“Hopeless in St. Henry of Uppsala” by Mindela Ruby

Illustration by Morgan Maurer, 2011

At chicken o’clock I set off on foot, having quaffed Jolt all night so as not to oversleep right through the sex meeting. People who write me off as a hopeless, organ-grinding tramp should see me now, arriving early at St. Henry of Uppsala for 12 Step.

Not my peppiest or at all sure how to act, I stage my entrance into Community Room 2 with eyes cast low. The chair I pick is near the window. As others take their seats, I feel their attention bushwhack me. Who’s the new girl? The fatty ass punk in the thrift store hound’s tooth skirt –what’s her frailty?

Displaying a chink in the armor’s not my thing. Still, the longer I’m forced to wait for the program to start, the more violently my heart lub-dubs. As the chest contractions hit panic speed, I tell myself, Remember why you’re here: my employer (and well wisher) didn’t fire me, even after “stealing” her car. Instead, she says that if I get in the 12 Step pink, her old Nissan will be mine.

Gain back Sada’s trust and snag her ride? Blowing this sweet a deal would be a stupiculous move.

Besides, my sex life’s hit rock bottom. Of that I am damn sure. All I’m good at lately, other than getting stone cold rejected by heartless dudes, is going cruising for a bruising. The thrill of that’s long gone.

Will sexaholic meetings help? No guarantees. What is a safe bet is that these folks are gonna make me talk about myself. Blather seems to be what self-help is about. Like Sada’s grief workshop at this church, where they unload sagas of sorrow and cheer each other on. I lift my chin and suck hard at air, to not turn blue with fright.

Eight others are present so far. We all wear jackets in the unheated room and look like a pack of bears. I’m shivering and sweating.

For gratifactual distraction, I think of my music promoter kingpin pal (and secret object of desire). When I called Stoney yesterday, he told me our bass player’s dad is sick. She’s visiting her parents, this flounderous fish tale goes, and no one knows when she’ll get back, and Up the Wazoo’s not rehearsing. Or so Stoney and the girls in the band would have me think, if I’m gonna get paranoid about them, and maybe I’d better. Johnny Rotten once said it best: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

On a cue I’ve managed to miss, a man’s lisping voice across the room gets the proceedings underway. “God give uth grayth to akthept with therenity the thingz that can’t be changed.”

One chair over sits the runt who squeezed a rubber squeak-toy in the toilet stall when I accompanied Sada to this church. The toy squeezer isn’t acting like a hyped-up toddler today. She’s quietly pursing her lips during the prayer, but she’s definitely the chick from the can, ‘cause she’s wearing the exact same size-four gray shoes with matching laces. I stare at them as the prayer ends.

Amens erupt, a chorus of confidence, though, if you wanna know the truth, this room’s a far cry from inspiring. The floor is worn to ribbons. The paneling droops. The chairs have seen better days. The one grace note of the excursion struck on my way in, when the church biddies at the refreshment table offered me free coffee. While I tanked a couple of cups, they explained that they’re a Black ministry of Evangelical Lutherans, and St. Henry of Uppsala was a bishop in Finland who got canonized.

Overdosed on caffeine, I’m Too Far Uppsala to capiche whatever point they were making. At any rate, “introductions” have begun, and my glands sweat in hyperdrive as the participants state their names and the gist of why they’re here: “Tarik, Fred, Roxanne…internet sex, physical abuse, romantic escapism,” details that fly faster than bullets in a shoot-out.

“I’m Dales,” a guy in front of me says, “a sex addict who can’t get through a day without ten to twelve ejaculations.”

I grin and digest his sentiment effortlessly. A hush descends like a thought of death. Everyone stares at me. My turn? I’ve got zippo! No handle that neatly justifies my presence. The blood in my lower extremities defies gravity and whooshes up to my face. It’s all I can do to sputter, “Pass” to get everyone’s attention off me.

Someone laughs. I can’t see who. My engorged head hangs between my legs. Introductions end.  The topic “internet addiction” generates cross talk, but I hear only smatterings between heartbeats that in my head sound like, “Get out, get out, get out.” When I rise and follow these dictates to the exit, no one laughs or speaks or tries to stop me . Even the coffee peddlers in the hall ignore me shambling past.  I’m hopeless. Everyone at St. Henry’s knows it.



Mindela Ruby is a former punk radio deejay and current community college professor. Her fiction has appeared in The Binnacle, Emprise Review, Literary Mama, The Medulla Review and Boundoff audio journal. This piece is an excerpt from a completed novel.

Read our interview with Mindela here.