I need a re-fill. Now.
I should have bought three drinks last time. Stupid. Now I’m being squashed as I try and make my way to the front. The venue is heaving. It’s shoulder to shoulder. Burly men holding pints push past me. Unimpressed girls give me sideways glances as I make my way through the crowd.
I get picked up by a sudden surge of bodies, they move me forward like the crest of a wave. I’m spat out at the bar where I get crushed again from behind as people lean over me to stake their claim. My chest presses against the bar. It would hurt if I wasn’t drunk. I push back, as if to say ‘Give me some space!’ but the horde responds by pushing harder.
I manage to dig my wallet out of my top pocket. I unfold it without my elbows touching the soggy beer mats that are floating on a river of dregs an inch below. I slide out a note, then stand waving it at the barman like a child with a flag on Coronation day.
It’s so busy. Everyone is vying for attention. The barman takes each order except mine. It makes me feel insignificant. I’m not tall enough or pretty enough. Just when I think I’ve caught his eye his head turns in the opposite direction.
‘Who’s next? He says.
A sweaty guy looming over me looks down. I give him a look that penetrates his soul,
‘If you dare order your drink I’m going to rip out your throat with my bare hands!’
‘Er, she’s next’ he says in a quiet sweet voice.
Too bloody right I’m next.
But, just before the words come, a handsome man with white blonde hair heads me off at the pass.
He squeezes in and says,
‘Oh sorry, I forgot to get my orange juice’
Not only had this gorgeous Viking pushed in front of me, he’s also ordered a juice.
A Juice! On a Friday night. What a total tosser.
I look at him. Scan the top half of his body. My face screws up like a bad smell had filled my nostrils. I am utterly disgusted.
The barman tips some ice into a tall glass from a metal scoop then presses a button on his hand-held drink dispenser. It squirts out until the ice cubes float above the rim.
The viking smiles and takes his alcohol-free juice from the barman.
And off he goes.... back into the pub, to his boring night with his boring friends.
I’m annoyed. The barman grins at me. I order a glass of wine and two shots of Sambuca.
I stand there in the wake of the soda-pop warrior and neck the shots before the thick base of the shot glass has even touched the surface of the bar. 'I'll show him how it's done' I think. As the strong liquor hits the back of my throat a bit of sick pops up to say hello and I swallow it back just like a proper hardened drinker should.
Then, before I pay, I order two more.
I hold my wine in one hand and balance the shots on top of one another in the other. I push forward to make a pathway and with a bit of shoulder jostling, I plop out near the table where my friends are sitting.
They’ve all deteriorated since I left. They’re leaning into each other and talking loudly. Straps have slid from shoulders and perfect red lip stick is smeared. Chests are blotchy and there are a few men leeching around the harem.
I put my drinks down on the table and neck another shot before I sit. I feel really drunk. My vision is wonky, blurred, but I don't consider going home. I squint to focus and notice the man with the white blonde hair standing near the cigarette machine. He’s slanting over to the side. He looks uncomfortable as he tries to lower himself to the height of a girl that’s shouting in his ear. He can’t hear her. He's shaking is head as if to say 'Sorry, it's too loud.'
I can see optimism in her. She likes him. He is sweet, gesturing with a thumbs up to say ' Yeah I'm having a good night.' There is an air of kindness about him and something else that I cant quite decipher.
I watch on as the girls gives up on conversation and instead begins a flirtatious dance. She's drunk, really drunk. She keeps losing her footing and almost falling over. I watch her encircle him like a killer whale stalks its prey. Then she goes in for the attack, she lurches forward and tries to attach her face to his.
He's quick. Does a discreet sidestep and the girl lunges past him. It’s a swift move that nearly ends in a medical emergency, but the girl finds her feet before her head slams into the fire hydron behind them. He apologises and she disappears.
The exchange is over. He saunters to the opposite corner with blushed cheeks and a look of relief.
This little scenario gets me wondering...
If he’d been drinking, would they have kissed right then? Would he have gone home with her? or shagged down the alleyway next to the ‘Utopia’ nightclub?
Probably. Everyone in this place was planning a grapple in the laneway or at least a sloppy snog. Even me. I'm getting wasted. Hoping to find someone to mate with. A bang. I plan on waking up the next day with no idea of what I've done and then I'm going to lie in bed all morning wondering why he left without saying goodbye.
