The preschool room in the church is where we have our Alanon meetings. It’s fitting in a way as my connection to Alanon started at the same age of the children that inhabit this very room during the week. The blue sky paint and rainbows on the wall harken me back to the days where it all began. There are lovely crayon drawings on part of the wall facing me. My favorite is one of a personified sun that seems to grin at me from the top of the wall.
Many times I can set the reminders in that room aside, and focus on the here and now. Friday night was a notable exception. Our meeting chairperson read a piece about being grateful for the alcoholic and their alcoholism. I felt myself stiffen. I never imagined being grateful for my father’s alcoholism. I can hardly fathom it. My brain shuts down at the thought of it. I don’t know if I can speak. We’re going in round robin order today. The woman beside me is speaking for a long time, the long wait makes me crazy out of my mind because it is an all out effort to stay present, stay here. I stare at the clock: 7:59, 8:01, 8:04, 8:06 … good god, the wait is excruciating. I start tapping my chest as Doc has taught me when I get triggered. Finally, blessedly, she is done. I’m up.
“Hi, I’m Beatriz. Today’s topic – Grateful for the alcoholic Wow. This hits home for me. No question that I will always be grateful for my father, and what he gave me: a love for writing, literature, poetry, human rights … But I don’t know that I will ever be grateful for the alcoholism, and everything that came with it -his disappearance from my life- and everything that came as a result of that disappearance, and all the crime and so much more … Maybe there could be a day when I’m grateful for all that. It certainly would be a more peaceful place to be, and maybe it’s a sign of how much more work I have to do, and how young I am in this process … But no, I am not grateful for the alcoholism. I am grateful for all of you, and for this meeting. I look forward to it every Friday. Thanks for listening.”
We continued around the rest of the room with shares until the end of the meeting. The business meeting was up next with a short five minute break in between.
And that’s when I heard it.
I heard the voice of the old man, the old man with the bright green shirt and a constant cough. I heard his voice go up, and I dismissed it. I thought I was mistaken because this man had kindly passed me a box of tissues at my first meeting when I cried about my father. But then there it was again, unmistakably his loud voice … he was mad about something we wrote in our introduction to the meeting. I can’t make out what he’s saying because I have to run. I have to go. He starts shouting. It’s no longer just a loud voice. My mind starts to get scrambled, and I can’t think, can’t think straight, just have to go, go for the door. I need the door. But I feel heavy. The desire to run is not in concert with the rest of my heavy feeling body. I must be walking oddly. I just keep my eye on the door and will myself towards it. I manage to feel the door against my hands, and I push it open, and when I do so I just fall out with the door and stagger onto the sidewalk. I feel myself fall onto the concrete curb for a respite from my heavy feeling body.
I hear a voice call out to me, “Beatriz, are you ok? Do you need help?” Jack is part of our group, and he sounds so far away, like he’s speaking to me from the end of a long tunnel. I strain to hear him, part of me knows he must be near me though it sounds as if he is long out of my reach. I will later learn that he was sitting right beside me on the curb.
I try to stay there, stay there, right there. I do not want to fly away and disappear. I need to stay. I try to focus on Jack’s voice. I don’t know what he’s saying to me, but it’s a calm voice, and that is good. His voice is calm like the light breeze on the lake as you sit on your hammock. I try to focus on that. I think I can come back. He asks me something, I don’t recall what he asked, but I can tell I’m slipping away because my own voice comes out in a hoarse whisper. I can tell it’s barely even my own voice. I am barely present.
But then I hear him again, the old man with the bright green shirt and constant cough who once passed me tissues. He is now outside, and he is still yelling. Is he coming closer? I have to go. I cannot be here. Jack tries to keep me from running. “He’s not going to hurt you. He’s leaving. You’re safe. You’re safe here.”
And there’s the change. I feel the moment when I’m no longer in the driver’s seat. I’m now in the passenger seat of my own life, my own interactions with people I barely know.
I feel the little girl voice, and the little girl fear take over all of me. “I sorry. I so sorry. I not supposed to be here. I sorry I scared.”
“She not here. She be gone. Please don’t call no police.”
“Why is that?”
“They not nice. They mean.”
“Is there anyone we can call?”
“They be a man inside. He friends with Beatriz. He know about me.”
“What’s his name?”
“Yes! It’s Ben! That’s him!”
“Okay, we’ll get Ben. Do you have a name?”
“Yes. Letty …”
“Hi, Letty. I’m Jack. Can you give me some big belly breathing? You’re safe here.”
“I sorry. I not supposed to be here. Please don’t be mad at Beatriz. It my fault.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong. No one is in any trouble. Here’s Ben.”
“Ben! I so sorry. I sorry I got scared in your office when we was at your house. That was me. I sorry. It looked like my old room. That was me, not Beatriz. She tell the truth when she say it was me.”
“Who be here now?”
“Well, there’s me – Jack, Lucy and Tina, all people who care about you.”
Just like that, I felt myself come back. I looked at Jack, and gave a yelp, a Beatriz yelp, and buried my face in my cardigan that somehow came off me though I don’t recall how it came to be in my hands.
Everyone introduces themselves to me as it is the first time I’ve met them. Perhaps they are not sure who they’re speaking with now …
Awkward hugs for everyone, awkwardness is from me, not them.
We go back inside the school to finish closing up. Lucy takes out a chair and implores me to sit while everyone else closes up shop. She asks for my phone number with her pen poised over her little memo pad that she pulls out of her Betty Boop purse. I give it to her. She tells me she’ll call me. I take her number as well.
Ben remembers I told him that talking about nonsense helps me. He offers to take random things out of my purse as conversation pieces. We all laugh, and head out the door.
Don sees a lightning bug. (Where did Don come from? Was he here the entire time?) He points it out to us. I’ve never seen them aside from pictures. Then he shows us a whole group of them further down from where we stand. It all feels surreal, and oddly special.
Then it’s just me and Ben. He asks me if I can drive. I say that I am not sure. Bugs are biting him like he’s Thanksgiving dinner, though they have no interest in me. “Let’s continue this conversation from our cars,” he says as he slaps bugs off his legs.
We get in our cars, and continue talking via cell phone. I try to talk about something else, and I mention the house he just bought. He says, “Yes, it’s in a neighborhood near you so we can go to your favorite diner more often.” My heart jumps when he says this. I start to cry because if he sees himself having breakfast with me at my favorite diner then he just might still be my friend.