Notes to the readers: During the Quarantine, there are many people in this country who have started to drink more than they ever have. They are bored, they are scared, they are frustrated. They might have lost their jobs, they might be stuck inside with the wrong people, they might feel trapped because they are in the same space all the time, especially in places where the virus is rampant, like New York and Louisiana. For people in AA, Alcoholics Anonymous, this was the one place where they could go to feel supported, comforted, and keep themselves in check. Not only is the pressure from the effects of a pandemic mounting, but for these people, the loss of AA meetings might push some people off the wagon.
After talking to people who are, or have been, in AA, and doing some research, I have created a variety of characters that might capture the depth of these emotions.
Eloise wrapped a bright pink, scratchy sweater around her waist, just in case she should need it. She sauntered down the street to the bus stop in lycra capris pants, too tight for her bulging thighs, a boucle blouse that flaunted her cleavage for breasts that had already been dragged down by gravity, with bright red hair piled high on her head, held together with randomly placed bobby pins and way too much hair spray, making it so stiff that she could have balanced a cup on it. Lighting a cigarette, she fumbled in her purse for her bus ticket.
“Come on, Lady. I’m on a schedule,” the bus driver shrieked at her. “You can’t come on here without your mask.”
“Hold your horses, Mister. Do they actually pay you to be mean to the customers? I’ve got a good mind to report you to the bus authorities,” Eloise barked back.
“Lady, this is my bus. I get to make the rules. On or off. What’s it gonna be? And where’s your mask? You’re holdin’ us up. If you can’t find the money or the mask, you’re gonna have to get off and wait for another bus.”
“Sheesh. Here’s my ticket. I got my mask right here.” Eloise put the mask loosely around her ears and stomped on the bus. She found a seat close to the driver so she could glare at him. A disheveled man in the seat across the way stared directly at her cleavage. She pretended to be disgusted, but secretly revelled in the attention. Sixteen stops later, Eliose pulled the wire for her stop.
She was going to her regular AA meeting, but there was nothing regular about it. Since the lock-down, they moved the chairs six feet apart. Nobody could hug at the end or hold hands for a group prayer, or get close to each other at all. The facilitator was considering moving the meetings to Zoom, but he wasn’t sure how everyone would fare if they could only meet online; how many of them would fall off the wagon. He decided to keep it going in person, but the facilitator of the meetings/ building manager said he might be closing things down. Then, they would have no choice. He wondered how many of them would return to drinking. Aside from the lack of in-person meetings, many people were having trouble coping with this pandemic that had rocked the world. It was daunting even for people with better coping skills, and many had taken to drinking to excess since they were at home, bored, and feeling very much off balance.
Little did everyone know that Eloise thoroughly enjoyed her booze on Saturday nights, alone in the Elvis bedroom, and nobody was going to take this simple pleasure away from her. There might have been a few people who could have guessed. It was mandated that she attend these meetings due to one tiny little infraction she had when she happened to assault some disgusting pig at the bar one night. Was it her fault that he was so drunk that he slobbered all over her and groped her and then promptly vomited on her? Too bad, too, because she had been thinking about going home with him, since she was pretty snockered herself. He didn’t look half bad in the drunken light, but the vomit pushed her over the edge, and she ended up pummeling him instead of going home with him. He wasn’t dead, only unconscious and had to go to the hospital, Eloise reasoned. Thus, the regular meetings.
Craig signed himself up for AA. After too many hangovers, black outs, and nights spent hugging the porcelain God, Craig decided that perhaps it was time to “get my sh-t together. This ain’t living.” It was just that simple. “Help me, someone. Why the hell am I doing this to myself? It doesn’t feel good. I’m not having fun any more.”
Craig wasn’t political; he had barely any social consciousness whatsoever. He was a hedonistic man in his thirties who had partied for too long, way after his college buddies had gone on to find jobs and wives or buy houses and make babies. Somebody forgot to tell Craig to stop. He felt like he had no purpose, so he signed up for the army, quite possibly his greatest mistake, he told a friend. Aside from hating the regimen, there were all those binge weekends on furlough that gave him hangovers and an STD. Finally, after leaving military life, there were parties, sporting events, drunken nights with random women. Eventually, drinking just got to be a habit. Craig wasn’t a complicated man. He drank. It was fun. That was it. Then, it wasn’t anymore.
