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Dan Helpingstine

Down the Rabbit Hole

    They were stinking, rip-roaring drunk. Well, not really drunk or anything close to rip roaring. But I could see they had already had a few, and it was shortly before two in the afternoon.
   Don’t misunderstand. I wasn’t passing judgement on my friend Jay, and his older sister, the twenty-four-year-old Allison. By the time I had reached the young age of 18, I had already done enough drinking of my own. Some of it came from boredom, some came from not knowing what else to do, sometimes it was a poor attempt to soothe an emotional pain. At times, I had drunk a few before two in the afternoon.
   It was late July 1971, and I was barely out of high school. Like in most Julys, it was repressingly hot. Allison was getting married during an early Saturday afternoon. As she stood in the rear of the small, not air-conditioned church holding onto her father’s arm, I saw the intense sun sneaking through an opening of the entrance like light through a knot hole. Alice’s flushed face told me she had had a few. Who knew? Perhaps many? In her case, it would have been many Budweisers.
   Yes, she was a girl who liked the odd tasting Budweiser. The King of Beers as it was known through advertising back then. This was long before IPAs and local breweries. On one occasion, Allison noticed I was drinking a Schlitz, yes a Schlitz, if you have any idea what that is, and she asked pointedly, “How can you stand that beaver piss?”
   Allison’s flushed face, surrounded by shoulder-length brown hair, still had appeal. I admired it as she made her way slowly down the aisle. This wasn’t the first time I had admired it. I had admired it ever since I had met her a few months earlier.
   Her husband-to-be, some guy named Frank, no doubt had admired that face, too. As for his face, well, he wasn’t all that good looking. His nose was about as big as an eggplant. That day his face was a little flushed, too. He probably had tipped a few as well. Regardless, Allison had to find something attractive about old eggplant-face. She was marrying the guy.
   The sunny day, the crowded church, the flowers, people dressed up in nice summer clothes to give well-wishes to the loving couple. Later, I would find out why Allison had to drink to get through her important and supposedly happy day.
   I got a little bored listening to the vows, and my mind wandered. I thought of a recent break-up with a girl who had coldly told me I had been getting too serious. Then in another cold manner, she let me know she wasn’t serious about me in the least.
   Then I heard a thud from the front. Jay had hit the floor as he had passed out.
   Allison retreated to the company of her bridesmaids. She looked stunned at first, then shook her head and smiled. Yes, little brother, she had to be thinking, can’t handle your liquor, can you? Yes, Jay had to have been drinking, too. He hadn’t dropped to the floor because of the heat, although that had helped. No one else ended up prone, summer heat or no summer heat.
   The other groomsmen helped Jay to his feet. His face was even more flushed, and he had to be embarrassed as all the attention had shifted to him for the wrong reason. Eggplant-face shook his head with smile. Jay assured the groomsmen he was okay, and the ceremony resumed.
   The happy and now married couple made their way out of the church. Once again, I admired Allison’s face. A few minutes later Jay escorted a bridesmaid, and he refused to even glance in my direction.
   “I guess I should’ve had something to eat with those beers,” Jay told me as we stood in the summer sunshine right outside the church.
   “That might have helped,” I replied.
   “I can’t believe this place still doesn’t have air. Anyway, I probably won’t see you all that much at the reception. Frank fixed me up with one of his cousins. Her name’s Jane, and he told me she’s cute.”
   I nodded, and, hoped for Jay’s sake that cute Jane didn’t have an eggplant face like the groom. I didn’t think that was all that likely, but one can’t tell about family genes. Besides, she could turn out to be an attractive eggplant face. Perhaps Jay would admire her as I had admired his sister.

    Sometime during the mid-evening, I felt a hand on my arm. Allison had taken a hold of me as we walked in stride. I enjoyed her touch.
   “I see that you’re headed for the bar,” she said.
   “How did you guess?” I replied with a smile.
   “It was a wild guess, Ron. What’s going on? No girl?”
   “Not at the moment,” I said, almost painfully. I again thought of the girl who told me to take a hiatus, a permanent hiatus.
   “Don’t feel discouraged. I’m sure that will change soon. Do me a favor. Don’t be disappointed because they’re not serving that beaver piss you usually drink.”
