Christmas Is Not the 4th of Nothin'
FRENZIED-LOOKING KNOTS OF TINSEL hung over the bar mirror. Some guy was working on the fiftieth verse of "The Family Overhead." The background music of Silent Night on the juke box was not interfering with his Irish tenor one bit.
This was Christmas in my bar. I was postponing the sweet agony of self-pity until I could give it the full treatment. . .this would require more drinks than I had had.
Suddenly in back of me the quasi-elegant tones of one of the patrons known as the Countess, reached me. She was wishing "A Merry Christmas, My Deah." I was turning to give back the empty phrase when her arm reached up, over my head, and slowly, almost in true slow motion, she poured the exciting mixture of rum, coca-cola and lemon twist over my head. It ran in sticky rivulets down the sides and back of my head into my collar where it settled in a slow chill.
My impulse to slug the dear old girl from the bar floor up was held in check by her age and the position I was now in to play the sport. It would get me several free drinks.
The rest of the day is a blank to me but my reaction at the time was, "And on Christmas Day, too." If it had been the Fourth of Nothin' this act would not have had so much indignity in it, I thought. But on the Twenty-Fifth of December it sank in with heavy self-pity. I was there because I had to drink, because I had to drink with people who drank like me, because I had alienated the Christmas situation at home years ago, because I was an alcoholic.
I did not reach AA until two years later but certain incidents stick hard in the mind and this was one of them. I felt a small stir of panic that day--as a result of the Countess' drunken act--but in my state of mind I could only drink more, forget it, and know that these "things" were happening with more and more regularity,
Nine months of sobriety had brought me to the doorway of my sponsor's house for a Christmas dinner. It was uncommonly warm, like spring, and I had a couple of small presents to deliver. One for her and one for her daughter. The dinner was great. I didn't go into a blue funk with a black veil every time a Christmas carol played.
I worked near Rockefeller Plaza and every night as I left the office, the huge Christmas tree, lit and colorfully massed with lights, excited me. I had a little money to spend as a result of actually completing, short of two dollars, a Christmas Club savings plan. I purchased the first really thoughtful gift for my mother in years. I loved people (sort of) and there was fun in the air.
Nothing spectacular happened. . .no incidents. . .but why should spectacular incidents happen? It was Christmas and I felt its happiness with a small faith that growing in me. I felt it was time to do it "their way." To exchange some gifts and have some laughs and eat some turkey, listen to the carols--but oh God! above all to be sober. This was a child having its first Christmas in many years, a rebirth of a dead spirit in this child. . .and this year I have even more. I have plans. Something I could never have before.
It's the Christmas of a woman now and I hope it's as beautifully unspectacular as last year, Santa Claus? Love? Trust? There certainly is.