A glass of crazy, p.35
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       A Glass of Crazy, p.35

           Tina Laningham
 
By the end of the first week, I felt like a rat in a science lab, doing the same things over and over, while people in white coats observed and took notes. They started letting Creepy Girl and some of the other inmates go somewhere at night, but I was not invited. They loaded them in a van, and two hours later, brought them back. "Where do y'all go every night?" I finally asked. "Bowling or something?"

  "I wish," Creepy Girl replied, acting like it was no big deal that I'd finally spoken to her. I stared, waiting for an answer.

  "It's my last week, so they make us go to AA meetings out in the real world." She made it sound like torture.

  "You're getting out?" My voice got all excited. "Aren't you happy?"

  True to her name, Creepy Girl didn't say anything.

  "I'd give anything to get out of here." I said it like she was totally wack.

  Her eyes got all moist, and then she ran out, crying down the hallway.

  All I said was that I'd give anything to get out of here. I'd just mastered the art of not saying what I really thought in my out loud voice. This, in and of itself, was a big deal. Yesterday for example, the therapist, Dr. Drake, had pointed out my magnificent progress in this area and had written about it on her clipboard. So why did Creepy Girl run away? I was starting to get pissed off about it when a shadow darkened the doorway. I turned around. The Mohawk girl from the AA meeting squinted and clenched her fists. Holy crap.

  Just when I thought my life was finally over, two men appeared and escorted The Mohawk maniac away. That was close. Clearly, I did not belong in this place. I made a decision right then and there to escape. Ohmygod.

  That afternoon, Dr. Drake asked me what had happened. I explained that I had done nothing wrong and that I needed to be placed in solitary confinement because the oversensitive crazies were planning to kill me. She wrote it all down on the clipboard.

  I waited patiently while she finished writing and then she cocked her head and let out a long sigh. "I want you to try something new," she said. By the tone in her voice, I could tell I wasn't going to like it. She handed me a journal and a pencil, and said, "It's time for you to start writing."

  "First of all, no." I pushed it away. "I don't do journaling. You can ask Mr. Oliver."

  "Who's Mr. Oliver?" She crinkled her forehead.

  "Nobody. My English teacher. Hey, shouldn't I be in school?"

  She wrote some more stuff on the clipboard and said, "I don't want you to write in a journal. I want you to do something else."

  I swallowed my words and put on a big, faux smile. "Right now, I'm not saying anything that's actually going through my head, just like you taught me."

  "Excellent," she said. "Now I want you to listen."

  I took a deep breath and concentrated on only listening, nothing else, just listening.

  "I want you to reflect on your relationship with Kayla."

  "Who?" I asked.

  "Kayla, your roommate."

  "Oh, yeah." I'd called her Creepy Girl in my mind for so long that I'd actually forgotten her real name. "We're not roommates; we're cellmates."

  "Let's turn off the committee of sarcastic voices in your head and go back to listening."

  I had no idea what she was talking about, until I heard them-a committee-talking about Creepy Girl and how unfair it was that they were letting her out and making me stay. The more they talked about it, the madder I got.

  "How do you know what's going on in my head?" I asked.

  "You're not as unique as you think. Everyone in here has the same negative committee in their head telling them what to say and do. My job is to help you fire the committee."

  I must have looked stunned because she smiled for the first time ever. Not wanting to appear weak, I casually lobbed one leg over the other, and with my hand, gestured for her to please continue.

  "Alcoholics are wired differently than most people," she said. "Our first instinct is to look at everything from a negative point of view."

  I raised one eyebrow. "Our?"

  "Believe it or not, I do know what I'm talking about."

  "I'm intrigued, but just because you're an alkie, doesn't mean I'm one. How do you know my fascination with drinking wasn't situational?"

  She frowned, like she'd lost her best friend. "Do you still think about drinking?"

  "I do," I said. "Considering everything I've been through, I think that's perfectly normal."

  "And what exactly have you been through?"

  "Seriously?" I said. "The arrest, the hospital, and now this insane asylum? Ohmygod, it's perfectly normal to need a drink."

  "That's enough for today," she said. "Think about the committee and we'll talk again."