   She gave my arm a little squeeze before turning her attention to other guests as we neared the bar. They didn’t serve the beaver piss, but I drank plenty. I ended up throwing up on arriving home. Cute Jane would also vomit. She began to feel queasy, went with Jay outside in hopes the night summer air would help, but ended up on her hands and knees in the parking lot spewing like Old Faithful. Jay was fortunate cute Jane’s irate father didn’t beat the living crap out of him and would have if he had known Jay had spiked one of Jane’s beers with a little whiskey. The father saw to it that Jay never saw his daughter again. As for Allison? Six weeks later she would leave her eggplant faced husband and would never return.
   “I’m an alcoholic,” she told me as she sipped on a Budweiser.
   “Is that why your marriage is failing? Because you’re an alcoholic?”
   “No, it’s because Frank is a damned mama’s boy.”

    At 18, I was no expert on marriage and certainly was no expert on Allison’s failed coupling. But I became convinced that Allison at least had a point about Frank. According to Allison, they had enough money saved to put a down payment on a home, but, instead, lived with Frank’s parents.
   Well, not directly with the parents.  Frank’s family had a large home, and he and Allison lived on the top floor. It was spacious enough, she told me, and it had a modern kitchen making it seem like an apartment. But this apartment was not in some rental property, but in close proximity to her in-laws. Allison told me she felt their constant presence, especially the overbearing presence of Frank’s mother.
   “I can’t believe this shit,” Jay told me a few days after Allison had moved back home. “We have this big wedding, and, not even two months later, she walks out. It’s fucking embarrassing."
   I was surprised by the outburst since I had never seen a brother and sister have such a close relationship. I had expected him to be an Allison advocate.
   “I understand what you mean, I guess, but their living arrangement doesn’t seem right. When you get married, aren’t you supposed to move out?”
   “She knew about the arrangement before she got married. Another thing. I’m sick of her drinking.”
   I found the drinking statement even odder. He said it as he sipped on a bottle of beaver piss I had illegally purchased because I found a place that served almost everyone. He said it with the fresh memory of his passing out at the big wedding ceremony. He said it with an additional fresh memory of supplying cute Jane with a spiked drink that almost caused her father to commit a felony. But I would find out about Allison’s drinking. Hypocrisy or not, Jay was right about Allison’s drinking, a problem she had somewhat admitted with a touch of denial.

    For me, Celeste had been the girl next door. Technically, not right next door. She lived two doors down, and our mothers were good friends. We had an innocent friendship as we grew up, and our mothers were happy we got along.
   Things changed some a short time after we turned nine. We were walking together ahead of our mothers one night, and Celeste took my arm. I was flattered but also embarrassed by the gesture. Our mothers smiled. Now they thought we made a cute-looking couple even at that age. They began kidding us about being a boyfriend-girlfriend pair which embarrassed me further.
It did the same for Celeste. 
   As Celeste developed in her early and mid-teens, Mom pointed out what a nice little figure she had. I didn’t need my mother to point out the obvious. I had noticed Celeste’s figure.
   Overcoming my incredible shyness and awkwardness caused by our intruding mothers, I finally asked Celeste out during the middle of our high school senior year. I figured I couldn’t lose. If Celeste said yes, I’d get what I wanted. If she said no, my mother would no longer talk about her nice little figure.
   For a few months, Celeste and I had a fun time. High school can be a lonely period, and we had each other. Our mothers beamed every time they saw us together. I had the idea that they had fantasies of a church wedding very similar to the one Allison and Frank had. Everybody would be so happy just like Allison and Frank.
   There would be no church wedding. Celeste broke things off, giving me the taking things too seriously line. I didn’t get too angry with her. I realized she was right. Right in that I was taking things too seriously, right in her not letting things go further.
   I also realized that I had bought into the fairy tale fantasies our mothers had. One summer morning I vegetated as I sat on the edge of my bed. The morning was warm, and it would end up being as hot as Allison’s wedding day. But I shivered from the reality that Celeste wasn’t buying into the fantasy. 
   Strange, but Mom never held any grudge against Celeste, and her friendship with Celeste’s mother wasn’t affected. But she would spew venom at Allison, a woman who would take me very seriously.

