Charlie and the kids and I went to Kelly and Joel’s annual New Year’s Eve party. It was the first time they had a kids’ New Year’s Eve. Usually it was just adults getting drunk. Kelly’s son, Ryan, had invited Max to sleep over so we arrived with Max’s bags in tow and rang the doorbell. Kelly and Joel opened the door. At least twenty kids were running around and screaming in the background. I brought Van’s portable crib with me so I could put Van to sleep and ring in the New Year before taking him home.
“Put the crib in our room,” Kelly said and hugged me. “There’s a cooler with LaCroix and pop.” She walked away toward the kitchen. Joel bent down and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “I totally support you,” he whispered in my ear.
“Thanks,” I said and gave him a kiss. “That means a lot.”
I took Van’s crib upstairs to their bedroom and set it up while Charlie got a drink and took Van to the basement where the other little kids were playing. I made my way to the kitchen and scanned it for the LaCroix cooler.
“It’s outside Brenda,” Joel said as he shook martinis.
I grabbed a bottle of water and came back into the kitchen to get a wine glass. I’d taken up drinking Pelegrino with a slice of lemon in a wine glass at home because I liked my stemware almost as much as I liked my wine. Kelly was handing out the last wine glass to another guest. “I just found this chardonnay,” Kelly was saying as she poured chardonnay into the woman’s wine glass. “You’ll love it!” I turned away and walked downstairs to look for Max and Van.
Kelly had set up a craft table in the basement and Max and a bunch of kids were standing around it decorating cigar boxes with glue, glitter, buttons, and seashells. Van was sitting on the floor playing with toy cars. Joan, one of Kelly’s old high school friends, was standing off to the side watching her son and daughter glue feathers on their boxes. I sidled up next to her.
“You’re not drinking,” Joan said, nodding at my bottle.
“I’m taking a break,” I said. “I was drinking everyday.”
A worried look crossed her face. “I drink everyday,” Joan said. She leaned over and whispered, “I’ve been thinking about giving up pot. I don’t want the kids to find out I smoke.”
“I hear you,” I said, giving her a knowing smile.
I went upstairs and immediately ran into Kelly’s close friend Nosey Rosy. “So, you’re not drinking,” she said loudly. “Why?”
Thanks Kelly, I thought to myself. I spied Candy, who is not a big drinker, excused myself, and walked away from Nosey Rosy. Candy looked at my LaCroix and said, “You’re not having a martini with Bill?” Candy’s husband, Bill, made a mean martini. I shrugged and excused myself to put Van to bed. I went back downstairs, got Van, and took him up to Kelly and Joel’s bedroom. After I tucked him in, I went out to the deck where the non-alcoholic beverages were and lit up a cigarette. Joel was out there stoking a fire pit. He lit a cigarette, too, and smoked one with me.
“I’m thinking about having a martini,” I told him.
“Nah, don’t,” he said, shaking his head.
“Yeah, you’re right,” I said. We finished our cigarettes and reentered the house.
“Someone’s kid is crying upstairs,” a guy announced.
I jogged upstairs and saw the door to the bedroom had been flung open. Van was standing up in his crib screaming. I lifted him out and hugged him. Van stopped crying. He rubbed his eyes with his fists and nestled his head into the crook of my neck. I held him for a long time. It felt so good. I kissed Van and tucked him back into his crib. I tiptoed out of the room and shut the door. A group of kids, Max included, was racing through the hallway, running into various bedrooms, and slamming the doors shut. A bedroom door flew open and the pack of kids ran past me into another bedroom and slammed that door shut. I opened the door and scanned their faces. Most were ignoring me. “All of you stay out of Kelly’s and Joel’s bedroom,” I announced. The kids ignored me. I zeroed in on Max. “Make sure,” I told him, wagging my finger in his face, “that these kids don’t go into Kelly and Joel’s room. Van’s sleeping there.” Max nodded. I went downstairs. A few minutes later, Van was screaming again. I repeated the same drill and put Van down for a third time. A short while later, Van was screaming again. I packed up his crib, thanked Kelly and Joel, and told Max we’d pick him up in the morning. Charlie and Van and I left. We got home and I put Van to bed and went to bed myself. Fuck New Year’s Eve.
Audrey got married today. I wasn’t sure how the not-drinking thing was going to go since weddings and booze go hand in hand, but being surrounded by Orthodox Jews made it a lot easier.
Charlie was not looking forward to Audrey’s wedding at all. He knew we weren’t going to be able to sit together during the ceremony or dinner. He knew I would be eating and dancing with the women, and he’d be eating and dancing with the men.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” Charlie said when I told him how things were going to go. “I don’t have to go, do I?”
