Young, Dumb & Full of…Beer!
By Jeb "The Serial Quitter" Wright
Visit Jeb at http://www.serialquitter.com/
Back in the mid-1980s, I was living in downtown Topeka, Kansas with a friend who I had met during a recent stint at St. Francis Hospital’s Chemical Dependency Unit. He was my roommate in rehab. After we graduated, I got a job at Falley’s grocery store in North Topeka and rented a bedroom in his house.
We became best friends.
Every day that winter I gave my roommate a ride to the printing company he worked for on my way to work. He had lost his license due to a DUI. He was a few years older than me…somewhere around 26 or 27. I was maybe 19 or 20.
At this time, I owned a 1978 red Ford LTD. A year before it had been t-boned on the passenger’s side when I drunkenly pulled out into traffic without looking. Luckily, no one was hurt. I was arrested and given a diversion. While my record was spared an infraction, the result of the wreck was that the passenger’s front door had a huge opening. I had no money or insurance, so I just left it the way it was. The door actually opened and shut—I have no idea how.
On cold winter days I had to scrape the ice off of the inside of my car windows due to the gap in the door that allowed the weather in. I also had to de-snow the inside of the car when it snowed outside.
I have vivid memories of my buddy in the passenger seat, frozen during his ride to work. The cold air would rush into the car and the heater was simply unable to keep up. I remember laughing at him as he would attempt to smoke a Marlboro Red cigarette while his lips quivered out of control.
We had a good time being roomies, though we had no idea how to live sober. We gave it our best shot by working our jobs during the day and hanging out at night.
We were white-knuckling it and hanging on by a thread.
All the while we naively thought our recovery was as solid as a slab of granite.
It wasn’t. In fact, I would soon learn just how fragile my own recovery actually was.
One day, after dropping my friend off at his job, I went to my job at Falley’s. It was a day like any other day. There was nothing abnormal going on at all. I was in the store, stocking shelves, pricing goods and getting called up to bag groceries when the lines got too long. The morning rolled along and before I knew it, it was time for my daily lunchbreak.
I had employed by Falley’s for several months and even liked the job. I was not a happy camper in my personal life, though. I knew that with every can I stocked, and every bag I stuffed, I was slipping further behind in life.
I thought that I should have been in college getting a career path…not shoveling snow out of the inside of my car and putting price stickers on bottles of ketchup. I felt like a flunky…a lost boy who was trying to figure out how to get ahead in life. I also had a secret. Despite a few months of sobriety I still desired to drink and do drugs nearly every minute of every day. I hated nearly everything about my life…and myself.
I was truly attempting with every ounce of self-will I had to live against my nature.
On this particular day I clocked out for lunch and got into my car and drove across the parking lot and turned left onto Topeka Boulevard. I drove about a half mile down the road to a Pizza Hut. I parked, walked in and found a table at the back of the Hut. The waitress soon came over and asked me what I wanted. I ordered a personal pan pizza…peperoni. I also ordered a soda pop.
As the waitress was walking back across the restaurant to place my order with the kitchen, I noticed a couple of guys sitting at a small square table in front of me. They each had a glass of beer. The head on their beers was sticking up over the top of the golden liquid.
To others patrons this was not a sight to get excited about. To me it looked like a Norman Rockwell painting. I could not take my eyes off the glistening liquid and the way the condensation was dripping down the glassware.
It was as if time had frozen, locking me into some kind of spell.
While time seemed to cease, the truth was that only a few moments had actually slipped by since I glimpsed those ice cold beverages. In fact, so little time had evaporated I was able to get the waitress’ attention before she turned in my order. I told her to change my pop to a beer.
No one acted as if anything was odd about this at all. I was just a guy having a beer with his pizza.
As I waited for her to get my beer I popped out of my trance and realized what I had just done…and what I was soon going to do. My heart began to race. I became very aware of my breathing as it had increased and I was inhaling much deeper than before.
The feeling of impending doom washed over me.
The waitress appeared moments later with my beer.
I silently wondered, “Does she have any idea what she is doing? Or what is about to happen? Why is it so easy for a recovering alcoholic to get a beer? I am not even 21 years old! I am not even supposed to drink. Yet here she is…not checking my identification. It is as if she enjoys bringing poison to an imprisoned soul!”
