“My name is Jerry, and I’m an addict.”
Those words begin everything I say in group. Them’s the rules. There’s only five of us, but Len is pretty strict about sticking to the script. There are five of us. Len is our unofficial leader if for no other reason than he’s a control freak. About 55, Len is the one who starts meetings, redirects us when we get off topic, finds a time and a place for us to meet every week, and makes the coffee. That’s fine with me. I hate coffee.
Jessica is the group’s mother. It is she who brings in the coffee Len makes so horribly, as well as encouraging the timid to share their darkest secrets and tearing up the most frequently. Jessica is 34 and has lost everything. Her family died recently due to her addiction and she’s been having a hard time working through it. But this is a safe place.
Terrance is the sad little puppy of the group and the one who takes the most prodding from Jessica to open up fully. He has, however, never said anything boring, which cannot be said for the rest of us. A large part of the reason I so look forward to and enjoy our meetings is the running serial of Terrance’s life. None of his friends of family know of his addiction and his life is a running battle to keep it hidden, while the rest of us are single and not over-endowed with friends so his struggle is unique and fascinating. We all have bets placed upon how long his charade will last. Terrance has his own money down on this year’s holiday season. Holidays stress everyone out.
Last but not least is Paul, who insists that our five chairs form a pentagon rather than a circle, or some irregular polygon. The reason is obvious upon listening to him share, and it’s easier to be a pentagon than argue. Paul is a 23 year old kid who isn’t yet a full-blown addict and sought out our group in an effort to slow the process. So far it’s having only limited success, but now we have a junior member to set up and break down the five folding chairs.
Now, though, it was my turn. I had relapsed over the weekend and if you’re not being honest in these groups, you may as well not waste your time going to meetings.
“So everything was fine,” I say, fidgeting with the little coffee stir-straw. “The first two nights I watched TV and had a few drinks. There wasn’t anything wrong and a relapse was the farthest thing from my mind, you know? Just a really nice mellow relaxing weekend.”
Nods all around. They knew all right. We had all relapsed. Nothing could happen as a result, or it could cost you everything.
“Anyway, I go to bed Sunday night, thinking, ‘I got this.’ Then came Monday.” I shake my head. “Three day weekends are murder. Before noon I was going crazy and before I knew it I was out looking. Took a while, but I finally found someone, and…you know.
“After it was done, I felt like shit. Freaking out. What if I’ve really fucked myself this time? I panicked, hid all the evidence and hightailed it home, and I haven’t left since, except to come to the meeting tonight.” I sigh. “I don’t even know if I enjoy doing it anymore, but I can’t help it either, you know? And once I calm down and I’m sure no one saw me, the adrenaline’s worn off and I feel better. How else am I supposed to get that kind of relief?”
Finishing with a rhetorical question seems weak but I have no more words, it seems. I mumble something that hopefully sounds like “thanks” and sit down.
Following the perfunctory yammerings of “thank you Jerry” there is silence. Then Paul speaks up.
“Does it ever get easier? Do any of you have any tricks to make it less of a problem to control yourselves?”
Some eyes turn to Len, the unofficial leader and officially senior member. He nods slowly. “Well, I had way more than my fair share of such things when I was younger, so maybe I got it more out of my system than some of the rest of you. In those days, giving in to those urges was easier, before law enforcement started to catch up. Nowadays, even though people get arrested for it every day, it can be difficult, but with the fear of God and Johnny Law, I haven’t slipped up in…” His eyes look up, ruminating. “…five years next April.”
We applaud him dutifully.
Terrance opens his mouth and gets no further than an “um” before lapsing back into silence, staring at a spot on the ground. Jessica pokes him. She doesn’t let up and eventually Terrance speaks rather than be poked to death.
“Sometimes…just…sometimes…thinking about my family…what they would say if they knew…” he trails off, staring into space. We wait a few beats. A few more. Len coughs. Terrance rejoins reality with an almost audible thump. “Sometimes that helps,” he finishes, and smiles at his coffee.
“Terrific. No problem,” Paul grumbles. “I’ll just go get married and have some kids.”
Terrance looks alarmed. “Well it doesn’t always work, Paul. Remember, sometimes -” but we are spared a soliloquy upon the obvious by the nature of Paul’s sarcasm mercifully dawning on Terrance and he grins foolishly as we all chuckle, dropping his smile back into his coffee.
Jessica speaks up. “Sometimes, your relapse destroys your family, and before you know what’s happened, you have to live with the knowledge that if you could control yourself, they’d still be here with you…” The familiar sight of tears glimmer in her eyes as she attempts to control her voice spiraling into a whine. “I didn’t care that they were my family at the time, I just needed to get my fix.” A sob escapes. “I’d give anything to have them back…”
“Thank you, Jessica,” we all murmur, giving her shoulder clumsy but comforting pats. She sniffles and smiles through her tears.