Emerging from the annals of the city, Craig stepped into the light of day from the din of the subway station. Grabbing the sunglasses off his head and quickly putting them over his sober eyes, Craig made his way to the meeting. His previous lifestyle wasn’t exactly conducive to healthy living, so he looked quite paunchy in his Radiohead tee shirt and jeans. He was still fairly handsome with shaggy dark hair, a scruffy five o’clock shadow, a rugged jaw, and gorgeous green eyes, the hue of a cool forest. Whistling, he made his way into the decrepit building and pushed the UP elevator button. Craig was quite happy with his new lot in life: sober. He was only a few minutes late, as usual, and as usual, everyone waited for him. “Howdy folks. Thanks for waiting. I appreciate it.” They had saved his usual spot in the circle, except now his chair was six feet away from every other chair.
DIRK: The only man of significant means in the circle was Dirk, a handsome, black man who had risen above his lot, gotten a juris doctor of law, and made a name for himself. At first, he was motivated to lift his fellow black man (and woman) from their plight; he was going to remain in the ghetto and defend the poor black. Eventually, he realized that by staying there, he would never make any money. He had pulled himself up by his bootstraps, so he supposed that if anyone wanted to, they could do the same. Reality and disillusionment set in, and Dirk moved to a better part of the city, bought nice furniture, traveled when he had the chance, married a light-skinned Latino woman of comparable education, made a baby with her, and proceeded to live the American dream.
Still, something nagged at him. He had sold out, deserted his lot, and left them to their own devices. He couldn’t return; he was no longer one of them, but his soul sometimes felt empty. As a prominent attorney, he had the opportunity to meet with clients for lunch or dinner and it usually involved cocktails. He drank Chivas Regal neat, unless the spouses joined the dinner, and then it was wine. At first, he sipped the Scotch, but eventually it became easier to drink and soon, he was drinking three or four at every meeting. As life improved, his internal world seemed to be deflating. How could this happen? He had everything he’d ever wanted. He grabbed his family and returned to church. What he needed was gratitude. As his soul degraded, he began to drink on Sundays too, and then on Saturdays. He only drank when other people were around, and there were always other people around. It became a way of life.
Then, it happened. Dirk became his father, which had been his worst nightmare. The pressures of the world were building. His wife’s soul grew as bereft as his; they seemed to do nothing together other than argue. They went to therapy together and the therapist suggested AA. He went to a meeting, got sober, and realized that God was leading him to his destiny. It wasn’t only black people who needed his help. People were people; they all had their issues, so Dirk eventually became a sponsor and then a facilitator. He came to realize that negativity exists so that the positive perspective can present itself. There was no yin without the yang, no light without the darkness. Four years later, Dirk stepped out of the car and told his driver to wait in another neighborhood for an hour before coming to retrieve him.
Tuesday evening, The Meeting started right on time, which was often not the case. Getting some people who were less than committed, and some who often came due to coercion (after getting a DUI, for instance) does not always guarantee that everyone will be prompt, or even attend at all. The meeting went as usual that day. One person gave testimony for about 15 minutes. After the main speaker, everyone that had the courage that day, stood up, admitted to being an alcoholic and told their story. There were no new members so they didn’t have to introduce ourselves. Dirk reviewed Step # 8 of the 12 steps in AA: Make a list of all persons we have harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all. Several people shared.
In the group, some people cried, some rolled their eyes and snorted and looked at their watches. Some shared in earnest. Some people lied. Only a few people wore masks, but at least everyone kept their social distance. They said the Serenity prayer at the close of the meeting. “Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the difference.”
They did not hold hands or hug. It was a successful meeting.
The AA meeting finally had to close its doors due to new quarantine rules that had been put in place. Too many people in their city were dying, so they had to minimize the number of people that gathered in groups, or even left their buildings. The AA meeting continued on Zoom for a while. Some of the members didn’t have access to a computer, some were not comfortable with the online format, some were craving human contact so Zoom wasn’t working for them, and some just decided to drink until the quarantine was over, or at least that’s what they told themselves.
