My first job out of college was a Public Relations Coordinator for a trade show management company. Always an awkward girl, dread washed over me each time I dialed in for my weekly press calls. I was required to brief industry journalists every Monday about the new products that would debut at our upcoming events.
My boss, Kent, criticized the way I ran these briefings.
“It sounds like you don’t care about what we’re doing here,” he said. “It’s as if you’re not excited about our trade shows.” Because what 21 year-old can’t muster up passion for textiles and carpet wholesale?
“You need to figure out a way to make these phone calls more interesting,” he said, as if it were as simple as that. It was like plopping a hobo at the head table of White House state dinner and commanding him to “act natural.”
To me, the phrase “act natural” was synonymous with “get drunk.” The only way I felt comfortable in my own skin was when it was yellow with jaundice from near-liver failure. So the following week I arrived at the office armed with my magnum of $9 Yellow Tail merlot. I downed 1/4 bottle in the restroom and waltzed into my bosses office in time for the 9:30 a.m. phone call.
“Heyyyy, Johhnnnn, how’s it hangin’, man?!” I opened, channeling my inner used-car salesman. “Boy, do I have a ton to tell you!”
When I hung up the phone, Kent stared at me in disbelief.
“THAT,” he said, “was hands-down the best phone call you’ve ever led.”
If I hadn’t already crossed the line – that line separates the heavy drinker from the alcoholic – this was probably the moment that I did. That one-time conference call booster turned into the occasional nip in the office bathroom. The occasional nip turned into an everyday occurrence. Pretty quickly, each afternoon by 3 p.m. I’d be drinking just to cure the hangover from the morning drinking.
This would have been quite manageable, if only I didn’t get so tired. I took to napping on the bathroom floor, in plain sight of my fellow female colleagues. One day, Julie – a mess of a drunk herself, and as a result, my favorite coworker – nearly tripped over me as she entered the ladies’ room. She squatted to meet my filmy gaze, and gave me a sympathetic look.
“You might find that your day runs smoother if you balance out the liquor with a little cocaine,” she surmised, as if she were suggesting I replace my morning coffee with herbal tea. “You’ll probably get double the amount of work done, too.”
Double the amount of work would mean any work at all, and not waking up face down on office tile at 10 p.m. would be an added bonus. I thanked Julie for her generosity as she set up my first line on the toilet lid.
Within a month I needed it to steady myself just long enough to reach my shower each morning. And eventually I needed more than that. It became the fuel I needed to leave my apartment. The key to the door of every conversation. Coworkers and family questioned how many seasons one girl could suffer allergies.
While my grip on reality had always been fairly loose, I began doing things that made even less sense. I began experiencing cocaine psychosis which is a lot like tripping on acid, only at times when you’d much rather not.
I went on dates as if I were in the position to enter a relationship. Every one started with cocktails at the bar and ended in one of two ways – him having to leave before dinner or during it. In one particular case where a pathetic soul stuck it out ’til the end, he looked onas I swam in the fountain of a residence on 87th & York. I thanked the cops for “pulling me to shore,” adding that I’d always wanted an apartment with a pool.
The officers scooted us off, and we walked back towards my apartment. I tried opening the front door with my MetroCard, delaying me long enough to recall that I hadn’t taken the trash out in 5 months. I suggested that we sleep in the nearby park instead, and after promising him sex, he was convinced.
I pissed my pants that night, but forgot about it and arrived at morning brunch with an old coworker wearing the same clothes.
One afternoon I walked 44 blocks to see my drug dealer, Dave, after polishing off the last of an 8-ball I’d bought the night before. While I now recall simply tripping on the sidewalk and falling, barely hurt, the scene erupted into a dramatic episode of Law & Order in my mind. I arrived at our usual bodega maniacally reporting to Dave that I’d been beaten and robbed by a small Mexican couple while their over-bundled baby looked on and laughed. He gave me a concerned look and fresh new baggie, muttered something about a hospital and sped off.
Dave changed his number, never to be reached again.
When a drug dealer whose rent you pay twice over refuses to take your calls, you’re bound to wonder if you have a problem. It was becoming clear (perhaps from the absence of cocaine, now that Dave had abandoned me) that normal people didn’t live like I did. I was too young to stop partying, but something had to be done.
I needed to learn to drink like a lady.