By K. Stoley
Warning: This story deals with an extremely sensitive subject. Substance abuse is just one of the many plagues of the 20th century. This story may not be for everyone but, it needed to be written.
Comments and constructive criticism can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The day had started out like any ordinary day…well, at least ordinary, as my current circumstances would have defined it. It was 8 a.m. and I was drunk. Not the over indulgence kind of drunk that normal people might find themselves during an occasional weekend binge. This was your average drink to survive kind of drunk. I could still walk and talk alright but, all other functional processes ended there, and sadly, I was too far gone to realize it. The doctors and counselors at the college determined that I had a drinking problem but, according to my family, there was no problem. They refused to admit that there could possibly be any blemishes on our illustrious family. It was bad enough that my mother had married beneath her station but, to say that her only daughter was damaged, was just a testament to the sin of inferior breeding that neither parent was willing to vocalize.
So, along with a sense of failure, I inherited my dark looks and long black hair from my mother’s side. From my father, I inherited blue eyes and a brooding personality. “Common” was the term my mother favored as we grew up. As far back as I could remember our lives were filled with divided loyalties. We were always having to choose between the two sides. From the theatre to hockey, the battle lines had been drawn early on. My parents fought a silent internal war for control of their children’s affections. To make a choice would bring the much-craved attention of the victorious parent and a buffer from the displeasure of the loser. But, in the end, the children were always the real losers.
By the time I hit high school, I could party with the best of them. I learned how to get by with doing as little work as possible, and still hold the grade. The teachers and counselors had branded me as an underachiever but never knew the depths of my blossoming potential. I kept my grades up and didn’t cause too much trouble, so that was all they really cared about. It wasn’t until I hit college that my secret finally caught up with me. Just one more drink couldn’t hurt, could it? It was during my second year in college that I would find out and my world change forever.
It was on that very morning that I had found myself sitting in the square absently looking around me. I couldn’t remember which building I was suppose to be in let alone what classes I was missing. It had been a busy weekend of fun and partying. After all it’s why I attended State over any other college, it had the reputation for being “party central”. I sat on the bench for the better part of the day, talking to myself, in an effort to sort out a mess I could only half remember. I had lost periods of time before while partying but, never like this. I had begun to feel some concern with the effects of my drinking, but was never willing to face the alternatives. This episode had finally served to place a fear in me that I had never known before.
The late afternoon shadows were drawing near before I was finally sober enough to realize what had happened. I was forced to face the fact that my life was out of control and I was lost. Students and faculty walked passed briefly looking over my way, before continuing on about their lives. I cried ashamed of the life that I was responsible for creating and ultimately, ruining. When I couldn’t cry anymore I made my way to the campus infirmary. The doctor was acquainted with the symptoms and just happy that I had lived long enough to recognize them for myself. In the morning, with his help, I check myself into detox.
The course of detox can never adequately be described, or understood, by anyone who has not had the misfortune of going through the process themselves. Needless to say, hell holds no fear for me now. With the worst behind me and the worst yet ahead of me, I find myself at the crossroads of my misinformed life. I will always have my own demon lurking in the shadows to torment me but, I am determined to take responsibility for my life and fight to make of it what I can. My past doesn’t necessarily have to be my future. So, it is on this fall morning that I begin my new journey. Taking a deep breath I lock my car and walk across campus towards the administration building.
The bustle of the administration area was typical for the last day of registration and I made my way over to the advising section. Approaching the reception desk I could feel the sweat beginning to form on the middle of my back. It had taken me eight months to get from hell to this point; I wasn’t going to quit now! I had almost decided to wait another semester but I knew in my heart that it was now or never. I clutched my resolve and my bag tighter and waited for the receptionist to acknowledge me. Her nameplate said her name was Kim and smiling she asked, “Can I help you?” “Hi Kim, I have an appointment with Mrs. Jeffers. My name is Gina Acropolis”. Kim nodded and asked me to take a seat and she would let Mrs. Jeffers know I was here. I grabbed a class schedule and absently began flipping through it. I had left school just before finals but they had allowed me to take some of my exams last week. I would find out today whether I had passed and what I would have to repeat.
An inner door opened and Mrs. Jeffers stepped out and motioned me to come in. I followed her into the office and shook her hand. Instead of sitting behind her desk, she sat next down in the chair next to me. Mrs. Jeffers had become my advisor at the beginning of my second year and I hadn’t really gotten to know her that well. I had visited her twice before but let’s just say; I couldn’t remember the reason for the visits. I am sure it was something to do with schedule approvals but it wasn’t a major concern for me at that time.
“So, how are you doing?” she gently asked. “I’m handling”, I shrugged. Mrs. Jeffers nodded reassuringly and asked, “Are you still attending the meetings?” “Every Monday at 8 p.m.” I assured her. I guess it was the right answer because she began to smile and relax. She got up and reached for my file on her desk, turning she inquired, “Are you ready to start back to class?” “Depends” I answered which caused her took look at me curiously. “Will I have to repeat Calc? I don’t think I can go through another semester!” I grimaced. She began to laugh and replied, “I received your test results today and haven’t had a chance to look at them yet.” She began flipping through the pages as she read them out loud, “Comp II 94% great! Philosophy and Business Law you will have to repeat Marketing 89% o.k. and Calc. 78%, not pretty but passing. Congratulations, looks like you passed all the exams you took!” I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes as I quietly sat smiling. I had actually accomplished something alert and sober. “I know it was hard and you did great!” she replied and leaned over and hugged me. I didn’t think this was standard behavior of a counselor but I was thankful just to have someone to share this victory with.
“O.k., how about we look at what classes we can get you into this semester” she replied and we pulled our chairs closer to begin the arduous process of pulling together my schedule. “You realize you will be part of the incoming sophomore class,” she asked. I nodded my head and replied, “Actually, it is probably better that I get a fresh start with new faces”. She nodded in agreement. After we agreed on a schedule and made sure I was registered, Mrs. Jeffers pulled me aside and said, “Your continued attendance here is conditional upon keeping your grades up. So, if you need anything or have any problem, please don’t hesitate to come and talk to me. I want to see you succeed and I’m here if you need me, do you understand?” I looked up at her and replied, “I know it won’t be easy but, I also know that I need to succeed. I’m just going to take it one day at a time and give it my best. Thank your for all your help. I promise to keep in touch.” She smiled and in parting softly replied, “Don’t skip any of your meetings right?” I looked at her and replied adamantly, “No way, I can’t afford to”. Turning I walked out the door. I just wished my gut felt as sure of things as my mind did. Taking a deep breath, I headed across the parking lot to my car. I hadn’t wanted to live in the dorms for fear of the temptation of running into old habits and old friends so; I took an apartment on the edge of campus. The only one available came with a roommate. I guess it was time that I got settled in and met this roommate.
