Academic journal article TriQuarterly

No Last Names

Academic journal article TriQuarterly

No Last Names

Article excerpt


What I didn't like about AA was how everyone drank all that coffee. And how it had to be black, like they were telling you, I'm a certain kind of person because I drink black coffee. It happened that I preferred my coffee black, but I wasn't one of them, so I dumped in sugar, loaded my cup with powdered creamer, sipped slow to choke it down.

And I hated the room in the church basement where they met. The floor was the colorless tile of a high school classroom, so when you stared down at it, your stomach knotted the way it did when the teacher used to say "Pop quiz!" The room was stuffy, and there was an old piano that someone was always pounding on before the meeting, thinking they were a better player than they were. Or maybe it needed tuning.

There were about a hundred things I hated about AA. I hated how everything had numbers, like twelve steps and one day at a time and ninety meetings in ninety days. How the parking lot was gravel, so I nicked up the heels of my shoes. How you never knew if the basement door was unlocked or if you had to go around to the side, and whichever way you guessed, you got a locked door. There were a million things. Maybe the worst was how it was like confession in church back when I lived in Detroit, the same dry silence lingering uselessly between words, the same weight, the time-moving-backward-never-ending trap I'd already escaped once.

I kept going to AA because I'd told my husband I would for three months, and when he didn't believe me, I decided to prove him wrong. Hi, my name is Beth and I'm an alcoholic.

Only my name is Sophie.

The morning the kids and I were packing up the car for the annual summer trip to visit my mother in Detroit, Jimmy got me alone and put a folded piece of paper in my hand. I smiled, thinking it was maybe a lovey-dovey note about how much he'd miss me - we were both trying that hard lately - but it was a phone number. I didn't have to ask; his words spilled like liquid, how great that I was finally getting help, how important it was to our future together, how he was proud of my new beginning. Finally I put my hand over his mouth and said real slow, "Whose phone number?" and in the pause, my hand got warm from his breath so I took it away.

"It's the AA office in Detroit," he whispered so the kids wouldn't hear. His eyes moved far away, and I looked to what he saw but it was nothing. "So you can find a meeting," and that's when he looked straight at me, his face open like a book with a picture you don't want to see. He'd decided he couldn't ever trust me again; with his face that way, he didn't look like a husband anymore, just a man I once knew. But it was the sun, because when I stepped back and stopped squinting, he was the same Jimmy, just more worried-looking.

"Vacation doesn't count," I said.

"It counts," he said.

"I'll be fine."

"You're not fine here," he said.

Amy walked by with two pillows that she tossed into the back seat. She made that flippy noise with her thongs, slapping hard on the pavement, and Jimmy and I stopped talking. She paused, then said, "We're almost ready to go," as if she were the one driving, as if she were in charge.

I folded the piece of paper as small as it could go. "You're right," I said to Jimmy. "Vacation counts." Then I slipped the phone number into the zippered pocket of my purse.

"OK." He knew the word was wrong but he didn't know any others. "OK."

I kissed him on the cheek. "You need to shave."

"Sophie, this time I mean it," he said.

I nodded, patted my purse, nodded again.

"I love you," he said, like it was a reminder. I probably would've thought more about that, but I needed to get in the car and get moving. Never mind that it was only Detroit at the end.

Another thing I hated about AA was how there was one pipe that made this pinging when anyone ran water in the bathroom sink, exactly like ice clinking in a glass. …

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