by Charlie 🌈
Short story of one man's struggle with addiction and social expectations
| Jason Fisher hadn’t had a drink in nearly ten years. He could’ve attributed this minor feat to a steadfast determination to survive, but he didn’t. Instead, Jason credited his success to the complete downward spiral of his life. He thought about that day nearly every time there was a pause in his workload, when he could sleep at night, or while standing in the shower. He thought about her contorted, screaming face and his young daughter cowering in the corner of the living room, big blue eyes full of innocence. Jason liked to remind himself that he took that innocence away, or at the very least, that he was the driving force in killing it.
It was New Years Eve, a day he couldn’t even think about without feeling nauseous. That was most likely because even healthy people like to get a little wild and drink for the special occasion. It wasn’t unlike the nine that had come before it. In the office, there was chatter of meeting up at a bar that night to watch the ball drop together and have a few drinks. Jason’s boss, Michelle, had suggested he come along and just order a club soda. She knew how hard it was for him to be around alcohol, so she had been careful in years before about asking. This year was different though; this would be the tenth alcohol free new year. She felt he deserved a little celebration and reminded him that celebration was not synonymous with drinking alcohol.
Jason told her he would think about it and let her know at lunch. He spent the entire morning fretting over the different possible outcomes. He was more than well aware that he was the weird guy at the office. He hadn’t made friends in the nine years he had worked there. He wasn’t married and, from their knowledge, didn’t have any kids or ex-wife either. Everyone else would be bringing their significant others out with them while their kids were babysat by the highly responsible high schoolers of Roma County.
The thing was, Jason had grown to have a certain affection for the long-legged, brunette Michelle over the last few years. He was certain she was out of his league, even though he wasn’t really out of shape and had a full head of hair in his late forties. She was still a bit younger than him and had limitless life goals, whereas he had given everything up long ago on that cold February morning ten years before. He still couldn’t close his eyes without the guilt and flashbacks. He couldn’t even get over the fact that he could feel something for someone that wasn’t his ex-wife, his high school sweetheart.
At lunch, Michelle made it obvious that she wouldn’t take no for an answer, despite the fact that Jason had already decided against attending. She told him it never gets too crazy, considering it is something of a work function. He wouldn’t even be the only one not drinking. Besides, this was a sports bar where people go to hang out and play pool or darts, not a nightclub where he would be expected to dress to impress and be the life of the party.
That’s how, reluctantly, Jason Fisher ended up at a bar for the first time since his crippling alcoholism had taken his entire life away. He tried to push the thought out of his head as he made his way through the thick wooden doors. The sick part of it was, this bar was on the same street as the bar he was leaving when he got pulled over and given a second DUI on the three-mile drive home. His ex-wife was still there now, just a few miles away with their daughter and her new husband. His wife wouldn’t be drinking this New Year; she was pregnant with twins, according to his daughter who he last saw nearly a month ago. She didn’t like to come around for visits anymore and Jason just didn’t feel right forcing her to spend time with him.
He didn’t have time to think about all of that now though as Michelle spotted him from across the smoky room. Jason had forgotten how warm and comfortable the bar was; it was like coming home. The thought made him nervous as Michelle ran up to him, obviously with a few in her already. “Jason! There you are. I am so happy you could make it. These guys over here are being total party poopers. Andrea is already tired, can you believe it? Oh, what's this?!” she squealed, pouring a shot high above her head into her mouth. She laughed as the poisonous liquid dripped down her mouth.
This wasn’t the woman he had grown to know, falling all over herself laughing and tripping over the legs of people's stools. He had always taken her for a wine drinker himself, the type that pairs wines with good cheese and crackers when she hosted parties. Jason half waved at his coworkers who were chowing down on a basket of buffalo wings and watching a game on the flat screen TV above their table. “It’s awfully early to be so loopy!” he heard Andrea shout over the sound of chatter and excitement in the bar.
Loopy, yeah, if only that was the issue. Jason made himself comfortable at a table with his cubicle neighbor, Marc. The two weren’t really friends, but they had worked next to each other for a few years, so that had to mean they had some sort of connection. He and Marc talked a little bit about work-related stuff, even though it was obvious neither one of them wanted to think about it. Then they switched over to weather and the next winter storm that was due to hit. It wasn’t long before they completely ran out of conversation and Marc started texting someone on his phone. Jason couldn’t help but feel a creeping paranoia. Was Marc texting about him? He felt an old feeling that he knew all too well, that uncomfortable period between arriving at a bar and being drunk. If only he had a few drinks in him, he would be able to have a long, drawn out conversation with absolutely anyone who would listen. People used to always tell him he was a lot more fun when he was drunk. He assumed it was his anxiety that inhibited him.
It wasn’t long though before Michelle was back with a green drink now, maybe an apple martini. Oh, those were good. Jason would always end up finishing his wife’s when they went out together. This was back when she wasn’t alarmed by his drinking habits, back when she thought it was cool and edgy of him to be plastered every weekend. “Marc, you have to try this. It is the best martini I have ever had.” Her words were slurring now and Jason kept thinking, this is not the woman I know. “I know you can’t have any, Jason,” she mentioned. Marc turned down a sip of her drink, while Jason could only think of putting his lips on the rim of that glass where hers had been. He tried to remind himself that she only didn’t offer him to because of his drinking problem.
“I’ll try some!” Robert from accounting exclaimed at the next table.
“Robert, all right! That’s the holiday spirit. That’s what I like to see!” She headed over his way and watched him with excitement as he partook in her offer. Jason couldn’t eradicate the pang of envy somewhere deep in his psyche. You don’t need it. That’s not real attention. She’s just drunk.
And that worked for a while. He and Marc started talking about sports a little, football teams in particular. Jason didn’t know much about sports, but his dad and brother were into football when he was a kid, so he knew enough to spit out some rudimentary information and understand what was said back to him. But as the evening wore on, so did that deep-seated need, that thirst all the club sodas in the world could not quench. His body was practically begging for it, but his mind refused to even acknowledge itself. And that’s when it happened.
Jason saw Michelle sitting next to Robert at the table next to him, not two feet away, where she had planted seed after the initial martini incident. She had been loading up all night and it was leading up to this one instance. If you weren’t paying attention, you might have missed it. If you hadn’t been involved heavily in that scene, it’s possible it could have gone unnoticed. Marc sure didn’t seem to notice; but Jason did. That split second where Robert’s hand landed well above Michelle’s knee and she made no attempt to push it away, just smiled at him, batting her eyelashes.
No, no. You can’t let this happen. He’s going to take her away from you. This is your only chance and you’re blowing it. Jason physically shook the thought out of his head and announced loudly, “How about a round on me?” He expected everyone to look at him mouths open with surprise, but they didn’t. In fact, he realized, no one but Michelle knew of his past and even she, so far along in the stage of inebriation, cheered alongside the few other people who were drinking. That’s ten years down the drain, he promised himself, as he felt the desert of his life finally satiated with just one drop of poison.