Luck was with me and I found a parking space in front of the building. ‘So far so good. Now, let’s just check out this roommate situation.’ I thought to myself. The building held four units and ours was on the first floor in the back with a private patio. The cost was the same as the dorms but the trade off was the parking and a little farther hike to classes. I used my key to open the outer door as I headed down the hall to the back I could hear the blare of a radio. “Just great!” I muttered. “Just what I don’t need, a ‘party-mate’!” The door was partially opened and I pushed it the rest of the way but stayed out in the hall. I definitely didn’t expect what I saw and burst out laughing. Amidst a sea of empty boxes was a woman frantically trying to adjust the dial on an old stereo. To compound the problem, the knob came off and bounced away from her. Soon boxes began to fly in her search for the missing item. When one came sailing past my head out into the hallway, I decided it was time to intervene. I crossed the room, dodging boxes as they flew in every direction and unplugged the stereo, instantly silencing the offending noise. A blond head instantly popped up from amidst the tumble of boxes and green eyes looked up at me and then to the cord that dangled from my hand. “Geez, thank you. The knob came off and I couldn’t find it” her voice trailing off with a shrug. “I didn’t think to pull the plug!” she continued laughingly as she struggling to get to her feet. I pulled away a few boxes and helped her escape from her self-imposed prison. When she stood up she came just below my chin, but something about her exuded an energy that wouldn’t be denied. It rocked me back for a moment until she spoke again. “You must be Gina?” she asked and offered her hand, “I’m Shannon, Shannon Ryan”.
I dropped the cord and shook the offered hand and said, “Nice to finally meet you”. “Same here” she replied. “Do you have your stuff outside? Can I help?” she asked. I nodded and motioned to the door, “Yea, thanks my car’s just outside”. “O.k., I’ll make you a deal,” she said slyly. “Help me get these empty boxes out to the dumpster and I’ll help you bring all your stuff in.” “Deal” I replied without hesitation and began to stack boxes.
We spent the better part of the afternoon hauling my things from the Jeep to the apartment. My car was a gift from my parents, to assuage their feelings of guilt over my problem without ever having to actually deal with it. Growing up they had always bought me things in an effort to show their love for me. Sometimes, I had just wished they had said the words instead. But, I was finally beginning to understand their inability to deal with emotions and now, guilt. I was finally learning to live with this knowledge. Which, of course, my therapist had said was half my battle to sobriety. I found that I really didn’t blame them for my circumstances because I knew that if I was able to recognize the problem, then I was more than able to find the solution for myself. It would have been an easy out for me to blame the whole thing on them but eventually we all must take responsibility for ourselves. So, I guess in this effort, I am alone and there is no use feeling sorry for myself. Just get on with it girl!
The better part of the afternoon was spent setting up my part of the apartment. In an effort to retain our hearing and sanity, I offered to replace my stereo with the offending one. When we had finally gotten everything in order we stood in the middle of the living room surveying our work. “What next?” Shannon inquired. I thought for a moment and before I could reply the growling of the younger woman’s stomach echoed in the now silent apartment. “I’d say food is order, don’t you?” I replied chuckling. Shannon, embarrassed at her stomach’s sudden outburst grinned and nodded her head. We decided to clean up and head to one of the local campus restaurants for dinner.
It was Friday night and the restaurant was packed with the usual college crowd. We made our way to an open booth in the back and as we passed the first booth a hand reached out and stopped me. "Hey Gina, I didn’t know you were back. You remember me, Cindy? Where you been?” a hazel eyed blond asked with a smirk on her face. She struck no cord of remembrance in me but I knew I didn’t like the feel of the situation. She could have been anyone at numerous parties I had attended. Outside of the circle of friends that I partied with, most of the events were just a blur to me now. I was making a conscious effort to stay away from the old crowd and I didn’t want to make any exceptions now. I smiled back casually and replied, “Oh yeah hi, how’s it been?” The blond smiled knowingly to her friends and answered, “Oh, you know party, party, party! But, I haven’t seen you at any of the usual places. The gang just said you were out of touch for awhile. Where you been?”
I looked over at Shannon to see if she had heard the conversation and she was looking back questioningly. I knew I would have some explaining to do if this conversation went any further. I leaned over to the offending blond and answered curtly, “I’ve been on vacation. You know, I just got bored of the same old faces and decided to get away for awhile.” She continued to look at me with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes, and I knew that she would be trouble for me. “I was afraid that you might have been sick or something. Weren’t you in the hospital or something?” I looked down at her coldly and replied, “Do I look like I’ve been sick? You’ve heard wrong, I’ve been just fine.” I turned to walk away before anymore would be said. As I left, I could hear her snicker and tell her friends, “That’s not what I heard. She was…”. I knew they were talking behind my back but, I continued on in hopes that Shannon would follow and not hear anymore.
I slipped into the empty booth and grabbed a menu and pretended to read. Shannon sat across from me and I knew she was waiting for me to explain. Even though the restaurant was crowded, the silence was deafening in our little corner. Finally, I looked up and met those green eyes looking back at me questioningly. I didn’t want to tell anyone about my past and where I had been for the year. I just wanted to go on with my life with as little problems as possible. Most of all I didn’t want Shannon to think badly of me. It was crazy, I hardly knew my new roommate but what she thought of me meant a lot, and I didn’t want to dirty the picture with my little problem. I lamely smiled and asked, “So, what sounds good to you”? Shannon picked up the menu and looked at it briefly before asking, “Old friend?”
“What? Oh, Cindy? I use to hang out with a crowd that did a lot of partying but, I got tired of all the Cindy’s and decided to disassociate myself. It was coming between me and my studying so I had to draw the line” I finished lamely. It was basically the truth but, I knew she didn’t fully believe me. She just looked at me and replied, “Oh, sounds like a good choice.” I held my breath and waited for the inevitable questions to start but, they never came. Shannon calmly looked back at her menu as replied, “I think I will have the chicken caesar salad. How about you?”
