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. Outside is a cruel existence which tramples on our inner souls. So we push people away with both hands and a “Fuck You” to boot. We are lost, confused, scared. We live in continual fear of other people and of ourselves. We fear what we have done. We fear 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.
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 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.
Her brain was in a fog. It made it hard to think, but she figured that was probably a good thing. If she had stopped and seriously thought about what she was about to do, she knew she would not go. So instead, Lydia concentrated on trying to find the defunct place in the defunct mall that she knew none of her friends shopped at ever.
Lydia tentatively stepped into the club, 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 mostly 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, while simultaneously fearing she really did belong. 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, inside joke that she could not understand.
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 out front, two women at a table in the corner reading a book, and a man selling coffee. Lydia smirked; maybe the other members had decided to go out for a midafternoon cocktail.
Lydia looked around the club. It was bigger that she thought it would be. And comfortable. Was comfortable the word? Anyways, it was clean. Off to the side was a large room. Lydia figured it was the meeting room from the way the chairs were arranged. 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. Or Women. 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 you new here?”
Lydia stared at the kind man blankly, still unable to come up with a name, and burst into tears anew.
“Guys, 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, 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 own. 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. She blushed crimson as she made her way back to her seat.
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 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 and run over. 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.”