During my junior semester abroad, I worked as a companion for Anne-Marie, a famously reclusive French poet who died a couple years ago. She had a rule I knew well, though she never explained its origin: She didn’t allow herself to drink. Not one drop.
Except through me.
She often hosted dinner parties, microcosms of the French intelligentsia—at least I imagined them that way, at twenty. We would always prepare the same dishes: lamb chops with rosemary, radishes with crème fraîche and herbs, and stinky Muenster cheese. After the salad and after the coffee came vodka. She’d watch her guests, poets and artists (they might as well have been angels to me), shoot back a glass or two.
I wasn’t at the legal drinking age in America, but that didn’t stop her from filling my glass and practically tilting my head back and pouring it in, then watching my speech turn sloppier than my usual approximation of French.
I couldn’t refuse. I was like her Seeing Eye dog, allowing her to experience a world she didn’t access directly. Every day, I would step out and she would stay put, and I would bring the world back with me to her apartment in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a near-suburb of Paris. Part of the world I could offer was the experience of what it felt like to be tipsy. Or at least what it looked and sounded like.
She was an agoraphobe, afraid to leave home (though occasionally able to, as long as she clung to my side); not drinking was the least of her restrictions. But it was one I could lift, for those few moments, as she watched me down her strong, bracing spirits.
Read my full essay, published in the Virginia Quarterly Review, here.