The atmosphere at the club is chaotic; there’s a Halloween potluck and dance assembling. Friends flit in and out and talk, smoking or vaping outside and loudly laughing; the energy is high. Flirtations – eyes casting about at one another. Parcels of hot food unwrapped and placed on the tables. It’s cold and crisp outside and warm and convivial indoors. I love seeing people in costume – some of them rag-tag or incomprehensible, others quite developed. You discover a little more about your friends when you see them in their glad rags.
I take a little window cleaner and a corner of paper towel and erase “Kelly H.” from the whiteboard. My name has been there two years and five months exactly; I’ve chaired a meeting every single Saturday. If I was out of town or had a medical event, I found a substitute. There were no no-shows on my watch. I discharged my duties whether I was feeling like it or not; it was a heartbeat in my life, no matter the chaos or confusion. Even in these last few months when I’ve experienced unwanted attentions from another attendee, I didn’t give up. I showed up. I’ve done this kind of service, a committed volunteer stint, for the seven and a half years I’ve been sober. I’ve been on committees, assisted at treatment centers, provided rides, built websites, and made flyers. I’ve simply balanced these duties in my (already busy) life and refused to make an excuse. Anyone who’s lived through what I have can understand.
I also know though, as I say my goodbyes and huddle my coat about me – off to another meeting, a candlelight one – that I will feel a sorrow in the next weeks, to not have this commitment. The meeting will continue of course – there are others to step up. The friendships I made in this commitment will be in my heart for life; when I see attendees about town our hearts will leap in a small and familiar way and we will greet one another. And I will remember these two and a half years with a bittersweet nostalgia.
And now – as a friend of mine says – “on to the next thing.”
I am one for saying that our children sense our anxieties – no matter how hard we might try to obfuscate them – but I do think sometimes they don’t realize the middling terrors that beat in our breasts. This year I’m stunned to discover my children really are “too old” to trick-or-treat for Halloween. That is, many teens continue in the tradition – either while babysitting smaller children or just as a lark – but they are no longer small ones – they are near grown. They are taller than I. They could get a rebuke by some bitter asshole, if they show up at a door. More precisely, their peer group is fading out of trick or treating so they are less likely to want to go. A figurative moment ago I felt I had years left of making them costumes and finding them a purple plastic pumpkin to haul their candies – but those times have closed, abruptly, another door slamming shut. A smirk in my face. Time marches on.
We’re crossing F street and Phoenix asks me for the difference between empathy and sympathy. And this leads to a discussion on two tangential experiences: commiseration and understanding. Watching my children grasp new concepts so swiftly, it’s still breathtaking all these years in. I don’t know what brought these emotional-relations topics on but I can think of some salient, personal examples in our lives, and I share them with my oldest as I feel the steering wheel hot under my hand. I glance across the street at a carved wooden structure; the sun is hitting the swollen river and I’d planned to let my oldest drive us down to class today but we were feeling rushed. Phoenix has his new learner’s permit folded up in his wallet, which he’s learning to take everywhere with him.