Friday, February 23, 2018

Here's how I ended up having a first kiss - six days into rehab

“Hey,” he says getting up. 

I lick my dry lips and pop a forbidden, cherry flavored, Spree candy into my mouth. 

Scottie is sitting on the balcony floor with his arms draped casually over his knees.  I marvel at the absolute sense of ease with which he stands and rests his hands on the balcony rail.

How can anyone be comfortable here?  Isn’t he hurt and ashamed too?  Doesn’t he hate being watched twenty-four hours a day? Doesn’t he resent having every move we make cross-examined and analyzed?

He is looking at me now with questioning eyes.

“You alright?”

“Sure,” I breathe, although I am far from all right.  Six days earlier I'd flown from Los Angeles and checked into Wickenburg, Arizona's, The Meadows treatment center (now made famous by clients such as Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey).  After trying to leave for home that first day (twice), I’d been persuaded to stay by The Meadow’s Director of Services.

“I think I’m in the wrong place,” I'd sobbed, pointing to the 'Love and Sex' section of their brochure.  "You understand that I'm only hooked on pills, right?  I've just gotten out of a 13-year marriage!   So it's not like I'm a sex addict or anything like that.”

Sex addiction?! Is that even a real thing?  It just sounds like an excuse for guys to cheat on their wives...

“Please stay, Laura,” he’d responded calmly.  “You’ll find that we treat all addictions here, pills too.  We can help you.”

And now six-days in (ironically), I find that I am developing an ill-timed, preposterous crush on this blond haired, blued-eyed, outdoorsman from Park City, Utah (who checked himself into The Meadows one hour after I did).  

I am someone who used to scoff at those people who fall for each other (so fast!) on shows like Survivor or The Bachelor.  But now I'm totally getting it.  Just like all those "Big Brother" type shows, everyone here at The Meadows is completely isolated from the outside world.  No magazines, no cell phones, no TV (except for the golf channel every Saturday).  So all we really have is each other.  And people end up -- well, bonding.

Maybe I'll pitch a rehab reality web series when I get out of here... 

“I’m okay  -- thanks,” I say, mustering a smile.

And anyway it’s just a matter of time before our counselors separate us.  Because of all of the sex and love addicts here, men and women aren’t allowed to even sit together. If anyone ever catches Scottie and I sneaking up to the balcony to watch the sunset “concert,” we’ll both be kicked out for sure.

As if on cue, a single cow begins to low. 

Scottie puts his finger gently to his lips and then points down the pasture beneath us.  I get quiet, turning my complete attention to the cows.

Suddenly, the air is filled with a cacophony of mooing.  I smile widely and clap in delight as the mooing goes on, crescendo-ing and then ending as abruptly as it started.  There is an air of contentedness about everything as the cows settle in closer to the base of a large, shade tree. 

Cicadas start to sing now, but they can’t compete with their opening act. Their song is more like a pleasant hum, a denouement.  It is the heralding of the (mildly) cooler evening, which is now on the horizon.  Both Scottie I and are awash in gold and pink tones as the sun dips beneath the far-off, purple-tinged, mountain range.

The molten, metal railing begins to burn our fingers, so we drift down to a shadier (and more secluded) section of the balcony. Scottie starts telling me funny story about a time he was "guiding" (fly fishing) for some famous movie producer on the (Colorado?) River.  

I try to listen, but despite my efforts, I find that I am being hypnotized by the deep purr of his voice and the cadence with which he speaks.

It's probably for the best if I stop hanging out with him now — before I get into trouble.  And really, the timing (and location!) couldn't be worse for even contemplating a new relationship.  

"I should be careful," laughs Scott.  "Since you're from Hollywood, you might know him."

And besides which, I think he's at least four year's younger than me...

“What?” He says.  He is looking at me with that same bemused, questioning look.

Jesus! Did I say that out loud? 

“Nothing, sorry,” I shrug my shoulders in what I hope is a nonchalant way, but I feel my chest tightening up.  “You were talking about camping, right? Wyoming?”