    Allison and Frank were not bothering with a divorce. Instead, they worked with their attorneys to get an annulment. Allison didn’t feel she had been with Frank long enough to claim monetary things, and she told me she didn’t want anything from him anyway. She truly preferred it had all never happened and even allowed it to be put in writing that her drinking was one reason the marriage had failed. I didn’t know if anything was put in writing about Frank wanting to live with his mother.
   Two days after the couple began this legal process, I stopped over one evening to see if Jay wanted to do anything. He was out on a date, and his parents had gone out to a movie. Allison was alone, and she answered the door with a Budweiser in her hand.
   “Can you do me a favor?” she asked. “I don’t want to sit at home. Let’s go bowling.”
   I wasn’t surprised by the suggestion. Allison was a good bowler. And, just as important, going bowling gave us a good opportunity to drink. The alley had a bar like most do, and Allison could get beers for both of us.
   Allison went first, and she had great form. Her attempts didn’t curve or swerve; the ball would “back up.” She’d throw the ball from the left, and it would back up to the right. She didn’t throw the ball hard, but it would hit the pocket with authority, and the pins flew everywhere.
   I was not having such a good night. I had no control, and my ball was getting nowhere near the pocket. Getting a strike was an unfulfilled dream. Allison offered some advice.
   “You have too much arm-swing,” she told me. “By the time you get to the line, you’re way off balance. That’s why you’re all over the place.”
   I shrugged and decided to listen to the advice. On my next turn, I shortened up on the arm-swing, and the ball just eased out of my hand. For a moment, I thought I had a strike, but one pin, the five pin, was left standing. I stared for a time. One pin was a hard pick-up.
   “I know that five pin looks daunting,” Allison said. “Just remember. You don’t have to be perfect. If you nudge it, it’ll go down.”
   Her words relaxed me. I ended up nailing that five pin right in the middle for my first mark of the night.
   “Now that’s better,” Allison said with a smile. It had been some time since I had seen her smile. She had smiled on her wedding day, seemed so happy during the church ceremony, and at the reception, but now that seemed long ago, and her and her eggplant face husband would soon pretend they never got married.
   We bowled three games, and the beer flowed. Allison smiled some more, and the beer, Budweiser for her and beaver piss for me, helped the overall mood. But it was still early, and we would drink more. But first, we had a cheeseburger at the alley snack shoppe. Alice confided in me.
   “My family is mad at me, but they don’t realize how tough it was for me to live so close to Frank’s domineering mother,” she said. “One night Frank and I had a loud argument. I asked him to keep his voice down because his parents would hear. He told me he didn’t give a fuck if they heard.
   “Ron, I did care, because I knew mother-in-law would want to talk later, and I’d be the bad guy. I’d have to hear how I was failing her dear son.”
   “I think I understand,” I replied. “A short time ago, a girl named Celeste broke up with me. Our mothers are good friends, and they always thought we looked so cute together. Looking cute doesn’t mean anything. We weren’t right for each other no matter how cute we looked.”
   Allison stared for a moment, and said, “I wondered why you acted so down at the reception when I had asked about a girl.”
   “That’s not the worst of it. Mom is pushing me to get back with Celeste. That’s not going to happen even if I wanted it to. I feel bad about things, but I’ll deal with them in my own way. My mother needs to take a back seat and let me drive.”
   “This sounds a little rough for you.”
   “I guess so. Anyway, next month I get to vote for the first time, and I’m looking forward to it. Mom ripped into me when she found out I’m not voting for her candidate. So, I couldn’t imagine being married and living so close to my own domineering mother much less a nosy mother-in-law. In fact, something tells
me my own mother would take my wife’s side before she’d take mine.”
   Allison smiled and said, “I guess you do understand some.”
   “I only understand so much because I’m not married. But once I get done with school, I’ll move out as soon as possible. I want to be on my own. I can’t imagine Frank wanting to live like this.”
   “I don’t know why, but I assumed we moved in upstairs out of convenience because we hadn’t settled on a place yet. I thought once we got back from our honeymoon, we’d start looking for a home of our own. But Frank resisted.
   “So, I persisted and suggested we at least contact a real estate agent to see what’s out there. I called one. That was what that loud argument was about. Frank found the agent’s business card on the dining area table and hit the roof.
   “That’s when it really hit me. Frank didn’t consider me the most important woman in his life. His mother is, and he has no intention of leaving her. His mother’s home became our home, and we weren’t going anywhere. Ever.”
