I can’t say I remember perfectly , that moment, or how exacting any memory from 34 or 35 years ago can be. I’m waiting outside for my Dad, on the front sidewalk of our house,
“Come on, come on Dad I’m ready,” I’m saying.
“Hold your horses, Dad’s got to get his shoes on. We’ve got to let your Mom watch. We’re coming,” He’s telling me.
This is when waves of 80’s nostalgia wash over me and my memories meld together with other childhood events. Things are happening all around, the yearly block party, firecrackers and cap guns popping off all over, as the country music cover band blasts Randy Travis in the background. The smell of grilled hamburger fills my nose as I get on, grabbing the handles white knuckled, I look back at my Dad.
“You ready,” he says.
I nod, “Yeah I’m ready Dad.”
He grabs the front of the bike and the seat as I look at my Mom. Her fists are clenched under her neck. Bright red hair, fear, and excitement frame her face, but before I can even look away, I’m moving. I’m still balanced by my father’s steady hands as we gain speed. “Get ready…here we go now,” he’s saying. Then everything, along with the sound of his voice fades away. I’m peddling, and peddling, I’m not thinking about how the hard pavement might feel on my knees any longer, I’m not wondering if I can stay upright, I am completely absorbed in a moment only the way a child can be. Unabashed exhilaration, my fear and childish doubt gone and replaced with the light chill of the July air and a sense of freedom. I am riding a bike for the first time, without help, I am steering.
There will be a lot of firsts in the years to come. My first fight. My first crush. I’ll receive my first poor grades and my first, first place ribbons. My first Kiss. My first joint. My first drink. I’ll leave home for the first time. I’ll live in other places for the first time. First new schools, new cities, new countries, new travels alone. My first real opinions will form. I will become myself for the first time.
At some point those firsts will begin to trail off until they are no longer notable. Life for me begins to take on a form of exhaustive mundaneness and I begin filling that need for something new, with something routine, something easy. At first I don’t even notice it. Drink had always been fun before. It had hailed in New’s Years in Germany. I had enjoyed it’s company in the hot springs out west, naked and young. It had fueled long deeply personal and informative conversations. Drinking, I made people laugh and think and play and I could handle it. Then one day I started needing alcohol to deal with different and ugly firsts. The death of my first friend. My first real breakup. My first fallout with a close friend. It consumed me until firsts no longer mattered. For years and years one thing was going to be a constant. I was going to have a drink and fuck all if you were going to take that from me.
For 10 years after I needed to stop drinking, drink would follow me. Until another stronger constant, my wife, would make me face that things had become volatile, they were no longer sustainable, I would need to stop. Fuck all I am still going to have that drink. Then two years ago, as if some invisible force had taken over, I felt something I hadn’t felt for the longest time, but something I understood. A force that seemed to hearken back to my childhood, something my body felt and then, I let go. It was exhilarating, it was magical, because as far as I knew, I did something that just moments before felt impossible, I quite drinking.
There have been a lot of firsts since then, since that last drink, and at times they are awkward and hard, but for the first time I’ve learned to deal with these new experiences without needing a drink. The first sober party. The first huge fight I had where I didn’t turn to alcohol. The first time, as an adult, I felt anger or pain or happiness, where I could really feel them. My first teenager now has a sober Dad and my first son will never have to deal with a father who couldn’t. So I lift my lemon spritzer high and give a cheers: to love and life and all the new sober firsts.