“Hope and Paul will be there,” I said. “You and Paul can dance together.”
Charlie stared daggers at me.
“Oh come on, it’ll be fun.”
“No it won’t.”
Audrey had booked an expensive Orthodox musician who played blues and klezmer and had performed at Carnegie Hall.
“Why spend all that money on a band when you can’t dance?” I’d asked her when she told me I couldn’t eat or dance with Charlie.
“The men dance together and the women dance together,” she said. “’Fiddler on the Roof’ kind of stuff.”
“Why can’t husbands and wives dance together?”
“The men might get excited seeing women they’re not married to swinging their hips.”
“Make sure you wear a dress or a skirt that hits no higher than the knee,” Audrey said. “And no spaghetti straps or low necklines. Wear something with long sleeves. And don’t hug or kiss my dad or brothers. Women don’t touch men they’re not married to.”
I wondered if Audrey and Nehemiah were supposed to have sex through a hole in the sheet tonight.
Charlie and I arrived at Audrey’s shul and a young girl hung up our coats. We moved toward the appetizer tables and Charlie grabbed my arm. “Is that Audrey’s husband-to-be?” he asked, twitching his head toward a large overweight black man wearing a black hat and black suit. He was surrounded by a bunch of white guys wearing the same thing.
“Gotta be,” I said. I hadn’t gotten a good look at him through Audrey’s cracked bedroom door. “He’s the only black Jew here.”
Charlie snickered. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Roger, Audrey’s brother. He was planting his walker and swinging his hips and legs forward and moving in my direction. He pulled up next to me, sweating profusely. “Roger!” I said and gave him a big hug and kiss, ignoring Audrey’s warning. I hadn’t seen Roger since his motorcycle accident several months ago. Roger and I had gone to Sturgis, South Dakota, for bike week eleven years ago. We’d ridden out with the Chicago Hog Chapter, partied with thousands of bikers, saw ZZ Top, and had a blast. Earlier this year, Roger was riding along a canyon road in Arizona when he lost control of his bike, skidded toward the edge of a cliff, and a van ran him over, severing his spine.
“You look good,” I told him.
“I been doin’ a lot of physical therapy,” Roger said. “They say there’s a chance I could walk again.”
“I bet you will,” I said.
“Hey you guys,” Hope said, walking over with Paul. “Where’s Audrey?”
“In a room back there,” Roger said, motioning with his thumb over his shoulder.
Hope and I grabbed a few appetizers and headed in that direction. The room was packed with women. We looked around and caught sight of Audrey sitting on a throne-like chair surrounded by women.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Everyone’s giving Audrey their good wishes,” Hope said.
We made our way through a sea of wigs—married Orthodox women have to hide their hair from men they’re not married to—and reached Audrey. She beamed when she saw us and got up and hugged us.
“We’re here to give you our good wishes,” I said.
“Make ‘em good,” Audrey said. “I have God’s ear now. He’s listening.”
“I wish you and your family good health, gobs of money and, lots and lots of happiness,” I said. “You deserve it.”
“Thanks,” Audrey said, tears welling up in her eyes.
“You okay?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said, looking sick to her stomach but trying to appear happy.
“Well,” I said, squeezing Audrey’s hand. “A lot of women are lined up to see you.” I gave her a peck on the cheek. “Love ya,” I said and stepped aside so Hope could move in.
Hope and I left the room and returned to the virtually female-free hallway. We nibbled at appetizers and a tall beefy Orthodox guy lumbered over. “You two went to high school with Audrey,” he said with a smirk. “What was she like?” The schmuck wanted dirt.
“Audrey was the kindest, most generous person I knew in high school,” I said. “She still is. Nehemiah’s lucky.”
The schmuck’s smile disappeared. Hope and I walked away and found Charlie and Paul. Minutes later, we were directed into the synagogue. Hope and I took seats on one side of the room, Paul and Charlie took seats on the other.
The wedding ceremony was beautiful. Audrey looked gorgeous. As we left the synagogue and headed for the banquet hall, I scanned the crowd for Charlie. He caught my eye, held up his wrist, and tapped his watch. I smiled and nodded. Hope and I found our table and sat down. I got chatty with a woman who had a house full of kids and an unemployed husband. A young girl set a couple bottles of kosher wine on the table and I scanned the unfamiliar labels wondering if they were any good.
“How’s the wine?” I asked Hope.
“Good and sweet,” she said. “Want some?”
“Nope,” I said, glad it was probably syrupy swill. “I quit drinking.”
Hope raised an eyebrow. She knew I’d tried to quit drinking eight years ago.
