“Why don't you drink?”
The rain traveling down the window mirrored the sweat on the half-empty glass sitting atop the bar in front of me. It was hypnotizing watching the raindrops make their way down the window, bumping into each other and absorbing one another as they went. Usually, Shinjuku was a beautiful place, painted in bright colors and populated with distracted businessmen and smiling kids. Now, all I could see was the falling rain obscuring the soft glow of the neon lights shaped into illegible symbols. It was so hypnotizing, in fact, I hadn't realized the record behind the bar had stopped. The bartender, like some bad cliché, stood behind the bar drying a glass with a white rag in circular, practiced motions. He set the glass down and walked over to the turntable. With a practiced precision, he lifted the needle off the record, and replaced it with another. The tonearm fell softly onto the vinyl, and the needle found its way into the groove with a small pop. The record was noticeably old, but it filled the air with a nostalgia that seemed fitting for a rainy night. The first note gave the record of choice away; C minor on trumpet. It was My Funny Valentine, by Miles Davis. It had to be the perfect music for drinking alone on a Saturday night. I looked down at my watch to disappoint myself with the time. Sure enough, the hands fell on 12:15. In fifteen minutes, she'd be an hour and a half late, if she was even still bothering to come at all.
The words, spoken in the bartender's best English, forced my head up in surprise.
“Ginger Ale?” he repeated tentatively.
“Sure, yes. Sorry.”
He gave a slight bow and the ginger ale hissed out from the fountain dispenser in his hand. Why did I say that? I didn't want more. I had no reason to still be here. 12:16. I hated waiting, especially for someone who you’re not sure will ever even show up. It’s a lot watching a glass of water fall towards the ground. Time seems to slow down to a stop, and you reach a point where you acknowledge that you have no power in the situation, and you simply wait for the glass to hit the ground and shatter into hundreds of little pieces. I’d been watching that glass fall for three years now, and the crash was coming. I just didn’t know when.
The ginger ale rose to the top of the glass, and the bartender silently placed the dispenser back into its place under the bar. It had been a few thousand miles, three rehab centers in California, one apartment in New York, and it all ended up here. I would have chosen not to meet in a bar, but beggars can’t be choosers, as the saying goes. It probably wasn’t the best place to meet an alcoholic, but the choice was out of my hands, and I wasn’t about to waste three years of waiting over a petty dispute about where to meet. Still, every time I smelled alcohol, it reminded me of the last time I saw her. An empty bottle in her off-hand, the other lazily pointing at me. I had done all I could, and probably a great deal more, and it wasn’t enough. That was the distinct moment I remember realizing that, and the heartbreak had persisted long after. For some reason, I was hoping tonight could change something, I just wasn’t sure what. I was still staring at the bubbles in my drink when I heard an unexpected voice.
“You don't drink?”
There's something inexplicably shocking about hearing your native tongue in a country where no one speaks it. It almost always will catch you off guard. It's a surreal feeling that takes more than just a moment to really acclimate to.
I turned to find the origin of the voice sitting quietly two stools away, manipulating a glass of what appeared to be scotch in her fingers. It spun effortlessly in small circles around the coaster beneath it. She wasn't looking at me, but at the liquid rolling about in the glass. Her vivid blue eyes squinted at the drink as though she was deciphering some hidden meaning within it. She was particularly beautiful, dressed in a neat black and white tailored suit; her short, almost white-blonde hair perched effortlessly just above her shoulders, and outlined her face with a precision that could not have been unintentional, although it was clear she meant it to appear so.
“You don't drink,” she repeated, this time without the question mark.
“No,” I said, overcoming my initial shock “I mean, why do you say that?”
“Well, you're clearly not drinking alcohol right now. But I don't think you drink at all,” she said, still not making eye contact.
“What makes you say that?” I was sure I hadn't met this woman before. She had no way of knowing what I did or didn't drink, and for no reason in particular, I was starting to get offended by her presumptions.
“Well, for one thing, you're drinking ginger ale.”
“Sure, but who says I'm not driving somewhere? Maybe I drink at other times, but I'm not now,” I said.
“You showed up in a cab,” she said. She stopped playing with her glass and her gaze turned to me. “You just have this way about you. You don't look like the type of person who drinks. You don't look confident here.”
“I feel confident here,” I retorted, not entirely believing it myself. “I don't think that's a fair assumption to make.”
“Well,” she said, as if putting the entire conversation to rest, “you don't look confident here.”
We sat in silence for a moment, the ice clinking in my glass punctuating the awkwardness of the exchange.
“I didn't mean to upset you,” her voice cutting through the tension. “it's just strange to see someone not drinking in a bar at,” she paused, looking at her watch, “12:18. You must be waiting for someone.”
“Yeah, someone who does drink. Much more than me,” I said.
“So? Why aren't they here?” she asked pensively.
“That's a question I'd love to ask her.” I turned, expecting her to seem uninterested with my completely uninteresting story. Instead, she was staring at me intensely, as if I was holding out on her. I was, but she didn't need to know that.
“Well, if you had to guess,” she said.
“I'd guess it has something to do with why I don't drink.”
“Ah,” she said, sounding satisfied, “there's the connection.”
“There it is,” something about the decisiveness in her voice compelled me to continue. “It was me or alcohol. I'll give you a hint as to which one she picked,” I said, raising my glass in a mock-toast.
“But you’re still here. You’re still hoping for something,” she said.
“Yeah. I don’t really know why. There’s not much more I can do,” I said. “There were all kinds of therapies, there were rehab centers in California, but nothing took, I guess.”
She hesitated, taking a long sip from her glass.
“So you're sitting around in a bar in the middle of the night, waiting for a woman who won't show up, who chose booze over you. Isn't that something.”
“It's more complicated than that,” I said, trying to end the discussion.
“It is, though,” I responded, more combatively than I intended. “Alcoholism controlled her life. There was nothing I could do. I tried, believe me, I tried. There's only so much you can do, on the outside looking in. It controlled her life.”
“And now it's controlling yours,” she said, taking one final sip from her glass. She grabbed her coat from the stool next to her and stood, straightening her blouse. She walked to towards the door without looking at me or saying a word. Thunder boomed outside.
“You're not really going out there in that storm, are you?” I said. She turned, her gaze fixed on me.
“Who's happier? The person who braves the storm and lives, or the person who stays safely inside?” With that, she turned and walked out the door, rain and wind whipping into the bar before the door hushed closed behind her.
The record on the turntable behind the bar had gone silent. It hissed, and with one final pop, the tonearm lifted, and glided over to its rest. I watched as she walked away into a sea of black suits and black umbrellas, her white hair bobbing up and down. Before my body knew what it was doing, my hands were grabbing my coat, and my feet were walking towards the door. My body pushed against the door, heavy with wind and rain, and I walked out into the storm.
About the Author
Simone blogs about addiction, recovery, mental health, and wellness. Check out her blog, Perpetual Pink Cloud and find her on Twitter.