   “That’s on the creepy side, Allison. His life was supposed to be with you.”
   “I thought so, too. I was naïve. I thought Frank would find the idea of buying a home of our own exciting. Instead, he got pissed about it.”
   Allison teared up some, and I reached over to take her hand. She smiled slightly and held on.     
   “I couldn’t do it, Ron,” she said. “I couldn’t spend a good portion of my married life with my mother-in-law literally looking over my shoulder. Mothers-in-law tend to be bossy, but this is over the top. I hate that I had to move back with my parents. I am not going to stay there long.”
   “I’m sorry all this happened. It’s not right Frank doesn’t want to break away and live his own life.”
   We finished our meal, and I thought I’d take Allison home. But she wanted to get more beer and suggested we go to a small beach area by Lake Michigan. It was a nice, secluded area, she said, and with the summer now over, she thought we’d have the place to ourselves.
   We stood alone on the sand, feeling and hearing the water more than seeing it. The wind whipped around us sharply, and Allison moved closer to me. I thought I saw the lights of a large ship in the distance. Ships came in to service the local steel mills. The skyline of the mills off the shoreline to the east had the look of a city.
   Allison stepped away from me some and gazed out into the lake. I wondered what she saw. She then slowly made her way back and stopped a couple feet away from me. She looked up into my eyes. 
   “I appreciate you understanding,” she said. “It helps a lot.”
   “That’s okay, Allison. I know things have been rough for you.”
   I inched toward her and slipped my arms around her. When I began to kiss her, I didn’t feel the wind, sense the water, or wonder about the sights. I just felt and enjoyed the closeness of Allison.
   “I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time,” I said after the kiss ended.
   “I know you have,” Alice replied smiling.
    I was a little surprised Allison had seen through me, but I realized I shouldn’t have. I had been obvious about admiring her face. At her wedding, before her wedding, during her wedding. I kissed her again.
   You’d think with the intimacy, I would remember the rest of the night in every detail, but I don’t. I know there was more beer, and more tears from Allison regarding her short and failed marriage. It is a simple fact of not wanting to remember things. Allison sinking emotionally with each beer she drank was something I wanted to forget.
   I do vividly recall knowing I had to sober up when Allison passed out. Seeing her curled up on the car seat and not moving scared me. I had never seen a passed-out person before, and she almost appeared dead. Jay had said he had tired of her drinking. How often had she done this? How often did she drink until she was drunk and or passed out? I covered her with my jacket and started back toward her family’s home.
   On the way, I glanced in the rear-view mirror to see a cop following me. I didn’t think he was concerned about me. I was driving the speed limit, and Allison was hidden as she slumped in her seat. Still, I took my eyes away from the rear view and concentrated on staring straight ahead. I didn’t want the cop to think I was concerned about him. Thankfully, he passed me without a glance, and now all I had to do was get Allison home. 
   That wasn’t all that easy. When I pulled up in front of the house, reviving Allison took some effort. The procedure of shaking her, slapping her, and shaking her again took a full fifteen minutes before she awoke. I leaned back and took the deepest breath I had ever taken with the biggest sense of relief I had ever experienced.
   Watching a drunk wake from her stupor was jarring. Allison rose slowly with a dazed look, and her admirable face had lost all its appeal. She stared at me blankly. She straightened herself slowly and with little confidence. Looking out the window, she showed no signs of recognizing the general surroundings even though she had lived there most of her life.
   “Where am I?” she asked in a groggy tone.
   “You’re in front of your house. You need to get yourself together some before you go in.”
   “What time is it?”
   “Somewhat past one in the morning. Can you get yourself together?”
   “I’m al-right. Come in with me, will you?”
   “Allison, I really don’t want to do that. Why don't you…”
   “Come in with me, Ron.”
   That was a demand not a request. She had shouted it. Fearing additional loud demands would wake neighbors and family, I nodded yes and stepped out. I hurried over to her side.
   It was a good thing I went in with her. The house had a small, enclosed front porch with five cement steps. No way Allison could have made it up those steps without falling. I held onto her right arm every cement step of the way.
   One floor lamp lit the living room along with the sound of the television. I hoped that Jay would be the one up, but it was his father sitting in an easy chair. Of course, he was also Allison’s father. I thought back to cute Jane’s father and his anger at Jay for abusing his daughter. How would Allison’s father react to me? Allison was older, but I was the guy with her, and I had brought her home drunk.
