I enter the room thinking I can't believe I actually came to one of these things. It is a small room, about the size of a corporate board room, maybe a bit bigger. It seems smaller though because of all the people, some thirty-five or so, / guessed, milling about, talking in hushed tones, smiling politely at me, the newcomer. The chairs, royal blue vinyl on chrome frames with genuine imitation simulated wood arms, are arranged in a circle on the avocado green and mustard mixed shag carpet. On the wall are paintings, the same landscape done in each of the four seasons; I ruminate on the symbolism of them for, oh, a minute or so, then people begin taking their seats.
I am so nervous, I sit quickly next to a woman with long, deep red hair and octagonal rimless glasses, a nose that turns up at the end and lipstick that is all wrong for her. Hannah would have said that. I think I may have done alright but then I let my eyes fall slowly to the ample space her rear-end takes up in the pretty good sized chair. A man a little older than me gets up and speaks.
“Hi. I'm Dean.”
“Hi Dean,” is the chorused reply.
“I’m thirty-five years old, and I am an adult child.”
The man tells his story, badly, but the sentiment is still there. He, like all the rest of these people here (I suppose), has never made his way past a certain point in his childhood. For some, it is caused by blatant abuse and neglect. Others grew up in a family with either one or both parents (if there were two) absorbed in alcoholism, which led to emotional deprivation of the children, which stunted emotional growth, which, often, started them on the bottle at an early age. Or drugs, or sex, or any number of things that one can become addicted to. Some, I guess, may have no outward evidence of their addiction, but have chosen to place a string of failures and bad decisions squarely upon the shoulders of one or both of their insufficient and unavailable parents; hell, it’s easier than the alternative.
Even so, as the words and sentiments continue to flow like so much controlled vomit, the familiar buzzing in my head grows louder and my hands involuntarily form fists as they coil on my knees. I gauge everything: the distance to the door, the amount of commotion I’d create by just politely getting up and leaving, whether the number of people is sufficient to deflect the attention away from my hasty exit, will they stare at my back as I leave? I don’t care (yes I do). I tell myself that I’m really intruding on the lives of a bunch of people who have real problems and my shoulders tense and the blood courses through my head and inside my ears is the screaming whisper of my beating heart…the door, is it heavy? Will it make a noise when I open it? It was open when I came in, but…now something’s missing from the crescendo of sounds in my head. Nobody’s talking anymore. I manage to take a breath, a small one, and look around. Eyes. On me.
“Ah, what was that?”
Tell us something about yourself.” The first man, Dean, says to me.
“Well, to tell you the truth, I don't actually know what I'm doing here.”
Different levels of smiles and head-nodding is the response from nearly everyone in the group. The redhead next to me Is practically laughing and I think her head is about to come loose from her neck, she is nodding so vigorously.
I go on.
“I mean, my father wasn't an alcoholic,” (why tell ‘em the truth?).
“But, he was,” I allow, “in every definition of the word, a 'holic.' He was a workaholic, an emotionaholic, a despairaholic, an ice creamaholic.” They are listening to me. I am listening to me.
“He always seemed like such an old man, even from the first recollections of him.”
Where are these words coming from?? Why am I telling these people all of this? A voice inside: ‘Shut up, you idiot, shut up!’
“But now, looking back, I see so much childishness in his memory. How he would sulk when he didn't get his way. How he would squander any money that he was able to get his hands on. How he would act like he was sixteen years old at the wheel of a car. How he treated my mother like his.
‘Stop fucking talking!!’
“And the sad part is that I began looking back over my own life the other day, and I realized that, without trying to, without knowing it, easier than falling down, I had become the man.
“And that's why I'm here. I'm Virgil. And I guess I'm a, whattya call it? Oh, yeah, an adult child.”
I sat okay through the rest of the meeting. One woman sounded like she was at a prayer meeting, asking for everyone to keep her in their thoughts as she traveled back to Charlotte this weekend to finally confront her father—he’d fired up her very first bong hit when she was nine. Another really fat guy who’s shirt buttons deserved a medal said his mother always got drunk and made him dress up like Spanky in “Our Gang’ and sing Shirley Temple songs. He actually said this.
Nope, I definitely don’t belong here.
When the meeting broke up, I started to leave, but a small crowd gathered about me. Dean, and a couple of the other men wanted do shake my hand, let me know that I wasn't alone or anything—‘seeya next week’. One woman, a tiny, greasy-blonde woman with teeth that hinted of Palomino in the blood line, asked if I would like to go for coffee. I politely declined, but she continued: “I've read everything you've written.”
“You are Virgil Peal, aren't you?”
“Yes.” Somebody knows me?
“Well, I've read every one of your books; I just love them.”
“Ah, thank you, thank you very much.” I smiled a bit, turned away from her and did my best to wade through the sea to the door, but she was right on my heels.
“'You know, I did it first in a barn.”
“Excuse me?” / was having trouble breathing again and I could feel my face heating up, eyes glued to the door.
“In your story, ‘No Trespassing’, you know, they did it in a barn, the boy's first time and all.”
“Oh, yes, yes,” how old was that? Five years? Seven?
“I read it in Playboy. It was very sexy.”
“Again, thanks.” Let me out of here.
“I've read everything you've written.” Great. My only fan and she's as fucked up as I am. More.
I pushed a fellow a bit hard trying to get past him, but I had to get to the door. When I did, I looked back to see if the scrawny woman was in tow, but she was gone. Got the message, maybe. But I didn't stop to find out. I walked. Fast. Loosening my tie and taking deep breaths the whole way, my footfalls echoing in the cooling night.
Without a single glance back.
On the dead walk.