Eric Meyerson looked down at his friend of twenty years. He was disgustingly drunk and had just unceremoniously vomited for what seemed to be the hundredth time. His friend, Kevin, was widely out of control with a stomach full of premium vodka resulting in this disturbing pattern of binge drinking, bizarre behavior and impressive regurgitation output. As he watched him gag up additional portions of his supper, he realized that the alley in which the activity was going on was freezing. Eric's wife, who pleaded for some help, called him out in this crappy weather. She stated that she had "had enough" and needed to involve some new people into this painful chapter of her life.
As the saying goes, a path less traveled seems to be roomier than other paths however; the lack of companionship will also gnaw at your own convictions. If everyone is doing it one way and it appears that you are out there all by yourself, you are either a genius or an idiot. In this case, Kevin was alone on his own path and he certainly looked like an idiot. The grips of the alcohol had rendered him defenseless and oblivious at the same time; he was completely dependent on the kindness of strangers and as he knelt on the wet ground behind the restaurant, he seemed to be unaware of the spectacle he was currently making. His expensive suit was soiled with vomit, food, garbage and his shoes seemed completely out of context. However he did it, the shine on his shoes were still pristine and impressive. The glint of the polish cut through the dark shadows of the alley and occasionally, the shoes ironically threw up a sympathetic reflection from the street light in unison with the other activites going on at the same time.
Eric estimated that Kevin had been drinking the entire day and was hoping to get through another dinner undetected. He always thought himself smarter than most and he prided himself on the dubious ability to avoid scrutiny while being knee-knocking drunk. He felt his above-average intelligence, magnified with his own love of self and approximately a quart of one hundred proof vodka, would allow himself to fool everyone of his complete lack of sobriety.
As the torrents of vomit evolved into tenacious smatterings of spittle, Eric began wondering about this particular event. Was this the only time this had happened? He was doubtful but as people get older, the less likely stupid things occur such as this. Completely ignoring one's undergraduate days, the chances of circumstances colliding into such a state of complete and total inebriation troubled all of us. His posture was awkward as he continued to vomit and convulse. Whatever resides in his stomach was long gone but his body was still attempt to rid itself of the various toxins. As first glance, it appeared that the culprit was vodka as a clear glass bottle was peeking out of the nearby snow bank about five feet from ground zero. Did he have a real problem? It sure looked like it.
Eric called his friend as he watched the wet alley moisture wick up Kevin's suit pants. He grabbed his cell phone and made the call to the Hawk. As he waited for the Hawk to answer, he couldn't help estimate that suit's cost at about three thousand dollars; thus making the pants the world's most expensive worsted wool vomit wicks. Once connected, Eric told him briefly the situation relying on his ability to connect the dots on the less important details.
"I wonder why he is drinking," Eric asked
"You know, why he drinks is somewhat interesting," said the Hawk. "But that is a discussion for another time and another day when we are inside, siting in comfortable chairs and have a whiteboard available for brainstorming. I treat that question as if you were wondering what he was drinking."
"What do you mean?"
"The fact is that he does drink and evidentially isn't that good at it. You knowing his motivations are not that important. It is far more important for him to know why he drinks to excess and why he should stop."
"Stop with the 'I' stuff please," interrupted the Hawk. "This is not about you. It is about him and the horrifying journey in front of him."
"What should I do?"
"You have three options assuming you believe this is a real problem."
"This is real."
"Bring him to the cops, bring him to a hospital or bring him to a detox center."
"And that is it. You can haul him in and sit him down. Hand the person his wallet and insurance card and walk out."
"Hey, you called me and you are lucky I am home. By the way, I don't think this guy has hit bottom yet."
Eric told him that he appreciated the insights and hung up. Eric then called Kevin's wife to give her an update. She was distraught but beaten down by reality and had nothing to add to the conversation. Taking a cue from the Hawk, he told her to change the locks and prepare to move herself and kids back to her hometown. There was a pause on the phone until she finally generated up enough energy to agree.
A few moments later, a police cruiser turned into the alley. Eric slowly turned towards and away the spotlight, leaving Kevin's ass the only discernable object for the cops to see. They both exited their vehicle and walked towards the two, flashlights still shining in Eric's face.
"What seems to be the problem?" asked the first cop.
"He has had too much to drink and I was called out here to help him."
