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Addictions and Answers
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Addictions and Answers


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I met her at a cocktail party not long after I moved to Key West. Someone was playing the piano; couples were flirting on the veranda; slowly turning overhead fans. I asked for a glass of soda.

"We have some Fly-Me-to-The-Moon Black Jamaica Rum, l68 proof. Giggle you up with some of that?” the bartender said.

"Just ice,” I said. “Thanks.”

The woman standing beside me turned. Tall, slim, cool, expensively understated clothes.

"Not a bad party,” I said to her.

She said most people were born a drink or two behind. “A little booze, they’re more fun to be around.”

Like mine, the glass in her hand held soda. I said, “Burned the candle at both ends yourself, have you?”

"Usually I broke it in half,” she said, “and set fire to all four. I used to think if one or two drinks could make me the life of the party, ten would win me Love Everlasting.”

"I said, “That takes fifteen.”

We walked outside, and down to the Pier House for a sandwich and some iced tea. Beginning of a friendship of some dozen years. Dinner or an AA meeting…picnics at the beach. Once we acted as joint surrogate parents, giving a young AA friend away in marriage. We almost went partners on a two-apartment house, but I got sandbagged in a tough divorce and couldn’t afford it. Our friendship was never a romance. It was more important than that.

She’d been in the fashion business when young, and even in her fifties (when we met) she was still very jazzy and good-looking, always smartly dressed. I was out of town a lot. I used to phone from California. I remember one call all too well.

"I ever tell you,” she said, ”breast cancer runs in my family?”

"You been to the doctor?”


Three months later, back in Florida, I called again.

"Bill,” she said, “I keep losing weight.”

"Let’s have breakfast,” I said, and drove to pick her up.

She looked thin and frail but still dressed in wonderful shades of cream, ecru and tan. She took my arm. “I’ve come to the time of life,” she said, “when my clothes look braver than me.” She suffered dizziness, and had begun to fall. She pulled up a sleeve. Purple splotches on both arms. “My legs and thighs too,” she said. “Black and blue. The bruises won’t heal.”

She smiled. “Don’t worry,’” she said. “I won’t lift my skirt.”

We drove to one of our favorite waterfront cafes; we’d had dozens of meals here together over the years. The pink, purple and gold sun floated up over green water. Palm trees rustled. “Polly,” I said, “we’re all alone here.” The unspoken half was we both knew she was soon going to die.

I asked her a question important for people like us. “You’re all alone in the world,” I said. “Widowed a long time, your children grown, immersed in their own lives and living far away. Even I’m almost never here. And now cancer. You ever think of taking a drink?”

She said to me, "Bill, I have only one thing left. That’s my dignity. I’m not going to die drunk.”

Five weeks later, I got an envelope in the mail. It was her bronze AA medallion. It said XXXIII - sober thirty-three years. Polly was dead.

I wear her medallion on my key chain. I think of Polly every time I start my car, every time I open my door. She left me something I will never forget. Sober thirty-three years. “You don’t take that first drink,” she used to say, “even if your ass falls off.” I’d like to acknowledge my debt to her here.

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Last Update: 11/17/2000

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