Before she had lived in Berkeley and become a professional caffeine pusher, Sarah Beth lived in San Diego with her boyfriend Fitz. Theirs was a highly strung love affair full of passion and broken plates. Like all such relationships it was hard for them to quit each other and they changed their relationship status more times than I post on Facebook in a day. When they broke up for the final time Sarah Beth packed her bags and moved up north.
A few months later, Fitz was writing and calling trying to woo her back. And he was good at it, too, being a professional writer. (Or at least a simple SoCal boy trying to fulfill the dream of pounding out the Great American Novel.) He must have gotten some encouraging responses because one day he showed up in Berkeley. And a week or two later he had taken up residence in Goth Boy’s former room.
We were all kind of surprised. It wasn’t like the Sarah Beth was laying around pining for Fitz. She had actually dated people in the intervening time. There had even been a couple of guys of note. One was a Henry Rollins clone without any of Henry’s intelligence or wit, but all his muscle and chiseled jaw. The other was a tattoo and piercing artist who fixed a crooked tramp stamp on her lower back and then proceeded to use her as a piercing canvas for his “portfolio.” He suddenly disappeared when we sent him joke kidnapping ransom demands for pizza complete with pictures of her sporting smeared mascara and a ball gag in her mouth. It turns out he wasn’t that kinky or that into pepperoni.
It was easy to see why she liked Fitz. We all liked Fitz. He had a boyish face with brilliant red hair that was always casually messy and just a little too long. He was lean and lanky and funny and smart with a certain old-fashioned Gatsby charm. He oozed a zen calmness that balanced Sarah Beth’s (the Crack Pixie’s) frenetic energy.
He fit right in with our easy and free-flowing lifestyle. He could talk about all kinds of literature – from Plato and Steven King – and loved burritos from questionable restaurants as much as the rest of us. He got a job a Sarah Beth’s coffee shop and, unlike Goth Boy, managed to make it to his job shifts with absolutely no problems. And he brought home leftover sandwiches on the nights he closed up, single-handedly doubling our food supply.
There was only one thing about Fitz that wasn’t so perfect. It was, in fact, the main reason Sarah Beth had left him in Southern California.
When he moved back up he was sober. Or so he said. He was probably slightly sober or almost sober. Or trying to be sober.
None of the rest of us knew that he had a drinking problem. Maybe we were naive or maybe he was just such a professional drinker that he’d had years of practice (already at 23) hiding his problem.
Even when he carefully put an armload of empty whiskey bottles in the recycling container I didn’t think of him as an alcoholic. All the bottles were of those small hip-flask varieties that you can only get if you go up to the counter and ask for them. How drunk could he possibly get off of one of those?
Because he wasn’t just drinking one per night. Oh, he would start off buying just the one for the evening, but then by whatever o-clock it was gone and before the alcohol could really hit him and incapacitate him for the evening he would jog off to the liquor store around the corner and buy another one.
And he was sneaky about that, too. He’d leave by the backdoor or sneak out my private entrance. Or he’d ask one of us if we wanted to go to the burrito place that was just a door or two down from the liquor store. Then as we were waiting for our burritos he say, “Heyya. I’m just going to pop into the liquor store and get a little something. You want anything, too?” Sometimes we’d say yes and give him money and instructions for our own booze. Most of the time though we didn’t have money for alcohol and a burrito so we’d pass. He’d nod and smile and slip into the store.
I went with him once. We had been chatting and he said he needed to just run a little errand, did I want to come along.
Sure! I’m up for anything!
So we left through my private door and went off down the hill to the liquor store. He went up to the counter and was greeted by name and the guy automatically grabbed a flask of Jim Beam and put it in front of him. He fumbled out his wallet and paid the $5 in cash. And suddenly, before I’d even made it to an aisle to look at the colorful bottles of booze, he was tucking the flask into the inner pocket of his black leather jacket and heading out the door. The whole transaction took 2 minutes. In fact, I spent longer typing this one paragraph than he did buying his bottle of Beam.
When we came in the front door Sarah Beth was there sitting on the couch reading a book, Chemistry for fun and profit. She gave a hard, squinty-eyed look as we shut the door. Fitz gave her a “hey” and went downstairs. I came and sat down next to her to chat.
“Where did you guys just come from?” she asked.
“Oh, Fitz and I just took a walk and stopped at the liquor store,” I said. “What are you doing?”
Sarah Beth narrowed her eyes further and gave a look at the stairs. “I think,” and she closed her book, “I am going to bake.”
“Ooo!” I squealed, because I love anything baked, “Whatcha making?”
As she sailed into the kitchen she called back to me, “Brownies. You’re probably not going to want to eat them”
Ah. These wouldn’t be just brownies. And they certainly wouldn’t be the fun kind. These were going to be revenge brownies.
Sarah Beth didn’t just get mad, she got even. Her specialty was chocolate brownies with laxatives baked into them. Occasionally brownies would show up on the counter. The most recent was in response to Goth Boy eating her Thai leftovers. She’d warned all of us and we were more than happy to let Goth Boy suffer. And suffer he did. The noises that came out of that bathroom were worthy of that famous scene in Bridesmaids.
He blamed it on another set of leftovers he’d swiped.
The results of eating these brownies were so horrific that any baked good on the counter was looked at with suspicion and dread.
As she was baking her brownies I took the bar stool on the opposite side of the island. “So,” I asked. “What did he do?”
Her face was pinched and her lips were thin and tight and she measured out her ingredients. “He’s drinking.”
“We all drink. What’s the big deal?”
“He can’t stop drinking.”
And learned all about alcoholism. The sneaking around was just the tip of the iceberg. She told me all about how he drank until he passed out. How he stashed his bottles in the closet. How he was picking up flasks of Beam 5 or 6 times a day. How back in SoCal it was so bad he was regularly shitting and pissing himself after he’d passed out. How she had had to drag him down the hallway to the bathroom and get him into the shower to clean him up. And how he never woke up or, if he did, he never remembered any of it. How she had scrubbed the mattress or floor or couch almost every day. How many sheets she had just thrown out because they were beyond repair.
That’s the real reason why she’d left. He was killing himself and she couldn’t watch. And now he was doing it again.
By the time she was done telling me all about her life with Fitz the revenge brownies were done.
They smelled delicious.
We sat and stared at the small pan of chocolate pain.
“Maybe tell the others not to eat these.”
“I will,” I said. “Maybe cut them and throw a few away. You don’t want to kill him.”
“Don’t worry. I just put in one dose.”
One dose was enough.
On the plus side, he couldn’t make it to the liquor store for over a whole day.