“Oh, I think, um I’ll have uh, the same” I replied surprised by the sudden end of what I thought would be a long line of questions. After that, the night went along smoothly and Shannon did most of the talking. She told about her youth and the town where she was from. Her parents sounded like the kind that I had wished I had but, well, there was just no sense in going there. Would have been's and could have been's don’t change what is and the sooner I learn to deal with that the better everything will be.
The rest of the week was spent goofing off and relaxing before classes started on Monday. We found, much to our mutual relief, that we were both bookstore junkies. We loved to spend lazy afternoons at our favorite bookstore, drinking coffee and leafing through various journals. Evenings were spent either at the campus restaurant or renting videos and popping popcorn. We seemed to hit it off with only a few rough patches. Shannon wanted to rent love stories and I was more into comedies so, we compromised and watched what she called funny sensitive movies. All in all, the week had passed we were both pleasantly surprised at our instant rapport. I finally thought that I had found a real friend. Sunday night came and we decided to stay in and get ready for classes to begin the next day. I was organizing my computer files when Shannon stuck her head in the door. “Hey Gina, whatcha’ doing?” she asked bored. “Just organizing my files to get ready for this semester. If I don’t have everything in order, I’ll never find anything.” I replied. “Good idea, maybe if I did that I would spend less time pulling my hair out trying to find something the day it is due!” she laughed. “If you need me to help you just holler” I offered.
“Thanks, I may take you up on that later. Do you have a lot to do yet?” she inquired. “No, I’m done” I answered and shut down the computer. “Good, are you hungry by any chance?” she asked grinning. I found that food was one of Shannon’s weaknesses. I, on the other hand, had developed poor eating habits while drinking and had to remind myself to eat regularly. “Sure, what did you have in mind?” I asked. “Well, I really don’t feel like going out. How about we order a pizza and see what’s on t.v.?” she offered. “Sounds good to me.” I said.
“Great! I'll call the order in and you and you see what on tonight, O.K.” she asked. “Works for me” I replied and we headed into the living room. I flipped through the channels and found nothing worth while. When Shannon returned I handed her the remote and said, “See if you find anything worth watching.” Shannon flipped through the channels and with a frown shut the TV off. “Well, that’s a bust. Want to play a game or something?” she asked. “Sure, you play backgammon?” I asked. “Well, I’ve played once before but, it was a long time ago. If you don’t mind giving me a crash course, I’m sure I can picked it up again” she replied. “Sure, no problem” I said and went to get the board. Shannon, it turned out, remembered more than she had let on and by the third game she was beating the pants off me. “So, you only played once huh?” I stated. “Well, I guess I remember more than I thought” she offered trying to looking innocent. “Yeah, I bet” I replied shaking my head. “What do you say we make this next game a little interesting?” she inquired slyly. I snorted, “Somehow I don’t think I could afford to.” Shannon’s sly grin turned into smile and she said, “O.k. no money, how about the winner get’s to ask the looser any question they want, and the other has to answer?”
A sudden chill ran up my back and I paused unsure of what to say. Shannon sensed my sudden withdrawal and reached out and touched my arm, “I’m not talking about anything too personal. I promise not to ask if you have murdered anyone recently” she offered smiling reassuringly. “Just recently?” I asked. Shannon threw her head back laughing and said, “O.k. let’s go.” Before we could the next game underway, the doorbell rang and the pizza was delivered. We took a break to grab ourselves a few slices while we continued playing.
The first day of classes is always the worst. Between last minute books to busy and finding yourself in a class with a professor you hoped you would never get. Shannon and I split up and went our separate ways. We found that we had two classes together, one just before lunch and the other, the last class of the day. So far the morning was going as expected and the first two classes hadn’t seemed so bad. I should have known better than to feel complacent so early in the day.
Walking into the classroom I looked around for Shannon. It was one of our classes we had together. I spotted her sitting down near the front and groaned. I preferred to sit inconspicuously in the back row near an exit. Shannon noticed me and waved me over. Forcing a smile, I made my way towards her and sat in the chair she had been saving. “Do you really like sitting this close?” I asked. “Yes” she replied, “it helps me pay attention. If I sit in the back, I spend more time watching everyone else than I do listening.” ‘It’s called concentration” I thought.
The lecture hall began to fill up and when I heard giggling from behind me, I knew my day was about to take a nasty turn. “Hey Gina, what do you know, we have a class together. Small world huh?” a nasally voice spoke behind me to my right. I turned to see Cindy and her troupe take the seats in the row behind us. ‘Oh Shit! Can’t I cut a break just once!” I thought and plastered a fake smile on my face. “Yeah, real small!” I answered stiffly. I scanned the room for two empty seats but the hall was full and the professor had begun speaking. Cindy looked past me to see Shannon and called out, “Isn’t this your friend from the other night? I don't think we were introduced." When I didn’t make the effort at introductions she said slyly, “There’s a party tonight at the Rathskeller, you should come and bring her. I bet she’d have a good time.” I looked over at Shannon to find her looking at me expectantly. I looked back at Cindy smiling smugly and turned to face the front ignoring them both. Shannon leaned over and asked, “What’s going on? Are you O.K.?” I looked over and grinned but, before I could reply the professor was calling for attention. I shrugged and turned once again to the front. Relieved that I had avoided answering, for now.
My mind raced over the problems ahead of me that I hardly heard anything the professor was saying. I didn’t realize I had missed something until Shannon nudged me and pointed to the professor. I looked up at him unsure of what I was suppose to do. Shannon whispered, “Say here!” “Here!” I croaked and cleared my throat. The professor continued on calling students’ names. The moment hadn’t gone unnoticed and I heard a snicker from behind me and a voice whisper loudly, “I heard concentration is the first thing affected”. I closed my eyes and prayed that she would stop right there but, I should have known better. My prayers hadn’t really gone to far before so why should I expect something different now. I focused my attention on the professor and tried to shut out everything else around me. The snide comments continued from behind me until I heard they become more detailed to my problems. I could feel my temperature rise and my anger with it. It had taken me years to learn to control my temper but, I could feel the reigns loosening. I looked over at Shannon and she seemed to be intent on what the Professor was saying which eased the anger a little.
