Two Cans of Ballantine Ale
I remember it being sometime before 11:30 when I let myself into my sister’s apartment – like 11:20. A Friday night. I could not tell you where I’d been the last seven hours or so, other than flashes of being in my car driving on Route 1, I think through Saugus and maybe as far north as Topsfield. I really don’t remember. Now I opened my sister’s refrigerator and saw four 16-ounce cans of Ballantine Ale. I drank two of them standing there quietly, my sister asleep, then went to the couch and went to bed. I can’t tell you if I pulled the couch out into a bed or not. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I didn’t.
It was the end of April 15th, 1983. I was 34 years old.
The next morning I did what I did in preparation for another day and drove into work. We kept the drug-and-alcohol youth drop-in and counseling center – which was a new state-funded venture in a small building we’d converted from an old machine shop in Stoneham, about seven miles up from Boston – open on Saturdays. It was my Saturday, I was the skeleton crew for the day, my only duty to be there 10a to 4p, something like that, and answer any stray phone calls. This was a brand new program and there weren’t any drop-ins yet. But I locked the place up at noon and drove less than a mile over to the Stoneham High School track. I drove there in a small, dark-blue British Ford I’d bought from a guy named Peter who sold Sunbeams and other weird cars – like the Ford – out of his garage at his house in the woods up in Rowley, getting up toward New Hampshire. I think I paid $500 for it. Everything else I owned was in a couple of trash bags in my friend Bob’s cellar.
The day before, early Friday afternoon, my boss – a young enthusiastic woman named Maggie – had arranged for a friend of hers, who worked in the Mattapan section of Boston with junkies, to do a training for us five staff members on how to talk with junior high school kids about smoking pot. I remember during the training I had the clearest, most powerful feeling that I was the only one in the room besides the trainer – that he was talking only to me – that he was talking about me. And then I lost the rest of the Friday until the Ballantine Ales.
It’s funny what I remember, like it was yesterday, and what is lost forever. I remember I was the only one on the track that Saturday and I remember I ran around that circle 28 times – seven miles – and I clearly remember on the 14th time around – I was counting on my fingers – hearing someone say “I’m an alcoholic.” And I know I was the only one there. Not long after I opened my sister’s refrigerator and took my two Ballantine Ales and poured them down my sister’s sink.
Two days later, after work, I was running around the Mystic Lake with Bob and I asked him if he knew where a particular church was in Somerville. He stopped short – Buddy, a church – and asked why I wanted to know, and I told him, and he looked at me with love – and there wasn’t much left of that in my world – and told me where it was. That was a Monday, and that Wednesday I walked into a church hall and there were a whole lot of people who, it turns out, also called themselves alcoholics, and I started coming around. I didn’t have anything else to do.
Most people, it also turns out, consider their anniversary as the day after they drank their last drink, or took their last drug, or both. I’ve always figured I got sober around 11:45 pm Friday, April 15, 1983. A long time ago today.