Cat and Mouse

To Lydia, there was an acute anticipation and perplexing excitement wrapped around her alone-time bottle. But first she had to accomplish her chores in order to be able to drink in peace. Normally, the first order of duty, upon coming home from Spec’s, was stashing the bottles so Henry would not stumble upon them.

Lydia replenished the liquor in the bar. Although she tried to stay away from it, she inevitable drank away at least one, if not more, of the bottles before she was able to make it back to Spec’s. A long-standing cat and mouse game existed between Henry and Lydia. Lydia was sure he kept tabs on the level of liquids that were in each of the bottles. Lydia in turn also kept tabs so that she would put in the exact amount back. Lydia didn’t know what would happen if this game didn’t exist, if Henry didn’t try to exert control, and if she didn’t try to outwit him. It was insanity. She was sure of that. She never told any of her friends, never told anyone, of the craziness that played out between her and Henry. She was ashamed of it. And yet, there was a coyness to the situation. She knew he cared. So, while she could not let him cut off her supply of alcohol, she played along and let him think he was making a difference. The idea that Henry and Lydia would ever have an adult, rational conversation about Lydia’s drinking was laughable. Some things, Lydia thought, were better left in the closet.

Lydia walked back into the kitchen and started putting the groceries away. She was an expert chef, had learned over the years. But now that the kids were gone, Henry was mostly at work, Lydia didn’t really have an occasion for cooking. Well, that would change, she thought, as she stood looking at her cabinets. Lydia would have a dinner party. This day was just getting better and better. A party. That was what the situation called for. She would start right away planning a menu and ordering invitations. Lydia slammed her palm down on the granite counter-top, and she would only invite women.

Lydia turned on the music and as she opened a bottle of wine. In the coolness of the refrigerator, two more bottles were tucked away in the vegetable crisper.

Dancing in the Aisle

With an audible chuckle, Lydia realized that with Henry gone, she could drink all she wanted for as long as she wanted. All pretenses, all confines, were now lifted. She could dance and sing, play the Ramones at full volume, and dance around in her skivvies. She could lounge in the hot tub and drink margaritas. She could stay up all night watching movies and drinking champagne. It would be glorious, like a vacation in her own home. For the first time in a long time, Lydia felt free.

With nervous anticipations, Lydia pulled into the parking lot of the liquor store. Normally, as Lydia loaded up her cart, she would make casual references to a party she was throwing or friends coming over for dinner, something that might justify the large quantity of booze in her cart. Today, though, she didn’t care what anyone thought. She was on a mission. Manically, Lydia began counting on her fingers all the supplies she would need for her vacation. She would need several bottles: vodka, rum, tequila, some club soda, diet coke, mixers, limes. And a carton of cigarettes. Henry didn’t let Lydia smoke because of the cancer. But fuck him. He left. She could do whatever she wanted and what Lydia wanted to do was smoke. Drink and smoke and dance.

Lydia wondered if she should take the time to stop at Whole Foods before going home. She paused as she was reaching for the Bombay Sapphire. Food. How long was this bender to last? Two days? Four? A week? A smile crossed Lydia’s lips. This was going to be great. In anticipation of nothing, Lydia added three more bottles of gin to her cart, just in case. She would stop by the store. She wanted everything all set so she could enjoy herself without any restrictions or thoughts of having to leave the house. She imagined free-range, organic, roast chicken and scalloped potatoes au gratin with a Sauvignon Blanc for her vacation dinner. Oh, wine. How could she have forgotten the wine? Aargh. Lydia swung the cart around and made for the back aisle.

Lydia

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.