"Madame Chair, are we toasting with martinis or tequila today?"
It is July 16, 2017. We are gathered at a restaurant for the very first planning meeting for our school's gala fundraiser. I am the new mom at school and have agreed (reluctantly) to chair the event. Four women have volunteered to help me. I will refer to hereafter as them as the "gala-rina's".
"You're going to need to drink a lot this year," says Wendy (not her real name). "It's the only way we get through it, right ladies?!"
She looks around to the other three women who are all nodding and cackling conspiratorially. I wait for a moment before responding.
"Actually, I don't drink -- alcohol," I say.
The abrupt cessation of laughter is followed closely by a short, awkward silence.
"Not at all?!" Says Wendy finally.
"Really?" Says another.
"But why?" Asks the third (with a look of concern).
"Well, I'm -- in recovery," I smile.
Two of them look at their hands uncomfortably. The third puts down her drink menu.
"But," I say with a wave of my hand. "Don't let that stop you guys from having a cocktail. I'm good."
"But not even a glass of wine?" Says Wendy. "Ever???"
Uh, I don't know if you know this, Wendy. But wine is alcohol...
"No, not even wine," I say with what I hope is a generous smile.
"Well, I just don't know how you're going to do it," says another one, shaking her head with a grave expression. "We all just drink our way through these things. It's the only way to survive the drama."
I feel you.
In fact, this conversation is making me wish I were drunk right now. Can we change the subject please?
February 9, 2017
I arrive at the Four Season's Westlake with my overnight bag and my long, black, one-shoulder dress in dry cleaner's plastic and set my stuff on a sofa in the lounge area. My phone buzzes in the side pocket of my Lululemon leggings. I set my decaf coffee down on a speaker and fish out my phone. I have missed 17 calls during the 40-minute ride from my house to the venue.
It is 7:45 am.
"Mimosas are here!" I hear Wendy's voice from just outside the ballroom.
Her thin frame is hidden by a baggy, navy sweatsuit. Her blond hair is pulled tight into a bun, making her blue eyes appear even larger than normal. She is wheeling a cooler behind her and stops where I'm standing to set up, giving me a kiss on the cheek. She sets out plastic cups and pops a bottle of champagne. The three other gala-rinas come running over giggling with delight.
"Let the drinking begin!" She says. "Who wants one?"
I stand back a little, watching their eyes light up.
I don't want the champagne, but I do desperately want the sense of freedom and relief that I see spreading over each of their faces. They are all chattering so effortlessly. I want to join in but I feel a self-righteous tightness spreading through my chest.
Go ahead and get your buzz on, b*tches. Meanwhile, I'll just be over here all by myself making sure that this whole event doesn't go sideways.
I decide to walk around the corner (away from the booze) and sit on one of the 6-foot auction tables while I return phone calls. I can feel the muscles in my neck and jawline clenching. I open and close my mouth a few times in an effort to relax. I ignore the next phone call and text Scottie.
Hi Hon. What time will you get here?
I'm sure he's still asleep...
I sigh, wishing that I were still curled up next to him in bed.
I text him again and ask him to bring Advil.
* * *
"The talent is ready to go over their script with you now," says Wendy.
It is 30-minutes before "showtime." Our sound system isn't working and our silent auction signs are missing -- along with the silent auction chair.
I really don't have time for this sh*t.
"Didn't they already go over them with the live auction chair?" I try to soften my gaze so I'm not glaring at her.
"Yeah, but they thought you'd want to hear them rehearse. I told them to wait in the lunch room."
Can't anyone do anything without me?!
I have to gasp as I enter the lunch room to get some air in my lungs. It is incredibly humid and stuffy inside. The two celebrity emcees who have donated their time to us are waiting for me. One of them is mopping his forehead with a napkin. The live auction chair (who looks stunning in an up-do and a white, low-cut gown) is frantically sorting through scraps of paper. I close the door behind me and sit down in the only vacant seat.
"You know we're about a half-hour away from opening the doors," I say as calmly as I can. "But you guys pretty much have it down, right?"
