Lydia: Thirty Days and a Thousand Nights

Thirty Days and 1000 KnightsLydia sat in the Starbucks at Echo Lane, sipping her green tea latte, and people watching through the windows. Over the last couple of weeks, Lydia had grown to like her little window seat on the world. It had become part of her new daily ritual along with the 3:15 meeting and the thought, if not the actual practice, of doing yoga.

So, on the day of her thirtieth chip, Lydia sat in her corner and looked upon the world. Echo Lane, Lydia had decided, was an fascinating cross-section of society. Students of Memorial High School, laden down with books and aspirations, filtered through the Starbucks and Baskin Robbin in the free spirit special to youth. It had reminded Lydia how happy she had been before Tuck died. She once had dreams and interests that mattered. She wanted to fly to Paris and sketch where the great artist sketched. She wanted to read the great works of literature, not because it would make her sound more interesting at dinner parties, but because all people should. The students of Echo Lane reminded her that life at one time seem mysterious and adventurous, something to revel in and enjoyed.

The other half of Echo Lane was comprised of the parents of the students. Most were like her, trying their best just to make it through the day. The dog had to go to the groomer. Sally needed a new tutu for dance. The parking lot was a juggernaut of SUVs with Cheerio-ed back seats and varsity club stickers. All those things, she thought, once seemed so important. In the microcosm of Memorial, so much rode on the perception of imperfect perfection, of unaffected beauty. There need to be a certain ease of life that was anything but easy to attain. But they all tried. Lydia had tried.

So, it was in this place that Lydia most often came to reflect on what should have been, what was, and what might be. She looked down upon her notebook where she had been casually tracing over the date. It was her thirtieth day of sobriety. She wondered how such an important day could go completely and utterly unrecognized by the entirety of her world, but that was the case. She had yet to tell any of her friends, nor her children, not even Henry about her sobriety. There was a part of her, she figured, that felt if she told them, it would make it real. One would think admitting one’s faults to oneself would be the hard part, but no… it was the telling to people who already knew, that you knew too. She couldn’t figure out how that could be, but such was life.

Lydia couldn’t help but think about her thirty days. Thirty days. She wanted not to think about it actually. She wanted somehow to be better that that. “Oh, thirty days. Yes, no big deal. Just called my sponsor and read the Big Book, yes, yes.” But it wasn’t like that. It was hard. She was embarrassed that only a couple of days ago the desire to drink came over her in such a torrent that she tore through her house, and had she found anything, she surely would have drank it. The thirty days felt a bit fraudulent. She felt she had failed.

Lydia did not know how long she had been lying on the floor of her kitchen that day, but it was long enough for the ceramic tile to slowly warm to body temperature; the bottle of vanilla extract resting in her palm.

Slowly, she ran her empty hand down her side to her jean pocket. With a nudge of her finger she edged her phone out of her pocket.

Lydia brought the phone up to the same level as the bottle and disengaged her stare from the first object to the second. She ran her fingers over the screen to unlock it. Henry was speed dial one. Her thumb hovered over the screen. She had not talked to him since she picked up her desire chip. She desperately wanted to. She wanted to call him and tell him everything her heart so achingly wanted to say, that she was sober and she loved him and missed him and wouldn’t he please come home. She would tell him that she needed him. He would come. He always came. But she didn’t. Instead she pressed speed dial seven.

As the phone rang in her ear, Lydia pressed her hand against the tile and lifted her frame off the floor. She walked over to the sink and as the voice on the other end said, “Hello,” Lydia had poured the vanilla down the drain. “Hi, Tracy. I think I finally understand what you mean by powerless.”

Twenty minutes later, Lydia and Tracy had met under the shade tree in the parking lot of the mall to reconstruct what had triggered her. Talking took the power out of it. And then she kept going; Lydia told Tracy about Tuck, the accident, the hospital, Henry. She spoke and spoke and spoke until her throat became raw and the sky started turning the shade of twilight. But it had worked. The demons that had haunted her day had diminished my nightfall. Lydia went to a meeting, then another, then drove home and went to bed. And as she laid her bed on the pillow, she remembered what Tracy had told her, “Any day I don’t drink is a successful day.”

Lydia picked up her latte and walked out to her car. There was something to subtly awkward about not drinking, she thought. It shouldn’t be a big deal, and yet it was. It shouldn’t be so hard, and yet, well, she had made it. That’s all that mattered, she supposed. As she opened her car door to get in, Lydia looked out one last time over the parking lot, she looked at the ladies with their grocery bags and strollers. Quietly, to herself she whispered, “Thirty days and a thousand nights.”

