I watch the man sitting across the table from me struggle to hold his head up. For a moment he manages to keep it in an upright position, but then it falls forward. In another few moments he regains some sort of consciousness and jerks his head back up, starting the process all over again. This has been going on now for a good fifteen minutes, and the cycle repeats a few more times before he finally passes out completely.
It's not uncommon for people to show up to A.A. meetings drunk. That is, after all, the reason most of us are here - we just can't go anywhere without being drunk. And in this man's defense, a few drinks beforehand tend to make these things more bearable. I actually envy his state as my thoughts wander to the liter of vodka stashed in my closet. I quickly shake the image off. Not tonight.
There is a voice dominating the room which I am completely ignoring. It is the guest speaker for the evening, and he is in the middle of his sob story that inevitably ends in triumph. I have heard dozens of these stories and they pretty much all go like this:
"I started drinking at a very young age. I started drinking on a daily basis in high school. I started drinking in the morning to combat hangovers from the previous night's drinking. I learned to function normally throughout the day while drunk. Eventually it caught up with me and cost me my family, friends and job. Then I found God and meetings and was saved. I haven't had a drink in twenty seven years."
Except for a few varying details, that is basically how they all go.
A round of applause signals the end of the speaker's story, and without even realizing it I start clapping too. He asks if anyone has any questions or comments for him, and half of the people in the room raise their hands. I exhale an annoyed sigh because I know that none of them really want to ask him anything, they all just want a chance to share some of their own grief with the group. They might start off by thanking him or telling him that some part of his story really touched them, but soon enough they are reciting some episode from their own life when they passed out on the kitchen floor and awoke to find their toddler playing with the gas stove or something like that. He calls on the woman sitting next to me at the table.
"Well first of all," she says, "let me begin by thanking you for sharing your story with us. It is truly inspirational. I can especially relate to the part where you said you were willing to sacrifice your weekend visits with your kids so that you could spend money on booze instead of gas. You see right now my ex has sole custody of our kids, and I am trying really hard to prove that I am at a point where I can be trusted to..."
I tune her voice out. I don't care about her troubles, I've got my own. I continue looking at her so it appears that I'm interested. She is middle-aged and by no means attractive, but I find myself wondering what kind of underwear she has on. It's a game that I play sometimes when I want to look as though I'm listening to what a woman is saying but I'm really not. Lately I've been playing this game more and more.
I decide on large white panties that almost reach her belly button, and one of those "cross your heart" bras I always used to see commercials for. That seems like the most likely ensemble for a woman of her appearance. With nothing more to keep my mind focused on, I start thinking about the tan suitcase pressed against the back wall of my closet that holds the half empty bottle. I am overcome with a sudden urgency to get up and leave, but after a few seconds it passes and I force myself to pay attention to the woman next to me again who is still chatting away.
"...so when I got out of rehab for the fourth time, I told myself that this time was going to be different. I was really going to make a change. I started coming to meetings four of five times a week and going to church on a regular basis, and I haven't had a drink in almost two months."
Another round of applause breaks out for her unexceptional accomplishment, and the speaker thanks her for her comments. The hands shoot up again, and this time it looks as though there are more of them. He calls on a man at the table next to ours.
"I would also like to say thank you. Your story really hits home. At times it was almost like you were telling my story. When you talked about how you first started drinking to show off for you grade school buddies, that was exactly how I got..."
I glance up at the clock on the wall. Ten minutes until the break, and then another 45 minutes until I'm free. I consider the possibility of leaving altogether when everyone goes out to smoke, but I promised myself that I would stay for the entirety and that's what I plan to do. Leaving early would only encourage me to renege on the other promise I made to myself today.
I should've just thrown that fucking bottle away when I woke up.
There's more clapping and then the hands are raised once more. The speaker calls on someone else and they start in with their drivel.
"Your story is really inspirational, especially to me because I lost my job a few months ago and I am having a really hard time finding work. It would be so easy for me to start drinking again, but..."
