My friend Tammy had troubles, but it took me awhile to figure it out. She was a redhead who smoked menthols, loved music, dancing and beer. Her father was a judge, a real one, but she herself was totally non-judgmental.
Tammy was the friend that held the ice to my ear freshman year and then pierced a second hole in my left lobe, sterilizing the needle with the alcohol from our sloe gin fizzes. She would drag me to frat parties, grab a beer and start dancing, while I stood awkwardly in a corner complaining about the sticky floor.
I was one of the girls who left the party early, but Tammy always stayed and regaled us with great stories the next day. But as we got to be juniors and then seniors, the stories became increasingly uncomfortable to hear. There were times she slept with multiple men in one evening. There were times when she blacked out. There were times she woke up in places she did not want to be.
There was the time she came back to the dorm drunk at 3:00 a.m. and burnt half her arm making popcorn. There was the time she tearily told me she was pregnant, traces of gin on her breath, and pleaded with me to bring her to Planned Parenthood. I had driven halfway there the next day before she told me it wasn't true -- she wasn't pregnant. Never was. It was just her idea of a joke. That almost ended our friendship, but I hung in there.
I knew there was something different about what happened when Tammy drank, but I wanted to be non-judgmental too. By day and on weeknights, Tammy was fine. She studied, went to movies and plays, joined us for dinner and did really well in her classes. I thought once we graduated and she got a job, things would be different. We were in college, after all.
In 1981 Tammy came to visit me at my apartment in Boston where I was in my first year of law school. We went out on the town, but after a while, I wanted to go home. She insisted I leave; told me she was having fun and would take a cab home. Tammy got home safely in the early hours of the morning, but the next day she told me she had shared a bottle of vodka and slept with the cab driver.
And that is when I ended the friendship.
Telling Tammy that I thought she was an alcoholic was the hardest thing I ever did as a young woman, and amongst the hardest things that I have ever had to do. I didn't have the balls to tell her in person. I called her from the safety of my bedroom, reading the words off a legal pad because I was so nervous. "Tammy, I think you have a problem with alcohol. I think you are an alcoholic, and I cannot be friends with you until you get help." I described some of her behaviors that made me think so. I described the hurt and worry she was causing me. She said nothing, and hung up.
That was 32 years ago, and that was the last time I talked to Tammy, but it wasn't the last time I thought about her. As the years passed, I Googled her name. Tammy was the first name I searched on Facebook. One day, about a year ago, she "friended" me. I barely recognized her picture, she had aged so. We had a brief FB exchange, but neither of us mentioned the alcohol.
A few months later, Tammy started a game with me on Words With Friends. And I knew from those games that something wasn't quite right. She couldn't get beyond 13 points. She left spaces for triple words open.
I was waiting for Tammy to take her turn on Words With Friends when I read on Facebook that Tammy had died. She was 53 and died "unexpectedly." I was not in her inner circle, so I don't know the details of her death, and it was not my place to push. I was saddened, but to be honest, not shocked.
I had an alcoholic friend in college. I told her the truth, abandoned her and she died at 53. I wonder now if I should have done something differently.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.
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