I got the message the day after Christmas: Hey friends, how about atlantic city weekend of January 7th?
It came from my best friend in college, the girl I met through my best friend in elementary school. We had both needed roommates as I’d already played russian roulette with my first roommate (and lost) and she was just transferring from community college. We shared a slice of lava cake at Fridays and decided that, yes, we would move in together and share a hot plate and not turn out to be creepy psychopaths.
In truth, it turned out even better than that. She became my very best friend for years and has more dirt on me than anyone else. I’ve told her things I haven’t even told my therapist. We live hours apart, so don’t see each other often, but it doesn’t matter. When we do meet, we pick up right where we left off.
The last weekend we spent together, we climbed into a big empty hot tub at the quaint bed and breakfast where we were staying and smoked a joint she had brought along. I don’t remember why we smoked in the hot tub. Maybe because we were high? But I don’t want you to get the wrong impression of her. She had never gotten high before she met me. Once I remember smoking with a group of friends in college and she got paranoid and stuffed wet towels at the base of the door and ranted about sirens no one else heard. She had been such a novice then, a real innocent.
But now? I’m not drinking and I’m not smoking and she still can. So can the other two college friends who were included on the invite. One is married and one is divorced and dating. All are bringing significant others and none are bringing kids.There’s talk of massages and dinner at the Borgata and someone used the phrase “adult beverages”. My excitement soured pretty quickly. I decided not to go.
My husband and I don’t have easy access to a babysitter. I probably could have found one, but we’re not the type to drop $200 a night on a hotel room at short notice anyway. Plus there’d be dinner. One of my friends has exquisite taste, so we wouldn’t have been dining in a diner, unfortunately. Plus there’s gambling! What if I turned out to be like Julie Hagerty in Lost in America and was never allowed to utter the words “nest” and “egg” in the same sentence again? The only other time I gambled was playing $5 in slots on a riverboat in New Orleans, and I didn’t win anything. What if I won and the pleasure part of my brain lit up like the Rockefeller Christmas Tree? It could turn into my most dangerous addiction yet.
Part of me still wanted to go, just on my own and only for the day. I could have left my husband at home with the kids. He would have gone along with this, though wasn’t happy when I mentioned it. I decided it wasn’t worth the strain, plus who wants to be a seventh wheel?
Still I pictured myself sitting alone on the beach, which I assume you can do without getting knifed or stuck by a needle. I picture strolling along the boardwalk and ducking into a tacky shop to buy a tacky “My mom went to Atlantic City and all I lost was my college fund” shirt for my youngest. I pictured the trip as a getaway, a change of scenery, a chance to get out of myself and watch old people squeeze every last drop out of bus trip tokens and buffets.
Probably the number one reason I didn’t go, though, was because I don’t drink anymore. My friends still drink because they can. They know I don’t drink, so I don’t worry about that, but I did think of what my sponsor shared at a meeting the other night. At six months sober, she had met old friends at a bar and nursed cups of coffee all night long and proudly told her sponsor about it afterwards. Her sponsor said “You’re proud of yourself, huh? For standing in the gasoline all night?”
Lately I’ve felt a bit shaky in my sobriety. The other night I kind of lost it when I realized how badly I wanted beer and how angry I was at not being able to have one. I didn’t drink, but the memory feels so strange and even felt that way while it was happening. It shook me up. I don’t think this is a good time for me to sit around a table with friends I love dearly and laugh while they enjoy drinks the way I once did, never knowing it would end. Who wants to stand in gasoline?
I would like to take my family to Atlantic City though. Maybe in spring we’ll go and all four of us can walk along the beach and eat lunch in a diner with a shady, unshaven character slumped in a corner booth. We can take turns discreetly making up stories about him while we wait for sandwiches to arrive and, with my husband close by, our nest egg will remain safe and sound.
This feels like a new kind of adventure. I like that sobriety has surprises like that.