callused hand grips mine briefly but with the confidence of experience.
He didn't trust me. At least not in the beginning. I could have spoken his first words before they left his lips....I generally don't like doctors. But pain is a strongly coercive force. He spent the first few visits feeling things out. But over time he learned to confide in me. And as the protective layer of fear and angst were discarded...the humanity came through.
He was having surgery. The orthopaedist had convinced him he needed a new hip. My litany of questions were usual. I left short pauses for him to answer. No chest pain. No shortness of breath. Good exercise tolerance. No tobacco. And alcohol.....I quit years ago!
His answer was unexpected. I pictured him the kind of guy who lived hard...and drank hard. A generalization.....but generalizations got your far in the doctor business. I knew I shouldn't have asked but I couldn't help myself...so why did you quite?
He took a moment to collect his thoughts.
It was the forties. I and a bunch of buddies worked for a company that put up television antennas across southern Illinois. It was the early days. A new technology. I left my wife for months at a time.
We worked all day in the sun during the summer and in the cold in the winter. They were long days. After work there wasn't much to do. We usually left early and went directly to the bar. Often not taking time to eat dinner. And we would drink. Well into the morning. Then get up a few hours later and go back to work.
It was the same thing six days a week. The same fellas. The same bar. The same drinks. I was wasting my life away but I can't say I minded. We didn't know any better. It was just what we did.
So one day I walk into the tavern in a bad mood. It was something insignificant; I can't remember why now. The owner, Charlie, was standing behind the bar in a full hunting suite. He had a brand new expensive rifle. And he was holding up a picture of a ranch. He bought it for his wife and kids.
And there I was eking out this existence. Sharing bunk bends in a dirty motel. My wife and I barley able to afford our apartment. And I was pissing away my money getting drunk. That son of a bitch... I was paying for his four star ranch and his shiny rifle.
So that was it.
That was it?.... I repeated
That was it....never took another god damn drink again!