We finished dinner and the music began. The band was awesome. Before long, most of the women were dancing and we could hear the men whooping it up behind the screen that separated us from them. Both men and women could see the band on stage. A curtained divider held up by metal poles in the middle of the floor began at the edge of the stage and ran the length of the room to the back doors.
“Look,” Hope said. She and I were two links in a long chain of women holding hands and dancing around Audrey. Hope jutted her chin toward the top of the screen. Flames were shooting over the top of the divider. A few women were standing at the end of the screen near the stage and peeking around it and watching the men.
“Come on,” Hope said yanking me loose from the chain and pulling me toward the end of the screen. Bands of circle-dancing men kicked their legs wildly as their black hats burned like torches.
“Oh my God, have you seen this before?” I asked.
“Never,” said Hope.
“Won’t their hair catch fire?”
“I would think so,” she said
Another man touched a cigarette lighter to his hat and, whoosh, flames shot up three feet.
“How do they do that?” I muttered.
Hope and I watched in amazement before giving up our spots so other women could see and rejoined the chain of women dancing around Audrey.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I told Hope.
Hope and I broke loose and walked out into the hallway. A large pile of black hats had been dumped against a wall. Some of the hats were upside down, their domes lined with aluminum foil. A mound of rubbing alcohol bottles sat next to the hats. I elbowed Hope.
“I wonder if some Orthodox dude is going home tonight without a beard,” I said. We giggled. On our way out of the bathroom, Charlie grabbed my arm.
“Let’s go,” he said. “I’ve had it.”
I went to a meeting after having dinner with my family. I pulled into a church parking lot and two guys were standing by the door smoking.
“You here for the meeting?” I asked them.
“Yep,” one of them answered.
“Could you tell me where it is?”
“Downstairs,” the guy answered. He tossed his cigarette on the pavement and squashed it with his boot. “You can follow me.”
We made our way down to a basement utility room where nine men were sitting around a table. I sat down and smiled. A man sitting at the head of the table, the chairman, asked if it was anyone’s first time here. I raised my hand and introduced myself, feeling hugely uncomfortable. A guy nicknamed Red began speaking.
“I used to perceive being humble as being weak,” Red began. “But now I see it as a strength. All the false bravado I had pushing my will on others, coercing them to do what I wanted, making people miserable until I got my way. I was a bully. I fooled myself into thinking I was powerful when it would have taken strength to stand back and not be a jerk. It takes guts to admit you don’t have power over people.”
We celebrated a belated Christmas with my parents. Every year since Charlie and I began dating, we’ve had Christmas Eve with my family, Christmas Day with his family, and our little family gets lost in the shuffle. I wanted my family to have its own tradition this year. I wanted us to go to church on Christmas Eve (that didn’t work out so well) and have a cozy dinner afterwards. I mentioned this to my mother in early December and my mom suggested getting together tonight instead of Christmas Eve.
Charlie and I loaded up the car with food, presents, and kids and hit the highway. As we neared my parents’ exit, I started thinking about dinner and pictured the oversized bottle of Woodbridge chardonnay my sister would probably bring. My father drank Manhattans, martinis, and beer, so if my sister and I wanted wine, we had to bring it. My mother, a devout Seventh-day Adventist, never drank. I figured since I’d been drinking over Christmas and, technically, we were still celebrating Christmas, I should get some wine. I told Charlie to stop at the liquor store as we exited the highway. I didn’t want my last glass of wine to be Woodbridge. I walked into the store and bought two nice bottles of Oregon Pinot Noir. When I got in the car, I placed them at my feet. We drove off and a radio reporter announced that a woman had smashed up her car while driving her family home after a Christmas party yesterday. Her two children were dead. She and her husband were in the hospital. High levels of alcohol had been detected in both of their bloodstreams. I glanced at Charlie. He looked at me and winced. I turned and looked out the window.
My mother greeted us at the door. “I didn’t like being alone on Christmas Eve at all!” she blurted. “I never want to do this again!”
My father appeared at the door with a Manhattan in his hand. He gave me a hug and a kiss. “You want a martini?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
I drank a stiff martini then had another. I probably drank more than one bottle of Pinot Noir before the night was over, too. On the way back home I stared out the window at the Christmas lights as Charlie drove. I thought about the woman who’d crashed her car. I pictured her lying in the hospital bed wishing her children were alive and she was dead.
I woke up without a hangover, which was nice. I took pictures of the kids opening their Christmas presents and decided that last night’s little drinking episode was just a slip. Today I was back to no drinking. December 25 would be a good sobriety date. What a gift to Jesus.
