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In the Ancient Bottle

A few thoughts on alcohol, the ambrosia of the terrified romantic

"Women drink to remember, men drink to forget." My ex-girlfriend told me this, drunk and retching over a toilet, speaking into her cordless phone from upstate. This was few days before the cards, and the card table, folded.

Why do women need to remember? What should men forget?

Marshall McLuhan said:

In our intensely individualist and fragmented Western world, "booze" is a social bond and a means of festive involvement. By contrast, in a closely knit tribal society, "booze" is is destructive of all social pattern and is even used as a means to mystical experience.

My girlfriend said:

Shall we talk about fear and being unsuccessful with those. Really Paul, are you in any postition to be commenting on that. Just look at yourself. You're probably at least one hundred pounds or more overweight, you have are entering a pattern into which you are continually dissatisfied with one job and will move on to the next, you have few close and open relationships in your life, your relationship with your parents is nearly non-existant. What improvements have _you_ made in the past six months? Do I have fears, yes, we all do, but I am actively moving towards resolution of most of them. You're barely treading water. I'd like to see someone with there shit all together put up with you for six months. I'd like to see what they would do if you blatently disregarded their birthday, or if you continuely....

[You are] feeding my belief that I don't deserve to be with someone attractive.

[You are] feeding my belief that I don't deserve to be with someone attractive.

The next email, a day later, read:

I love that scared little boy who wants so much to be loved, and I love the man that tries so hard to be true to his art, to be true to his need to put something good back into the world.

It was good to hear both sides, knowing that the first was her truth, and the second was kindness layered over it. She meant both. Such words are gifts--while the first quotation was harsh and makes me hate her, it is clear and full of honesty. When we fought, she argued like a harassed child, attacking weaknesses that were not within the subject at hand, finding power there. I couldn't compete, so I fought as a brooding, stubborn Irishman, muleheaded in frigid silence. My silence introduced nothing, while her arguments, while cruel, illuminated.

(Ah, how lucky I was to be the expression of her penchant for dating unattractive men, how great when she lay there unresponsive, boring herself into orgasm, when she forbade me to go down on her, to rub her shoulders, for any touch beyond the missionary. So many rules for what to feel and do--but she said the same of me. Incompatible systems, I guess. And it's too late to have that argument, to insist she never understood me at all, despite all her psychological assurances that she did. It's over.)

She told me that I deserved to find someone kind, who would love me, who would want to know me as myself, blah blah. She deserved better, too. Would you want to date a fat, stubborn, self-absorbed, withdrawn man whose life consists of developing advertising, walking around New York, and writing notes on the same? Who needs perpetual affirmation and kindness, but might not return any? It might be interesting for a week, but for now I wouldn't recommend it.

I shouldn't have recommended it to her, back then, but I was so lonely and so was she, neither of us brave enough to settle with a wonderful one-night stand in a strange city. I wanted the memory to stay breathing, even if the connection needed CPR every minute of the day.

Today, my friend and I are driving to Pennsylvania, through the rain. I will have a sandwich, a salad, and a Diet Coke with lemon at the Coopersburg Diner in Allentown. We will split the bill. Get me away from the smell of cigarettes and the traffic of footfalls outside the window.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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