Dark Waves Crash and Retreat

Lydia walked along the quiet sands of Jamaica Beach. There was a lingering stillness in the air that attracted the feeling, not of nostalgia, but that this was a moment from which nostalgia is made. From trillions of miles away, the light from the stars was just reaching earth. Dark waves crashed and retreated on the beach. Abandoned white foam yearned to be reunited with the ocean.

There is a certain sadness, Lydia thought, to perfection. People strive so laboriously to find just a single moment of peace, that when it finally comes, they are so terrified of losing it, they cannot enjoy it. Peace is the most elusive of emotions, always within sight and yet just beyond one’s fingertips. Lydia sat down on the sand and pulled her legs up close to her body. She rested her head on her kneecaps and watched as sand sifted through her long fingers. She wanted to remember this moment, remember the smallest of details, so when she would retell it in later years, she could do so with enough exactitude as to elicit winsome approval of innocence and burgeoning adulthood from her audience.

From behind her, Lydia could hear the sound of the party. It sounded far away. Not uproarious, there was no music blaring nor people screaming. Just the tinkling sound of distant conversation dispersed with mild laughter. The girls had driven out from Houston earlier in the day. They had spent most of the afternoon sunbathing and playing in the cool gulf waters. The boys arrived later in the evening and with them, a trunk load of alcohol. At first, the girls played demur, denying drinks, as the rules of the game required, but the boys were persistent and the girls eventually relented.

Lydia turned around and looked back up at the house. They all seemed to be enjoying themselves, enjoying the last hurrah before they each left for their respective colleges and universities. Lydia smiled. In the moment, they all looked so promising, so vital, so handsome.

It stuck her as odd that she would ever be considered a part of this accomplished group. She was, of course, a part of it. It was her station in life. Her friends were the children of her parent’s friends. They had been raised together, went to the same schools, joined the same gymnastics and swim teams and respective scout troops. It would be unthinkable for Lydia to not be a part of this group. And yet, she didn’t feel a part of them. To Lydia, they were all sure of themselves, secure in their place. She was just there. Never quite invited or uninvited. But it all rang untrue. All of it. As if life were somehow this massive fictitious illusion where everyone puts up with everyone else because they don’t know what else to do.

Except, somehow, for Tuck.

Lydia met Tucker the first day of kindergarten. Her father had explained to her the day before that when one meets new people, the thing to do was to stick out one’s hand and proclaim in a loud, clear voice, “My name is Lydia Wilder.”

Then the other person would say, “My name is yadda yadda. How do you do?” Several times, Lydia and her father practiced the routine. “My name is Lydia Wilder.”

So, when Lydia entered the classroom she went directly up to the teacher, stuck out her hand and proclaimed, with an air of certitude, “My name is Lydia Wilder.” To which the teacher replied, “My name is Mrs. Leigh. How do you do?”

Confident, now in her approach, Lydia looked for another person to introduce herself to. Off to the side sat a fat cheeked boy in a striped shirt and Oshkosh jeans. Lydia walked over, “My name is Lydia Wilder.”

The boy looked up at Lydia, and then shifted to look around her. “Your shoe is untied.”

Lydia continued looking down at the boy, waiting for him to introduce himself, while he continued leaning off to the side to look at the rest of the class. “Umm, Lydia? Can you sit down please?”

Lydia turned around to see if she could see what the boy was seeing. Students were filing in. Moms were crying. Kids were crying. Some were wearing Sunday’s best. Other looked like they had dressed themselves. Slowly, Lydia backed up and without taking her eyes off the show, sat down on the floor next to the unnamed boy. Lydia took her hand in his, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. He looked at her and nodded, and then both of them turned their attention back to the room in rapt concentration.

For the next twelve years, never would one see Tuck without seeing Lydia in close proximity.

 

“Hey, Lydia. Where did you go?”

“I just needed fresh air. Tuck, you ever get the feeling that this is the best it’s ever gonna get?”

Tuck sat down next to Lydia, put his arm around her shoulder, and drew her closer to him. “No, Lydia. This is not the best it gets. This is just the beginning.” They sat there, as they were want to do, comfortable with each other’s silence. “You wanna get out of here? Go for a drive?”

Lydia nodded her head, and together they walked off towards the car.

