As the drinking increased, things changed. I began to take advantage of what I thought was an easy situation. I came home on the bus, furtively drinking from a pint I bought the night before. I spent more time at home before going to Jane’s house, drinking heavily before I stumbled into the car to drive to her house. As the months progressed, I often went weeks only seeing Jane at work. I treated the relationship as my convenience. She was great looking. She loved sex. I felt I could come and go as I pleased. I ceased taking her out or feeling like I had to. I settled into a routine that pleased me. The whole of our lives revolved around her apartment and her television.
I wasn’t redeemed, not yet, but I felt like I was on the way.
It wasn’t long after I began to feel this comfort when Jane began to assert herself. The Art Institute had accepted her application. She started hanging around with other students, people her age. She went to art openings. She turned 19 and quit her job at the cookie place.
When I was at her house, I passed out on her couch and often found myself waking up from a blackout in her bed with her sitting in a chair watching me sleep. She began to ask questions. “Why do you drink so much?” “Do you know what you did to me last night?” “Do you even remember coming over here?”
I had no answers. One morning, I came to lying next to her. I had no recollection of the night before. I hadn’t even removed the condom I’d used during what I supposed was lovemaking.
She woke at my stirring.
“I can’t live like this anymore,” she said. She cried softly. I could feel her sobs. I thought to myself, “What do I do now?”
“I’ll be more careful,” I said. “I’ll stop drinking so much.”
“I just can’t sit around and watch you fall apart.”
“I’m not falling apart, just going through a rough patch.”
She sat up, her cheeks wet. “You’ve been going through a rough patch ever since I met you. Even you said you were idling. Nothing’s changed. It’s not going to either, if you keep this up.”
I left her and drove home. I wasn’t working that day and nursed my hangover with aspirin and lots of water. I started drinking again around noon and passed out before 5 p.m. I woke fully drunk again about 10. I opened a beer and called her on the phone.
“Jane,” I said. “I want to come over. Are you doing anything?”
I could hear a stony silence on the other end of the line.
“So, this is how it’s going to be, then?” she said. “You come over when you want. Have sex when you want. Drink when you want. What am I to you.?”
“Jane, you’re everything to me.”
“Don’t give me that horseshit. I’m convenient for you. That’s all.”
“Where’s this coming from all the sudden?”
“It’s not sudden. It’s been going on for months. You call when you want something from me. That’s all. I don’t want it anymore. You can stay at home tonight. Drink yourself silly there.”
I didn’t see Jane again for a couple of months. My drinking was only getting worse. I quit my job at the pizza place and re-enrolled at the university. By some miracle, I received a scholarship that paid for school and left me some for living expenses. I moved in with my grandmother but was a poor caregiver. I drank when I wasn’t doing schoolwork. A typical day ut me at school in the morning. I studied after class at the student union and did my papers on computers at school. I took off around 6 and went to the gym, where I worked off the last of my hangovers. After that, I would hit a couple of bars on the way back home, stopping at the liquor store to stock up on beer and bottles of brandy I hid in my bedroom.
I ran into Jane at one of the art galleries at the university. We talked amicably and decided to go out for something to eat that evening. We rekindled our relationship and carried on until I started back into my old habits. I treated her as a convenient way to escape my grandmother’s house. I started passing out on her couch or waking up not knowing how I got to her house.
She didn’t cry when she told me to leave the second time. She was businesslike.
“It’s over,” she said. “You haven’t changed at all. I thought once you got back into school, you’d get your act together.”
“But Jane . . .” I knew she was right. My heart wasn’t broken. I knew by that time that something had to change. The problem wasn’t with Jane but with me.
Jane and I would hook up for a night or two here and there. I enjoyed my time with her, but we knew that a lasting relationship wasn’t possible unless I could get myself straight. After a couple of months, these meetings and trysts ended without ceremony.
That summer, I reached the bottom. The sickness, the lack of money, the loneliness reached out and grabbed me. It wasn’t just Jane I drank out of my life, but everyone. When I moved out of my grandmother’s house into my own apartment, I had a choice to get a phone or not. I decided against it, as I had no one to call.
One day, after I was in my apartment about a week, I decided I couldn’t stand myself anymore. I looked around at the empty gin, whiskey, and brandy bottles. I considered my shabby surroundings. I went to an AA hall and gave it up. It wasn’t spectacular, just another thing. One day I was drinking and the next day I wasn’t. I started a whole new life, one in which I had to learn how to be an upstanding human being, independent of alcohol.
My apartment was only a few blocks from Jane. After about two months, I happened to look out my front window to see her walking down my street, probably on her way to school. She looked as lovely as ever. My heart leapt. I was overjoyed. I threw open the window and called down to her.
“Jane,” I said. “Jane. It’s me, Patrick.”
She looked around and spotted me. She stopped for a moment and looked perturbed.
“Jane, how are you doing?”
“I’m fine.” She turned to walk on.
“Do you have a minute? I’ll be right down.”
“No, really, I’m late and have to get to school. Goodbye.”
I stood at the window and thought about how this time, things had really changed. I was on my way to recovery. Then, I thought of the tawdry way I’d treated her and how she must feel. She had new friends now. She was no longer the lonely 17 year old with nothing to do but take care of me.
That was the last time I saw Jane. I remember her now in the afternoon light, small, folder in her hand, her boyish body in bluejeans and sweater. I probably wasn’t suited to restart a relationship with Jane at the time I saw her from the window, as much as I was hopeful to reestablish contact. I haven’t had a drink in thirty years. I’ve done a lot of living. I had to become a mature human being, and considering the child I was when I last saw Jane, nothing good could have come from another round of Jane.