by Maura O’Shea
When we show up at Emma’s that afternoon, her jeans are drooping off of her, and she’s wearing a ripped, see-through Captain Morgan’s shirt without a bra. I’m astounded by her thinness. We had been waiting for her to get back, my older sister and I, out on her front stoop. She just walked over to the corner store for whiskey, cigarettes, and a banana. She’s got a high ball on the side table next to the bed, almost full. She’s on the phone, making an appointment to check in to rehab the following day. She doesn’t want to call. We are there to make sure she does. It’s like an “intervention/you’re going to rehab” in one.
At first she lies, and says that she called and left a message while we were outside. We make her call again, but we try to make it clear we aren’t forcing her, that she doesn’t have to go, and she says, through tears. “I don’t want to go. I just think it’s kind of… necessary.”
She texts me later that night, from my Mom’s: “How did it come to this? Can I blame it on genes?” I’m not sure how to answer. Sure, that’s got something to do with it. And that makes it more like a blueprint than something she chose.
She described it as something that went from fun, to habit, to need. I’ve been thinking a lot about craving, but mostly about how arbitrary the thing I am craving is.
Plath asked, “Is there no way out of the mind?” As I write this there is a woman standing right outside the window of the café. She’s tattooed, smoking a rolly cigarette, talking to herself, and she starts making aggressive faces and gestures at me through the glass, but I am refusing to engage.
Emma seems like a different person now that she’s sober. She’s lucid, but less happy—sort of. She’s bored more than anything. She lives in a “Sober Living Environment” (SLE) in Santa Cruz, with a bunch of other women in recovery. She has rules and a curfew. She can’t find work. She gains weight in the way drug addicts do. She goes to a lot of meetings, talks a lot about her sobriety.
One of these weekends I go down to Los Angeles and decide to text a friend of a friend, an acquaintance, who I know has just broken up with his long-time girlfriend. We had been chatting a bit in the previous weeks. We text flirtatiously back and forth, and I get very excited, because the possibility of actual sex presents itself, and though it is not, it sure feels like an awfully long time since the last time I had sex. He shows up at my friend’s party really late, and less attractive than I remembered him being. I am stoned and drunk on red wine, and mostly just want to sleep, but at this point, I have already pretty much made up my mind to go with him.
The next day I bitch and make jokes about it with my friends. “Oh you know, unsatisfying, sort of sad and drunken sex between two heartbroken people, followed by a semi-awkward brunch, or whatever.” When he’s driving me home, Bob Marley comes on, and we drive by someone wearing a big clunky alligator costume, doing a dance, holding and shaking a sign on the corner, a sign in the shape of an arrow. It points to a car maintenance garage on the corner that’s having a special on oil changes. When he drops me off at my friend’s house, I kiss him on the cheek, just quickly. He says it won’t be long till he’s in San Francisco. I say, “Ya, hit me up!” and get out of the car, disoriented, walking in the opposite direction of my friend’s house.
This type of interaction becomes increasingly unsatisfying. My married friends ply me for all the details. They joke that they’re living vicariously through me and say that they want the play-by-play.
I start thinking I need to make a change, move somewhere. Suddenly I am overcome with the feeling that I have somehow gotten way way off track. That maybe it’d be good for me to be far away from my family and friends for a while. Maybe if I moved away, I could kind of disappear, or I’d be doing what I should be doing, and all these distractions would fade.
As I board the plane home, there are all these separate entrances and lines: a different line for priority members, gold members, gold ticket members, premium gold ticket members, etc. First class boards first, and everyone hovers around the line to give the airline workers their boarding passes, bum-rushing in when their rows are called. As I board, some instrumental versions of popular Katy Perry and Maroon 5 songs are being played over the radio, and as I walk through first class, I notice there are seven rows, two seats in each row, because they are big seats. Of the fourteen chairs, there is one woman, and one Asian man. All the rest are white guys, mostly gray-haired ones, with big guts that hang over their buckled business pants, collared shirts tucked in. I walk back to the main cabin.
While waiting for my flight, I text with a friend of mine about our lives, and she tells me she thinks a big part of life is figuring out how much incompleteness we can live with. She tells me she hasn’t had sex in over a year, but that, honestly, she misses the spooning a lot more than the sex.
Part 2 is here.