 

 

Sitting on the Edge of the Bed

Henry looked around his office. Little had changed over the years. The hospital had offered him a newer, more spacious office suite up on one of the higher floors, but Henry had politely turned them down. Despite being from Texas, bigger and better was not ingrained in his personality. What the administration couldn’t understand was that Henry’s office was the place of dreams realized. Henry could look around and see Lydia’s young, beautiful face beaming with pride as it had been the first time she saw his office. The chair Henry was sitting in now was the same chair he was sitting in the night he got the phone call that Lydia was in labor. He could remember the night he sat bolt upright from a dream with the answer to the question that had plagued his research team for months and that subsequently got him the cover of Texas Monthly.

Henry rubbed the corner of the desk as he always did when he was in deep thought. Once sharp, the edges had become smooth and glossy over time. He knew Lydia’s drinking had increased over the years. Increased, yes, but when, he wondered, did it get this bad? Henry thought back to all the nights he stayed at the hospital. Now with the kids gone… how long had it been? Had she been drinking like this for the last eight years? No, Henry shook his head. It was impossible. Or was it? The woman he saw last night…

“Excuse me, Doctor.” Henry looked up and into the fretful countenance of one of his research assistants.

“Not right now, Sarah.”

“Would you like a cup of coffee?” Dr. Harrison sighed. “Yes, please.” Hospitals are notorious when it comes to gossip. Dr. Harrison had long supposed it is the death that lingers in the hallways that causes people to pass time with the frivolities of life. Handsome and successful, Henry had long ago stopped worrying about being the subject of such intrigues and suppositions. But from the worried look on Sarah’s face, Henry knew he was once again in the spotlight.

 

Henry knocked on the Girl at the End of the Hall’s door. It was late, but from his usual sojourns around the hospital, the doctor suspected Lydia would still be awake. “Excuse me. I’m Dr. Harrison.” Lydia looked up at the earnest face. “Umm… How are you feeling tonight?” Dr. Harrison walked over to the end of the bed and mildly perused Lydia’s chart. Truth is, Henry had long read the chart when first he became intrigued with The Girl at the End of the Hall, but at that moment, he felt at a loss for how to start the conversation. Fidgeting seemed the natural response.

The Girl sidestepped his question and instead replied curtly, “You are not one of my doctors.”

Doctor Harrison looked up, startled at the forthrightness of Lydia’s tone. “No, no I’m not,” He said. “I umm…” in that moment, Henry realized the truth was his best option. “I heard you reading aloud to yourself one night. I was wondering what you were reading.”

Lydia stared at the young doctor with his sincere face and bright eyes. After a few moments, she softened. “Robinson Crusoe.”

And that’s how it began. From that evening on, Henry’s routine changed. Every night, after wandering the halls for a few minutes, Henry would stop by Lydia’s room nonchalantly inquire after her health. If he felt brave, Henry would take her hand in his and check her pulse, quietly counting her heartbeats as the second hand swept a single revolution of the clock. Then Henry would sit at the edge of her bed as Lydia read aloud. After a while, they would inevitably lapse into conversation, maybe about the book, maybe about life.

Henry knew from her chart that Lydia had been in a terrible car accident. The boy who had been driving died at the scene. Lydia had been life flighted to the hospital with serious internal bleeding and broken bones.

Henry had learned what great and lasting loss was when his mother died. He could still remember the memorial service. He had sat quietly in an oversized chesterfield with his hands in his lap, staring at the patent leather shoes bought special for the occasion. Every once and a while, someone would come by and pat his head, offering platitudes and condescending consolation. Henry did not want the shallow pity of strangers. He wanted to yell and scream and curse God for the farce God had made of life. And on some level, Henry knew that Lydia needed that too: to yell and scream and hit and cry and mourn. And when that time finally came, Henry would be there for her. For her pain was his pain.

Until then, he would not ask. Lydia would only share what she wanted to and nothing more. And so Henry never asked Lydia. And so Lydia never told.

 

Maybe, he thought, as he leaned back in his desk chair, that had been a mistake.

Henry: The Girl at the End of the Hall with the Beautiful Voice

Henry could not remember the exact date he first heard Lydia’s voice. He remembered everything else about that moment, but not the date. No matter how hard he tried to count the days backward, he could never quite capture, with a hundred percent certitude, the day. Henry would have felt better if he could make a factual association to a memory that was anything but factual.