We spent the afternoon at Charlie’s brother’s house and when we walked in, his brother, Chris, offered us eggnog. What the hell, it was Christmas. I finished the eggnog and had a glass of wine. What the hell, I’d already consumed alcohol. Charlie’s sister, Liz, gave us a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. As soon as we got home I stuck it in the freezer and when it was properly chilled, Charlie and I killed it. I’ll give up drinking tomorrow.
I drank tonight. I don’t really know why, I just felt like it. I wasn’t craving alcohol or anything. Having a martini just popped into my head and I went for it.
Charlie, the kids, and I went to church for the Christmas Eve service. We were right on time, which meant we were late, the sanctuary was already packed. People were being seated on folding chairs in the Narthex and we quickly sat on four chairs before being relegated to the hallway. I tried to peek over the heads sitting in front of me at the pageantry in the sanctuary but could see nothing through the window separating the Narthex from the sanctuary. Max and Van began whining that they were bored and wanted to go. A martini came to mind. I visualized a martini glass in my hand, minuscule ice chips floating on the surface, and me sipping the icy burn onto my tongue.
As soon as we got home, I chucked my coat, checked the dinner I’d put in the oven before going to church, and grabbed my martini shaker. Charlie walked into the kitchen. “I’m having a martini,” I said defiantly. “You want one?” Charlie laughed. “Yeah,” he said. We each had two martinis and split half a bottle of wine. I checked the basement for more wine but there wasn’t any.
I had tea downtown at the Drake with my old high school friends Hope and Audrey. Audrey is the friend I lived with when I quit working for my dad and went back to college. She is getting married one week from today. She was wearing a knock-your-socks-off beautiful engagement ring her fiancé had no business buying, she said, because he doesn’t have any money. Plus he just bought himself a new Cadillac.
Audrey was my wildest, craziest friend in high school. She grew up in a secular Jewish household, sold Quaaludes and pot, dabbled in the occult for a while with her first husband then, after she divorced him, turned into an Orthodox Jew. Audrey’s new-found Orthodox community fixed her up with Nehemiah, her fiance. Audrey’s first husband was a Pakistani named Peter. They had two gorgeous dark-skinned sons together and Nehemiah, perhaps the only African American Orthodox Jew around, seemed like a good match for Audrey. Audrey and Nehemiah, who lives in Detroit, started a long-distance relationship eight months ago and Audrey decided to marry him, move to Detroit, and sell her house in Chicago to buy one in Michigan.
“You’re buying a house in Detroit with the money you’re getting for selling your house here?” Hope asked.
“The kids and I can’t move into Nehemiah’s dinky apartment,” Audrey laughed.
“You’re spending your money, none of his?” Hope asked.
“His money’s sunk into his business,” Audrey said. “He started it two years ago. I checked him out, don’t worry. His rabbi said he’s one of the biggest contributors to his shoal. Everyone loves him.”
“The house will be in your name, right?” I asked.
“How old is Nehemiah?” Hope asked.
Audrey blushed. “He’s thirteen years older. He has a daughter from his first marriage who’s slightly younger than me, but he and his daughter don’t speak, so I guess I won’t be meeting her,” she laughed. “It’s going to take some time for my boys to adjust to him. He keeps telling me how the boys aren’t going to do this or that. But it’s not like he’s their father, you know?”
“Are you sure you want to go through with this?” I asked.
Audrey shrugged. “Are you ever sure of anything?”
“You don’t have to do this,” I said. “People change their minds all the time.”
The waiter placed a three-tiered tray of finger sandwiches and scones on our table. “I’m sure these are kosher,” Audrey said, reaching over a ham sandwich and grabbing an egg salad. “Restaurants use Kraft mayonnaise and Kraft is kosher.” Hope rolled her eyes.
We left the Drake and Audrey said she wanted to go to Victoria’s Secret. “I need something sexy for my wedding night.”
“Aren’t there rules against that sort of thing?” Hope asked.
Audrey ignored her and took a red corset into a dressing room.
I whispered to Hope, “I think there are rules against fucking your fiancé before you get married, too.” Hope snickered. Hope and I’d caught a glimpse of Nehemiah lying in Audrey’s bed through a cracked door that morning when we picked her up.
Audrey poked her head out of the dressing room door. “Come here and tell me what you think?”
“Sexy,” I said. “It pushes up your boobs and cinches your waist just right. Buy it.”
Audrey’s cell phone rang. “I can’t meet you at the jeweler’s, I’m with my friends. Uh-huh, uh-huh, okay.” She hung up and threw the phone in her purse. “I have to meet Nehemiah and take a final look at our wedding bands. It won’t take long. I’ll meet you guys in an hour. Sorry.”
