“Never say no.” That’s one of those strongly suggested A.A. suggestions. When someone in the program asks you to speak, or to set up, or to sweep up, you just show up, and do service. You just do.
Truth is though, I haven’t answered all calls for help, like the one to serve on the Bill W. Dinner planning committee, a full twelve-month commitment. Maybe next year. But I’ve never said no to a newcomer (not a female one). I’ve bought into this suggestion because it works. I’m still sober five and a half years later and I’m mostly happy and sober.
So when I got home from work last Wednesday and dropped my lunch pail, I was excited to leaf through my closet and start pulling together an outfit for an outgoing speaking commitment I’d accepted months earlier, across Brooklyn in Bed-Stuy. (Confession: I’m still preoccupied with what I wear in meetings, and what you’ve got on too. I say the 7th step prayer over my fixation on your footwear, which is either judgmental or covetous.)
I’d asked my friend Peter to chauffeur me in his Subaru Crosstrek with the heavenly suspension and new-car smell. And because I’ve always known Peter to also take this most strongly suggested A.A. suggestion, he didn’t say no. He’d agreed to be at my doorstep at 7:40pm. Plenty of time to get dressed, feed and exercise the pet lizard, and go.
I scattered six crickets on my yoga mat and watched our Australian Bearded Dragon scamper in pursuit. (A small reptile seemed a sober pet choice in a working single-parent home). I hate cages: big, small, literal, figurative, not for people, and not for pets. I’ve always had an open door policy for my parakeets (and bird shat everywhere). And that’s why I left Scamp unattended on the living room yoga mat, free to digest, roam, and stretch his tail, while I changed.
But then he went missing. And I was still in my robe when I realized it.
My productivity in searching for lost things has always been inversely proportional to my anxiety level. I looked behind the bookcase, bureau, and the piano. No luck. I started to throw sofa pillows, and look in unlikely places: the freezer and the toilet. After forty minutes of rising panic with no results, I realized three things: ONE: how much I loved that little guy, TWO: how filthy my apartment was, and THREE: Peter would be here in ten minutes.
I thought to cancel, but then I thought, people are counting on me. I chair a meeting myself, so I know that jab of disappointment you feel when your speaker doesn’t show, that is, before you pivot into acceptance and ask that first warm body who walks in to speak. This family emergency would have to go on ice until I returned home.
But I hate leaving home with unfinished business as much as I hate cages. I’ve made myself late for appointments over dishes in the sink. It’s a fear thing, an unwillingness to accept that—as an old sponsor Lisa M. often reminded me—“Life is messy.” and I’m not in charge of straightening it all out. “Everything that’s supposed to get done today will get done...” she’d coo. Only now, with a few twenty-fours attached to my first name and last initial, I’m starting to buy in. When I’m willing to acknowledge the sloppy around me—and inside me—I can relax just enough to do the next right thing. In this case, I reminded myself of my primary purpose: stay sober and help another alcoholic. So I pulled up my moto biker pants, left the free-range lizard at large, and hopped into Peter’s passenger seat with the wrong shoes and one earring.
Driving over, I listened to—and heard—Peter, as he updated me on health and family. I was almost okay when we parked. Then I got out and stepped on a dead rat. BAD OMEN. I imagined our poor pet turning up months later, like a foul Easter egg on July Fourth, in a crawl space behind the FIOS box.
Somehow I found my sober feet. The air was almost fresh from a spring shower, as we approached Our Lady of Victory Church, with its Rapunzel tower rising, and an opulent magnolia, shedding it’s blossoms underfoot...
When I got home I was in a better headspace to resume the hunt. I prayed for direction and got it: Use a flashlight. Given that every apex predator in Australia lunches on these lizards, Beardies have evolved to be masters of camouflage. I got on my knees again, behind the piano, under the trundle bed, this time reaching deep into corners with focused light. So far though, no tell-tale tail. I prayed for more direction and got it: Where is the most logical place he could be?
Then I remembered my eleven-year-old remarking that, after a good worm supper, Scamp liked to shimmy up under the china hutch and pass out. In my frantic, pre-meeting mode, I did give the china cabinet a cursory look. But now I went back with a slow pan of the searchlight. And wouldn’t you know that lil rascal had scooted himself right up into the corner, fast asleep, snug in a tangled nest of my hair?
Hard to see much of anything when I forget the flashlight of universal love always available to me, and am caught, instead, in the floodlights of fear...
So once again, I was glad I’d said “yes” instead of “no”. But honestly, if the lizard hadn’t turned up, if I’d returned home to tragedy, instead of this cute ending to a very long day, wouldn’t I still have been better fortified to deal with such a loss after having gone to a meeting?