i don't have a theme song, but if i did, my current jam would be a mix of cohen's "hallelujah" and sir mix-a-lot's "i like big butts".
[i own it, aight?]
so it was with an odd hybrid of styrofoam-swilling, caffeine-charged, and 24-hr. fitness, endorphin-induced, serenity that i eased into my seat at the windsor club, and anticipated my passive place as spectator for the evening.
wednesday evenings have become our unofficial date night; his 'n her meetings. we pack up our issues, and ourselves, into the car, only to unpack it all when we arrive in glendale. no kodachrome knockouts for these barely marrieds. leave the cinematic comforts to the newlyweds. no, go ahead. keep the artery-clogging popcorn and mind-numbingly, boring banter to yourselves. we retired the bumpin' bleacher seats a lifetime ago.
i'll take this surreal, speed, soul dating over crap cinema any day.
[it's sexy and i know it.]
so, i sat. peaceful. pulled back ponytail, no makeup, fat jeans; bald ego. ready to enjoy first, the opening act, a 5 minute speaker, and then the headliner, a 45 minute speaker. as the new leader, v. had yet to introduce the speaker and was apologetically rambling about forgetting to ask someone ahead of time, but now he had someone special in mind, and it was going to be a surprise to her and...
you know that feeling when you've tripped, and you are actively in mid-flight, and you realize it's going to hurt a lot when you hit, but there's nothing you can do about it, which really sucks, because it looks like it's going to REALLY hurt and...
"our 5 minute speaker is...HENRIETTE!"
clutch head. gasp loudly. turn multiple shades of red. and whatever you do, make sure you cry "NO", very dramatically.
truth is, i was terrified. i think i have shared 5 times in as many months. i'm a newborn lolling its 5 month-old head around; barely have i been able to lift and wipe away the drool, never mind form words and speak.
but in aa, you do what is asked of you, if you want to stay sober. and i want to stay sober.
boom. boom. boom. boom. BOOM. BOOM.
there i was. standing at a podium, in front of a mic., in front of 100 people, wondering when universal studios had time to bring in their sound fx. department, and if they could please turn it down. i knew my cheeks now qualified as the official selection of red for alcoholics anonymous. probably "flushed for fiorinol!" or "pretty in p-intervention!".
i didn't look up. i couldn't breathe. and i still couldn't hear.
boom. boom. boom. boom. BOOM. BOOM.
"hi. i'm henriette. and i'm an alcoholic."
[except i'm quite sure they didn't say it with an "E".]
"i'm, um, originally from toronto, canada. um. i've lived here for about, 15, um, 16 years. um..."
[one of my biggest pet peeves is public speakers overpeppering with "um"s. knock it off, pepper spice.]
"when i was 19, i had my first kidney transplant. when i was discharged, the er nurse told me if i continued to have pain, i could get tylenol 1's over the counter at any pharmacy. that was it. every time i went to canada, the very first thing i would do was visit "shoppers drug mart" and get my codeine. it started with 2 or 3 tablets a day, like a cup of coffee, and by rehab, i was taking 18-20. every day since i was 19. i'm 43."
and i had them.
and they had me.
and with that maple-leaf trembling revelation of canadian codeine, they had my back.
"black out drinking...diagnosis...kidney rejection...fiorinol...abuse...hide alcohol...dope sick...disability...vodka...dialysis..."
ah, their silence was like velvet, cushioning my fright; every intake of breath, a nudge from behind;
every nod of the head, a hand fingering mine.
"the first thing i did after the transplant was crack open a corona and take a big swig with my dilaudid. and all i could see was that i was celebrating."
"rejected...prograf...oxycontin...stole husband's pills...rehab..."
and then i talked about aa. that my first meeting in west hollywood was not like a lightning bolt, earth-shattering, oprah-esque, lightbulb, "a-ha!", moment. it was a quiet click. the piece that you've been searching for finally fitting into place. that i have a relationship with a god that's hit and miss and stop and start, but it's there. and i'm grateful. so grateful.
and the place exploded. take that bono.
at the break, throngs and throngs (all right, a bunch) of people, loved and laughed all over this flustered filly. cheeks now stained a modest flush; ponytail sprouting appropriate tendrils of delight. shucks, i couldn't keep up with the hulking frames bending to enfold me and call out my name!
poke. (ow.) prod. (ow.) peck. (ow.) henpecked!; someone pop this soaring, pumped-up ego. it felt too good. the crowd felt too loud. it was all about me. me. me. me. me. me. and i didn't like it.
and then i saw her.
her name was s., with slumped shoulders too broken, too bent, to carry her load. she had done everything right. pretty clothes, pretty makeup, pretty smile. but when i dove into her pools, i found we share one pretty big mess...
"thank you so much. your story touched me more than any other share."
sharp intake of breath. this time mine.
so we talked. and i listened to her story. and i realized that as much as i would LOVE to sit in a corner, drool and suck on my thumb, i am not a newcomer anymore.
[i am responsible.]
and as i waited downstairs in the lobby for uberhubby, (man, can those al-anons talk!...too soon?), breaking news flashed on the local news.
"the autopsy report on whitney houston's death was released today. the popstar was found face down in a bathtub with cocaine, alcohol, pills, prescription and non in her system..."
[cue: sound fx.]
with a familiar whistle, a hand slipped into mine and we briefly glanced at the screen. then together we turned and walked into the night.
i can't wait for next week.