  As far as I was concerned, the committee was still out on whether we would even talk again. It was getting old listening to her blame me for all the things my parents had done. I went back to my room, where Creepy Girl stretched out on the bed with her head resting on a duffle bag stuffed with whatever she'd brought to prison.

  "Leaving?" She didn't even acknowledge my presence, so I shrugged it off and went outside to sit on a bench and stare at the ugly building surrounded by a moldy brick wall. This proved I wasn't an alcoholic with a committee of naysayers hardwired into my brain because getting ignored by Creepy Girl didn't upset me in the least. When I returned to my room, she was gone. I just hoped my next cellmate had a dentist.

  I froze. That last thought sounded horrible, like another person had said it. Was it me? Had I become that mean of a person? Or was it that committee Dr. Drake was talking about-the thoughts in my head that made me view everything from a negative point of view. I gazed in the mirror and I loathed the person staring back. "No!" I shouted and tried to shake it off. Dr. Drake was wrong. I was too young to be an alcoholic. I'd simply overreacted to my parents' divorce.

  That evening, in Caf? a la Can Opener, the girl with the Mohawk pointed her middle finger right between her eyes and stared me down. Obviously, her committee was working late, but my non reaction was once again living proof that I was nothing like them. I swallowed a plastic spoonful of Spaghetti Os. I could deal with Spaghetti Os, but that tinny tasting spinach, no. Even though it was pointless, I picked up the plastic fork and twirled the Spaghetti Os in the spoon, like I used to do with long strings of spaghetti at home. How did my life get to this point? I wasn't even fifteen. A tear landed in the middle of the Spaghetti Os and I tried to stop the next one before anyone noticed, but a sea of tears followed and I sat there, gasping uncontrollably right in front of everyone.

  Two people put their arms around me, but I couldn't tell who they were because I had the napkin bunched up in my eyes. Maybe they would take me back to my room and let me cry in peace now that my roommate was gone. Someone rubbed my back, but I couldn't stop sobbing long enough to see what was going on. Finally, I caught my breath. Whoever sat next to me handed me another napkin and I blew my nose. When I looked up, I expected to see Dr. Drake, but instead, five or six girls I didn't know were telling me everything was going to be all right. "This is all my fault," I said through jerky tears. "My parents didn't get me arrested. I did."

  A few of them grinned, but not in a mean way. "I think she's ready," said one girl. Two others nodded in agreement and somewhere in the midst of my complete emotional meltdown, I started feeling better, like I didn't have to hide or fight anymore. I think I might have actually hugged someone. At our AA meeting that night, I found out what they meant when they said I was ready. "Abby's gonna tell us her story," a girl named Jasmyn announced after the meeting began.

  My eyes got big. "I don't know what to say."

  "Start with your first drink and how it made you feel," someone suggested. "Then end with how you got here."

  Weird-no therapists in sight-just us. I scanned the room again and wondered why I didn't know anyone's name. A deep breath filled me with strength. "My first drink," I said, trying to remember.

  I must have been silent for a whole minute, thinking back over the past year. N
o one said a word; they sat and waited patiently. Finally, I said, "My first drink was vodka and orange juice." Their eyes lit up and they smiled reassuringly. "I was watching Hurricane Ike on TV and my parents were going through a divorce." Even though my voice kept quivering, I continued. "So how did it make me feel?" I took a deep breath. "The vodka felt relaxing and melted all my anxiety away. I remember pouring water back in the vodka bottle so my mom wouldn't notice any was missing."

  A wave of giggles erupted in the room and some of the girls nodded like they had done the same thing, so I continued. I told them about seeing Dad on the news, and when I described the Kat creature in detail, they hooted and hollered. It never seemed funny to me until that moment when I found myself laughing and crying at the same time. When I told them about Megan's betrayal to cover up her own family's dirty secrets, one girl snapped and shouted, "Uh-huh. When you point a finger at someone, you got three pointing right backatcha." And they loved the part about my knight in shining armor turning out gay. "In the end," I said, "Rafa and Megan were there for me, as loyal as two friends could possibly be. But alcohol had changed me into someone I didn't even like anymore."

