Other Broken Things Chapter One
I’d cut a bitch for a cigarette right now. Unfortunately, I’m sandwiched in the car between inflatable Santa and inflatable Frosty and the only person within striking distance is my mom.
“You sure you don’t want me to come in?” she asks as she tugs at her hand-knitted red-and-green striped hat. Mom is the mascot of the holiday season. Pretty sure she pees eggnog and her armpit odor is peppermint scented.
“It’s a closed meeting, Mom. I told you that. Only the alkies get to go. Not their moms. Plus you’ve got to finish decorating.”
My fingers curl in and out of my palm. Someone at the meeting has to have a smoke. Has to.
“I was looking online. There are some open meetings in the city. I could go with you to those.”
I wave my hand. “Mom. Stop. I’ll be fine. I went to a meeting every day in rehab. I know the drill. Pick me up in an hour.”
I shove Frosty to the side and push open the backseat door. Yes, I’m in the back. Like a toddler. The passenger seat has been taken up by inflatable Rudolph. I slide out and Mom turns down “Feliz Navidad” long enough to call out to me.
“Proud of you, Natalie. You’ve got this.”
I wave again, resisting the urge to give her the finger, and turn away so she doesn’t see my eye roll. Mom’s obviously fit time in her busy holiday schedule to read some of the Big Book—Alcoholics Anonymous’s bible to getting my shitty life together, told through a series of steps and stories of pathetic losers just like me. Jesus.
The brown building in front of me is nondescript with the letters SFC on a plaque in front. As I step up to the door, my hands shake a little. Not from the DT’s—you need to be way deeper down the rabbit hole than I ever got for delirium tremens—but from the whole business of it.
AA meetings are a requirement. Three times a week until I’m three months sober and then twice a week until I’m six months. Six months feels like for-fucking-ever at this point, but honestly, a month ago, six hours felt the same.
I pause outside the door and stare at the sign taped to the front. Meeting times, plus a plug about movie nights and a Sunday-morning pancake breakfast. There are three meetings every day. I can’t imagine going to that many meetings in a day. What the hell for? How many times does someone need to hear the Serenity Prayer?
I slide my hand in my coat pocket and finger the card inside. Go in, zone out, get your card signed. Drawing in a deep breath, I push through the entrance and am immediately hit by the smell of BO and burned coffee. I blink my eyes a few times to adjust to the light and see I’m in a hallway. A door on my right says FELLOWSHIP MEETING ROOM.
Another breath, this time through my mouth so I don’t have to deal with the BO stench. My heart is beating pretty hard. Even more than the first time I got in the boxing ring, a million years ago when I thought things were different.
There’s a long mirror on the side of the door, like we somehow might feel the need to check our appearance before going in to confess our drunken transgressions. My ridiculously curly hair is pulled back neatly in a band, my slapdash makeup job is miraculously holding up from this morning, and the rest of me looks Abercrombie solid. This is definitely my 12-step best, so I’m not sure why I’m stalling.
Somehow, walking into a meeting room felt easier at rehab. Probably because I had a nurse escorting me. I squeeze my eyes shut and grip the knob, pulling open the door. Wishing with everything I have for this not to be real.
The room smells too. Different, though. Like musty books and defeat. Yes, defeat has a smell. A distinct cigarette smell, with zero traces of alcohol. An old woman near the door looks up and smiles a little at me. A quick scan around the room shows three black dudes in conversation around the big table, an obviously drunk or hungover Hispanic dude with his head leaned against the back wall, and a white guy talking to a woman with red hair and a scowl on her face. The white guy looks up when I enter and nods at me.
No beaming smiles or welcoming committee here. No one’s happy to see me. They’re all dealing with the same shit. I’m another soldier who’s been drafted into the army of addiction. Hardly cause to celebrate. On the plus side, from the look of things, there’s no way anyone here is going to be digging that deep into my business, which means I won’t have to think—something I’ve gotten excellent at in the past month.
I unwind the scarf at my neck—hand-knitted by Mom, of course—and plop into a chair at the table. A quick glance at the clock shows I have five minutes before the meeting starts. I need to time this better. Or bring cigarettes next time so I can smoke beforehand. But I finished my last one this morning, sitting on my window ledge and watching Mom hang icicle lights. She frowned when she saw the cigarette, but didn’t say anything. She’s been on me about them since I got back, but she must have figured a lecture about them would have been less than welcome this morning.
The red-haired lady stands up from the table and approaches me. Ah. Meeting leader. I know by now talking to the newbies is part of their job.
“Kathy,” she says, sitting in the plastic chair next to me. “First meeting?”
“First meeting here. Not first meeting ever,” I mumble in response. Wonder if I could get her to sign my card now and then leave the meeting early. I give her a long look and realize she’s not the type to break rules. She’s got that hard-living look about her, and if she’s a meeting leader, she’s been in AA awhile now.
“Got a sponsor?” she asks.
“No. I’m just out of rehab.”
She nods and I catch the white guy watching us. Not even slyly. Just openly staring. I have an urge to flip him off, but I doubt it’ll earn me any brownie points and I have a card I need filled up.
“Take out your phone,” Kathy says. I pull out my cell and she snatches it from my hand like she’s going to confiscate it. Instead she presses some buttons and hands it back to me. “I’m in your contacts now. Call whenever.”
“Natalie,” I say.
She nods again and gets up. “Find a sponsor, Natalie. You’re too young to be in here.”
I almost roll my eyes, but that’d just be proving her point. I am too young. Seventeen. Way too young for rehab. Way too young for AA. It’s all sort of bullshit, but to say my parents are overprotective is an understatement. So here I am. Two days out of rehab, two months after a DUI, surrounded by people who don’t know anything about me, with a court card in my pocket, and wanting to beat the crap out of just about everyone.
Happy fucking holidays.