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 Always Drinking
XANDER
 Posted: Aug 4 2018, 05:06 PM
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"Did the two of you always drink when you're together?" Zelda's therapist asked her. She interjected the question casually, sounding more curious than clinical, but her words made Zelda frown and wrinkle her nose. Did they always drink when they were together? Zelda started to say 'no', because it was factually correct, but brought herself up short, because she sensed the spirit of the question was more important than its literal nature. After a moment, she said 'No' anyways, and moved on with whatever she had been talking about, because she had limited time to divulge the many things on her mind.

The question stuck with her. Had they always drank? And how much? She worked backwards for the answer. Had they drank the last time they'd seen each other, almost a month and a half ago? Absolutely. Zelda drank in spite of the conscious knowing she should not, knowing that drinking would likely make her more emotional. What about the time before that? Oh god, yes, they had drank, on top of getting high. And the time before that? Again, at Troy's house, yes. And the time before that? No, but they were high. And the time before that? Yes. She turned their encounters over like stones, and she kept finding mezcal, scotch, gin, vodka. In their last days, they had drank, and drank often.

When she stretched her memory back further, things happened differently. When she first met Troy, Zelda had not drank. She had been a terrible drinker at various points in her life, mostly to prove that she was capable of destroying herself. She had learned to drink past her size for bravado; she enjoyed blunting the razor-sharp edges of her consciousness, and still being able to think past and around other people. She considered drinking and driving to be a kind of extreme sport, one where her overactive mind, typically scattered in all directions, had to focus itself on the immediate task at hand, lest disaster strike. She drank and drank and drank and finally gotten bored with it, and when she met Troy, she only ever ordered water with her meals. Cocktails were something she ordered on dates, and they were not, to her conscious awareness, dating.

They had gone on hikes, and gone to the beach - they did not drink there. They had gone to restaurants, and Zelda had ordered more water. In retrospect Zelda saw there had been a time when they were genuinely at ease in one another's company, where the informal rejection of a romantic context had allowed them to relax away from pretense and posturing. Of course, this had been a deception, but it had been out in the open, a conspiracy that went around in broad daylight and no one said its name. It was during this period that Zelda said little of Troy to anyone, as she averted her eyes away from her own heart.

The drinking had started after she had rejected Troy, and then pushed herself back into his life. When they had met in the day, or at some halfway point, sobriety was required for their separate treks home. Conscious of her misstep, unable to negotiate a mid-point rendezvous, Zelda began turning up at Troy's apartment, where there was nothing to stop him from drinking. Perhaps knowing that she was coming helped him get started.

He drank, and so she drank; she suddenly cared about his approval, and sought it in the recultivation of her tolerance. When they went out to dinner, she drank when he did - he always drank. They did not go hiking anymore. They stayed in at night, and drank, and wandered the suburban blocks near his house, swinging on the swings and wandering through the children's playground, wet with night dew. She drank because some part of her knew, deep down, that she had cracked his heart neatly in two, and that he couldn't stand to be near her unless he was drinking. She drank with him because that way she did not have to ask about his heart.

*

She missed him terribly. It was stupid, Zelda thought, how much she missed him.

She compared the way she missed Troy to the way she missed Roisin, and drew up the the parallels. The two of them formed a mirror that Zelda used to look at herself, and the way that she tried to dissolve herself into other people. Like a spider who knows by instinct how to weave the pattern of its web, Zelda had replicated old habits.

She revealed herself in waves, in intense ebbs and flows and sorrowful confessions said in the lightest of tones, immersing people in her own inner landscape. Then came a tipping point, in which she inverted herself - she flipped herself inside-out and swallowed up the interlocutor; she sought to know everything about them, to accept everything about them. By then she had had often woven herself into the fabric of day-to-day living, present in idle chatter and jokes and pictures and links to funny things scattered across the web. Long ago, she had talked to Roisin every day, and had often been perfectly content to talk about nothing at all. What are you getting for lunch? Who said what at work today? How's the weather? What do you think of these shoes?

