Well, we didn’t stop drinking wine altogether, I’ll tell you that right now, but we did enter into a rather lengthy conversation about its escalating influence over our lives.
Our consumption had begun rather innocently, maybe even glamorously on a milestone anniversary — a splurge to Europe, I can’t even remember exactly when, to tell you the truth. But somewhere along the way, we said yes to a bartender, who poured us a glass with lunch, then another late afternoon sip at our hotel bar, before killing off an entire bottle of something French, red and robust with dinner.
It was a few years later — shortly after the darkest hour of our life that my husband decided he needed a project. In the back of our house sat a dormant room designed by previous owners to be a sauna of all things. With me being claustrophobic and him not one to indulge in salon-type luxuries, the room was completely useless. Until the day he woke up with a light bulb idea to convert it into a wine cellar. If memory serves me right, we had just seen the movie, “Sideways,” starring Paul Giamatti.
After months of measuring, ordering cooling systems, installation and stocking of shelves, we had ourselves a beautiful repository for wine — reds, whites, bubbly, foreign and domestic — you name it, we had it. He went on a rampage binge mastering names, regions, labels – and became an overnight encyclopedia on all things born of grapes.
The fact that both of us had also read the same study whose conclusion touted (red) wine as a boost for heart health pretty much clenched the deal, ultimately granting us blanket permission to indulge on a regular nightly basis. And so, we began pouring ourselves guilt-free drinks and have been rationalizing and intellectualizing about it ever since. Well, that is, until last week.
It wasn’t exactly a New Year’s resolution, but its proximity to Jan. 1 gave it prominence in our late-night dialogue. He confessed to gaining a double-digit amount of pounds. I told him my waistline was also thickening, and worst of all, he was suffering huge bouts of insomnia. Last year had been a banner year for both of us — his practice was booming, my book sales soaring, both bringing celebratory evenings that, of course, called for wine toasts. We lifted our glasses with friends regularly.
“Why does a man drink?” Tennessee Williams once asked. “He’s scared . . . of something or he can’t face the truth about something.” I had stumbled across these words a few months back and clipped the quote knowing the time was coming for us to have a sobering talk.
In the back of our minds, we entertained the notion that each bottle was stored on standby to anesthetize pain, mask our sadnesses, ease the endless sorrow of loss.
Ten years is a long time to suffer, a long time to feel the absence of a missing child.
Was it possible our evening wine toasts were silently celebrating our despair, neutralizing the pain, returning us to the numb and dumbfounded state we thought we had overcome after all this time?
Or was it simply an adult pleasure, socially acceptable and in vogue, something to enhance a lovely meal, complement conversation, help us unwind after a long day? Probably a little of both, we agreed.
That night, while two courageous climbers attempted their historic ascent of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall, we sat in our den, contemplating what might feel to us like a climb up Mt. Everest. Could we do it, we wondered? Abstain from alcohol for a week, a month, maybe even a year?
I thought about the manic energy that would undoubtedly return, propelling me to clean closets and write late into the wee hours.
Interrupting our talk, I overheard one of the climbers saying, “What makes the Dawn Wall so special is that it’s almost not possible.”
We laughed out loud, a nervous laugh, the kind with reluctance to overcommit for fear of failure. Wine was now a mainstay in our lifestyle. We had drawers and cupboards full of fine stemware and gadgets – stoppers that keep the air out, cooling containers, fancy bottle openers. Our bon vivant lifestyle crammed my kitchen cupboards.
We made a quiet pact. I’m not authorized to share all the particulars. Dan insists it’s nobody’s business whether we’re “cold turkey-ing” it toward hardcore abstinence or simply cutting back. We’ll probably mix it up a bit — deciding on something in the middle — a glass with dinner or maybe weekends only.
Difficult conversations. Coming clean. It’s what I love most about January, the month we get to give ourselves a onceover in the mirror of life, then wipe the slate clean and start all over again.