Eloise was quarantined alone, in her house. She still had to go to work, but they cut her hours in order to keep everyone on. Once every week or so, she went to the store for groceries, during the senior hours, and she had been going to these stupid AA meetings until they closed their doors, but aside from that, she was alone. How was she supposed to cope with this aloneness? What would it matter if she drank at home, alone, in her own house? Who would know? She couldn’t go to the local bar that she frequented, she couldn’t go bowling, she couldn’t visit anyone, because the city insisted she had to stay quarantined. She couldn’t attend her weekly poker game with the ladies, or visit her sister and the kids. She’d heard that some people were getting on computers and doing something called Zoom. For one thing, she didn’t have a computer, and for another, she didn’t understand technology all that much. A truth that she didn’t care to admit to herself was that the AA meetings kept her connected with people who had similar stories to her own. She told herself, and everyone else, that she didn’t like them, but they turned out to be better than a reality show, since she got to listen to everyone else’s sad stories. They made her life sound better. But for now, the meetings were on hold, so she sunk deep into her own fantasy life.
She was alone, and very lonely. Except for Elvis. He kept her company. But now, there was nobody checking her alcohol levels, and nobody to hold her accountable (since she conveniently lost her sponsor’s phone number). So, besides Elvis, the booze kept her company. And numb. So, she started drinking almost every night. Then, she didn’t notice her isolation as much.
Eloise lived on the outskirts of the city in a small, run-down house sandwiched between other brick abodes of similar status. She had purchased the home three husbands ago. Husband number one was ‘her one and only true love’ but unfortunately he died. The two of them had a glorious time drinking themselves into heavenly bliss almost every night, until it was too much for his liver. That’s when she first encountered Alcoholics Anonymous, so distraught with grief that she decided to go to a few meetings. Not to mention, the doctor told her that if she didn’t quit drinking so much, she would follow her husband to the grave.
However, everyone in Eloise’s world drank; it was her ‘normal’, so eventually she forgot the medical advice, dropped out of AA, and started drinking again. Besides, most of the world drank, especially now, so where, exactly, was the problem?
The next husband was a gold digger of sorts, since she owned a home and had a job, and he had nothing. He promised to give her children, and told her that he had a big project in the works that was going to pay off soon, but neither of those things ever happened. Instead, he gave another woman a child and never produced anything with her except debt. Finally, coming to her senses, she threw his ass out.
Husband number three was a brief stint because he became violent. Sometimes, alcohol has the effect of bringing out the aggressive tendencies in people, increasing the levels of testosterone in the frontal cortex of the brain. Having the chutzpah that Eloise did, she wasn’t about to be pummeled by any man and she fought back just as hard. Eventually, though, when the passion waned, Eloise was no longer willing to put up with the violent outbursts, especially when he started breaking her stuff, in particular, one of her favorite Elvis sculptures. So, she brought her shotgun out from its hiding place, snuck up behind him one night when he was watching TV , which he did quite often, and told him to “get your sh-t and get the hell out of my life. If I so much as see your face again, I’m gonna blow your head off.”
Having no AA meeting to attend, she put on a floral patterned moo moo, fluffy slippers, and took her hair down. She never bothered washing off the gobs of makeup on her face except in the shower, because she didn’t have any need to see herself without it. Out there in the world, she still portrayed herself as a hot, sexy lady, but at home, in her sanctuary, she could relax and look like almost anyone’s grandmother, even though she never had children.
After pouring herself a nice, stiff drink of the cheapest booze she could afford, she opened the door to the shrine. Almost bowing in reverence, she entered the Elvis room. The walls were covered with photographs of Elvis, a complete biographical timeline. On small tables were statues of ‘the King’, some like caricatures and some eerily lifelike. Selecting one of the albums from her extensive Elvis collection, she placed the CD into the machine. Pure bliss. Elvis’ smooth, sexy voice crooned ‘Love Me Tender’ from the speakers. Eloise closed her eyes and pretended to be dancing with him. She envisioned his dark, chocolate eyes staring deeply into her own, the sides of his mouth lifting to one side in a semi-smile, the little tuft of hair falling over his forehead…then she opened her eyes and stared dreamily at the life-size poster of him. She braced herself against it and danced with him, moving against the wall. When the next song came on, ‘Jail House Rock’, she gyrated almost as well as ‘the King’ himself. Sweating and exhausted, she fell into a chair and resumed drinking.
