CW: This essay discusses eating disorders.
By Caitlyn Renee Miller
Franzia Chillable Red (Provenance Unclear). $10.99/5 liters
“A light-bodied red that is made to be served chilled … softer than traditional red wines. Pairs well with lighter foods.”
You check out of your eating disorder treatment facility against medical advice so that you can start your freshman year of college on time. You are eighteen, and nothing feels more important than starting on time. You find that you are able to shed parts of the past in a new environment, one with brick sidewalks, dorms, science labs, and a brick dining hall. There are a lot of bricks. They make the campus feel lofty, and you’re sure you’ll learn a lot. Every time you breathe the end-of-summer air, you think it smells like the future. Like promise. Maybe you’ll even learn who you’re supposed to be.
At Christmas, you go to the boys’ dorm across the way from yours. The guy you’ll have a will-they-won’t-they thing with over the next two years is having a few people over for (boxed) wine and cookies. You’ve discovered that you are able to enjoy food if you’ve been drinking. The evening involves him pouring Franzia into your mouth from the box’s built in spigot and ends with you vomiting a bright red stream on his flip flops as he walks you safely home.
Chateau Ste Michelle Gewurztraminer (Washington). $7.99/750mL
“An enjoyable wine with exuberant fruit and clove spice … Fresh and vibrant, this is zingy with a pear and tangerine flavors, persisting nicely on the lively finish. There’s a light sweetness for balance.”
You take a semester off your junior year. You’re pretty sure everyone else saw that coming a mile away. You’ve gotten excellent grades and love your professors. Yet you struggle to make good choices outside of class. That brick campus has turned out to, perhaps, be a horrible environment for you. You tell your mom that you are broken in a way that cannot be fixed. Your parents fill out all of the paperwork the university requires to take time off.
You decide that now that you’re twenty-one and have a considerable amount of time on your hands, you should learn something about wine. You undertake a careful study—you have three books from the library, a video course, and “experts” at the local Total Wine (your mother points out that the store used to be called Total Beverage, but people were too stupid to realize that meant wine and beer). You practice saying “gewürztraminer” a syllable at a time, as though you’ll be quizzed one day. You don’t want to look like an idiot when that day comes. You march into the Total Wine and ask the expert what kind of gewürztraminer he recommends. You nail the pronunciation.
That night, you show your mother how you’ve learned to slurp and swirl the wine in your mouth. Her body stiffens and her face turns mask-like. “Don’t ever do that,” she snaps. Your body goes cold. You’ve reminded her of her father.
Berger Gruner Veltliner (Kremstal). $7/glass
“… has a pleasant acidity, a delicious palate of citrus and stone fruits, and a hint of minerality.”
You graduate with honors and figure you’ll look for a job after the summer poetry intensive you’re attending. You put on thirty pounds in the meantime.
It takes just about two years to find a job you hate. You’re in software now. When you see a job posting seeking technical writers for a healthcare software firm in the Midwest, you jump at that chance. They fly you out for the interview that winter. You look at dark, snow-covered Madison, Wisconsin, and try to picture yourself living there. You can’t. When they offer you the job, you take it.
You work a lot. The times you aren’t at work, you worry about work. You didn’t think you’d feel so overwhelmed. Most nights you make a sweet potato for dinner and call it good.
Your favorite part of the city is the contemporary art museum. You hate driving downtown, but an artist you like is giving a talk and you decide you’ll brave the maze of streets. After the talk, you are feeling good. See, nothing bad is going to happen. You walk past a bar and read their wine list. Maybe a glass of wine is in order.
You’ve made a number of mistakes, but driving after drinking isn’t one of them. If even a sip of alcohol passes your lips, you hunker down where you are or get a ride. You decide you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the wine because of your nerves about getting home and walk away. Fifteen minutes later, you cause a car accident that does $8,000 worth of damage to your car (and god knows how much damage to the other guy’s car). You drive your smashed up Sonata home, shaking. All you can think is what if you’d let go? What if you’d had that wine after all?
Your friend takes you to a wine bar the next night. She’s a connoisseur, and she helps you pick out something good. She listens. She really cares. When you go to the restroom, you look in the mirror and think this is the youngest I’m ever going to look. And you seem a little too thin, though you can’t ever gauge that right.
You go back to the table to have a second glass of wine. Afterwards, you pretend your car is whole by averting your gaze when she drops you off in your parking lot.
