As an infant, I sought nourishment in bottles, draining milk with frightening speed.
Thirty-four years later, I still need my bottle, except this time they hold Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the weight of credit card debts. They hold things I shouldn’t have bought to feel like a bourgeois dandy, antique bookshelves. Old lamps that glow and create illusions of home and communion. The bottles hold awards I pursued and barely missed, than missed big time, numbers, tempers lost over teaching philosophies and politics. Apologies I can’t speak. A life of could-haves, all laid out before me, scattered puzzle pieces whose counterparts are long missing.
The bottles hold elegance. Even the wine glasses hold grace. Voluminousness. They’re the stuff of professors in bowties, swishing them around with a certain verve, a mystery. And sometimes, I swish it around, take precise sips. Imagine myself pontificating half-drunk about the Russian Revolution or a Richard Yates novel, people fascinated by this libation-filled discourse. I imagine them asking questions, asking me to explain a cause, an effect, a metaphor. And I imagine answering a question with a cool aplomb, gesturing into the world with precision, hands flying into the night air.
I try nights without bottles. Try to think of nights without half-slumber and odd dreams. And there are many. But the most common is the one where I’m driving a car through heavy lines of traffic, the steering wheel driving me, the car speeding, speeding, zigzagging, metal meeting metal, but somehow I’m still alive, if barely.
I fill out job applications for teaching positions. Try to promote myself, talk about that time I had the highest score on History IQ worldwide for a whole day. Talk of those few stories I published in venues with names like The Ghost Train Review. I organize those achievements by weight, by prestige. I use graceful fonts like Garamond to accentuate them. On other days, I even try to watch movies. No movies with people being blown up. And no Office Space, as hilarious as it is. At least Ron Livingston had a predictable position, a cog in the machine, something to fight. I stick to Step Brothers, The Big Lebowski, movies where logic is distorted, where adults live at home and grown men wear bathrobes and drink White Russians. And wield guns in bowling alleys. But even those choices are flawed. I see the Dude drifting through my mirror and Walter Sobchak’s temper rising to my consciousness.
Cue the bottle. Cue the long swig, that one good, haunting taste, sweet, bitter.
Sometimes, I even drop the bottles in the trash can. Try to bury them beneath the credit card statements with my name emblazoned in cold block letters. Nicholas Alexander Botkin. But they linger, those voluminous ghosts, beckoning, calling. They call in the still of night, when the moon illuminates bare walls, apartment walls that seem all too small, someone else’s walls.
I even bury one or two bottles in my closet, in the deepest reaches of space. It’s for the worst day, a day rife with rejections. But I inevitably rampage the closet, shame tugging at my consciousness, as I rip through piles of stained Khakis and Polo shirts, tear apart fabric, the bottle at the end of a pile smiling with cold seduction. I cradle ripped shirts, whisper contrition, try to discard that wasted day, promise a better one.
Bottles call after I try to fill out another application for a teaching position, but X or Y school makes up some excuse about an excellent application pool. The seduce after days of trying to write in coffee shops, but success laughs from nearby tables. Success, a gesture of confidence, a boyfriend motioning to his girlfriend, talking of something, perhaps a plan for the future. Success, a suit with a cell phone, wearing confidence.
And they call when I fall behind in rent and the bottles fill my fridge. The debts balloon, the job applications garner no response and even more terse rejections. I fill out, put myself on the page, try to organize. Reorganize. I study the art of resumes, the art of dissembling even.
The world takes. I wait, wait, wait.
On the eve of my thirty-fifth birthday, I finally throw the bottles out the window, one by one, lobbing each one with a pitcher’s arm. I lob them as far as they’ll go. Each one lands with a crash, a definite shattering. One, two, three.
But they hover, ghostly shapes. Beckoning. Calling me to pick them up. Put the pieces together.
I pull the curtains down. Retreat. I try to work on another application, try to imagine the day when one thing falls into place. Then another. That’s the way logic works, right?
But the ghost bottles whisper a rhythm. Drink, drift. Regret. Drink, drift, regret.