After the din died down and mostly everyone had left, Jan watched as his wife, Marybeth, stumbled around with a red wine glass full of something clear, trying her best to appear sober. She was explaining in her best college English, articulating her consonants clearly, why she had fallen down earlier that evening. She was also speculating why her crocheted shawl ripped at the hem. He had told her not to wear it. He had told her to wear more sensible shoes, to which she sneered and nearly cried because was Jan calling her old? “I still can wear pumps to a party,” she said, accentuating her P’s. Was she, even then, already tipsy? And now she was far gone.
He’d have to coax her to calm down.
He imagined carrying her home.
Jan watched Marybeth carefully prance around the Cheethams’ apartment, dodging the sharp edges of end tables and modernist couch legs, and realized that his wife had a problem. Not only was she a drunk, but she was an ordinary drunk. Her progression through the disease was as commonplace as a baby’s development into toddlerhood and beyond: First words, first steps, potty trained, and so on. And when kids decide who they are, that wouldn’t be much different from a million other teenagers or young adults on this planet.
“Marybeth,” he said, “it’s fine. You didn’t hurt anyone. You didn’t hurt yourself.” His wife looked at him with feigned shock, as bad as a front as her performed sobriety. She behaved like a classic alcoholic.
This banality of life oppressed Jan. He wanted some deviation. Maybe, he wondered, he was the exception. Maybe he was someone special. The thought of himself being anything other than a software engineer making decent money for a decent life made him laugh out loud: he was as nameless as his profession.
“You’re laughing at me,” Marybeth said, the indignity moving from play to actual injury.
“Honey, I’m not.” Jan stood up. “I’m laughing at myself.” He took his wife’s elbow and half steered her to the hallway leading out of the apartment. “Let’s get going, okay? We’ve both had a lot to drink.”
“You did not,” she said. “You have to drive us home.”
Jan nodded. “I do.” He grabbed Marybeth’s purse from the hall tree and handed it to her. He wanted to believe that he was breaking whatever rut they were in that made life feel predetermined. Maybe stopping this drunken explanation before Marybeth got sick and/or passed out at the Cheethams’ would end it, end her foray into alcoholism. But unto what? How would Marybeth emerge from that path?
“Let’s wish Phil and Tayesicha good night,” he said. He took Marybeth’s elbow and guided her again, this time to find the hosts.
Both Phil and Tayesicha gave Marybeth a concerned but judgmental look. They interrupted their conversation with three others in the kitchen. “Are you guys taking off?” Phil asked. “Are you okay?” Tayesicha asked Marybeth.
Marybeth burped quietly and excused herself. None of them was anything remarkable, Jan thought.