By Rinn Packard
“Imagine that being your reality. You’d never live it down. Which I guess would only be a problem if you lived, period. Hey, you okay?”
Maraeis pulled her attention back to the present moment. Whose voice was that? Oh, Zoe. She liked Zoe. Zoe was the only one in the group who didn’t have a tendency to try and one-up everyone around her. This group treated sharing like the Olympics, dealing in trauma like it paid their bills. Sometimes she wondered if they got off on pity. Maraleis had never quite understood the appeal of being thought of as the best at fucking up. She was content with being mediocre over here in the corner with Zoe, at least until the meeting started.
“Sorry, distracted. What are we talking about?”
“That singular guy that got the bubonic plague in New Mexico. I mean, how does that even happen?”
“Is the bubonic plague something we have to worry about now? I don’t think I have the mental real estate to take that on right now.”
“What could you be thinking about that wouldn’t come second to the resurgence of the bubonic plague?”
Maraleis’s mother was dying, but that wasn’t the sort of thing a person shared in casual conversation. And even if it was, she barely knew Zoe. She’d trust Zoe to cat sit, maybe. Then again, trusting addicts was always risky. Maraleis’s mother had made sure to remind her of that fact every week for the past four years. That was something she certainly wouldn’t miss.
Quite frankly, there was very little to miss about her mother. If Maraleis were to wrack her brain, she’d come up with only a handful of pleasant memories and a couple cute quirks. Like the way her mother ate kiwis how most people eat apples, for one. Claimed the skin added the right amount of acidity and a complex texture. Whenever Maraleis saw her mother eating kiwis, she’d comment on the similarities between kiwis with their skins on and what she imagined monkey testicles would look like. None of their pleasant memories began with the eating of kiwis. Many of their arguments did.
Once, when Maraleis was seventeen, they went on a trip to Yosemite together. While hiking up El Capitan, Maraleis’s mother tripped and sprained her ankle, slicing her hand open against a rock on her way down. They sat in the shade of a tree as Maraleis used her brand-new tank top to wrap her mother’s hand. The blood never came out. That pissed her off, but she kept it to herself. Maraleis carried her mother back down the mountain, piggyback style, like an elementary school recess game. To keep her distracted, her mother told her stories about her dad, who at that point had been dead for fifteen years. It was dark by the time they reached their car, and Maraleis almost felt like she knew the man she only remembered from photos. She’d take that sweaty, painful, exhausting hike a thousand times over if it meant she could always feel that close to him. This was the story she told people when they asked about her mother. She never mentioned the fact that she was drunk on the way up and hungover on the way down, and they never asked. Why would they? She tried to forget all the times they were forced to stop so that Maraleis could vomit on the side of the path, and how her mother kept right on with her stories, averting her eyes while Maraleis retched. She tried to forget making her mother drive them home because she could barely see through her headache, and how her mother bled through the tank top and onto the steering wheel, staining that too.
“Oh, you know. Work is just crazy right now.”
Maraleis scanned the room, mentally moving down the list of regulars, checking off names as she went. Fatima looked tired. Georgie looked stressed. Quinn looked annoyed, though that might just be how her face looks. Zoe had told her in the parking lot that Quinn had recently fallen off the wagon after two years sober. Maraleis felt for Quinn. Apparently, nothing had happened, nothing serious anyway. Just life, boring and exhausting. Sometimes that’s the hardest part. Looking at the days and weeks and decades in front of you, and knowing you’ll be spending the rest of your life perpetually working to deny yourself of the one thing you actually want. Drinking may have taken a lot from Maraleis, but it never left her feeling bored.
“Can I tell you something exciting?” Zoe whispered to Maraleis, leaning in. Her breath smelled like stale coffee and nicotine gum.
“I’m pregnant again!”
Zoe did a little celebratory dance, and Maraleis couldn’t help but smile. She thought Zoe was a good mother. A little psychotic, a little paranoid, but loving just the same. Her husband had brought their son with him once to pick her up after a meeting. He waddled his little toddler walk up to Zoe and wouldn’t let go of her leg until she picked him up, laughing all the while. Maraleis only ever wanted a baby when she could hear one laughing.
“Should you be drinking coffee?”
“Let’s get a handle on the alcohol thing first, then we’ll talk caffeine.”
Maraleis raised her own coffee as if to toast, and let it be. She could do a lot worse than caffeine. This was no time to nitpick.
Did her mother ever do a little dance whenshe found out she was pregnant? Did she ever imagine Maraleis’s laugh or picture carrying her in her arms? Did she ever let out a little sigh of relief, thinking about how she’d have someone to take care of her as she aged, as she got sick, as she died? Did she ever consider the possibility that her daughter might become her greatest shame, the kind of person that left her at home with a nurse most weeknights to attend AA, the kind of person who couldn’t seem to feel content just being alive?
“Come on, I think it’s starting,” Zoe said, “let’s sit.”
Maraleis followed Zoe’s lead, settling into an old folding chair. She took a breath, felt some tension leave her shoulders. Now, for a little while at least, she could listen to other people’s problems. She could watch someone else’s life fall apart, not her mother’s, not her own. She was happiest here, and as everyone took their seats around her, she found she wasn’t bored. Far from it. In fact, Maraleis felt like celebrating. Perhaps on her way home, she’d stop by the bar.