It’s my three-month anniversary of being sober. I went to a meeting and when the chair asked if anyone was celebrating an anniversary, I raised my hand. Everyone clapped and some guy handed me a three-month coin. It was embarrassing but cool at the same time. A young kid, maybe 16 or 17, gave the lead. He was very cocky, thought he was cute, but he described some painful loneliness that he attempted to numb with drugs.
When I became a stay-at-home-mom and house-bound freelance writer I started hitting the wine and vodka pretty hard. Charlie got to leave the house, go out for drinks after work, travel, play tennis. I was at home and angry about the mind-numbing tasks that filled my day. Much of my day was spent standing in the kitchen making food, cleaning up after eating, doing load after load of dirty laundry. I would stew and tell myself I was meant for greater things.
During the meeting I said that while I was sucking down vodka by myself I knew I was on a bad path but didn’t care. It had crossed my mind that I’d probably wind up in a recovery program but I thought, “At least I’d get out of the house and socialize again.” People nodded their heads and laughed.
I went to a meeting this morning and the topic was slips, relapses, how you set yourself up to use mind-altering crutches before you actually do it. I know drinking definitely lurks in the back of my mind.
Lately, I’ve been treating myself like a science experiment: dissecting myself to see what’s in there. It’s been interesting, but I anticipate getting bored with being sober. I get random urges to be bad, get hammered, let the good times roll.
I went to a meeting this morning and Tom said he had intrusive thoughts, thoughts like throw the baby up in the air, put your hand on the hot stove, ride your bike in front of the semi. He said his shrink told him that as long as he doesn’t act on them, he’s okay.
I have intrusive thoughts. I just never knew they had a label. I figured everyone had them. I’ll be at the shopping mall and have the urge to throw myself over the second-floor railing. I’ll be standing on a train platform and think about pushing someone on the tracks. Don’t most people have random twisted thoughts? Maybe not. Maybe I’m a freak.
I had a dream last night that I was on the second floor of an unfamiliar house. I was bending over a railing looking at the living room below. I climbed onto the railing and stood on it, teetering, about to jump. Then I thought, “What am I doing?” and got down.
Tom works at a cemetery. I think he’s a grave digger. When he finished talking about intrusive thoughts, he said, “A woman at a meeting last night was clucking her tongue at me. She was shaking her head at me while I was speaking. I leaned over and told her, ‘When people do that it gets me excited. There’s some action going on in my pants. You keep it up we’ll be walking down the aisle.’
“I love to drink, just love to drink,” Tom continued. “I just hate the consequences. If I had a pill that would allow me to drink and not have any consequences—the vomiting, the nut house, jail—I’d have a garage full of those pills and I’d be drinking. To have that drink and feel that ah in the brain. . .”
I’m on the same page with a crazy grave digger.
Kelly is getting together a group of us to stay at the Hampton Inn Suites for a sleepover/swim party during spring break and I told her the kids and I would go.
“I’m going to invite Liv and Wendy, too,” Kelly said. “We’ll get Wendy out by the pool and watch her stumble around, ha, ha, ha.”
Sometimes I hate Kelly. I was probably Kelly’s cheap entertainment when I was drinking. I was the wacky broad who would sing, drink from everyone else’s wine glass thinking they were mine, demonstrate yoga poses and fall down, and inevitably break something. Kelly’s a bitch.
I went to a meeting this morning and the topic was loving your enemies. Krissy began commenting.
“My mother picked up and moved away without saying anything to anyone,” Krissy said. “Now she’s back—and I don’t want to see her.” Krissy leaned back on the couch and rubbed her eyes. “My mother was psychologically and physically abused by her husband. I don’t know. Somewhere I feel guilty for not looking in on her more. But when you feel hate and anger in your core, you know it’s taken you over and you have to forgive and let it go, but it’s easier said than done.”
All of a sudden I was furious at my father.
My mother had offered to pick up Max from Liv’s last Friday when Charlie and I were flying back from Savannah. She was going to hang out with the boys at our house until we got home. When Charlie and I walked through our backdoor, Max ran up to me and gave me a bear hug. My father swept up behind him.