“Nehemiah’s an ass,” Hope whispered to me.
Audrey grabbed a matching garter belt, stockings, and robe and threw them on the counter with the corset. “I’ll take these.”
Tonight I felt like drinking. I’d gone to a women’s meeting earlier and decided they were all losers. Whenever I think a woman looks interesting, together, she’ll say something like, “I smoked crack while I was pregnant,” or “I steal people’s lunches at work and make myself get sick in the bathroom.” I don’t want any of these women for friends.
I went to dinner at Bin 36 with my aunt Alina. Bad, bad restaurant for me. It’s a new restaurant I suggested eating at over a month ago—which is how long this dinner date has been on my calendar. When I opened the menu, I was drawn to the extensive wine list on the right page. The less prominent left page listed the food, and all of it, appetizers to desserts, had wine suggestions.
Aunt Alina ordered a Pinot Noir flight and the waiter set a paper placemat in front of her with four circles on it. Each circle had a bin number written under it. The waiter then placed a half-glass of wine on each circle and handed my aunt a card that described each of the wines. I couldn’t have thought of a better way to torture myself.
“I’m on antibiotics for a sinus infection (true) and can’t drink (never stopped me before),” I told my aunt.
“That’s a shame,” Aunt Alina said.
“Maybe a flight wouldn’t hurt,” I said, changing my mind just like that.
“Oh, you can’t do that,” Aunt Alina said looking quite serious. “Not if you’re taking antibiotics.”
“You’re right,” I said.
Aunt Alina and I talked for four hours and I watched her nurse her four glasses of wine the entire time. She’d take a tiny sip, set the glass back on her placemat, awhile later take another tiny sip from another glass, place it back on her placemat, etc. It was killing me. My insides squirmed. When we finished dessert, there was still a little wine in each of the glasses. It brought back memories of the time I had dinner with my friend Emily.
Emily and I met for dinner at Wildfire this summer. Emily ordered a Cosmopolitan so I ordered one, too, even though I wanted a pure sugar- and food-coloring-free Kettle One martini. I didn’t want Emily thinking I was a lush who loved straight booze. I drank my Cosmopolitan slower than usual because I paced myself with Emily. When we both finally finished our last sips and I was about to suggest ordering another, Emily opened the wine list.
“That martini really hit me,” she said.
“Yeah, me, too,” I lied. “Should we order a bottle of wine?”
Emily looked at me with a raised eyebrow over her menu.
“Let’s just order by the glass, huh?” I said. “I don’t think we need a whole bottle.”
“Definitely by the glass,” Emily said.
We ordered a glass of Chardonnay apiece. I drank mine slowly, again pacing myself with Emily. I wanted to scream.
Charlie and I went to Wildfire for dinner with Reed and Liv. I felt very edgy before we left the house, but I was determined to be funnier and wittier than I was when I was drinking.
Wildfire was probably not the best restaurant for me to go to. Their martinis are excellent and they also have martini flights: four flavored mini martinis served all at once. Martini flights were never a draw for me, however. Health nut that I am, I didn’t want artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners in my booze, just straight vodka with a whisper of vermouth and a lemon twist for me, thank-you. Liv had made reservations two months in advance so we could get in on a Saturday night and a table was ready for us when we arrived. Thank God we didn’t have to sit in the bar. We all slid into a huge banquette and I ordered a club soda while everyone else ordered cocktails. I reminded Liv that I was giving up drinking for a little while.
“You’re not drinking?” Reed said, sipping a Manhattan. “How long are you going to keep that up?”
I shrugged. “As long as I feel like it. I’m bored with drinking anyway. I need a change. When I get bored with being sober I’ll start drinking again.”
I scanned the tables to see what other people were drinking. A lot of people were having soda and iced tea. I was shocked.
During dinner I bantered, joked, told funny anecdotes—but it felt like work. I had to be on all night because I wasn’t drinking and, damn it, I was going to be the best dinner companion ever. But I started feeling uncomfortable, like a dullard, when we all hopped into Reed’s car after dinner. I was always the one to suggest going to a bar or back to my house for drinks and a joint, and we’d party until Charlie or Liv got sick of it. Tonight, however, Reed drove us home and pulled up in front of our house at ten-thirty.
“I can’t remember when I’ve gone home this early on a Saturday night,” Reed said.
“Me too,” I agreed, feeling lame.
“I’m glad,” Liv said. “I won’t waste the whole day tomorrow feeling horrible.”
“Suits me just fine,” Charlie said.
I washed up and crawled into bed. Charlie was waiting for me. We did it, him on top and me under a cloud of boozy breath.