I never thought of myself as an alcoholic. When I was in the Air Force, sneaking a sip from the kegerator in the conference room? Just putting a defibrillator to the barely beating pulse of my work life. The fact it was in the middle of the day was mere coincidence. I mean, try riding a desk for hours on end, staring at aircraft maintenance records. When I got out the military and went to community college, I had morning classes that always seemed to end at noon. The liquor store was right around the corner. Pure coincidence.
After college, and in possession of a fancy, worthless degree in digital photography, I landed a job befitting of my talents. Hosting daily beer tastings at the local big box liquor store. My employer was more than understanding when customers insisted upon their host joining in a swallow or two or twenty, which took me from midday to the dinner rush. It was there, during one such rush, that I met her. She had hair, eyes, and a body with four limbs. After she got off work and came to mine, we raised our glasses in front of the Scandinavian beer section and toasted to our newfound tradition. At least the tenth of the day for me, the first for her. I was functional, but groggy. This went on for a year. Even in times of clarity we made a point to see each other, so much so that we ended up in a church one Saturday afternoon with tens of guests witnessing our commitment to love. Afterward, at the VFW, we toasted to our happiness.
Years went by. Our family grew. I got a job on base as a civilian contractor, doing the same thing I did in the military. I requested an early start so I could pick up the kids from day care. My employer obliged, and I was off by noon every day. You know how it is outside of military bases, right? Yeah, bars everywhere. What a coincidence.
Most days I waited to get the kids until 4:30. Enough time to have a few drinks, down a gas station coffee, and convince myself I wasn’t that drunk. My dysfunction had me hanging on by a thread, and my wife was always talking about people she worked with. “They’re so hilarious,” or “they just really make the day better,” she’d say. Always other men, I thought.
Today, I swear I saw her at the bar. Eyes. Hair. A body with four limbs. A couple of guys talking to her like I wasn’t even there. She went to the restroom and the guys looked at me, started to come over. I swear they were coming at me, so I smashed a beer bottle on the bar and got them first. It looked like a hundred ketchup packs exploded on my shirt and hands. I couldn’t let her see me like that, so I ran to the car and started to drive.
Now, I’m in the day care parking lot. Looking in the back seat for a clean shirt, scrubbing my hands with dashboard wipes from the car wash. Wishing I had a gas station coffee to conceal my breath, hearing sirens in the distance. Thinking, I’m not that drunk.