 

When he was just seven, Henry’s parents sat him down in their modest living room and explained to him that his mother had cancer. As his father spoke, Henry’s mother turned deep crimson, uncomfortable with the third person conversation about her body, her future. Henry had now watched variations of this same conversation play out many times as an oncologist. The emotion of powerlessness was not one Henry like reliving, but it provided motivation for his drive and perseverance. Every time Henry wanted to quit, he would remember the shame on his mother’s face when she had to admit that the part of her body that had originally been sexual gratification to his father, nourishment for him, and vanity for her, was now also her death sentence. It was amazing, to Henry, how much havoc a few mutant cells could wreck. As he saw it, cancer was as devastating as it was indiscriminate. Henry made it his life’s ambition to eradicate the terrifying disease.

Night after night, Henry paced the quiet halls of the hospital. In the quiet of the wee, small hours Henry did his best thinking. And it was in the wee, small hours, sometime in October, that Henry first heard Lydia’s soft voice coming from one of the rooms at the end of the hall.

The voice was quiet and yet held a calm confidence. It was the voice of slow moving water. As he neared, Henry slowed his gait. Usually so in command of his habits and physical space, Henry did not know why he suddenly felt an intruder in his own hospital. Henry stood outside the door that day listening to the peaceful voice. She was young. The voice had a clear innocence that age often washes away. She was reading a book. He did not recognize it, but the writing was lyrical, a masterpiece. Henry often thought it strange that most patients preferred to read cheap, dime store novels from the grocery store checkout line rather than read the great pieces of literature they’d never found time to read before. But maybe life was too hard fought for people to read hard fought literature too. Maybe, he thought, we all need happy endings.

Henry did not know how long he had been standing there, listening to the girl softly read. Then just as quietly, she stopped reading and began to cry. The tears were not the tears of anger, nor were they the tears of desperation. To Henry they were gut wrenching. As he blinked away his own tears, he realized they were the tears of loss. He had shed those same tears thirty years ago into his own pillow at home. After a few moments, Henry moved away as silently as he had approached.

And that was the date Henry wish he knew.

That was the date Henry wish he knew, cause that was the date he fell in love with the girl, the girl with the beautiful voice at the end of the hall.

 

 

A couple of years ago, Henry splurged on the extra-long sofa to fit his lanky frame. Most mornings when he woke, his first thought was usually along the lines of how the comfortable sofa had paid for itself many times over. On that morning though, Henry’s first thought was of the girl at the end of the hall.

Henry stretched as he turned on the coffee pot. As the smell of French roast permeated the stale office air, Henry looked out on the awakening streets of the Texas Medical Center. Already cars were backed up at the stoplights. Houston’s traffic was notorious. Henry relished the day when the construction in the Med Center would be complete.

Henry paced around his office. Rarely did he wake up agitated, and never was the source of the agitation a woman when he did. He ran his fingers through his dark curly hair and made an audible sigh of frustration as he grabbed a towel out of the closet. Maybe, he thought, a cold shower would set him straight.

For days afterwards, Henry avoided the room at the end of the hall. The girl with the lonely voice was not his patient, so in theory, this was not hard. Reality, though, was a whole other thing. Henry yearned to see the owner of the voice. Always focused, Henry found himself lost in thought on more than one occasion. Even the nurses were starting to whisper.

Finally, Henry could no longer allow a simple voice to occupy his ever-waking thoughts. As a rational man, a scientist, Henry determined that he had exaggerated the experience. Too much work and not enough sleep had culminated in an almost hallucinatory occurrence.

On a sunny morning in November, Henry fell into the rounds that included the Girl at the End of the Hall.

It was only as he stood looking at her, did Henry realize that if he had expectations of what the Girl at the End of the Hall would look like, it all vanished as he saw the beauty that was the reality. Henry sighed as he thought of the memory. He knew now, that Lydia was far from a traditional beauty. In fact, most men would probably consider her average. But on that crisp November morning, and every day since, Lydia has been the most beautiful woman that Henry had ever seen.

Lydia sat upright with her arms wrapped around her legs. Her auburn hair fell lightly upon her shoulders. She wore no makeup. This was common in the hospital, but unlike other women, the lack of makeup did not lessen Lydia’s beauty, but highlighted it. As Henry saw it, Lydia’s high cheekbones, jaunty nose, and naturally rosy lips made for an astonishing combination.

