Editor’s Note: For more information on the style of this post, please read “Wine as a Backdrop“.
Wine has been known as a gentle social lubricant that can facilitate any conversation. It has the healing power to make the lips loose and the spirit open. Mind you, I’m not condoning the over consumption of wine, but I am suggesting that wine in and of itself has been used throughout millenniums as a truth serum with the unique ability to help the most timid among us to bare closely kept secrets to the world.
All of us have experienced this phenomenon, but never before have I been in a situation where wine acted not only as a truth elixir, but a healing agent, a conversation starter and the bond to bring two strangers together.
On a hot and steamy August morning, while carrying cloth bags weighted with fresh produce, I found myself on an isolated street typically reserved for afternoon runs. Shuffling past an industrial box of brightly red colored geraniums, I heard a woman’s heavy sob echoing behind the soft velveteen petals. Stopping in my tracks and holding my breathe, I listened to her gentle wails, a heart-wrenching sound that drives deep the core of any sympathetic soul. It was horrific, a sound that makes one’s body freeze in pain.
Not entirely knowing how to handle the situation, I stooped my shoulders to let the heavy cloth straps fall to the ground and peaked my head to the right of the box to see a river of mascara pouring down tanned round cheeks. A woman, no older than her mid-thirties, sat in a crumpled ball of weak limbs rocking back and forth staring with a look of a deer in headlights.
Sitting on my haunches, I placed my hand on her shoulder and smiled. “What happened?” I asked.
Shaking her head back and forth in desperation, her strength eventually gave out and she laid her tangled hair on her arms wrapped around her knees. “No…no”, she repeated with hollow echoes. Gently rubbing my hand over her shoulder, I sat next to her in silence for what seemed like hours, but in reality, must have been no more than 10 minutes.
Eventually, she twisted her head to the left, one eye peering at me through tangled strands, she whispered, “I have cancer”.
My heart dropped to my stomach, my heartbeat froze. Staring at one another, I scooted my body in front of her, placed my legs on either side of her legs and drew her rubber body into a hug. Swaying back and forth, her sobs regained strength, soaking my shoulder in a pool of salty tears. Taking her head with my hand, I asked her if she needed a drink, despite the early morning hours. Nodding in affirmation, I slowly untangled myself from her and walked to the bar across the street.
Inquiring what the bartender had in stock, I came back with a bottle of cold water, a 2010 Martin Codex Albarino, 2 glasses and a bucket of ice. Downing the first glass in one fell swoop, she held up her glass for a second pour. Giving her water in between rounds, I sat next to her and waited.
“I knew something was wrong months ago. I just felt it, but I didn’t go to the doctor because I kept on justifying my gut feeling as over-reaction. I fucking should have listened.”
Putting my hand on her knee, I poured her another half glass, watching her savor every sip. “Maybe this is my last glass of wine”, she mumbled.
I chose to say nothing. In reality, what could I say? Cancer runs in my family too, but I wasn’t facing death’s door yet.
“The doctor told me that I have Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer this morning, and that my chances are bleak that I’ll get through this. What am I going to tell my daughter. She’s 3! My husband and I are not doing well, and what if my last experience with him consists of more yelling matches?! And my mom….god, my mom will die from heartache.”
Moving her thumb over the wet condensation on the outside of her glass, she looked at me. Smiling back a toothy grin, I responded to her glance by saying, “You know, very few people on this planet get to live. Many walk in their sleep, never truly feeling and being aware. They go to their jobs, go home to their empty relationships, eat their defrosted foods and drink shit wine that numbs their soul. You have a chance to seize the day, and as scary as it is, you have a choice. You can fight for life, and live to the fullest, making the choices you know are right for your soul, or you curl in a ball and die.”
Looking at the glass, she took a sip. “This wine tastes like a glass full of rocks and lemons.”
Smirking, I responded, “Yeah, it kinda does”.
We spent the next half and hour chatting about life, death, the moment. She happily consumed 75% of the bottle, allowing her nerves to settle, her fears to dissipate, her heart to relax. By the time I left her, we had created a short term plan on how she would handle the rest of her day, with zero desire on either of our parts to exchange numbers. In all honesty, it never even occurred to me to ask her name. I suppose the only thing that mattered was to be present with her in the moment.
Wine was the lubricant that helped her to let go. With a bottle between us, a glass in both of our hands, it was a common experience we could share together. Maybe it was even the first time she actually tasted a wine, feeling the acidity dance on her tongue, the bright citrus flavors roll around on her palate. I’ll never know, but I’ll confess this, if I had an opportunity to do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Isn’t this what life is all about?