What a Virgin Lychee Martini Taught Me about the Universe
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What a Virgin Lychee Martini Taught Me about the Universe



This post was originally published on April 30, 2014.

It’s a little ironic that one of my favorite object lessons in early recovery took place in a bar. I actually still go to bars quite a bit (because I’m in my 20s and have friends). While problematic, alcohol was never Public Enemy Number One for me so being around booze doesn’t usually spell disaster—especially if I’m also around amazing food.

This promised to be the case that night at Chaya in Venice, where Happy Hour Hamachi was such a steal it would make Lindsay Lohan blush. I was ready to make a dinner out of it, but it turned out the Happy Hour discounts would only apply if we sat on the bar side, where all the tiny tables were packed. We decided to order drinks while we waited for a table to open up. Still dreaming of sushi, I combed the cocktail menu for something that wouldn’t lose much in translation to zero-proof. A lychee martini for six bucks? Perfect. My friend ordered an $8 sake flight, and I asked the bartender (a bearded dude who looked more eastside than beachside) if he could do the lychee thing without the vodka. He looked at me for a minute before replying, “Sure.”

The drink he handed me was gorgeous. Pale yellow, on the rocks (to fill in for the liquor, I imagine) and topped with a peeled and pitted lychee on a knotted bamboo skewer. Classy and zen.

“$8.75,” the barman said.

Excuse me?

I looked back at the menu, which still said $6. Indignation began to drum inside me. Only one explanation made sense—my drink must not have qualified for the special price because technically it wasn’t the same drink that the Happy Hour menu advertised. You know, the one with the vodka. After all, we were talking about a place where the Happiness of your Hour (and your wallet) depended on which side of the room you were on. Still, it seemed extreme. I’m pretty sure the bartender could hear me ranting to my friends about this injustice. But I hate conflict and was more content to hope he absorbed my outrage indirectly. What was his deal anyway? What was that stupid look he’d given me when I’d asked him to make mine a virgin? How dare he charge me $9 for what was essentially a cup of juice that probably came from a can? Was he just offended that I wasn’t ordering alcohol? Like it’s his problem I’m finally getting my life together?

I tasted my drink. It was good. Really good. I took a deep breath and tried to muster everything I’d learned in the previous 80 days about living life on life’s terms. I couldn’t change the fact that my mocktail was overpriced; all I could do was accept it. I just wouldn’t buy another one. Seriously, what’s three bucks, anyway? Valet parking? With another delicious sip, I was approaching equilibrium if not quite serenity. Just when I’d turned the corner on my righteous anger, my other friend pointed out that my $10 bill was still sitting right there on the bar.

“I don’t think that’s mine,” I said. “I took back change.”

“Actually, I think you took my change,” she replied. “I never got any.”

Confusion reigned. If that was indeed my bill, why hadn’t he taken it? I started to think he’d definitely heard us and no longer wanted anything to do with me or my money. Or maybe the $8.75 was our two orders totaled together. But no, the sake was definitely eight. Could it be that the $8.75 was for the sake flight and that my mocktail was…free?

Oh, dream on. Why would anybody make me a drink, even a virgin one, for free? Those lychees are no picnic to peel, after all. Granted this one was probably frozen. But still. One wondered.

So we asked him. And it was true: he hadn’t charged a dime for the virgin drink. This wonderful man had made me a splendid aperitif with a hand-peeled garnish flown straight in that morning by private jet from a remote Chinese mountainside for nothing.

I felt sheepish at how quickly and vocally I’d misjudged him. Most likely he’d heard my complaining—the farthest thing from classy or zen—but he hadn’t found it necessary to defend himself, just let the cash do the talking. I tipped him $5 out of a queasy blend of gratitude and embarrassment.

Then he asked if I wanted another one.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve just assumed the world was out to get me. I’m a great catastrophizer, able to leap to the worst possible conclusion in a single bound. This attitude of assuming the worst has done nothing but interfere with my life every step of the way until it actually did become The Worst and people were out to get me. Any time another entity held temporary control over some aspect of my life—doctors, landlords, customer service reps, cops, parking attendants, the IRS and I guess even bartenders—I’d brace myself for some sort of problem. I’d never get what I want without a hitch at best or a fight at worst. The odds were never in my favor. I hadn’t even realized how hard-wired this hyper-defensive streak was until I held the sweet golden proof against it in my hands. This bearded saint behind the bar was not a cynical Scrooge looking to screw me over on a technicality. My mind just never gave him the chance to be anything else.

A fundamental key to recovery is learning to trust. Trust in yourself. Trust in others. And most of all, trust in the universe, or whatever form your higher power may take. When we’re suffering, it’s easy to feel like a victim and blame everyone else for our own misery. But life’s not a video game: we don’t have to fight everything and everyone that shows up in our paths. In fact, it’s usually better not to. I’ll always think of Lychee Man—my sobriety superhero—as a reminder not to close myself off to the little everyday miracles. Because really, if you just let yourself roll with it, you’ll find the universe is not against you.

Sometimes it’s actually delicious.

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About Author

Erica Larsen AKA Eren Harris blogs at Whitney Calls and Clean Bright Day. Their writing has also been published on Salon, Selfish, Violet Rising and YourTango. They live in Los Angeles with their husband and their enormous cat.