"I see that," said the second cop. "Are you Eric Meyerson?"
As Eric symbolically soiled himself as he just nodded with a stupid look on his face.
"The Hawk called us," said the second cop. "Let's take a ride. You make sure he doesn't throw up in our cruiser and we all will be appreciative."
"I don't think he has anything left," said Eric.
"You would be surprised," said the first cop. "Just when you are convinced that he is empty, you get blasted with a whole new pond of puke."
The second cop went over and looked at Kevin. He checked his pulse and his pupils and motioned to both of us to help him lift him in the cruiser. We wedged Kevin into the car and moved out into the street in front of the bar.
"Where are we going?" asked Eric.
"You can make the call," said the first cop. "We have the station, the regional detox center or the friendly confines of a hospital. Your friend is completely pickled and if I was betting, his blood alcohol will blow out at least two point zero."
"Let's go to the hospital," said Eric.
The cruiser pulled directly in the front of the emergency room entrance. Kevin was barely ambulatory but with a firm push from the cops, we staggered into the front door and his new best friend eased him into a wheelchair then walked back out and thanked the cops.
"No problem," the first cop shrugged. "We will be back for you in about thirty minutes. It's time for pie."
The cruiser pulled away, leaving Eric in the hospital-loading zone. Two hours earlier, Eric was reading a book in my living room, not even thinking about anything involving police, vomit, vodka, Kevin or chronic alcoholism. Literally two hours later, Eric was becoming slowly comfortable with the new and bizarre surroundings. As he looked around for a moment, trying to gather in all the novelty of the evening, and then turned on his heel to take care of his supposed friend. He went to admitting, took a number and killed time watching him unconscious, but breathing without any issue. Fifteen minutes later, after estimating all of his vital statistics, Eric's number was called and he went up to the desk to talk to an admitting nurse with the license and medical insurance card rifled out of Kevin's wallet.
The nurse took a look at him and started writing. Eric didn't say anything because she seemed to have the situation well in hand. He was wheeled behind the desk and his blood pressure and temperature was taken. The nurse then looked up and said, "72 hours holding?"
"Absolutely." Eric placed his wallet into an envelope provided and walked out the door.
He had a few minutes before his new friends would show so Eric kept looking around at the real victims being attending to at the hospital. The group was full of people fresh from recent car accidents, parents carrying their sick infants and the elderly. Kevin was in great shape with money in his pocket but for some reason, he continued to inflict pain and suffering on himself and his loved ones. The self-medication via excessive alcoholic intake seemed to be so destructive and unnecessary. As Eric continued to think, the police cruiser pulled up and he got into the back like it was second nature.
"How is your boy?" said the second cop.
"He is in there for seventy-two hours."
"It will be ninety-six hours," said the second cop. "The weekends don't start the clock. It will start at one minute after midnight on Monday morning."
"That should do it, " Eric said. "For now."
They drove me back to his car and Eric peered down the alley to see that the vomit and related regurgitate was somewhat washed away. He thanked them when exited and they both gave him the little cop wave and that is when he decided to again call the Hawk.
"How is your boy?" asked the Hawk.
"That is the second time in ten minutes I have heard that question."
"Get used to it but remember is he not YOUR boy."
"I think I will," Eric said. "I am still in shock."
"You aren't home free yet," said the Hawk. "Most drunks, when finally discovered by family and friends, think they can still avoid detection or think they can wiggle their way out of it. It looks, at first blush, as just another constituency to fool."
"He can't fool me."
"Don't kid yourself, he has been fooling people a lot smarter than you. He's already fooled his work colleagues, neighbors and the general folks on the street. If I were a betting man, and luckily I am, I would bet his pattern of misdirection with regard to alcohol is an art form. After college and before kids, you started reducing your drinking because the times and priorities were changing. Kevin appears to have continued to embrace the lifestyle and even brought it to a new plateau. I bet his clothes look very natty tonight."
"You know him pretty well."
"Again, I have no issue with that insight. The family and friends however know their traditional patterns of lying and half-truths but can initially be thrown off the trail with grand pronouncements of planned sobriety and making every effort to dry out. Unfortunately, your na´ve beliefs will almost always collide against the ugly reality of the addiction. But, I think the phrase 'I know his pretty well' should be modified to 'I knew him pretty well.'"
"Well, I am going home."
