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There Is No Doubt: Storied Humanness, book excerpt

Saturday 4/23/22

I believe we're done here. Don't hold me to it. Things happen, occur, develop, but I think I have There Is No Doubt: Storied Humanness. Complete. So polished, so tight, so powerful. I can't do anything better. There was a further addition--that being "Seedless Cherries." So this is how it looks:


An introduction

Fitty

Dot

Dead Thomas

Transitionings

Coffee Streaks

The Girl Who Couldn't Cry

The Stopping

Head to Give

Seedless Cherries

A Start and a Place

The Everything

Certain Human Lips

Fetch and Ferry

The Echo Blow

Girls of the Nimbus


47,000 words. No one is going to have a book close to this. No one has. It is special, and it took me all of these years, all of this work, all of this harnessing and honing, all of the living and the growing and the developing and the changing, to reach the point where I could do it. Which isn't to say it's better than what I've done before, but it's not something I was ready to do five years ago.


An excerpt from the book. The book. Good job. Sound the mantra: total focus, matchless art, no mercy when we get there.


At our daughter’s hockey games, I drank whiskey out of a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cup and though she scored a ton of goals and was good enough to play in college, I don’t remember one of them from when she was a girl, but I do break down the tape of every last shift of hers that she takes now at Colby, and I send her notes about how she’s playing and little things to look out for, such as when she’s reluctant to use her backhand, despite its obvious quality.


There was this one woman at my meetings who was dying. People die over the years, but in your mind you can, if you wish, tell yourself they merely stopped coming, but looking back, if you ever do, the accounting of hindsight and self-honesty isn’t quite the same. You know why a bunch of them weren’t there again. She’d be pretty open about it, though, the dying that was forthcoming. She wasn’t that old—my guess is mid-sixties. But a very good-looking mid-sixties in that way that makes you understand how stunning someone must have been at thirty, though without undercutting or cheapening how attractive they remained.


My dad would have told you Barbara Stanwyck was this way by the time she starred in that show in the 1960s, The Big Valley, after being this massive movie star in the 1940s. He was bigtime into Barbara Stanwyck, my dad. I think it was a fetish, and when he boffed my mom I wouldn’t be surprised if in his mind he was filling a seedier role that had to be cut out of Christmas in Connecticut.


I shouldn’t put it like that—it’s crass. It’s not how I’d express it in conversation. Meetings will lead to you speaking in a more straight-up way within your head. The narrative voice of your mind changes. He’s less likely—if he’s a he—to spit polish his fingernails, you might say, and more inclined to punctuate an observation by spitting upon the ground and producing a slight ricochet.


My dad loved this pseudo-concept of Barbara Stanwyck so much, but my mother didn’t seem to mind, and I don’t think anything could have threatened the security they each had in what they both shared. If I could tell you how often I’ve thought about that, you could tell me you made a point of counting to a billion every day, and I’d believe you.


The woman at the meetings had been sober for thirty-four years. That number I know exactly. Everyone tends to know each other’s number, and they certainly know their own number to the day.


She’d been told she’d be dead in a few months, and I’m sure that’s a number she knew every bit as well, even if it was necessarily more nebulous. Coming to those meetings was about all she could do on the physical side of what remained of her life, and most of her days were spent resting. A person—a cynic—might be tempted to say, “resting for what?” but I’ve found that it’s one of those terms that can mean a hell of a lot more than everyone assumes it does.

I didn’t want to be a dickhead and say the wrong thing, and I was hyper-aware that she must have heard the wrong thing all the time. “But you look so good!” Like all the doctors had actually been in error, a big ass whoopsie. She didn’t talk much at the meetings either, and I felt that we were comrades in witnessing, though I knew she was more likely to be classified a master listener, and I remained an apprentice.


One night she was outside waiting for her ride, which always materialized in the form of her daughter, one of those late thirty-something women who you’d think was twenty-seven at ten paces. What the modest type chalks up to “good genes” when you make this observation to them, which also would have hung in the air here like a note of fermented cider.


It was raining, and I was thinking, “Jesus, you can’t be late for this sort of deal, these are the days of needing to be on time,” kind of criticizing the daughter in my head, which was rich and ironic, considering how I’d been as a parent.


So I sat on the steps of the community center with the woman, same place where you’d go at Christmastime to see your fellow townsfolk in one of the high school English teacher’s rope-y little seasonal plays out of loyalty to the place you lived in and its insular traditions, and not wanting to deal with the traffic into the city besides. She wouldn’t be there—be anywhere—come Christmas, and though it was only April, I figured I wouldn’t be going to the play that year, which would be the end of a different streak. But we’d see.


We talked about coffee, for some reason. I was in the habit of getting her a cup before the meetings started so that she wouldn’t have to fetch it herself from the table that also had stale Danish or whatever the kindly guy at the bakery across the street was generous enough to provide from what he hadn’t sold that day, but the coffee was surprisingly, surpassingly good, such that if you were a regular, you were almost proud on behalf of the brew. Not that you made it, but over the course of a year, if you were consistent in your attendance, you drank a few gallons, which I’d measure out in my mind as half a barrel, so you deemed that you had some sort of stake. It was always just there when you came in, previously put out. May have been there for hours. But I didn’t want to know, because right or wrong, I had decided to believe it was one of those small miracles of life that no one else knew about.


The woman I knew drank as much as anyone—coffee, that is—and I perfected the specialized—and not much needed elsewhere—art of knowing just when to rise and procure a refill for her, a periodic trip I’d take within the ebb and flow of meetings, looking back a time or two as I journeyed to make eye contact with whomever was speaking so that they didn’t think I wasn’t all in with them. You never know what is going to knock someone down.


It was rainy and raw, one of those nights where it’d only been dark for a couple hours, but it seemed as if the evening had managed to stretch itself and live on for three days straight, was still going strong, thumping its chest now that we had come outside, so coffee would have been nice, and I wished I had a fresh thermos of it with me that we could share.


You chitter about the weather and the attendance at the last few meetings—it’s the AA version of what the local sports team did the night before, I suppose. “We always get such a big crowd on Mondays,” one might observe, and then share a sigh with the person you’re talking to about the sparse numbers on weekends, and maybe that was part of the problem.

“Why do you still come?” I asked her, when it felt to me like her daughter would be there any second, and this would be my only chance to know. I didn’t expect she’d die before the week was out, but as that thought passed through my brain, I wondered just how often death had managed to come exactly when it might have been expected to, or predicted to. People are always making plans. It’s when they’re not that you worry about them. You can intuit what a person is—sometimes—so that who that is, what that is, shakes in your very bones. Wasn’t like she was going to embark on a bender and take her leave of this world in an alcoholic stupor. She was too solid. Too strong. I did not worry about her, this person who would soon no longer be of the earth. But that doesn’t mean you fail to realize that you may never have the same opportunity that you have just then and there, as I did that night in the rain. And maybe as she did, too.


“To see things through,” she said to me. “It’s not just with one thing. It’s with everything. Process.”