I was getting ready to pull out of my building's parking lot when I realized I had forgotten my thermos; I shut off my car and ran back inside, a quick dash that set my trip back about ninety seconds. I cursed myself for my absent-mindedness and headed for the interstate.
After a few miles of rain and heavy traffic I was seeing red. The red wasn't my temper, it was the sudden flashing of brake lights- I was watching scarlet dominoes as they fell towards me, blinkity-blink, closer and closer...I skidded to a stop a few feet from the car in front of me.
I thought the guy behind me was going to hit my rear but he didn't. I didn't see anyone hit anything - we just stopped.
I wish I had brought my camera, but I wasn't on the sort of trip that one takes snapshots of- otherwise I might have photographed the milepost we stopped at. I'm going to call it '150' .
I was stopped at 150, nothing to be done but watch the emergency vehicles race down the shoulder.
Ziiieeeooowww!!!- State Troopers.
AraraaaaaAarrrrraaaarrrraaa!!!- Fire Trucks.
Beeeppppbeeeeppp!!!- Animal Control. Animal Control?
Shortly after the vehicles passed traffic started creeping along...after an hour I rounded a long , sweeping curve, passed milepost 151 and was presented with the accident scene- a tractor trailer was on the right shoulder, four or five badly dented cars and SUVs were lined up along the narrow left shoulder, shaken people talking to police and medics. It didn't look too bad until I saw that there were wheels sticking out of the small ravine separating north and south-bound traffic...someone had flipped over.
I didn't see any animals.
By the time I reached milepost 152, traffic was almost back to normal. I estimated the accident occurred one and a half miles from where we first stopped. That's a ninety-second trip at 60 mph. Ninety seconds is how long it took me to run back into my apartment and grab my coffee.
If I hadn't forgotten my thermos, I might have been much closer to that wreck. Maybe.
A couple of hours later I arrived at the family home. My twin brother was waiting.
The Twin went upstairs and came back with a paper grocery bag full of poison. Here, he said, and handed me a beer- Miller in a bottle. Yech.
For the first time in over two years, I opened a beer. The Twin opened his.
Together, we poured them down the kitchen sink.
It was a strange feeling.
We followed the Miller with a half-case of Busch, then another half-case of Yeungling. I topped it all off with a 1.75 liter bottle of Bowman's Virginia Vodka- my old brand. When I died in 2005, it was Bowman's that killed me.
To me, Bowman's Virginia Vodka is not a life-affirming beverage.
Our dad, who is ostensibly not drinking, had beer and liquor stashed all over the house. It's difficult evidence to ignore. Alcoholics who don't drink don't have to hide their liquor; he hides liquor, therefor it's a sure bet that he's drinking. I'm not sure that he ever really stopped.
There's a wonderful feeling of liberation and freedom that sneaks up on you a few months after the hiding stops- it's a rush of empowerment and once you have felt that, it's hard to imagine ever wanting to go back. I have tried to discuss this sensation with my father, but he doesn't seem to know what I mean- it made me wonder if he really wanted to sober up. He doesn't want to. He wants his mother to die so he can resume his business of mortal drinking.
I know this because Fred Thompson told me so in a dream. Fred's Law& Order character was serving me a Manhattan at an old bar that doesn't even exist anymore.
"Arthur", I was complaining, "Manhattans were the ex's drink. If there was nothing in the world to drink but Manhattans, I would have quit drinking in 1988."
"Look at your glass", he said.
He studied my face with jowly authority as I looked down. It was empty. Had I drank it? All of that work wasted on a Manhattan?
"Arthur", I reasoned," I don't consider a Manhattan to be a drink, it's a waste of whiskey is all. Just because you are wasting bourbon it doesn't mean you are drinking. You can't knock me off the wagon with a Manhattan. It's a technicality."
All of those Law & Order marathons were finally paying off.
"Look again", he growled.
Four fingers of Wild Turkey bourbon. Straight,101 proof, no vermouth and no cherry. I raised it to my lips, thought better of it and set it down. Pushed it back to Arthur/Fred.
"Nice try. No thanks."
Fred looked at me with dead basset eyes. The drink vanished.
"Too bad about your father", he said, ice forming on the words. He didn't explain what he meant because he didn't have to. He was gloating.
"I know,"I told him. "I'm ready to wake the fuck up now."
And I did. Fred didn't tell me anything I didn't already know.
In 2005 I was very sick.
When I got out of the hospital I went home and poured my Bowman's Virginia Vodka down the sink. I never wanted to touch it again. No more Bowman's. No more hospitals.
In the last days of 2007 I found myself pouring Bowman down the drain and preparing to enter the hospital, this time as a visitor. My grandmother is very weak and ill - she has a recurring blockage - but she was alert enough to give me a highly detailed description of the gruesome and invasive medical procedures she is undergoing- out of nowhere she started talking about a cyst she had removed in the 1950's, something we had never known about; I blotted out the details at "then they split me open"- after a few minutes of that, all I could hear was my brother's voice saying: You better stop talking about the cyst, I think Allan is going to faint.
Maybe you should get some food into him, suggested my grandmother.
So we went to a nearby diner and I ordered a deep-fried salt block with a lard-based cream sauce, extra starch and green beans soaked in pork brine. In my younger, fearless days I would have called this a 'chicken-fried steak special', but yesterday it seemed more like a blockage waiting to happen...that's why I ordered it. I need some potentially self-destructive danger in my life, but that danger has to have a certain plausible survivability.
I can outlive dinner. That's easy. I can even do dessert.
What I'm dreading is the unknown. My family, as I know it, will be soon be extinct. When the inevitable occurs, there are going to be complications- always complications- and the idea of having to babysit binge-drinking adults while dealing with lawyers and funeral homes is not a happy one.
The Twin needs to return to work but he is afraid to go home, lest he need to return immediately, our gran's been touch-and-go all year long and there isn't any real hope of improvement- if this blockage passes (as of 6pm , no go) , there will be another soon after.
Four times this year alone- four hospital stays in one year. That's too many.
Still, she's stronger than me. I am completely spent after a hospital visit. I start having panic twinges as soon as the doors open...when I am in a hospital all I can think about is getting out. The sounds are too loud, the smells are overwhelming, the lighting is all wrong -everything spins, blinks and whirls- I want to curl up on the floor and scream until I am somewhere else.
But I know that if you curl up and scream in the hospital, it dramatically lessens your chances of getting out, so I didn't do that. Eventually I found myself back here, but now I don't feel like screaming anymore, which is an improvement.
Best of all, I slept without dreaming of Fred Thompson, bourbon or vermouth.
I dreamed about the buoyancy of salt. It was good.