Gyeongju Beopju (Daegu). $4/little soda bottle filled with a milky substance
“This is an alcoholic drink brewed for generations by the Choi family clan in Gyo-dong, Gyeongju. Yeong-sin Bae is a master distiller and was designated as Intangible Cultural Asset No. 86-3 in 1986.”
Software is not the industry for you. You and your partner sign a year-long contract and move to South Korea to teach English to elementary school students. The couple you are replacing takes you out. You meet a pack of mangy expats and drink Korean rice wine called makgeolli. One expat gets pantsed and is, inexplicably, boxer-less. You see him scrotum and all. You never hang out with these people again, but you continue to enjoy makgeolli and various other traditional Korean drinks.
You think that everyone else thinks you are running. In reality, you’ve just learned you need a lot of space. It gets really loud in your head sometimes.
Your year in Korea turns out to be nine months long when the director of your school informs your partner she’s run the business into the ground. Your partner sits you down and says, “I don’t want you to panic [long pause]. We’re losing our jobs next month.” You laugh an eerie, maniacal laugh.
Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut (Spain). $6/split
“As the #1 imported sparkling wine in the world, crisp and creamy Cordon Negro Brut’s delicate bubbles make this the ideal wine for any occasion. Get ready to sparkle!”
For the sake of brevity, we’ll pretend that everything went smoothly when you got home from Korea. It didn’t, but now you and your partner are getting married!
You plan a wedding, immediate family only. When you realize the stress even a small wedding entails, you scrap that plan. You’ll elope. You never figure out if it counts as eloping because you tell everyone you’re going to do it. You go wedding dress shopping with your mother, future mother-in-law, and sister. You go to a restaurant afterwards and your mother orders a round of champagne. Your mother-in-law asks for a craft beer instead. You love her. You love them all.
At the courthouse, you have an out-of-body experience while taking care of the legal aspects of your union. Your “real” wedding will be the Saturday after at an alpaca farm. You’ll feed a pack of alpacas in your wedding dress. One will step on your train with its muddy hoof, but you won’t care.
You go for sushi with your husband after changing out of your wedding dress. No one told you you’d feel wistful about taking it off, in spite of the fact it didn’t quite fit right. You’d started to feel a little obsessive about not fitting into it and it was loose as a result. Although you’d never admit it, you’re scared to think what would have happened if you’d had an engagement longer than two months.
You think of yourself as okay now. Your day-to-day life is a far cry from when you were in the thick of it. Those days you’d imagine every scrap of food you’d eaten laid out on a wooden table. The plan was it shouldn’t take up too much room. You shouldn’t take up too much room.
Gentle Mastiff Pinot Noir (Sonoma). Your sister paid for it.
Turns bitter over time.
Your mother, father, sister, aunt, and uncle spend some time with you and your husband before the two of you move to Eastern Europe. You’re both working remotely now and figure you’ll never have a better chance to travel. Your sister shares some of her Gentle Mastiff wine, which your second cousin used to make at his vineyard. You enjoy the taste of it, even though the last time you saw your cousin he showed you his son’s wine collection (who was five then), and you calculated it was worth more than your student loan debt. He then asked if it would be okay if he practiced the cello outside of the guest room before bed. You liked that part.
This cousin is part of the family you don’t see much anymore. After your grandfather bit you in an Italian restaurant when you were sixteen, everyone took sides. Even the people who didn’t take sides did without realizing it. Families are like that. Of course, this was after years of uncomfortable hugs, forced lap sitting, and strange comments from your grandfather. You never do sort out how there could be sides beyond right and wrong. Beyond a child and an adult who nearly destroyed her.
Your anorexia didn’t follow too far behind that meal. You don’t know if you can forgive anyone, especially the people who tremble in the middle. Somehow they seem the most cowardly of them all, even more than your grandfather.
Domaine Boyar Frutino Chardonnay (Sliven). $2.50/375mL
“Wine with natural fruit juice and Peach Mango consumed well chilled with ice or soda, with lemon pieces and mint leaves.”
You like Bulgaria, the best of anywhere you’ve lived before. You try a wine that tastes just like soda and finally admit that that’s probably all you’re looking for grapes to be.
Caitlyn Renee Miller’s non-fiction has appeared in Okey-Panky, McSweeney’s, Hunger Mountain online, and The Austin Review. You can find her online at caitlynmiller.com.