I was supposed to hook up with Eve and go to a meeting but she blew me off. I went alone and when I got there Tracy announced, “Deidre’s in jail.” Everyone gasped. We all knew Deidre could go to jail, but I, personally, never believed it would happen.
Deidre was the woman in my first step meeting who’d shaken her finger at me and said, “In the back of your mind you’re planning your next drink and you have to squash that thought like a bug.” She’d smacked her hands together and twisted her palms to make her point. She’d known what was in the back of my head because the same thing was in the back of hers. She chronically relapses.
Deidre started attending meetings a couple of months before I did because she was court ordered to. She’d smashed her car into an automobile with two teenage boys in it. The boys weren’t wearing seatbelts and they’d rocketed through the windshield lacerating their faces and wrenching their spinal cords. The boys’ parents had attended every court date Deidre had and she was convicted. During sentencing, the judge gave her two options: she could go to work during the day and get locked up at night for three months, or she could stay in jail around the clock for twenty-four days. Deidre chose the latter.
“Deidre’s been incarcerated for three weeks now,” Tracy said. “She was so depressed the first week that she was put on suicide watch. She’s been writing me letters on ruled notebook paper she decorates with flowery drawings to make the paper look like stationary. She says she’s made some friends in jail—no one she’d hang out with on the outside—but having friends has helped. If all goes well, she’ll be released in a few days.”
On the outside, Deidre looks like a regular suburban mom. She’s involved in her kids’ schools and activities. She’s always put together well. She has a nicely decorated house. But she’s driven in a blackout countless times. Looking at her is like looking in a mirror. I could be sitting in jail. It scares the shit out of me. Deidre is a tough-talking tall woman you wouldn’t want to pick a fight with, and she was on suicide watch. I’m a five-foot-four hundred-and-fifteen-pound blondie. I’d get eaten alive.
I took Kelly out to lunch for her birthday. She started griping about Joel. She’s angry he’s not freshening up his career skills. She’s pushing him to start a side business setting up personal computers and sound systems. She’s mad he’s not doing it.
“He’s unhappy and unpleasant to live with and I’m not going to live like this much longer,” she told me. Kelly sipped her iced tea and moved on to the night I went out with Libby. The Bacchanal Dinner crowd went to Bin 36 for dinner without Charlie and me.
“It was so weird without you two,” Kelly said. “You introduced everyone, but we had the best time ever. The guy from ‘The Bachelor,’ the Firestone guy, was there along with almost every unattached woman from Lake County. The place was packed. You couldn’t move. We were smooshed into the bar and they gave us free appetizers. We didn’t end up eating until almost ten-thirty. We had the best time. I just love Liv and Wendy!”
“Great,” I said, hoping my face still looked pleasant.
“Whose turn is it to host the next dinner party?” Kelly asked, knowing it was mine.
“I believe its’ my turn,” I said.
Kelly cocked an eyebrow. “Do you think you can handle us?”
I wanted to smack the bitch.
My friend, Libby, invited me out with her lesbian pals to see their friend Claudia Allen’s new play at Victory Gardens Theater. Libby lives in Nashville, but she lived in Chicago for a time and we became friends while writing for papers owned by the same publishing company. Libby quit drinking shortly after we met and when anyone asked her why she quit, she’d give one of two clipped answers: “It was just time,” or “I just decided to quit.” Her answers annoyed me. She gave nothing away. I wanted a I-knew-it-was-time-to-quit-when answer I could apply to myself to confirm I was fine. That was thirteen years ago.
I drove to the B&B Libby and her partner, Nanette, were staying at and Nanette popped open a beer and offered me one.
“No thanks,” I said. “I quit.”
“Why?” Nanette asked, looking bummed.
“I was uncomfortable with the amount I was drinking,” I said. “And I was sick of the hangovers.”
“That’ll do it,” Libby said.
Nanette wrapped her bottle of beer in a piece of newspaper and chugged it as we walked to a restaurant down the street. Before we walked in, she scanned the sidewalk for a garbage can, sucked down the rest of her beer, and tossed the bottle in. The hostess at the restaurant showed us to a large table full of women. Libby and Nanette sat opposite each other and I sat next to Libby. After awhile I nudged Libby and said, “You quit drinking on your own, right?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I went to some meetings, but I didn’t like them. I know a lot of people who go, though. An old girlfriend of mine called me up to make amends once. It was two years after she dumped me. She told me she was sorry for treating me badly. She said she was young and selfish at the time and that was it. I never heard from her again. I don’t know what that was supposed to do for me. She just came out of nowhere and disappeared into nowhere. It was too little, too late.”
I went downtown to have dinner and see the Joffery Ballet with Hope. It was nice being with someone who drinks very little and isn’t a drug addict or alcoholic. I felt normal, until the waiter asked if we wanted a bottle of wine and Hope and I declined. He raised his eyebrows, sniffed, and walked away. I don’t know why I should care if a damned waiter thinks I’m a goober who doesn’t know how to enjoy a meal by ordering the right wine. The bastard just wanted to fatten the bill to get a better tip. I looked at the other tables and almost everyone else was drinking wine. Not drinking with dinner still feels very foreign to me.