"Do you want to really see something interesting?"
"Sure," Eric said, "It has been an interesting night already."
"Do you have his car keys?"
Eric checked his pockets and luckily Kevin's car keys were in there. He couldn't remember if he had taken them out of his pockets or if the cops gave them to him. He was so fixated on the complete breakdown of his friend, he just couldn't remember.
"Yep, I got them right here."
"I suggest you drive his car back to his house or wherever his wife wants it left. Give me a call if you need a lift back to your car but spending some time in his car will give you some insights on his lifestyle."
Eric found Kevin's car and started it up. Kevin's wife told me to make the car disappear for awhile so Eric drove over to the Hawk for a ride back to where it all started. The car was a filthy mess of vodka pints, brown bags, half-eaten food and general garbage. It was a crap hole on wheels and certainly not something anyone could tolerate for any length of time. However, as we got older, there was less driving to places together and more living our own lives. Eric estimated that he haven't been on a road trip with Kevin in almost twenty years so not only were his opinions were both completely useless and outdated. Everyone, including Eric is guilty of assuming that people don't change and in this case, two decades caused a lot of things to change. Eric's fantasies placed him as a weekend warrior undergraduate, not a forty-year-old father of three with a house, mortgage, job, wife, dog and the rest of the trappings of the officially mature.
Eric pulled into the Hawk's driveway and he was waiting outside to direct me to a distant stall behind his garage. The car would be completely inaccessible for Kevin and his wife was steadfast in not ever surrendering her keys. He was not guilty of drunk driving so the opportunity to get back behind a wheel as soon as he was released was a potential issue so we decided to make it more difficult for him to hurt himself or others.
After parking the car, the Hawk opened the driver door and peered inside.
"Typical pig sty."
"The smell is nice too."
"I realize that," said the Hawk, "But let's crack the trunk for some more insights into our friend."
Eric opened the trunk and looked in the morass of soiled clothes, empty bottles and random paperwork for something left incomplete. The stench was a mixture of urine, vomit and vodka. It appeared to represent his friend's last two weeks of activity saturated with a staggering amount of bad decisions.
"Nice," Eric muttered. "Real attractive lifestyle."
"And this isn't the stuff he threw away," countered the Hawk. "This is the stuff he wanted to keep."
Eric slammed the trunk down, gathered up both cell phones, his brief case, and got into Hawk's car. He didn't say much as they drove and the Hawk wisely allowed him to absorb all that he had seen. There are points in people's lives in which they can't see or hear anymore stuff; they have reached their maximum capacity. He still was curious about how he got to where he was currently; out of control drunk with no regard for responsibility or his loved ones. Eric knew that idiot Kevin loved his wife and kids; he talked about them constantly but Eric was a little cloudy on when the bragging and adoration ended and the abusive drinking began. The past twenty years were a blur for everyone he knew; kids, partnerships, divorces, relocations, new houses, old parents, graying hair and winter vacations. It was normal for people to experience different things in different ways but Kevin's apparent desire to destroy himself made all the other diversions trivial. He finally pulled in the driveway at home, pulled in the garage and wandered into his home. It was almost four in the morning and he never felt so sick. The sensation he experienced was as if he was kicked in the gut, no dramatic metaphor was employed as he laid down in bed: it felt like exactly like someone had a free kick directly into the dead center of his stomach.
The next day, Eric filled his wife in on all the gory details. The new police friendships, the discoveries, the theories and the colorful but tragic image of his friend, Kevin. He realized that until he could talk to him, he wasn't ready to support or condemn his actions. If Kevin just said what he thought people wanted to hear, Eric would not pursue or plead a case of turning things around. He would listen and slowly close the door to his friend because he knew that actions were the only thing that was going to save him. Kevin had always been quick on his feet and took many low resistant paths to desired objectives. If he wished to get and stay sober, it would happen. If he wished to continue drinking with no regard to consequence or concern for his loved ones, Eric would be the first one to leave his friendship at Kevin's feet and walk away.
He didn't hear from Kevin's wife or Kevin for over a week. The detox visit went for 96 hours so Kevin was back on the street on Thursday. No one called about the car and the Hawk had instructed him specifically not to make any initial contacts because "if you care more than them, you are going to be pulled into that thankless vortex almost immediately." So, Eric continued his normal daily activities and made himself readily available for phone calls but nothing came when he expected it so he just allowed the memories to fade. On Sunday morning, his phone rang.
