by Roberta Zenker
On Saturday I was read yet again, this time by a car load of teenagers who hooted and jeered at me as they drove past. I began to think that if I could not make it in the world as a woman that I could not make it all, for I knew that my life as a man was over. As I obsessed over that thought it became dark indeed inside my head. I began to feel the insanity that drives us to drink, or worse. As another friend would say, “in the soundtrack of my life,” Emmy Lou Harris would be singing in the background: Oh the dragons are ‘gonna fly tonight, circling low and in sight tonight, another round in a losing fight all along the Great Divide tonight. When we are like this, and until we accept that drinking and dying are not options, it would be better for us to drink. I white knuckled it as I began to contemplate the “worse” option with all the attendant hopelessness and desperation of a year earlier, in the box, dispirited and demoralized.
I put myself in a dangerous position, an exemplary manifestation of all the reasons they tell us not to make life changes in our first year of sobriety. As my friend from law school told me when I came out to him: “You are fucking nuts right now.” I was very much, as they say, “bat shit crazy.” I was not drinking, but I had none of the tools of sobriety to help me cope with all the loss and changes in my life. I was desperate and devastated with almost nowhere to turn, at least that I was willing to risk. I bitterly sobbed with the submarine hatches wide open as I sank in an ocean of emotion. It did not occur to me to pick up the phone and call another alcoholic as they suggested. It amazes me that I might have taken my own life rather than risk revealing myself to another person. It defies belief that a person would forfeit life for pride. I turned to Mother Mary, clinging to my grandfather’s rosary beads.
Grandpa had lived through much of the advance and technological boom of the twentieth century. He watched the automobile become a household necessity, watched the world light up with electricity, and saw radio and television as they first broadcast to the world. He saw it all come into being, including the “giant step for mankind.” His life encompassed world wars and military engagements around the globe, not to mention the rapid acceleration of social experimentation and change, including the first successful sex reassignment surgery patient, Christine Jorgenson in 1956, the year before I was born.
After his passing my mother sent a few of his things including a monogrammed key chain with the letter “R” for Ralph, his first name and my middle name, and a decade of the Rosary on a key chain. The “Rosary” is a type of prayer and meditation that Catholics of a bygone era fervently prayed. It involved devotion to the Triune God and Mary. To keep their place in a string of Our Fathers, Hail Mary’s and Glory Bes, Catholics would count each prayer in turn on a string of beads with a crucifix that went by the same nomenclature, the Rosary. A great many Catholics would be surprised to learn that one of their most venerated traditions was borrowed from the Hindu and Buddhists tradition of japa malas beads brought back to Europe during the Crusades. A decade was an abbreviated version that involved only ten beads for Catholics on the go.
After those two incidents of getting read and laughed at, in my despair I grabbed Pappy’s beads. I prayed Hail Mary’s as I sobbed holding the ring of the Rosary around my index finger in a clenched fist. I was afraid that I might take my own life, and asked God to save me from myself. When I awoke the next morning I did not hear music, but I was still clutching the Rosary. I had found my porch to safely whether the storm of self pity, doubt and fear. I had made it through the night, and I was not drunk or dead. The rest is gratis. As I ventured out that morning after a long bath and prayer to the Mother of All Children, it was with a certain lightness and gratitude. I went to Starbucks. I deserved it.
I took my latte to a nearby park, known as the Woman’s Park. I did not know its history, but it seemed like the place for me to be. It was Sunday morning. I wore a skirt, heels, nylons, and a dress blouse. I needed to feel pretty and feminine. As I sat at a cement picnic table I watched a woman walking down the sidewalk toward me. She was a local street character whom I had seen before. Her hair was graying, short with no particular style. Her teeth were crooked, and her face blemished and red. She had white whiskers, wore no makeup, and one eye drooped. She was slightly overweight which surprised me inasmuch as I always saw her walking. She did not appear developmentally disabled as from birth, and I wondered what calamity left her in such a state.
To my surprise she walked right up to my table and in a voice as soft as angel feathers asked if she could talk with me. I told her yes and she sat down across from me. She told me that I was beautiful and looked like a model. I could have kissed her and almost started crying all over again. It was a good thing that I did not kiss her, though, as people might have mistaken her joking remarks about street corner work as something other than humor. As she told me of the accident and resulting brain injury that stole her youthful beauty and promise, I knew that I would make it in the world as a woman, and that real beauty lies within. She told me that life is beautiful and short. She made me realize that this was my second chance and that I must get up and grab it every day. It reminds me now of an Afghanistan war veteran I heard on the radio a few years after her legs were blown off as she piloted a helicopter. She wants to be worthy of the second chance at life given to her. God always answers prayer. Sometimes the answer is yes, or, “you’ll be okay. Just trust me.”
-(Share your story with us!)