From her neck down, Lydia donned a crisp white cotton nightgown. It was the old-fashioned kind of nightwear with a big ruffle around the top and buttons all the way down. Henry knew at one glance that the garment was one of those deceptively simple outfits and that while it may have looked like Aunt Sally sewed it, that the nightgown probably cost the equivalent of a week’s wages from Neiman Marcus. The simplicity was simultaneously innocent and sexy. Henry yearned to slowly tug at the little ribbon at the neckline.

When Henry finally looked up, he caught Lydia’s eye. She had been watching him as he stared at her. Her emerald eyes sparked with satisfaction. She looked at him without a speck of self-consciousness or fear. Normally his gaze had the ability to unsettle some people. Never had someone else’s gaze disarmed him. The combination unnerved him. Inadvertently, Henry took a step back.

Henry shook his head. Never had he had sexual feeling towards a patient. Never. It was unethical. It went against everything he stood for. Disgusted with himself, he turned and walked out.

Desire Chip

There is a psychology to drinking. Everything has to be just so. Not at the end, though. The end is a fabrication, a lie we tell ourselves. We are not drunks. We are misunderstood. Put upon. Lied to. We are cultured, educated, not of this world. We are sensitive. Outside is a cruel existence which tramples on our inner souls, so we push people away with both arms and a “Fuck You” to boot. We are lost, confused, scared. We live in continual fear of other people and of ourselves, what we should have done, and what we still need to do. The thoughts which lie inside our head, coupled with our erratic emotional state, make us feel like all of life is insurmountable. And then we want to die.

No alcoholic really wants to sober up. We want to stop hurting, feeling, thinking. We want to stop the pain. But we don’t really want to sober up. Sobering up only comes as a last a last resort.

 

It was an oppressively bright, sunny day as Lydia drove to the meeting. It was hot. Too hot. Too bright. The kind of hot and bright that only comes in late August as everyone curses yet another cerulean day. Houstonians everywhere choked on smog as sweat came rolling down their foreheads and into their eyes. Lydia turned up the air conditioner another notch and dreamed of October.

If she had stopped for a single moment, she might have contemplated what was about to happen. But she didn’t want to contemplate. She just wanted to go. To do… to do what? She didn’t know what she was doing. She just knew she couldn’t do this anymore. So, instead, Lydia concentrated on trying to find this defunct place in the defunct mall that she knew none of her friends had ever shopped at ever.

Lydia walked into the room. It was bigger than she thought it would be. And cozy. Was cozy the word? Anyways, it was clean. Lydia’s brain was in a fog. It made it hard to think, which was probably a good thing. She tentatively stepped into the room, one foot and then the other, as if the mere stepping into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting branded one for life. She looked to either side of her, and sighed a sigh of relief as she realized she was alone in the room. She was scared someone would try to talk to her. She didn’t want to talk. She wouldn’t have been able to express herself anyways. Lydia tried to look like she belonged in this room, wanted to feel confident and in control, but simultaneously Lydia was scared she really did belong here and hoped against hope she was wrong. Lydia suddenly thought of the Groucho Marx joke, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept people like me as a member.” She smiled to herself. Lately it seemed if all of life was some sort of cruel, hideous, joke.

She looked down at her watch. The meeting was supposed to start in ten minutes. Maybe she had the wrong time. There were a couple people smoking people out front, and a man selling coffee. Maybe the other members all decided to step out for a midafternoon cocktail.

Lydia looked around the room. It was an inoffensive beige color. Along the walls were pithy sayings, “First things first” and “Think, think, think” and the infamous twelve steps. Lydia shook her head. This was her salvation? More like a farce. She should leave, she thought. But somewhere in the back of her head, Lydia could just not make the motion happen to walk out. Instead, she hung her head and silently began to cry. What was to become of her?

A minute later, laughter started migrating towards the room. Lydia quickly wiped her eyes. She took a seat in the back row and righted her shoulders. It’s going to be okay, she whispered unconvincingly to herself. The door of the room opened, and four middle-aged men entered the room. Several of them were involved in a conversation that Lydia could not seem to follow. It may have been about fishing lures. Instantly, Lydia was transfixed. All four men seemed to be happy, arguing in a good-natured way. Lydia realized she had not seen anyone genuinely laugh in a very long time. Life had been so difficult. So sad.

Suddenly, Lydia caught the eye of one of the men. Although she quickly averted her gaze, she was not quick enough. The man walked over to her, and stuck out his hand. “I’m Paul.”