“Where the hell have you been?” my dad shouted at me. “Did you stop off for dinner? Here I am and you’ve got nothing in your fucking house! You don’t have any food or anything to drink!” He stalked over to the pantry and yanked out a half-gallon bottle of vodka. “I had to go out and buy my own fucking booze! And it’s dinner time and I’m looking around in your refrigerator and there’s nothing in there except some old turkey. I hope to hell I don’t get sick now because I ate some.”
“I’m supposed to stock my refrigerator before I go out of town?” I screamed at him. “Who the fuck does that?!”
Charlie touched my arm. “Brenda, come on now,” he said.
“So? Did you stop somewhere for dinner?” my father yelled. “You called Max from the airport and said you’d be home in half-an-hour, forty-five minutes!”
“I was wrong. It took longer than I thought. And no, we didn’t have dinner.”
“Yeah, well, I put up your ceiling fan and it was a mess!” my dad shouted, thrusting his arm at the ceiling. “That’s a hundred dollars worth of work! You have someone put that up for you that’s a hundred dollars! And you got no fucking food or booze in the house!”
I blurted out this story this morning and started crying. I didn’t even know I was bothered by what happened. I’m used to this behavior from my dad.
“It’s typical,” I said at the meeting, swiping at tears. “And I have to suck it up because somewhere in there he’s done me a favor, and assigned a dollar value to it. Max told me, ‘Papa wanted to leave, he was so mad. Van was in bed and he said I was old enough to stay by myself.’ What a bastard.” I sat back and sighed. “That’s all I’ve got. Pass.”
When I was a kid my dad would ask me for a bite of my sandwich, intending to devour half of it in one bite, and get angry when I refused to hand him my lunch.
“After all the nice things I do for you and you won’t give me a bite of your sandwich?!” he’d growl.
“Okay,” I’d say, feeling guilty and offering it to him.
“No, no,” he’d say. “Keep you damned sandwich. You can stick it up your ass. I just wanted to see if you’d give me a bite.”
He’d also use the horse he never bought for me against me. My father promised to buy me a horse if my best friend, Carolyn, got one, but he reneged the day Carolyn got her Palomino.
“I was going to get you a horse until you did (fill in the infraction du jour),” he’d say when he was mad at me. “But you’re not getting one now.”
Christmas Eves often sucked at our house, too. Instead of opening presents Christmas morning, my family opened presents Christmas Eve because my mother didn’t want my sister and me believing in Santa Clause as it would take away from the Jesus story and cause her to break the “Thou shall not lie” commandment. My father would often show up late and drunk, having shared some holiday cheer with his co-workers, and my parents would fight and my mother would cry. One Christmas Eve, my dad got mad at my mother for yelling at him and he punched a hole in the living room wall. My sister and I were sitting silently waiting for our presents.
My father can to go to hell.
Tonight, I missed a boxing match I purchased tickets to. The boxing match was a fundraiser for a little girl with cystic fibrosis and Charlie and I were supposed to go with Liv and Reed, Kelly and Joel, and a few other couples. We were supposed to meet at Kelly’s beforehand for cocktails, but Van is sick.
Van came down with an upper respiratory thing that mimics asthma, which is freaking me out. I’ve prayed for Van to be free of allergies and asthma ever since I found out I was pregnant with him. Max was diagnosed with asthma when he was two and it was a hell ride for years. Now I’m watching the skin between Van’s throat and chest suck in every time he breathes.
I called Van’s doctor and he told me to drag out Max’s old nebulizer and give Van breathing treatments. The doctor said this upper respiratory thing was hitting a lot of kids hard and that Van would probably be fine in a few days.
Pete, Liv’s oldest son, was supposed to baby-sit for Van, Max, and Seth at our house. I called Liv and told her Van was sick.
“What am I going to do with Pete and Seth?” she asked, sounding panicky. “They try to kill each other when they’re alone.”
“Bring them here,” I said. “We’ll rent some movies.”
I called Kelly and told her Charlie would be coming to her cocktail party minus me.
