I embarked on my first bender because I got dumped. Even when you know it’s coming, when you’re nineteen—and maybe, when you’re not—it sucks. After pleading and crying and empty threats, I called some friends, went to the Greyhound station, got hit-on by a dude on his way to a Job Corps forestry program, and tearfully rode the bus to Santa Cruz, where I wallowed in cheap vodka, puked up cheap vodka, and might have at some point eaten a burrito. I stumbled through five misty, hazy days before catching a ride home. Splitting headache and trembling hands aside, I felt much better than I had before I left. I felt cleansed.
I embarked on my next bender for every graduation, promotion, win, completion, or triumph. Birthdays and weddings and new apartments in San Francisco with working fireplaces and picture windows with crane-necked views of the Bay Bridge and the bay (happy housewarming).
When we tied the knot, we toasted with guests and shots of Black Maple Hill bourbon poured into square glasses printed with our initials. I celebrated with white and red wines, and club soda spiked with vodka or bourbon, through the midnight reception, until almost sunrise. We cheered and spilled and sang and shattered glasses and bendered because we were happy.
After a death, after the blood drains from behind your eyes and the world rushes past and is frozen at the same time, there are drinks. Numbing the exposed, while hugging the fresh pain close. Memories and tears cascade steady with each swig, the glass bottle bottom a story’s end. Pour a little out on the asphalt or the dirt.
Wit chases drinks. Now there is talking to strangers who are no longer strange. There is that song, that one song, and that thing that happened one time that you both think about a lot when your minds wander, when you are alone. And there is far, far less fidgeting, and arms uncross and hands gesture loudly. If you’ve panicked, you’ll know that feeling of tight-chest and pressed-against. And you’ll know that sweet booze is the deepest breath.
When new love is found or fake love is gone or decayed love falls away completely and our raw, wet selves are exposed, when we are lost or have discovered exactly what we are looking for—this is when we drink. When we must drink.
And sometimes there is nothing. There is the morning. Or the sunset, or the almost-sunrise. 12:34 or 5:13 or 7:06 and it is not-bright or too-bright or it is a dim room or it is not a room at all. There is an outside-your-fluttering-blinds where it’s not hot, or it is raining and there is thunder. Or it is one weird week of sticky Portland in December snow. Or there is fog, because it is San Francisco and there is always fog. Blinking away last night, or the last 10 hours of crisp-eyed-awake, or your last-seen 10 am, you press your neurons to spark and feel the day or night ahead and still there is nothing, except a bender.
There are always drinks. And after drinks possibilities rise like after-rain steam on sweaty sidewalks, from your warming body in the dark or the sun or the dim room with the blinking bright numbers. And you are alone or you are with someone who is so a part of you that you are basically one, one alone, or you are alone, alone, and don’t feel alone. The sweetest smoke spilling from the coldest fire that grows as you sip, and then you swig, spilling.
—Josey Rose Duncan