The Moment Before I Loved You
I had a lot to drink the other night. Enough so there are moments of the night—what did I do before I fell asleep? Did I brush my teeth?—that are gone.
I don’t drink much because my body doesn’t love alcohol. Drinking, for me, is sort of like running the hurdles. I have to get myself over something that’s in my way—my body’s aversion to the bottle, and the risk of hurting myself is greater than the chance I’ll be a stronger person by the race’s end.
Despite the hurdles, it was so nice to sit at the bar and drink and get high. A woman sitting a few barstools down was telling me about how tequila is an experience enhancer, how it makes everything better. She and I were talking enthusiastically. I could feel my face telling her face I love you! You are amazing! I could have talked to the rocks outside with the same kind of enthusiasm. I was high! Everything was great!!
The one time I talked with my birth mother she told me she wasn’t my mother, that her cousin had gotten drunk and had had sex with a stranger at a party my birth mother had thrown, and my birth mother, feeling guilty, had let her cousin use her I.D. to give birth at the hospital. (I know. You don’t always have to be drunk to think drunk.) Later she confessed when I pressed her that she was, in fact, my mother but that she’d been a victim of drunken date rape, a fact my birth father has since denied. Since he reached out and met me and she didn’t, I chose his story and changed what I had written in my book You Don’t Look Adopted to align with what he had labeled as the real events.
If people didn’t get drunk, I might not exist. Two strangers might not have found each other attractive enough to have sex before they had ever shared a meal. If alcohol didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have lost my virginity at a Harvard party and had unprotected sex and ridden home on the T the next morning thinking, Now it’s my turn. I’m 18 and I’m going to have a baby whose father I rowed crew and was handsome and blonde. I wasn’t sure of his name. By not sure I mean I didn’t know it.
If alcohol didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have an escape hatch to think about when I have a particularly tough day. I can fantasize how I’ll take the edge of an experience. I can think about a cold beer, the olive in the Martini, the vodka straight up. I can think about how alcohol will help me crawl out of the muck of life, how it will give me some energy to pull my feet from the mud and believe I can dance. Even if I don’t have the drink. I am less present for the experience itself as I am focused on escape instead of on stay.
I woke up at 4 a.m. the night I drank all that tequila and took two Advil for my already pounding head. I drank some water. I felt like old sandpaper, like a flower that was shriveling to dry, like a joke that had fallen flat. The fun part was over, and the next day was going to be long.
There is something in me that loves high. Coffee, adrenalin, the sweetness of the new. High is a way of floating over the pains of the day. High is a way of denying how the body truly experiences the morning: something that should be entered into slowly, with care. Coffee means I can hurdle over my body’s cry for rest or massage or gentle exercise. Iced tea in the afternoon means I can soar over my feelings that what I am doing is not my soul’s calling. High keeps me moving so I feel the rush but not the real.
Part of me wishes I were a barfly, someone who drank to live. Part of me wants to swim in the darkness of the high, the deepness of denial, the refusal to truly show up.
The world asks us to be other than what we are. We know we should be more successful, thinner, richer, kinder, more in shape. This gap between who we are and who we think we should be is so painful. The gap is the space where we reject ourselves, and touching that space is like putting your face into boiling water.
High numbs us so we can’t feel this gap in the same way. High also makes us think we own that gap, that we are the boss of us, that we make the rules and that everything is going to be okay. Until, of course, sobriety steps into the room. And then, because we have stressed our organs and nervous system, the gap between who we are and who we think we should be is even wider, even more soul sickening.
So we go back to the bar, back to Starbucks, back to Target to buy stuff that will make us feel sparkly.
What does a life of sobriety look like? How deep is joy when you learn that there is no gap, nothing to numb? What do the stars feel like in the sky? Those jagged planets. What do the flowers feel like when the sun rises and dries the dew? What does the baby feel when the mother picks it up, cradles it, offers her breast? What does the bird feel the moment before it begins to sing?
The moment before is the best. The moment before my beloved kisses me. The moment before I chew the bite of cake. The moment before I buy the new jeans. The moment before I take the picture. There is that gap, the moment between pleasure seen and pleasure experienced. The moment before I tell you how beautiful you are, how happy you make me feel, and the moment after, the air already going out of the balloon.
The moment before a baby takes its first breath is the moment it’s still living the story of us, of one and one is one. That moment is the gap of time between before the Big Bang and after, the moment before I saw myself in the mirror and the moment after, when I realized almost everything I had learned in this life was a lie.