Booze sickens me. I don’t like drinking. I don’t like drunk. I don’t enjoy drunk people. At least that is what I will say when I am sober. I rarely drank to excess: I preferred other means of locomotion. I got drunk occasionally but was not a drunk. I managed this state of affairs right up until the fourth time around with Billy. I used to be a very well behaved drunk person, people would not even realize I was drunk until I fell off my chair or puked over an okonomiyaki joint in Roppongi. I used to drink southern comfort and lemonade, as a nod to Janis. I tried the green fairy, dripping absinthe over a sugar cube. I might occasionally cane a bottle of rose wine while my harder drinking friends looked on at me in disgust. I never got the taste for bulls blood and tapas or pouilly-fume and garlic mussels with the rich college crowd. I drank with them once, and was then required to carry back a large wicker basket for a rich girl with a rich girl’s name, while she supervised the moving. My position as general dogsbody, a harmless servant, a useful tool lasted about two minutes. Once she made it clear she didn’t want ‘help’ to shift it, and instead wanted to watch while I struggled with her giant wicker basket, I told her she would be first up against the wall come the revolution, and dumped her and her wicker at the bottom of a hill in late June. By July she ran whenever she saw me coming round the corner.
Most of the time I would be drinking an orange juice in bars while I waited for my man to arrive with the object of my affections. Booze just ruined the ride. I didn’t enjoy the combination of booze and anything.
I was not a drinker. I had to work at it. I got there in the end.
It is not as if when I had my first taste of booze aged under ten, given by lax carers, that I thought ‘this is it!’ I tried it and it didn’t woo me or It never wowed me. Never got me truckin’. It just was not for me.
So when Billy sat there on that infernal futon, the one that kept throwing itself off the damn frame as you sat perched on it uncomfortably trying to stop the slide, hands held loosely ahead of him, head bowed, but jaw set bullishly, and without looking me in the eye, said quietly but firmly that he was going to have to drink, that was what was happening, and he was going to go out and buy a gallon of vodka and come back and drink it, drink it in our little blue house in the woods, down a street called Main, which had nothing on it for at least three miles down the road and twenty up it, and even then only a tiny grocery store, a tiny bar and a school that didn’t seem to be open to teach. Drink under the tree that was so large it roots threatened the small blue-board house’s floor – it had no foundations, and was set up on a frame footprint. Drink in our little kitchen that was always full of ants, in an endless battle against the ranged armies of tiny industrious critters that carried off our crispbread and cereal crumbs. And drink. Drink next to me.
Billy drank. Drink is a river at the bottom of a lake of booze that runs through him and his outwardly worthless life. He had never had a drink aged 21, and when he was old enough to drink, highly strung and infinitely fucked up, someone handed him a bottle of tequila. He drank it. He drank all of it and puked. I was not even born at this point in time, and he was busy destroying himself. That first night he apparently pulled the door off a fridge freezer, puked on the sofa, and then got up and did it all over again. It rang all the bells for him. It made him brave. It made him forget. It made him black out immediately. It made him bold and confident. It made him into a hero of the bottle.
He told me about walking round some Wisconsin music festival in the late 60’s or early 70’s, with a wine bladder he had filled with a mixture of the fabled everclear overproof blowyerheadoff don’t get stronger than this…and bacardi 151 rum, 151 percent proof, 75.5 percent alcohol by volume. Drunk math. How much percentage alcohol by volume do you get for your buck? Everclear is a little feisty 95 percent alcohol by volume, or 190 percent proof. Now Billy was boasting a little, of the potency of his brew in his wine skin that he carried around at a hokey no one remembers music festival mainly inhabited by bikers. No Jefferson. No Hendrix. No Jim. No Lou. No one singing of motherless children, just a bunch of drunken bastards and their motorcycles wasting the the dying days of the sixties, or the opening scuzzy bloom of the seventies. Whichever, whatever, there he was….bumbling and lurching I expect, when a biker asked what he was drinking and demanded a sip.
Billy said he politely handed the bladder over, the dirty greasy iron lord or whatever wild sider group was in town, took a deep draught from it, choked and fell over. They all wanted in, but Billy was not going to give up his fuel willingly. He said he knew little of these boys at this point. It became clear it was share or be stomped. He shared, and gained immediate kudos as a fellow freak. A head. A crazy man. Another boy who was going to skid into the ditch or the pearly gates, 500 miles an hour on somebody else’s dark green Harley. A death ‘cycle. A final destination.
