Summer Hangover: Going for an Abortion

Jesse Luthi

I realize now my heavy use of alcohol has been an attraction to little deaths. Sleep. Endpoints, beginnings (unconsciousness, hangovers). A rhythm to my daily existence. A useful avoidance of my anxieties, insomnia, no obvious direction for how my life should be run. A good hard sleep, mandated by booze, put punctuation in my narrative where I couldn’t seem to find it otherwise. It’s interesting for me to think about it now, sober for a week for the first time in a decade, it seems most people have a greater sense of continuity than I do. Their days bleed together in a natural way. Not staccato randomness, but a symphony connected through the quiet movements of sleep.

I suppose that the idea of having children is adding a kind of meta-narrative to one’s life. Outside of the tasks of one’s daily upkeep, there is a strain of meaning added which colors the whole picture. It’s why when my partner didn’t want to keep the baby I didn’t put up a fuss. One of the benefits of narrative is that it can’t be imposed on other people. I’m practical about some things. Why try and sway a woman who doesn’t want a child into being a mother? Who could that possibly be good for?

But we do get drunk and talk about it. We both understand that if it was at all serious she shouldn’t be drinking like this. When she first found out she stopped for a few days. That made me curious. But instead we kept rolling on in our usual way. They say that a relationship is on the rocks when you’ll only have sex drunk. We have sex with hangovers, smashing extremes, little deaths, into our daily routines.

La Petite Mort. That French phrase for the feeling after orgasm. The empty clarity of narrative’s end. The critic Roland Barthes used the term to describe the feeling of engaging with great literature, but since I rarely feel like agreeing with Mr Barthes I’ll try and stay as physical as possible.

Alcohol is a very physical drug. It is a foodstuff*. I feel like I’ve used it almost exclusively as such. It’s just the difference between the slow metabolic processes and the fast ones. Alcohol gets right into the blood. To me it feels like a beautiful mix between sugar, caffeine and opiate. With an added side benefit of lubricating some neural pathways. For some obvious reasons alcohol gets tagged as being a way for people to escape from their problems. Things they aren’t dealing with etc. But this has always struck me as a convenient simplification. Alcohol is a kind of structure. Mind scaffolding built sloppily but that’s ok because it’s just fucking work. What’s our competence in the face of mortality? My romantic notion: alcoholics get lost in this question.

From his final collection of stories before he died**, the writer Denis Johnson has a short passage about authors and drinking (himself). “If I could drink without wanting to be drunk all the time I could certainly be drunk half of the time and it wouldn’t hurt the writing.” I think this is probably true for more professions than we are willing to grant, but the hard part, the hard part is finding that line of half. Hell, in most of the professions I’ve worked being drunk half the time is a requirement. I’d like to see anyone work full kitchen shifts without some kind of release. But when you go searching for those little deaths the triviality, the emotion of symphonic movements, lose their meaning. It could all be gone tomorrow buddy, one whispers with their drink. Aware, that that day is coming just a little bit faster with every binge that ends in unconsciousness.

Yet other answers, too, seem sparse. Family life. We get drunk the lady and I. She calls the baby a parasite, “that’s literally the dictionary definition.” I do not think she means it as hyperbole, even if it is. She’s scared that it will be depressed like her. We don’t make enough money. All valid concerns. The only thing I can say is I’m 50/50 on the proposition. Half the writers I admire had children, half didn’t. This is not a helpful observation. I get more drunk. I sloppily speak into her lap, getting emotional. The point in one’s drunk where the booze is trying to save you from it. I’d say it was a long night but it isn’t. We pass out. The next day brings on one of those awful hangovers where one can’t quite to seem to get a grasp on reality. It’s dehydration mostly.

It doesn’t help that it is summer, hot and dry. It’s a three hour drive to the clinic but even with a hangover I don’t mind so much. It leaves time to think, digest the day. When we arrive we have to wait around for a while. The clinic is small, especially so, I think, considering the amount of territory and people that it’s supposed to cover. We have an appointment but there are certain variables which mean we’re in for a long day. The waiting room is chilly as they blast air conditioning to battle the heat outdoors. On the walls are new portraits of couples. Gay-lesbian-straight, wearing hip clothes. I point out that one of the models in the homosexual couple looks uncomfortable. He is wearing a hat tipped up, perched on his head. The pictures are shiny, the chairs are soft. A girl coming out from the locked back room looks woozy. She catches herself on the counter where you pay and nurses run out from the back to catch her arms.

The people there are young. A girl waits with her parents, the dad looks like a surfer. For all its quirks the place seems efficient and modern. When my lady goes in the back I wander into the heat to escape the smiling portraits on the walls. I register that my hangover has not gotten much better. I walk to the shade of a tree to try and get some sleep. My eyes attempt to focus on the wasps that start to buzz near, I try to read a little. I fall asleep and when I wake up startedly, worrying about the time, my head swims and I worry that I’m going to die. Right on the grass, pass out and never wake up. I wouldn’t deserve it less than anyone else.

