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True Stories: Why I Am Afraid of Drunk People

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Maybe it’s the bourbon, but lately, we’ve been feeling nostalgic. With writing this good, can you blame us? This essay originally ran in 2012.

Molly and I were running last minute Burning Man errands, and talking, inevitably, about Wolf. She told me something I had always suspected, but never confirmed: that alcoholism runs in his family, and he is basically an alcoholic.

“The person he is when he’s drunk is not the person I love,” she said. “He’s mean.”

Yeah. I remember.

She told me about having to get his mother not to buy alcohol before he came to visit her — his mother’s an alcoholic too — and how, if there’s booze in the house, he has to drink it. We both said how glad we were that he stopped drinking hard liquor; he has a beer now and then, smokes pot. We were supposed to be meeting Wolf and Richard for dinner at Richard’s girlfriend’s restaurant, and we had to pick up some equipment. We got there a half hour late.

By the time we got there, Wolf was drunk.

They were sitting at the bar, and as soon as he turned his face to me, I knew. So did Molly. I could see it in the tension in her shoulders, her tight smile. Me, I couldn’t look at him, not in the eye. I don’t think I looked him in the eye all night: keeping my head down, I could feel the discomfort in my stomach. He was at the first stage of his drunk, all friendly and sloppy and loving and silly, but like slapped dogs, both Molly and I watched his hand as it rose and fell, from the table to his lips, a little less tequila every time. I was happy that his slurry, impassioned I-love-yous were directed at her, and not me. I remember.

The first time I ever saw Wolf drunk was about two weeks into our relationship. I’d seen his temper flaring and short-circuiting as we traveled through Morocco, but I was still entranced with him, enough to follow him to Spain. On the breezy ferry ride over, we linked arms and watched the water, kissed, smiled at Moroccan passengers, and found a hostel that night in Cadiz, the oldest city in Spain. Conquered once by Moors, it has cobblestone streets and a rocky sea wall, where Wolf suggested we go with a bottle of Jack. I said sure, and he poured me a cup, poured himself a cup, and kept pouring himself cups, never noticing that I wasn’t drinking it. I sipped, listened to him talk, as he got loving, loving and kind and sweet and wanted to kiss me and hold me…

Pulling away from me, he threatened to jump into the water.

Then, like something snapped in him, he started ranting about women. He insulted me personally — I was stupid, useless, had no idea what he wanted or needed — and women in general, all of us, worthless. We had wrecked his life. We were bitches, whores, and I was the worst of the lot. Pulling away from me, he threatened to jump into the water. When I begged him not to, he pushed me away so hard that I tripped backwards. Then he stormed off through the streets, leaving me to trail after him, begging him to tell me what was wrong. He wouldn’t, instead blaming me for his current state, saying I didn’t know anything about him, he didn’t know me, he didn’t want to be with me. He was going to leave me here.

I, sobbing, told him I didn’t know where the hostel was. He would show me, he said, but then I had to leave. He couldn’t sleep with me one more night. He followed me through the streets, berating me from behind, telling me when to turn but only when I asked him, until we got back to the hostel and he became all soft and loving again, wanting me to lie down with him and cuddle. Just as quickly, he veered into threatening to “kick my ass,” shoving me away, calling me names. I fell asleep wrapped in his arms, heavy as an anchor, afraid. The Wolf I had known was gone.

Until he was himself the next morning, not mentioning what had happened.

It was the first time I had ever been around anyone who was really drunk. My mother drank a little too much when I was younger, but always quietly, on the balcony, with a series of unfiltered Camels in her other hand. There was sometimes a bottle of Sambuca in the garbage, but nothing serious.

After that first time, it happened over and over. He drank, then abused me, calling me a whore and all women bitches. He threatened constantly to leave me. Once, walking over a bridge in Slovakia, he stopped halfway across and claimed I didn’t love him. He climbed over the side of the bridge, lowered himself down until he was dangling by his hands from the edge, and stayed there while I frantically pleaded with him not to let go, until he got tired and climbed back over. In France, he accused me of flirting with a young man who had just climbed Mont Blanc with him. I didn’t deserve him, he told me.

