I can remember when I grew up. It was my senior year in high school. I decided I would make my own decisions about what I wanted to do with my life. My father and mother were divorced, and I never heard from them. I lived with my weak, sick great aunt, who was also an alcoholic. She always had booze in the house, so I started drinking when I was nine. I experimented and felt an exhilarating buzz, one that would last me a lifetime.
That was my first choice—to drink. I didn’t understand why I was prohibited by law and society to drink. I didn’t do anything wrong when I buzzed. On the contrary, I was happy and sociable. No one guessed that it was my aunt’s beers that made me outgoing.
When I got to high school, I decided to play football. I was good. No one outranked me. I became the first string quarterback. Coach Sealy was proud of me. I was proud of me. But one overnight stay for an out of town game revealed my secret. We stayed at a hotel and were given a 9:00 pm curfew. When they made their rounds, I pretended to snore, and then, I chose to steal the night away. I sneaked out of the hotel and went to a bar. I appeared mature for my age. The doorman didn’t even ask me for my ID. I drank, danced and had sex in a small hall behind the dance floor. I got so drunk I couldn’t walk, talk or see straight. I stepped out into the alley behind the bar and threw up. I passed out.
I woke up wet because of an early morning rain. I looked at my watch and it was 2:00 pm. The game was starting at three. I could hardly walk, but I made my way back to the hotel. I saw a crowd of police, hotel staff, and the coach. They looked at me as if I was an alien.
I stuttered and slurred, “I’m ready to play coach.”
“Where have you been, Danny? We have everyone looking for you!”
I swayed. “I…I…I’m sorry.”
The coach, shocked by my appearance and odor, shook his head. “You’re in no condition to play, Danny. Go to your room and sleep it off.”
I didn’t want to complete my education. I decided to work at fast food restaurants with the goal of staying drunk.
One day, Coach Sealy found me at work. He placed his hand on my shoulder and said, “Danny, would you like some help?”
“Coach Sealy, how are you?” I embraced him and my grin showed my yellow teeth since I had taken up smoking to boot.
“Danny you’re throwing your life away. There is no need for you to work this way, or keep on with your lifestyle.”
“I’m fine Coach. I’m happy. I make $8 bucks an hour and clear over $200 a week.” Then I lied to him. “I gotta take care of my great aunt. She needs me.” My aunt had passed, and the house we rented had been condemned.
“Danny, I’m trying to help you, because you have talent, a good heart, and a good mind. It’s not too late for you to start over.”
“Nah, Coach. I’m fine. I love my job and make enough to live on.” That too was a lie. I had been staying with a friend, sleeping on the living room floor, because he had no couch. My friend didn’t ask me for money or anything, so all of it went to buying booze and pizza. I watched TV until I passed out with six packs of beer cans scattered on the floor. I always worked late hours, so I slept until after midday. When I awoke, I had a few before going to work.
One day, I stumbled and swayed into work, and the manager yelled, “What’s wrong with you?”
“I…I don’t feel well.” I fell on my knees and threw up right in the middle of the restaurant floor.
“You’re drunk, you idiot!” The manager picked me up and threw me out the front door. “Stay out of my place! I don’t want to see you anywhere near, you hear?”
I made my way home but found the lock had been changed. I knocked, and an elderly man opened the door.
“Where is Jay?” I asked.
“Who is that?” There was a tremor in his voice.
“He lives here!”
“I moved in a week ago. There’s no one here by that name.”
“A week ago! I slept here last night!”
The elder fidgeted. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, or who you are, but if you don’t leave, I’ll call the police!”
As I shuffle out of the liquor store, I catch a glimpse of myself in the window. I am thin with a distended belly. I’m wearing a tan frayed jacket, baggy pants, and old sneakers. I don a frayed Mets cap on my bald head. I see myself hugging the single brown bag with a bottle of cheap liquor. I look away. The walkway is empty—no one around. I wonder at the time of day. I stumble to the corner of the store and turn into an alley. I lean on the wall next to the dumpster, which blocks the winter wind. I open my bottle, taking a large gulp of the cheap liquor. It soothes my insides. I lean and slide down the wall drinking more and more until it’s gone. Then, I sleep.