Cindy didn’t let it rest and my breaking point finally came when I heard Cindy mention losers at the Center on Monday nights. I know I didn’t want to hear anymore and quickly spun around and growled threateningly, “Why don’t you shut the fuck up!” I could have punched her right then and there when she winked at me smiling. ‘Bitch!’ I turned back around and saw, to my horror that Shannon was looking at me in shock. She mouthed, ‘What’s going on?’ I knew she was asking about more than my outburst. I looked away shaking my head and refused to make eye contact again. I started to panic as my mind raced with questions, ‘Damn, how did she find out? What the hell do I do now?’ I could feel Shannon still watching me out of the corner of her eye as if waiting for me to do something. Suddenly, I felt my chests constrict and I felt like I couldn’t breath. I hadn’t felt this way since the hospital and I knew I needed to get away from the situation. I need to leave right now! So, I did something. I grabbed my bag and made my way out of the lecture hall. When I reached the outer doors, I ran trying to put as much distance between us. My side began to hurt and I slowed down as I reached the quad. Finally, walked across the grass and sat under a tree to catch my breath. It was quiet and peaceful there and I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. I concentrated on slowing my breathing and getting my heart to stop pounding. When I was breathing normally again, I looked at my watch and knew I needed to head to my next class.
I hid outside the building of my last class, debating whether I should go in or not. I didn’t want to face Shannon just yet. I reasoned that I could just go home and go to bed but, I knew that was only a temporary avoidance. ‘Not so easy when you share an apartment!’ I mused. I also didn’t want to start cutting classes. Instead I waited until I was sure the class had started and slipped into the class and took a seat in the back. I looked around for Shannon and caught sight of her down near the front. I felt a twinge of guilt when I noticed an empty seat next to her. I continued to watch her as she spent half the time listening to the professor and the other half watching the door. A couple of times she started to look up to the back and I just ducked behind the person in front of me. ‘You coward!’ I berated myself but kept up my vigilance in hiding.
I noticed that Cindy or her friends weren’t in this class and I began to relax until I heard the professor begin to call attendance. I groaned, Why did these professors insist on calling roll. We’re adults here right, well at least some were I thought as I quickly ducked back into hiding.’ I muttered quietly as the instructor made his way down the A’s, “Shit, my name would have to come first! I can’t cut a break anywhere!” The guy next to me must have heard me because he looked at me like I was nuts. I glared back and thought, ‘Yeah, certifiable bud!’ When my name was eventually called I quickly said “Here” and slouched down in my seat. Just as luck would have it, the professor decided to have a hearing problem and asked, “Where?” I raised my hand tentatively until he saw me and nodded, and I quickly dropped my arm. I know Shannon had seen me and I could feel her eyes looking my way. I refused to look up and fiddled with my pen. As roll went on I heard her name called. When she replied I could tell that she was upset. ‘Well, I guess that’s another friendship you’ve screwed up!’ I admonished myself.
While the instructor wrapped up the class I slipped out the back door and headed to the library. I just wasn’t ready to go home and face the questions right now. More over, I didn’t think I could stand to see the disappointment in Shannon’s face when she found out about me. It was bound to happen.
I sat in the library until it was time to head to my AA meeting. I walked in a little late and nodding to my sponsor, took a seat near the back. The group was small and those who felt like talking did, and the rest of us just listened and just tried to keep believing we could be strong. When the meeting was over I got up to leave before anyone came over. I wasn’t much in the mood to socialize tonight. I turned to head out the door and saw Shannon sitting in the last row. With no where left to run, I walked slowly towards her. I didn’t say anything and waited until she put her coat on and she followed me out of the building. Outside, I stopped and asked, “How did you know where I was?”
“I looked in the paper and it was the only meeting available tonight” she replied. “So, now you know my dirty little secret!” I stated sarcastically and began to walk up the street. Shannon caught up with me and grabbed my arm and said, “I’ve always known!” I stopped dead and mumbled, “How?” Shannon shrugged and looked across the street saying, “It’s a small campus.”
The truth of those words made me angry and I shouted, “Great now I’m the talk of the town”. I spun around and walked away. Shannon caught up and walked next to me. Later I would have to give Shannon credit for sticking with it but, now I was just plan angry. “Why didn’t you tell me you knew? What am I some sort of charity project your working on?” I threw at her. Shannon remained composed and simply answered, “I figured if you wanted to tell me you would. To tell the truth it wasn’t a big deal to me.”
“Well, that’s might generous of you!” I sniped back. This kicked Shannon into action and her calm demeanor finally took a holiday. The blond promptly struck back. She stopped and shouted at my retreating back, “Hey, that’s not fair! That isn’t what I meant and you know it! You’re the one who went running out without a word. You avoid me and disappear for hours. Here, I thought I was your friend so, I’ve just spent the better part of this day looking for you!” She took a step forward and demanded, “Do you just hate me or is it the whole world in general?”
Boy, I really hated it when my attitude is on a role. I just never knew when to shut up. Shannon’s little outburst had surprised me, to say the least, but it also served as a good wake up call to knock off the attitude. I stopped and turned back toward her and apologized, “No, just the Cindy’s of this world!”
Shannon stood in the middle of the deserted sidewalk with her hands on her hips. I thought she looked a little cute when she was mad but, I don’t think I wanted to be on the receiving end of that fire that flashed in those green eyes. ‘How can I stay angry with that?’ I mused. I think I fell hard right then and there. Smiling contritely I said, “I’m sorry I took it all out on you. I know it’s nothing to do with you, you were just handy. Can I buy you a cup of coffee to make it up?”
“Ha!” snorted Shannon, “It’s going to cost you more than coffee honey! I haven’t eaten dinner yet and I’d venture to say you’ve neglected that little thing too.” I couldn’t help but break into a grin, which confirmed her suspicion. “That’s what I thought” she stated and started pulling me up the street towards RJ’s. It must have been a funny sight to see this slight blond pulling a dark-haired amazon up the street berating her for not taking care of herself.
When we reached the restaurant we feel silent until our order was taken. I figured I might as well get this over with and offered her an opening. “So, I suppose you have questions you’d like to ask?”
