excitement when my roommate and I went to a neighboring school’s frat parties and I let a guy’s hands touch me everywhere, allowed his fingers to flutter against the waistband of my jeans and knew that was code for heading to a barely-used meeting room upstairs. And so, although I wasn’t drunk when I lost my virginity—a frat boy on top of me, me still wearing my pink faux vintage t-shirt that read Wildcat in glittery script—I might as well have been. And that night, coming back to my own dorm room after terrible sex, it clicked: alcohol made things happen. It was a conduit to excitement, a conduit to being someone I wasn’t. Being someone extraordinary.
So the seed was planted. But I was still coy with you—I remember, I had left over beers in my dorm room when I was packing up after freshman year and tossed them in a free box without a second thought. “You actually have left over alcohol?” a sophomore asked incredulously, popping the cap with her dorm key. “That’s incredible.”
I shrugged. I felt superior to her. I had better things to do than drink beer at 2 P.M. on a Saturday afternoon.
And then came sophomore year and a transfer to a college in New York City—and, with that, Amaretto Sours and Cosmos all over Manhattan. My roommate and I always got drinks for free because we were pretty-ish and we ordered ridiculous technicolor drinks and it seemed the drunker we were, the more boys and bartenders would pay attention to us. We drank like it was our job and we were very, very good at it. I loved the fact that five drinks could slide a Saturday night into a night of adventure, into so many firsts: first time making out in the back of a cab, first time having sex outside, first time staying up all night and watching the sun rise while drinking wine from the night before.
And then there were the bad firsts: first time blacking out (shitty complimentary boxed white wine at the Chinese restaurant that didn’t card), first time having no clue whether or not I had sex (a flurry of text message exchanges the next day confirmed that I had), first time throwing up all over myself (at a black tie affair where I was supposed to be a volunteer).
But ultimately those things didn’t much matter because I was in love. And once I graduated from college and began working an entry-level job at a magazine, it seemed the feeling was mutual. My salary wasn’t glamorous but the perks—endless parties, open bars, plenty of three-course lunches with literary idols and an office where champagne was often uncorked as a reward for getting through late nights—were amazing. Drinking served as the common ground I had with my seemingly way more sophisticated colleagues and the drunker I got, the more comfortable I felt in my skin. Each drink was bringing me closer to becoming the sexy, smart girl I desperately wanted to be.
“What do you like more, drinking or sex?” I was 23, and the question—ridiculous, implausible—was asked by the guy I was sleeping with. At one point, we had been on track to actually date but that had been before I’d called his number 12 times in a row, before I showed up at his door, bleeding and crying, before he told me one night that I was too drunk to sleep with and put me to bed on his couch.
I paused, silence hanging between us. The answer was so obvious. Sex was awkward, embarrassing. It was the opposite of drinking.
“I know,” he sighed and rolled away: a jealous lover. “You love your booze.”
By that point, it was obvious. I loved drinking—at happy hours, at work events, alone in my apartment. But for the past five years, it’s been a one-sided love affair and the stakes have only gotten higher. I’m older. Fewer of my friends think that an open-bar invite has the same appeal that it did when we were in our early twenties. It’s not cute anymore. And I don’t seem to have the same handle on drinking that I once did. I’ve had five blackouts in the past two months. Five different times where I've tried to piece together the events of the previous evening only to try as hard as humanly possible to forget them—usually by drinking again.
Snapshot: in bed with my ex-boyfriend, making myself throw up into his wastepaper basket next to his night table, so proud that I still remembered the exact right touch on the back of my throat that would make me heave. I’d come to his place directly from girls' happy hour. As soon as I came in, he was worried I had alcohol poisoning and was about to bring me to the hospital. I thought vomiting in front of him on purpose would prove that I was okay.
Snapshot: in a cab with my boss, who was nice enough to take me home from a party, and me forgetting my address until she walked up and down the street with me and I finally recognized my building.
“Feeling okay today?” she asked the next morning, avoiding eye contact.
“I should have eaten last night,” I said ruefully, staring at a spot on the floor.
“Lesson learned?” She was half grimacing.
I knew I was supposed to say something else: that I was sorry, that it would never happen again, that it was completely inappropriate and I really appreciated her trying to gloss over everything. But I didn’t. Because saying all that would be an admission that the night before had really happened.
I stayed at the office extra-late that night, chugging coffee, attempting to seem responsible and in control.
Snapshot: waking up on my couch, surrounded by empty bottles and half-eaten plates of food. It had been my housewarming party and I only remembered the first 10 minutes.
Snapshot: waking up next to my cracked phone in the hazy light of five A.M. I’m in my bed, but there’s a huge purple bruise that extends from the top of my shoulder to my elbow that takes my breath away. A trail of dried blood sticks on my forehead and in my hair, all coming from a scratch on my temple. Did I fall? Get into a fight? Was I attacked? I text the last friend I remember seeing that night and she says she put me in a cab. That day at work, I kept shrugging my shoulder out of my cardigan, in awe of the purple-ish bruise spreading down my arm.
But after the embarrassments subside and the bruises disappear, I can smooth over each incident and make it sound like no more than a kind of cringe-worthy mishap. Yet I’m so terribly afraid that my luck is going to run out, that I’m going to lose what I’ve still managed to hang on to. My job, my friends, my life.
So I’m going to try so hard to quit. But right now, I love you so much that I can’t imagine how I’m going to live the rest of my life without you. There’s so much I still don’t know about you: I still don’t know the difference between Malbec and Merlot, I never got around to drinking Scotch straight up, I’ll never have you in my hands during my wedding.
If I even get married.
Because that’s the thing: In every possible way, I’m worried you’ve ruined me for anyone. You’ve turned my life into a series of mishaps and mistakes and awful nights and even worse mornings after. But I still keep going back to you and you’re always there.
Which is why, even though I’m scared and angry and confused as all hell, I’m going to bow out of happy hours. Pour out the vodka in my freezer. Head to AA. I’m going to try to walk away from the twisted life we’ve created together. But I’m keeping the wine glasses in my cabinet. Just in case.
J.L. Scott is the pseudonym for a prominent magazine writer who lives in New York.