Crossing over

boats on calm waterJust now I was rereading a beautifully written short essay from one of my more bashful students. In it, he writes of his connection to the Chesapeake Bay—a mighty body of water that ebbs and flows across six states, including Virginia and Maryland—and then goes on to use the image of ebbing and flowing as a way of describing his inner state.

While reading the essay, I saw before me an image of a man I had known only from a photograph. I cannot say why he appeared, since I had not thought about him for many years, and I cannot tell you the reason he was sent. I can say, though, that he had been the handsome amante of my friend Mary and that he had died one night of cirrhosis.

At first, she did not know of his alcoholism because he had been able to stop drinking for a while and because they lived countries apart—he in Mexico and she in the United States. An intellectual who frequented a university where she had gone to study Spanish and Mexican literature, he saw her one day in the school’s cafeteria and, no doubt because of her beauty, made a beeline and struck up a sexy conversation. Soon after, they fell in love and carried on their long-distance romance until his sudden and tragic death.

For reasons I do not understand entirely, her romance with him and with Mexico marked the beginning of my love affair with Mexico, in particular, and with Latin America, in general. My second husband, now an ex-husband, is from Bolivia and, like Mary’s departed lover, is an intellectual (or somewhat so) and an alcoholic—this last a fact I discovered only after we were married. Perhaps somewhere within and down low, though, I knew from the start that he was in trouble.

Alcoholism, or at the least heavy drinking, has flowed through my family for generations: grandfather, mother, father, brother. So embedded in my sense memory is the boozy stink of my lost mother and the liquored-up reek of my lost husband that I, myself, cannot even bear to smell hard liquor, especially scotch, much less drink it. Sometimes, however, I will drink a glass of Pinot Grigio or Prosecco and usually will enjoy it well enough. Also, Mary and I are no longer friends.

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4 comments

  1. I’ve had two friends who can be termed hard-core alcoholics. One died. He was a professor of Biology at Alcorn Start where I taught for years. He’d leave my apartment after drinking gin and he’d walk through the open door and slam into the concrete wall he was so drunk. “I’m okay. I’m okay.” Luckily we all lived on campus back then and he only had to drive two hundred yards. He died a few years back. The other is a woman who taught French. She’s still going strong, but she needs a wheel chair to get around. She stopped smoking but not the Jack Daniels. Our friendship ended because once drunk, which was often, she was drop dead mean. It was unbearable. It’s good to hear that you dropped the hard stuff. What good is it? It’s the same for me. My wife and I have a glass of wine on occasion, but that’s about it. I like Sake, but I don’t drink it very often.
    This is a great post. How interesting that you should be reading a well written student essay and then the thought of someone else comes to mind. It happens though. I understand.

    1. Thank you for reading my piece and for responding in such an honest and thoughtful way. I know firsthand the painful experience of being with people who are “drop dead mean.” By the way, I dropped the hard stuff when I was 13 or so. Then, we would go to “the log” (the woods in my town) and get bent. Who knew where the so-called adults were? Off getting plastered themselves, no doubt. That drinking was more than enough for my lifetime. Leslie

  2. My experience with the “devil in a bottle” was yours in reverse. No one in our house drank. I didn’t have my first beer until I was 23. But once I got to Alcorn, I made up for lost time. I started boozing pretty hard. I was a social drinker, hardly ever drank alone, but at a party I went berserk. By the time I hit thirty most of my rowdy friends had left for work elsewhere and so I quit drinking. I had no one to drink with. Fate dealt me a good hand.
    Thanks for the kind words on rejection. You’d think I’d be okay with getting the cold email, but nah, I still get a bit down. So thank you for words of encouragement. Paul

    1. I don’t think we ever get over feeling the sting of a rejection email. I have a poem floating around out there, and I will no doubt soon find one of those cold emails lurch at me before I’ve had my coffee. Ugh. Best, Leslie

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