To Love and To Fall
“To Love and to Fall” follows the story of a man who battles the demons of his family’s alcoholic past. As he fights to overcome this shadow, he finds he has his own inner hell to face. He has to choose to face his inner hell or be conquered by it.
Lights beat down from above, reds and greens and blues. Pulsating rhythms, a gyrating life form of its own. I sit and reach for the beer in front of me, and with its ingestion everything merges into a kaleidoscope of colors and noise that blots out everything that is real, and that is exactly what I want.
My name is Tom and I am an alcoholic, or at least that is what I said yesterday when my girlfriend Serena and I ventured into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in a musty church basement. I must add that I’m not a real alcoholic; that Serena wanted to go to this meeting, and needed me to come for moral support. She said that she wanted to stop drinking for good; that after the last time she drank, which was the day before yesterday, she never wanted to touch the stuff again. Today, we are here at our favorite club, Captain Nemo’s, same as last week. I watch my lady as she struts across the dance floor. Serena never dances unless she is drunk.
Serena has been my girl for what seems like forever. I am twenty-eight and she is thirty. We started dating at an age young enough that the two years’ difference between us was cause for contention. I was a lowly freshman and she was a junior. We met in a bar, of course. Or maybe not of course, it depends on whether you think Serena drinks too much; she’s pretty good at hiding her problem, because it was only when we started living together five years ago that I noticed any problem myself. She would hide liquor behind her drawer; I remember the time I came home to my bedroom reeking of alcohol and discovering a broken gin bottle by her cabinet. I cleaned it in such dazed shock that when I confronted her she not only denied putting it there but insisted she would never do such a thing, insisting with such vehemence that I began to question my own judgment. I found myself putting my nose to the floor, trying to see if I was going crazy, trying to find any remnants at all of the smell of stale gin which had allegedly assaulted my sense hours earlier. Perplexed, I went to the garbage can to see if I really had placed the remnants of the bottle there, only to find the can mysteriously empty, devoid even of its liner. It had been a Thursday. Garbage day was Sunday. And then I knew. I didn’t even have to hear the violent smashing of glass from outside as the bag was thrown behind the house, Serena nowhere to be found. I knew then that I was in love with an alcoholic.
Not that any of this was new to me. Where I grew up outside of Albany, New York, alcoholism seemed as common as raising kids. It was like you were born, you tried to get a diploma, you got married, you got kids, you got alcoholism; not necessarily in that order. When I first heard that the most fatal ailment in America was heart failure, I wondered what kind of world existed outside my neighborhood. Where I lived, it seemed like alcohol was the number one killer, whether it was because of a drunk driving incident, because Old Man Joe passed out on his porch and froze to death, or like my grandfather’s heart giving out at the rip old age of forty-seven after a three week binge. The biggest businesses in my town were Minnie’s Tavern, The Pub Club, and Reynolds’ Funeral Home, the favorite place for family reunions. I met my cousins at Reynolds’, at a funeral for my grandmother. She’d slipped and cracked her head open. I was nine years old at the time, and hadn’t even known of the cousins’ existence until the previous day. I have seen them only once since then, and that was when my mother died sixteen years ago.
I watch Serena on the dance floor, moving to the beat of TLC’s “Waterfalls”, jazzed up to be played in high style house. Her face is lit up in animation, the booze gives her no pain. I go to the bar and get another beer.
Later on, I drive her home. It is nearly three o’clock in the morning, and I have to drive to Albany to meet with my academic adviser later today. I am crabby from all of the drinking and angry that I managed to get duped into going with her to begin with.
I feel the sensation of her hair on my shoulders as I drive. She is like a sleeping child, and I am strongly protective of her. The perfect American couple is reflected in the rear view mirror of my car: her with the perfect blonde looks, her coloring contrasting my auburn hair and eyes with the face that everyone trusts, just because culture told them it was trustworthy. The perfect American couple, out on a date; a date that at once had gone completely awry and yet was strangely typical for them. For us.
When we get home, I carry her to our bedroom, undress her and put her under the covers like a child who has fallen asleep. Despite the coolness of the night, she sweats profusely and her skin is red, as though all the life is burning from her. I fall in next to her and feel her arm across me as she rolls towards me in her stupor. Soon I am asleep, and her beauty makes me forget the she has duped me again.