He laughs and puts his hand on my shoulder.  I flinch wildly, as if his fingers are searing a hole through my thin, V-necked t-shirt.

"Fly fishing," he says, piercing me with his eyes.   "I'm a fly fishing guide -- in Utah."  

All at once, I am keenly aware of the lack of space between us.  He narrows that distance even more as he waits for my response.

“Oh…?” My voice sounds as though it's coming from someone very small.

Without warning, he leans in even closer.  I feel my heartbeat still in my chest as his lips touch mine.  My arms go limp and remain motionless until he’s done.  I stare at Scottie as he pulls away slowly.  His eyes are closed, his breath tastes vaguely like vanilla. 

He kissed me…

“Is that okay?” he says softly.

We aren’t allowed to have any sugar, caffeine or table salt at The Meadows.  So after six days of blandness, his kiss is even sweeter than my contraband, Spree candy, which has now dissolved completely against the inside of my cheek.  I am silent for what feels like minutes, folding and unfolding my lips -- breathing in his scent.

“Oh sh*t,” he says.  His eyes are wide with concern now.  “Did I overstep?  I’m so sorry.  I thought you were… I mean, I thought it would be okay.”

My mind whirls crazily before screeching to a complete stop.  I stare back at him frozen, unable to blink. 

Say something.

“Laura, I’m really sorry,” he says again.  “Was that a mistake?”

Suddenly, blood begins to flood into my face and ears with a pounding rush.  Released from my paralysis, I pull back slightly and touch my lips in slow motion, as though they’ve been burnt.  

“You kissed me,” I say.  I have to force the words out. 

“Was it too soon?  Are you mad?”

I shake my head and take another step backwards, unable to get in a full breath.

“I just didn’t expect that.  I, we've never talked about anything like that.”

“Like kissing?”

He starts to look relieved.  “Do you usually talk about kissing before you do it?”


I'm too embarrassed to look at him, so I decide to examine my white, toenail polish instead.

“Oh right, of course,” he looks wounded as he lowers his gaze to catch mine.  “You just got divorced.”

“It’s just that’s it’s been a while," I say quietly.  "Since I’ve been kissed — by anyone. Anyone else, I mean.”

He looks up at me.  His eyes are cool, blue water.  I’m so hot and flustered that I just want to jump inside them.

“Are you mad?” He says again.

“I’m not mad,” I say slowly.  “I was caught off guard, that’s all.”

“So our first kiss caught you off guard,” he smiles as he tentatively puts his arm around my shoulders. 

I feel electric shocks running up and down the places where his arm and chest come in contact with my body. I want to pull away from him, but I feel myself leaning in closer, as though we have both been magnetized.

What is happening here?

“Next time I kiss you, I’ll ask beforehand, okay?” He is grinning at me again. 

I try to suppress a smile.

“Next time?!” I say, trying to sound indignant.  I look at him from the corner of my eye as we descend the staircase.

“Oh, there will be a next time,” he says with complete confidence.  “But I’m not in any hurry.  After all we’ve got, what?  26-more days here?”

“22,” I say with a laugh (it feels so good to laugh). “We’re here for 22-more days."  

My sandals make a loud, clip-clop sound as we walk in lock step down to the gravel path. We separate from each other automatically as we begin to pass other "clients" heading to their respective counseling appointments.  I look over at him after we've gone a safe distance.

"Well, don't worry, Laura.  I have to be patient for a living," he says with a wink.

I stop walking and regard him with a puzzled stare.

"Fly fishing guide, remember?" He says.  "All we do is bait and wait.  And I'll wait for as long as it takes."

Friday, February 9, 2018

Someone handed me a drink one year ago today -- here's why I took it.

"Madame Chair, are we toasting with martinis or tequila today?"

It is July 16, 2017.  We are gathered at a restaurant for the very first planning meeting for our school's gala fundraiser.  I am the new mom at school and have agreed (reluctantly) to chair the event.  Four women have volunteered to help me.  I will refer to hereafter as them as the "gala-rina's".

