Yesterday I had lunch with my uncle. You may be saying, well, THAT surely wouldn’t drive you to want to drink, and you would be wrong. I’m sure you’re right about many, many things, but not this.
It caught me very completely off guard. He’s a lovely fellow (if socially awkward in some way that doesn’t have a name). I hadn’t seen him in 13 years (since he sold me this triplex and after the closing turned and walked away in that no-name awkward way, which I didn’t handle very well internally at the time). I had emailed him a question about this building, and in the conversation that ensued we said we should have lunch some time when you’re in the neighborhood. So we did. I thought it’d be nice to see him.
It was, and it also kind of knocked me off my rocker. My mom (his sister) is dead and so is his other sister. (My mom died of cancer 15 years ago, when I was 38.) As are, not surprisingly, my/his grand/parents. Seeing him, hearing him talk, brought. them. all. back. Viscerally. Ten minutes into the lunch I was seized by the desire for a drink. Overtaken by the need. This is too much, not what I expected, can’t take it, too much grief.
I didn’t have that beer. I have a lot of solid, gentle, clear-headed sober days behind me, and that cushion very much helped me steer myself away from the panic. We continued through the lunch, it was lovely, I had tears come to my eyes several times as we talked and I just wiped them away. (He’s socially awkward, remember, and so who knows if he even registered that.) We talked about his parents, his growing up, attitudes toward education, construction work, authority; my grandfather’s alcoholism. Turns out Grandpa went in and out of alcohol abuse according to how stressful his job was (he was a construction manager, built bridges, had an 8th grade education and also a whole bookcase full of history books that I used to stare at as a child and as an adult wonder what he would have done with his life if born at a different time or into a family with more options than subsistence farming in early 20th century Wisconsin).
I’m sitting there thinking, he stopped drinking so much at times? Wow. I’m impressed, because that is absolutely not how I experience my own alcohol addiction. It’s only up.
I gained more information about their early lives and more sympathy for all of them, especially my grandfather. I heard about my uncle’s life and path to medical school in a working class family. It was lovely, it was hard, and after we said goodbye (awkwardly) and I proceeded toward my car, I look up and I’m face to face with my main liquor store. Seriously. Nice joke, universe. And then and there I discovered a new sober tool. I instructed my feet to just keep walking. Who the hell cares what’s going through my mind or veins right now? That, would be irrelevant. If the feet just keep doing their specialized job and step one after the other over this curb and along the sidewalk for a while and then across a different surface posed by the alley (more dirt and more rocks, but still very traversable), across the next diner’s parking lot and up one more sidewalk, we’re good.
Oh, except for the sobbing. Did I mention the sobbing? The flood gates opened as soon as he was gone. I walked into the coffee shop where I had been previous to the lunch, looking like a sobbing person and muttered something about uncle and dead family and difficult lunch, and asked for a coffee, and the sweet barista handed me coffee and said it’s on the house. We cannot take away another person’s pain but we can give them hot coffee.
I miss my mom, life goes on, I did not drink, and I’m really happy I saw her brother.
Happy day to you.