She finally left around the middle of December. Although I’d still jerked off while thinking about her many of those nights, I had a new passion to concentrate on, and she had ceased to be at the forefront of my mind long before she left my field of vision. My emotions were numbed by the constant self-abuse of alcohol and pot and the increasing time it took to recover from the later nights. I did the bare minimum at work, and spent much of my time there planning for the night ahead. If I had worked in a coal mine or a cheese factory, and I had worked in the latter for a time immediately before movin’ on up to the big time, there wouldn’t have been a problem. I would have gone to the same bar every night with my co-workers, and the biggest concern on my mind would be eventually getting a wife to complain about, so that I fit in with the others. They’d even see my nightly intake as a healthy outlet for the rage such occupations are destined to cause—provided I didn’t go home and beat the hell out of either spouse or children. I probably could have frequented the same place just as easily with the job I had, but I considered myself too white collar, and was too self-conscious to let even a few people in on the true extent of my drinking. The town was small enough and had a close-knit-enough rumor mill to prevent me from letting anyone know too much of my business. It didn’t happen all at once, but eventually I imposed on myself a system of staggered liquor purchasing. I always bought when I got groceries. In addition to the secrecy of the self-checkout, which worked very well within the program, there was comfort in buying a twelve-pack with a pile of food. It made the purchase seem like a weekly, as opposed to nightly, supply. After that had been exhausted, there was one liquor store with an excellent beer selection, and a drug store across the street had a good variety of cheap wines. I went to these rarely, but stocked up whenever I did. Doing this made me feel like the cashier thought I was maybe preparing for a party instead of just a normal weekend at home. These three places were my primary options, but wore thin quickly and required a few filler locations. Gas stations helped me greatly with this. There are usually plenty that sell liquor in any decent-sized town, and the evening or overnight workers rarely look like the type to gossip about a stranger’s alcohol-buying habits. The drawback of these places is that they generally have a much-diminished selection, but often each will have at least one unique beer that would tide me over until I felt safe returning to my normal haunts.
Weed was a different beast, and although acquisitions were less common, each occasion took more planning. Careful timing, however, could usually prevent an entirely dry spell. When I was young, I threw caution to the wind with my weed-buying habits, and I feel lucky that no one I work with now knew me in those days. I did very little to hide the extent of my use, even passing up cologne and eye drops when they were offered by friends. I wore it like a badge, and tried to acquaint myself with as many sellers as I could. Now that I considered myself an upstanding citizen, I worried about letting more than just my inner circle know that I smoked. I really only messed with one dealer, but, owing to the fact that he had another job and was very part-time in the weed game, he became very unreliable at times. When he got this way—not even returning calls or text messages—I was forced to go down the list of people, some of whom I’d rarely contacted since high school, who could help. I never asked for them to sell me weed, but merely to point me in a new direction. This rarely achieved results. Because of this uncertainty, I became very cautious once my bag began wearing thin. Although the first day or two after buying a fresh bag were often spent with my mouth seldom removed from the top of a bong, things calmed down shortly after.
When I was in high school, and would bump into guys trying to sell me weed by accident, I never thought of being conservative with my weed. As I got closer, in my mind at least, to the desperate old guys I laughed at then, who treated every transaction like a holiday, this changed. I could no longer be the carefree janitor who carried a pipe with him in his car everywhere he went because of a constant need to get really high. I always drank at least two beers before getting high, to make the buzz come more quickly and last longer, even if I had no intentions of getting drunk. I treated every hit like a gift that needed to be invested wisely if I wanted to avoid diminished returns.
In all of this planning, my work schedule had to be taken into account. The days when I was on-call I dared not have more than one or two drinks and never smoked. They seemed like lost days, and I comforted myself during the hours of light with cup after cup of coffee and used increasing amounts of Tylenol PM to counteract this at night. The regular days were just that, and I needed only think about getting the proper ingredients together, but the days when I worked late but was not on-call were a different beast entirely. Because I most often had to be back in early the next day, I struggled for a while finding enough time to have two drinks, get high and enjoy my buzz before eating and retiring to bed. Since sleeping pills worked so well to knock me out when I didn’t smoke, I began experimenting with taking one or two just as I left the office. In theory, it would simply make everything move more quickly to the evening’s final destination. In reality, it forced me into this odd limbo where I wanted to neither go to bed nor stay up drinking, and made me wish that I could just enjoy the drugs. Somewhat by accident, after planning to take an easy night at home then accepting an invitation after already downing a pill, I discovered that the congenial atmosphere of a tavern, with its multiple screens of sports and jovial customers, never put me in this funk. The other patrons, after a full-day’s work laying bricks or whatever normal people do, were naturally feeling the fatigue I’d needed to trick my body into. I was at home! I could get my two drinks and leave, thereby avoiding the suspicion that I always feared having more than that would cast upon me, and my comforting pipe would be waiting at home. The whole system was worked out by mid-December, after which the awaiting holidays sustained me, and only one recurring thought continued to bother me.
Whereas I had been living a fairly normal bachelor’s existence before finding my new hobby—always at least a ruffle of unkemptness in my apartment no matter how hard I tried to keep house—things quickly got disgusting thereafter. Because my weekends alternated between one and three days off, I had always been able to convince myself to do a major overhaul at least once every two weeks. That, along with a little tidying up in between, had kept my living quarters at least respectable. When my nights began to veer quickly from getting off work to drinking and falling asleep, I began to neglect the smaller things. I would spend five days looking ahead to my one day off, when I was sure things would work themselves out. When that day came, there was nothing further from my mind than spending it with my hands in the sink or running a vacuum cleaner, and my optimism shifted to the three day period, when everything would turn out okay. My mind had trouble, however, during those three days getting over the upward slope of optimism and to the downhill slide of ambition. I’d spend the first two days consistently half in the bag before forcing myself, on the third, to at least empty the cat box and wash a minimum of dishes before taking that first drink.