My Kind of Whiskey
November 1, 2013
Mescalero, New Mexico
My Kind of Whiskey
By Cathie R. Eisen
It is too early in the day to be thinking of whiskey, but I can think of nothing else. The pull is excruciating, it makes my chest hurt and my heart clench, it is painful. It almost brings tears to my eyes but I won’t allow that, I don’t want anyone here to see me cry, I will keep it to myself. Still, it is hard to control the desire, when I ache for a draught of something strong it prevails in my thoughts and makes everything else seem ludicrous; I need a shot of whiskey.
My mind drifts to the things which bring such joy to my heart and my eye catches a raven sailing softly on the thermals of the breaking day, though I wish he were a hawk. The sun has just broken over the mountain peaks and as it warms the air the rise of the current carries the winged creatures aloft, their wings held steady and the ascent almost effortless. I wish he was a hawk, then I could really take wing and lift my heart to a far higher place than this. I am almost grateful I have already come to work or I might have called in, I need some whiskey.
Many years ago I became addicted to the peaceful solitude of the mountains and the sky and I have returned there ever since. I have learned to substitute adventure for companionship and instead allow the thrill of the journey to fill those empty spaces in my soul. Something about me has never allowed me to fit the puzzle of life but made me instead the odd piece which lies slightly to the side until my space is filled. This is how I found whiskey. It warmed my soul and brought a joy to my spirit which nothing else has ever equaled and I have no regrets, I have come to accept it as it is. One long draught sets me free and from there all I find is happiness and I rarely feel alone.
I have for years questioned the reasons a person might choose strong drink over sobriety. I have of late watched my Native American friends fight their own battles with the same and it seems even more vicious here than anywhere else I have ever been. I have kept company with the worst of the drinkers in my life, on the side streets of my hometown and the sidewalks of the cities but these people take it to another level. Too often the people who have no understanding of the issue or the cause hold it against them and are quick to judge their character. They are, as with their Anglo counterparts, deemed weak or indulgent, slovenly and without dignity, though in fact they are quite the opposite, as often as not. One must come closer to them, sit with them, take a long drink with them and then listen closely.
There is a different conversation which goes on here on the hillside above the bar and in the hidden places where my friends choose to sit. They talk of many things, sometimes even in their own language which they are still proud of. They are men of few words but each statement speaks volumes. They speak of their heritage and their traditions, their dreams and their adventures, their chests swell with pride of their accomplishments.
“I was a rodeo cowboy! I rode the toughest bull there ever was, he nearly fell on me. I rode him.”
“I am a Hot Shot; we fought that fire in Arizona with those guys who got burned to death! They went the other way, they died, we lived, it doesn’t seem fair. I lost friends there, they died. Let’s drink to them!”
“I found a set of elk antlers on that ridge line, way over there! They were over there. We walked for eight hours that day and I carried them, they were heavy.”
“My brother killed an elk deep in that canyon there, over there. We carried it out together……..”
“My best friend died last week, he drank himself to death. He was my best friend, he died. We better drink to that. Pass me the whiskey.”
These men have fought wars for us. They are Marines and Navy Seals, cowboys and firefighters. They are artists, fathers, brothers and friends, they still are. They are traditional Native Americans who are proud of their culture and still practice their ceremonial rituals; they are a proud people, even when they are drunk. They have families and friends who love and care about them but still they must drink, it conquers even their greatest efforts to abstain, no matter how they try. I have seen them try. Sometimes they succeed, too often they do not, but they try. If you suggest they have lost their dignity to the alcohol their eyes will flare and the expression on their face will assure you they are still strong, they will even frighten you with their fervor. They are adrenaline waiting to happen and they can and will walk miles for drink. They always help each other, always.
These friends of mine drink harder than anyone I have ever known and will not stop until they fall or pass out. When they wake up they will drink again, and again. Too often in the morning, when I drive up to work, I will see them waiting for me. They will ask me if I have any change, the bar will open soon. I ask them how they are and they will tell me, “I am hangin’, I am sick, I need a drink.” I don’t give them money anymore; I cannot stand the thought of where it will go. Alcohol is the only cure for their illness and the stronger they are the more they need to consume and the worse it is. It is the best of them who drink whiskey as it is the only thing which can still their restlessness and take them to that place I yearn for also, except these guys are eagles, I am only a hawk. Their power and their insight, their ability, are wasted, unless they are strapped on a bull or battling a forest fire. The inertia drives them crazy, and to drink as well. The same thing troubles me, only to a lesser degree. I can channel it elsewhere, pour it onto the page rather than down my throat, I can still myself, they cannot.
Several years ago I bought a big Quarter Horse gelding. I brought him home and rode him across the hills before I ever decided on a name for him. I hadn’t owned a horse for a while and had momentarily forgotten the pleasure I found when I took a long ride. The moment I left the roadway the wind caught in my hair and my spirit rose as it does when I watch the hawks fly on the thermals. Suddenly I was free again and all the worries of my life were far behind me and my heart was filled with the elation I can only find in such moments as those, like a draught of whiskey. When I returned home I shared the experience with a friend of mine. I told him how anyone who had not ever ridden a horse across an open meadow had somehow missed something more precious than almost any other I had ever experienced.
My friend, he was a drinking man. I could see it in his face, that soft red glow that whiskey gives to a man who is a devoted drinker. I had never noticed it before and it took a little away from my regard for him, or at least the attraction, as I hadn’t had a drink in years and have an aversion to the same. He smiled and looked me in the eye before he replied to my colloquy. His sober response was this, “They have never found whiskey!”
I thought about what he had said, and how the wind felt in my hair, the sway of my horse’s body as he stretched out to run, how my heart rose in my chest when I saw the hawk on the wing, and all the joy I found in such moments. I recalled the warmth which coursed through my veins when those instances availed themselves to me, and how I had never known a greater happiness than that. I also found a name for my horse, I called him Whiskey.