By Adam Penna
In the morning, she’d wake up to find the kitchen a wreck. The greasy cookie sheets. The mixing bowl coagulant. Caked utensils. Flour everywhere. She’d have little memory of the baking or the eating of the result, but she’d feel deep shame for having brought her young daughter into it all. That fact seared her heart.
One morning, her daughter began to weep. “Mommy,” she said. The shame gripped her. But still, she didn’t stop drinking and wouldn’t for years.
Finally, she wanted to know a new freedom and a new happiness—plain and simple.
“I wanna know a new freedom and a new happiness,” she said.
“You’re gonna fail again,” her husband said. He was securing the loose doorstop with some white finishing nails.
“It’s the truth.”
“Because it hurts?”
“No,” he said, and he stopped what he was doing, unfolded himself. The nails stuck between his teeth. “Because it’s true.”
In line at the Rite Aid, she bumped into Jimmy Fitzgerald. He always identified himself as Jimmy Fitzgerald because that’s the way the old timers did it. Bill Wilson never meant for alcoholics to confuse anonymity with secrecy. Still, secrecy has its advantages too.
“That’s how you do it,” he said. He pointed at the tin of decaffeinated coffee.
“God’s in the coffee pot,” he said.
“Your daughter has something to tell you,” he said. “Go ahead,” he said to the girl.
“I’m gay,” the girl said. “I think I’m gay.”
On the vanity, all the mother’s makeup and anti-aging creams.
“What about grandchildren?” she found herself saying. “What about my dreams?”
Completing the difficult and threatening operation of eyeliner application. Now, the girl stood before her. Her motley hair obscuring her eyes. The outfit à la Savers Thrift.
Why didn’t she come to her first? Why her father, who could be so gruff? Why did she insist on wearing her hair that way?
She wanted to cry. She instead applied her lipstick. Later, blowing out her hair, the tears began to fall.
At the meeting that night, she made the coffee, baked cookies, Christmas sprinkled, and laid everything out neatly on a tray with doilies.
“These are great,” they said. “Really great.”
“The last pigeon never baked cookies.”
She shared that night, as she did every night—because that’s how you stay sober—about the situation with her daughter. That’s what she called it, too. The situation. And though she shared in a general way about dreams and expectations, etc., everyone seemed to understand, even those who were childless.
Afterward, a careworn old woman everyone called Ma approached her.
“Let go,” she said, “and let God.”
The woman had hold of her hand. Her skin was thin, papery. Like her grandmother’s.
There was a business meeting over it. The old timers agreed, the girl should be taken home. Recovery through love and service. The newcomers weren’t so sure. People had been taken advantage of—even in Bill Wilson’s time. The blood of history was on their hands. If anything went wrong. They didn’t want him.
“She got a note,” the old timer said. “What more do you need?”
“He isn’t eighteen yet.”
They talked about him like he wasn’t there. Just like at home when his father tried to convince his mother that whether this was a phase or not didn’t matter.
“Like ninety percent of them attempt suicide,” he said.
“I won’t be held hostage, Len.”
In the end, two middle-aged women shared the responsibility and drove the boy home. He could’ve walked, the house no more than a mile south from the Methodist Church where they met every Monday night and discussed the twelve steps of Al-Anon and their favorite alcoholics.
“I’m just getting used to the idea,” he said, “that my mother isn’t a mother. That I have only one real parent.”
The mascara caked in his eyes where the tears stuck, but the spiked dog-collar glistened and gleamed a little in the light.
“Maybe,” the Big Book thumper said, “take the cotton out of your ears and stick it in your mouth.” He was holding the big blue book aloft like a fiery old-timey preacher, addressing the whole meeting, but he was looking at her, definitely looking at her.
Later, he approached her. “You know why they call them pigeons?” he said. “Because–” and he made the pigeon motion of pecking. “All you have to do is nod.”
At the end of Atlantic, she took her last drink. Three airplane bottles of Absolut perched on the dashboard. She looked out over Benjamin Bay. A Hispanic man in waders cast from the beach into the darkening water. She knew it was the end and tried to tell herself that every end was really another beginning. She picked up the Big Book and tried to read, but the words on the pages swam.
“Think of it this way,” the husband had said. “It’s not like we’re losing a daughter, so much as—”
“Don’t say it,” she said. “Don’t fucking say it.”
Tomorrow she’d start counting days again. She’d pick up another commitment. After ninety days, maybe she’d get a sponsor this time, do the steps as written (as written, she could hear the thumper say). Meanwhile, she’d continue to love her daughter. My daughter. I don’t have a son, she’d think in her heart, I gave birth to a beautiful pink daughter. I held her. She’s mine.
Eventually, her heart would soften. She’d get her pronouns right. She’d surrender.
But first, there were practical things to do. Like get to a meeting. Like raise her hand. Like saying, “My name is Marina, and I’m an alcoholic.”