Drinking Alone
by Kalisha Buckhanon

Dear Abby,

I’ve beat two children in one night. Since they’re both bigger than me now, this was more like praying they wouldn’t catch on than really getting my point across.

My daughter’s screwing now. My son’s smoking weed.

A teacher caught my daughter in a bathroom at the school, making noise with a boy. Principal expelled my son because, rather than just keep it sealed at both ends and wait, he had already burned part of the blunt. He’s so blunted out he just had to get in a puff before first period. So toy cop metal detector guards sniffed it out. He’s outta there.

Not only will the man in my house not marry me, but I don’t wanna marry him.

What should I do? How should I feel? What am I supposed to look forward to?

I should be disappointed and sad. But hell, I’m more angry. What am I gonna do with my son now? I’m just gonna have to worry about what he’s doing all day and who he’s doing it with and what corners or blocks they’re doing it on. I’m gonna have to beg him into one of these charter schools with an African name. Whatever I do, I ain’t missing work. Trust. I’m gonna most definitely be at the new and improved Harlem Hospital in the morning, phlebotomizing. Mark my word. Come hell or high water. I am not gonna take off from my job and my money and my life, no matter what goes on this damned apartment. My only peace is sticking needles into other people all day.

I used to needlepoint. Or, my mother used to needlepoint. I watched. I tried. I practiced. I stared at pattern books. I watched. I tried. I practiced. I stared at pattern books. I got laughed at. I got corrected. I couldn’t hold a canvas steady enough with my left hand and loop the thread or yarn through with my right. My colors always bled. My gifts got mocked. My feelings got hurt. By the time my needle point of entry was at a stiff fingertip or blood vessel on the forearm or shoulder or even a hip venipuncture (when it came to the junkies we can never find a good vein on), in a financial-aid City College program (before I got the first and only job I would ever keep until now), I had finally caught on to it. Needlepoint ain’t nearly as difficult as I had thought it was.

For now, my arms and shoulders and sides hurt. And, I’m exhausted. These kids are properly shamed now. They’re hiding behind blasting music, right where they belong. I confiscated the phones. No Instagramming and Tweeting tonight. I might even turn ‘em off permanently. I should get much, much more reward for paying four phone bills. Only person milking some fun out of this mess is gonna be me. Mama gotta drink tonight.

But, in reality, I drink every day. They don’t know. Nobody does. It’s stress. If a Black woman carries a flask or hides wine bottles in the linen closet, she’s not alcoholic. She’s stressed. Seriously. I slurped down my last beer. Or, my man’s last beer. I deserved each and every one in the pack, busted open froze in the freezer. What’s any reason to have a man if you can’t steal all his liquor? I’m gonna leave that Hennessey alone though. I’ve beat two children in one night. That’s where the beating ends tonight. That motherfucker would break my neck over a slurp of Hennessey if he really needed it. But I got a little rum left too: Bacardi and Remy from my 37th birthday party. Shit, I had to hide that. These heathens was slurping on my shit. Is nothing sacred? Can I have anything in this Godforsaken world? Do I not deserve to drink alone, plus get me a little something something else tonight?

My so-called man is either at a bar or still running around Mott Haven. He digs through forests and cellars and basements and attics and case files and probabilities, looking for closure to give the people who walked in one day with a problem usually involving death. Detecting. He doesn’t look at pretty things all day. He sees bad things. He spends his days walking through what most people save for a haunted or funhouse at Halloween. By the time he walks through the scenes, the people he sees are no longer “people” or familiar. They’ve gone down to semblances of the most ugly things we can imagine. Or, at least I don’t think I can imagine. Though he tries his best to make me. Sounds like, every night, they just withered to calamity in appearance, dried out to stiff boards, melted like flat-out spreads of peanut butter, or cooled slick and smooth like baby dolphins out of water. And very little of this ugliness has to do with black men or hip-hop, contrary to what the news says. Most of it, like at my job, is general disobedience on the parts of many more folks than Black folks alone. Like these kids reminded me tonight, people are just in love with disobedience: the imagination of it, the creation of it, the consequences of it. They abuse it, to stand in for thrill. And then they come to my job sick, or to my man’s job dead. But, he got dinner every night on the stove or in plastic bags and Styrofoam at the kitchen table. Abby, am I not doing my part?

So I started off a girlfriend and became a long-term fiancé and still ain’t a wife. They call that “wifey.” And he started off a man, became a boy, felt good at step-daddy, got damned near bribed into fiancé. Still ain’t a husband. Was supposed to move us up to Mount Vernon. Claimed the wedding would be there. Big. Fancy. His mama ghetto and lazy and don’t care. Mine gone. Neither one of us had daddies. That’s what we had in common, initially at least. So, nobody care too much but me (my daughter busy screwing and my son busy smoking weed, remember?). And me alone to care? Not enough. Folks don’t know what to call us. Hell. I don’t. Girlfriend/boyfriend? Man/woman? Husband/wife? Living together? Going together? I say I’m his psychic dump and he’s my stress relief. It all boiled down to that.

He comes home to tell me all about it and talk to me in detail and pour it on me like I have tolerance, just because I work in blood. But all the blood at my job is still liquid and flowing and pumping. That’s a key distinction he doesn’t get. When I get off, I’m done. When he gets off, it’s just getting started. I’m a phlebotomist, not a therapist.