Lydia: Day 27

An Alcoholics Last Resort

Lydia did not know how it had happened. Well, she knew how it had happened, and yet she did not know how it happened. She knew the steps, knew the exact actions that led to her lying in a crumpled mass on the kitchen floor. What she did not know was how a seemingly innocent day could turn so quickly into a nightmare…

As part of her general dissatisfaction with her life, Lydia had started to methodically clean out the large house in Memorial. It had begun innocently enough on a lazy, Sunday afternoon. She had spent the morning reading and sipping tea, but then she turned a little restless, walking from room to room.

She eventually found herself standing in the doorway of her master closet. Once a room of pride, a space that spoke of indulgence and luxury, Lydia now looked upon the space as a choke around her neck. The designer clothes, the pristinely laid Choos and Louboutins, the large purses displayed as works of art, seemed not a reflection of affluence and ease, but a mausoleum dedicated to a former life of indulgence and superficiality. The sight disturbed her. Many of the clothes no longer even fit on her recently acquired fuller body frame, and yet there they hung.

Slowly, and with a feeling of grateful remorse to a past life, she carefully folded and packed away shirts after pants after skirts after cocktail dresses after ball gowns of clothes, once lovingly purchased and adored.

When Lydia finished her room, she moved on to her son’s and then her daughter’s. With each macramé school project and participation trophy, with each seashelled vacation souvenir and mother’s day card, a fond memory was ignited, appreciated, and then quietly closed. The items she did not feel were worthy of keeping, she threw away with no regret. With each passing garbage bag, she felt lighter, freer. The nicer items, the things she thought the kids might honestly want, Lydia set aside in one of two piles. If they wanted them, they would have to come get them. But her and Henry’s house, her house, would no longer be the exoskeleton of a time past. Lydia was living day by day, step by step, and all she wanted was for her surroundings to reflect her new founded simplicity.

So, it was with some confusion that it was a simple sweatshirt that had paralyzed Lydia that Sunday evening. A sweatshirt. Any other day, she might have simply folded it and placed it in his dresser drawer. Old, frayed around the edges, but perfectly worn in. When she and Henry first started dating, Lydia had confiscated the sweatshirt as a form of territorial display. She would wear it up to the hospital and kiss him in full view of the nurse’s station. Not usually a woman prone to jealousy, she knew from her own stay in the hospital that Henry was often sought out and flirted with. Lydia was not going to let him fall through her fingers. She was determined to fight for him, fight for him in the best way she knew how, in his Colombia sweatshirt and a tight pair of jeans.

But it was in that moment, in the moment when she raised the sweatshirt up to her nose to inhale his scent that she realized she had not fought for him. She had given him away, pushed him aside as she reached for another bottle. She blamed him. She accused him of desertion, but really, she the one that deserted him. She may have physically been there, but her mind was always fighting and struggling somewhere else. In her heart, in that moment, she could not blame him for leaving.

She looked up and straight into the sideboard mirror. The reflection startled her, for the woman who stared back was not the woman she had expected to see. She had looked in mirrors; she had to have. Always a woman properly put together, Lydia had spent hours applying make-up and coifing her perfectly styled hair. So, she must have look. But had she really looked? Lydia moved closer to the mirror, placed her hand against the cool glass. There, staring back at her was not the dignified and beautiful woman she envisioned, but an aged woman, worn and creased. Her hair, thought by her to be golden and lustrous, was a dried and brittled bleach. Her face was puffy and yet somehow simultaneously drawn. There were circles under her eyes. Her skin had a yellowed hue, the color of prolonged sickness and self-tanner. Instead of cathartic recovery gravitating through her arterial system, a wave of bile, anger, self-loathing, disgust, and hated swelled up from her stomach.

Without warning alcoholic desire screamed at her. It knocked her body backwards with a physicality that forced her to break eye contact with the mirror. Suddenly clinging at the neck of her t-shirt, she couldn’t breathe. She doubled over, trying to catch her breath. After a few seconds, Lydia looked up and ran from the room, the sweatshirt lying on the ground.

She sprinted down the sweeping spiral staircase to the living room. When she got there, she looked wildly around. Think, think. The bar wouldn’t have anything. She had cleaned it out. Think, think. The cabinet above the refrigerator! Lydia pulled over a counter stool and stood on it to reach one of her most favorite hiding places. None. The pool house! Lydia ran to the guest quarters and pulled open the refrigerator, once stocked for parties, only to find it barren. The outdoor kitchen. No.

Panic overcame her as she ran back to the house and furiously started pulling out drawers and looking in behind furniture. She couldn’t have gotten it all. She must have forgotten something, overlooked something, anything. Lydia ran to the kitchen. Sherry, cooking wine, something. Lydia spotted the bottle of vanilla extract. She grabbed it off the shelf. She held it tight in her palm and looked down at it. 35% alcohol. It would work. It would quiet the thoughts until she could get to the store. And then it clicked. In a moment of realization, Lydia realized she was of the variety of alcoholic that would drink vanilla extract. She closed her fingers around the bottle and sank to the kitchen floor.