"Things just seemed to go to hell in a handcart. He kept promising to stop drinking and he'd do so for a few days, then he'd disappear and end up in some dive selling cheap alcohol and oblivion to guys like him. The people from work started calling when he failed to appear at some meeting he was scheduled for or a client got fed up waiting for him. At first they were understanding, they'd loved my Mom and said they realised the trauma he was going through. But that understanding began to dry up after a few weeks and eventually they told him not to bother going back until he was sober … permanently."
"He went back several times over the next year, I'd get him to go to the AA meetings, to contact his sponsor whenever he needed the support and he'd do so for a few weeks, maybe a month. He'd pull himself together and go back to work … then something would set it all off again, some goddam song on the radio or a television show or some perfume …"
She let go of his hand with one of hers and takes a sip of wine, pausing to look up into the trees as a group of sparrows disturb each other and set up a clamour of complaint.
"Eventually they said he'd run out of chances. That they were sorry, but they couldn't risk their business or their clients' legal welfare … he'd burnt all his boats and bridges by then." Here she pauses for a bit, the far-away look in her eyes telling him she's looking back in time. Eventually she focuses on their hands and with a slight shrug continues. "By the end of Feb, Stanford was a long-lost dream. I was fighting my own demons by then … the lack of progress over my Mom's case, my drunk of a father, my future going down the chute … I started mixing with the wrong crowd, established my own, personal vodka drinking challenge, was doped up to the eyeballs half the time, woke up in beds with people I didn't even know, burning the candle at both ends … all the metaphors you can think of." The last sentence uttered in self-disgust has him placing his other hand over hers, giving a gentle squeeze, his thumb stroking in circles over her inner wrist as he watches the pulse in her neck jumping though her pale skin.
Almost in surprise her eyes shoot from their hands to his face, perhaps looking for the disgust she expects to find there as she tells him about those wild days. But there is no disgust, no pity, only concern and something which she doesn't even want to think about right now. She'd known this would be difficult, but only now was she realising how much she had to lose, and the sudden awareness makes her tremble. Then her eyes return to their hands where his thumb is soothing her, the constant circular motion almost hypnotic. He doesn't say anything, aware that his own past will have to be put out there one of these days, and though there is plenty to be proud of, there are other, darker shades he'd rather forget about.
Hoping to lead her out of the dark hole she was looking into, he asks "What happened to pull you out of that spiral?"
She gives a broken laugh which is almost a sob and he feels her nails biting into the palm of his hand. "An accident," pulling a hand free she pushes her hair back and looks around them watching the people at a table a few places away before turning back to him. "I was with my … a guy at the time … I guess you could call him my boyfriend, though it was all pretty free and hazy …" biting her lip before continuing. "We were on his bike, heading to some party or other in midtown, and the bike wasn't the only thing we were riding. He cut a light, we were about halfway across the intersection when he ploughed into a pickup. When I came to, I was in hospital, leg in plaster, three broken ribs and a few other fractured ones, broken wrist …" here she trails off for a bit, then continues. "The doctor told me that Zak had died at the scene, that it was his body cushioning mine that had probably saved me from the same fate. He also told me that the tox reports indicated we had both been well over the limits and that the police had been informed. The look of disgust on his face made me wish I was dead myself right then!"
"The cops appeared next morning asking questions, and by the time they'd finished I was just wanting to get out of there … but that wasn't going to happen any time soon. I spent the next few days expecting my Dad to turn up, half hoping he would, half-dreading it in case he was drunk … I already felt enough of a pariah as it was"
"When the discharge came I didn't know where to go, I wanted to go home but knew I wouldn't be able to cope with him drunk and me all strapped up and on crutches. So I called my friend Lanie. She came and fetched me, took me back to her parent's place and looked after me like a sister for the next few days before heading back to Uni. It was the next weekend before my Dad put in an appearance, I didn't find out till later that Lanie had sat on our stoop for most of Saturday afternoon before he'd turned up and she'd told him what had happened and where I was. He tried to make the visit right, but it wasn't very successful. Spending those few weeks with her family was painful, it made me realise what I had lost, and though they made me feel welcome, as soon as I was able to get around on my own I thanked them and went home".
"I guess that made me realise that if I didn't look after myself, no one else would and so I started looking for work and pestering the cops for news about my Mom's case. One thing led to another and you already know most of that".
Here she pauses again and gives him a wan smile before absently pushing a piece of crust around her plate with her finger. "About three years ago I was able to get him into rehab, and since then he's been holding up. I keep waiting for the shoe to drop .." a slight pause " … but so far it's been just over a thousand days …" and loosening their hands she pulls back her sleeve to show him the now familiar watch "… so this is for the life I saved …" then, reaching for her neck she pulls on the thin chain he's seen round her neck on a number of occasions but has been too fearful to ask about "… and this is for the life I lost" showing him the ring which catches the light and twinkles as it spins lazily on its chain, before she quickly tucks it back in place.
The silence that meets her last words seems too loud to her, and she watches him fearfully, waiting for a new, totally different shoe to drop.
Instead, he surprises her by asking "How about dessert? They do an incredible waffle!"