I met my friend Deb when we arrived for our freshman year of college. Playing on the same softball team and living in the same dorm, we quickly became friends. We had a lot of fun with our teammates and other friends that first year. Sometimes that involved consumption of alcohol. Deb was always level-headed when it came to alcohol. Me? Not so much. I came to trust Deb and confide in her. That trust meant that I felt safe, and I would let my walls down around her when I got drunk. She saw me at my worst, yet she stuck by me.
Like my high school friend Sheila, Deb was a life saver and babysitter on some of those nights. She shared her concerns about my drinking in more ways than one, including letting me know that she was angered by my choices. The kind of anger that stems from caring about someone and knowing they are heading down the wrong path.
We had a great freshman year in many respects, including a trip to nationals in softball in the spring of 1984. Deb’s great pitching season had helped get us there and also helped us place 4th in the nation. Much fun was had and many memories were made. We decided to room together for our sophomore year. That summer was a tough one for me and my drinking progressed.
When we returned in the fall of 1984, alcohol was playing a more and more important role in my life. Social outings meant opportunities to drink. The drinking age in Iowa was 19 at the time, so we had turned “legal.” Getting alcohol was easier than ever before. It still had to be paid for though. I had a limited budget, sacrificing other things before sacrificing drinking funds. It wasn’t really a choice anymore. Part of me already knew I was in deep trouble. The other part just kept drinking any chance it got.
Homecoming that fall meant seeing some of our old friends who were coming back, and to me that meant party time! Somewhere in there we also had an event that we had to dress up for. Honestly, I don’t remember the event. Was it a dance? Maybe. Anyway, my wardrobe was as limited as my budget. I needed a new pair of socks to go with my outfit. Whatever I had said to Deb had indicated I needed the socks, but I needed the alcohol more.
I may have forgotten some of the details of that week, but I have never forgotten a simple gesture Deb did for me. We made a stop at the local Pamida before heading to the liquor store. No way was I spending my precious money on socks. Deb went in to the store for things she needed and came back out with a pair of blue socks for me. It felt like she threw them at me. What she was doing was throwing me a lifeline.
I ignored it and proceeded to get drunk that night. I walked out of a local bar with friends and with a beer in my hand, getting an open container ticket. Hey, I wasn’t about to leave an unfinished beer sitting there! Broke and drunk, I woke up the next morning, hung-over and still broke. The ticket came to $34.50. I am not sure how I paid for it, but I know I didn’t tell my parents or anyone in my family about it.
Those symbolic socks were just one example of the many ways Deb showed she cared about me enough to be blunt and straight with me. My drinking was a real problem. She didn’t want anything to happen to me, but she also didn’t want to keep watching me spiral down.
I wrote a poem a year and a half later titled “Symbolic Socks.” The last few lines read like this:
Those blue socks
Started it all
When I needed
It the most
I still owe you
Thank you Deb, for your gift of genuine friendship and concern. By the end of that school year, in May of 1985, I took my first hard look at my drinking. The socks helped get me there.