One of the customs associated with being part of a couple is going on ‘double dates’. It’s nothing I’d experienced before being married even though the opportunity arose on occasion. For a time my then wife-to-be lived with a flatmate who had her own boyfriend, a beefy chap with nerdish tendencies who’d spent his childhood attending chess club and was rather confused when he developed the build and stature of a lumberjack and started attracting women.
“You guys: we should totally do something together,” said the flatmate (for that was how she spoke) but being increasingly repellent and having the eating habits of a feral rodent we declined so often my wife started declining her invitations out of foreknowledge for how I’d sneer and look away in disgust at the mention of such mingling.
Besides which, I was a different person back then, more prone to alarm, and the thought of doing pretty much anything with anyone was enough to make me lock myself in our room until the threat had passed. This was not the Campfire who secured bank lock boxes with strange women. This was not the Campfire who went to Boston for sangria and flamenco.
And these were not the things we did that night, when Lindsay made plans with her friend Alina, whose wedding we’d attended at the tail end of October, whose mother had harassed me about my ethnicity all the livelong day, and whose groom I’d confused for one of the taller, more talkative attendees.
Under ordinary circumstances, Matt doesn’t say much. Spiralling downward into his own pit of antisocial misanthropy he finds it difficult to do so and frustrating when those around him–barring his good wife–fail to understand that this spiral is beyond his control. I know this because he confided it in late Saturday night when we were both drunk and getting steadily drunker.
I hadn’t expected to get so wasted on Saturday night, nor had I expected to spend all of Sunday and Monday’s early hours feeling like an elephant had belly-flopped into my consciousness. I’d started the evening fearful yet in optimistic good spirits. I’d met Alina before–un-inebriated– and she’d seemed nice. We’d bonded over the characters we were playing in Skyrim and she hadn’t tried to kill me or anything. By my measure, that made us practically best friends.
Huffing with panic, offloading nervous energy with a fre bicep curls, after they’d arrived I eventually headed downstairs to meet them Alina smiled in recognition. Matt and I desperately avoided one another’s eye contact. This double date was as much in our honour as in anyone else’s. Lindsay and Alina have been fast friends for a time, and wanted their spouses to get on famously also–we’d been set up, as it were.
Matt’s a short, dark-haired guy with furtive eyes and a square jaw, who reminds me of Pinocchio from Bill Willingham’s Fables. He’s currently nursing a nicotine addiction with e-cigs–a vice I hadn’t encountered before–which he smoked constantly but which didn’t fill the room with smoke but the occasional smell of damp moss.
Our dog–as she occasionally does with men–had decided that Matt was The Enemy, and barked solidly at him unti he sat down. Over the night he plied her with peas leftover from our tea; right then he kept muttering “This fucking dog is going to kill me”, which only made Lilo bark louder.
The three of them sat, I stood, and as initial pleasantries were exchanged, like waterlilies on the surface of a particularly murky pond so were unfurled a number of bottles of booze from the plastic bags containing them.
I am at its purist a social drinker: I’m pretty much unable to socialise without a little limbic loosener. Generally–sadly–boozing takes place alone in a room where I share ciders and cream liqueurs with the computer before making inane statements on the Internet. It’s a situation that invariably ends in misery and maudlin tweets, but it’s one from which there’s rarely any fallout. I haven’t drank too much since my early twenties, and I’ve always exercised self control.
Saturday was different. On Saturday I hadn’t reckoned with peer pressure.
Peer pressure’s probably not the right term to use. I started drinking in moderation–if a little too fast from the gates, as my wife belatedly pointed out. It took a couple glasses of what I’d termed ‘granny booze’ (and Matt and Alina had seemingly brought every colour of the alcoholic spectrum with them, from soft creamy indulgences to hard liquor for hard men) before I could relax enough to sit at the table and join in the conversation.
It was a decidedly geeky get-together, seeing as all four of us are Internet aficionados. Each of us had our turn under the shameful spotlight, with Star Trek fandom, Reddit alt-accounts, White Wolf role playing games and Masters of the Universe all cropping up in conversation at certain points to baffle the other attendees. Still, as the alcohol flowed we came together as a group–an occasionally nasty one I’m afraid, as we unashamedly laid into hate figures not present: people for whom we’d reached the end of our collective tether. Embarrassing stories were told, and at times I wondered if we weren’t the mean girls in life, quaffing Campari while picking on those less fortunate than ourselves.
But there was no Campari, only an off-licence rainbow that was rapidly running together.
