Lydia liked to drink alone. She liked to drink with people too, liked the camaraderie, the gradual loosing of ties as the twinkle of laughter increased in volume and frequency. But drinking, Lydia thought, was best done in solitude. Only alone could she shape her environment perfectly. And only alone could Lydia drink the quantity she wanted without having to hear that irritating throat clearing sound Henry makes when he feels like she had had enough. Who did he think he was, monitoring her drinking? Every time he did it, Lydia wanted to punch him straight in the throat. But alone, in the house, Lydia was happy. Today, Lydia planned to be happy.
Whether or not she knew it conscientiously, Lydia had a routine surrounding her alone drinking. Far from the casualness that once surrounded the popping of the occasional bottle of wine, Lydia’s routine surrounded a very complex series of deceptions.
Lydia had long stopped going to the local Spec’s Liquor Store for fear of being judged by the counter help. One afternoon, Lydia walked in with her usual nonchalance. The counter girl looked up as Lydia entered and politely pointed out that the Smirnoff was on quantity sale, buy six bottles and Lydia would get 10 percent off. Lydia spun around and stared at the girl through the dark tint of her Gucci sunglasses. The girl showed no signs of being derisive. In fact, she looked like she was being helpful. Maybe she did not even know Lydia mostly drank vodka out because she incorrectly believed it lacked odor. Lydia looked at the girl for a couple more seconds. She bought her liquor that day, but made it white rum and kept it to a single bottle. She hadn’t been back since, except for a emergency bottle every now and then.
Lydia got into her car on the blistering Houston afternoon to make the long drive to the store before rush hour traffic. Lydia resented how much her actions, even drinking, even buying the alcohol, were dominated by what others thought of her. Lydia wanted nothing more than to be left alone to be who she was. Some days she felt every part of her was a fictitious reflection of someone’s opinion of who they thought she ought to be.
As she drove down Memorial Drive, Lydia reflected back on the person she thought she might have been back before she got cancer. Just like that, with not a skip of a heartbeat, anger exploded in her chest. It was the god-damn cancer! Every time. Lydia slammed her fist down on the armrest of her car. It changed everything. It changed how her parents and friends thought of her, with that worrisome pitying in their eyes. Oh, she’s so strong, they would say. Lydia might have portrayed strength, but she certainly didn’t feel it. What Lydia felt was terrifying, heart-wrenching despair. She was too young to die. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair. That was what Henry had seen in her. That is what she had fallen in love with. Henry didn’t need her to be strong. He knew, somehow, that she wasn’t strong. Lydia slammed on the brakes as she almost read-ended the Mercedes in front of her. With a flick of her thumb across her cheek, she wiped away her tears. Lydia turned up her radio. Fuck him. Fuck ‘em all.