by Joseph S. Pete
Inspired by a line of dialogue in Malie Meloy’s Liars and Saints
After his arrest, Doug had to trudge shamefacedly down to the basement of the Catholic grade school, Our Lady of Perpetual Mercy, where he suffered for many years, to attend court-mandated Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Those frayed-haired nuns knew how to fill one with guilt, but none knew how fiery the shame would be to return to the elementary school where he was jeered after striking out in kickball to be lectured about his drinking.
Long after he pilfered sacramental communion wine as an altar boy, Doug trundled down the stairs to the open, utilitarian basement where he struggled to do pull-ups and got hammered in dodgeball as a kid. The setting in the bowels of Our Lady of Perpetual Mercy was even more pathetic as a flabby, failing adult. He sat around a cafeteria table with a carafe of weak, dishwater coffee and a sad bowl of off-brand candy.
Always a good Catholic, Doug sat through meeting after boring meeting. Old men regaled the haggard, jittery crowds with shaggy dog tales about how everybody drank, did drugs and listened to Rock N Roll back when. They rambled on and on about how they imbibed a ton, ran afoul of the law, and gave it all up so they could truly live. It was always formulaic and predictable, yet as sloppy as drunk puking in an alley.
It was always the same rehashed stories. Doug wanted to fritter away the time on his phone, but feared the organizers would then refuse to sign the attendance form he had to turn in to his probation officer.
That night’s speaker, Dave, regaled the slump-shouldered crowd with a tale about how his wife still chastised him for cars he drunkenly wrecked nearly 30 years ago. He ended his rambling bragging about past iniquities with the usual litany of cliches about self-destruction, and by saying he wanted to reach out to any young people in need of guidance.
Dave made good on that threat by cornering Doug when he was stacking up folding chairs after the meeting. He glommed onto him, recounting all the AA meetings within a 30-mile radius. Doug nodded, a lot. He could only think about how he could read all this information in a pamphlet about three times as fast.
Other organizers shut off the lights in the basement as Dave tried to convince him to go to more meetings, that it was the only way to freedom from the bondage of the bottle.
Doug felt liberated when they got up the stairs and a lingering smoker grabbed Dave’s attention and peeled him away.
Freed, he drove off into the night. He passed a closed Peruvian restaurant, a closed ballet studio, and a closed cafe. Everything was seemingly closed, but everything felt wild and alive. Every dead storefront seemed pregnant with possibility.
As the crisp air coursed through his hair, Doug felt unshackled. Then he remembered he had seven more months of this shame, of this shambling shoegaze indignity.