Instantly, Lydia realized she should use a fake name. What’s her name? Her name? Her name? Lydia rung her hands trying to think her way out of the name situation as Paul stood staring at her.

“Ummm… Don’t take this the wrong way ma’am, but are you new here?”

Lydia stared at the kind man blankly, still unable to come up with a name, and burst into tears anew.

“Guys, I think we got a new one here.” By this time all four men stood staring at Lydia.

“I know they say don’t pass the Kleenex box, but man, do I hate to see them cry,” said one of the men.

“Shit, she’s fine.”

“It’ll get better. I promise.” Paul turned to the man by the door, “Sammy, get one of them girls up in here.”

A minute later, Lydia looked up as Sammy returned with a young girl in her twenties. She was pretty in tight blue jeans and long blonde hair. She flashed Lydia a smile full of promise and confidence. Lydia looked into her face for a second before she lowered her head back down. But even in that moment, Lydia knew something was different about the stranger. The woman looked neither fearful nor anxious. There was a calm to her that seemed to fill the room. Two of the men took seats on the opposite side of the room against the wall, while Paul and Sammy sat in the two wing chairs at the front of the room. All four men continued to talk in lowered tones. The mood in the room at shifted subtly as people began filing in through the double doors.

The girl who returned with Sammy took the seat next to Lydia. She did not speak. She just very quietly took Lydia’s right hand and held it in her lap. At first Lydia was startled by the singular act. Lydia had not felt the touch of sincerity in a long time. The woman’s hand was warm. As Lydia returned the grasp, she could feel a sense of peace work up her arm and enter her body.

A moment later, Sammy began to talk. “Welcome to the regular 3:15 meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.” Lydia tried her best to concentrate, to understand all the things that people were saying. Many people seemed to be talking about how and why they got sober. Some of the stories seemed to be funny because people were laughing. But as hard as she tried, Lydia could not seem to grasp what was happening around her. All she knew was that she could not stop crying, and that for the whole hour, Lydia’s hand was wrapped in a warm embrace of a complete stranger.

By the end of the meeting, Lydia was exhausted. She had cried herself dry and now all she wanted was a warm bed. Lydia felt pressure on her hand. She looked up and into the comforting eyes of the girl. “At the end of the meeting, Sammy will ask if anyone wants a Desire Chip. A Desire Chip is a personal commitment to stay sober for the next twenty-four hours. If you want one, you will have to walk up there by yourself and get it.” Lydia let this information sink it. Twenty-four hours without a drink. It seemed such a short time, one day, what was one day? And yet, the idea of not drinking was petrifying. Suddenly, Lydia realized that the room had become quiet, and everyone was looking at her. Apprehension and fear fill the air. Slowly, Lydia raised her body and walked to the front of the room. In Sammy’s outstretched hand, was a circular, silver coin that looked like a half dollar. Lydia took the coin and looked at it. Sammy moved to give Lydia a hug. It caught her off guard. And yet, as Lydia took the hug offered, she could almost feel her body absorb strength and compassion. Paul then stepped forward. He gave Lydia a hug that felt like forgiveness. It all happened too quickly, felt so foreign, and so beautiful. Lydia turned to walk back to her seat and for the first time realized that the entire room was clapping for her. Lydia blushed crimson as she sat down.

As she sat, from behind her, somebody slapped her on the back, “Its made from recycled beer cans. If you put it on your tongue and it melts, it means you can drink.” The man broke out in laughter at his own joke. The woman next to him giggled. Lydia looked down the coin they called a “Desire Chip.” It was made of a thin, light metal. On one side of the chip was a 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.” The other side of the Desire Chip had a triangle on it with the words, “Unity, Service, Recovery.” Along the top was the statement, “To thine own self be true.” Lydia turned the coin over and over in her hands as announcements were made. There was no way she was going to put that chip in her mouth.

Lydia looked up as everyone began to stand. The pretty girl once again helped Lydia. “We close the meeting by holding hands in a circle and saying the Lord’s Prayer.” Lydia could not helped but be surprised as her other hand was grabbed by a young man. He could not have been more than twenty. “Congratulations. Keep coming back.” Lydia just looked at him and nodded. She did not know what to say. This kid wasn’t even old enough to legally drink alcohol.