   I let go of Allison’s arm and was relieved she made it to an adjoining couch without falling. I took a seat on the couch, too, but put a little distance between me and Allison. The father’s anger followed.
   “You’re drunk again,” he said with obvious disgust. “After you promised, you’re drunk again.”
   “I’m not drunk,” Allison replied. “I only had a few.”
   “Oh, stop it. I’m not stupid. You never have a few. You never stop at a few. You didn’t stop at a few on your own wedding day.”
   “I wasn’t drunk on my wedding day. I was happy on my wedding day.”
   “Allison, I really don’t know what makes you happy.”
   He rose and looked down at me. I waited for the anger that Jay had to fear from Jane’s father. His reaction was different from what I ever could have anticipated.
   “Ron,” he said evenly, “I want you to leave now. This is humiliating, and I’d rather you would go. I would also appreciate it if you didn’t drink with Allison.”
   I was more than willing to comply with the request, but I had to walk past him to leave. Were his sad words a trap? Would he slug me once I got near him? Instead, nothing happened. He didn’t look at me as I slowly made my way out. At least, I didn’t think he looked at me. I had kept my head down. I didn’t look back at Allison. I only wanted the night to be over.

    The next night Jay confronted me about my drunken night with his sister.
   “I can’t believe it,” he said. “I can’t believe you went drinking with Allison.”
   “It was a bad scene, but you’re acting like I poured the beer down her throat. I did no worse than you did with Jane.”
   He glared, and that was the first time I had ever seen him with such an angry look. Jane’s father type of angry.
   “You think I haven’t noticed?” he said. “Do you really think I haven’t noticed how you look at Allison? How you’ve always looked at Allison?”
   “I never really wondered if you noticed or not.”
   “Don’t act like you care about her and then go drinking with her. That’s bullshit.”
   “Jay, have you ever asked your sister why she drinks so much? Or maybe you should ask yourself why you drink so much.”
   Jay didn’t answer. I doubted if he ever asked himself why he drank so much. Regardless, we never had much of a friendship after this argument.

    Allison did get a small settlement from Frank, and she officially became a free woman. She used some of the money to put down a security deposit on an apartment. She asked me over for a pizza dinner on a Friday night.
   I didn’t look forward to this dinner date, if it was a date. Allison had not mentioned drinking; she made no promises about not drinking or weak exclamations about having only a few. I hoped this would not be another occasion of her passing out.
   I felt some hope when I saw her apartment building. It was a nice-looking brownstone. There was nothing overly elaborate about the building, but for some reason, I thought it was a nice place to live. Or perhaps I hoped it was a nice place to live, and Allison could make a rebound of a sort. For Allison there was no more marriage, but no more mother-in-law. Also, she put some distance between her and her angry and disappointed father.
   A salad sat on the kitchen counter, so we were at least going to have something healthy. She got a beer for me on my entering and had a high step in her walk. She might have had one or two already. As I took a sip from my beer that I shouldn’t have had, I hoped we wouldn’t have another disastrous evening. 
   “This place isn’t fancy,” Allison said as she pointed to the dining area, living room space and offset bedroom. “But I like it. It’s cozy. Even though I’m renting, I feel like it belongs to me, and that gives me a small sense of freedom.”
   “I can understand that,” I replied. “It has to be nice to be away from mother-in-law.”
   “It is,” Allison said, but then a tear rolled down her cheek. “But you don’t just walk away form a marriage. This is going to hurt for a while.”
   The annulment had wiped the legal part of the marriage as if it hadn’t happened, but, of course, it had happened. There had been the courtship, the wedding, the reception, their honeymoon, their living above his parents. It all had happened.
   “I wasn’t making light of things,” I said, drawing closer. “I only thought some pressure had lifted.”
   “You’re right about that. I didn’t realize how much pressure I had been under until I moved in here. Now, when I wake up in the morning, I know I don’t have to face her.
   “But I’m disappointed in Frank. I knew he could be a pushover for his mother, but I had no idea he was tied to her apron strings like this. It has been hard, but every day when I wake up, I’m convinced I’ve made the right decision.”