I quickly shook off this line of thinking and stuffed the insane thoughts inward. Suddenly, my focus changed and I became extremely curious as to what would happen next.
I wanted to beat the beast that was stealing my normality. I wanted to drink a beer and be successful at it. I wanted to be the Jeb I was before all of this bullshit even started.
As I sat in my own invisible anxiety the feeling of retribution was thick in the air…at least in my mind.
My plotting was interrupted when my beer was delivered by my waitress…still oblivious as to what was truly going on. I thanked her as she drifted away.
I sat for a moment and just stared at my beer.
Before I even lifted the glass to take my first sip, I felt the glands in my cheeks flinch and saliva begin to form in my mouth.
I did the only thing I could do at this point…I picked up the glass and took a sip.
Within the time it took to take one sip all of the stresses in my life were instantly erased.
The young punk in recovery with a secret was gone. I was now just a kid having a beer at Pizza Hut. I was normal once again and it felt fucking good…it tasted even better.
I ate my lunch and enjoyed the taste of the liquid that had been absent from my diet for far too long. I stayed in a silent trance, oblivious to everything that existed beyond two feet in front of me.
I was brought back to earth suddenly when the waitress interrupted my swan song to sobriety by asking me if I needed another beer.
I said that I did not.
She still had no clue as to what she had done.
Now back in the real world I ate the rest of my pizza and finished my beer. I, then, got up, left her a tip and went to pay for my meal. I remember thinking as I walked away from the cash register, “That wasn’t so bad.”
Then… something unexpected happened.
I suddenly felt…transformed.
Deep inside I knew something had changed.
I knew things were strangely different than they had been just moments before. I was not sure if this was a good thing, or a bad thing.
In the midst of this revelation I was distracted when my friend popped into my mind.
What would I tell him?
Perhaps, I would just not tell him…or anyone else…anything. After all…it was just one beer. It was not like I was still there chugging it down. I was being responsible and heading back to work.
Maybe too much of a big deal should not be made of this, I thought.
Everything seemed to be fine.
No harm…no foul.
As I walked out of Pizza Hut I headed towards my car. I opened the door and got in, keys in hand.
Once in the driver’s seat, with the engine fired up, I had a fleeting thought.
Instead of turning right and going back to Falley’s, I could just as easily turn left and head to Lane Street, the part of town where the bars I used to drink in resided.
I was taken aback by the random thought and quickly shook off the feeling.
I was going back to work, that’s all there was to it.
Then, as quickly as it had left, the thought came back once again.
I was no longer feeling so confident.
I worked harder this time to mentally rid myself of the thought, but it returned a third time.
This time it was not so fleeting. This time it was stronger and more persistent.
As I sat nervously waiting to turn right to return to work several other thoughts entered my mind.
“Who needs a stupid job at Falley’s grocery store anyway? I am suffering in that place. It is below me. Life is not fair and I’m getting fucked over.”
I was angry…at the world…at myself…and even at Falley’s.
As the rage grew, I pushed downward on the turn signal, changing it from the right blinker to the left.
As I approached the intersection I changed lanes and turned toward Lane Street leaving Falley’s in the rearview mirror behind me.
During my ten-minute drive across town I feebly attempted to talk myself out of doing what I was doing and return to work.
It was, however, too late. I could now easily pushed reason away.
Oh, I suppose the angel on my shoulder stuck with me for a bit. In fact, she stayed with me the entire drive until I pulled up to the bar.
She was even with me when I first went inside…yet with every step I took towards the bar I felt her fade further into the abyss and become easier to simply ignore.
I effortlessly found my way onto a barstool and was soon sipping beer number two of the day.
This one tasted even better than the first…and was much easier to drink.
All of my anxieties were, by now, quelled.
I remained at the bar, on that stool, until closing time that night.
I got really drunk.
I never went back home.
I never returned to Falley’s.
The fight was over…I had given in.
“Wine is fine but whiskey’s quicker, suicide is slow with liquor. Take a bottle and drown your sorrows then it floods away tomorrows.”
– From the song “Suicide Solution” by Ozzy Osbourne
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