"Hey there, Eric. This is Kevin. Do you have my car?"
"I know where it is. Do you need it?"
Eric arranged him to pick up his car and during the entire process, not one word of thanks or any embarrassment came from his manner or conversation. If someone had eavesdropped on the discussion, they would have assumed that his car was in the shop or awaiting his return from an exotic vacation. Remembering the Hawk's advice, Eric did not ask him about his current state or whether he was on or off the wagon. Since Kevin seemed comfortable with his time since being released from detox, Eric had no place to tell him how he should feel. By adding numerous piles of input only enabled the supporter to be pulled into the problem and as a result, share it. Eric kept his distance in a cordial manner but was disappointed when Kevin dropped him off at his car with just a nod, giving him the direct message that he was done for now.
Eric stopped thinking about Kevin and the images of his soiled suit began to fade. They hadn't socialized much over the last few years and they would not likely see other until an urge to reconvene an old school group would occur. That might be travelling on campus to cheer on the alma mater or getting together to watch a game on television. At their ages, the chances of bailing someone out of jail were relatively rare and a spontaneous road trip was twenty years ago in the past because, through age and circumstance, nothing could be put together at the last moment. Eric liked it that way: he enjoyed his family and job so any idea of throwing away things you cherish seemed odd. When he thought about the images of empty vodka bottles littering the trunk of his car, Eric knew that Kevin didn't have the same opinions of the fruits of his labors.
Time continued and Eric knew that one of three things were going to happen: Kevin was going to turn up dead or be involved in a drunk driving incident that would have caused something horrific. The third option is the whole college group convening in about seven months to lay bets on whether he would achieve the first or second consequence. Their friends had all heard the story about Kevin from Eric and similar incidents were shared between the old friends. None were as graphic or as pitiful as Eric's, but many of the group added damning stories of seeing Kevin completely obliterated at a bar or having to help him out for various reasons. Each story by itself could be explained away but the sheer preponderance of circumstantial evidence pointed a pattern of alcohol abuse spanning many years.
"I borrowed Kevin five hundred dollars one night last summer," said an old buddy. "I have asked him for it many times and he can only shrug his shoulders and beg for more time. I really don't think he remembers the situation. When he needed it, it was the most important thing in the world. The house was going to be lost, the repo man was sizing up his car and the kids were evidentially wearing potato sacks for clothes. So he said."
"Kevin called me one time, begging for an attorney," said another. "I gave him the name of a great attorney friend of mine and I know he was in deep trouble but nothing made the papers and I don't want to ask my friend. I couldn't handle the horror story."
"Kevin has called me many times pleading crazy, bizarre episodes bordering on tragedy. There were separations, terminations, mediations and all kinds of variations of other events with him squarely in the middle. He never implied he was drunk but it makes sense now. I always thought he was crazy, now I know he is just damaged and sick."
It appeared that many of these people felt that Kevin had burned any and all bridges in regard to their friendships and as the stories continued, all other metaphors met with a similar fate. In fact, no one had heard anything from him and with the discovery of absence; Eric started assuming the worst. He again called the Hawk for advice.
"It sounds like Kevin has…," Eric said.
"No friends?" questioned the Hawk.
"Yes, everyone knew about his antics and everyone has avoided him due to his inability to fix things himself. I guess I am the next one in line."
"No argument from me," said the Hawk.
"So, what do I do?"
"Nothing. I know it is hard but anything you do, without his sincere desire to change, will be wasteful. When you see him in the next natural setting, tell him the truth about being happy to see him, etc. but leave it at that."
So that is what Eric did. He made a conscious effort to purge the issues out of his mind and concentrated on his own life, family and work. Eric also made an effort to drastically cut down his own drinking to make sure he wasn't on the cusp of falling into his own days of wine and roses. Eric was never a hard drinker and since college, he had turned almost abstinent. He thought a lot of why he was desiring a drink and after a few moments of overt introspection, decided the pleasure gained by having a cold beer was dwarfed by the complete apprehension of becoming a modern day Ray Milland. The consequences of everything he attempted began interfering with other patterns: driving too fast meant loss of his license, leaving work early meant immediate unemployment, momentarily ignoring his kid's wishes meant they were fifteen minutes away from running away from home to become crack whores in Compton. He decided that he was becoming collateral damage because of Kevin so he dismissed the alarmist self-analysis and finally cracked a beer.
