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.

Last Days

Lydia opened her eyes. They were crusty with sleep. As she raised her head to look around, waves of pain shot through her body. With a groan, Lydia settled her head back on the pillow. After a few minutes, she braced herself against the impending pain, and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Carefully, Lydia raised her body from the bed and slowly made her way to the kitchen.

Lydia stared at the bottle of vodka. A shadow of disgust crossed her face as her trembling hands poured a belt into a cut crystal rocks glass. She looked deeply at the venomously clear liquid. She did not want to drink it. A complex system of emotions flashed through Lydia’s mind as her hand, almost of its own volition, required her to drink the liquid. As much as she did not want to drink the vodka, she had to.

As soon as the alcohol touched her stomach, Lydia retched. With surprisingly quick reflexes, she covered her mouth with her hand as sour vodka and stomach acid pushed against her palm. She ran to the kitchen sink just as the second convulsion shook her body. Brown water spewed forth and splattered into the ivory porcelain sink.

Lydia looked at the contents of her last day of drinking and started to cry. She walked back to the vodka, picked up the glass, and finished off the shot.

Deluge

Lydia woke up to the sound of rushing water. Something was instantly wrong. Water was everywhere. Lydia surged forward to turn off the bathtub water. As Lydia pulled herself from the bathtub, a wave of water overflowed the tub adding to the half inch of water already covering the tiles. As she pulled her second foot out of the bathtub, her first foot slipped out from under her. Lydia fell hard. Her head bounced off the tile floor. Blood filled her mouth from where her teeth bit down. Lydia crawled on her hand and knees to the cabinet. She pulled herself up on her knees and grabbed the bottom of a stack of towels. Lydia cursed as the soft, yellow cotton fell around her head.

Hello!

Thank you for visiting my blog! My name is Ann G. Kroger. For years now, I have thought of myself as a writer. The problem, though, was that I was always too fearful to actually let anyone read my writing. My stories were always in a state of flux, never quite good enough to suffer the blows of criticism.

Then one day, with the help of some friends, I realized I just needed an extra dose of courage. I decided to spend a year writing to see what happens. I write almost every day, but a couple of times a week, I take a deep breath and push the “Publish” button. Holy cow.

Anywho, a few weeks ago, I starting writing about this character, Lydia. It was a little thing about how bad things should not happen on sunny, bright Houston days. And in this story, Lydia’s husband left her. I liked the story very much. So, I decided to write the story of how Lydia and her husband (who I subsequently named Henry) met. Then I wrote about Lydia entering recovery.

I’ve grown very fond of Lydia and Henry. Most of my posts are about their parallel journeys through life. As I post them, they are a bit neurotic and disordered. I think confusion has made it difficult for new readers to catch up to whats happening.

Therefore, I have rearranged my website to accommodate Lydia and Henry. You can click on the Lydia and Henry tabs where I have re-posted the stories in a chronological timeline. Hopefully, this will make it easier to catch up. Then you can join the roller coaster in progress as the episodes post.

Thank you for reading. I know there are never enough hours in the day, so it means a lot to me when even five people set aside a few minutes of their life to support me and my writing. Feel free to email or post comments. I would love to know who you are and what you are thinking.  Thanks again.

 

Best regards,

Ann G. Kroger

Songs on the Radio

The next weeks passed in a blur. Even years later, someone would say something in a meeting or a song would come on the radio that would jog her memory of that summer. Lydia would occasionally indulge the memory and try to piece some of those last days together. She never would completely. Most of it was lost forever. But there were some moments she did remember.

Cat and Mouse

To Lydia, there was an acute anticipation and perplexing excitement wrapped around her alone-time bottle. But first she had to accomplish her chores in order to be able to drink in peace. Normally, the first order of duty, upon coming home from Spec’s, was stashing the bottles so Henry would not stumble upon them.

Lydia replenished the liquor in the bar. Although she tried to stay away from it, she inevitable drank away at least one, if not more, of the bottles before she was able to make it back to Spec’s. A long-standing cat and mouse game existed between Henry and Lydia. Lydia was sure he kept tabs on the level of liquids that were in each of the bottles. Lydia in turn also kept tabs so that she would put in the exact amount back. Lydia didn’t know what would happen if this game didn’t exist, if Henry didn’t try to exert control, and if she didn’t try to outwit him. It was insanity. She was sure of that. She never told any of her friends, never told anyone, of the craziness that played out between her and Henry. She was ashamed of it. And yet, there was a coyness to the situation. She knew he cared. So, while she could not let him cut off her supply of alcohol, she played along and let him think he was making a difference. The idea that Henry and Lydia would ever have an adult, rational conversation about Lydia’s drinking was laughable. Some things, Lydia thought, were better left in the closet.

Lydia walked back into the kitchen and started putting the groceries away. She was an expert chef, had learned over the years. But now that the kids were gone, Henry was mostly at work, Lydia didn’t really have an occasion for cooking. Well, that would change, she thought, as she stood looking at her cabinets. Lydia would have a dinner party. This day was just getting better and better. A party. That was what the situation called for. She would start right away planning a menu and ordering invitations. Lydia slammed her palm down on the granite counter-top, and she would only invite women.

Lydia turned on the music and as she opened a bottle of wine. In the coolness of the refrigerator, two more bottles were tucked away in the vegetable crisper.

Dancing in the Aisle

With an audible chuckle, Lydia realized that with Henry gone, she could drink all she wanted for as long as she wanted. All pretenses, all confines, were now lifted. She could dance and sing, play the Ramones at full volume, and dance around in her skivvies. She could lounge in the hot tub and drink margaritas. She could stay up all night watching movies and drinking champagne. It would be glorious, like a vacation in her own home. For the first time in a long time, Lydia felt free.

With nervous anticipations, Lydia pulled into the parking lot of the liquor store. Normally, as Lydia loaded up her cart, she would make casual references to a party she was throwing or friends coming over for dinner, something that might justify the large quantity of booze in her cart. Today, though, she didn’t care what anyone thought. She was on a mission. Manically, Lydia began counting on her fingers all the supplies she would need for her vacation. She would need several bottles: vodka, rum, tequila, some club soda, diet coke, mixers, limes. And a carton of cigarettes. Henry didn’t let Lydia smoke because of the cancer. But fuck him. He left. She could do whatever she wanted and what Lydia wanted to do was smoke. Drink and smoke and dance.

Lydia wondered if she should take the time to stop at Whole Foods before going home. She paused as she was reaching for the Bombay Sapphire. Food. How long was this bender to last? Two days? Four? A week? A smile crossed Lydia’s lips. This was going to be great. In anticipation of nothing, Lydia added three more bottles of gin to her cart, just in case. She would stop by the store. She wanted everything all set so she could enjoy herself without any restrictions or thoughts of having to leave the house. She imagined free-range, organic, roast chicken and scalloped potatoes au gratin with a Sauvignon Blanc for her vacation dinner. Oh, wine. How could she have forgotten the wine? Aargh. Lydia swung the cart around and made for the back aisle.