K. and I met on my very first day of college. I had a weird, giant, inappropriate Abbercrombie & Fitch poster of a man I was, natch, plastering on my dorm room wall as she walked by.
She said something like, “WHO IS THAT?”
We named him A.J.
Our by-chance living arrangement and shared interest in giant man posters at an all-girls dorm changed the trajectory of my life. In between classes, we would write e-mails to each other detailing every minor detail and drama of our day (this was apparently a thing, pre-texting). We studied for hours at a cafe, building a friendship in between books and spying on any human boy in eyesight. This precocious gal from the Flint ‘burbs had worked for her high school paper, something that had never occurred to me. After she got a job at the student-run newspaper, I gave it ago. She is the sole reason why I bumped into writing there, and, not knowing about anything else I’d want to do with life, nor having anything else to do with myself, really, I declared it my major and poured my blood into getting the paper out for the next three years, in what is now an ink-stained memory blur of Jimmy John’s desk meals, Thursday Long Island ice teas binges and boy dramas. The newspaper defined my college experience. And we got really shit faced. A lot.
Visiting the circle of friends I met a the paper in Chicago at a 2003 anti-Valentine’s Day party, I met my future husband.
K’s life and my life diverged. But we’d reunite, K and I, many times over the years, traveling from our different respective cities, converging at cabins and bars in her home of Michigan or mine in Chicago, and typically at reunions soaked with wine and beer, reminiscent of the good old days.
K. was the first in our circle to have children. The economy had just collapsed when she had a baby born with a complicated heart defect. I, jobless and living with my parents at 28, had just returned from teaching in China, and I drove to the hospital in my grandpa’s donated-to-me 1984 Honda hatchback. It had plaid seats. This baby had to make it. I sensed she could use a break from the beeping machines. She let me drive her in my Hatchback to a near by pizza joint. I insisted she have a Sangria.
Her baby made it. Then I had a baby. My mom died. K came to the funeral. I moved to Oklahoma. She had another baby. I had another baby.
She called me. My son was hospitalized and we didn’t know why.
“They say it’s cystic fibrosis,” I told her, falling apart on the phone.
Newspapers everywhere were laying everyone off. She dropped journalism first. Then I did. I moved to Maryland. We both work in communications now – for good!
Nine months ago, K. stopped drinking. She shared her choice with me.
And, of course, I was supportive.
There was a networking group I should join, she messaged me. She was going to be there, in DC, and I should go, too.
But I wondered: In our years of career entanglements and booze-soaked hangouts, what would it mean now that one of us was a teetotaler?
Did she not want me to drink around her? Would she not want to be near a bar?
At the event, the network leaders made multiple references to us “needing a drink” after the training was done.
Dear God, what had I gotten myself into?
But the training was relatively painless. We were just told to follow instructions and meet and talk to the people there about provided talking points on a handout.
At the networking portion of the evening, K. asked the bartender if she had sparkling water.
She didn’t, so K just took a bottle of regular water.
But, the wine was free…sooo…
I had two dixie cup-sized glasses while catching up with K after the training.
In fortunate circumstance, the following day, we had a window to hang out after work.
But where would we hang out if not at a bar in downtown DC????
I suggessted a cafe. She suggested a place with drinks and snacks. We landed at an oyster bar.
And, despite it being a beautiful, sunny day at the end of the work week — I passed on the crisp glass of white wine that seemed like the obvious choice. I got iced tea. She got plain water. The bar staff had to launch a search party on Pelogrino, and it found a lukewarm bottle. She had iced tap water instead.
We strolled out onto the street and by a bar that struck us as *possibly the sight of a booze-soaked swingin’ from the chandeleir-esque outing during a college DC journalism conference.
Thank God that period of our lives is over, I said, and I meant it.
Her flight was delayed. We walked to Dupont Circle and sat in the grass.
Come to my house! I said. Catch the early flight tomorrow!
We realized she’d never met Eli and hadn’t seen Laila since she was an infant.
My normal routine on a Friday might be a glass of wine during my family’s weekly movie night. Why? Because Friday.
We got some La Croix instead.
My children shushed us repeatedly as we chatted throughout the movie, catching up on life.
I offered to make her a La Croix mocktail I’d learned about from my repeated forays in to the Whole 30 (a program I dropped THANK GOD).
“You don’t have to not drink because I’m here,” she insisted. “I have no problem with anyone drinking around me,”
“No, I actually don’t want to drink,” I said, and I wasn’t lying. “For one thing, I’m trying to lose weight. And I’m working out in the morning.”
We had a glorious evening of catching up that culminated with a discussion on self care, me pulling all of my skincare items out of a cabinet and an impromptu showcase of our deepening middle forhead wrinkles.
Even one damn glass of wine jacks up my sleep turns my face into a prune, I said.
As 18-year-olds, we built a friendship in cafes and in newsrooms and bars, on days that melted into evenings. But as time went on, and visits became more and more sparse, alcohol crept in to our every activity. Booze went from the fun side show to the main event. When – and why – had this happened? How had we let it?
I hadn’t given it much thought until I met my friend in this newly sober phase of her life.
Hanging out alcohol free felt more refreshing than any crisp glass of Sauvingon Blanc.
I had been worried about it. But it was — beyond fine.
As fine as the early days, stretched out on blankets in the grass, reading, chatting and thinking tortured thoughts about the boys we wanted to love us.
Only now, we’re sitting on my couch, talking about the men who do love us and the balance of parenting and career and smart phone use in children and how many activities are too many activities and the univese of good self care — one with a lot of intention and far less booze.