“I’m a Dad. I’m not a god, although some days I wish I were—I’m just a man. I have three grown children—all of whom are gifted—all of whom cause me enormous grief and make me want to run away. I don’t. I get up each day and do my best. Sometimes, it works and sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, I drink. My name is Dan and I’m an alcoholic.”
I look around the room. Faces smile at me. An older woman sitting near the door quietly weeps. I feel nothing.
Bert gets up and wraps up the session. I watch as people slowly file out.
Bert’s a good guy—that’s what his wife told him when she ran off with a co-worker. I’m sure on lonely nights her words give him some consolation. As for me, I’ve come to a firm conclusion—it’s wrapped up in the phrase, no help for pain. I read that somewhere in a poem and figured that just about sums up my situation—but Bert thinks I’ve got something to offer, and… well, Bert’s a good man.
“You wanna go for a drink?”
I look at him dazed. He punches me—hard, in my shoulder. “Just kidding cowboy.”
The cowboy nickname comes from a conversation we had when I first got to know him—in a bar, of course—not that Bert was drinking—he was doing his usual thing—listening.
Bert should be on that TV show, The Listener—you know the one, where the guy reads everyone’s thoughts.
“As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?” he asks.
I butt out my cigarette; knock back three inches of neat scotch and say without hesitation, “The Lone Ranger.”
Why I say it, I don’t know. It’s a boozy thing to say—sort of like Paul Butterfield singing, Drunk Again—it’s funny and you laugh, especially the part when he says, my wife left me and my girlfriend too. Well, maybe Bert wouldn’t think that part was too great.
But, after this night we become friends and Bert calls me up every day and asks if I’ve had a drink. I hate that phone ringing. He ends every conversation the same way—“Hang in there, cowboy.”
Well, I am—hanging in, that is…maybe, just barely. Some days are good and some days—face it, some days you just don’t want to get out of bed. I’m still trying to figure out if life makes sense or is just dumb—let’s put it this way, so far Homer Simpson and Charlie Sheen are winning.
“Dan, can I talk to you for a moment?”
It’s the lady from the back. Her face is still tear-stained, although she’s been dabbing at it with a balled-up Kleenex.
I look at Bert and he gives me an, I’m out of here look.
“Catch up with you tomorrow, cowboy.” And with that, he’s gone.
“Do you have a moment to talk?” she asks. Her eyes are pleading—I’m always a sucker for that.
“Sure. There’s a coffee shop across the street. Why don’t you let me buy you a coffee?”
The relief in her eyes says yes.
We get coffee and sit in a window booth looking out onto the street. It’s a chi-chi part of town—large, older homes interspersed with Reno’s and the local merchants have invested tons of money into the streetscape—it’s kind of like an upscale Greenwich Village.
And this woman looks like she comes from one of those houses—nicely dressed, hair cut and styled—a classy, older lady. So I listen carefully to her opening words.
“I want to talk to you, Dan, because of all the people at the meeting, you seem to be the one who has it all together—including the way you relate to your adult children.”
I almost choke on my coffee. As far as I know, I only said a few words about my two sons and daughter, and that in response to another woman in the group. I probably only said about a dozen words—twenty, tops!
“Did you miss the part where I said I still drink?”
She waves her hand as if shooing away a mosquito. “That’s to be expected—you’re in a horrid situation and as you said tonight, you’re only human. Besides, we’ve all got something.”
“Why do you drink?” I ask her. As soon as I say it, I want to take the words back. Story of my life.
But the woman doesn’t flinch—I have to give her that.
“I drink because I can’t live with the guilt.”
There’s a pained look in her eyes. I want to ignore it, but can’t. Sometimes life demands something of you, whether you can do it or not.
“What do you feel guilty about?”
“I killed my baby, “ she says—matter of fact, just like that.
“When was that?” I ask, taking into account she’s somewhere in her mid-fifties.
“Thirty years, two months and ten days ago.” She’s about to cry again.
I figure there are two ways this conversation can go—I can tell her the situation is over and get on with her life, or I can sit here and listen to a privileged disclosure I don’t want to hear. And being me, I opt for the latter.
“You had an abortion?”
She nods and looks away. All the world’s pain is concentrated in her face.
What do you say to someone wracked up with guilt—God loves you and forgives you—now, go away and be blessed? She’s lying awake nights pining for tiny fingernails.
I have to say something—but what? It’ll be okay. I understand. I feel your pain.
Trite and dumb. It isn’t okay. I don’t understand her pain—or mine, for that matter, and I have no idea what’s happening inside her.
When we feel stuff we’re nobody but ourselves—and this empathy idea is lame. No one can feel what we feel—they only think they can.
So, I tell her. It’s short. It’s blunt. When I finish, she wipes her eyes, gets up and thanks me. A different woman walks out the door.
She leaves me with my burdens and walks out the door free.
I chuckle cynically. “That’s about right.”
I should be feeling pretty down, but I’m not. I should be looking for a bar, but that’s not on the agenda either—I stay right where I am.
This lady, whose name I don’t even know, has confided to me the secret of her life. I gave her the little I have to give. It wasn’t much, but it helped. Strangely enough, I feel consoled.
I stand up, drop a ten-dollar bill for the waitress and start toward the door.
I’m a dad. I’m not a god, although some days I wish I were.
I smile and catch my reflection in the mirror. Peeking out from the top of my shirt is a superman logo—my favorite t-shirt the kids gave me. On the outside, I look like Clark Kent, but I’m really Superman in disguise.
© 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.