  The room got still and everyone listened intently, so I continued. "I'd already had a few blackouts, but the one that got me here was the worst." I told them about spring break and the beer bong boys and the tequila. And when I got to the part about changing the signs to read, Badass on the Beach, they totally cracked up. "Unfortunately, I don't remember painting the signs because I was in a blackout. And when I woke up, I was in a hospital, handcuffed to a bed with a police officer sitting outside the door. Later, I found out I was under arrest for public intoxication, vandalizing state property, resisting arrest, and assaulting a police officer. I didn't remember any of it."

  For the first time, the girls looked truly stunned. Hearing it come out of my mouth made it real for me, too. This was who I had become. "But that wasn't the worst part," I said. "I almost died. And no I did not try to kill myself. Alcohol was doing that for me."

  I looked around the room and the tough street girls I'd felt so superior to a few hours earlier, looked back at me with the sweetest, most loving eyes I'd ever seen. They knew how humiliated I felt. Suddenly, I was no better and no worse than anyone in the room. We were all the same.

  "I guess I am an alcoholic and? I may need some help here."

  They all clapped for a long time and then lined up to give me hugs. Even though I felt emotionally exhausted, I stayed and helped clean up. When I got back to my room, a new girl sat on the cot with her jaw set and fists clenched.

  "Hey, I'm Abby," I said.

  She rolled her eyes and turned away.

  I smiled because I knew she was going to be all right.

  The next week, while chewing on a piece of Spam and canned pineapple, Tiara asked if I'd heard from Kayla.

  "How is that even possible?" I asked. "No phones."

  "I was hopin' she wrote you," Tiara said. "I been thinkin' 'bout her."

  "You get mail?"

  "You don't?" Tiara scrunched here eyes. "Everyone gets mail, 'cept Kayla, 'cause she ain't got no mama."

  My heart landed in my stomach with a soft thud. All this time, Mom could've been writing. Not a word from Dad or Rafa, not even Megan. I laid down the plastic fork, and let out a deflating sigh. I was sick of me, too.

  "I worry 'bout that girl," Tiara continued. "Goin' to some new foster home after what happened at that last one. People are crazy. Guess I don't need to be tellin' you all this, since y'all shared a crib."

  My eyes welled up and my nose tingled. Kayla's problems were a zillion times more painful than mine and I'd made her feel even worse. It was official: I was lower than a worm.

  That afternoon, I asked Dr. Drake if she knew how I could get in touch with Kayla. "That's confidential information," she replied, "although it warms my heart that you're asking."

  "But-that doesn't even make sense. She has no family. You'd think it would be a good thing that someone wants to get in touch with her."

  Dr. Drake studied my eyes for a long time. "I'll see what I can do."

  The day finally arrived when I could go to meetings out in the real world. All the girls who had checked in that same week, climbed into the van with caged windows that let the outside world know we were dangerous prisoners. I sat next to a window and Tiara scooted next to me. About ten of us settled in the van and even though we usually talked a lot, the van was silent, perhaps because our predictable lives were about to become unpredictable again. It was only a meeting, I told myself, and then we'd go right back home.

  We drove down a bumpy street and turned onto a smooth one. I didn't bother keeping track of where we were going since I wasn't familiar with that part of Houston. The sun shimmered like glitter through green leaves that wiggled in the wind. The drive would have been enough for me, just to get a glimpse of nature, but the blinker ticked at a light and we turned into a rundown strip center, and then parked in front of a window with a triangle that looked like the AA logo. The driver turned around and in a stern voice, gave us instructions about how to exit the van and stay in a single file line, while the guy from the passenger seat slid open the side door. No one said a word as we filed into the meeting and filled up the back row of seats.

  At our meetings back at the treatment center, we sat in a circle, but here, the chairs were arranged like an audience. I looked up at the clock. One minute 'til eight. People drifted in alone, mostly older, like in their thirties and forties, and they filled up the middle part of the room. A guy sitting in a chair facing the audience announced, "A van just pulled up, so we'll get started in a minute." He flipped through a book and waited.

  When the door opened, a line of boys filed in exactly the way we had and since most seats were taken, a man herded them to the front. Tiara squeezed my arm and whispered something that I couldn't hear because Daniel had come in, and I was busy having a heart attack. He looked sad, and while the other boys scoped the room, Daniel kept his head down and quietly took a seat. I couldn't breathe.

  - 36 -

 
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