I keep thinking if I’m not the girl who shoots enough dope to kill an elephant, who am I? There isn’t anything underneath all that. Honestly. And if there is, who the hell would want to find out what?
But I keep going to AA meetings anyway. Monday is Clean and Serene down at the Baptist church, Tuesday is How it Works at the Catholic cathedral, Wednesday and Thursday are step study at the YMCA, and Friday is in the ghetto. The ghetto meetings start at midnight and go on until everyone has had a chance to speak. Sometimes they last all night.
Most people at all these meetings I couldn’t care less about, they’re so full of shit. They preach the miracle power of “service” to keep a person sober, and then they don’t even bother to reach out to someone like me, who obviously doesn’t have any friends and needs a little extra help. Do you know how many times people in AA have condescended to me and taken my inventory and made me feel like a heel, and then pulled a stunt where they turned around acted even worse than they called me out about? A lot. Almost every week there for a while, but I smiled and took it in stride and told myself not to get a resentment because it was bad for me. I guess after a while it built up. But they’re all like that, high and mighty liars all of them. Except for Jenna.
Jenna goes to a meeting every night of the week. And every night I’ve watched her chain smoke, drink diet cokes, and reapply lipstick. Her best friend overdosed and she cried for weeks. She dumped her boyfriend, got a new one, dumped him, got another. They all look the same, her boyfriends. Dark and old. Jenna’s only 20 and she’s always dating guys over 40. Makes me wonder if she isn’t living out some daddy issues. “Tissue issues” Jenna calls them, when your hang-ups are so bad they make you cry. I mean, doesn’t she want someone her own age?
I was always into younger guys. I can’t even begin to tell you how many virginities I’ve taken. Ten, at least. Maybe eleven. I’ve struggled through premature ejaculation, impotence, you name it. Virginity plus being drunk and high does not make for great sex. No way. One time a guy even put the condom on inside out. It rolled right off and we couldn’t figure out where it went. Under the sheets, between the wall and the bed, what? Then we realized, the damn thing was up inside me. Stayed there for over a week. No matter what I did I couldn’t reach it, and I had my fingers as far up as they would go. Finally I had to go to the free clinic and have them take it out. They gave me the number of Planned Parenthood, just in case something unexpected happened. But nothing happened. I thought maybe I was barren or something. But then my kid came along.
Jenna’s had seven abortions, if you can believe it. I wonder what it’s done to her down there, like made it smell funny or look weird. She doesn’t seem to have a problem finding a guy, though, so it must be functional. She cries when she talks about the abortions. One time when they were cleaning her out she started laughing. It wasn’t like she thought it was funny or anything, she just cracked up and couldn’t stop. Must’ve been nerves, I think. I laughed at a funeral once. Some old lady friend of my mom’s had died. And there we were in church and I just started laughing my ass off and I couldn’t stop, just like Jenna. My mom reached over and pinched me on the arm, and I got so pissed I quit the laughing.
Most Monday nights, after the meeting, a bunch of people go down to Charlie’s for coffee and cigarettes. A few kids who go in and out of the program know we’re coming and will hang around the street outside, trying to sell us dope. One night I saw Jenna out there with Todd F., who’s famous for going to meetings just to find people who’ll buy from him. Todd and Jenna exchanged a handshake, so she must’ve bought something, and immediately a warm feeling rose up in my gut. I had to stop myself from tearing Todd a new one. But what I really wanted was for Jenna to ask me to join her. I wasn’t sure what I’d say, yes or no, should I shouldn’t I. I’d never seen Jenna on dope, but I imagined it all the time. Maybe she’d hit on me. Maybe she’d find some guys for us. It’d been a long time for me. I wasn’t even sure I knew what to do anymore. After my kid was born I went sorta asexual. I dress butch for no reason. Mostly because I’m too fat and too poor and don’t give a damn about men anymore. Thanks to the baby weight, I’m the only fat junkie I know. That’s why most people mistake me for an old-timer. Usually newbies look like Jenna, skinny and super-cool. It’s the people with time that look like me, bored and sloppy and trying to blend in to the background.
Which is why, when the Friday night ghetto meeting asked for a volunteer to be their new treasurer, someone nominated me. I needed to find a home group anyway, and it was the first time Jenna had ever looked at me. I couldn’t believe she was finally noticing who I was. I only had a couple weeks clean, because of a few nights I’d ended up down at the tavern with some buddies I used to work with, but since I hadn’t done dope I figured it was a wash. I didn’t bother to tell anyone. They don’t need to know every damn thing.
