He stumbled back to his office barely remembering the way, a path oft trod in the past three years. The hallway narrowed ominously with each fumbling step. The lights seemed more like taunting stars in some unknown sky. This familiar heaviness in his soul was peppered with liberal amounts of fear and doubt and pestered a conscience, dulled and thin. His life had become one big bungee jump of risk versus survival into which joy, let alone hope, was not allowed. At least that had been his inner narrative for more years than he could remember.
He managed to sprawl himself into his spinning office chair with a careless groan. An even more insidious narrative played within, tapes well-worn that had become his fair-weather companions. “I’m fine”, he said to himself, “if I stay here just a while longer, this will wear off and no one will be the wiser.” Such was the insane faux wisdom that had defined his path for so long.
He reached into his desk drawer where sat what remained of a large bottle of cheaper than shit wine. The idea, however faint, that he could reach some measure of sobriety before heading home fled. He uncorked for another swig of life-giving death. It laughed all the way down and propped up his house-of-cards mind. At least until he sensed something was different.
In the few minutes it had taken for this scenario to play itself out, a woman now stood in his office doorway. He turned to see the face of his best friend’s wife. He, a colleague on the church staff, she a soprano in his choir had been the very ground on which a broken family had walked for over two years now. A gentle, contemplative soul by nature, she was a Yale educated, well spoken, diminutive woman of silent compassion. And she was not given to confrontation of any kind. He had rarely heard her speak even at a normal conversational volume.
He could plainly see that this was no friendly visit.
“What the hell was all that?” she said coldly. “You were all over the place tonight. Nobody could understand, let alone, follow what you were doing. You repeated yourself, and with f**king gibberish at that. You’re not even wearing shoes.”
The room changed from dark to darker. She was not one who typically spoke with such directness and was shaking like a fault line tremor framed in the doorway.
It was becoming clear to him, despite the clinical inebriation that now wreaked havoc with his brain, that she knew. Dear God, she knew. He had believed, rather mistakenly, that he had duped those around him into believing he was alright. Thank God for Halls Mentholyptus, chewing gum, physical distance and the occasional cigarette he had thought. All that now evaporated with the realization that his cover was blown. More than blown, it was shattered like so many shards of sleeping glass.
“Will you tell her or shall I?” she asked icily, referring to his wife.
“No, I’ll tell her” he responded, still clinging to the hope that he sounded sober and in control.
She stood a few seconds longer, perfectly still. Surprisingly, her look was more characterized by anger, sadness and compassion than anything close to judgment. Good thing, too, since no one was better at self-condemnation than he. She turned and left, still shaking as she walked away.
He now faced a difficult choice. What was he to do with the line now drawn in the proverbial sand? Could he lay off drinking long enough to cast doubt on her words? Would his word outweigh hers when, or indeed if, it finally found its way to his wife?
His muddied brain refused cogent thought and he again reached into his desk for another drowning swallow. He determined inwardly that he would take his chances, what most desperate men do when faced with a showdown of inner demons. He sat at his desk for what seemed like ten minutes more but was in fact closer to an hour.
At around 11:30 he arose and started the twenty minute walk home. Years of self-deception and twisted logic whispered lies within him. He continued the inner debate. “How do I manage this one?” he thought. “If I take enough deep breaths of night air, walk at a brisk pace to get my heart rate up…maybe then?”
This battle was short lived however as, two blocks from their home, she pulled to the curb with the family van. She had been looking for him for over an hour, frantic and desperate. With justifiable anger she cried “where the hell have you been? I’ve been worried sick.” She looked at him with eyes, frightened and bewildered, and then realized what had all along been her suspicion. She was staring at a drunk.
As he climbed, fell really, into the van, something broke inside. The titanic façade of pretension that had been his life for so many years collapsed into a heaving mess of painful remorse.
“Yes,” he cried, “I think I’m an alcoholic.”
With him, as with anyone who manages this statement, a journey had begun; a journey where, ultimately, earth meets sky…