I don’t play video games very often, in fact, my experience has been an ongoing joke in my household. If I could ever get Mario to jump over all of the mushrooms to get to Level 2, I may be more interested. At present, that daunting task is somewhat towards the bottom of the list. However, I do know that much like Mario, my life is a series of Game Overs and restarts. After all the lives and health have been used up, you start back up from the beginning alone and broke: Player One.
In June of 2019, I came to another such restart. I was staring into the gravel that I was swirling with those same boots with the broken buckle. Should I write a name, should I spell Tina with an anarchy sign at the end like my 8th Grade self? I was sitting under the pavilion of the drug and alcohol rehab I had signed myself into two weeks prior to this date. The rehabilitation center had been a cheap resort and hotel in the Poconos. The scenery was quite wholesome, surrounded by woods and mountain air.
Shifting little piles of rocks and smoking a rolled-up cigarette, I pondered the resort and found Marsha. Marsha and John were a likable couple from Scranton. They signed in at the desk Friday morning and quickly unloaded their bags in their room to then hop onto the bed and giggle at the prospects of freedom. Both of them were feeling the freeing moment of having just dropped off their youngest child at college. This getaway had been planned for 25 years.
John leaned over Marsha to initiate a kiss and she smiled while turning her head, “You know what, I’m starving, I wonder what the Cafeteria has, oh, but first..?
She got up to open a suitcase that hid the 12 pack of Yuengling lager in cans, a bottle of bottom-shelf vodka, and a bottle of top-shelf tequila. She cracked open the can, chugged and said, “Ok let’s get this mother fucker started,” crushing the now empty can with her one hand and tossing it toward a waste basket next to a dresser.
John, a more somber and steady character took a few sips of his own beer, swallowed and responded, “It’s going to be a long weekend Marsha, pace yourself.”
“Yep, all on board for a good wholesome time here, no problems.” Marsha said this as she was stuffing a six pack into her oversized purse, “Just stocking up on provisions, this is going to be great! Look at all the wilderness here to explore, we can go on a hike, after we eat.”
John fiddled with his wallet to fit it into his back pocket and put the half full can on the dresser and picked up Marsha’s empty can to place it in the garbage.
Marsha watched John and said, “Thanks, but fuck it.”
They got to the cafeteria as lunch was being served. Marsha, rather tall at 5'10" in high heeled boots that helped her tower her way to the front of the line smiling at each guest she passed. Swinging her frilly sweater like Stevie Nicks and enthusiastically commenting on the various food items offered, the guests seemed to be too entertained in watching the show to complain about her rude line-crashing. This was a little trick she knew, stay positive and weird, and no one would be too fussed about cutting in line. They would just think she was a loon. It worked and she now had a full styrofoam plate full of tiny portions of everything. All except pickles. Nobody likes pickles.
Eventually, John joined her as he had refused to be a flamboyant ass and waited politely for his turn. Looking around the room, Marsha leaned to John and asked, “How the fuck did we get so old?”
He chuckled and continued adding condiments to his food, “I really don’t think about it much. It is what it is.”
That’s right Marsha, your husband, your parent-partner, your compadre of 27 years doesn’t think about the time that has passed. He lives in the moment, for the next moment, like a goddamn goldfish and you are so fucking jealous of him. How does the liquid-fire of pending death not penetrate his skin, or are they scales? Can he not absorb the heat around him?
She watched from her side-eye as he dove into his hoagie. He has a look of contentment when he is around food that is so adorable. You can see under the few wrinkles of his weather-worn face, a little boy who’s mother just patted him on the back and handed him a plate. With wiggling legs, he sets off to scarf down lunch to quicken his next move, which is to run out the back door to jump on his dirt bike at full speed to catch up with his friends. Today they are in the woods building a new campaign for Dungeons and Dragons. Perhaps they will set off some M80’s near the creek later. All the dreams are still there and it’s difficult for Marsha to burst that delicate bubble of childhood whims.