Then one day he woke up and he wasn’t hung over. One day he woke up and he was shaking and sweating and queasy, and one of the older guys told him he needed to straighten out, he needed a drink to get better. Billy hadn’t got the memo yet that he now needed a little booze to get him up and running, and that this was the way it was now and forever more. He was a drunk. His body needed it. It was not a choice. It was not drink and get sick, it was drink or else get sick, very sick. So he had his drink, and then drinking rather than dying became the focus of his existence. If he died in the meantime, if he exited while pissed, then he didn’t care, not as long as he was drunk.
He was the hero of the drunken car ride, speeding into ditches and guard rails, off hills and into farmer’s fields. He walked the iron range, from Aurora to Biwabik, using up boot leather from Eveleth to Virginia, and all the way down to Hibbing. He slept by roadsides, until coyote nosed him out of his drunken stupor trying to work out if he was scavengeable dead meat or breathing threat, waking him in time to see headlights in the snow and rouse himself out of hypothermia and dicing with freezing to death, and getting a ride somewhere else with a preacher who would take him to their home in spite of their better sense, and try and talk sense into him. He lived nowhere and everywhere. He stayed on couches and tore up backyards mowing them with no blade on the mower as payment or punishment, the furrows he carved in the lawn and his mind ran deep: he stayed on porches and in garages. He wore out his welcome and used up good will where ever he went. He even used up his good will with me.
“I’ll be back in twenty minutes, Baby, what do you want?” I looked at him. He looked at me. I had never drunk rum. I must have had a bacardi and coke, but it was not my drink. I didn’t really drink. All I was doing at that point was weed: ok so weed in large amounts, but just weed. I was smoking my cosmic beaver and purple kush and writing little songs on my Martin under oak trees. Life was quiet, and I was content. I had been away from Japan for a while, and was still settling down into a life of safety and enough food most of the time. I enjoyed watching the river sparkle with THC and the sun stream over the blackberry bush tangles of the large back garden.
“Rum.” I pushed twenty into his hand. “Make it a gallon.”
“White or dark?” he asked. I shrugged. I really didn’t know.
“I’ll get you white. You want white. Seen my keys?”
“In your pocket. Please don’t do this. You know how you are when you drink. You promised this time you wouldn’t do this to me. You promised me you would be sober.”
And with that he stormed out the door, only to return half an hour later, late as ever, with a bottle of vodka for him, and a bottle of white Cruzan rum for me.
Looking back in my diary, I read the words, “September ____ I am going to have to chase him down the rabbit hole. He won’t take me seriously unless I am as drunk as he is. I need to be on the same wavelength. If I am sober and he is drunk, I might as well be in another country, speaking a language he will not understand. I will chase him, and make him want to save me. He loves me. I love him. He won’t want me to go under. I will chase him so I can drag him back out with me. Rum it is.”
I never really thought it was possible I would get myself a drink problem. I didn’t think it was going to work. I thought I could drink just this once, for this period of time, drink heavy and drink hard. Drink to chase him, and still be able to haul myself out of the rabbit hole with nothing but a bad hangover and a few extra pounds of flab round my belly.
I poured myself a mason jar of rum, added a splash of orange juice and an icecube – nice and civilized. Billy was hitting the vodka neat out the bottle. The gallon looked like a mountain and an ocean all in one thick glass screw top bottle, like a ship in a bottle you don’t know how got in there, and all you have to do is get it out without breaking the sails, some trick of collapsing the rigging and sliding out the body. The blue futon mattress ended up back in the bedroom, and we perched on the skeleton of the futon frame drinking together.
I plugged his red telecaster into the huge mason boogie amp, and started playing Billy (come on, Billy, come to me…I remember the things you said…come home to me) by PJ Harvey, poured myself another glass of rum, and downed it in one long gulp. Jumping up and down, doing Ramones and Slits covers laughing and giggling I worked my way down a quarter of the gallon, and then sat down, tipped over sideways and went for a long nap on the floor.
The scenes deteriorated after that first bouncy night of drunken revelry. He upped the pace, I kept up with him. I started drinking half a gallon of rum in the day, hiding my glasses in the back of the fridge, behind curtains, in orange juice bottles in the glove compartment of the camper. He upped his drinking to full throttle alcoholic binge. I became concerned. He would get drunkenly dangerous. Tell me stories of tigers and jungles and dead boys on the boulevard and shacks in the mountains with men who tried to kill him after a dark night’s drinking moonshine, Puerto Rican drug dealers and his sunglasses with the lens painted black. He would drop his emotional skin and cry and weep and then push me telling me to get out of his house, while holding onto me so hard my arms would bruise in the shape of his fingerprints while crying on my chest like a baby who could not go to sleep. He was unstable to the point of cracking me. Some of it bullshit stories, some of it dark tellings of things I didn’t want to know. Some of it dangerous. Some of it enraged him. I was a captive audience to his mad prince floor show. He would pull his knife out and cut his face or the flesh of his thumb and let the blood run over the floor. And still I chased after him.
