Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ginger Brandy

I keep a fair amount of alcohol around the house, but I don't actually drink much. It's not the taste, but the loss of control that comes with it, the loss of inhibitions and filters and things that make me able to be around other people, that keeps me from drinking too much too often.

I can be an awful drunk. I will say things I mean, but never mean to say. I will do things I want to, but should never actually put the will to power. I can make an ass of myself --worse than usual.

On the shelf in the kitchen, I keep a couple of bottles. I have a bottle of Henry McKenna, which was cheap and seemed like a good idea at the time. I bought it to get through the first broadcast of my little radio show. I drank shots every couple of minutes of the broadcast and barely felt them hit me at all.

There's still a couple of swallows left. I've used it for cooking, and I think the kid has been nipping in it.

I have a bottle of Fighting Cock bourbon. I bought it because the name sounds vulgar. It's 104 proof, but is kinder than a more expensive bourbon called Bullitt I tried, which feels like getting hit upside the head with a sock full of nickels.

I like Fighting Cock, but I drink it sparingly.

There's also a bottle of Black Seal rum. I got that a month ago, right before I had some friends over for a post-Thanksgiving meal. I thought it would be something people could mix with their soda, but nobody drank it and I've only had a couple of sips here and there.

I'm not a rum drinker. It seems like something only pirates would drink.

Last, there's a bottle of Joaquin's Ginger brandy, a cordial made in the city of brotherly love and a value buy at around nine bucks.

I have a history with the stuff.

Long, long ago, my friend Tim and I used to buy this stuff back when it was six dollars a bottle. We drank it in college, loved it because it was cheap and the stuff mixed so well with soda. With a healthy dose of Sprite, you didn't know you were hammered until suddenly you were.

We drank it a lot.

I think about Tim when I drink it now. I can't help but think about him.

Tim was a friend, older than me. We met in college, his last semester. We were fast friends, hung out a lot, smoked cigarettes, drank, and watched shitty horror films.

A couple of years after he graduated from college, he put a bullet in his head --entirely accidental, his mother told me.

The story goes:

After a year or so of working at the local Wal-mart, he got a job as a statistician for the state. He moved from Beckley to Charleston, rented an apartment with a couple of childhood friends and everything seemed to be going great. One night, they had a small party, invited some girls over, were drinking and Tim got it in his head to spook one of them. He pulled out a pistol, slammed an empty clip into the butt of it and pointed it at his head.

What happened next was an unfortunate cliche.


But it didn't kill him. He survived, in a manner, though the story of what happened the night he shot himself is one that still knots my stomach.

His friends called for help and then called his parents, who met Tim at the hospital.

In the E.R. the nurse kept trying to convince his parents to sign over his organs, though he was clearly still breathing and even moving on the stretcher. His parents refused. His mother, indignant and upset, screamed, "He's still alive! He's alive!"

The nurse told her to calm down. She was upsetting Tim.

That still makes me feel ill.

My friend spent over a month in a coma, when he came to, only about 2/3 of him made it back. He'd been a mathematician, a statistician for some unremembered state agency. He was a lot less than that after and on some level, he knew it.

That was the real horror. He was sometimes aware of what he'd become.

After I heard about what happened, I visited him a couple of times. I saw him in the hospital, a couple of months after his accident, and the visit haunted me for years. I dreamed of him as a zombie, crawling up the foot of my bed.

The nightmares kept me away for three years.

I went to visit him again, when he was in a daycare/rehab, where he sat with thirty others in a room that stank of piss.He had a wild beard then and he was pale as corpse. His teeth looked mossy and yellow and his eyes looked frightened, dazed and stupid.

It was hard to look at him.

I'd loved the man, been impressed by him. Tim had been crazy smart and we'd bonded over bad movies, Pink Floyd and Mexican food. We'd read some of the same books and had philosophical debates that went on for weeks.

He was also the only man I knew who'd actually had sex with two women at once. In college, somehow, he'd conned two women at the same time to have sex with him in his dorm room and no one understood how he'd managed that --because he was a nerd, because he was a geek, because he was a scrawny, little weirdo --but he'd somehow, pulled it off.

There were actual witnesses (of a sort) and for that alone, Tim had earned a certain amount of respect. Hell, the fucking quarterback for the damned football team hadn't pulled that off and by even my rough assessment, he should have been able to.

He's also managed to have sex with a smoking hot redhead who was clearly out of his league.

No one understood that either --including the redhead in question, who later seemed embarrassed by the fact that it had happened. 

That first visit after the hospital (and after my first divorce) was hard. I remember I pushed him in his wheelchair, along Mercer Street in Princeton, past the pawn shop and the dusty, evacuated storefronts. I don't remember what we'd talked about, but it made me hurt all the way down to my bones.

I didn't see him again for at least a year.

The guilt of his condition gnawed at me. He was my friend.

Finally, somehow, he got my phone number and started calling me. We talked on the phone. The conversations were non-sensical. We had nothing to talk about. His days were spent creeping through shopping malls, harassing young mothers with children, eating sweets and haunting his mother.

I started going up every other weekend. I took him out to the mall, to the movies, to a local stable where we could watch the horses. The people at the mall knew him. They'd seen him a thousand times already, but the manager of the theater pulled me aside.

He said, "Hey, I don't know if you can, but you need to keep him on a leash. If you can't, you're going to have to leave."

Tim adored children. In the hospital, he'd tried to put my girl friend's fingers in his mouth. He'd talked about how they'd had sex, though she laughed it off, denied it ever happened.

He told me they'd cut him, taken away his ability to have children. I don't know what they did exactly, but his libido was gone. What was left was just a horrible craving for fatherhood, for family, that he'd never be able to satisfy.

He stopped women with small children to tell them they had beautiful babies, they had handsome sons and lovely daughters. He told the women they themselves were beautiful. He wanted to shake everyone's hand.

He frightened everyone. They assumed he was a pervert.

His mother was glad to see me. We only spent a couple of hours together every other Saturday or so --usually on weekends when I didn't see me kids. Back then, I didn't have much of a life. Going to see Tim wasn't something I looked forward to, but it gave me someplace to be.

I stopped going to visit, shortly after I changed jobs, got involved with a woman whose daughter was autistic, and eventually moved away. I disappeared out of his life and in well over last ten years have never gone back. I've scarcely looked back.

But tonight I started drinking. I'm pretty God damned drunk at the moment and I picked up that bottle of ginger brandy. It was a comfort when I felt alone or abandoned and I feel that way tonight, and I've had just enough to make me wonder what became of Tim, what has become of him and whether I should seek him out one more time.

I can't fix him, but everybody deserves at least one person who won't leave them. Maybe I can try again to be that person or maybe I'm just drunk and lonesome.

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