To Love and To Fall

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FOUR

I go home tonight, after I have breakfast with Arbuckle. I have an hour to transform myself from a sodden drunkard to the 3.89 GPA doctoral student I am. Every move as I drag myself to the shower and attempt to dress like the intelligent person I am seems like lead.

When I get to the diner, he acts like the old jackass he was when I was an undergraduate. He didn’t seem to care that Reincroft is in love with me. All he wanted to do was nag me about my dissertation, which to his credence I am very much procrastinating on. Probably his friends from Albany’s history department made fun of him for sending a doctoral student to Reincroft with no dissertation. Arbuckle is overly sensitive to people’s feelings.

My dissertation is the only thing that is preventing me from becoming Dr. Thomas A Hauser, no relation to the great Doogie, I am afraid. I have more than enough credits to graduate. I keep putting off finalizing my dissertation. I have decided to write of the social impact of female alcoholics, of the inverse relationship their alcoholism has had upon society in the twentieth century and how society has treated them in their disease. All of the alcoholics in my life have been female– Serena, my sister, my mother. Arbuckle doesn’t think I have enough emotional distance from the subject. But even though I can’t finalize a single chapter, I cannot think of anything else to write. I have been working on it for two years. I still do not have anything more than an outline and six notebooks of mess. Needless to say, Arbuckle is not pleased with my lack of progress. I am reminded of that as he greets me with a lecture. I tune it out until he finally stops talking. No point in arguing with someone who thinks he’s right.

“What’s going on with you Hauser.” He says that after a dramatic pause yields no response from me. I guess I was supposed to be upset or something at his disapproval. I was long past that by now.

“I’m just ruminating things in my head; don’t mind me.” I try to make light of the situation. It doesn’t work.

“Look, you have to get into this. I don’t care if this reminds you of Serena, and neither does the advisory committee. They want a working outline with research. They won’t let you take the job with Reincroft without it, even with my divine influence. And you don’t even have that. And you’ve been working on this what two, three years now?” He gives me a look that read, don’t kid me, kid. “Where’s your cross-study? I thought you were going to give me a cross study. All you have is the inner city material. That’s warped, Hauser. You live in the suburbs. Must I comment on the psychological implications of this?”

I do not feel like the 3.89 student that I am listening to Arbuckle. I think of Serena. Then I think of Carla. I do not want to be a scholar. I want to throw up like a common drunk. It seems like an easier life at this point. Imagine, I am envious of Serena, as I think of her lying drunk on our bathroom floor-

“Hauser.”

The voice of command has summoned me. “Yeah,” I reply.

“You’re not with me. Were you up partying all night? I didn’t think breakfast at ten was an unreasonable time.” I could think of no reply, but I don’t care. My mouth feels dry and I just want Arbuckle to shut up so I can quench the thirst that tortures me. But of course, he doesn’t. “You know, Hauser, you always do this. You’re my star pupil, your mind is the sharpest I know. But when something big comes up, you get yourself plastered. And I get to deal with a hungover hobo who can’t think straight.”

Arbuckle gets snotty like this sometimes; he’s pretty moody. His Albany friends must have really got to him this time. Even though I know he has his moments with an attitude like this, it annoys me nonetheless. Why does it matter if I’m hungover when I meet him? I show up, and never drunk, unless he’s the one buying beers, as he did just the night before last. Why did he treat me like his scapegoat? I am ready to lace into him, but he is already standing, throwing some money on the table. “You know, I think we’d better hold off on this until we get back home,” he suggested, pointing to the dissertation. “In the meantime, I think you should honestly think about whether you really want to pursue your doctorate. From the looks of it, I would say you’re not.”

Then he was gone. I am pissed. I have no idea what had gotten into him. I wonder if he is going to report me to the dean, or tell Reincroft not to bother with me. To have this on top of Serena’s disappearance and my affair with Carla is too much for me. In the bright late August sunshine as I sit at this quaint outdoor cafe, I feel deathly insecure of myself.

I contemplate about what I should do with myself now. I am finished here, so I could go home if I wanted to, but I do not want to anymore. I am afraid of what I will find there. I go back to the hotel room I wanted to escape before to find it seems a haven to me now, away from anyone I know. Instead of checking out like I intended, I remain there, not wanting to deal with anything related to reality. My mouth desperately wants something to drink, but I am too tired to attend to its needs. I crash on the bed, ready for oblivion, when I feel something nudge my back. I reach over to discover Carla’s bra. I sigh. Even when I try to run away, I always catch up with myself. Someone at the meeting said it. I sigh again. Me, the nonalcoholic at an AA meeting, identifying with a bunch of drunks.

As I doze, a hazy sense of the meeting come back to me. Strange how it was only five days ago; it seemed like ages had passed since then. I felt afraid the whole time I was there, claustrophobic. I heard things there that my memory did not want to hear. They talked of horrors I had endured at the hands of my mother like it was everyday conversation, like the nights she didn’t come home and left Denise and me to fend for our prepubescent selves; how she threw up and passed out in the streets. Not only did they have the nerve to talk of things like this like it was small talk, they laughed at the things they did; laughing at actions that had tortured me for most of my life, like it was some great comedy that they wrecked the lives of people like me with their drunkenness. I did not find any of their stories funny, while they did. I Maybe that was why they were drunks and I was not. I still had a conscience.

They’d been going around the circle talking with their can-you-top-this-drunk stories when they got to me and my Freudian slip. I hadn’t wanted to say anything, but they kept coaxing me to at least share my name, and because I heard it so much in the last hour, I wound up saying, I’m Tom and I’m an alcoholic. Then after the meeting all these guys came up to me and shoved little pieces of papers with their phone numbers written on them in my face. I looked for Serena to save me but she was getting the same thing except with all the women. I felt like the zombies were closing in.

The meeting concept had been Serena’s fault. She had been picked up for shoplifting in a liquor store, and the storekeeper said he wouldn’t press charges if she went this AA meeting that met in the Presbyterian church on Thursdays. She came home with this story, scared out of her mind, and I had this vision of this big brute ready to assault her, and she asked me to go with her for moral support. I was nervous about her going to AA to begin with; from what I could tell it seemed like a cult with no guru and allowed you to go home to your wife at night. I once had an acquaintance at the university who went there for a couple of months and had to call this guy every day at eight o’ clock who was supposed to be some kind of sponsor, but I had no idea what he was sponsoring. Well one day, the sponsor got drunk, and told my friend to go to hell. Someone must have told the sponsor to go to hell too, because my friend never saw the guy at a meeting again. My friend saw him drunk on the street a few months later, and he got a phone call from his wife a year later, saying that the sponsor was dead. I see my friend at the university Rathskeller every so often, and he’s doing well. He swore he’d never get caught up with those alkie crazies again.

But someone was ready to drag my Serena right into it. Damned if I would let it happen.

I feel the fear again. Outside forces determining my fate, subjecting me to something I did not want to experience. I am twenty-eight, a man. I want to control my destiny. I didn’t want some esoteric force of people controlling my life. I had too much of that for one lifetime.

I feel the fear again, compelling me to call Serena once more, and nothing greets me but the echo of silence. Her absence rings deeper than the desertion of infidelity. She is gone. Nothing left of her but my memories. It is like she was never there.

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