Like a roller coaster, things came to a peak at about the time I’d decided I’d had quite enough lubrication. At this point Matt dragged his chair from the opposite side of the table and said: “Okay, I’m going to make you a drink, ‘cause you and I, we’re going to be good friends.”
Well wasted, he held his hand out for one of those bro hand clasp things people do on TV; equally well wasted, I took it.
Except on Planet Matt I wasn’t wasted at all. On planet Matt I was a lightweight, and for us to have any kind of conversation at all I’d have to stop breathing from my namby-pamby air tank and start inhaling the rich, native air.
So he made me a drink. I don’t know what the hell went into it, but it was twice the size of anything I’d drank previously that night and thinking of it now gives me cause to shudder. Hell, thinking about anything alcoholic makes me shudder: after a night of bilious rage-shouting into the toilet followed by a day of miserable rest nursing both a fever and a hangover of the ages (which contained not a little of its own rage-shouting at its dawning) I’ve decided to give up on any kind of drinking, social or otherwise, because I can’t hold my liquor and frankly, because it’s just not worth it. I yelled into the toilet so often and so loudly that night, if I were Dovahkiin and there’d been dragons lurking in the u-bend I’d now be a champion to the people.
Alas I’m still feeling slightly fat-headed and aching around the neck. Drinking so much that night was a bad idea and one I’m better off without.
No mixologist he, Matt sloshed every vial of liquid he could find into a single glass and bade me drink. He spurred me on with camaraderie I’d never before experienced, with further hand-clasps and glass clinks, and talking excitedly about writing as if he’d never had the chance to speak to another writer before, as if he’d only interacted with mundane wannabes before this night and now, amidst a fug of rum and electronic smoke, he’d finally found his very besht friend.
The women, pleased to see we were getting on so well, started giggling to one another and pointing toward us, until Matt waved them away yelling: “Fuck off, this is men’s work! Fuck off and fuck you.”
All the while he kept my drink topped up with whatever ghastly philtre he’d concocted, and I, imbibing it, deconstructed the unlikely scenario that had befallen me with the distance of a director recording a DVD commentary. Our friendship was an artifice, I pointed out. We’re bonding over points we only agree upon because we’re both soundly trashed.
“This stuff is terrible,” said Matt, tasting my drink. “Wait, I can fix it.” He poured another quarter-cup each of white rum and cake flavoured vodka into the glass.
By the time–old man of the group that I was–I announced I was going to bed, the girls were watching a period costume drama and Matt had sunk into a maudlin place full of quiet swearing and little else. I was staggering and–worse–slurring, and every sentence I spoke came with its own erratum interjected after every word pronounced erroneously.
I weaved up the stairs, my gorge spurring me into action, and fell into the gratefully received arms of the toilet who asked what had taken me so long. This was the children’s toilet–which they pronounce ‘tole-ett’ (and who were at their daddy’s house and thankfully far from these scene of nursery school ineptitude)–which I never dare visit while sober out of fear of the flecks of shit and puddles of widdle they leave in copious amounts all over the room. That night, the Skyrim theme pulsing in my head and my tea pulsing in my stomach, I clutched the bowl close like a newly-made friend and shouted stomach acid into it until the wee small hours. Such colours came out of me that night, and over my frequent, queasy Fus do rah-s I heard Alina at the bottom of the stairs pleading with Matt over and over to please come up stairs, please, Matt, please walk up the stairs.
I’m not sure that night shone a positive light on any of us, but it’s under such dim circumstances that friendships are–perhaps–made.
The next morning Lindsay received a message from Matt, who apologised for poisoning me. Which he did, I suppose. But whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?
We don’t have any further plans to meet up but next time, no matter my feelings towards socialising, I plan to be stone cold sober. If you’ve read this post thinking of Matt and I as a couple of no good lushes, well, you might be right. But know this: the everyday conversations you have, the friendships you make–these things don’t come easy to the likes of him and myself, if they come at all. That either one of us was willing to be there–inebriated or otherwise–is a step in the right direction even if that step was rather wobbly and ended in us collapsing on our faces. Maybe Matt won’t be able to manage our next meeting without a drink in hand, but not so very long ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do it without a little valium speeding me toward sociability. If I can do it, so can he. If I were a spiritual man I’d have faith.
And if we were unpleasant and bitter and bullying at times at least we have the self awareness to know these things. Even through alcohol, the blizzard topping the Throat of the World, we see ourselves clearly, and accept the things we cannot change as we gain courage to change the things we can.
Because even though some illnesses are just as bad as addiction, as I’ve learned, those too can be overcome.