“Only if you want to talk about it” she answered. “Sure, go ahead” I replied and waited for the standard questions everyone usually asked. Shannon nodded and began, “First, let me tell you that we’ve met before.” I looked at her surprised as my mind raced to try to recall the event and finally thought, ‘How could I not remember her of all people?’
My surprise turned to embarrassment when I flashed on some of the possibilities of our encounter. I lowered my eyes and just said, “Oh” and hoped I didn’t make a total ass of myself.
“It was at the end of last year at a party” she began. ‘Where else!’ I thought. “You were pretty out of it that night” she explained. “That just about describes my whole life” I stated looking up at her and finally asking, “I didn’t do anything too stupid did I?”
“Well……” Shannon stopped and shrugged unsure she wanted to go on. I just groaned and covered my face thinking, ‘It must have been some party!’ I put my hands down and took picked up my Coke asking, “What did I do?”
“Well..” Shannon began again. “You kissed me!” she finished. I just about choked on my drink and said, “I did what?”
Shannon smiled evilly and thought, ‘Got ya!’ “Well, it was New Years eve and everyone one pretty much kissing everyone” she explained. ‘O.k., not too bad, there’s an angle here.’ I thought to myself before Shannon continued, “However, you did knock over my date in the process.”
“Oh god, I didn’t” I moaned into my hands once again. Shannon was enjoying this and added, “John started hollering about it being midnight and you turned my way and you both tried to kiss me at the same time. However, you won. I have to admit I was pretty impressed”.
“I’m so sorry!” I said afraid to look up. “Oh, don’t worry, you didn’t use your tongue or anything” she laughed. I peeked through my fingers and retorted, “Is that suppose to make me feel better?”
She pulled my fingers from my face and laughed harder saying, “Your all red, are you embarrassed?” I stammered, “Well, I don’t usually go around grabbing and kissing other women!” as I looked around to see if anyone was watching, and relaxed when I realized we were pretty much alone at this time of night. “Oh good, then that makes me feel special” she replied laughing harder. “Yeah, Yeah, you just go ahead and enjoy yourself at my expense!” I cried.
“Don’t worry, everyone was pretty toasted that night and I doubt anyone remembered anything the next morning” she answered trying to ease my concern.
“It’s not that, it’s just…” I said lamely and let it go as the waitress arrived with out food. We ate quietly for awhile until my curiosity got the better of me and I said, “If you knew all this time, why did you agree to room with me?”
“I was intrigued and impressed with you after that night. You seemed to be this self-assured person who was always having fun. You were always in a crowd and enjoying yourself. When I heard the talk about your recovery, I guess I was even more impressed” she answered sincerely.
“Intrigued?” I inquired. “Yes, drunk or not, you were so bold that night. You didn’t seem to worry about what anyone said. You were having fun!” she explained.
“I guess reckless was my middle name. Drinking will make you feel invincible until you realize you can only feel that way when you are drinking. So, I kept doing it” I confided.
“When I heard you were trying to get yourself straightened out, I realized that it took a lot of courage to do that. I just didn’t realize how much until I sat through that meeting tonight.” Shannon stated.
I just shrugged, a little embarrassed to have myself laid open for discussion. Some things still felt private and were hard to discuss.
We talked until the restaurant closed and slowly walked home. I told Shannon things that I’ve never told anyone before and somehow I felt safe in those confidences. It had been along time since I had trusted anyone or let anyone get close to me. It felt good to exercise some of my demons if just to have someone listen to me. When we reached the apartment, we walked down the hall towards our bedrooms, and when we reached my room, Shannon placed a hand on my arm to stop me. She turned to me saying, “I’m glad we talked tonight and had a chance to get closer. I want you to know that I really want to be your friend…that is, if it’s something you’d what.” I knew it was something that I needed very much. I looked over at her and smiled nodding and said, “Yes, I’d like that very much. I could use a friend right now.” Shannon reached up and hugged me stating, “Well, you’ve got one now!” After a few moments, I stepped back nervous of the closeness of the hug. I told myself it was because I wasn’t used to having anyone that close to me but, maybe I just wasn’t use to the sensations it provoked in me. Shannon patted my arm and said, “Good night” and went into her bedroom
The next day I stood outside the lecture hall hesitantly. Finally, I took a deep breath and entered the room. Cindy was sitting in her same spot surrounded by her entourage and my courage began to wane. I wanted nothing more than to turn and run but, I knew I had to stay. I looked past Cindy for Shannon but, she wasn’t there. Puzzled I stood there until I heard someone calling my name. I looked over and there was Shannon in the last row trying to get my attention. I walked over and sat down giving her a funny look. “I just thought I’d check out your fascination with sitting in the back” she explained. I nodded my head in acknowledgement and thought, ‘I can’t believe she thought enough to do this for me. Maybe I have found a real friend.’ After a few moments I leaned over and said, “Thank you”. She just grinned and replied, “Don’t let it go to your head, we sit in front our next class.” The rest of the hour went smoothly after that.
The week came and went and I guess I got lulled into a false sense of security. Friday night found Shannon and I sitting in a booth at RJ’s sharing a pizza arguing over which movie we should go see. I looked over Cindy shoulder for a second and froze. Coming in the door was Cindy and she wasn’t alone. Instead of her usual group of flunky’s she walked in with two of my party friends. It had been hard cutting my ties from them as I had thought of them as good friends. But, I knew I wasn’t strong enough to be around them anymore. When I had tried to explain to them they hadn’t understood, and we parted promising to get together soon. I figured I could just avoid them and things would eventually work out.
Shannon noticed she had lost my attention and when I started to slouch down in the seat she asked, “Hey, what’s wrong?” “Everything!” I answered tersely and watched as they steadily made their way towards us. The look on Cindy’s face told the whole story. She was up to something and was enjoying every moment of it. I couldn’t help but think, ‘What did I do to her that would make her hate me so much?’
Maggie reached the table first and just about threw herself into the seat next to me. “Hey girl where have you been? You haven’t been around for ages?” she cried punching my arm. “I’ve been busy” I answered lightly and turned to her sidekick, and said, “Hey Jason how’s it been?” Jason grinned and reached over Maggie to hug me. “It’s been too long. Don’t you like us anymore?” he asked suggestively. “You know I do” I responded and wiggled my eyebrows. We both laughed and I could see Cindy wasn’t pleased with the way things were going. I ignored her and turned to Shannon and introduced her to Maggie and Jason. Cindy didn’t like being ignored and decided to stir the pot a little.