"You're going to need to drink a lot this year," says Wendy (not her real name).  "It's the only way we get through it, right ladies?!"

She looks around to the other three women who are all nodding and cackling conspiratorially.   I wait for a moment before responding.

"Actually, I don't drink -- alcohol," I say.

The abrupt cessation of laughter is followed closely by a short, awkward silence.

"Not at all?!" Says Wendy finally.

"Really?" Says another.

"But why?" Asks the third (with a look of concern).

"Well, I'm -- in recovery," I smile.

Two of them look at their hands uncomfortably.  The third puts down her drink menu.

"But," I say with a wave of my hand. "Don't let that stop you guys from having a cocktail. I'm good."

"But not even a glass of wine?"  Says Wendy.  "Ever???"

Uh, I don't know if you know this, Wendy.  But wine is alcohol...

"No, not even wine," I say with what I hope is a generous smile.

"Well, I just don't know how you're going to do it," says another one, shaking her head with a grave expression.  "We all just drink our way through these things.  It's the only way to survive the drama."

I feel you.  

In fact, this conversation is making me wish I were drunk right now.  Can we change the subject please?

February 9, 2017

I arrive at the Four Season's Westlake with my overnight bag and my long, black, one-shoulder dress in dry cleaner's plastic and set my stuff on a sofa in the lounge area.   My phone buzzes in the side pocket of my Lululemon leggings.  I set my decaf coffee down on a speaker and fish out my phone. I have missed 17 calls during the 40-minute ride from my house to the venue.


I scroll through the missed calls and mentally "triage" each number, sussing out which ones need to be returned most urgently.

It is 7:45 am.

"Mimosas are here!" I hear Wendy's voice from just outside the ballroom.

Her thin frame is hidden by a baggy, navy sweatsuit.  Her blond hair is pulled tight into a bun, making her blue eyes appear even larger than normal.  She is wheeling a cooler behind her and stops where I'm standing to set up, giving me a kiss on the cheek.  She sets out plastic cups and pops a bottle of champagne.  The three other gala-rinas come running over giggling with delight.

"Let the drinking begin!" She says.  "Who wants one?"

I stand back a little, watching their eyes light up.

I don't want the champagne, but I do desperately want the sense of freedom and relief that I see spreading over each of their faces.  They are all chattering so effortlessly.  I want to join in but I feel a self-righteous tightness spreading through my chest.

Go ahead and get your buzz on, b*tches.  Meanwhile, I'll just be over here all by myself making sure that this whole event doesn't go sideways.

I decide to walk around the corner (away from the booze) and sit on one of the 6-foot auction tables while I return phone calls.  I can feel the muscles in my neck and jawline clenching.  I open and close my mouth a few times in an effort to relax.  I ignore the next phone call and text Scottie.

Hi Hon.  What time will you get here?

I'm sure he's still asleep...

I sigh, wishing that I were still curled up next to him in bed.

I text him again and ask him to bring Advil.

*  *  * 

"The talent is ready to go over their script with you now," says Wendy.

It is 30-minutes before "showtime." Our sound system isn't working and our silent auction signs are missing -- along with the silent auction chair.

I really don't have time for this sh*t.  

"Didn't they already go over them with the live auction chair?"  I try to soften my gaze so I'm not glaring at her.

"Yeah, but they thought you'd want to hear them rehearse.  I told them to wait in the lunch room."

Can't anyone do anything without me?!

I have to gasp as I enter the lunch room to get some air in my lungs.   It is incredibly humid and stuffy inside. The two celebrity emcees who have donated their time to us are waiting for me.   One of them is mopping his forehead with a napkin.  The live auction chair (who looks stunning in an up-do and a white, low-cut gown) is frantically sorting through scraps of paper.  I close the door behind me and sit down in the only vacant seat.

"You know we're about a half-hour away from opening the doors," I say as calmly as I can.  "But you guys pretty much have it down, right?"

"I could remember my lines better if I had a drink," says one.

"Uh, yeah!" laughs the other.  "A little liquid courage?"