Dirk had never considered that he drank for more than social reasons. He thought that things just got out of control, and that alcohol was the enemy. He hadn’t considered that there might be demons he was fighting inside himself that made him become attracted to the alcohol. So, when he was first quarantined in his house with his wife and child, he hadn’t noticed that he was craving something. At first, he thought he was just itchy for social contact or to be in a different setting.
Dirk was still pretty busy. He had worked on teleconferences a few times when he had to go to court for litigation or conduct a deposition, if the client was in another state. So, he was somewhat familiar with the technology when everyone went to shelter-in-place. Actually, he rather appreciated the fact that he didn’t have to spend all that time commuting to the office. All-in-all, this wasn’t such a bad gig. He could work from home and barely skip a beat.
But…as time went on, he missed the physical presence of people. He craved human contact. He grew tired of staring at a screen where everyone interrupted, or even worse, were muted, and then forgot to unmute themselves when it was their turn to speak. Going to work was still a viable excuse for being in the street, so there were times when he went to the office, not just to get files that he needed, but just to go somewhere else, and sometimes, just to get away from his wife. He would have thought they would get along better since he was home now, and since they were continuing therapy, albeit on Zoom. But, if the truth be told, they were tired of each other. She was practically his only human contact, but she was cold towards him; they barely spoke. He tried to make things right, but she just pulled away even more. At least he had his daughter, but his temper was growing and she was, well, a spoiled brat, as he put it, who he could only take in small doses. Sometimes, when everyone was asleep, he would quietly slip into his home office, lock the door, and watch porn. It was practically his only release, that, and running on his treadmill, which they had thankfully bought a few months before the quarantine.
One evening, after a few puffs on the Vape pen, because he had to have some vices and he had quit smoking cigarettes, he suddenly got the idea that maybe he wasn’t really an alcoholic after all. He had gone voluntarily, and he had gone because he was pretty clear that he was drinking socially and things had simply gotten out of hand. He suddenly had the idea that it would be kind of fun to have a nightcap. But then again, what kind of AA sponsor and facilitator would he be if he drank? That would be a violation; how could he ask these people to trust him if he were to start drinking? Then again, the meeting had closed except for gatherings on the video chat and more than half the members weren’t showing up to that. Not to mention, this was a quarantine for the entire world, and if this wasn’t a reason to drink, what the hell was? Did he want to get started again? He could regulate himself.
He’d had enough self-control and delayed gratification to get through law school. But he would have to hide it from his wife. To hell with her, she didn’t give him the time of day anymore. But really, was he going to drink alone? What was the fun in that? But the madness of this quarantine was just too much sometimes. That’s it! He had made a decision that he would only drink two drinks at a time, and he could Zoom with friends or colleagues so he wouldn’t have to drink alone. Some of them did not know that he was a member of AA, because it was, after all, anonymous.
Craig came home from his job. He had to work, or he would never be able to afford to live anywhere. He would have to be one of those millennials who move back home with their parents. Luckily, he did not lose his job due to the pandemic, although it was a bit daunting going out there every day. He made a few masks from old tee shirts, because his employers didn’t have any since they were in short supply. They looked ridiculous, but at least he wasn’t getting fined and staying safe, hopefully.
In the olden days, he often met his buddies at the bar for a few drinks before returning home. Since he started going to AA, it was too difficult to sit around with a bunch of guys who were swigging down some stiff ones. Although Craig was happy to be free from the stranglehold of alcohol, he didn’t quite know what to do with himself yet. Dirk had informed him that there were a bunch of guys from local AA groups who just got together to socialize because they had the same problem, and of course, there was no alcohol involved, so Craig finally decided to get involved. Maybe he could meet a woman who would actually consider him as a husband. He was ready to be part of the couples crowd, since most of his friends were married and he was now the third wheel. Now, he couldn’t hang with his friends, sober or not, because everyone was basically in a quarantine prison.