Then the meeting ended. Some people clapped. Some began talking. Some simply left. Lydia looked around, amazed at herself, what she had just experienced. “Congratulations. I’m Aiyana.” Lydia turned around and saw a young Indian woman with beautiful, deep brown eyes. “We passed around a newcomer packet during the meeting. All the women’s phone numbers are on it. You can call any of us anytime you need to talk.”

Lydia took the outstretched envelope. On one side were about twenty different names and phone numbers. Lydia tried to imagine any scenario wherein she would call a complete stranger from off an envelope. “Thank you,” she stammered.

Lydia walked out of the club and into the scorching hot sun. Some people from the meeting, including the pretty girl who sat with her, were standing under a tree smoking.

As she began to pull away in her car, Lydia saw the young girl flag her down. She ran over as Lydia rolled down her driver’s side window. “Hey. My name’s Tessie. I hope you come back tomorrow. I’ll be here.”

“I’m Lydia,” Lydia said. “Thank you. I might.”

“Okay, Lydia. Just don’t drink, okay? Just for the rest of today. Then come back tomorrow. Twenty-four hours, remember?”

“Okay,” Lydia said as she looked down at the Desire Chip still encased in her palm. The girl began to walk back to the group under the shade tree. A few feet away, Tessie turned back around. “Hey, Lydia?” Lydia looked up. “Just so you know… You never have to feel this way again.”

 

Groundhog Days

What Lydia would come to realize is that the reason why she could not remember any but the most dramatic days of that fateful summer, was that there were no last days, just one really long, Groundhog-esque day that kept repeating over and over again. Lydia had a vision of herself as a respectable woman. She was reasonably attractive, some may even say statuesque. She had a beautiful house, and a solid income. In many real ways, Lydia could have taken the opportunity of Henry’s departure and done anything. Their separation could have been a launching off point for Lydia. She had what very few people in life are blessed to have: the money to support her wildest dreams coupled with zero ties to hold her back. She had freedom and means.

Lydia could have spent the sweltering summer in Argentina. She could have moved to France and studird cooking. She could have bought a second house in Napa Valley and spent her days painting the California country-side.

And yet, Lydia was totally trapped within the prison of her mind. Lydia’s most striking memory from that time was the insane sunlight as it pooled through her cheery bedroom windows. She loathed the light, hated the idea that day was passing about her outside and she could do little more than drink in complete solitude. The laughter of the neighborhood children, dogs barking in delight, sent shivers of anger coursing through her body. If she could have built a deprivation chamber, or better yet, lived in one of those far-away places that is dark 18 hours of the day, Lydia would have been far happier.

A Sunny Day Death Wish

Lydia expected to spend the rest of Friday night being twirled around a wood paneled hotel bar by a cultured and well-dressed businessman. What she did not expect was red and blue lights in her rearview mirror as she turned onto Woodway. The police cruiser had been sitting in the dark with its lights off. Lydia never even saw it until it was too late.

Lydia’s heart pounded as the dark figure approached the driver’s side window. While she knew she had never met a man she couldn’t charm, she also knew Houston had been cracking down on drunk driving. Lydia cursed her luck at being pulled over by HPD and not the lesser, more forgiving Village police. Lydia got out her driver’s license and insurance, quickly propped up her breasts, and put on her best pout. And then as the Mag flashlight lowered, she realized the police officer was not a he but a she. A stern she, at that.

What started bad, got worse. “Ma’am, do you know why we pulled you over?”

“Ma’am? You make me sound so old. I’m Lydia. I’m on my to see a friend in from out of town at the Omni Hotel.”

“Ma’am, have you been drinking?”

“Oh, just a glass of wine with dinner. I would never drink and drive. It’s abhorrent. I can’t believe that people would put their and other people’s lives at risk and drive in all sorts of crazy manners.” As much as Lydia knew she had to stop taking, words kept falling out of her mouth. “I actually saw a news report not long ago that said people driving to work the next morning are sometimes still legally drunk from the night before. Can you believe that? Imagine drinking that much.”

“Ma’am, can you step out of the car?”

“No, I would rather not. I have a friend. He is just up the street.”

“Ma’am, step out of the car…” The rest of the memory was a blur. In a flash, panic welled up and unleashed itself in a flurry of excuses and locked doors. Lydia refused to get out. A second and then a third cruiser pulled up. A scene was starting and Lydia was the star. Finally, a sergeant joined the scene. He was older than the rest. Somehow, he managed to get Lydia out of the car through promises of driving her home. But they did not drive her home. They drove her to the police station.