“Oh,” she said, sounding irritated. “Don’t you think Van will be fine? You can give him a treatment, put him to bed, and come. Everyone’s got that upper respiratory thing.”
“He’s two Kelly. I’m not leaving him with Pete.”
“Okay,” she said, her tone implying I was making lame excuses.
Stories of pirates, slaves, yellow fever, and ghosts haunt Savannah. I wandered through town with my guidebook, part of me feeling guilty that Charlie was working, part of me happy I wasn’t. I made my way to historic sites, trolled antique shops, and bought a politically incorrect salt and peppershaker set to add to my African American collectibles collection. I hit the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Gallery and toured the home of Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low, who married a philandering gold digger who gave her VD.
During dinner I told Charlie I saw a two-thousand-dollar collage at the SCAD gallery that I wanted to buy.
“No fucking way,” he told me.
“We’re booked on a haunted walking tour tonight,” I said.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Well, I guess there’s nothing I can do about that,” he said.
On the tour, we walked past Savannah’s haunted houses, restaurants, and hotels. No glowing orbs bobbed in trees where people were hanged. No vicious apparitions leered at us from attic windows. Our guide told us even though we weren’t seeing supernatural beings, some might appear on the pictures I was snapping. We’ll see. We’re flying home tomorrow.
Charlie had a couple of hours free this morning so we went to Shavers Book Store and gawked at Jim Williams’s infamous Mercer House immortalized in John Berendt’s book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” When Charlie left for his conference, I drove to Bonaventure Cemetery. Berendt had written about an eccentric old woman he’d met there who was sitting on a bench shaking up martinis for herself and a dead guy. The thought of drinking a cold vodka martini as I strolled through the cemetery was enticing. But I swiftly kicked the thought out of my head.
I drove back to the hotel, got ready for dinner, and Charlie and I went to a restaurant with two of his co-workers and one of their clients. Charlie’s boss, Neil, fancies himself a wine aficionado and ordered two bottles of good cabernet. The waiter began pouring and I shifted in my chair. I held my hand over my empty wine glass as he tipped the bottle toward me.
“No thank-you,” I said.
Neil looked at me like I had scurvy. I really wanted a glass of that wine. As we ate, I reflexively reached for my wine glass several times and stopped myself. It sucked.
Charlie and I flew to Savannah, Georgia, today. Charlie’s here for a conference and will be working most of the five days we’re here. I’ll sightsee on my own, which is what I like to do anyway, and save the best stuff for when Charlie can join me.
I took Van to my parent’s house last night, dropped off Max at school this morning, and pulled into Liv’s driveway. Liv is watching Max for us while we’re gone. I gave Liv a hug and a kiss, handed her Max’s suitcase, and took a limo to the airport.
Since my tagging along with Charlie was a last-minute decision, I couldn’t get a seat on the plane Charlie took this morning. When I got to O’Hare, I presented the agent with my ticket and he told me my flight to Savannah had been cancelled and there wasn’t another. He messed around on the computer for a while then booked me on a flight to Charleston. I killed several hours in the airport, flew to Charleston, rented a car, and drove to Savannah. The drive was supposed to be a lovely, but it was pitch black by the time I hit the road and the only thing I saw were brightly lit cigarette depot signs. Halfway to Savannah, it started to rain. I flicked on my windshield wipers and they made one swipe and stopped. I tested the settings. I couldn’t get them to work so I flicked the wipers on and off manually until I got to the hotel. Charlie was in bed when I got there. I wanted a drink, bad.
I called Kelly and thanked her for a lovely party.
“I hope you had a good time,” she said.
“Charlie and I had a great time,” I said.
“Charlie looked bummed when you said you had to leave,” she said. “He looked like a sad puppy.”
“Really? He was the one who tapped my watch and pointed out we had to relieve the babysitter.”
“Did he have a good time?” Kelly asked sounding worried.
“Yeah. We had to relieve the babysitter. Did everyone else stay late?”
“Liv and Reed stayed until two,” she said. “I had so much fun with them. I just love Liv. I’m so glad she’s my friend.”
I pictured Liv and Kelly hugging and telling each other how much they loved each other. It turned my stomach.