He kicked off his shoes, his pants, everything except his boxer shorts. Hanging over the open fridge door for a moment, enjoying the cool air, he grabbed a Coke, which he drank because it gave him a caffeine boost, tasted great, and satisfied his need to have a can in his hand, so it was a great substitute for beer. Craig plopped himself down on the couch, grabbed the remote, and clicked on the TV. He was hungry, but too tired to get up and grab food. Luckily, the Dorito bag was on the floor from the night before, so he munched on those while he flipped mindlessly through the channels.
Craig re-enacted the same scenario almost every day. Go to work, come home, eat whatever he could find, watch TV. On the weekends, he made some phone calls, did his chores – laundry, grocery shopping, worked on some mechanical and electronic gadgets he was building, played video games, perused the internet for awhile, slept long hours. Wash, rinse, repeat. He didn’t seem to mind. He didn’t even think about drinking. There was nothing happening where alcohol was being imbibed, and frankly, he didn’t really miss it. He hadn’t felt compelled to drink even when he could get out, before the quarantine. He still talked to his sponsor to check in, but he did not go to the online meetings. There was nothing very different about his routines, and he almost forgot that he used to socialize. Craig just went about his business, as usual. He was going to be fine during this quarantine.
QUARANTINE continued …
Dirk had an ample supply of alcohol in the dark, wood cabinet in the living room. The bar had a marble countertop, surrounded by deep, brown leather stools. His wife, Gabriela, had done a fantastic job of decorating their apartment, not quite a penthouse, but he was working his way up to the top floor. Gabriela hadn’t even hired a decorator, like many of the other spouses of his colleagues. She had an eye for design, but kept her talents to their domicile. He gave her carte blanche to create a home that was comfortable, yet classy; that, and a credit card with a very large limit.
He always kept the alcohol around for entertaining. His wife didn’t really drink much, but when he had clients or guests over, he didn’t deprive them of one even though he wasn’t drinking. After the first year, it hadn’t been as difficult not to drink as he thought it might be. When the quarantine went into effect, he had forgotten that they had all that alcohol. So, he was surprised to see that several expensive bottles of wine were gone. Perhaps he was mistaken and hadn’t remembered that they had been drunk. Then, he thought of his wife. He found her in the parlor where they usually entertained.
“Gabriela, have you been drinking the wine?”
She looked at her husband with bored disinterest. “Yeah, why? Am I not allowed to drink because you have a drinking problem?” She had become curt and sarcastic with him, which had only gotten worse during their quarantined prison time together. She sat cross-legged on fluffy, cornflower blue pillows by the bay window that overlooked the city. She stared mindlessly at the empty streets that used to be filled with people and cars.
“What is that supposed to mean? I haven’t had a drop to drink in over four years. And why the tone? Hmm? I simply asked you a question.”
“Well, why would you be asking me about the wine? It’s not like anyone is coming over. What would you need it for? Or, do you need a new project and you are inventorying what we have so you can sell it? After all, they were pretty pricey bottles. And they were delicious,” she taunted.
“What is your problem, Gabriela. Is it possible for us to at least be civil to each other while we are trapped in the same apartment together. You are really making life unbearable.”
“Me? I’m making life unbearable? Maybe, because you were at the office 60 hours a week, and don’t even know who your daughter is, and barely remember my name, if you would even try to be a father and a husband, and…,” Dirk did not let her finish. She would simply continue on her diatribe as always, and he had enough.
“Really, Gabriela? 60 hours a week? Wasn’t that enough to pay for your lifestyle? And private school for the girl?” Dirk would have continued on his own castigation, but now it was Gabriela’s turn to cut him off.
“The girl? Can’t you even remember your own daughter’s name? My lifestyle? You mean the way I prepared everything for every dinner where the only guests are your colleagues or clients?” Gabriela’s voice was rising. “Do you know how much you would have to pay someone to do all the things that I do around here?” She walked over to the dark, cherrywood liquor cabinet and carefully took out one of the most expensive wine bottles they owned, got the pneumatic corkscrew from under the sink to open it, took out the most beautiful, long-stemmed crystal wine glass they had, and poured herself a glass. She lifted it to her nose, swirled the ruby, red wine in the glass, and inhaled deeply. Before imbibing, she looked with disdain at her husband, and teased him. “Don’t you wish you could taste this glorious elixir? Don’t you wish you could have a sip of this full-bodied, aromatic Tempranillo?” They had been in a wine club before he stopped drinking, and Gabriela wrote little snippets for their column.