Winters kind of feel like hangovers from the summer. I get pensive, bored. Restless but lazy. The perfect feelings for writing. What will replace the alcohol? That is the hard question. People like to try and parse out uniqueness but I think I’m more interested in the basic forms, structurally, narratively the ideas we tell ourselves to get through the day. That is, prep the runway for the rocket ship of death. Too macabre? Perhaps, but I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to escape the prison of myself … without thinking what I would do if I actually accomplished it. Should I believe in reincarnation? A lasting capacity to the soul? It’s hard to tell where you’ve made mistakes if you can’t believe in what’s right. At least alcohol is a good scapegoat. It may leave me with a hangover but at least I know why I feel shitty.

We don’t talk much in the car, the lady and I. Neither of us feel good. She bleeds a little on the seat. Looking back I think maybe we felt bad for surprisingly similar reasons. Ending a life isn’t as complicated as living one, curing one.

These days its less booze, more pot. Weirder thoughts***. Going for a walk I see a woman pushing a stroller while yanking a Rottweiler to her hip. I think; for some people children are like dogs, loveable objects which they attach to themselves. Perhaps this is the middle stage of life, how we get through the middle stage of life. Attaching things to ourselves. Children, in a sense, could be described like bling.

Hard to avoid attachments though. It’s supposed to be the reward for becoming a full person. I don’t judge anyone for doing this, I’m doing it now, writing this. Trying to attach some ideas to myself so I have more control about my personhood.

Recently the guru Raam Das died. I don’t normally go in for much Karma stuff; seeing as Karma even has its parameters by which it must abide, but, when Das was announced dead a friend showed me a quote that has stuck with me.

I love this idea and I think it’s what writers aspire to do all the time. At least we should (I think). But a place where it’s really hard to remove judgments from is romantic relationships. Which is not to say that romance is the most difficult type of relationship, just that they demand the most amount of our time. They carry the most intensity, due to the severity of the pleasures and consequences. Thusly, judgment for the romantic partner often feels more necessary. If you can’t pick out right or wrong qualities how could one guarantee a system of higher pleasures than consequences? If you pick a favorite tree, isn’t it out of some acknowledgment of their preferable qualities that you do so? (Shade, location, support of trunk etc.) How could one truly raise a child outside of judgment? Even if you think you’ve pulled the subtlest and best most inclusive parts of the qualities, some measure of judgment will be transferred. Judgment is beauty, too. That’s the hard thing, the thing I can’t convince my partner of; the beauty of the subjectively non-subjective judgment. The appeal of the acknowledgment of the universality. You attach the judgments and then let others see them for what they are. Let your judgments be plain, even bad, if you feel the need to grow against the grain. You will be your own tree.

That’s another thing I’d like to bring up and is perhaps a thing not so easily implied in our self help culture; when you look at someone like a tree you don’t have to do it for yourself, you can do it for them. There’s only a couple times in my life where I can distinctly recall being looked at like a tree. It’s a very interesting feeling. Something different than being validated; since, often, validation comes from entities who have their own interests in the success or failure of an idea.

What errors of judgment would I spread to a kid? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself lately. It’s not pressing but it’s new. It’ll probably fall from the docket in a month when I go back to drinking. In pain or pleasure I’ve always been grateful for those little deaths. If a human personality was a computer program it could be argued that the most educated version is the kind which has experienced the most different lifetimes. To what end? This is the other question. This is why we have kids, to create more ends. Attach the rocket boosters, perfect the countdown.

*One of the common definitions of alcoholism is being unable to leave a half glass of wine on the table. But I don’t leave a half plate of food, either.

**The Largesse of the Sea Maiden

***As I begin walking forward I notice my heels feel heavy and I realize that I’ve done very little moving that day. My body was in a totally different state, prepared for inactivity. I began to picture little blood-cellular seamen slowly changing the position of my main sail. There’s a large internal boom which has to swing inside of us for different states of being. Do glands need to be cleared? Like, if I don’t occasionally expel some of my adrenaline does it get stale? Sometimes after orgasm I feel like my body was being pulled in multiple different directions. The different interests of each crew member come together for a common goal. Melancholy after orgasm seems a natural progression. I have mixed feelings about completion**.

**Completion: A poem.

There’s no certainty in theory

though practical creation exists.

This is my problem with completion;

what is ever complete?

To try and give words to a feeling

that’s what poems do.

Completion is a lucid dream,

belted to the stomach.

A rodeo for misguided youth.

It is hilarious and sad, but

most of all, to me, it feels like

nothing. A Pointless simple thing we do.

This is not meant to be depressing.

Don’t we all want to live forever

in this way. After completion.

Podcast: Western Thought. Writes literary fiction. His audiobook The Town of Books; first chapter.