"I could remember my lines better if I had a drink," says one.
"Uh, yeah!" laughs the other. "A little liquid courage?"
Keeping the smile frozen on my face, I get up and open the door to the hallway, stopping one of the banquet waiters. They are carrying trays of something called Purple Haze, which they are serving chilled in highball glasses with a wedge of lemon. The color reminds me of the opalescent nail polish that I used to wear in the ninth grade.
"Excuse me?" I smile. "Can you please bring one of those trays? I've got some thirsty people in here."
At that moment, one of the gala-rina's comes careening down the hallway, sobbing. I grab her quickly and pull her to the side.
"Hey, hey! What's wrong?"
Babbling unintelligibly, she tries to squirm away from me. All I can make out after a couple of minutes, is that another gala-rina has hurt her feelings (but she won't say who and she refuses to let me comfort her). I pull her forcibly inside the "talent" room with me and gently advise her to take a breather. She takes a seat in the corner behind me and hides her face in her hands, making soft, squeaky noises.
"Okay," I say, looking around.
Everyone is quiet now and staring at the crying gala-rina. The banquet waiter I hijacked earlier is standing motionless in the far corner of the room. He seems to be waiting for me to direct him.
"Please," I say through gritted teeth, pointing around the table. I feel light-headed now, as if an inner tube is squeezing the muscles around my heart.
"Please pass out the drinks."
He starts at the other end of the table. As each person takes a sip of this Purple Haze potion, their voices suddenly become soft and silky smooth. Its like they each have an invisible volume knob that has just been lowered.
"Wow, what is this?"
I watch fascinated as they all take large, thirsty sips. I am so engrossed by this process of transformation that I find that I don't notice that the waiter only has one drink left on his tray. A drink which he is now offering to me.
I don't think anything of grabbing it off the tray. Nor do I think anything of taking the small, square, white napkin he hands me. I do this as if I have done it every day of my adult life, when in fact it has been almost nine years since I've held a cocktail in my hands.
The glass is cool and dewy. I slip my index finger up to the rim and slide it around slightly, feeling how wide and solid it is. I swirl the iridescent liquid inside the glass. I've never inhaled anything like it. The smell is fire — full of citrus and licorice notes. I lick my lips because I can actually taste that smell in my throat. The sensation sends a river of shock through my body that pools up in the soles of my feet. I slip one of my heels off and scratch an itch on the bottom of my foot.
This whole night would be SO much easier with just one drink. Just one -- to smooth the edges...
I remember how that burn of that first sip would loosen up every muscle in my chest. I remember how a bubble of warmth would envelop my head soon afterward and everything would kind of melt away. I close my eyes.
I remember it so well...
But then, just as quickly; fear, humiliation and guilt begin to swirl around in my stomach. Suddenly, I can feel the stickiness of those endless, dark hours in my bedroom, hiding bottles in my closet with the shades drawn. I am struck by the knife-like pain of those unbearable thirty days in treatment — thirty days away from my babies! I can recall the shame and horror of those first clumsy amends that I had to make to the people I loved after I got out.
And my life now! I have this incredible life full of my family and friends. I'm able to be a mom to my kids. People can actually count on me. People DO count on me. Could a brief (albeit possibly awesome) single moment of relief be worth destroying all that I've worked so hard for? Could that one drink (and PS, who am I kidding, it would never just be one drink)! be worth it if I had to relive all of that awfulness and drag everyone who loved me through it all over again?
Just then my phone buzzes in my lap and I open my eyes. It's a message from Scottie.
I'm here, Hon. Where are you?
I close my eyes again and shake myself a little before turning around in my seat.
"Here," I say quickly, handing the drink to the still-crying gala-rina. "Maybe this will help."
I watch her take it from me. She cups it with both hands like it is a warm bowl of soup and sips at it tentatively.
"Delicious," she says dreamily, as a slow smile spreads across her face. "What is this?"
"Purple Haze," I answer quietly. "Enjoy, I'll be right back. My boyfriend is here."