Dirk’s blood began to boil, but he checked his emotions. When he used to drink, there were times that she infuriated him so much, his temper would flare, his heart rate would elevate, and he was afraid that someday he would have a stroke or a heart attack, like one of his law partners. So, he tempered himself. The meaner she got, the more he dipped into his attorney mode, eliciting logic and rationale, always attempting to win the argument. Getting emotional, unless it was carefully planned, always meant losing.
Gabriela hadn’t realized that when Dirk stopped drinking, he became less gregarious, less amorous, less interesting, just less of who she thought he was. She was conflicted, because she used to love her husband for his vivacious personality, his swagger, his savior faire. He was attractive to her, and it didn’t hurt that he was financially solvent. They had a good life, for a while.
As time went on, and they grew apart, his lack of drinking made him less fun. He became stoic, methodical and boring. When he first decided that he needed to go to AA, she wasn’t really convinced that he was an alcoholic. She was glad that he wanted to get a handle on things, but that also meant they could not enjoy a nice bottle of wine together. She hadn’t realized what else it would mean for her. He wasn’t as romantic or eloquent as a lover, his conversations became mundane, he rarely laughed anymore. Sometimes, she just wanted to enjoy some wine, and since he worked so much, she had plenty of time to enjoy wine with her friends. They had also agreed that she was allowed to drink at a dinner party, but she had agreed to limit herself to two glasses. She had no problem sticking to the agreed upon rules, but since she was trapped in this quarantine prison with her husband who was now home most of the time, she found herself wanting to drink sometimes. There was just nobody to drink with, since all of her friends were quarantined as well, so she started going to Zoom cocktail parties. Dirk paid little attention to her now, so he had no knowledge of these gatherings.
Dirk’s instinct was to lash back at Gabriela, scream at her, and in the fantasy of his mind, throw her across the room in anger. Instead, as always, Dirk did not allow his id to emerge. Apparently, alcohol had assisted his id to appear, and unleashed his inhibitions, which was another good reason for him to stop drinking, that he realized after he went to therapy and AA, as it had not occurred to him previously.
Thus, Dirk calmly walked across the room and picked up a glass. He had decided an hour ago that he was going to allow himself to drink during the quarantine, to keep his sanity. Dirk rationalized that he was now able to limit his drinking to a prescribed amount. In all other areas of his life, he was proficient and moderated, so why not drinking? He had often thought that he might try it again some day. Actually, it was the thought that he did not have to abstain forever from having a nice bottle of wine or a glass of Chivas Regal that allowed him to come to terms with stopping.
Dirk walked over to the cabinet where Gabriela stood with a drink of Tempranillo in her hands. He took a Lenox, crystal glass, the one that had a sliver of gold encircling the top of it, and poured himself some wine. For the first time in over four years, he breathed in the bouquet of wine, juice from the gods themselves. He rarely did anything impetuously. This decision had been calculated; the first moment of his turn from sobriety would be deliberate.
Dirk did not care about what his wife thought. He did not consider her in this decision. She watched him, without comment, as he lifted the glass to his nose, as he breathed in the fragrance, as he swirled the wine and watched the legs of the liquid slowly drip down the glass. She was uncertain whether or not he would drink it, but it was this uncertainty that excited her, so she said nothing as she watched in suspense. Without conscious thought, she wished that he would drink it. She wanted him to fail, she wanted him to be vulnerable, she wanted him to have the desire for something the way he used to desire her. She wanted all these things without realizing she was thinking them.
He lifted the glass to his mouth, the wine slowly reaching his lips. His body thrilled at the thought of it, knowing that it was forbidden, even though it had been a self-imposed deprivation. His body quivered. He hesitated as he felt the wine slip past his lips into his mouth. He had a moment of regret, thinking that he should spit it out, but once the liquid hit his tongue and he tasted it, his mind went blank. He closed his eyes and savored the first, glorious sip. Then, he had another, and another. Gabriela watched as her husband relinquished his sobriety. Perhaps this wouldn’t be such as bad quarantine after all.