A work of fiction.
The alcoholics stuck together on the smoking portico. This was the only place smokers could congregate, according to regulations, and it provided a break from the monotony of the ward. Even though it was winter now, everyone stayed bundled up to not miss a single opportunity for a nicotine fix. One man with skin like leather and blotchy places on his face told the story of his first wife.
The next wife I get, he said, is going to weigh 300 pounds and know how to cook. My last one was a looker, but good looking women are more trouble than they're worth.
The others seated nearby, taking periodic drags, cackling phelmy, throaty laughs. They were swapping stories, a regular pastime. They had five minutes to finish up before another on-site AA meeting. Though frequently intense and confrontational, AA was at least more interesting than a steady supply of lukewarm apple juice and individually wrapped graham crackers. Psych wards can be many things, but usually they are dull affairs full of forced small talk and lots of lying around, trying not to wallow in one's misery.
I was already consumed with a new way to kill time. It involved finding a ward crush. Being in close quarters with others for a long while increased the odds of finding one. During the hospitalization before last, I didn't even have to make the first move. A young woman my age acted unfailingly polite, offering me more than once the interesting-looking book she had recently finished. In the end, as I learned, it was my curly hair that was the clincher for her.
Most of the time, these efforts of mine went nowhere productive. Even if a mutual attraction existed, there was little more than we could do besides exchange phone numbers while sitting as closely next to each other as was allowed. It was like going to summer camp, if enrollment was fluid and ever-changing. Some were discharged and sent home, but new arrivals kept arriving in droves. It would be easier to form no attachments and not worry about whatever potentialities might or might not come to pass, but that's not the sort of person I am.
One particularly industrious woman, who possessed absolutely no work ethic but a genius IQ, played two interested suitors against each other. I was one of them. The two of us competed against each other like political candidates at a debate. Aware of her tactics, in my own defense, I had a weakness for tall redheads with brains. I knew I was being used, but didn't care. When pride, coupled with the promise of acquisition becomes a factor, it's extremely easy to act foolish.
It's a shame she never lived up to her potential, which was vast. I visited the pizzeria where she worked as a waitress, ten years later. By then she must have been in her early thirties. She pretended to not know who I was. I could have introduced myself, but I didn't want to brave an unwanted greeting. I paid my bill, left a reasonable tip, and departed.
The trainer for this latest session was conspicuously nervous, tightly-wound. I thought she was cute, so I small talked harmlessly, but with purpose. She talked about having obtained an overseas degree, from Oxford, I think. Then she dissected a movie she'd seen the night before.
We had things in common, a fact evident immediately. We could have gone forward from here, but like so many alcoholics in recovery, she doubted herself. We could have kept talking about something other than booze stories or broken promises. AA meetings are full of such things, full of raw nerves and shame.
I'm not ready to be in a relationship.
She even said it out loud, as though no one else could hear her except for me. Turning away from me, she sat quietly, in one of the seats placed in a large circle. I did not pursue her, but I took a seat directly across from her, in her field of vision. Our talk may have concluded, but I wasn't going away. The most frustrating interactions, in my estimation, are those concluded without each card turned upwards, every hand revealed.
One thing I could always promise to loved ones is that I would never lie to them about my drinking. I admitted to being intoxicated when I was. I admitted to getting behind the wheel while over the legal limit. My ex-wife never had to put me on the stand and subject me to a cross-examination. I knew I was a drunk and I made no bones about it. I never drank in secret and everyone knew that I was the first one at the liquor store, ten full minutes before it opened for the day's business.
So when other people weren't forthright with me about their own baggage, I had a tendency to get very indignant. I heard a thousand stories but always prized most the ones not couched in defensive language. I severely disliked addicts who had a particularly deplorable acumen for alibis. Those who do not want help are wasting their time and everyone else's.