ancient history, part 1 (# 7) is about the beginning of my first marriage. Part 2 visits my life as a teenage girl and young adult.
The more you start to need a thing, whether it’s a man or a bottle of wine, the more you are–unwittingly, reflexively, implicitly–convincing yourself you’re not enough without it.
–Leslie Jamison, The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath
I met Mal thirty years ago. We were high-schoolers from different states, brought together at a semester-long program in yet another state. We became fast friends, sharing interests in Chicago blues, philosophy, Ireland, and, broadly speaking, art and literature of excess (i.e., having sex, drugs and/or rock and roll as major themes). We were attracted to each other intellectually as much or more than physically.
At the school we were “just friends,” and each had other romantic interests. After school ended, though, we stayed in touch and I found ways to incorporate Mal into the rest of my high school life. For example, I went to an all-girls high school, and my group of six close girl friends needed a couple of extra guys to flesh out our prom contingent. Some of these girl friends already knew Mal from the semester program, and, as it turned out, back at his home high school Mal was best friends with a guy, D, who happened to be friends (from summer camp) with my then-boyfriend A and me. So, for this prom, it made a weird sort of sense to rope Mal and D (whom NONE of my girl friends knew) into trekking to our city to serve as the 5th and 6th males of the 12-person prom posse.
My boyfriend A liked Mal, but A was always wary of my connection with him, and rightly so. At the prom afterparty, I recall A barged in and yanked me away from Mal when he thought we were dancing too close. I also recall that Mal had a hard-on while we were dancing, and I liked that.
A and I remained a couple for 6 years–all through college and our first year out, yet intersections with Mal punctuated those years. Mal and I drifted in and out of contact and physically hooked up on three separate occasions. At one point in my last year of college, which was around the dawn of email, Mal and I eagerly adopted the new technology and used it to facilitate an increasing frequent, flirtatious and obsessive correspondence. We were constantly trying to impress each other with our writing and our adventures. We were enthralled by each other’s voice.
My grandmother lived in the same city where Mal was going to college, so for spring break I came up with the brilliant idea for A and I to take the train halfway across the country to visit my her. One night, A and I made plans to go out with Mal, who was by that time an accomplished musician. We showed up at his door with a bottle of Jameson and started drinking. We went out and saw Mal play at a bar, and then proceeded to yet another bar. At some point A abandoned consciousness of the emerging situation and put his head down on the table, while Mal and I kept drinking and talking. We finally cabbed back to Mal’s place, put A to bed and spent what remained of the night making out in the kitchen. We all went out for breakfast together the next morning.
When I was young, I thoroughly enjoyed the drama and tumult of my romantic life. All this turmoil gave me endless material to write about, talk about, and process. It made me feel special. Vital.
I believed that “experience” was everything and justified anything. I also revered honesty and believed that it did not matter, so much, what one did, as long as one was honest about it. The problem was that I was not scrupulously honest with myself or anyone else. I was honest enough with A about facts for him to have plenty of reason to be anxious about my love, but not honest enough with him about feelings for us to have a truly intimate relationship.
I was not totally honest with A about the fact that young Miel truly felt that drinking and talking with a guy was the best way to explore potential connection. Furthermore, in my mind, getting drunk and fucking was the natural consequence of drinking and talking with a person with whom I felt a connection, and this natural consequence, this fated trajectory, this inevitability, was, for me, quite possibly the height of romance (in the doomed sense of the word). I was not honest about the truth that I was willing to trade fidelity for “experience.”
I venerated “experience” but with the benefit of hindsight it’s clear there was a numbing predictability about the type of “experience” I preferred to have as a young woman. Intellectual, intoxicated and, ideally, erotic. Mal was not the only guy I got drunk with and fucked in the name of connection, experience, fate, and romance.
The Vicomte de Valmont says in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, “It is beyond my control.” These words, cruel as they were in that story, resonated with me. The concept of being in the grip of forces greater and more powerful than the self. I always felt that stories of fate, or better yet soulmates, were the best ones, even when they were the saddest. Greek plays, the legends of King Arthur and Tristan and Iseult, the novels of Thomas Hardy, Paul Auster.
As a young female drinker, I loved the way alcohol, above all else, could take me beyond control, my small careful sphere, and catapult me into another world of impulse and action, where I could hurtle faster toward my destiny. I craved a potent way to escape my web of constraints so I could find and fulfill my true fate. I guess I didn’t think I could get there without help.
Sometime around 1997 I fell out of touch with Mal for many years. However, as fate or free will (you can decide later) would have it, that particular book remained open, and I eventually picked it up again.
to be continued . . .