Harris County Jail is not a nice place. A solid concrete fortress on the outskirts of downtown, the jailhouse is intimidating in the light of day. On a dark, inebriated night, the jail is akin to a nightmare. Lydia got booked in the way she had only seen on TV. They took her heels, her purse, her phone. Then they took her picture.

The first cell was sparse. The entire room, ceiling to floor was concrete and white tile. A single toilet, without any type of privacy, stood off to the side. Lydia suspected this was a holding cell. The women were of various ages and ethnicities, but all looked equally intimidating to the middle aged, stumbling woman in a cocktail dress and booties.

After that, lack of sleep mixed with her sky-high blood alcohol level made for a blurry day. There would be three more cells, an orange jumpsuit, and a court appearance before the dirty and demeaning experience would be over early on Tuesday morning. Lydia stood outside the jail and watched determined suits hustling to work. On the city streets, the aroma of greasy diner food mingled with the smell of exhaust.

As she was about to step into a cab that would take her home, Lydia turned her face up at the beginning of another gloriously humid and bright summer day and silently wished she were dead.

The Irish Tenors, Prime Rib, and Champagne

On the morning of the dinner party, Lydia woke up bright and early. There was an immense satisfaction to the day. Lydia was going to show her friends that she was fine, not a torn down housewife, but a woman who had it together. She had something to prove, even if she was not quite sure who she was trying to prove it to.

Lydia padded down the hallway to the kitchen. There was a nervous flutter in her stomach, but Lydia gave it no heed. A cup of tea and some toast, she thought, would fix that right up.

As she went to pour the steaming water from the teapot, Lydia noticed a slight tremor to her hands. She set the pot back down on the burner and stared at her fine china hands for a second or two. There was something about her stomach and her hands that Lydia should know, something in her brain, a memory, a thought, something that Lydia should be able to realize or understand, but could not for some reason, totally grasp.

She shook her head. It would come to her. Forget the tea, Lydia thought. What She needed an eye opener. Maybe a Mimosa. No! A Bloody Mary. That would do the trick. Tomato juice was basically a breakfast juice anyways. And the Vodka would set her straight. After all, it was a special day. She could have one drink.

At seven o’clock, Lydia took a final look around the house. Everything was all set. The lights were dimmed. The Irish Tenors crooned their ascent to a lovely evening. The smell of prime rib wafted through the house, beckoning guests towards a home cooked meal. The table was one that would have made even Sandra Lee happy. Lydia topped off her champagne glass and realized, a little too late, that she had managed to drink the entire bottle as she made last minute adjustments. With a slight hint of self-loathing and anger, Lydia walked through the kitchen and tucked the spent bottle under the newspapers in the recycling bin. There was nothing she could do about it now.

Once her friends started to arrive, the night went by in a flurry of conversations and food. Lydia was at all times a charming hostess. Drinks were constantly topped off, even when the ladies chimed they had had enough. Nonsense, thought Lydia, what’s enough? With insistences that the ladies all forgo their politeness and etiquette, Lydia would readily mention that tonight was not the night for social convention but a celebration of individuality. Lydia raised her glass and boisterously applauded women’s strength everywhere.

As the night wore on, friends began making their excuses to leave. It was, after all, getting late. Husbands were at home with children. A couple of the women said they had early soccer games in the morning, another that she had to go into the office even though it was a Saturday. Lydia tried to cajole the women into throwing off their shackles and dancing into the night. The women all looked at each other. Lydia caught the shadows of disapproving looks, as if she had said something profane or distasteful. Hastily Lydia back-stepped her plan, laughed it off, and wished everyone a safe drive home as she held open the front door to let them pass.

As soon as the last car drove off, Lydia burst out with a venomous peal of anger. Who did they think they were, coming in here, treating her as if she were some lost child. Pitying her. She was great. Lydia looked in the hallway mirror. There were dark makeup smudges under her eyes and her hair was a little disheveled. With a few quick swipes of her hands, Lydia was put back into shape. She was a good looking broad. Fuck ‘em. She could find a party. There were parties around. Bars. Nice hotels bars with Scotch. Nice hotel bars with twinkling laughter where beautiful, middle aged women could find company at ten o’clock at night.

With renewed energy, Lydia grabbed her car keys and set off towards the Four Seasons to find herself a drink and a conversation.