We Both Enjoyed Life In Huge Gulps
It was a Sunday afternoon and I was a junior at The Citadel. One of my classmates said, “I met this girl and she has a place downtown. Let’s get off campus and go see her.” In hopes she would have a hot roommate, I happily went along. When we arrived he introduced me to a little-walking-southern-accent from Albemarle, North Carolina. Her name was Allison Hudson. She was immediately kind and bubbly and excited about everything. It made me excited about everything. You couldn’t help it. She was contagious. I can remember looking forward to going out with Brad and Allison because she was always laughing. When her family was in town they would invite me along to dinner. Before I knew it, I was invited to beach weekends and family gatherings. I found the Hudson family to be wonderful people-- like something out of a book on southern hospitality. Their table was always full of life. It reminded me of my own family.
Eventually Brad and Allison shared a place South of Broad and I would go over to watch this new show called The Bachelor once a week. I don’t remember how this came to be because Brad didn’t watch any TV and I didn’t watch reality TV, but Allison and I were hooked. It was my secret obsession. I loved the show and we would drink wine and gossip our faces off. I realized Allison and I had a something in common: we both enjoyed life in huge gulps. We didn’t worry about much back then. If we sat down and ordered artichoke dip at Meritage we would be so excited about it we would order two. The same went for drinking. If there was a half empty drink we were looking for the waiter because we had a night ahead of us and we were going to take in as much of the town as we could before daylight. It wasn’t about drinking back then; it was about enjoying our time in a beautiful city and almost being afraid if we didn’t take advantage of it, it could slip away and leave us behind. That’s how I felt anyway.
Also, I’m not sure if it's common knowledge on It’s a Lush Life, but Allison Hudson is "Al" or "Big Al." Some things in the South you just can’t explain and I’ll leave this as one of those things.
Al and I stayed close. Life moved on but we were always somehow in touch even long after she and Brad parted ways. When I lived in Portland and she lived in San Francisco I flew down to visit Al and her boyfriend and we spent an amazing weekend in another beautiful city. Hanging out with Al was just as exciting and we felt like we didn't have to answer to anyone. We were kind of unstoppable...but when you're drinking that much maybe everyone feels unstoppable.
Eventually we both ended up living back on the east coast; me in Charleston and she in Charlotte. We would see each other whenever Al would come to town or I would scurry up to North Carolina. But I remember the day things sort of changed.
We were years passed our college days but we were pretty sure we still had it or were trying to hang on to it anyway. Al would call on a Friday and say, “Get up here right now. You have to see this new dive bar we found!” In an hour I'd be in the car headed north. I still looked forward to when Al would visit and we would go out in Charleston like we were 21 again. One particular weekend I was going to meet Al and some of her friends at a new bar on King Street. It was a Friday and I was a little late because of work. When I arrived Al had already been drinking and ordered another round of drinks for the table. It was early so the place was empty and before I could finish my first drink I noticed Al sitting next to me…asleep. She had passed out. It was the first time I didn't laugh. I looked up and the sun was still out. The rest of the table continued on as if not to notice. Maybe they didn't but I woke her up and she started drinking water. I was worried. I had never seen her in that state, and the sun being up and me still sober--it scared me. But as Al does, she drank some water, regrouped, and managed to stay out all night.
Now, I could write a book on the adventures of John and Big Al as anyone could with their partner in crime. We have fun together--lots and lots of fun. And it all involved alcohol--copious amounts of alcohol. Al and I have never been romantically involved at all. I say this because I have had girlfriends jealous of her until they meet her. I have had friends question our relationship until they see us together. And it may have crossed your mind reading this, but the truth is we just click. Never a dull moment. Never too serious. She is to me a reflection of myself. And I trust her. I'm not a trusting person but I do trust Al completely.
After I saw her pass out, it all started a change for me. It scared me. And the reason it scared me was because she and I were no different. I saw her as a reflection of me. There was a point when I admitted to myself she had a drinking problem. But what did that mean about me? I wasn’t ignorant or stupid or naïve. I wasn’t any better than Al. She was my mirror image. I was Al.
Then Will died. I say it that harshly because it was harsh and it happened that fast. Al called me to tell me Will had passed and the funeral would be that week. She doesn’t remember the conversation to this day. She told me what happened as if she was giving me directions. She was in shock. Everyone was in shock. How do you handle something like that?
Let me say something about Will. The thing about Will was that he was cool, like really cool. He had a way about him that drew you in and intrigued you. He was younger than me but always cooler than me. The last time I saw Will was at the Hudson's house for Thanksgiving. I say this because he was wearing a sweater that I remember thinking, “How does he get away with wearing that? I could never wear that.” And to this day whenever I think of Will, I think of him in that sweater that only he could pull off.
The funeral was a bad dream. Like it didn’t happen. After the service the whole town came back to the Hudson house and Al and I retreated back to the guest house. Al's mind was absent to class. She hadn’t dealt with it at all. We talked about Will but she never got upset or cried at all. We even managed to laugh about stuff as usual. I’m not sure if it helped or was worse but she got through it and that was my only goal.
Over the next few weeks I only saw Al once. It was a weekend at the beach house with her family and she drank herself to sleep before the sun went down both nights. Still, she seemed calm. She hadn’t dealt. She hadn't coped. It was as if she went to sleep when her dad called about Will and she hadn't woken up. But that's the thing about Al. She is stronger than everyone else; smarter than everyone else; more capable than everyone else. She could put on her southern charm and no one would ever be the wiser. She could put a laugh over a tense moment and it would come across as genuine. But she was in a pain that I didn't understand and couldn’t understand. I was worried about her because I couldn’t give her advice. I would be a hypocrite to judge her decisions so I was useless to her as a friend.
Then the mirror became magnificent. I was at a party in North Carolina when Al called. She told me she was in rehab and she wasn't really supposed to be on the phone. “Wait you're in rehab right now?” I said. “Yeah, I've been here for a while," she responded. We didn't talk long she just wanted to check in because I hadn't heard from her. I personally like to think she was proud of herself and bragging. She doesn't know this but when I got off the phone I went upstairs and cried a little and thanked God a little. I knew it was over. If anyone was going to beat addiction it was going to be Al by knockout in the 1st round. I felt the weight lifted. I was off the hook and could be a useful friend again. But if Al was going clean, what did that mean about me?
It meant that I had to take a long look in the mirror and I did. It had a profound affect on my decision making after that. Drinking wasn't a game anymore. Being hungover wasn’t something to flaunt at Sunday brunch anymore.
Fast forward to today. It’s a Lush Life. Everyday I see a quote or a picture on my Facebook from Al. It’s a reminder to me. Like looking in a mirror. She is my reflection. So, it affects me. I see myself differently. I want to be able to look in the mirror and like what I see. The truth is sobriety is just a better life. It’s happy and healthy and anyone that tells you differently is in some kind of pain. Watching Al go through it all was almost like someone saying, "watch and learn." I live in Colorado now. It's a far cry from my days on Folly Beach and downtown Charleston stringing my weeks together one party to the next. It's a far cry from showing up to work hungover and just waiting to get done so I can do it all over again. Sometimes I ask myself how I got here? And I think about all the pitfalls that God carried me over so that I can be here now. But it all points to a little-walking-Southern-accent from Albemarle, North Carolina. She was my inspiration long before she was yours. Life is Lush. Realizing the truth in that is sometimes harder than one might think. But it's a beautiful realization. And it was told to me by a beautiful person.