My first meeting was traumatic: the hand-holding tattooed biker was all I could remember so I made a resolution on the way downtown to my second AA meeting. I don’t like to hurt. In fact, that’s one reason I rarely get hurt. I’m very careful. I might be reactive, outspoken and a rebel, but I don’t like pain. Up to this point in my life, men had caused me a great deal of pain, so I believed men and pain were synonymous.
I will sit between two women. Simple. This resolution would at least, grant me a sense of safety and when my upper lip isn’t sweating, I can think better. I have to keep things simple. Thus, “sit between two women” was my big goal for meeting #2.
There was a trite church slogan on the marquee in front of the church on 3rd avenue. I check the rearview mirror to be sure my makeup and hair are right, grab my new little notebook and make myself get out of the car. I was early and asked the smoker in a worn leather vest at the top of the stone steps if this was where the AA meeting location. He nodded and smiled, looking really surprised to see me. You probably don’t see a lot of professional, educated women at these things.
The hallway was dark and seemed like a tunnel. Safety first. I breathe deep, hold it while scrunching up my guts, literally. Hold, count to 10 … release with a whoosh. Feeling better now… after all, I had continued to make progress down the hall and doing two things simultaneously isn’t easy. One more big breath and hold. Now I could hear talking. To the left there is a small, well-lit room. Feeling safe again…almost relaxed. This will be interesting.
Indeed. I look around the room, mindful of my one objective and… no women! My notebook now feels sticky. Someone sitting at the front of the room, starts talking. Having no idea what he just said, I say the first thing that comes to mind. “I’m kind of new to this stuff.”
Now that I’m focused on him, he looks okay, maybe even harmless. He says, “Welcome! Glad you could join us. It’s usually just us. It’d be nice to have someone else to look at.” I wipe my hand on my pant leg and drop into a line of empty chairs along the wall. Maybe this is the girls’ side.
One of the guys on the opposite wall gets up. I don’t let him out of my sight. He’s headed for the counter at the back of the room. I notice everyone but me already has a cup of some sort. I should have brought the HyVee mug from the car.
He grabs up the coffee pot and heads back along the line of guys, who hold up their cups in practiced formation. Guys pour coffee in AA? I should probably have helped out before I sat down. Next time.
He gets across the front and down to me, producing a Styrofoam cup from nowhere, offers it to me. Feels better holding something warm.
Take another deep breath. I’m exhausted and the meeting hasn’t even started. A really grubby guy with a grimy backpack comes in and fortunately gets no closer than the end of my row. Still three seats between us. Good. The guys call him by name and ask if it was cold outside last night and I find from the discussion that he slept under a bridge. Finally, a real alcoholic.
Smoker guy comes into the room and the guy up front introduces himself for my benefit and they all open the books they are carrying and the meeting begins. I grab my pen and notebook. At least I can take notes. Get an AA book!
I glance at the door. Where are the women?
Vaguely I realize that someone is reading about a boy whistling in the dark. Didn’t I hear that same thing at the other meeting? Maybe it’s the reading for the week or something. I write down boy whistling in the dark. I can’t whistle like my brother can. No matter how much effort I put into it, my whistle is anemic. He can be heard across the gym or down field. In spite of his efforts to teach me, I always sound like wind through a crack in an old house.
The guy across from me is saying, “I felt really bad about how I talked to her. I’m going to call her and make an amends. She doesn’t need more sh.. from me!” (forgot to mention I’m an English teacher and I don’t abide what my grandma called, cussin’ and carryin’ on.) But you get the idea.
I tuned in to the conversation enough to hear that these guys (still no women) are talking about things they feel and furthermore they’re talking about what they’ve done wrong in their lives. Whoa! Men pouring coffee AND talking about feelings and failures? Who are these guys? Is it like a whole sub-culture?
I look around … the faces on these men. It looks like they’ve been to hell and back but they have a look of humility I’m not used to. Feeling safer, here. I can’t feel my heart pounding now. I’m not ruining this by getting up and pouring coffee. I take notes and listen. Amazing. I watch the guy at the end of my row as he turns several pages in his old copy of the book to find another section that illustrates his point. I write down what he says. Good stuff. I like his comment better than anything else I’ve heard.
Suddenly they all start shifting, set their cups on the floor and books on their chairs and begin circling while the lead guy says, “Lets close in the usual manner.”
He then approaches me as people shuffle together and he grabs my hand, while the bridge guy holds his out to me on the other side. I’m having a hot flash and my hands must be sticky-wet, but I know I can do this again. I hear the Lord’s Prayer and join in. Good thing it’s something I know.
When it’s over I never look back. By the time I reach the car, I’m grinning. OK, God, I don’t know what you want me to learn in AA, but if I can make it through an all-guy meeting, there’s something a little miraculous going on here.