   “It was the right decision. Frank can’t stand on his own two feet as long he’s living by his mother.”
   “I agree, but now no more talk about that. I’m happy to see you, and I’d like to have a nice evening.”
   I felt some hope again. Allison wanted a nice evening, not like when she passed out and was then bitched out by her father. For me, I truly hoped there would be no Allison being so out of it that she would not know what time it was, not know where she was at, or maybe, not even know who she was with.
   Things continued to go well when the pizza arrived. Allison ate heartily, and it appeared she had an interest in dinner and not just the drink. However, I began to worry as she drank during the dinner, and I had a difficult time keeping up with her.
   Somewhere in the middle of this nice evening things unraveled. I used the rest room, and, when I came out, Allison stood in the middle of the living area, waiting for me. Nearing her, I felt her aggression as she took two steps toward me. In what seemed like one motion, she had her arms around me, and her mouth pressed against mine. I enjoyed myself as the kiss went on and on, and as she held me closer. Oh, along with that captivating face, Allison had a body, oh, yes, she had a body.
   Yet, as I pulled her closer to me, I worried. She hadn’t come on to me until she had a few drinks, she hadn’t kissed me on the passed-out night until she had more than a few drinks. She was an adult, not the teenaged Jane who had trusted the wrong person. Despite this, I felt as I was entrapping and seducing the more experienced, yet tipsy Allison. And Jay’s angry lecture nagged at me.
   Allison stepped back a bit, and then reached for my right hand. She gently pulled at me, directing me to follow her toward the bedroom. I gently but assertively took my hand away. Allison stared with a puzzled and hurt expression.
   “What’s going on, Ron?” she asked.
   “I can’t. Not tonight.”
   “Is there something wrong with tonight?” 
   “You’ve been drinking.”
   “Yes, I have, and so have you. Being a little self-righteous, aren’t you?”
   “I just don’t feel right about this.”
   “Oh, really? Think you’re taking advantage poor, drunk Allison, do you? You’re going from self-righteous to condescending.”
   There was more than anger in her tone. There was an ugliness, an almost drunken ugliness. I again wondered why I had not been able to remember so much of the passed-out night. How bad had it gotten? How ugly had it gotten? I felt stupid for allowing myself to be ensnared into another drunken situation with Allison. Why was I drinking with her?
   “Up until now, I was having a good time,” I said. “Please don’t be angry with me. I just don’t feel right about this.”
   Allison only stared as I walked past her toward the door. She did have a parting shot. 
   “Going home to mother, are you?” she said with more ugliness.
   That shot truly hit its mark, but I didn’t want Allison to see how badly that hurt. I had to keep a tear from going down my face. I didn’t want to be a mama’s boy like Frank. Feeling fortified, I turned to face her.
   “Not going home to mother,” I said. “I’m going to get drunk.”
   I didn’t get drunk in the Allison sense, but I drank more. The next morning, I threw up.

    A week passed, and there had been no contact between Allison and me. I doubted I’d see her any time soon. There were times I could see her because of Jay, but I had no plans on seeing him. Seeing him only stoked my guilt.
   I stopped to look at a window display in a shopping mall men’s shop. I sensed the presence of someone and looked to my right to see Allison standing about five feet away. She stepped closer to speak.
   “You were right to leave the other night,” she said. “You really don’t need to be around me. You see, I’m not just Allison. I’m Alice, and I’m heading right down the rabbit hole. If you have anything to do with me, I’ll take you down with me. You don’t want to follow. You don’t want to follow Alice. Wonderland is no wonderland.”
   After making this eerie comparison, Allison, aka Alice, turned and was gone. Gone as if she had returned to the rabbit hole after a brief ascension. What she didn’t know or couldn’t know was that I was already half-way down. I clawed and grasped at the sides trying to make my way up. For some time, I always was going down, down, down. With or without Allison, I headed down, down, down. Perhaps, I’d run into her in wonderland and then tell her it hadn’t been her; it was never her. I wanted to tell her I could pull us both back up. Come on, Alice, I wanted to tell her, take my hand, and we’ll both go back up. Alice can become Allison again. Come on, Alice, be Allison again. Going up can be such a simple thing, Alice. Just take my hand and we’ll both go up. Then I realized I didn’t know how to go up. I didn’t know how to do a simple thing like going up. Try as I might, I couldn’t make Alice Allison again because I had lost a sense of myself. I felt trapped in Wonderland which was no Wonderland.