“Gina, we were just heading over to Steve’s for a little party. Why don’t you and Shannon come along? You can catch up with everyone and I guarantee Shannon won’t be bored either” Cindy smiled slyly. Maggie and Jason jumped in and began pulling me out of the booth. I tried to tell them I had other plans and looked to Shannon for help but, she just shrugged. “Oh, come on just for a little while and then you and Shannon can go” Jason promised. “O.k. just for a little while” I conceded. As we walked over to Steve’s apartment I walked next to Shannon and said quietly, “I’m sorry about this. Let’s just go for a few minutes and sneak out o.k?” Shannon just looked at me and nodded.
The party was in full swing by the time we arrived. There was hardly a place left to stand let alone sit. The entire old crowd was there and I was quickly engulfed into the pack. At one point, I lost track of Shannon. I tried cutting through the crowd to look for her but kept feeling myself trapped against walls of people. I was beginning to feel claustrophobic and knew that I had to get some air. I could feel a tightness in my chest and sweat begin to roll down my face. My first thought was that I really wanted a drink, just a little something to calm my nerves. I scanned the crowd looking for Shannon’s blond head. When I thought I had located her, I pushed my way through the crowd in that direction. Along the way, someone handed me a beer. I didn’t give it much thought as I was trying to focus on getting out of there.
When I finally made it to where I thought I had seen Shannon, I found she wasn’t there instead, I ran into Cindy. “Well, looks like your back in action Gina” she said indicating the beer in my hand. “I knew you were still a party girl at heart” she grinned. I tried to remember if I had taken a drink and just wasn’t sure. I looked from the bottle back to Cindy and thought, “Go ahead.” Before I could finish the thought completely, I felt a hand on my back. Someone reached around me and took the bottle from my hand saying, “Thank you for getting me a drink.” I turned to find Shannon holding the bottle as she maneuvered to stand next to me. She looked up uncertainly to see my reaction and instead must have seen the desperation in my face. She handed the bottle to Cindy announcing, “Thanks for inviting us but, we have to be going.” Cindy stood there surprised as Shannon grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the door. I tried not to think of much of anything until I felt the cool evening breeze on my face and I could breath once again.
My body began to betray me and I started to tremble with relief or sudden chill, I wasn’t sure. Shannon pulled me around the corner of the building before we stopped. I leaned my head back against the brick and closed my eyes. I tried willing myself to relax and breath. I wasn’t very successful as a tear slipped down my cheek. ‘Damn, that was harder than I thought. I can’t believe I couldn’t even make it through one party!’ I berated myself for being week. What the hell was I going to do when I went home?
“Hey, it’s o.k. You’re out of there now. It’s all over.” Shannon said softly and wiped the tear from my cheek. I looked at her and sadly thought, “You don’t understand, it’s only beginning.’ I as actually scared for the first time in my life. Maybe I couldn’t do this and I had been fooling myself. Something’s may just be bigger than I may. Shannon took my hand and held it as we walked towards our apartment. I took comfort in that connection, if only for the moment.
The rest of the weekend and week came and went with barely a notice from me. As hard as Shannon tired, she knew she wasn’t reaching me. We talked lightly and joked but, she could see right through it and me. It was with this moody demeanor that I left for my parent’s anniversary part on Friday. Halfway home I was sorry that I hadn’t asked Shannon to come with me but, I knew that she needed a break from me. I also wasn’t sure I was ready for her to meet my family just yet, especially at these family gatherings. I made it through the first night sipping a coke and no one questioning whether it was straight or not. My mother was her usual unpleasant self and wanted to know why I came alone.
By Saturday morning, the entire clan was gathered and my mother was just getting warmed up. The more she drank, the more she found wrong with me. When she started make her side comments on how natural her daughter was; I knew it was going to be bad. I had made the mistake once about confiding in her when we were drunk. I told her that men didn’t do anything for me but, I could understand the attraction to women. I thought her too drunk to remember but, she had. After that it was if I as tainted or damaged. When I left for college she told me not to bring any strays home or I wouldn’t have a home to come back to. So, I pushed those feeling deep down and never expressed a desire for anything. It was just easier this way I kept telling myself.
Finally, by Saturday afternoon, she announced to the entire family that I couldn’t possibly be her daughter. My father just handed me a bottle of wine and said, “It’s the only way to handle listening to her”. I looked at the bottle and then looked around me and realized that this was my fate in life. I would never be able to run from it and I might as well accept it. I grabbed another bottle on my way out to the patio. I sat under the warm sun and drank both bottles as the tears ran down my face.
I awoke on Sunday morning in a lawn chair in the backyard. Scattered around me were 5 reminders of what I had done. I made my way into the house and up to my bathroom where I promptly threw up. When I could stand without my stomach rolling, I got into the shower. I let the hot water run on my body in an attempt to either purify or punish myself. After drying off, I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the person looking back at me. I had failed and it had showed. I finished dressing and left the house without a word to anyone. I drove back to campus and when I walked into the apartment I found Shannon sitting on the couch in her pajamas reading. Without looking up she remarked, “Your early, how did it go?” When I didn’t respond she paused in her reading and looked at me. One glance told her the whole story and she asked, “What happened?” I couldn’t face the disappointment I saw in her eyes and just mumbled as I walked past her, “Nothing, just leave me alone!” I went to my room and shut the door. I fell across the bed and wanted nothing more than to sink into oblivion. I feel asleep so that I would not have to see the look of her face that was imprinted on my brain.
Shannon knew from the first look that I was in trouble but didn’t bother me until later that evening. She came into my room and tried to wake me to get me to eat something. I was out cold and nothing she tired could wake me. On Monday morning she tried again but, I just rolled over mumbling, “I’m not going”. When I didn’t show up for our last class together, Shannon headed home to find me still in bed. “Gina, are you awake?” she called poking her head in my room. I just rolled away and faced the wall. She came over and sat on the bed. “Are you going to spend the rest of your life in that bed or, are you going to get up and talk to me?” she asked jokingly. When I didn’t respond, she put her hand on my shoulder and pleaded, “Please talk to me. Don’t shut me out.” I just mumbled hoarsely, “Go away, and leave me alone.” She left the room before I could see the tears my rebuff had brought to her eyes. Shannon went into her room and picked up the telephone.
