January 22, 2008

Wine, Vinegar, and Regret

Last night was the lowest I've felt in a while.

I've never been much of a wine guy. When folks start blathering about the hints of apricot and birch in their wine's bouquet, and looking down their noses at those of us who tend to see wine as overpriced alcohol with a strange tendency to produce crippling hangovers whether you got yourself properly soused or not, my mind looks for a corner of the ceiling to crawl into and die.

That said, I used to live in Northern California with a woman to whom I'm no longer married, and occasionally parents or friends would visit and want to hit the vineyards north of San Francisco. We'd endure the inconsiderate idle rich and the frequently obnoxious snobs that cater to them, and come back with a few bottles of surprisingly yummy, if expensive, liquid goodies. The vineyards apparently have a habit of naming at least some of their wines, and at some point I'd left with one called "Eloquence."

Now, roll your eyes if you must, but it wasn't purchased because of my ambitions as a writer, but because the sample I tried was damned tasty. Into the cupboard this 1997 chardonnay went — spare me the "anything but chardonnay" elitist bullshit, thanks — only to be plucked out and moved across the country in 2005, and hidden away in another cupboard upon its arrival in New York.

At some point near the tail end of 2007, I came across this bottle again, and was tempted to drink it. This is the last obvious remnant of a regrettable marriage that isn't packed away in a box in the basement, and I wrestled with it a bit. Should I just drink the damn thing so I could get it out of my life? Or should I attach some symbolic value to its name, and resolve not to open it until I'd sold my first novel? I leaned toward the latter option, and so held onto the bottle, leaving it unopened, resting in its snazzy little black box.

Until last night. It came up in an instant messaging conversation with a friend in the U.K., who suggested that it was most likely vinegar by now. A quick bit of research later, I learn what any wine guru would already know: unless you house these bottles in a cellar, and lie them on their sides so that the cork is always moist, that expensive grape juice turns into something fit only for cooking or salad dressing.

I plucked the wine from its resting place, opened the box, and held the bottle up to the light. What was once more or less free of color was now an amber shade, indicating the whole thing had become, as they say, "corked." Ruined. Yuckified. Not suitable for consumption as a beverage.

The speed with which this upset me was remarkable. The bottle had rotted, just as my marriage had, just as whatever talent I once possessed had, just as my hope for the future had, and so on and so forth. I've gotten better at keeping the little things from throwing me off-course, but for some reason this particular symbolic loss sent me skating off a precipice.

I tore into myself for all the poor decisions I'd made in the past that brought me to this point: forsaking artistic goals in favor of financial security in service to a doomed marriage, letting what little talent I ever had rot on the vine while I sold my soul a piece at a time for the privilege of four-hour daily commutes and an ever-expanding self-hatred, and placing faith and friendship in entirely the wrong people time and time again.

My perspective is a lot better today. I don't regret those past decisions any less, but the pain of them isn't roiling just below the surface, either. I'm learning how to focus on the present, how to keep the past from squeezing my heart until I can't breathe or move. It's not even remotely easy, but I'm getting better at it, and the defenses and resources that were utterly shattered when I divorced, seemingly irrevocably, appear to be returning, even if it is at their own glacial paces. I'm even starting to get a handle on how to accept that rate of recovery.

All of which is a bit bloody personal to be posting on a blog. But if part of recovering from betrayal and disaster is being open to what comes after it, then maybe letting these thoughts out into the open air is a fitting gesture to that end.


TasteDC said...
Open the bottle and drink it - it's not corked, at least not from what you say. It may not be a perfect wine, but I'm sure it will be fine - don't judge a wine by its color! Sorry for my lack of eloquence, but that's what I always hate about wine people (I happen to be one) - all the pontificating and just not enough tasting!

Cameron Lewis said...
Really? I read a few random pages that suggested that if chardonnay takes on a reddish tone that it's hosed.

I suppose I'll have to open it and have at least a sniff, eh? Thanks for the advice! :)

Rob said...
And hey, even if it's vinegar, at least it'll probably make a yummy salad dressing. :) Mmmm... salad...

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