We've all got our tragedies but Tommy
's was complete. He used to have a lovely wife and beautiful twin daughters. All three were safely strapped into the Saab
when an illegal right turn and an eighteen-wheeler conspired to end their existence about a thousand yards from his driveway.
They diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder and saw to it that the government would subsidize the little rat hole he ended up in downtown. He gets a check every month for seven hundred and eleven dollars, which just about covers the basics.
His plan on the night that I met him in the blizzard was spontaneous and beautiful in its simplicity. He was listening to the news on the radio in his apartment when the weather advisory about dangerous wind chills was broadcast. Tommy would simply take a long walk after midnight when the streets were clear of meddlesome good Samaritans.
As I waited at a stoplight that night I saw a man wandering around in circles in the middle of the intersection and guessed that he was dazed by hypothermia. It was fifty below with the wind chill and ten or fifteen minutes out in the open could have put him to sleep forever. I pulled up next to him, threw open the passenger door of my car and beckoned him inside. When he thawed out he told me he had an apartment nearby so I drove him to his door. He asked me what I did for a living and I told him I tended bar in the hotel across the street from his place.
The following Tuesday he showed up at the bar and explained that he wasn't much of a drinker but he'd try a glass of red wine. He said it was a mystery to him how people developed a taste for the awful stuff. I told my new regular that people don't really use the liquor because they like the taste.
"It puts some space between you and the world."
Tommy listened intently as though he had never considered the chemical effects of alcohol. "Does it really work?" He asked innocently.
"You bet it does, a little too well I'm afraid. Too much, too often will put such a distance between you and the world that you'll never make it back. I can wreck your life with one bottle of rum."
"No you can't." There wasn't a hint of irony in his sad expression.
The wine provides only temporary relief from his tragic reality but it's enough to help him regain his perspective. To quell my fears that I had created an alcoholic he promised he would only drink on Tuesdays and then, only in moderation.
A decade of Tuesdays has passed since then and Tommy is fine. I wouldn't say that wine saved his life but it seems to have given him a tolerable point of view. The wine works its magic, the world falls away and he casually starts a conversation with something like:
"Do you believe in a life after death?"