     I didn’t see or talk to Allison for three years. We did maintain a little contact. This was long before social media, and so we stayed connected with Christmas cards.
   Her messages were friendly, but not intimate. That didn’t bother me. At least, there was nothing dark in her correspondence. Jay had told me she had quit drinking, and her simple writings seemed to confirm that. But I knew alcoholics had lapses, and I worried. As for Jay, we didn’t see each other all that often. He got engaged, but I learned of that news from a mutual acquaintance. I wondered if he would stay sober on his wedding.
   Finally, Allison called me. My mother had answered first and handed the phone over with an icy stare.
   “I’d like you to come over to my place,” Allison said. “I promise there will be no drinking. Now my addiction is to Diet Coke. It’s important to me that I talk to you. Can you make it this Saturday for lunch?”
   “Yes, I can be there. I’d like to see you. What time?”
   “Make it right around noon. Thanks. Seeing you again means a great deal to me.”
   “That’s okay, Allison. I’ve missed you, and it’ll be good for me to see you.”
   After the call, Mom asked, “Are you really going to see that woman?”
   “Yes, I’m going to see Allison,” I replied and walked away. Allison was Allison, not that woman, and hopefully no longer Alice.
   I didn’t know a great deal of the AA philosophy, but I was aware alcoholics were encouraged to make amends to anyone they thought they harmed. I hoped that was part of Allison’s intention, and I knew I could do the same thing. I had harmed her as she had harmed me.

    Not surprisingly, there was an uneasy silence when I stepped into Allison’s living space. Alice smiled slightly and then made a request that relaxed me some. 
   “Can I at least have a hug?” she asked.
   I nodded and approached. I took good notice of her face, the face I had admired so much. There was no flushed complexion, and her eyes were clear and bright. I held onto her for some time.
   “I have to say, Allison,” I said, stepping back from the embrace. “You look great. You really look great.”
   “Thanks,” she replied with the happiest smile I ever saw her sport. “One thing about not drinking. You take in less calories, and it’s easier to keep off the weight.”
   “I can imagine, especially with beer. How long have you been sober?”
   “I stopped drinking about a month after we last saw each other. It’s been a struggle, every day is a struggle, but I’m doing okay. How about you, Ron? Still drinking?”
   “If you can call it that. I allow myself two and no more.”
   “Really? How long have you been doing that?”
   “Since the last time we saw each other.”
   “That’s interesting, and I’m glad you’re doing that. Now come to the dining area. I’ll make you a sandwich. Ham and cheese, okay?”
   I said that was fine and took a seat. Allison started with putting drinks on ice for each of us. Diet Coke for her and a regular Coke for me. The glasses frosted some, reminding me of the frostiness of cold, bottled beer, in Allison’s case, a frosty Budweiser. I flashed back to our drinking nights and felt relieved that wasn’t going to happen again. Or at least, not that afternoon.
   Allison put down the sandwiches in front of us on nice plates with a flowery design around the edges. I flashed back on our comforting conversation in the bowling alley snack shoppe. The conversation that happened two hours before she had passed out.
   “I’m happy you came to see me,” Allison said. “It’s important to me that I talk with you.”
   “I understand,” I replied, thinking of the AA steps. “Say what’s on your mind.”
   “The main thing I’ve wanted you to know is that I’m sorry. I know I put you through a lot.”
   “You don’t have to apologize, Allison. You were going through a rough time.”
   “No, Ron, I do have to apologize, especially for that night in this apartment. You were a sensitive young man. You were nowhere ready for someone like me. Not to mention I needed a few drinks to work up the courage to come on to you. That wasn’t right.”
   “Allison, it’s time I apologize to you. I made things worse by drinking with you. I let you down.”
   “You have to realize we drunks have a radar system. We have a real ability to find enablers. Don’t be hard on yourself.”
   “I’m sorry anyway. I wasn’t helping you.”
   “I accept your apology, but I have to ask you something. Can you really stop at two? I can’t do that.”
   “I’m lucky in a way. I don’t have the constitution of an alcoholic. I get sick easily and get terrible hangovers. When I think of how sick I get, I can avoid the temptation to have more.”