So she swallows her retort, with the sneak of an open beer she has set in her purse. ‘Go down to the pits of Hell you random thoughts of chaos.’ She then continues to pick tiny pieces from the taco in front of her. Hoping not to drop a morsel for fear of shame, tiny bits are better than big bites. Hell, if she is not careful, she might bite her damn tongue off and have to explain to everyone what she was thinking.
The undulation of rage-to-calm emotions Marsha feels consistently tends to present themselves as awkwardness. At this moment, she went from the center of attention to wishing she was invisible as the hurdle to eat in public comes rapid-fast. Old haunts of her father watching her clear her plate as a child, watching and commenting on how they were going to sit there until every last particle was consumed flooded Marsha’s replacement thoughts. His watching and waiting with shame and torment plays like an old sitcom on TV. The Hollywood tourists were fully engaged with audience participation, wearing Hawaiian shirts and holding coconut drinks. Eventually she decides she has no appetite and wraps her plate with napkins for a more private moment when she knows her tongue won’t be at play.
I can’t tell you what happens next to Marsha, because I have shifted my attention to a new drawing. One of the women in rehab with me says she’ll give me five cigarettes if I draw graffiti-styled logo of her name with her boyfriend’s name so she can hang it on her wall.
Half of the women in rehab with me were coming directly from serving time in County or Pennsylvania State jails. The crimes they committed range from felony theft, prostitution, and/or drug possession with the intent to sell. The concept of bartering for goods and services has long been a tradition in such institutions. It was with great sarcasm that I was thinking that my year in Art School was finally paying off.
I was receiving no money from home, apparently they were also in dire straights, or so they said-or so they didn’t say. While I was writing letters home everyday, my parent-partner/ex-husband and kids would not answer my calls and wrote back once to update me on the cat. I had really fucked up.
With each push of the colored pencil and each dig into weighted paper with the eraser, I knew that I was and wasn’t alone: Player One; Level failed.
I wasn’t alone because the women around me had stories unique to their own-selves. They were sharing this moment looking at different video screens, but in the same room. Another portion of the women in this group had arrived after they had overdosed on heroin. The EMTs had cut their clothing off, so they arrived in paper pjs. I went around collecting clothing or sewing items back together to give them their dignity back. I found out that the former prostitutes had arrived without underwear, so I gave half of my pairs away. I did not want friends or parades, I was just sick of people treating these women like cattle. I was sick from our shared stories of abuse, rape, and then later societal judgements. We no longer received invitations for brunches, the PTAs had ‘lost’ our numbers, and we weren’t welcome in the League of Women Voters. Our brand of feminism had too many holes and dark alley exchanges to compete.
My alone-ness at that moment was a choice I had made. I ditched a group therapy session to sit in the pavilion. I did not want to talk about how everything was my fault, I know that. It does nothing to examine those items once you cross that threshold in recovery. I stopped blaming my family, my ex-husband, the Patriarch, and capitalism years ago during my first stint at rehab. I did not look for excuses and resentments to begin using again, I merely had given up and given in. I was trying to start a new life for me and my kids, sober as a saint, and it all went to shit. So, it was a suicide mission, plain and simple.
Twelve steps were again twelve steps to the fridge for another beer and another shady text to score some Meth. Player One was down for the count. The count was those six months. But just like any honorable trash-can addict, I’m also addicted to finding out the end of this story. So I fired up that old Nintendo 64, got out of rehab, drank straight through another month, and then just stopped. August 3rd, 2019.
I began crocheting and much like the spider says to the fly, “What are we going to do with you, you tasty morsel?” I was weaving and counting, building one row to make one slipper sock, repeating that to make a pair, like finishing a prayer. Meditation is mathematics, praying offers solitary reflection, and time passes without punching through mirrors. Do I believe in a power greater than me, do I believe in God?
I can tell you that my God is rather impatient with me at times. The almighty leveler brandishes a weapon of mass destruction, should I choose to sever our ongoing private conversations. I’m not ready to die for nothing. If all I have to do is keep in contact and be ready to listen to that resounding voice of reason, then fine. I’m here for it, my commitment to waking up tomorrow is solid.