I took Emily out to lunch for her birthday. She and her husband, like a lot of my friends, are having midlife problems.
“You know what Scott did instead of spending Easter with us?” she asked. “Went to Vegas with his friend. I’m tired of going to social functions by myself. He barely talks to me. I don’t want to spend the last half of my life like this.”
I told Emily about my friend Bea, who left her husband right before Christmas. Somewhere about Thanksgiving, Bea started boxing up her stuff, her children’s things, and began sending the boxes to her sister in Texas. Remy, her negligent clueless husband, never even noticed. Remy went to a medical conference in Wisconsin and while he was gone Bea hired movers, packed up the rest of her stuff, and she and her three kids flew to Texas and moved in with her sister.
“Wow, that’s harsh,” Emily said.
“Remy deserved it,” I said. “Bea was going to leave Remy eight years ago when she found out he was having a weekly date with a hooker. She was pregnant at the time. But they were involved in a car crash that left Remy partially paralyzed and Bea felt like she couldn’t leave him.
“After Remy got paralyzed, he got deeply religious,” I continued. “Now everything he does is God’s will. He left his medical practice to work part time so he could lay-minister. The bills piled up and he told Bea, ‘God will take care of them.’ Then he got into computer porn. Bea confronted him and each time he’d tell her, ‘It’s in the past. I made it right with God,’ even if the past was only ten minutes ago.
“Oh my God!” said Emily.
“He’s a piece of work. When Bea complained about Remy’s bad career move, he told her she was going against God and siding with Satan. He started telling their daughter that Bea was a tool of the devil. ‘See how your mother’s trying to divide the family?’ he’d ask. ‘She’s going against God and me.’”
“Oh my God!”
“Yeah. And Remy hasn’t been to Texas once to see his kids. Bea served him with divorce papers but he doesn’t believe they’re going to get divorced because it isn’t God’s will.”
“I don’t think my marriage is so bad after all,” Emily said.
“Happy birthday,” I said and clinked her water glass with mine.
We had Easter brunch at our house and the first thing my father said when he walked in was, “You got any beer?”
“No,” I said. “But we have vodka in the pantry.”
“You drinking again?” he asked hopefully.
“We had Reed and Liv over for dinner and Charlie picked it up for them.”
“You buy booze for other people but not for me?”
“We buy booze when we’re having people over for dinner. We had Liv and Reed over for watching Max. It didn’t occur to me to buy you beer for brunch.”
“What about having us for dinner? We watched Van when you were in Savannah.”
Apparently he didn’t remember the night Charlie and I got back. I’d invited my parents over for dinner after my dad stopped screaming at me. My father had said, “I’m not driving out here for dinner. You can cook for me at my house or take me out to eat.”
“You’re here for brunch,” I told him and took my blintz soufflé out of the oven.
My dad got a glass out of the cupboard, filled it with ice, and grabbed the half-empty liter of Absolute from the pantry. When he left, the bottle was empty.
I called my cousin Mike when the kids were in bed for the night and wished him a happy Easter. Mike moved to California right after I moved to Libertyville. His wife, Susan, had moved to Los Angeles a year before him intending to divorce him. She’d supported Mike in Chicago while he drank and blew off writing his dissertation. When he moved to California, they’d reconciled and Mike landed a good job as a financial analyst. But for some time, Mike’s been teetering near the deep end. He’s always settling a score with someone, and right now he’s out to destroy his next-door neighbors because he believes they catnapped his beloved Patches.
“Before Patches disappeared, my neighbor’s fiancé, Nancy, tells me I shouldn’t let my cat out because coyotes will get her,” Mike said. “So Susan lets Patches out one Saturday morning and Patches disappears. So I’m upset, very upset, and I’m asking all over the neighborhood if anyone’s seen Patches. I see Nancy and she tells me she’s sure coyotes didn’t get her. Later, at a party, my neighbor Henry pulls me aside and asks me, ‘If someone wanted to return your cat, how would they go about doing it?’”
“Weird,” I said.
“Yeah. So you know they took her. So I tell Henry, ‘They could just bring her to my door, no questions asked,’ but no one brings her home. So I confronted Henry. He denied it. Brenda, I know they took her. I even went to a pet psychic and the psychic substantiated my suspicions.”
“No way! Really?”
“She channeled for Patches. Patches told me she was catnapped by two guys whose descriptions fit Henry and his friend. Patches said she was taken somewhere in a car and let out and that she’d tried to get home but was run over by a car. Brenda, she’s dead.”
“Wow,” I said, feeling really bad for Mike on many levels.
“I called the cops and reported Patches’ catnapping,” Mike said. “I told the police Henry appeared to be involved in drug trafficking and offered them my house for stakeouts.”
“Do you really think they’re selling drugs?”
“No,” Mike laughed. “Henry and Nancy think they’re getting married on Valentines Day, but that wedding’s never going to happen. I know the church and I’m booby-trapping it with stink bombs.”
“I’m really glad I quit drinking,” I told Mike, changing the subject. “It’s great waking up without a hangover. Reality’s way more interesting than being comatose. You should try it sometime.”
“Well, good for you,” Mike said.
