Nonfiction by Courtney E. Cole

“Hi Courtney,

Thank you so much for entering the Billy Harper Sweepstakes, I am so happy to announce that you have been chosen as the winner!”

It was the first Monday of 2021, and I read the first email that arrived in my inbox that day with a sense of bemused confusion.

I had no recollection of the sweepstakes, or of entering it, or of being in the sponsoring liquor store since before the pandemic began. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had Billy Harper* bourbon.

It was not completely implausible, though. Over the last few years, I developed a taste for bourbon. While I drink mine with just a bit of ice, I now make batches of homemade maraschino cherries, a favored garnish to enjoy with a pour of bourbon. While Billy Harper is not my favorite bourbon—Larceny is my go-to everyday pour, and if someone else is buying, I will happily take a bottle of Blanton’s—I have been known to enjoy it from time to time. 

Scanning the email, my first thought was that this was some kind of phishing scam. Curious, I clicked around to discover what seemed to be a very legitimate sweepstakes of a small-batch bourbon company. I read the attached legal affidavit. In exchange for a “portable bar backpack” or an “alcohol adventure tote,” the company had the right to use my name, image, hometown, and basically anything other identifying information about me. 

I was pretty sure that a bookish 42-year-old single mother was not quite the winner Billy Harper had in mind when it concocted these sweepstakes. Likewise, it didn’t seem wise to sign the affidavit, no matter how curious I was about what delights a bar backpack or adventure tote might offer me in the new year. 

While I love bourbon, I didn’t see that becoming the face of a mid-range brand sweepstakes for it being the thing that netted me a book deal, the attention of a handsome new suitor, or street cred in my day job. 

Just a few days before the arrival of that email, I had finished seven weeks of abstinence from alcohol. While I was never a daily drinker, by mid-November 2020, even my infrequent imbibing seemed imprudent. The days dwindled to their very shortest. We faced an unorthodox holiday season amidst spiking COVID-19 cases in the United States. Adding liquid depressant on top of all of this just didn’t seem like a great idea. 

“That sounds really healthy. And a little weird,” my best friend said when I told her about my alcohol sabbatical. 

With the arrival of a much-anticipated new year in 2021, the period I had allotted for abstention lapsed. With my kids for the New Year’s weekend, though, I did not rush to pour myself a drink. 

I had adopted “wonder” as my word for the year. It seemed neutral enough to not be out of touch with the present realities—the abysmal 2020 really lowered expectations all around—while also allowing for the possibility of excitement, intrigue, even mirth. 

While I remain curious about how on earth I got signed up for this sweepstakes, and amazed that I—with a decades-long streak of never winning anything—had actually won something, I decided that I would not sign the affidavit. 

That night, I poured my first bourbon of the new year. I sipped it slowly, enjoying its simultaneous spicy and smooth profile. I toasted the day’s weird turn of events, not altogether unhopeful: the possibility of the new year, the awe of being alive, and the surprise of survival.

*Name changed to protect the reputation of the bourbon. 

Courtney E. Cole (@cecswords) writes slowly and skis fast, fueled by hot coffee and cold weather. She is raising two young boys in Boston, and they are often found in the lakes and mountains of Maine. Her current hobbies include staying at home, backyard baseball, and remote schooling.

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