• The Heretic Issue
    The Heretic Issue
    Dan photo web

    Photo by author.

    Dan Knows Best

    My Sobering Trip Home

    My cousin got married the week before Halloween in my hometown of Elmira, New York – a small town known primarily for its proximity to a maximum security prison, and because it is noted in rap verses and episodes of Law and Order: SVU. Sometimes family outings can be tense and I’d rather be chewing on broken glass, but my cousin is light and funny and I knew the wedding would be entertaining. I took a seven hour bus from Port Authority to arrive where it all began.

    The bus didn’t soar off a cliff or anything cool like that, and I arrived right on time. I was starving, so my mom suggested Applebee’s. Since I already don’t fit into the suit pants I had purchased three days prior, I ordered a soup and a salad. Around thirty minutes into the ordeal, I smelled something burning.

    “Mom, do you smell fire?” 

    “I bet it’s just all that new Thai food they added to the menu.” 

    Sure enough, Applebee’s kitchen was literally on fire and we had to vacate to the Red Robin down the road. Having given up, I ordered an onion ring-topped burger with barbeque sauce, a side of fries, and a Coke. Life is full of Anytizers... and surprises.

    I must have been drunk and playing Tinder because at the rehearsal dinner I noticed I had a few new matches. One guy sent me this message: 

    “Hey! Thanks for liking me even though I have one arm :) Means more than you know. What’s up?”

    Not much, just using both hands to text my friends for advice on how to not come across as the shitty person I am. Knowing he was partially missing a limb, I swiped right. He was mad hot and I wanted to see if he liked me back. 

    On one hand, the immediate candidness regarding his obvious flaw, which surely repels most men, made me appreciate his upfront nature. On the other hand, well, maybe still on the same hand, self pity right off the bat made it pretty awkward to continue a conversation. It could have been worse I suppose; he could have had a top knot or worn argyle. I decided to put this situation on the back burner, airplane mode my phone and drive to the overlook where I would go as a teenager and smoke pot and avoid everything. 

    Nostalgia is totally useless and depressing, but whenever I’m back home I think about my childhood. Around the age of eight, I began sneaking into the bathroom to play dress-up. I quickly developed a choreographed routine so I could be in and out of the bathroom fast enough that my family didn’t become suspicious of what I was up to. Typically I found my mom’s bra hanging up somewhere or thrown in the laundry basket, and I had two fake breasts made out of balled-up paper towels that I hid in a drawer underneath the sink. Depending on what was available, I would put on the bra, making different dresses out of a combination of towels, washcloths, and rags. A toga-inspired number was usually the easiest, but sometimes I would get a little more invested and connect different rags together with hair clips and bobby pins to add length or show off some skin. For hair, I would usually drape a hand towel over my head with a wash cloth tucked underneath to achieve straight bangs.

    If anyone ever knocked on the door (which had no lock) I would freeze completely, and be scared for my life. Somehow, I was never caught. The times I was uninterrupted I remember as the freest I had growing up. One day I snuck into the bathroom and peered in the secret drawer to find the paper towel mounds I stashed had disappeared. Overwhelmed with shame and fear, the show was over.

    Another way I freed myself as a young one was by lighting every candle in the house, then spinning around making myself dizzy until I couldn’t walk straight. I liked to stammer over to the refrigerator, keep the door open, then eat plain cream cheese by the spoonful until an entire package was demolished. Twenty years later I’m constantly seeking the solace of a good buzz to free my inhibitions.

    My drinking had been getting out of control these past few months. Not to be too dramatic, but I woke up one day hungover as hell and saw myself for what I was: a village idiot, broke loser, and an undatable chubby outcast. The repercussions of getting shitfaced and momentarily losing myself were no longer tolerable by my body. I decided to quit the sauce for at least the month of November. 

    I guess it’s true that everyone is always trying to fill a hole with their vice of choice. Reaching a troubling level of self consciousness, I sense that people look at me and can immediately tell that I’m desperately seeking something I’ve lost. The longest stretches of sobriety I’ve had since I started drinking at age 13 occur whenever I go upstate to stay at my mom’s house. There’s not a goddamn thing to do up there so I usually sit in the pleather recliner and watch TV until I fall asleep night after night. If I’m lucky a Queer Eye For The Straight Guy marathon will be on. I try to be as wholesome as I was back in my altar boy days.

    The wedding ended up being a blast; my personal highlight was the first dance – Rihanna’s “S&M” which my tiny cousins, older aunts, and myself all enjoyed in a circle. 

    Back in the city and five days into sobriety I had a panic attack trying to fall asleep. Curled up in a ball at 4:00 am I squeezed my eyes closed and whispered to myself “you are safe and okay you fucking bitch.” I noticed my breath getting shorter and shorter and I feared it would eventually stop and I would expire. The mortal dread was real; I focused on my heart beating, but that didn't help. It only made me feel like this vessel of raw meat and shoe string with a piece of thinly stretched rubber over it. 

    It was difficult to unclench my hand from a fist, but I tried to arouse my cold dick with it anyways as a distraction. One-armed Josh popped into my head and it disoriented me. So I tried using my left hand and pretended it was the touch of a stranger and that I wasn’t alone with myself again. I gave up.

    I decided to search on YouTube for “Sleeping Music for Baby Geniuses” hoping it would calm my nerves and I could just pass out. I found a 12-hour compilation that started off with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or something and let it play from the top. I wished I was wrapped in fleece and that my bed had bars. I wanted my mental prison to manifest itself into a crib and to just drift away. 

    After putting the bottle down for a solid two weeks, my issues became a little less daunting. Not ever being hungover was a new and exceptional feeling. I haven’t been on an airplane in 11 years so I booked a flight with the money I saved (at least $200 each week on bars, club entry, brunch, hungover seamless feast, cabs, replacing things I lost, and so on). I started cooking more, too, except I left the apartment with the oven on for eight hours and almost turned it into Applebee’s neighborhood grill. Whatever, I’ll get my shit together next month when hopefully a palm tree falls over onto the parked convertible I’m in on Sunset Boulevard drinking a $12 watermelon juice while feigning relaxation.

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