So I was feeling pretty good about belonging to the same home group as Jenna, like if I hung around enough she and I would eventually have a real conversation. But then last night after the meeting Becky N. told me that Jenna’s leaving. I guess it just happened, she just decided to move to Los Angeles. Somehow I knew it would go this way, just when I was getting close to being her friend. I just couldn’t imagine myself being that lucky.
Jenna is one of those people who don’t stay.
She’s done everything wrong, though, so the other home group members are worried. Got another boyfriend, let him move in with her, now they’re going away together. She doesn’t even have a year clean, doesn’t have a sponsor, doesn’t know anyone in L.A. The old-timers are sneaky as usual. They keep whispering and shaking their heads behind Jenna’s back, but then to her face they’re all “Oh, good luck on your journey” and “Sounds like a wonderful opportunity” and bologna like that.
They’re all fakers anyway.
One reason I always like Jenna was because her story is a lot like mine. Somewhere along the way she got messed up. She got molested, lost her virginity, slept around for attention. Maybe it’s everybody’s same story, maybe it’s the way Jenna tells it. She’s what the old-timers call “terminally unique.” And she acts like the world is out to get down her pants. Old men, young men, women. Every old lady is a dyke staring at her tits, every dog is gonna hump her leg. Thinks breast-feeding is a gross sexual perversion. I wonder about that myself, because of a movie I saw once. Movies do that to me, though. I gotta be careful about what I watch. I’m like Jenna—super impressionable.
Jenna owns a porno tape, just one. The kind that guys like, with jizz on the face shots and “suck me” talk and whatnot. Jenna says she likes to be removed, a voyeur-type, but she can’t get off unless she has the sound up really loud, so loud she’s afraid the neighbors in the next apartment are gonna hear. She only watches it when she’s too drunk to care, which isn’t often since she started going to AA. And I only know all this stuff about her because she likes to talk in meetings.
People call on her at almost every meeting, too, because of the way she can express herself. It’s really entertaining. She has these thick black bangs that hang over her eyes, sort of swept to the side. She lets them shake down every so often, then pushes them aside again when she’s making an important point. And at the end of every sentence she adds a sad little whine, a groan almost, exasperated. “My ex is back in prison-uh. And he’s calling me collect every other fucking minute-uh.” Jenna cusses a lot, but she makes it sexy. The guys just drool all over themselves. It sorta justifies her suspicions. I mean, I’m drooling too, and I’ve only done it with girls when I was blacked-out entirely.
Jenna has names for all these things, words she makes up, phrases. I can’t remember most of them, but they’re pretty good sometimes. Once she said, “If someone were as hard on me as I am, I’d kick their ass.” Everybody in the room laughed. Whenever I share no one laughs in the right places. I have to pretend like I find myself really funny, so they’ll know when I’m joking. It makes me look like an idiot. I don’t share very much. Only when my sponsor tells me I have to.
I hoped Jenna would be at the meeting tonight, and when she walked in I couldn’t keep still. I hadn’t even had my coffee yet, but my hands were shaking the whole time and I felt like I had to go pee every five seconds. Jenna had been sharing about how when she was a kid she was obsessed with sex. At sleepovers she’d get her girlfriends to re-enact Dirty Dancing. Eventually they’d take her mother’s old dresses and strip. Then they’d pretend to hump through sleeping bags. When she was in junior high she told her friends she’d had sex on her parent’s couch, even though she was still a virgin. It was for attention, of course. The girls knew she was lying, but they called her a slut anyway. Eventually the rumors were true, and when she was using, she couldn’t remember which had come first, the rumors or the truth. It wasn’t until her fourth step inventory that it all came out. She’d been a good girl once. She’d wanted to become a nurse. Back then, her favorite song was by New Kid’s on the Block.
I don’t know what all this had to do with her leaving for L.A., but it made sense to me about why she was running off with her boyfriend, and the way she told it made me even more nervous. Her boyfriend was with her this time, the first time I’d ever seen him, and he was old and bald and grey looking, like he was still shooting dope. He’d been living in one of those halfway houses before moving in with Jenna, a place called Oxford House, and they do piss tests once a week, so he had to have at least a month. They’d stolen the Oxford House supply of government cheese and free toothpaste for their trip, which is a sober bottom if I’ve ever seen it, but the group members just laughed. Maybe they thought she was kidding, but I knew she wasn’t.
But tonight was the night. I was gonna finally talk to Jenna. Who the hell knew what I’d say, but I took all the money from the treasurer box that I’d been collecting at every meeting for four months—$500 total—and put it in my jacket. I thought maybe she’d need it for her trip.
After the meeting it was hard to get her attention. She was standing there in knee-high boots and a tiny skirt, making it look so easy. All through the meeting I’d tried not to stare at her white panties, watching her cross and uncross her legs, mostly because it struck me as funny. I would’ve assumed they’d be red or black or something.