“Hello, this is Shannon Ryan and I’m Gina Acropolis’ roommate. I really need to speak to Mrs. Jeffers, it’s important.” Shannon listened for a moment before she agreed, “Sure, I’ll be right over. Thank you.” She got her coat on and let herself quietly out of the apartment and headed across campus.
“I’m not sure what to do?” Shannon began, “She came home from a visit to her parents and I could tell she had been drinking. She won’t talk to me and has been locked in her room ever since. It doesn’t look like she plans on going to classes tomorrow either so I came to see you.” Mrs. Jeffers had been listening concerned and didn’t interrupt while Shannon spoke. When Shannon finished she waited a moment thinking before deciding, “I was afraid of something like this. I had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Acropolis and it didn’t go well. I know that Gina’s relationship with her mother is strained to say the least. I don’t suppose you can get her to come and see me?” she asked pretty much knowing the answer. Shannon shook her head, “No, I can’t even get her out of bed!” “O.k. if she won’t come here, I have no choice but to go to her!” Mrs. Jeffers stated and got her coat and bag. “Come on. I’ll give you a ride and you can tell me everything that happened.”
When they arrived at the apartment, Shannon hung back as Mrs. Jeffers approached the bedroom. “Gina, it’s Mrs. Jeffers, can I come in?” she asked knocking on the door before opening it.
After Shannon had left, I felt worse than any hangover could have caused. There was a pain in my chest to go along with the one in my head. Finally, I got up and took another shower. I could still smell the alcohol on myself and it made me nauseous. They told me it would be bad if I started drinking again. They hadn’t exaggerated either. I was sitting at my desk trying to focus my eyes on my textbooks. I heard the front door open and figured Shannon must have returned. It wasn’t until I heard the knock at my door and the voice of Mrs. Jeffers that I started to get angry. My first thought was, ‘She betrayed me and told Mrs. Jeffers’. I thought she was my friend and I trusted her. Now I’m out of school for sure.’
‘Mrs. Jeffers’ I stammered rising to my feet. “Gina, Shannon was concerned about you and came to see me” she explained. I looked past her to betrayer in question standing tentatively in the hallway. Not taking my eyes from Shannon’s I said coldly, “She shouldn’t have”. This caused Shannon to take a step backwards in retreat and Mrs. Jeffers approached me to diffuse the situation. She placed a hand on my arm and spoke softly, “She only wanted to help and so do I”. I couldn’t stand all this false concern and betrayal. I pulled my arm away and shouted, “Bullshit, you’re here to tell me that I’m out because I screwed up and you….” I said pointing to Shannon. “I thought you were my friend!” I replied as my anger turned to pain. When my tears threatened to fall, I grabbed my jacket and pushed my way out of the room crying, “I guess I should have known better. My mother’s right, “I’m just a loser so who’d want to be my friend anyway!” I ran down the street and across the campus until I far enough away that I knew they couldn’t find me. I walked aimlessly for a couple of hours convincing myself of my nothingness until I stopped in front of RJ’s. I went in and sat at the bar.
“You drinking tonight? the bartender asked surprised. “Yep!” I responded challenging him to deny me. He just shrugged and replied, “It’s your funeral!” I laughed and ordered, “Fosters – draft!” and threw a $20 on the bar saying, “and keep them coming!” I was well into feeling no pain as I sat talking to mostly myself. It was a Monday night and the bar was pretty empty. Most students were home studying for upcoming exams. I figured, ‘Why bother, I’m out anyway.” I felt someone sit next to me and looked over at my new found friend. It was Shannon and I asked, “What are you doing here?” I tried to keep a sober face but ended up giggling and almost falling off the stool.
“I was worried about you. I looked everywhere for you today” she answered concerned. “Well, I was right here with my friend Jake, isn’t that right Jakey!” I shouted to the bartender. Jake just shook his head sadly and went back to doing whatever he was doing. “Gina, please stop drinking and come home with me” Shannon asked pushing my beer out of my reach. I looked at her coldly and reached over for my beer responding, “Why bother it’s no use and we both know it. You can’t outrun what you are and I’d be fooling myself if I kept trying. I’m through fooling myself about anything!”
“That’s not true and you know it! Your more than this!” she said indicating the bar around us. “Look how far you’ve come by yourself. No one could do it for you. You had to find the strength within to stop. I know how hard that was! I don’t care what your childhood was like, you overcame the obstacles once, and you can do it again. Don’t listen to your mother anymore. All your life your mother has told you that you were less. Don’t prove her right. Your mother’s nothing but a liar!” she stated vehemently. I looked at her surprised. No one had ever said anything bad about my mother, except maybe my father but that didn’t count. I was torn between defending my mother and admiring Shannon’s spunk. In the end I just turned away and began drinking again. She stopped my arm as I brought the mug to my mouth. I looked at her and flatly said, “Go back to your life Shannon you don’t know anything!” I drained my mug and motioned to Jake for another. Shannon waved him off and I spun on her, “What do you want from me!”
Once again she reached out and grabbed my arm, this time she squeezed it until I felt her nails dig in my flesh. I gasped; she definitely had my attention now. She leaned in close and I saw the glint in her eye as she quietly said, “Don’t tell me again I don’t understand. I understand more than you will ever know! Do you think you’re the only one who’s had problems!” Her gripped eased on my arm until she was lightly holding it and looked away, her anger dissipating. She talked so softly that I had to lean in to her to hear. “A long time ago I hurt someone very badly. I was young and didn’t know how to handle the situation and because of that he committed suicide. For me, it changed everything. I was a horrible person and deserved to suffer as he did. I turned to drugs and if you don’t believe me look!” she paused and pushed up her sleeves to show me the old scars. “So you see, I’m no stranger to beating myself up but, I found myself and I learned that I had good in me too.” Shannon looked directly at me and tightened her hold. “Please stop hurting yourself and let me help you find the good, because I know for assurity there is good.”
I nodded yes and found myself wanting to cry again. I don’t think I’ve felt this much emotion in my entire life as I had the past few days. I wasn’t sure I liked feeling again but with Shannon, I really didn’t have much choice. We made our way out of the bar and unsteadily I walked up the street with Shannon grabbing me whenever I would stumble. As the tears got stronger, I stumbled more and more and finally Shannon just put her arm around my waste and walked me home. That night she held me in her arms as we cried ourselves to sleep. No great changes over took us that night except that I had found a true friend.
