Bill W.’s friends. The Twelve Steps we’ve all heard intoned. Had an appointment set up to meet a counselor/sponsor to start me on the path and to guide me along the way. A little bit of Social Work in his background but he too was an alcoholic. He had been in recovery for over fourteen years. Almost fifteen.
Okay… it’s taking you THAT long to “recover” from being an alcoholic? You haven’t drank for pushing towards fifteen years and you’re still “recovering” and you’re still an alcoholic, and I just didn’t know about that one.
I would be expected to take ownership of the drinking, but could never even homestead the sobriety once I lived there.
Well… bullshit and thanks anyway.
If they were serious and sincere about climbing aboard The Sacred Wagon, it was a great thing, nothing less than a cathartic journey that, it seemed, would never fully reach its destination.
“I’m in recovery” could also remain an excuse. Or a reason. The best it could be was an explanation, but that would never be enough.
It could grow to be a label they could never remove. If I couldn’t remove it after twenty-five years, than I would still be stuck with it after fifty, and they could just bury my ass in an over-sized keg.
And I had first heard of that the first time I called them two years earlier when Liz and I were living in Denver.
It’s a great program, an unmatched success, almost a religion… but I thought eventually I would want to take the Thirteenth Step that I never heard mentioned: be clear of it.
Put it in my past, at least far enough back there so as not to be haunting my present or lurking in the future.
I knew the strength and the resolve was in me somewhere, but instinctively realized it wasn’t gonna surface no matter how well someone led the way for me, be it a friend of Bill W. or a disciple of C. Jung unless I was truly ready.
The drinking was not the problem. It hadn’t been the solution.
It was a band aid.
It was the gauze pad and the sterile wrapping and the antibiotic ointment.
But I never had the wounds cleaned out.
So… third call. The proverbial “Last Call” :
Dr. Glenn David Prentice, a psychiatrist up in Boulder. It was quite a ways from the suburbs of Deermont where I was, but that I could deal with. Quick trip through Morrison and up the front range into Boulder. Maybe head the back way through Conifer, Evergreen, Central City and down through Boulder Canyon into town.
Don’t know how it was I decided upon Glenn, or what drew me too him. It just sounded like a young name somehow, and I didn’t want to be seeing someone who didn’t know who The Glimmer Twins were sitting by the head of the couch pretending to understand me. His name just sounded right.
And when I met him he had a passing resemblance to Steven Spielberg. All the better.
He taught me that I was the one who had to do the work in psychotherapy.
And he told me that he would never tell me anything I hadn’t told him. There would likely be a different spin to it when I heard it from him, a re-working of the possible meaning or interpretation. There could be a different way to look at it, but it was quite alright for me to remember it and feel it as I did, and to accept it in that spirit…
… but I might need to calculate a few more factors into the formula that I hadn’t picked up on myself.
He would lead me to see the things, say the things and believe the things I needed to have already seen and said and believed by myself.
Then we’d figure out what the difference was and where it came from.
But he’d never throw in his own thought, only his take on mine.
Everything I was thinking and feeling was permissible, ultimately understandable and potentially manageable.
It came to me that drinking was not the problem.
It was just one of the symptoms.
man’s way of telling his thoughts to shut the fuck up.
Dr. Glenn David Prentice, who got me to realize that the real problem was not how I would stop drinking, but why did I start?
I had dealt for too long a time with the gauze pad and the sterile wrapping and the antibiotic ointment.
It was time to clean out the gaping wound it all merely hid from sight.
Last I heard through the cyber-grapevine, Doc Prentice is back in Maine, in geriatric and senior practice, specializing in ECT. Like his practice grew along with me.
But early in his career he might have done some of his best work.
I kept hitting up the Tabor over the month Liz was gone, much in the same sense I had hung around Jersey for a while the last time I had visited. I had gone back to sign some of the final papers regarding my trust fund and realized it was finally time to say goodbye long after I should have.
I wasn’t spending my entire days in Morrison as I had been famous for doing in the past when I was on my own. Word had gotten around about Liz having taken Emmie with her back to California, which was quite a bit different than moving in with a friend down in Arvada or Aurora or back out in Frederick where she was raised.
She went to California.
My guess is that there was a barroom pool started up as to when the papers would be filed.
Hard for me to be able to make a noticeable effort from that distance, but the effort I was starting to make was more on myself, then I could worry about the marriage and the parenthood. I wasn’t putting myself first, just prioritizing the problems I faced and they all started with me.