I had jumped. I had run. I had nowhere else to go. I had to pull back the only point of safety I had in the country I had wound up in. He was my only chance, or so I thought, of surviving.
Supper times had him eating with his hands, since they shook too hard for him to keep food on a fork. He would insist on driving, telling me he would go easy, go slow, ‘be careful’…I’d tell him there was no such thing, and hide the keys.
A gallon of rum would last me a couple of days, maximum. I had taken to drinking it with ice, or a little orange juice in the morning or when I had to disguise I was drinking.
Then one day I woke up, and my head didn’t ache, but my hands shook and I could feel the gorge rising in my throat, the walls started to creep, my skin felt like there were ants crawling under the upper surface. I was in trouble. I sat at breakfast trying to hold onto my arms to stop the shaking.
“Hey. You.” He was not sweet or charming now. His true drunken colors shone out blindingly. He grabbed my trembling hands and smiled as I tried not to puke. Going to the fridge, he pulled out my covered glass of rum and juice I had hidden behind the yoghurts and cheese, and slammed it on the table. “You need a drink. This is the way it is. You just need to sharpen up. Straighten out. It’s nothing.” No sympathy. Lacking in empathy, no one was ever as drunk or as strung out as Billy, no one else’s pain or suffering or sickness ever mattered. I was dimissed, mocked and told to pull myself up by the bootstraps. I was expected to take the weight, haul on the bowline and put my shoulder to the plough, all while supporting him. I, quite simply, had ceased to matter at all.
At least the rum cared. At least the rum threw it’s dubious arms around me and blurred the pain of the sickening reality long enough for me not to hate what I had done in chasing after him.
Still, I didn’t want to drink at 8am. I didn’t want to be awake at 8am. I resented the blinding reality that I didn’t particularly psychologically need a drink, but my body had different ideas.
Gripping the tumbler with both hands, and bringing up to my mouth, I drained the glass. No effect. Billy poured another. “And this one, stupid bitch…don’t even unnerstan’ what’s up.” I hated him drunk. I hated him drunk more than almost anything. Not blindly vicious, just nastily void of kindness. A couple of doubles later I felt curiously well, and strangely not drunk, just level. Just normal. Just myself.
I lost who I was for a while. I lost rhythm, I lost the beat. I lost the tune. I lost drowned in sugar cane liquor and the meanness of a man who could not withstand himself.
Life fell into a mundane pattern. Get up. Drink. Billy started to piss the bed, and had taken to putting black trash bags under himself as he slept in his piss-soaked black jeans, never ever taking his boots off. Not ever. Gotta keep those things strapped on, take ’em off, who knows what might happen. Except I wasn’t in my late teens early twenties anymore, and the shine had worn off the rebel rebel cause of his.
Half gallons became full gallons. I survived on cruzan and spite. I dropped weight, stopped eating, and became the ‘sensible one’ who had to deal with the outside world, obtaining food and booze and fending off the normies who were looking on in concern.
Then IT happened…He was telling me again, reliving again a tale of heat and terror and he started to smash his head against the wall. A juicy blood vessel burst in his brain and he had a massive 4cm haemorragic stroke.
I watched his face fall on one side, and his arm seize up as if the muscles had turned into short elastic bands. So I grabbed the greasy half empty bottle off him, and propped him up against the wall. I would like to say I didn’t take a long long hit off it before I called the ambulance. He was strapped in, hauled off. Left me to deal with the paramedics and cops. I followed him up there in a taxi.
Him in ICU, hooked up to machines keeping him alive, being hit with dilaudid and diamorphine, fentanyl and various downers I became irrationally angry. He had caused this shit, he had deliberately smashed his head against the wall, he had forced me to come out to the hospital, without even a fucking bottle when I was now surgically attached to the fucking thing, and now being rewarded with damn drugs while I started to wretch and shake and watch the carpet turn to snakes while nobody gave a shit about me at all. As usual.
I pointed this out to him, and he tried to hand me a half chewed pill…in front of the nurse. He KNEW I couldn’t take it off him under these circumstances, with the medic looking on, but his conscience was salved. Bastard. He owed me big time.
He still does.