Alcohol Cravings (Gestation: 21 Weeks, 4 Days)
We enter a Mexican restaurant for our first dinner out together since the twelfth of never. It smells of tomatillos and pinto beans con queso, deep-fried corn tortilla chips and freshly blended Jose Cuervo 1600 margaritas with salted rims. The moderately alcoholic sector of my brain is stimulated, triggering salivation and serotonin. Simultaneously my carb/fat lobe ignites, causing my hands to shake with the sense-memory of shoveling tortilla chips into my mouth faster than Florence Griffith-Joyner ran the 200-meter for the world record.
Henry and I sit. We gaze into each other’s eyes, grasp each other’s hands. We breathe. No toddler interrupts us by running naked from her bath with poop flying out of her bottom in little dollops down the hallway, one of which I step in. No, it’s just me and my man and imminent Mexican food gluttony followed by a trip to the Roman vomitorium, followed by more gluttony. We are momentarily in suspended animation and loving it.
The chips arrive in all their crispy glory. We eat them like wild hyenas tearing at the flesh of an antelope. A second bowl arrives. I note a slight dissatisfaction in my eating pleasure. There’s a void, something’s missing. Then I realize what it is. Mexican tortilla chips simply can’t be eaten without a cold beer and a slice of lime.
In Germany and half the civilized world the husband’s would say to their pregnant wives, “Go ahead, haven zee bieren.” (Don’t German women have the densest breast milk due to the abundance bier gartens?) But Henry’s a teetotaler. Alcohol gives him migraines. He’ll judge me if I order a beer.But wait, on the menu doth I see a non-alcoholic beer? Indeed I doth. I sing the Hallelujah chorus in tribute to quaffing hops and barley with my chips and salsa and doing my baby no harm. Yet, when the waiter arrives and I order this innocuous beer, I can feel a wave of disapproval waft over from my husband’s side of the table like the mist in a Stephen King novel.
Deciding the best approach to getting my way is pretending not to notice his disapproval. I avoid eye contact, maintain a cheerful demeanor and use evasive conversation techniques – i.e. “Have you been working out? Your biceps are gi-normous!” – to steer Henry away from the subject of my drink order.
I think I’ve succeeded in distracting him until the Clausthaler arrives. Before I can pour it bubbling and cold into the tall, frosted lager glass, Henry snatches the bottle from me and inspects the ingredients like Frau Blucher.
“This…” he says definitively, “…has alcohol in it.” “It can’t have alcohol in it,” I whine, “because it’s non-alcoholic. This is what alcoholics drink because it doesn’t have alcohol in it!”
He turns the bottle toward me and points to the very fine print at the bottom of the list of ingredients. “It has a trace of alcohol. Point zero two percent!” “A trace? A trace?” I rant, “What’s a trace? That’s nothing, it’s like the amount of alcohol left in the air when you spray yourself with perfume!”
He says no more. Just appraises me like a televangelical minister would a non-believing Mustang Ranch hooker. Tears spring to my eyes.
Again I’m reminded we’re no longer alone, just the two of us, in love, in concert on all matters. There’s a second child growing steadily between us. The little girl in my womb who, along with her father, is keeping me from the hops and barley that go so well with salt on chips.
I thought it was a cliche that having children put pressure on a marriage. I remember thinking, before Henry, when I dated unemployed, macho, gambling philanderers, that having a child with one of them would bring our love to fruition, not realizing it would only land me on Jerry Springer wielding a crowbar. But even with a committed, loving man like Henry, having kids has changed our relationship irrevocably. Whatever we are to each other now is based on who we are to our kids. He’s the Good Cop, I’m the Bad Cop. He’s Santa, I’m Scrooge (do you see a pattern here?). At the moment I’m the rebellious teen caught smoking a fatty in the rhododendrons and he’s the former corporal, tough-love dad who’s gonna ground me for life.
We both stare at the Clausthaler, the bottle sweating drops of cold deliciousness. What would he do if I grabbed it and chugged it down. I could do it fast. I funneled a beer in college without barfing (at least not right away). Would he knock it from my hands? Would he tackle me to the floor? No way, I’m pregnant here, he’s got nothin’. If he goes for me in public the whole restaurant’ll be on him in an instant.
I reach for the bottle. “Don’t even think about it,” his eyes say. I grip the neck of the bottle, challenging him with a cool stare. “Not one more move,” his body language reads. I lift the bottle off the table, bringing it close to my lips. Our eyes lock like Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. He’s ready to draw when…
I surprise us both by handing the bottle to a passing waiter. “I’m sorry,” I say, “But I can’t drink this.” “No problemo,” says the waiter approvingly, “I’ll take it off the check.”
I turn back to Henry and see both victory and affection in his eyes. I allow him a moment to relish his triumph, but later take my pound of flesh by refusing to eat another chip.