When I got off the phone, I called my new sponsor, Sara, and told her about the party.
“What was interesting,” I said, “was that I had no problem not drinking. I wasn’t tempted at all.”
“Look out for that,” she said. “Thinking you have no problem not drinking can get you into trouble. It can sneak up on you at unexpected moments in unexpected ways.”
Tonight was Kelly’s turn to host the Bacchanal Dinner Club. She had a fondue party—again. The last time Kelly served fondue, Charlie had to sling me over his shoulder and carry me out of her house. It was the night I lost my balance and fell into her recycling bin while smoking a cigarette in her garage.
I believe the intent behind serving fondue, in Kelly’s case anyway, is to get the guests as plastered as possible. Dinner requires heating oil to the right temperature in fondue pots, placing little bowls of dipping sauces all over the table, and guests having to cook each bite-size morsel of food before eating it.
Kelly’s first fondue was served just before midnight. I don’t even remember eating. Tonight, it was served just after nine and everyone was sloshed, except me.
During cocktail “hours,” Liv started tap dancing and unsuccessfully attempted the pepper grinder. The pepper grinder is where you squat and swing your legs around like the top of a pepper grinder. Liv flopped on the floor, picked herself up, and pulled Wendy into the family room to dance. Wendy humored her for a couple of minutes and when the song ended, backed away saying, “Enough.” Liv grabbed Joel and danced him into the couch. She fell over, yanking Joel on top of her. Kelly watched her husband and Liv struggle to get up with an unpleasant look on her face. She turned and set out a pot of bubbling cheese fondue. I grabbed a bowl of bread cubes and placed them next to the molten cheese.
“I’m determined to get you drunk,” Kelly said. “Eat a lot of this cheese. There’s a shit load of alcohol in it.”
“Cooking burns off the alcohol,” I laughed and popped a cheese-drenched chunk of bread into my mouth.
Kelly made a face. “I could never quit drinking.”
“You could if you wanted to.”
“I don’t want to.”
Feeling compelled to make Kelly feel better, I said, “I can’t have one or two glasses of wine. I want a bottle or two.”
“Well I drink a bottle or more.”
“Yeah, but I drank like that almost every night.”
Wendy walked over. She patted my head like a puppy and hugged me. “I’m so proud of you,” she said. “You’re so strong. You just decide not to drink and you stop. What will power! I don’t think I could do that. I know I couldn’t.”
“I just got bored with drinking,” I said. “It got old. Being sober is different and interesting.”
“That’s what my brother said,” Wendy said. “He quit drinking for thirteen years. He just started up again. He got bored with not drinking.”
“How’s that going for him?” I asked, feeling giddy at the thought of drinking again.
“Okay, I guess.”
“I’ll probably get bored with not drinking, too,” I said.
“Wanna smoke?” Wendy asked.
We walked out the sliding glass doors that led from the kitchen to the back deck. Kelly followed us out. “What do you think about the book club book?” Kelly asked me with a smile.
“I don’t think there’s much to discuss,” I said. “The characters are cardboard cut outs. It’s a cheap romance novel, for God’s sake.”
Kelly’s face fell.
“But I’m enjoying it,” I added quickly, “It’s a page-turner.”
Kelly looked crestfallen. I wished I’d kept my mouth shut. She hadn’t picked the book, but she apparently loved it. We left the deck and returned to the kitchen.
“You left me out!” Liv bleated, staggering over. “You didn’t come get me before you went out! You didn’t want me around!”
Kelly, Wendy, and I insisted that it wasn’t true. Liv, half jokingly, kept insisting it was.
“We need a group hug!” Wendy said. We group hugged and almost fell over.
“Let’s have dinner,” Kelly said.
Everyone sat down to dinner, skewered chunks of meat and vegetables, dropped the skewered food into pots of bubbling oil, and waited for them to cook. Wendy’s husband, Tom, leaned over the table. “So what’s it like not drinking?” he asked. “Does everyone seem stupid?”
“Yes,” I said.
Tom blanched. “Really?”
“Oh, you know, it’s funny,” I laughed. I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there.