Billy blinked in 1958, traveled in time to 1961. It was New Year's Eve, and Billy was disgracefully drunk at a party where everybody was in optometry or married to an optometrist.
Billy usually didn't drink much, because the war had ruined his stomach, but he certainly had a snootful now, and he was being unfaithful to his wife Valencia for the first and only time. He had somehow persuaded a woman to come into the laundry room of the house, and then sit up on the gas dryer, which was running.
The woman was very drunk herself, and she helped Billy get her girdle off. "What was it you wanted to talk about?" she said.
"It's all right," said Billy. He honestly thought it was all right. He couldn't remember the name of the woman.
"How come they call you Billy instead of William?"
"Business reasons," said Billy. That was true. His father-in-law, who owned the Ilium School of Optometry, who had set Billy up in practice, was a genius in his field. He told Billy to encourage people to call him Billy--because it would stick in their memories. I would also make him seem slightly magical, since there weren't any other grown Billys around. It also compelled people to think of him as a friend right away.
People do stupid things when they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Billy is living proof. He's drunk, at a New Year's Eve party filled with his colleagues. Most of those colleagues know his father-in-law, who runs a school of optometry. And Billy's cheating on his wife, the daughter of said father-in-law. Stupid.
I've had a lot of experience with addiction and addicted people. Alcohol. Prescription drugs. Sex. Sitting here, typing this, I have to say that this little passage from Slaughterhouse conjures up a lot of bad memories. Personally, I've been lucky enough to avoid problems with alcohol and pills, although it runs in the family.
Because of my experiences, I have a greater understanding and empathy with family/friends who struggle with any kind of addiction. I understand it on a deeper level because I have an addictive personality myself. I become obsessed with things. Food. TV shows. Authors. Work. In this social media age, it's easy to develop compulsions for pornography and unfaithfulness, too. Billy Pilgrim might have had more than one indiscretion if he were alive today. He may have had serial affairs, several wives, and ended up President of the United States.
Don't worry. Nothing bad has happened to me. Vonnegut just forces me to do a little time traveling when I blog. See the wider picture. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. I'm in a fairly stable place at the moment. That could change tomorrow, obviously. But I do have people in my life who continue to struggle with addictions. I try to be supportive, but the addict personality is sometimes difficult to handle without wanting to punch the addict in the face.
I pray for the addicts in my life, every day. There's not a whole lot else I can do for them. They make mistakes, like Billy, and deal with the consequences of those mistakes.
Saint Marty is grateful today for Diet Mountain Dew. One of his little addictions.