Rather than try to get it or understand me, he sidesteps home in favor of the Midnight Stroll. Sometimes the Wiggle Room. He think I don’t know. I thought I heard him or caught him or peeked in on him wanking it one night late in the bathroom. He thought I was sleep. I wish I had been, dreaming. It got confirmed next day when I emptied the bathroom garbage into the kitchen garbage to throw it down the chute together. Then, this crunched-up business card skittered across the floor. After working my own big ass off all day, I get assaulted to see some other big booty black bitch who call herself Karma and can’t even go Vistaprint, judging from her shabby business card. So much for the modern family and being a modern woman.

I guess shacking up for a decade with a cop is my karma for having kids with baby deadbeats. Those men are nowhere to be found now, to show these young heifers who’s the boss. What I know now what I wish I had known then. Even still. These kids ain’t gonna run over me. And, I wish somebody would try to call that hotline they got set up for folks to call the parents child abusers. Huh? Back when I got beat, and I deserved it each and every time, anybody who found out about it helped my mama finish me off.

What is this world coming to when teenagers need to get their pants pulled down still, but the parents can go to jail for it? Next thing you know they’ll be whipping on us.

Wow. Am I laughing? I think I am. I must be. It’s about damned time.

So since I’m left up drinking alone and talking to my mama’s portrait on the fireplace that don’t work, and hunting through my son’s usual hiding places to find the last of his weed, I can bask in the glow of self-pity a Negress like me is otherwise unallowed. We never have time for it. I wish somebody would try to drug-test me and call me unfit. I wish somebody would question me for putting a little rum to my coffee I pick up in the morning. I know my guys at the bodega, same one sell us the loosies, see and understand. It’s only a little. And really, it’s not every day. Anybody else better keep their judgments in check about how I live my life and what I need to do to get through it. I wish they would say something to me about it. They would have a fight on their hands.

And he ain’t talking my ear off when he gets in. Nope. Tonight, it’s my turn.

I found the weed. Thank God. I think I know enough to be able to strip these scarce blossoms down to the stems, like junkyard dogs and alley cats can yank all meat off a tossed bone. I’ll be damned if my son asks me what happened to it. I hope he smells it, to know I found his stash. And the worst part is he gonna know Mama smoking it out.

I’m hot and pulsating and prickly and blushed. I’m even wobbling a little. But that’s cool; he’ll have to help me up. He won’t be able to say what he usually do when I’m not in the mood to know about his oh-soooo hard days and longer than long nights:

“Baby, baby, I don’t mean to cut you off, but I had a hard day. I’m turning in.” “I’m tired.” “What…what did you say happened? “Huh?” “I can’t understand you.”

“I’m tired” really mean: “I see I’m not gonna get to talk you to death, so I might as well go to bed, rather than listen to you for a change.”

But I’ve beat two children in one night. If he thinks cutting me off is gonna work here and now, he might be next. It won’t work. He should be coming up off the 6 train now, rounding the corner to get exactly four loosies for us, waiting for my shrimp fried rice. And now I’m naked. Kids sleep under blanket of blasting music, so what the hell? I wait for him. I’m gonna like his reaction.

“Tianne, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “What you laughing for?” “You high, ain’t you? “Well, I’ll be damned.” “And drunk too? Where’s my beer?” “Damn, what you doing?” “I gotta get up early…it’s a case I…I…damn.” “Ooh baby.” “Close the door.”

It’s about time I got more brazen.

At the end of the day, though, we work. Me and my baby work. Hard. Every single damned day. We work. We do. And, much as we hate to admit it, we love these kids. Too much. That is possible.

I think I like this new dangerous streak in me. Why not? I’ve been quiet and complacent for way too long. Now look at me. I shocked my daughter and caught my son off guard. Some dead white man claimed it’s safer to be feared than loved. When the only person in the house who’s afraid is the woman of it, it’s time for some of her love to stop. It’s damned near midnight. No mercy. No shame. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow. I gotta remember to put my umbrella by the door when I get through.

And, I can look it up on the computer now once he’s snoring. The AA meetings in my area are aplenty. Jesus Christ—what I look like sitting up in one of them? Might run into my patients, judging from the days. But I’ve thought about it. I have. I think now.

“Hi. My name is Tianne. And I am an alcoholic.”

But for now and tomorrow, I’m gonna sip my coffee extra strong in all respects. Nobody on the floor’s gonna smell it on my breath. I chew gum. The patients won’t know. I’ll be just fine to grin through the day. I’ll walk around in blue paper booties, shuffling from room to room and face to face, waving past the nurses’ stations, walking past the doctors don’t know my name, making small talk with the cafeteria staff and janitors. Sometimes, the patients are hysterical and forthcoming. They tell me everything. They have nothing to lose—cancer, cirrhosis, loneliness, strange viruses, maybe some HIV I get told of ahead of time. Not worried. They’re usually extra sullen or extra polite. And besides them, happier than I am despite my job, I don’t get to say much most days.

“Make a little fist for me” and “No you won’t even feel it,” and my personal favorite: “All done.” Like babies without the cradles, they are. My breasts are dry.

And on my way to another day at Harlem Hospital, I’m gonna sidestep all the shit the loose dogs drop down in my path on Lex Ave and ignore the cats arch-backed in heat, peering through the gangways, just waiting for me to drop the Bacos I stock in all my purses just for them. Every single day I do. Goddamned soft heart. Good Samaritan. I haven’t learned: no good deed goes unpunished. But I was young and hungry and roaming and blissful and shitty once. I remember, much more than I want to actually.

How do I do much more than remember?

New York City

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