But Roisin had gone much further, had burrowed much deeper, than Troy had the opportunity to. Roisin was still omnipresent, having become so much a part of Zelda that the remnants were Zelda. People were always changing, even if those changes weren't permanent. They came in contact with each other and shifted as the social situation demanded. They brushed off on each other, leaving the dust of their personalities, like pollen, on one another. When people were in constant contact with each other, these changes went past the superficial. Still, when people separated, they often returned to who they had been, or they diluted the impact of the lost person until, one day, there was no longer any trace of them.

With Roisin, Zelda had lost herself - she had not been able to wholly conceive of Roisin as another person, nor of herself as another person. Without being able to put it into words, she had felt them, on as visceral level, as an omniperson, as two extensions of a single soul, and their conflicts were not of two individuals but of a single spirit attempting to resolve the contradictions of being alive. When Roisin had broken away, Zelda had kept a copy of her, a replicant with whom Zelda conversed and prayed to. Slowly, that Roisin had blended into Zelda, and now there was only Zelda - and yet, not only Zelda.

Troy - well, maybe Troy had had that potential. Maybe he was what Roisin would have looked like, had they not been separated by thousands of miles and canyons of invulnerability. She and Roisin had, in their own way, learned to drink around one another, only they had written stories. She and Troy had tried to drink their way through their unease, with mixed success, whereas she and Roisin had written their way through it, to rave reviews. Zelda realized that she was drawn towards dysfunction, which she then managed with varying degress of success.

And she missed him.

It was an unpopular kind of missing. Most of her friends could not quite understand how she could profoundly miss her own humiliation - and it had been a humiliating end. Back and forth they had gone, Zelda making blind Frankenstein offers for an open relationship, then rescinding them; Troy saying that was acceptable, then it wasn't, then it was; the two of them worked up to a poisonous lather, the main difference being that Zelda became determined to cure herself, as opposed to dying slowly. The threat of two months apart to set herself straight metastasized into three. At the high point of her agony, she made good on that threat. She cloaked herself in excruciating silence, and still, she missed him.

It was only in the beginning that she was very deeply hurt by her losing, by the fact that she victory had slipped through her fingers. She was hurt by being parted from her comforting illusions, the ones where she could stop chasing, stop running, stop purusing, because she had arrived. But Zelda knew she had not arrived. When she arrived to something, she knew it, as securely as a bird alighting on a wire. In Troy she had only arrived to the finality of Roisin. She had just managed to reach that gravestone, after wandering the cemetery for years. But Troy himself was not an end point. She had known this but had wished otherwise, and been sorry for it.

After this, she was not especially angry at Troy for not choosing her. He had simply revealed the limits of his humanity and his virtues. All people had their limits of humanity and their virtues - they simply weren't often put in positions that profoundly tested them. While life was overflowed daily with many banal opportunities to affirm whether one was good, or kind, or patient, or sincere, it was rare that someone like Zelda arrived and insisted on dragging every hairless, blind thing into the light, screaming for the safety of the underground. Zelda had seen the hairless blind things of quite a few people, scuttling about from shadow to shadow, digging a new tunnel, snuffling their whiskers at dusk; she knew that if she held still, and was quick, that she could grab them and hold them tight. Sometimes she even did - but never for very long, and not with the same ruthless honesty she had inflicted on Troy. She suspected that people needed to believe that Troy had deserved the full measure of her wrath, because if he had not, then they were just as much at risk. Troy had hurt her deeply, it was true, more than most, but only because she'd given him that unique opportunity.

The anger of others simmered around her, ready to flare up at the mention of Troy. They told her to forget him, to leave him behind. But she went on a single date, out dancing with another man, and when she told her jokes and danced and felt the warm waves of respect and desire wash over her, all she could think about was how Troy would have had a joke of his own in answer, how it would all have been funnier and more meaningful with him. She missed him even then.

She drank. Did you always drink when you were together? No. But if they had to, she thought, to see each other again, maybe it might be worth it.

--------------------
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