Early the next morning the sun was shinning in my face causing me to roll over and right into Shannon. “Hey, someone’s trying to sleep here!” was the muffled response. “Sorry” I mumbled and sat up trying to keep my head from rolling off my shoulders. I moaned when my stomach responded to my seesawing head. My old morning mantra came back to me clearly and I began to silently chant, ‘I will not be sick! I will not be sick!’ Shannon sat up wide awake and asked, “You o.k.?” I just moaned and hung my head a little lower between my knees. I felt the bed move as she jumped off and moaned again. I heard water running in the bathroom, which didn’t help because, really need to get rid of all the beer I drank. I felt a cool compress press against the back of my neck and shivered. I had to admit it felt good even if it didn’t help my other problem. I knew I couldn’t move right now without heaving so I just sat there willing myself to relax.
“Better?” I heard whispered in my ear thankful for her understanding of loud noises. “Thank you” I mumbled and reached back to hold the cloth against my neck. Hands brushed mine away and she said, “I’ve got it just relax”. I nodded and moaned when I felt my brain roll from side to side. ‘Not a smart move!’ I thought as I felt my stomach lurch again. After a few moments she began to lightly massage my neck until I could sit up straight. “Why don’t you go take a shower and I’ll make some coffee” she offered. I nodded gently and her hands stopped massaging my neck and I groaned in disappointment. She then kissed the back of my neck sending an electric shock throughout my body. “Hurry up or we’ll be late” she whispered in my ear and left the room. I tried to think about what just happened but my brain hurt too much to figure it all out right now. I just got up and did what I was told.
When I was finally dressed and ready, I found Shannon ready to go. She handed me a mug and my books and herded me out the front door. “No more cutting classes lady. Let’s get going” she commanded like it was the first day of boot camp. As the day progressed, I realized that thought wasn’t too far off the mark.
I was exhausted from a full day of classes and wanted nothing more than to go home and sleep. Unfortunately, Shannon had other ideas and we headed to the library to catch up on my much-neglected studies. After a couple of h ours studying she finally relented and said we could go. I didn’t even car about eating, all I could think about was my nice soft bed. Shannon pulled me over when we reached the community center and said, “One more stop on the way home!” I groaned and followed her inside. We at in the back of the Tuesday night meeting and when it was my turn to speak I got up hesitantly. “I don’t usually attend this meeting but, yesterday I had a relapse and instead of being in my meeting, I was out trying to destroy everything I had worked hard to accomplish. Today, with the help of a very special friend, I and here to stand and say, No more!” My legs gave out and I no sooner sat down with a thud when Shannon threw her arms around me and softly whispered in my ear, “Way to go!” before placing a light kiss on my earlobe and released me. I felt the blood rush to my face and lower extremities. I turned to look at her and she just winked and sat holding my hand listening to the rest of the meeting. Shannon continued holding my hand and squeezing it encouragingly all through the social hour after the meeting. I didn’t seem as tired anymore, in fact, every sense was awake and tingling.
We stopped to eat at a little café on our way home, neither of us wanting to go to RJ’s. We ate quietly and on the way home Shannon reached down and held my hand again saying, “You know, I was very proud of you today.” “Oh yeah, which time? This morning when I almost threw up on you or, later when I fell asleep in class?” I asked sarcastically. She laughed and said, “No later but, you definitely had your moments today.” We fell into silent step and continued home. Opening the front door I broached the subject that had been thinking all day. “Can I ask you something personal? You can say no if you want to.” I said.
“You can ask me anything. No more secrets between us o.k.?” she answered. I nodded and said, “What was your big mistake?” Shannon signed and I thought I had gone too far and quickly replied, “I know, too personal. I’m sorry”. Shannon just smiled sadly and said, “No, it’s o.k. Let’s sit on the sofa and I’ll try to explain.” I sat sideways on the sofa so I could face Shannon and she began. “John and I grew up together and did everything together. We were practically inseparable. I knew I liked John very much as a friend but, he wanted to get married. I tried to explain to him that I didn’t have those kinds of feelings and I wasn’t so sure about marriage. I knew everyone had been pestering him about us and wanted to know what was wrong us. So kept bugging me until I reluctantly agreed. He said nothing would change except that we’d be closer. As the wedding day approached, I grew more distant. He knew that I’d never felt anything for any of the guys I’d dated. He said it was because I loved him. I tired to make myself believe that but, deep down, I knew it wasn’t so. Once again, I tried to explain to him and he got defensive and said it was just jitters and that he loved me enough to overcome anything. I think he knew before I did about me. I didn’t figure it out until after his death. I left him in front of a church full of family and friends. I don’t know if maybe I made him feel less a man or he really believed he couldn’t live with out me. I never could understand that until now” she finished quietly. I looked at her surprised at her simple acceptance. I, on the other hand, had always fought it as unnatural. ‘Well, that’s what my mother always called it!’ I thought before pushing he away and looking back to Shannon.
“Did you ever?” I asked nervously. “No” she smiled, “until now, I‘ve been too busy blaming and punishing myself”.
“And now?” I pushed. “Now..” she started and brushed her hand across my cheek. “I think it’s time for bed”. My heart fell as she got up and held out her hand to help me up. I followed her towards our bedroom still holding her hand. I wanted to tell her all I felt and that I knew what she was talking about. Instead, I quietly said, “Good night” when we reached my bedroom. I turned to go in and she slowly pulled my back on my hand and pulled me closer. She placed her hands on either side of my face and reached up to kiss me. Her lips felt warm and soft against mine and I fell instantly. This is what I had always searched for and wanted to feel. Something no man had ever been able to make me feel. I reached out and pulled her closer and deepened the kiss.
We slowly broke apart and stood in the circle of each other’s arms. I tried to say the words that I had wanted to since we first met. I hadn’t fully understood the signs until now. “I….” Started and she placed her fingers over my lips to silence me. “I know,” she simply said. “How?” I asked. “I’ve felt the same way from the beginning” she answered.
“Where do we go from here?” I asked. “Anywhere we want. We have all the time in the world” she replied and pulled me into her arms and into her heart. I think I fell again.