News From the Front

There was a time when I cringed in horror when the drunken antics of the night before were recast (with great relish) by friends who possessed the bad taste to black out after I did.

Impossible, I would think. That’s not me, that’s not how I act. That was someone else, surely, the diabolical work of an imposter bent on sullying my good name while I innocently napped under a pool table.

This, of course, was before I got around to getting to know the real me. The uptight Dr. Jekyll had yet to be formally introduced to the freewheeling Mr. Hyde. They existed as antagonistic strangers, their poor opinions of one another based on sheer rumor and speculation. One considered the other a prig, and the prig thought his opposite a rabid animal capable of any unspeakable act you care to name.

As a youth I was an insufferably bookish and shy young man, and as I forayed deeper into the cult of alcohol the increasingly common second-hand accounts of my bad behavior startled me. Not from the path of drinking, to be sure, but certainly into some grave thoughts.

If the drunk me were capable of getting up on a barstool and obscenely declaring a perfectly undeserving bar a nest of traitors and spies, something I wouldn’t dream of doing sober, then what else was the boozehead capable of? Lasciviousness? Theft? Cold blooded murder?

It came to the point that I refused to listen to the stories, fearful they would end with ”—and then you dropped your trousers and started chasing the sheep screaming, ‘I only want a kiss!’ when, by all anatomical appearances, your mind was dead set on something much more amorous.”

They were as sailors working different shifts but sharing the same bunk; when one was falling headfirst into a deep sleep, the other would be lurching awake. Blurry-eyed, they would brush shoulders around the fifteenth drink with barely a sideways glance. If two strangers pass in a hallway enough times, however, they’re bound to strike up a nodding acquaintance, if not an accord.

Over time, Jekyll and Hyde got to know each other. Once it was understood that even Hyde had his limits, Jekyll started looking forward to the day-after stories. Having a dark side can be rather exhilarating, so long as you know it isn’t that dark. Instead of cringing, I now say,”Did they enjoy the speech? No? But didn’t I have a right to be angry? Wouldn’t such a strange hat incite anyone to righteous fury? I’ll buy him a drink and all will be forgiven.”

What’s more, they began to meld. The priggish Jekyll began to loosen up and learned to converse comfortably with complete strangers; and the madman, well, he didn’t change much, but he never committed cold-blooded murder or made any attempts on the virtue of livestock either.