Christmas was over and my grandmother was dying.
I held her down while the respiratory therapist suctioned mucus from her throat. She opened her eyes—German steel bright as ever—long enough to see me. I told her it was all right, but she was deaf; I held her arms so she couldn’t fight back. When the struggle was over, she went back to sleep. Back to dying.
The real doctors were gone for the holiday. Sometimes an intern came by, checked her vitals, ordered up some treatment. My mom and her siblings were exhausted. They didn’t know the questions to ask. I grilled the intern. What is the plan? Are we waiting for her to die, or is she supposed to get better and go home? The doctor can say more on Tuesday, she said. She didn’t know.
I went back to my hotel late that night. I didn’t know where to get dinner. I didn’t know how to drive in the snow.
The hotel restaurant was closed. I could get food in the bar.
I was eight weeks sober. In 24 years of drinking, I had never been sober this long.
The bartender threw a coaster in front of me, said, “What’ll you have?”
A roulette wheel spun in my head.
There was a Guinness tap in front of me. There was Jameson, Macallan, Laphroaig.
This was a situation I had been in many times before. I knew what to do.
My grandmother was dying. I knew more about hospitals than I ever wanted to know. I was alone.
I deserved a drink for what I had done today.
The wheel spun, the ball bounced.
It was a beautiful winter night in Boston. Nobody knows me. I could drink here and still be sober in Austin. I could quit again when I got home.
I deserved this.
The wheel slowed.
This is what I do. This is what I have always done. This is all I know how to do.
She might be dead by tomorrow. I might still be drunk then.
I started to speak before I knew what I would say. The ball bounced, bounced, bounced again, and I asked for a cranberry juice and a cheeseburger.
It landed on red.
And I climbed off the stool and found a table as far away from the bar as I could get. I made some calls, and I waited for my food.
I was still sober. My grandmother was still dying, and New Year’s was right around the corner.