We both drank. We were both drunk assholes. In the beginning, it was great. We laughed, pointing out absurdities, which this world is full of. We were cynical, sarcastic, sardonic. He was a skeptic, a pessimist. So was I. We were amused when we heard, or one of us came up with, a good line. “That was a great line,” he’d say.
“Yeah,” I’d agree. And we’d roll.
He was great at coming up with a good line. I admired that. He was a good writer. A very good writer. I admired his talent, his skill. When he gave me props for coming up with a good line, I was a proud puppy.
It was great, until the drama started. Then it got ugly.
He saw me through his own self-disgust, and projected his self-image onto me. He thought I was a drunk like him. But I didn’t drink myself into a stupor, wake up, unsteady with inebriation, grab the bottle, take a swig, and pass out again. That kind of drinking isn’t voluntary. I understand that now.
I saw him through my foolish, misguided Romanticism. I was reckless. I threw caution to the wind. We both dreamed of becoming great writers. “Great writers,” mind you. Not just “writers.” Wasn’t drinking part of that picture? All my faves drank hard–Faulkner, Hemingway, Kerouac, Raymond Carver, Richard Brautigan, Bukowski. I imagined we might have “the love of the century.” Our story would live on in perpetuity.
That’s laughable. But I’m not laughing. I squirm to think about it. What a fool. What a dork. I chalk it up, though.
We were both arrogant. We both had our insecurities too. In retrospect, his arrogance was greater than mine. My insecurity was greater than his. At the time, I thought it was the other way around.
I gave. He took. Oh, man, the many times I heard, “Buy me a beer. Buy me a beer. Buy me a beer.” He didn’t shut up until I bought him a fucking 40 (oz.). And the many times I heard, “I’m hungry. You got anything to eat?”
My ex-husband and I had owned a house, which we sold five years after our divorce. We split the equity. So, I had a bit of money in the bank. Freddie knew this. Several months into the relationship, I mean, the deception, he said, “Let’s take a bus to Reno. Do you gamble? They’ll give us free drinks.”
Freddie wasn’t really a gambler. He was looking for a little spontaneous adventure. And free drinks. I knew this. But I didn’t know he was desperate for money. I learned that later. He says, “I don’t have an ATM card. Can I borrow some money? I’ll pay you back.” It was a Saturday evening. The bank wasn’t open.
“Sure,” I said, “I’ll take out a hundred. Fifty for you, fifty for me.” That was the first and only time I ever took fifty bucks to gamble. Casinos don’t interest me. I’ve gone on invitation a few times in my life. Passively. It’s been over ten years since I was last invited. I declined. I don’t care that people love to gamble. I got no problem with it. It just doesn’t interest me.
For me, the adventure was being with Freddie. I’d never taken a bus to Reno. I knew folks who enjoyed doing that, though. Sure, I was game for the experience.
In the year that Freddie was in my life, he asked me for food, beer, cigarettes, a roof over his head, a ride to and from work, a ride someplace else, my phone to make long distance calls (pre-cellphone days), and money. I didn’t want to be selfish. But I am selfish now. A healthy kind of selfish.
I had a good time with Freddie. He had personality. He was charming. He was a kick. I guess that trumped his being a freeloader. Until I learned he was a liar.
I didn’t win any money at the casino. Freddie had a great time. They brought us free drinks. He was in heaven right there. And Luck kissed his ass. Freddie would pull the lever, and bing, bing, bing, bing, bing! Woo, woo, woo! Psssshhhhh, coins poured out. He filled two buckets. He won a few rounds at the Keno table too. He quit while he was ahead. We took his buckets filled with coins to the window. He walked with a little bounce in his step, his long braid swinging side to side. The woman behind the glass took his coins and dumped them into a machine. She read the tally. She counted out the bills, as she laid them out on the counter, in that quick and skilled manner they have. Phft, phft, phft, phft. “Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty…” Freddie won over two hundred dollars.
“I’m hungry,” Freddie said. “You hungry?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Let’s go get a hamburger. I’ll buy.” On the bus they’d given us a book of coupons. One of the coupons was a discount for a burger and fries at the cafe. “Gimme your coupon,” Freddie said. It’s the most money he ever spent on me in that whole year that we kicked it. “Here,” he says, handing me two twenties and a ten. He paid me back my fifty bucks. He was all smiles. Then we marched to the casino’s cafe. Freddie got us a hamburger and fries. And a beer. After we ate, we got on the bus, and headed home. We got back at 2:00 am. He was happy as a five year old with a new trike. I was happy he was happy, like a doting mother.
A couple days later, Freddie was telling his friend about our adventure. He said, “I was relieved to win that money. I was able to pay Estela back, and have some money till next payday. My bank balance was at zero.”
I said, “Wait a minute. You mean, when you borrowed that money from me, you didn’t have fifty dollars in the bank?” He shook his head. “You had no money?” I asked again, to make sure I heard what I heard. He shook his head. “No money?”
“Uh, uh,” he said, shaking his head.
“Nothing?” He nodded. “Zero?” He nodded. I couldn’t believe it. “If you hadn’t won, you wouldn’t have been able to pay me back?”
“Uh, uh,” he said, shaking his head. The expression on his face was like that of a naughty child copping to some mischief. I looked at him. He looked at me. I couldn’t believe he played me like that. “You got your money back, so don’t worry about it,” he finally said, changing his tone. He’s now looking stern, as if he’s some tough guy, and I’m a nagging bitch.
I dropped it. Not because he’s putting on this tough guy mask. He was no tough guy. I knew this. He knew this. I dropped it because I was absorbing the revelation. He was a liar. He was a liar? Oh, my god. This had never occurred to me. He was a liar. This was the beginning of the end. It was the first lie I learned about. In the final weeks, more would surface.
He quit drinking. He had to. He was a terrible mess. Trembling, hallucinating, confused, frightened. He checked himself in. That was the end of us. I was heartbroken, but relieved.
When he got out, he called me. We talked about it being over. “You lied,” I said.
“I never lied to you,” he said, adamantly. There was a short pause. Then he says, “I just didn’t tell you everything.” That wasn’t a lie. That’s how he lied.
I don’t get drunk anymore. Nor do I drink my two or three or four beers on the daily. I don’t drink on the daily at all. I drink socially, but never uninhibitedly, or recklessly. I’m not a prohibitionist. I fucking hate prohibitionists. If you can’t handle it, don’t fucking drink. But you ain’t gotta fucking moralize, man. Drinking doesn’t have to be a problem. Being drunk can be. It’s fun. Until it bites you in the ass.