So instead of diving into a gut-busting, eye-popping stupor over that time, I actually slowed down a bit. Got to the bar much later in the day, headed home hours before closing. Had dinner at friends’ houses a few times.
Went up to the place Brenda Ray and her daughter Stacey were sharing with Diane Kester and her two kids. It wasn’t a thoroughly eventful evening. Enjoyable enough. I knew Brenda quite a bit better than I did Diane, probably would have opened up more to her alone. But Diane?
Not much to talk about with her, and the last of the few things we could talk about was Liz and our problems or status or plans.
Brenda introduced me to eating artichokes that night (I just bit off pieces of the whole leaf: didn’t just scrape off the meat with my teeth) and Diane somehow accidentally flashed her tits at me when I went downstairs to use the bathroom after dinner, before the three of us big kids were going to sit and listen to music and fire one up.
So much for enjoying the evening.
It just hit me funny that it wasn’t all that warm for a barely-into-spring evening and there she was, her bedroom door wide open while she changed into a sheer nightgown at seven thirty in the evening. Facing the door. Which was just finished swinging open when I got to the bottom of the stair.
Changed into a sheer nightgown … at seven thirty in the evening … to sit in the living room … listening to “Rumours” (at least three times) and get high. The Buckingham/Nicks incarnation of Mac were going to be in Boulder in two weeks, so that’s all anyone in Brenda’s place was going to listen to till then.
So I’m sitting there listening to Lindsay and Stevie ruminate on their seemingly fucked relationship with nothing much to look at but a couple of teeny, tiny tits and what I took to be a coy smile trying to draw my attention away from the glowing embers in fireplace.
While I had not mentioned Liz at all during the evening aside from a few short things to Brenda in private (none of which was even of a deeply personal nature), I got the impression that Diane might have decided my marriage was heading down the same sinkhole hers had encountered a full year before.
I didn’t care for the thought nor the feel of the moment.
It certainly didn’t elicit the response in me I believe was intended.
It brought me a feeling I couldn’t entirely recognize considering the situation at hand.
I had to leave.
Seeing as how I hadn’t brought flowers or a bottle of wine that actually had a cork in it, I left a lid and a little ball of opium as desert for my hosts. I went and tucked in Stacey one more “one more” time before mumbling thanks to Brenda and waving bye to the girls before they fully realized I was on the way out the door. Figured if I didn’t say anything about it, they were just gonna decide on their own what “that was all about” anyway and that would have sealed the deal no matter what kind of explanation I stumbled through, now wouldn’t it?
Brenda would be a bit disappointed (we hadn’t seen much of each other over the past month), Diane would possibly feel somewhat confounded, and I’d find solace in the soothing ride east along Turkey Creek to Deer Creek.
I was home in record time – safely home – by seven forty-five and was thrilled to spend the evening with Stephen, Neil and KVOD, the classical FM station from Denver. Starting at 8PM they were doing three solid hours of Rachmaninoff, a dear friend from nights such as these earlier in The Life, followed by three more of Tchaikovsky.
A stocky bowl of pre-cut hash was waiting for me lovingly on the railroad-tie coffee table we had, looking forward to a somber heart-to-heart.
And, of course, there were a couple of beers cooling their heels and wondering why I had abandoned them.
Shortly after I turned on the lights, I was surrounded by the surrealistic clarity of what that recognition was that had come to me earlier.
That warped, wicked recollection of too many days and nights with nobody there to keep me company. It had yet to hit me quite as profoundly as it did right then.
Even the slightest touch of sobriety can be an eye-opening experience.
I didn’t feel alone being without the people in the front booth with me, or lined up on the bar stools, or those within peripheral vision playing pool or Foosball. Didn’t feel lonely without the people sitting on mattresses and passing around something or other over at Dave and Stephanie’s across the street from the Tabor. Not even without some of those more sensitive to my feelings who were trying to take my mind off of them.
They were, at my laughably lacking level of lucidity, just barely distractions.
They really hadn’t even kept me company, much less keep me from being entirely on my own.
The could even flash their tits at me and I pretty much wouldn’t have noticed, certainly wouldn’t have cared.
Hell, someone had actually tried that less than half an hour earlier.
Even Bryan, who might have actually known what to say, couldn’t bring himself to say it.
The only thing that mattered, that deserved my attention or even my inattention was inside of me.
