Dear Hope Nation,
Last Thursday I was sitting in a restaurant, masked and the only person in the dining room, waiting for a friend. We were scheduled to meet at 5, and I got there a little early, giving me a chance to watch the folks in the adjoining bar. There were a pair of couples and two or three solitary drinkers. One of the latter was a man who stared down at a 45-degree angle except when he raised his glass, when his head slowly swiveled up at the same rate as the martini until he took a large sip, call it a drinklet. Then glass and chin began their chained descent so the man could continue monitoring the bar’s wooden top.
One of the couples appeared on a first date, at least judging by their laughter rate. Each would wait for the other to finish speaking, give it a half-beat pause, then chuckle appreciatively. Neither one interrupted the other or appeared to feel anything but joyful glee at the other’s words. I know that pleasure, having another person find me delightful, charming and unutterably attractive. I know that experience because I’ve killed it dozens of times, usually with a comment that flows off my tongue before becoming a turd on the table between my date and me. That transformation is just one of my magic tricks—you should see me make love disappear!
That’s all I’m going to say about the bar, that man or the other drinkers. They were all I had to look at—until I glanced at my watch and saw it was 5:07 and still no Cate. Generally, I’m on time, sometimes a little early, but that’s not one of my defining characteristics. Some people are always late, almost as a point of pride. Not Cate. I’ve known her for six or seven years now, and can’t remember a single time she was late.
Between looking at my watch and realizing Cate was late, an interesting phenomenon took place. In my mind, the drinkers in the bar got smaller and less real while Cate’s absence almost took on substance. The Cate who was not present had more reality for me than the drinkers who were right in front of me. The hole that was Cate, the absence of Cate, was larger and realer and much more important than the physical objects, for that’s what those people had become, visual background noise to my mental main feature—“The Dearth of Cate.”
I focus on this experience not because Cate’s nonappearance hides some mystery. (Alert and judgmental readers clamor to know details. Fine, I’ll explain. It was Thursday and our actual dinner plans were for Friday ACCORDING TO CATE. Being a gentleman, and knowing her need to be right (even when she’s right), I agreed. I might have the day wrong—but not the time.) I talk about this episode because it took me back to my time waiting for drugs or for a liquor store to open. The absence of whatever substance I craved was larger than any other person, place or thing in the universe. The dope that wasn’t there had more substance than the dopes who surrounded me. The booze I couldn’t get grew larger each second as my family, my responsibilities, my self respect became lozenges on the tongue, eventually disappearing altogether.
I don’t share this experience because it shows any new insight into addiction. It obviously doesn’t. Nor do I relate it to demonstrate any larger point. I have none. I found it interesting and thought you might too. After all, we’ve escaped that burning boat together, helped each other to shore and supported each other on the path we walk. We are friends, you and me and
You matter. I matter. We matter.