Outside I gave Bobby D. a cigarette and tried to make small talk. Everyone was standing around in clumps like they do after meetings, smoking and bullshitting and planning where to go for coffee. Bobby just got back from a three month stint with the merchant marines and was leaving after the weekend, so he had a lot to say, and it was enough that I just stood there smoking and pretending to listen. I could see Jenna through the glass doors, coming my way, just about to walk outside. Her boyfriend was nowhere around.
“Hey, Jenna,” I said to her before she passed. “Hey there, Jenna,” I said again as she walked by.” “Where you headed?” I asked, as she walked away. She said nothing. Bobby D. just kept on talking. I gave him a look and he shut right up.
“Hey you!” I yelled out to her across the sea of people. A few people turned to look, but Jenna wasn’t one of them. She was making a beeline to her boyfriend, who was sitting in a pickup truck in the parking lot.
“Jenna,” someone yelled, “I think you’re wanted.”
Jenna turned around and yelled out, “Who?” By this time everyone was watching. “Who’s been hollerin’ at me?” She yelled out, in a country accent, and everyone laughed. She was always doing funny voices.
“We wants ya!” Bobby yelled back, imitating.
“Then get yer ass over here, Bobby! I ain’t got all day!” Bobby grabbed me by the arm and we made our way through the crowd. “We’re leaving for LA in morning, damn it.” Jenna said.
“Want to get some coffee first?” Bobby still had me by the arm, but I was fine with it. If he did all the talking than I had less chance to sound like an idiot.
“Get in back,” Jenna said. “We’ll drive.”
All I could think on the ride over was the time Jenna was trying to stay away from men. “I’m on this inner tube,” she said, “and I’m rushing down the river about to head for some rocks, and I need to move around them quick, but everybody coming by wants to grab on to my tube to keep from drowning. But it only has room for me. So I’m like, get off my tube, buddy! Get off my fucking tube!” No one laughed at that, they just looked at her like they understood. But I’m like, what the hell? What about those of us who need a tube? I’m floating down that river, too, and I’m headed for the rapids. I need a fucking tube, too. I mean, where the hell does a person get a tube? Besides, it seems like her new boyfriend hopped right on her tube. And there I was, riding in the back of his truck, huddled down behind the cab windows with Bobby, trying not to puke from the smell of dog piss on the blankets underneath us. She’s sharing her tube with this guy and I didn’t get it at all. Just didn’t make sense.
When the truck stopped Bobby jumped out of the back and offered to give me a hand. I could see through the front windows of Charlie’s that a bunch of people were sitting there already. And there was Todd F., walking up to the truck. He didn’t notice Bobby, and he sure as hell didn’t notice me. He was headed straight for Jenna.
“Hey, I’m going inside Charlie’s,” Bobby said, “Are you coming?”
“We’re headed there, Bob,” I said. I wanted to wait for Jenna. But then the truck started back up and I saw the blinker flashing against the windows at Charlie’s, against the faces of all the people inside.
“Are you staying or going?” Jenna yelled at me from inside the truck.
This was one of those moments my sponsor warned me about. I could go with Bobby, go sit at Charlie’s for the hundredth time this month with a bottomless cup of coffee and a basket of fries, chain smoking and talking about how the good old days weren’t as good as they seemed, or I could follow Jenna. And I know what you’re thinking. It’s hard not to see which way to go down this road. But Jenna was leaving, and I didn’t necessarily want to get into trouble. I just wanted to hang out with her. And I’d already stolen the money from the treasurer box. At this point I was willing to risk it.
“Going, I guess.” I didn’t care where.
A few minutes later we pulled up in front of a dope house. I knew it was a dope house because of the chain link fence, the boarded-up windows, and the skinny half-naked guy standing in the doorway. It was A Man Named Kim. He and I were old friends. Of the few girls in my life I ever slept with, his girlfriend happened to be one of them. He’d caught us kissing in the bathroom of a karaoke bar and got excited until he realized we weren’t going to include him. After that I found a new dealer.
“A Man Named Kim!” Jenna yelled to him as she walked up the driveway. Her boyfriend was still sitting in the cab of the truck.
“Hi Kim,” I said. I reached for my pack of cigarettes and waved it up in the air, like a peace
offering. “Want a smoke?” I asked.
“Chico said he saw you down at the methadone clinic.” Kim said. He hung his shirtless body over the edge of the truck bed and looked inside. “Smells like piss.” He took the cigarette and waited for me to light it. “Hey man, you coming out of there?” Kim banged his fist on the truck window but Jenna’s boyfriend didn’t respond. “Guess he isn’t feeling social tonight. How about you? You feeling social?”