I am starting to wonder how much more of this crap I can take. I look across the table at the man in the chemical induced sleep and I hate him. He doesn't have to endure a word of this. The whole two hour meeting will be nothing more than a barely graspable dream of the few moments that he was awake. Part of me wants to get up and slap him. He deserves it for taking his alcoholism so lightly. Being passed out drunk at Alcoholics Anonymous is like stealing from the donation basket at church. Not once have I ever been so drunk at a meeting that I passed out. I have more self control than that.
And then for the first time since arriving at the meeting my own barely graspable dream of last night comes to mind, and I get so nauseas that I run to the bathroom and throw up.
I time my return from the men's room almost perfectly with the break. The speaker tells us we've got fifteen minutes, and a good portion of the room including myself heads out the door to smoke. Outside it's nearly dark, and I stand a few feet away from the group to make it clear that I am not interested in hearing whatever it is they have to say. I light a cigarette and stare out at the parking lot full of unkempt sedans and pickups, most of which are at least a decade old. I panic briefly when I don't see my car anywhere, but then remember that it's parked safely in the garage where it can't cause any trouble. The long walk here and home is a fair trade for an evening's worth of peace of mind.
The rest of the meeting is just as painstakingly boring. I keep myself occupied by trying to guess why each person in the room is here. There are really only a few possible reasons. Some are here to please a loved one. Some are here to please a judge. Most are here because A.A. has replaced alcohol as their crutch. And of course there are one or two who truly believe that it makes a difference.
I am here suppressing guilt.
I make it all the way to the end without leaving, at which point we gather in a circle holding hands to recite a mantra that I've never bothered learning. I mumble along, attempting to match up phonetically so it's less noticeable. And then it's over. I am free for now.
The trip home is more unbearable than I could've ever anticipated. The cars racing by as I walk the main road back to my house antagonize my memory, and the days' events come rushing back to me.
When I woke up this morning, there were fragmented images in my head of the night before. I had come from the bar very drunk already, but something possessed me to drink more. Then I was driving. Then there was an impact. Then I was dragging something heavy into the woods. Then I was back home packing a suitcase.
It was all so random that I knew it must be a dream as I rose from bed. My splitting headache, however, was very much a reality. Then, as I made my way to the bathroom with my eyes barely open, I tripped over something at the foot of my bed. It was a suitcase, half-packed. It took a moment to register, but then I quickly started taking the clothes out and putting them away into drawers. I moved in a frenzy, forgetting my headache, as though I was somehow undoing everything that may have been done. When all the clothes were away I threw the bottle of vodka in the suitcase and shoved the suitcase into the back of my closet.
I ran out to the garage to check the car. There was a small dent in the right side of the front bumper. I looked for blood and hoped for fur. There was neither. Perhaps the dent was there before and I just never noticed. It really didn't look like I could've done much damage to whatever I'd hit anyway.
I leaned on the car and took what felt like my first deep breath of the day. I was momentarily relieved. Then a thought occurred to me that was far worse. Maybe I hadn't dragged something or someone dead into the woods. Maybe I had dragged something or someone wounded into the woods. I've been trying to convince myself that it's nothing ever since.
Even now as I'm walking home, the thought of leaving someone stranded like that just to keep myself out of trouble seems impossible. And it's much more likely that I was packing a suitcase because I had concocted some drunken plan to move out of my mother's house, not because I was going to have to run from the law.
I walk in the front door and I can hear the television. In the living room, my mother is sitting on the armchair with her legs tucked under her. She looks up when I walk in.
"Where have you been?" she says.
"I was at a meeting."
She watches me for a minute as she always does, looking for a tell that I'm lying. Finally her eyes return to the television.
"There's dinner in the fridge if you want it."
"I'm not hungry."
I walk upstairs to my room and close the door behind me. I wish that I could go straight to bed, but there's no chance of sleep yet. Just the thought of reading a book bores me. There's really only one thing I want to do right now. I go to the closet and pull out the suitcase, open it and remove the vodka. Then I get down on my hands and knees and feel around under the bed. My hand finds the rocks glass and I pull it out.
I walk into my bathroom, set the glass down on the counter, and pour a heavy triple shot into it. I put the bottle next to the glass, and look up into the mirror. I stare at myself for a moment, and then I lift the glass up into my line of vision, partially blocking the reflection of my face and distorting the rest. Closing my eyes, I drink it down in one gulp.