In Sevilla, back in southern Spain, he got massively drunk with a group of three Canadian strippers and insisted on all of us making out. He urged me to get one of them into a threesome with us. It was clear she wasn’t into it, so he yelled at me for not doing what I said I would do: I was a liar, he couldn’t trust me. Then, we went back to the room, and to “make it up to him,” he insisted that we “perform” for the strippers. He held me against him, made me suck his cock, but couldn’t get hard. That night felt like it went on forever. I remember the strippers spanking my ass at one point, talking about me like I wasn’t there. I remember him shaking me by the shoulders, yelling, “It’s just like we usually do,” angry that I wasn’t doing it right.

When it became obvious that nothing was going to come of it, we went back to our room. I was shaking and emotionally distraught: I was nineteen years old, and he was the great love of my life. Babbling, he said that the reason he hadn’t been able to get it up was because of those girls, they were bad, they were degrading me and that’s why he couldn’t do anything, let’s do it now to take the taste of it out of his mouth. “Please,” I told him. “I can’t.”

I only have snippets of that night, really. I remember him shaking me by the shoulders again at one point, shouting “Snap out of it!” and I remember waking up totally aware that I was blocking it out, actively forgetting it and making excuses.

I wrote a letter to my mother saying that I knew what abusive relationships were like, and threw it away.

I have never been so afraid as at that moment.

He came to see me in France, where I built roads in a medieval town for three weeks, and accused me of cheating on him. I ran out into the streets of St. Vincent des Barres, followed by Louis, my work-party crush, a sweet young Christian boy around my age. In tears, I explained that Wolf was mad at me and tried to explain why: that he had read my journal and found references to people he didn’t know. As I choked out these words to Louis, Wolf came around the corner, his eyes wilder than I had ever seen them, and I was really, truly afraid. I have never been so afraid as at that moment. Louis took off, and I can’t say I blame him. Wolf yelled at me for hours, only finishing when I admitted what a worthless person I was for not telling him everything, all the time, for ever lying.

Satisfied, he decided he was hungry and had to have something to eat. It was the last night at the work group, and there was a party in town. I knew the others were dancing and having fun, but when we got back to the main building, I started to shake and couldn’t stand up. I almost fell; Wolf caught me and laid me on a bed nearby. I remember someone coming in, to make sure I was okay. Louis had told them what was happening. They must have been afraid he was going to kill me. They asked me to come back out to the party, and I looked to Wolf for permission.

I looked to him for permission for everything after that: what to think, who I could touch, where I could go, what I could write in my journal. My journals of that time are edited; I remember some of what I never wrote, but not all. I edited them because he read them, every entry. He never apologized for anything. The only time I have ever been drunk in my life, on the rooftop of that hostel in Sevilla, I remember telling him that I was going to leave him if he kept being so mean to me. “You’re drunk,” he said dismissively. “You don’t mean that.”

Tonight was the first time I have been around Wolf drunk since then, and I was trapped; he had my car keys, having driven my car up to the restaurant. We were there for hours, since it was a Fine Dining Experience, and all I could hope for was that the evening would be over, that I could leave and be alone. When we got home, he collapsed on the floor with the dogs, still huggy and loving, and started poking at Molly, trying to get her attention. I left, went to bed. And about fifteen minutes later, what I was afraid of happened: he knocked on the door, asked for a hug. Unable to say no, I shakily let him in. He drew me backwards onto the bed, in his arms, and heavily pressed his face against my hair. I lay still, thinking, “If anything happens, I’m running out the door.” Because in the morning, he won’t remember it.

But nothing did happen; he gave me a kiss, and went away, leaving these memories.

Molly asked me years ago, as Wolf’s advocate, why I wouldn’t consider getting back into a relationship with him; I told her everything, because someone else knowing the details means I’m not crazy. Tonight, I had so much going on: the fear, the shock, the stillness like something waiting for a blow to strike, mixed with concern and affection for the loving smile and open arms.

He will never apologize. And I don’t have to listen any more. But now you understand why I am afraid of drunk people.