It's what we humans do when we are 23 and on a girls night out. It's what we all do... every Saturday, week in, week out.
This man has chosen not to do what everyone else is doing.
Over the top of my bulbous wine glass I sit eyeing this stranger from afar. He's stood, tapping his toe to the music. Smiling at people when they squeeze past him to get to the dance floor. He looks happy, content. There is no shouting, no bravado. He is a tranquil island in this sea of drunken madness.
I admire him.
How does he do it?
How does he go out for a night on the town and not drink?
Nah - 'Who's round is it?'
The whole idea of being sober and being in a pub seems totally insane.
What sort of weirdo doesn’t drink?
Before I have time to think too much about it my arm is yanked. My tipsy friend say’s something about going to another bar and I’m pulled from my seat. I lose sight of orange juice guy. I never see him again.
It’s pouring outside the pub. We gather under an umbrella and together we stumble along the high street towards another drinking hole.
Another scene, another queue. I’m dancing, I’m doing shots. I’m puking. I’m in a taxi with someone I don’t know. The rain dribbles down the window as I slip into a black out. But one thing stays. It’s the image of him, standing in the corner, spinning ice around in his empty glass. His content expression penetrates my self-imposed darkness.
I think of him again the next time I go out. When I see someone order a coke or a mocktail at the bar. Then the next time, when a friend goes home early. His smiling face is present in my life. It's confronting but I don't know why.
When I don't understand something I choose to dislike it. It's a sort of defence mechanism that allows me to bury self-doubt. I fall back on hate when I lack a willingness to improve. Pointing my finger at someone else was easier than snapping it off and prodding the bloody stump at myself.
YOU dont drink? whats wrong with YOU?
I decided to hate non-drinkers.
It was easier to hate then to try and understand.
I became an arsehole that berated people that don't drink. A sort of drinking bully that shunned teetotallers. If anyone dare tell me they were having a night off, or doing dry July; I'd ridicule them and then make them feel like a loser.
‘Fucking lightweight’ I’d say under my breath as they wondered off to catch the last bus home.
I never dipped below my shallow surface to find out why people didn't drink or if that was a possibility for me. It was too out of reach, too far away. I gathered sober people up into one group and made my final assumptions. I didn't like them. I would never want to be one. Job done. Now , who's coming to the lock in?'
It’s taken me until now, literally today, to work out why I hated sober people?
I secretly wanted to be one.
I wanted to be one so badly. But I was too entrenched in alcohol to be able to admit it.
Awful isn’t it?
I actually hated people because I was too drunk to change. I was ignorant and my brain was frazzled. Thats my excuse. I was young, dumb and full of rum.
I don’t have many regrets in my life. Each mistake I've made I've learnt from. But being mean and derogatory to people that choose not to drink is a huge regret.
When I look back on my behaviour I cringe,
‘Drink through it.’ I’d demand if a friend was ill. ‘Hair of the dog’ if they were hung over.
‘Eatings cheating’ and ‘Down it! Down it!
I wish I could take back all the times I said these thoughtless phrases. I'm embarrassed that I thought my way was better. I thought being a stumbling, dribbling lunatic was better than being orange juice man.
I was sunk so far down in own pit of disillusion that I couldn’t see what was obvious.
It was me with the problem.
It was wrong and I'm sorry.
I should have stopped and spoken to orange juice man back then in that dodgy bar. But I was too fucked up for insight. It took years of spiralling out of control to be able to eventually slow down and see what it was in him that I admired.
After getting help I discovered that the things that seemed out of reach are actually the things worth fighting for. Now, I'm the one in the nightclub with the ice swilling around my empty glass. I’m ordering my fizzy water when everyone around me is swaying and shouting. Being the one that's chosen to sidestep the kiss is amazing. I feel proud to be the odd one out. The non-drinking weirdo. The party pooping dullard.
Yep it’s me and I love it.
After 26 years full of hatred for something I didn't understand. I know what was shining from within that content blonde haired stranger. I've worked him out..
It was sobriety.
Pic - Yes! I did just download an app to change my face into a glass of orange juice. It took ages. But I think it's worth the effort.... like everything!