If there were further incidents, Eric was not aware of them. He decided not to call Kevin unless he had a non-incident issue to discuss. However, those type of incidents are rare so a few months quickly went by before Eric realized the lack of information coming out of Kevin' camp. He called the Hawk for some more advice.
"I haven't heard anything," said Eric. "I don't know if he is drinking anymore or not."
"You know he is drinking," said the Hawk. "You can't be involved until he hits bottom and only then as passive support. If you call him and listen to his fables of immaculate inebriations and damning circumstances that forced him into the bottom of a bottle you will be in the club."
"I know, but I feel that common courtesy…"
"Common courtesy?" interrupted the Hawk, "Common courtesy went down the drain once you got the first call and you were looking at him covered in alley water and puke. There is no need to supplant common courtesy into this anguish."
Eric thanked the Hawk for his insights and closed the matter for now. Still curious about how insidious alcoholism can be, he began to read about the horror stories and deceit that came out of desperate alcoholics desire to have it both ways. The groups from Alcoholics Anonymous to Al-Alon were consistent on the two critical and brutal truths to recovery: one, you are an alcoholic forever and two, the alcoholic has to want to get sober more than anyone else. Kevin's wife remains on the periphery of the social scene and always had a story explaining Kevin's absence or behavior and keeping a distance from her close friends. They rarely picked up the phone likely due to their lack of desire to talk to anyone; fearing questions would arise about Kevin's problem. Kevin's wife, Ruth, was nice enough of a person but her enabling personality made it easy for problems to co-exist for years due to her phobia of confrontation.
Eric moved on with other things and the images of Kevin passing out in various poses became less and less frequent. He got over his overactive analysis fetish and actually began to filter out the noise from the dozens of internal conversations about Kevin and his inability to handle alcohol. No one had heard from Kevin and things settled down until the call he received on Friday just before midnight. Since everything and everybody was accounted for recently, he knew the call had to be a rerun of the last call.
When he picked up the phone with a wary greeting, he was positive it would be Kevin's wife, and he was unfortunately correct.
"Hello, Eric? This is Ruth and I hate to do this to you."
"Again? Oh, that's right but this time Kevin is in real bad shape and I have had enough. I can't take it anymore. He has promised to stop drinking and he seemed real good this week but something happened at work and he fell off the wagon."
"And you want me to do what?"
"Bring him home."
"I won't do that. I will bring him to detox or a hospital. You will change the locks on your house, tonight, and plan on moving you and the kids back home to your parents."
"I don’t know if I can do that."
"That's too bad," said Eric with strength coming back in his voice. "Not only will you do this, you will arrange for an extended stay in the center, you will sign whatever papers to force him into treatment and you will look into divorce proceedings."
"I don't know if I can do that either."
"We're not done. You will transfer all the money into a new account, you will dispose of his car asd quickly as possible, you will ban all alcohol from the house, you will stop drinking, you will get a psychiatrist for yourself and the kids, you will notify his parents, hide the safety deposit box key, you will haul his ass to AA meetings and you will get him a sponsor."
"Is that it?"
"Almost, you will contact his employer and arrange for a medical leave of absence and you will either do this without exception or you will contribute to the destruction of his life and spirit. This is the ultimatum which has to be agreed to immediately or I hang up."
"Let me think about it."
Eric hung up the phone and went to bed. He felt bad that he was abandoning his old friend but that feeling evolved into resentment because of the way he was pulled into the situation. By doing nothing, he would remain within this crapbox with no chance of escaping. If Kevin or Ruth did this to him, he had to have them make the next step without him. He could help but without legitimate actions, all the words would be nothing but noise in the air. They had to clean up the issue and in his role as friend, he could support and assist but the heavy lifting had to be done by them. However, the vast majority of the responsibility landed on Kevin's shoulders and it was apparent that he was too weak to do it. It would be preferable to avoid the entire bottoming out process but it looked like that had to happen first. He got out of bed and called the Hawk to give him an update. After he went through a litany of new details, he waited for the Hawk to respond with some insights.
After a minute, the Hawk finally said, "Sounds good, stay at arm's length." And for the second time in an hour, Eric hung up the phone and went to bed.
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