John never thought he would be walking this path again, but life wasn't fair and old habits die hard. He pushed the cold steel handle on the big glass door and walked into the crowded bar. He hadn’t been in this particular bar before. He only chose it out of timing and convenience. It was possible that this specific place stood out from others in some unique way, but none of that mattered to John. They all served the same purpose and represented the same thing to John. They would all be full of people, talking and drinking, silently mocking his sobriety and loneliness. He took a deep breath in, taking in the familiar smell of wasted alcohol and sweaty people. It had been two years since he took in a smell like this. Two years since he made the promise to Joanne to stay sober. From then on, they never met friends or family in pubs or bars. Not that it ever came up, but John was sure that was because Joanne was always thinking of him. She was the true protector in the relationship, protecting him from himself. The last two days without her were beyond difficult. Without his protector, his demons had re-awoken. Feeling them surface, along with all the feelings that came with him, was frightening. But what terrified him, what brought him to this place, was the uncertain future to come.
John took his first step from the doorway into the mass of people. Now dimly lit and loud, everything about his world right now was the opposite of what it used to be. Joanne was quiet, and everything about her was bright. They ate in small quaint restaurants and danced in fields and bright streets. Sometimes they would experiment with new recipes or hobbies. He still remembers painting pottery when they first got here. The tree he painted still sits on the mantle. All of it, so new and strange for John, but so amazing. It was like his entire life was black and white before he met her. He needed her to show him how full of color the world was.
John used to enjoy disappearing into the crowd, but with Joanne, he never needed to. Even a couple months ago, he never thought he would want to disappear into a place like this again; But then again, no one likes to think about life after losing a partner. John especially never thought about it. Why would he ever outlive her? Most of his early life was drug and liquor filled benders. He would surely be the one to go first. Joanne was full of life and passion. She was always trying new things, meeting new people. That’s why they were so good together. Not only did opposites attract, but they balanced each other. He settled down and became sober for her. She found someone to keep her grounded. That was also why, when she asked him to move across the country, he didn’t hesitate. She was his world. The ground beneath his feet didn’t matter.
Even after a year, John never fully adjusted to life here. He tried all the fresh places and adventures Joanne wanted to try, but he did all those things for her. His joy came from just being with her, even if that was at home, doing nothing. It was such a cruel twist of fate that she was gone. It was like everything bad he had put into his body over the years pickled him, like a body in a jar destined to suffer forever. Everything good that Joanne put into her body grew into cancer, so much that the doctors couldn’t even tell where it began. By the time they found out, they couldn’t even go back home. Not that Joanne would have left. This city was home to her. If they went back, it would have been for him. When they first found out, John felt selfish resentment over not leaving. Now he felt awful even thinking about it. Life without her was empty, no matter where it was.
John moved slowly toward the main bar, letting the people bump into him as he moved. Only exerting enough energy to not fall over. Not that it mattered, nothing mattered anymore. People would turn and apologize to him as he passed, but the meaning was always empty. He was just another faceless body in the mass. Just like this loud, busy bar, his life was full of people looking at him, but not seeing him. The only person who saw him was gone, and none of the empty words from others would change anything. So many words said to him over the last two days. They never really meant those words. Those are things people are just supposed to say. Sorry for your loss, they would say, but were they? They were sorry for their loss, that they lost a friend, not that he lost his soulmate. He was not the only one sad, but he was truly alone in his sadness. He knew of only one way to dull the overwhelming ache inside him.
John reached the edge of the long wooden bar at the center of the pub and slid onto one of the empty fake leather stools. He rubbed his shaking hands together and looked at all the other lonely souls sitting around the bar. John had never met these people, but he didn’t need to. They were the same at every place. One even nodded to him as he sat. Did they already see him as one of them? He hadn’t decided yet, had he? But that was just a technicality. Just walking in here was a decision. It was the antithesis of everything Joanne stood for, everything she wanted him to be. But she wasn’t here anymore, and he didn’t believe in any of that “looking down on him” BS. Sometimes he wished he did. Maybe he wouldn’t be here.
John rested his shaking hands on the bar, then, when he couldn’t make them stop, slid them to his sides as the bartender walked over.
“Whiskey, neat,” John said to the bartender.
The bartender nodded and turned around. Back at home, his poison was Jim Beam, but whatever they had would do. John put a ten on the counter and waited. He never imagined he would be back here, walking this path again. It felt like his sadness would never end, like it would completely overtake him. He pictured his old sponsor's voice in his head. You don’t know the future, John. There's something happy waiting for you if you can just get through this rough patch. More BS.
The bartender dropped the glass in front of him. Was this really it? Would this be the moment he ruined two years of sobriety? If there ever was a good reason, this was it, but Joanne never would have wanted this. She told him to keep living his life and find happiness. Things were rough now, but maybe he could get through. It would just take time. But he didn’t want to take the time, not when instant relief was so close, just beyond his fingers. He could pull the glass up to his mouth or push it back and walk out the door. John went back and forth in his mind, the internal battle tearing at him. It wasn’t fair! Life just was not fair. He had to force himself to not bang his hand down onto the bar. The war raging inside was almost enough to overtake him. Almost.
John wrapped his fingers around the warm glass, feeling its imperfections, letting the familiarity of the action wash over him. No matter what happened next, his life would be changed forever. In this moment, there were only two paths. Push the glass away and walk out the door, or lift it to his mouth, then order another. He thought for a moment and finished a tactical breath. Then he finally felt clarity. He had decided his future.