Lightning cracked across the sky and disappeared with the same urgency I had while racing down the highway driving to Tyler’s house. It was night’s like these, with the fat raindrops embracing my windshield, only for the wipers to inevitably thwart their plans to run my eyesight askew. It was nights like these that ran my addiction high. That allowed the grasp of whiskey to want to take hold by reaching up my spine and grabbing my head, filling me with thoughts of what was. As his AA sponsor, I knew nights like these did it for Tyler too.
I hadn’t driven this fast in awhile. Honestly not since the night that put me in AA. I wish I could say it was my last time drinking, this is my third time collecting my one year sober chip with the first one being five years ago. Even before I swore off the alcohol I swore I’d never drive this fast again. That was still before I had a friend like Tyler, he was like me in many ways, except we shared one stark difference.
When Tyler called, he had someone that would come.
My phone rang, and the sound reverberating through my car’s bluetooth threatened me into a trance. The ringing has always haunted me. I told Tyler to never call. I can’t do calls. Not since the first time I had relapsed myself. I laid in my own, at the time, ragged bed and cried mercifully, yelling at my phone’s own perpetual ringing, hoping and pleading for my sponsor, Shelly, to answer. She was the only person I had in my life that even took the effort to at least lie that she bothered to care. And I called her seventeen times that night.
I still haven’t brought myself to visit her grave.
I shakily answered the phone, feeling another surge of lightning in the sky snapping me back to reality. “H-hold strong for me man. I’m almost there.” I couldn’t shake the lack of confidence from my own voice. I knew Tyler deserved a sponsor better than me, I had told them I wasn’t ready to sponsor someone, but Tyler had asked me directly. He knew I felt this way, but in many ways he, being like me, I guess made him realize that neither of us could do any better.
“What did it feel like, the first time you went back?” His voice was raspy coming over the phone. I was worried he might’ve already started. I took a hard swallow. “I should probably lie to him. I should probably do that.” Was the dominating thought in my mind. I didn’t listen.
“It was blissful. The warm, soothing feeling of whiskey is only heightened by the time taken away from it. When it’s the only good fucking thing, no matter how fleeting it is. It just feels right. Tyler, that’s what my answer for you tonight is.” I paused to cough, my hands gripping the steering wheel, trying not to let my own shakiness swerve me off the road in this rain.
“But let me tell you what I would say to the you that’s going to live with this tomorrow.” I continued after a brief pause. “Because that version of you knows that…it didn’t help, did it? And in hindsight it really wasn’t worth it. The weakness that you felt in that moment. I know it. Swirling that bottle of Jim Beam in your right hand while looking at the bronze liquid fluidly gliding in the bottle. You could swear it starts to look like gold and that it will taste like it too. That weak feeling only grows from this decision. You regave that bottle permission over you, and all that unseen progress you had made, it’s gone again. You realize you lost a lot more this second time than the first time you decided to quit. And no matter what anyone says you won’t believe them, because you already confirmed everything that voice in your head has said about you.”
I could hear Tyler begin to mask his own sobbing over the phone. I hated that. I always hated silent crying because I could never do it, and because anyone who ever saw that side of me would never come and help. Never. But whether Tyler ever cares or not, I hope he knows I won’t turn around because I don’t need anymore people like me going around in this world.
“How did you know?” He protested over the phone. I was a bit caught off guard.
“How did you know it was Jim Beam?” I could hear a laugh break through his tears as he sniffed and snorted from the other end.
I scanned the state of his front yard as I pulled into the driveway. He was sitting on his front porch, his eyes locked with mine while still holding the phone up to his ear. I could see the look on his face when he saw my car and recognized me. It was a look I had desperately yearned to have myself for so damn long that seeing it on his face hurt me.
It was the look of shock. The surprise that at your lowest moment someone actually fucking showed up.
Tyler wasn’t alone. I saw the bottle of Jim Beam itself resting right beside him. I parked and stepped out of my car. No umbrella, I just stood in the rain for a second and took a deep breath before making the walk up to his porch. Tyler was dry, except for his feet which had not been under the overhang of his roof as well as the excess rain which had billowed in from the random gusts of wind dampening the rest of him. I didn’t ask why we weren’t sitting in the chairs more protected from the rain. I only sat on the other side of his bottle.
I didn’t take the bottle at first, and I didn’t complain about getting soaked. I grew accustomed to harsh weather conditions after my decision to get sober. Something about life will numb you when you decide to stop letting alcohol do it. The night had cooled off tremendously, and all the lights on Tyler’s one story house were turned off, leaving only the street lights of his suburban neighborhood to illuminate our perch.
“I’m sorry. I feel bad for having called.” Tyler looked down as if speaking to the ground. “If I wanted you to feel bad about it, I wouldn’t have answered.” I half smiled before also looking down.
“Do you think I’m strong enough to keep this up?” Tyler let slip the slight slurring of his voice. I didn’t turn to him. I just looked up with sad, soaken eyes at the street light. I instinctively picked up the bottle, feeling the lightness of half the liquid missing and noticing it wasn’t full for the first time.
“Yea… Yea, you can do it Tyler.” I raised the bottle to my own lips, a tear slipping out of my eye as I turned it away and listened as its contents poured into the mulch.
“Thanks man.” Tyler offered me a warm smile. I felt my own body start to shiver as another gust of wind blew by.
But Tyler didn’t shiver.
Chaz Casey is a junior student-athlete competing for the track and field team. He is majoring in Fitness and Wellness Management and minoring in creative writing. He has attempted writing novels, finishing two first drafts and is now branching into poetry.