A gentle “ahem” from the doorway to the church basement and we all jump. The group leader for the local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter reminds us that drunks need to vent, cry, and confess as well. Len nods and stands.
“C’mon everybody, pentagon up.”
The rasp of our five chairs as we stand. It occurs to me as my hands are enclosed that Paul wouldn’t need to bother putting the chairs away with an AA group on our heels. Then we stand in the pentagon, hands clasped, repeating the words so damnably familiar to the users and abusers of alcohol and drugs.
“God, grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
We finish with a hearty “Amen!” and high fives. I feel a bit silly with the AA guys starting to trickle in, but who cares. I give their group leader a big grin on the way out.
“You guys have a good meeting, ok?” I am all smiles.
“Always do!” His own smile broadens. “What group are you all with? Al-anon?”
“Nope,” I say, my smile never faltering. Shut up already.
“Well whatever it is, why don’t you stick around for our meeting? It might help your own recovery. Can’t hurt it, anyway! After all, a drug is a drug is a drug, right?”
I feel my smile start to slip and yank it back into place. “Thanks, but we kind of like doing our own thing. It works for us, you know, for our recovery, and we wouldn’t want to fuck that up would we?” I stretch my smile wider, feeling like the top of my head must pop off at any moment.
“No no no, in fact I was just saying…” he begins, unwinding his tongue for a tedious sermon I had certainly heard before and one he had doubtless delivered a thousand times. So I stop him.
“I hate to interrupt but I’ve got to get home to my dog. I love pets, they really give you a reason to wake up every day, you know?” My smile now feels permanent. Eternal.
He blathers on, assuring me (and my fictional dog) that we are welcome at any meeting he holds and God bless us. I thank him profusely and exit, not before seeing him practically bound across the room to accost poor Terrance.
“So, young man, what group are you guys with?”
I hear Terrance start to splutter an answer before mercifully being cut off by the AA leader’s speech. Then, I’m outside, in the fresh air and the quiet accompanying a residential neighborhood at 8pm on a weeknight. I stride down the sidewalk to a bus station and after five minutes of hiding my impatience, a bus trundles up and gestures me aboard.
We roll around to several empty stops, then hit the freeway. After a short acceleration to freeway speed, we exit for the industrial district which harbors the bus stop nearest where I sleep. Right now I can’t afford an apartment, but I don’t need much. A 10×10′ storage space in a complex of five hundred is good enough. At this hour especially. I can count on privacy.
I punch my code into the box and the electric gate whirs open. I enter, and it closes silently behind me. My shadow orbits me as I walk under rows of fluorescent bulbs, heading around the side of the building where there are no cameras. At the northeast corner, a door stands, looking impassive, but experience has taught me a credit card will easily slip it open. One swipe of my AmEx and I’m inside. My storage space is protected by two padlocks, and I pause before unlocking, listening. Nothing breaks the silence. Good.
A turn of the key and the lock lays in my hand. Into a pocket, then a new key, and the second padlock stands aside. I roll up the door and step inside, rolling it down behind me. I snap the padlock on a hasp I had installed on the inside, and flick on the the light.
Chained to an exposed rafter, a girl dangles from her wrists, handcuffs tossed over the rafter, her toes barely dragging the floor. She wears a knee length blue skirt and a plain white blouse, now spattered with blood and dirt. Her chin hangs to her chest and dirty blond hair covers her face. That’s fine though. I don’t want to see her face. In fact, I might just take it off first. I open the drawer of a dresser to the right of the door, revealing numerous sharp objects glinting like teeth.
When I had relapsed on the third day of a three day weekend, I had been perfectly
honest. I hadn’t left my space until it was time to catch the bus to the meeting. I told the truth at the meeting. I had relapsed, panicked, dumped the bodies in the sewer, ran home, and I hadn’t come out until it was time for the meeting. Everything was fine.
Until I saw the girl.
Who is she? Just someone who caught my eye.
That’s why I was late to this meeting. It took time to convince her to come back to my place. By the time she was immobile and unconscious, I was already late. But I think the time will be worthwhile. After all, I’ll have something new to discuss in the next group. As Jessica had been unable to prevent her own addiction from rising up and murdering her family, burning the bodies as she laughed delightedly, sometimes you can’t control your urges. Paul told us that if we read about him in the papers, not to blame ourselves for the group failing him. Terrance is sure he won’t last the holidays. Just because Len had had so many more years to get it out of his system without forensic science hounding him didn’t mean he could control himself.
I wonder once again if there is any hope for us at all as I make my selection from the blades, shut the drawer, and turn back to the unconscious girl. I don’t realize it, but as I walk towards her, I am praying.
“Grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Jesse Orr was born and raised in Alaska and has no idea, nor do his parents, when or how he began reading and writing; as is the case with so many things, they just are. Moving to Seattle in 2007, he settled down to a life of recording and performing music as well as writing whatever caught his fancy. He has a dog named Mr Dog and lives in West Seattle.