   “I’m glad you can discipline yourself,” Allison said and then stared. “There was something about you back then. Sadness was all over your face. Why were you so tortured that you drank that much?”
   I went into the Celeste story. I described how I had bought in our mothers’ whole fantasy and then had to face the reality of the break-up.
   “With you, Allison,” I said, “I could pretend again. Not only were you older, but you were also engaged and then married. Everything was at a safe distance. But there was one little problem: I really began to care about you and was forced to face reality again.”
   “I know you cared for me,” Allison replied. “When I told you the rabbit hole story, I was trying to show how I cared for you. I don’t have any regrets about leaving Frank, but I still feel bad about it. I made a big mistake with him, I hurt him, and I wasn’t about to do the same with you.”
   “I understand what you’re saying, and I even understood it a little back then. I also worried about you back then.”
   “That was the problem. You needed to take care of yourself. You didn’t need to worry about a drunk.”
   “I wish you wouldn’t call yourself that.”
   “But that’s what I was, and that’s what I am now. I have to face up to that if I’m going to stay sober. Admit it, Ron. You fell in love with a drunk.” For me, the word love stopped the conversation. It was such a strong word. “Tell me, Ron,” Allison said, “did you love me?”
   “To tell you the truth, I don’t know. Back then things were so jumbled, I didn’t know exactly how I felt about you. The years have only cleared up so much even though I never stopped thinking about you.”
   “That makes sense, and it only convinces me how young you were. I felt odd about my attraction to you. You must understand something. Guys have said all kinds of things to me. You were so different and idealistic. You weren’t manipulative or controlling. You just said whatever was on your mind. It was seductive in a way.”
   I laughed a little and said, “Believe me, back then, I had no idea of what was seductive. I barely know now.”
   Allison smiled slightly and replied, “That only convinces me we were the wrong people at the wrong time. You were so young, so very young. Again, I am sorry for the wrong I did to you.”
   “Oh, come on, you didn’t do anything to me.”
   “Yes, I did. I did plenty. Just accept my apology. That would help.”
   “Allison, I have accepted your apology. Besides, I made my own mistakes.”
   Allison smiled slightly once more and offered me another Coke. I said yes, and she went to the frig to get soft drinks for both of us. I felt like rejoicing. Allison had come a long way. We had talked about some painful things, and she wasn’t drinking alcohol. I was confident she had no beer in her apartment.
   When she turned around, I stood right in front of her. I didn’t reach for her but bent down for a kiss. The kiss was brief and gentle. For me, it was a search. I wanted to know what it was like to kiss Allison without Budweiser on her breath.
   We sat down again, and Allison looked directly into my eyes.
   “May I ask you something?” she said.
   “Go ahead. Ask.”
   “Was that kiss meant as a good-bye?”
   “No, it was nothing of the sort. I’ve missed you.”
   Allison stared again. I saw doubt and confusion in her eyes.
   “I want you to know,” I said, “I was in the rabbit hole with you. But now, I’ve started to come out, and you have, too. So come out with me, Allison. Let’s climb out the rest of the way and get our feet on firm ground. We can feel the warmth and see the light of the sun. Take my hand, Allison. Come out with me. No more Alice. No more wonderland.”
   “Oh, Ron, you’re sounding idealistic again.”
   “It’s more realistic than you think.”
   Now it was time for me to stare. Once more I admired her face, the face was now clear, and not flushed, a face that showed some doubt, but some hope. 
   “Let’s start small,” I said. “How about lunch tomorrow? I can take you out for a cheeseburger and a shake.”
   “A milk shake,” Allison said with a smile, “before, I was talking about keeping weight off, and now you want me to have a milk shake?”
   “Yes, take in the calories. Live a little. I’ll make sure they put a cheery on top.”
   Alice smiled some but went silent. I thought of an early date I had had with Celeste. Like a scene out of Americana, we had that cheeseburger and a shake. We barely touched each other. It was so young and innocent. Come on Allison, I wanted to say. Let’s get out of the rabbit hole. We can do it for one day, one hour, one minute. Let’s just do it.
   “Well,” Allison finally said, “how can a girl turn down an offer like this? Okay, Ron, I’ll go out with you for a milk shake.”
   “And a cheeseburger.”
   “Yes,” Allison replied with another smile. “And a cheeseburger.”


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