Money, Part 7- Shhh, She Thinks She’s Daisy

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Waverly and I would sit out on his porch in 150 year-old white rocking chairs and drink vodka martinis or gin and tonics or scotch on the rocks into the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes we would drink mint juleps but in truth they really more trouble than they were worth.  I’d rather wash down a tablespoon full of sugar with a slug of bourbon and chew on the mint leaf and skip the time-consuming muddling. When Waverly and I drank,  It was my job to fetch the drinks which I happily did because when I would go to the kitchen to refill our rocks glasses I would turn the bottle up and take a few big glugs for good measure. I’d pour heavy in Waverly’s drinks too and encourage him to drink more when he said he’d had enough. If I could get him drunk enough then perhaps I wouldn’t have to have sex with him that night.

Lest I sound like my association with Waverly was entirely unpleasant, I can say that I did love him in a way. I often thought how I might have enjoyed our friendship if the expectation of sex had not been there. I would have offered him my friendship freely. As it was though, we were stuck in a paradigm of power disparity based on finance; I had no money and he had a lot.  He also had other commodities I coveted. He new a lot about literature. And he’d had some pretty stylish friends along the way. He gave me an autographed copy of his friend’s book, To Kill a Mockingbird which says, “To Jeff: Good luck in Hollywood. -Nell Harper Lee.” Waverly had told her I had dreams of writing for stage and screen.

His best friend in life before me (yes, he considered me his best friend) was Scottie Fitzgerald, the daughter of F. Scott and Zelda. I loved it when Waverly would regale me with stories about Scottie and the Fitzgeralds. It my Mitty-esque fantasy world I imagined that I would have been at home among the Modernist writers and artists– or perhaps I confused myself with some of their characters. Waverly had given Scottie a watercolor map of France. He told me that in her will she had said, “Make sure Waverly gets his map back.” Waverly promised to leave it to me in his will. Whenever Waverly and I had gin drinks, he’d always say the same thing: “Scottie always said, ‘I hate gin! Mah fahthah awways smelled of gin!'” Discussions of the Fitzgeralds invariably included discussions of drinking and I admitted to Waverly that I believed that I had developed a drinking problem.  He told me that if I ever thought it had gotten that bad that he would pay to send me to “one of those drying out places.”

“Did Scottie drink?” I asked him one night.

“Well, she did but just barely. She’d have something like a cocktail which was soda water with just a little bitters in it.”

“Do you think she was an alcoholic?” I asked.

“I think she might have been afraid she would become one.”

“I think I know how she felt.” I mumbled.

“What was that Cousin Jeff?”

“Oh nothing. Here, give me your glass and I’ll get us some more drinks.”

The map wasn’t the only thing I’d get in the will and Waverly started to mention this the longer I stayed. “Cousin Chuck has asked for the bookshelf but you’ll get the chest-on-chest. I’ll give Josephine the marble top table in the entrance hall but you can have our bed.” (heavy emphasis on the word “our’) There was mention of his diamond ring and a couple of 19th Century oil paintings. For a young man who had spent his entire adult life in debt and had never had more than a couple hundred dollars in the bank, he might as well have been promising me the Crown Jewels.  What I really wanted to do was leave. But how could I walk away from the promise of wealth?  I was disgusted by what I had become and I resented being treated like property. He didn’t do it all the time mind you, but when it happened, it happened in such a way that made me feel like, well, like what I was: a prostitute.

In the mornings we would drink sweet instant coffee and smoke cigarettes before I would try to make my way to school. I had begged my way back into The University of Alabama. (Did I tell you that already?) I began to notice how I shook as much as he did. At twenty-three years old I had become an old man. The person who stared back at me from the mirror was someone I didn’t even recognize or perhaps didn’t care to any more.

The morning drink of alcohol, as it would be again, became something that I simply had to have to get by. The only problem with me is, once I have a drink in me, you can be assured more will follow. I came to a way of life where I was more or less drunk all the time.

At night, when a skinny pajama-clad arm would come crawling to my side of the bed I began to fear that I would do something violent one night. Something permanent.

Finally, I decided I couldn’t take any more. I skipped class one day when I knew Waverly would be off playing Bridge. I came into the house and started to throw my clothes and few possessions into a garbage bag. This was getting to be a pattern for me. As I said, I had developed feelings for Waverly, even given the fucked-up nature of our relationship. As I was whirling around like a dervish, packing, I started to feel very sorry for him and worried what he would go through when he realized I was gone. I went to what had become the solution in my life, the overarching solution for everything and also the solution in each uncomfortable moment: liquor. As I rushed around the house grabbing my things, in between each stop I would run to the kitchen, grab the bottle of vodka, and turn the bottom of the bottle toward the ceiling. By this point, I drank liquor like marathoners drink water.

When I made a last pass through the house, I came to a standstill at the foot of the antique bed. I thought about how much I hated it and how glad I was to be leaving it forever. But in a sick and sad sort of way I was afraid to leave it too. The enormity of the gesture of my leaving together with the confusion around this thought (not to mention the effects of the vodka) brought a tsunami of nauseated sobs and for a moment I considered putting my clothes back into the drawers. “No! No!” I said to myself out loud and I rushed back to kitchen to bury those sobs with the last of the free liquor.

I almost knocked the portrait of Robert E. Lee off the wall as I ran out the door for the last time. I was clutching a plastic garbage bag of what was left of my “frat daddy” clothes and the remnants of my self-esteem.

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