It should have been just another night out in Manhattan.
And it was, until wine made me forget my friend told me she might have cancer.
I love everything about New York. The electricity of a city that is perpetually moving energizes me from the moment I step out of the taxi until the moment I board my flight home.
I have many friends there. I am always excited to take advantage of the restaurant scene.
Delicious food and, most importantly, perfectly paired wine lists were always just a few steps away.
I was in New York City for a work trip. I planned to meet a good friend for dinner and wine. She lives there, so she chose a place she knew I would love. A small, posh steakhouse with a long list of spicy Spanish reds. My favorite.
When in the city, I walk for hours, with no destination in mind. Everything in Manhattan is a destination if you are open to it. I roamed around for most of the day. I absorbed the energy. It neared dinner time, but I still had some time to kill before meeting Janie.
I popped into a quaint little French bistro and ordered a glass of rosé. Sipping a crisp French wine in a little family-owned café felt so special.
These moments of indulgence are what I lived for. I did not want the experience to end, so I ordered another. I luxuriated in sitting in this lovely place. Sipping wine and watching my favorite city go by.
I left the little bistro with a rosé glow.
I walked a few blocks to meet Janie. I heard her laugh as I rounded the corner. No one on Earth has a laugh like her. We hugged. Janie said goodbye to the stranger she was laughing with. We went in and were welcomed by an energetic bustle and a cozy warmth.
The little restaurant was packed. People waited outside in the cold for a spot to open up.
Our timing was perfect. We were able to jump on two seats at the bar. The bartender greeted us with a wink and a thick accent. He handed us the wine list and we ordered our first bottle.
We don’t see one another often. There was always a lot to catch up on. Neither of us ever lacked stories to tell. The conversation moved quickly. As did the wine. The bartender kept our wine glasses full. By the time dinner came, we were ready for our second bottle.
As we were sharing dessert and at the end of our second bottle of wine, Janie shared a health worry that she had. She was going for tests at the end of the week. She was scared.
The winking bartender came by and made a sad face at our empty bottle of wine. He offered another; we considered it. Instead, each of us ordered a glass.
I voted for another bottle.
A woman with a red fur collar on her coat came in and sat down next to us. The bartender must have known her well. He served her drink with only a wink. She never said a word. As she sipped her drink, Janie and I talked through her health scare. She told me about the tests she had to have, how long she would have to wait to get the results. I could hear the fear in her voice and see the worry in her eyes.
At some point, she shifted the conversation to something else and soon her laugh rang through the restaurant again. We collected our things, winked at the bartender, and hugged goodbye. We were heading separate ways. I had about eight or nine blocks to walk back to the hotel. As I made my way down the still-lively streets, I made note to myself to check in with her later in the week.
I made my way through the brisk New York night feeling energized from the buzz of the city and the wine. And warmed with the buzz of connection and friendship. I got to my hotel and glanced into the hotel bar on the way to the elevator. A few guys I work with were leaning on a table in the corner. I was never one to walk past the hotel bar, especially when there were friends inviting me in.
After (another) big glass of wine, I went to my room. I washed my face and brushed my teeth. I changed into pajamas and set my alarm.
I always did these things before bed. No matter how much wine I had.
I woke up the next morning after a night of tossing and turning and restless sleep. I had a serious headache. I ordered room service coffee and eased my mind into the idea of going to work.
I began piecing together the previous night.
I remembered that last glass of wine at the hotel bar; I remembered the guys leaning against the table in the corner.
I remembered the great meal and hearing Janie’s laugh cut through the noise of a Manhattan rush hour. I even remembered the woman with the red fur collar, even though she did not say a word.
I remembered Janie telling me she was worried about her health, but I could not remember the details. None of it.
My mind was a complete blank. I knew we talked about it at length. I knew she was scared. I knew she talked about the test and her doctor. I knew these things abstractly, but I could not remember a single detail. I even remembered reminding myself to check in with her.
How could I forget the most important parts? Why did I remember all these meaningless details, but not the ones that meant the most to my friend?
I made my way to work, coffee in hand. Head still aching.
I was bothered all day by not being able to recall the details of what Janie shared.
I was also bothered by my wine headache, but I was used to working through those. Soon the show would end, and we would all head to the hotel bar. We always did.
The next morning, I boarded my flight home. I was still beating myself up about not remembering the details of my conversation with Janie. Forgetting things was becoming more of a regular occurrence for me, but I had never forgotten anything as important as this.
I was never able to figure out the details. I was too embarrassed to tell Janie. How could I tell her that her vulnerability had been erased by wine? Rather than tell her, I never brought it up again. I never followed up. I never asked how the tests turned out. If I had, what would I say when she was talking about a detail I should already know?
I have never been a worse friend.
This is when I knew I was going to quit drinking.
I knew I was going to, but I did not know how. I did not know when.
I wasn’t ready.
But I knew I wanted things to change.