The last weekend of my drinking, my husband and I dropped the kids off at babysitting and went to a driving range. It was a clear early summer night and we had planned to hit a bucket of balls and maybe grab a bite to eat afterwards. This was his plan, though. The driving range had a small snack shop with wrinkly hot dogs and ice cream bars and soda pop. It did not sell beer. I did not really want to be there.
It turned out we didn’t stay long. All the loaner clubs were out or broken. My husband and I sat outside on a bench for awhile and watched strangers hit balls into the expansive green. I was just waiting for him to ask “you ready to go?” because I knew he would. My head and guts were starting to crawl in that panicky way when you go too long in between drinks.
I don’t remember which one of us suggested the cowboy bar, but it was still light outside and the parking lot was mostly empty. We call it the cowboy bar because the neon sign out front is a cowboy hat that lights up at night. The place looks deceptively small from the outside, but inside it’s dark and cavernous and the floor looks like bathroom tile and suggests they once saw the kind of crowd that made it easier to just hose the place down in the morning. The cowboy bar has honky tonk bands on weekends and a full page of Dolly Parton songs for karaoke night and surprisingly good beer on tap. By good beer, I mean boozy beer.
We hoisted up on plastic swivel stools and chatted with the bartender, who told us Kirstie Alley had just been by. She betrayed her offhand tone by whipping out a phone to show us a picture of her and Kirstie – arms entwined – smiling, fast friends. Kirstie was in town to hawk her magic weight loss formula on a certain well-known home shopping network.
The bartender and handful of patrons at the bar were alight with hope that Kirstie would be back later. The guy to my right dug into a plate of cheese fries with a fork. I’d swear now he’s someone I know, a chronic relapser with less than 90 days who once strung together three years. Three years. But again, I can’t very well ask him “say, was that you eating cheese fries with a fork at the cowboy bar two summers ago, waiting for Kirstie Alley to return? And did she?”
I was drinking faster than my husband that night. I was trying to hold it together, but I don’t think I was holding anything to begin with. We had to leave and pick up our children and then the night went fuzzy. I have a vague memory of hanging onto the door jamb of our back porch and saying “Listen, I’m going to stop drinking after this weekend and I just want you to leave me alone until then.”
When I think back to that last weekend of drinking, I can tell you I’d had enough. There was never enough to drink, but the dive bar scene didn’t fit anymore. Maybe I’d once had fantasies of winding up in a Bukowski story, but the reality of being a suburban mom drunk in a dive bar is having a conversation with a slurring irish house painter you swear keeps saying his name is Blob (Bob. His name is Bob.) and who keeps spraying spittle in your face at random intervals. It’s possibly getting roofied at a biker bar but not being entirely sure because you drank enough that you might have roofied yourself. I’ll read about this world, but I don’t want fights in the parking lot and burning cigarette holes in the car upholstery and falling into screen doors and hoping my kids don’t notice I’m just a drunk.
That night at the cowboy bar was an anticlimactic gift of sorts because I said what I said about not drinking anymore and I stuck with it. (Sort of. I actually quit on a Tuesday, as I had to do a weaning detox on Monday.) When that moment comes along where you know you’ve had as much fun as you’re gonna have and that drinking is more or less sucking the life out of you, sometimes you just have to take that gift and figure out what to do with it later. You will.