“I’m not on methadone,” I said. “I’m clean.”
“Whatever. You got money?” he asked.
“I don’t need anything,” I said, but I followed him inside the house while I said it. I wanted
to find Jenna.
The living room was dark and stale, the only light coming from the television set, but I kept
going, stepping over a couple people who were lying on the floor watching Sesame Street. I could hear Jenna’s voice coming from the kitchen. She was telling about how great L.A. was going to be, how she knew some guy who did hair in Beverly Hills who was going to help get her a job at his salon. Jenna wasn’t a hairdresser, she was a shampoo girl. She was hoping to work her way up by apprenticing to someone famous. She mentioned his name but I’d never heard of him.
When I walked into the kitchen everyone looked at me except Jenna. She was cooking
some dope in a spoon over the gas stove.
“I’m with Jenna,” I said, and this finally made Jenna look up, briefly.
“Oh ya,” she said. “We were going for coffee.”
I sat down on the kitchen floor and waited. The dope she was cooking was black and looked nasty. A beer would’ve been nice, but no one was offering, so I waited. A Great Dane came in and sat next to me on the floor, leaning up against me as he licked his crotch. I waited for Jenna. She went into the bedroom and shut the door.
“Heroin is sexy,” I heard her say, “but addiction isn’t. That’s the fuck of it all.”
She went on like this for a long time and I waited. A Man Named Kim came in and bummed a couple more cigarettes off me. A blonde girl came in through the back door and went upstairs and the Great Dane followed behind. I chain smoked and thought of Bobby sitting in Charlie’s with a group of recovery people. He was probably telling them all about how I relapsed, how I was killing myself, how they might as well assume I was dead already. This is what recovery people do to make themselves feel better when someone goes off and makes their own choice, something that doesn’t follow the twelve step suggestions. Those assholes wanted to think the worst to make themselves feel good about staying sober, needed to think that if they went out and had a drink that their lives would go to shit overnight. But they knew it wasn’t true. If addiction killed people overnight no one would do it. It comes on slowly, and feels good while it’s happening.
When Jenna came out of the bedroom she was angry. I had to jump up quick to follow her
out the front door, and she was stomping all the way.
“Fuck him,” she said to no one. She was always talking to the room in general, to no one in particular, like she was the main event. “He’s dope sick and he’s gonna die and just fuck him anyway.”
Her boyfriend was still in the truck, still sitting there, though it was at least an hour later.
He looked like he hadn’t moved at all.
“Jenna,” I said. “I want to give you something.” I was saying it more to myself than to her,
under my breath, practicing, but she heard me anyway.
“What do you want?!” she yelled, turning around. I had my hand wrapped around the $500
in my jacket pocket. It was a huge wad, mostly fives and ones, the way it gets collected in
“I thought you might need this.” I pulled the money out slowly and handed it to her. She didn’t touch it at first, and I thought she was just going to walk off, which would’ve been fine. I was starting to regret the whole thing anyway. Nobody was missing me at Charlie’s, not even Bobby cared whether I went or not, but my kid was sitting at home, probably waiting up for me, asking my mom where I was. And I needed the money more than Jenna did, anyway. I went to all this trouble for her, just so she wouldn’t leave without knowing my face, just so I wouldn’t blend into the background for her, just so I might matter. But now I was regretting it. I wanted to pull my hand back and put the cash in my pocket and take it back to the treasurer box, keep on pretending I had a year clean and everything was cool, that I wanted this, that I was getting it, that I was doing everything right.
“Now don’t go telling people I stole this or anything,” she said. Jenna was taking the money.
“No,” I said. “I just thought you might need it.” I had my head down. My pants were dirty and I’d spilled mustard on them at lunch. I hoped she wouldn’t notice.
“My brother’s dope sick in there,” she said. “He needs it more than me.”
After she walked into the house, my home group’s $500 in her hand, I noticed her boyfriend looking at me. He rolled down the truck window.
“You need a ride to Charlie’s?” he asked.
I hopped into the back, with the dog piss. I didn’t have time to be friendly. I needed to
practice my amends.
“I had the money and went straight to the dope man,” I’d say. “And you know you’ve hit your bottom when you’re sharpening your needle on a matchbook and don’t give a shit about your life.” I’d lean over, brush my bangs out of the way, take a sip of diet coke. “But now I’m here to make it right. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but I owe it to the group. I just don’t want my bottom to be six feet under.” And everyone would laugh. I’d wring my hands a little, wipe a tear or two from my eye, wait for a smile from someone. “But I’m glad to be here,” I’d say, “and glad to be sober.”
Jessica Star Rockers is the editor and publisher of the literary magazine the strange
fruit. She lives and writes on Bainbridge Island, WA.