It was empty in there.
I had no words for it at the time, but I came to referring to it as “emotional bankruptcy”.
It’s not that I had no feelings left, it’s just that every single one of them was already invested in something. No emotions to spare.
In later years, Donald Trump would file for bankruptcy because he had neither the cash nor the liquid assets to pay off certain debts; all his assets were only, like, a hundred-eleventeen gazillion dollars worth of hotels and casinos and Manhattan real estate and marmoset pelts and islands in the streams….
Just couldn’t buy a bus token with pocket change, right?
Well… I couldn’t have given a token shit over passing a stone out the change pocket of the Levi’s I hadn’t changed since Liz had left.
The only reason I even acknowledged myself was because I had to, I was stuck with the asshole, and the only reason I got along with myself was that I knew all the buttons to push and triggers to pull. I knew all the secrets including those I might not have even really understood…
… and I knew not to push, pull or turn the volume up on any of those things.
I didn’t need an all out brawl to drain the resources I needed for the battle I had to fight.
I needed someone for far more than gratuitous, superfluous company. I was all I really had, and that’s all I had really been for myself. The conversation was starting to drag. Got really repetitive. There wasn’t anything new, and anything that seemingly was turned out to be some of the same old shit I had gotten so used to smelling that it was as if the stench was no longer lingering in the air.
Same thing in the morning, through the afternoon, on into the evening, buried under a cloud of smoke come night.
I didn’t want to think about the things I couldn’t stop thinking about.
The only way not to give in to one or the other of those options was to deny their intensity.
In another branch of my Call Center, I kept hanging up on all the feelings.
I couldn’t be wrapping myself up in those feelings I didn’t even want to come in contact with.
I had done all that before in a studio apartment in Jersey eight years earlier.
It had never worked.
It was like replacing one bad habit with another.
It would be giving up coke for smack, smack for methadone.
Name your poison.
Don’t think, don’t feel.
Yeah, well… don’t count on it.
Thoughts and feelings like the ones I had, the ones that were really keeping me company…?
They don’t like being ignored. They know better than you do how much power they hold over you, and they won’t let go until they’re damned good and ready. They’ve set up camp in select portions of your mind and your heart and your soul and they’ve got an arsenal they won’t give up till you pry it from their cold, dead tendrils.
And they’re often not ready until there is nothing left but bones to pick on.
Until they have torn you apart from the inside out, leaving an empty costume on a rickety coat-rack.
You’re alone in there and I wasn’t ready for that.
Not again, and certainly not then.
Liz and I spoke on the phone an evening or so later and had decided (or maybe it was that I decided and Liz didn’t entirely disagree) that I would fly out to San Jose on Monday, May 16th. It wasn’t an overly enthusiastic response on her part, but in hindsight I believe that she might have decided to leave me before I – in my current, continuous state of affairs – would once again abandon her if she were to return.
Abandon her and Emmie even while I was there with them.
Maybe she just wanted to evade the grasp of whatever pain she knew would be coming.
In more enlightened hindsight, she might have decided to push me out of their lives before I would inevitably leave on my own accord.
Shortly after, the date was indeed set. The date, the flight number and the time of arrival.
Her dad would bring her and Emmie down to the airport to pick me up.
I spent the following week in a subdued excitement. I was nervous, to say both the least and the obvious, fearing that she would share the worst nightmare I could live through once I got there.
That she would want to seek her closure in the relative safety and comfort of her folks’ place.
I had yet to even utter the word “separation” much less allow myself to consider the next word that could find its way into the conversation.
But I had just enough of a hint of faith that it could be different. That she might have missed me enough, thought enough about starting all over again after having been so reluctant and scared to have started off the very first time, and she then had Emmie to consider.
It wasn’t that she was so fearful to commit to me, to us, it wasn’t personal …
… but it was a very deeply rooted fear.
It had been there from before the start.
With the benefit of hindsight, I believe she had always felt it while not acknowledging it fully.
And I now understand the fears she had and even more of the reasons she had them.
Lord knows she was entitled.
Excitement, fear, faith all mixed together into what was actually a comforting feeling that I would soon be back with the only two people who could ease the pain that was ever-present not so far under the surface.
For the next couple of weeks, I had the drywall and the tape and the spackle and the paint to keep me company along with KVOD, Rachmaninoff, Neil and – of course – the case of six-packs in the fridge.
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