Keeping the smile frozen on my face, I get up and open the door to the hallway, stopping one of the banquet waiters.  They are carrying trays of something called Purple Haze, which they are serving chilled in highball glasses with a wedge of lemon. The color reminds me of the opalescent nail polish that I used to wear in the ninth grade.

"Excuse me?" I smile.  "Can you please bring one of those trays?  I've got some thirsty people in here."

At that moment, one of the gala-rina's comes careening down the hallway, sobbing.  I grab her quickly and pull her to the side.

"Hey, hey!  What's wrong?"

Babbling unintelligibly, she tries to squirm away from me.   All I can make out after a couple of minutes, is that another gala-rina has hurt her feelings (but she won't say who and she refuses to let me comfort her).  I pull her forcibly inside the "talent" room with me and gently advise her to take a breather.  She takes a seat in the corner behind me and hides her face in her hands, making soft, squeaky noises.

"Okay," I say, looking around.

Everyone is quiet now and staring at the crying gala-rina.  The banquet waiter I hijacked earlier is standing motionless in the far corner of the room. He seems to be waiting for me to direct him.

"Please," I say through gritted teeth, pointing around the table.  I feel light-headed now, as if an inner tube is squeezing the muscles around my heart.

"Please pass out the drinks."

He starts at the other end of the table.  As each person takes a sip of this Purple Haze potion, their voices suddenly become soft and silky smooth.  Its like they each have an invisible volume knob that has just been lowered.

"Wow, what is this?"

I watch fascinated as they all take large, thirsty sips.  I am so engrossed by this process of transformation that I find that I don't notice that the waiter only has one drink left on his tray. A drink which he is now offering to me.


I don't think anything of grabbing it off the tray.  Nor do I think anything of taking the small, square, white napkin he hands me.  I do this as if I have done it every day of my adult life, when in fact it has been almost nine years since I've held a cocktail in my hands.

The glass is cool and dewy.  I slip my index finger up to the rim and slide it around slightly, feeling how wide and solid it is.  I swirl the iridescent liquid inside the glass.  I've never inhaled anything like it.  The smell is fire — full of citrus and licorice notes.  I lick my lips because I can actually taste that smell in my throat.  The sensation sends a river of shock through my body that pools up in the soles of my feet.  I slip one of my heels off and scratch an itch on the bottom of my foot.

This whole night would be SO much easier with just one drink.  Just one -- to smooth the edges...

I remember how that burn of that first sip would loosen up every muscle in my chest.  I remember how a bubble of warmth would envelop my head soon afterward and everything would kind of melt away.  I close my eyes.

I remember it so well...

But then, just as quickly; fear, humiliation and guilt begin to swirl around in my stomach. Suddenly,  I can feel the stickiness of those endless, dark hours in my bedroom, hiding bottles in my closet with the shades drawn.  I am struck by the knife-like pain of those unbearable thirty days in treatment — thirty days away from my babies! I can recall the shame and horror of those first clumsy amends that I had to make to the people I loved after I got out.

And my life now!  I have this incredible life full of my family and friends.  I'm able to be a mom to my kids.  People can actually count on me.  People DO count on me.  Could a brief (albeit possibly awesome) single moment of relief be worth destroying all that I've worked so hard for?  Could that one drink (and PS, who am I kidding, it would never just be one drink)! be worth it if I had to relive all of that awfulness and drag everyone who loved me through it all over again?

Just then my phone buzzes in my lap and I open my eyes.  It's a message from Scottie.

And Scottie...

I'm here, Hon. Where are you?

I close my eyes again and shake myself a little before turning around in my seat.

"Here," I say quickly, handing the drink to the still-crying gala-rina.  "Maybe this will help."

I watch her take it from me.  She cups it with both hands like it is a warm bowl of soup and sips at it tentatively.

"Delicious," she says dreamily, as a slow smile spreads across her face.  "What is this?"

"Purple Haze," I answer quietly.  "Enjoy,  I'll be right back.  My boyfriend is here."