Harold and I really get each other. Sitting at the Dunkin Donuts with cups of coffee, we share a bit about the course we're in, but mostly talk about our bad habits. Up until this point, the only other time I've felt this immediate and open camaraderie has been with writers. Writers are a lot like drunks though, that's why so many of them are drunks. Drunks are prone to slip into flights of fantasy, drunks lie and they love the lies they tell because they keep hidden parts hidden, drunks like to be alone with lubricants to the underworld, drunks want to escape, to forget, drunks want to be off the hook for the things that happen when they're drunk. Drunks are clowns and cowards. Drunks can be a fuckload of fun or your worst nightmare.
Harold looks so normal. He's in his mid-fifties with crystalline blue eyes and brown hair he brushes back into a tidy wave. He's handsome and speaks in an upstate New York state accent, inflecting long, nasally awwws and oooohs - he's got a bunch of kids, I lose track. They're all grown up and super successful. His bottom was a combination of access to prescription drugs, access to money, and access to bars and their accompanying party crowd. The upper middle class cocktail. But there was a really painful divorce thrown in the mix, a couple of hard losses, some serious shit. I couldn't relate to the scale of everything he was describing because his world was still far from mine, but like with other writers, it's the way you approach the world that you bond on, like you can own it, like it's yours to create and recreate. God complex. Alcoholics like to fly way up high, then bury way down low. Ignore and refasten. It's like, "I wanna fuck everything then forget".
"Please explain AA to me," I asked him after we've been chatting for awhile, "like how do you know you're an alcoholic?"
"Darling, you're an alcoholic."
That's all he had to say. It wasn't judgmental or all-knowing or even disturbing. It was a fucking relief. I felt all tingly.
"Wanna go to a meeting? We're in New York, there's one on every corner."
"Yes I wanna go. Let's go."
We walked for a long time to find the right meeting. We'd get to one, but were too late then set off to find the next one at the next available time - there are meetings like every 15 minutes. We finally got to the East Village and found our meeting. We were half an hour early and decided to sit at the bar next door.
"So we're just gonna have Perrier and order a cheese plate," Harold says as we cozy up at the bar.
"God it still feels so bizarre to sit at a bar and not be jonesing for the next 3 drinks before the first one has even hit the coaster."
"You'll get used to it. Just like the progressive disease, it's a progressive recovery, too. It gets better and better and better...you'll be amazed at how your life changes."
"Like the virtuous cycle!"
"I'm so glad we met, Carmen. I feel really lucky to accompany you to your first meeting."
We're looking in each other's eyes at this point. I'm thinking about the millions of times I've sat in bars seducing a man, or a woman, guzzling wine or cocktails and planning how I'm going to touch and consume them. Those people are a collective, hazy blur, like peering through the snakeskin looking glass, gobbled up by desire. But tonight I'm sober and Harold is a fellow addict so I'm aware of how incredibly vulnerable we are with each other in this moment. I can feel how he's also inching to an unsafe place in his imagination.
"I'm a bit nervous but I'm grateful. This is why I came to New York. The course is cool and everything, but it was to figure out that I'm an..." I pause and gulp, "ahem, alcoholic."
I wonder if I'll ever get used to saying that out loud.
The AA meeting is in a tiny, cramped basement. There's a sign above the door with the name of the group. At the front of the room is a table with the Big Book and some pamphlets. An older gentleman sits there in the center of the table. We're about 10 minutes early and a handful of people are sitting around in plastic chairs arranged in a sort of square u-formation. It smells weird, like old paper. More people arrive. I'm really nervous and awkward. My heart is actually pounding like I'm about to make a speech or something. Harold pats my knee reassuringly. I feel paralyzed as I watch several women my age enter the room, and men, too. Some older, hard-lived looking fellas. A real mixed bag. So this is AA.
They turn off the overhead lights and just a delicate string of Christmas lights over the desk remains lit. We recite the serenity prayer: "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." Our meeting leader reads the 12 steps and the 12 traditions then tells us that he's asked a young woman named M to speak tonight after which time we'll have discussion. "Please leave your shares to 1 minute maximum. We will time you, people."
Then he asks, "Are there any out-of-towners or people coming back from a slip?" A few young women raise their hands. "Hi, I'm Lorraine, I'm an alcoholic." The crowd responds, "Hi, Lorraine", "48 hours sober, glad to be here tonight." The crowd responds with claps and chimes, "Thanks, Lorraine".
Harold gently elbows me.
I look up at the wall above the twinkling lights and see four faces: John Murrant, Joyce Murrant, Gene King and Ruby King are all there smiling down at me. My beloved grandparents, all dead, all alcoholics.
A painful, shuddering rush moves through me from head to toe like a skin sloughing off.
"Hi, I'm Carmen. I'm an alcoholic."
I have come home.