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  I haven't been drinking lately. Which is not to say that I haven't been drinking at all. In fact, the amount of alcohol that I manage to get through in a week of not drinking would keep some people going for a year. What I do lately, though, is virtuous drinking: wine with dinner, a hearty amber pint at the bar with friends or students, a cold one-or-two after an afternoon of skiing. Virtuous drinking is easy. My mother would understand it. What I'm trying to stay away from is the bad kind. You know. Things start taking on a life of their own, a logic. A sane man who was not already drunk would not think to open a fresh bottle of Jim Beam at two-thirty in the morning. This is not heroic but foolish. The act ends in self-criticism: what was I looking for? The question eludes me in the light of Sunday morning. I start off looking for quiet, contentment, a chemical peace at the end of my day, which is no worse than anybody else's. Somewhere in the evening, the trajectory shifts. The target keeps moving further and further away no matter how I hurry to close the distance. I'm not trying to make excuses. Things start taking on a life of their own. A drink leads to another drink and so on. Usually I don't drive or anything. I don't go out and yell at waitresses or make a fool out of myself or endanger others or wake the kids up to talk about their shortcomings. Usually I just sit there and read and then, when I start to read the same book the next day, it's like somebody else read the book and then explained it to me. I remember the outlines. Who is that person that drinks? The things he wants seem different from what my waking self wants: order, contentment, a reasonable life.

Sunday morning: there's no better place to start to write, with a mild headache and a persistent thirst, it's true, and better yet the suspicion that things went wrong, the feeling of guilt, the knowledge that things took place that your waking life doesn't want any part of. I take things apart at night and put them together in the daytime. Divided against myself I sit in front of the computer screen and think about bits and pieces, the way a character might pick up a cup of coffee, the sound of birds on a July night in North Florida, the trails of fireflies. It's my work to assemble these fragments into a single shape, like a porcelain teacup.

Sunday morning: the kids have learned not to jump on Daddy's chest, or yell, or ask to go to McDonald's for breakfast. If things keep up, they'll sooner or later learn not to bother Daddy at all.

I'm reinventing myself as a reasonable man.

It comes down to desire, as usual. Who is this other man? The one that wants to find out what's at the bottom of the bottle, the one that discovers drinky-logic at three in the morning--I'd love to tell you I don't know him, he's just a chemical that visits, or a disease. But I'm the one who wants it. Just another one of the things that gets me out of bed in the morning: I want, I want, I want, I want, an open mouth and nothing more. That golden light, the little haze around things, it's worth a lot to me. It's interesting how much mess I'm willing to create in search of a moment's peace. I sail on, awash in contradictions.

 
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Copyright © 1997 Kevin Canty.