by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor
Last Tuesday night I found myself sitting alone in a hotel bar in NYC with a shot glass full of a sweet looking alcoholic concoction – a gift from the bartender I’d been idly chatting with for the past half hour while I ate my arugula salad with shaved parmesan and then dove into my seared scallops over mushroom risotto. Right up until this moment I’d been having the first almost relaxing day in a long time. Having spent six hours on Jet Blue with its nonstop in flight cable television entertainment and free flowing Diet 7 Up, I’d managed to get a third of the way through a novel and gone over my notes for the Today Show which I’d be taping on Thursday and with no babies to put to bed there was nothing for me to do but eat some dinner, go watch a little TV and get some sleep. Also right up until this moment, the thought of drinking had been the furthest thing from my mind. Well, that’s not completely true; the bartender had been talking in his tough Long Island accent about all the drinking he’d been doing with his buddies and fairly early in the conversation it was obvious that a good time always included booze – which is something I could totally relate to.
The wine bottles were starting to take on a dramatic glow in the artfully lit frame of a bar and I couldn’t help but think how good a glass of nice Merlot would taste after my long day. The reason I quit drinking was that I was doing it every night, at home, isolated – not because I drank too much when I went out or was alone in a bar with no responsibilities, right? Right? Well, no. This was a question I’d already posed to myself many times before I made the humbling decision to give up drinking entirely. It wasn’t that I always drank too much in a social environment; it was that sometimes I did. And I couldn’t predict when those times would be. So I knew that drinking was out of the question. Yet, I was fantasizing about wine like it was an old boyfriend I’d had a dysfunctional relationship with yet when I missed him could only remember the way it felt when I was asleep in the crook of his arm or the way his voice softened when he said “I love you.”
I was alone. In New York. With no one watching over me. But the bartender was now talking about how he moved out of his house when he was sixteen because as he put it, “my mother liked the bottle too much.”
“Really,” I said, not as a question. “Does she still drink?”
“Off and on,” he said, clearly having given up giving a shit. “Right now she’s not. But she waits until she’s a complete mess to clean herself up until the next time she starts up again.” Apparently his father was no Cracker Jack prize either. Dad had divorced mom when the bartender was a kid had taken up with another woman with whom he went on to have another family–another family which was not going to include the bartender. Also, dad was a bit of a booze hound himself. This conversation was a downright bummer and more than that, it was taking all the fun out of my fantasy fling with my probably one glass of merlot. Who the hell was I kidding? Certainly not myself. Even the very very distant possibility of being that mom was enough to pull me out of any self pity I had about not being able to have a drink in a nice hotel on my two nights off from my family. I was still a mom, and I still very much had a family.
I looked at the shot the bartender had just poured me. “Oh, no thanks. I don’t drink,” I said with a light smile as if I just never liked the taste of it or was simply too lady-like to indulge.
“What? Even on vacation?” The bartender was looking at me like I’d just announced I was a secret agent or Scientologist.
“Even on vacation. I’ll just take a cup of coffee and the check.” He was still eying me suspiciously.
“Are you like my mother? And that’s why you don’t drink? Like that kind of don’t drink?” Jesus, he was making a federal case about it. But, hey, I guess he never seen one of us teetotalers before in a bar.
I looked him back right in the eye and said “No, I’m not like your mother. Not yet.” And then I went up to my room, watched a Law & Order rerun and ate two full bags of peanut M&M’s. Hey, a girl has to have some vice!
Stefanie on Drinking:
My Sobering Secret 
Hair of the Dog 
Thank You Rachael Brownell