“You really need to let this thing with your neighbor go, for your sake, not his,” I said. “You’re allowing him to consume your thoughts, make you miserable, act crazy. Let it go. Move on.”
“That’s what my shrink says,” he said. “But I can’t. They have to pay.”
We went to Reed and Liv’s for happy hour to meet Reed’s family who are in town from Des Moines. I had a tennis lesson, so Charlie and the boys went ahead of me and when I drove up, Kelly and Joel’s SUV was parked in front of their house. I yanked my little tennis skirt down and walked in. Kelly eyed me up and down. The strain between us is palpable. Reed poured me a LaCroix and I sipped fizzy water while everyone else had cocktails. Reed’s mother, Celeste, eyed my water.
“You don’t drink?” she asked.
“I quit four months ago,” I answered. “I decided to take a break.”
“I quit for a year,” Celeste said.
“My friends said I couldn’t do it, but I did. Lost a lot of weight, too.”
“But you decided to drink again,” I said, nodding toward her martini. I was instantly filled with hope that I might successfully enjoy a martini a year from now.
“I started drinking white wine spritzers,” Celeste said. “I just wanted a little something. I started drinking them a month ago. But I decided to have a martini tonight.”
A lot of people at meetings talk about how they controlled their drinking after a relapse, but then their alcoholic pattern kicked in and cranked up.
Reed’s grandmother sat next to Celeste and sipped her martini. “Liv tap danced for us last night,” she said. “She’s very good. Have you seen her?”
“Yes,” I said and smiled.
I walked into the kitchen and refilled my glass with sparkling water. Reed was at the counter refreshing drinks and Liv walked in and stood next to him.
“Will you put some music on for me?” she asked. “Your grandma wants me to tap dance.”
Reed stared at her, a very pissed-off look on his face, and said, “No.”
“Because your tap dancing really bums me out.”
I worked at a homeless shelter from eleven p.m. to three a.m. babysitting thirty-one homeless men. I wasn’t homeless-guy-sitting alone. An old guy named Bill who looked like Santa Clause was sitting next to me behind a blockade of three school lunchroom tables that separated us from the guys sleeping on the floor and those roaming the room muttering to themselves.
During the four hours we spent together, Bill told me he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and prostate cancer. “I’m cancer-free now, but I have diabetes and need to watch my diet.” Bill and I were a force to be reckoned with.
At two a.m., a scrawny white guy hobbled up to the lunch tables and asked for a cup of milk for his upset stomach. Another mangy white dude circled the room occasionally refreshing his cup of coffee. A brick house of a black man who was clasping a three-ringed binder asked, “Can I have one of those sandwich bags full of toiletries?” I gave him one. He shuffled to a table across from me and began writing feverishly in his binder. Sporadically, he looked up and glared at me. I fondled my cell phone, prepared to run behind Santa and dial 911. A befuddled old man staggered toward me and asked for directions to the bathroom. “Down that hall,” I said and pointed. He stared at me with his mouth agape. I got up and walked him to the bathroom and returned to my chair behind the lunch tables. Minutes later, the old man staggered out, a big dark wet saddle between his legs.
“Looks like the poor old guy wet his drawers,” Bill said shaking his head.
I’d ditched Kelly’s thirty-ninth birthday party for this. Candy was hosting a Chardonnay-tasting party for Kelly, but the homeless shelter had been on my calendar for two months before Candy invited me. I snickered to myself. Oddly, I was glad to be here.
I joined a second, more serious book club that Kelly’s friends, Lexi and Candy, started. Candy picked me up and we drove to a woman named Linda’s house. The book clubbers seemed nice, except for Sherry, who resembled an Italian Greyhound. Sherry looked like she wanted to nip me as she eyed me surreptitiously. Her porcelain skin glowed with blue veins, and her body visibly trembled when she spoke. Without a “hello,” or “it’s nice to meet you,” Sherry launched the discussion of “A Heart of Stone,” which is a book about a mother’s homicidal insanity. We spent quite a lot of time dissecting the milk-toast father who allowed his wife to whack their family, and Sherry, vibrating like a guitar string, segued from the wimpy father to a guy she works with.
“He injured his knee and kept whining about it,” she spat. “I told him, ‘You don’t know what pain is until you’ve been through childbirth. What you’re dealing with is nothing.’” She began railing about what a lousy salesman the guy was then hissed, “I have very little tolerance for stupid people.”
Sherry got through with her tirade and other members began suggesting book titles for the next book club. Sherry nixed every book that was suggested then recommended “Naked,” by David Sedaris, which is one of my favorite books. For a moment, I thought maybe Sherry was okay.
“David Sedaris is a funny, witty, neurotic Jew,” Sherry said.
“He’s not Jewish, he’s Greek,” I said, sounding a bit snotty.
Sherry’s iridescent neck veins protruded further. She looked like she wanted to rip out my jugular with her sharp little teeth. “I’m quite sure he’s Jewish,” she sniffed, every syllable soaked in loathing.
“He’s not,” I said and smiled.
I’m going to have some fun with Sherry.
A guy named George made a good point at tonight’s meeting. He said, “Resentments are like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die.”