Another incredible and seasonally appropriate section from Mary Karr’s Lit, her memoir about getting sober (and many other things). Dev, it should be noted, is her son. Talk about broken vessels. We are beyond excited and honored that Mary will be joining us at our upcoming conference in NYC (4/18-20):
Stranded without child care once, I figure out after a prayer — it comes to me — that I could slip Chris, an ex-hooker from the [halfway] house, a few bucks to hang out in the quad with Dev for a spell, which seems safe enough for an hour or so.
After, I snap Dev in his car seat and drive Chris home. She’s nineteen, six months clean, with lush dark hair and the pink cheeks of a cheerleader. In the car, she talks about heroin as a devious lover. Her voice is smoky as a lounge singer’s, a real Billie Holiday rasp.
I look in the rearview. She ran Dev around so hard in the quad earlier, he’s slumped over in his car seat. So I ask Chris how sobriety’s treating her. This is the cusp of my starting to ask after other people — a change from pouting alone on the porch before.
I’m starting to feel all clean inside, she says.
How does that happen? I want to know, for I keep having dreams that I’m getting sneakily drunk and trying to hide it from people in my group.
I’m making amends to people I’ve screwed over, she says. Like I shoplifted a bunch of stuff from this deli, and so I brought the guy thirty bucks. Korean guy. He was really nice about it.
The snowy roads make us fishtail now and then, and traffic has started to drag.
See, I resent this shit, I say, pressing on the horn, adding, Even the f-ing traffic feels orchestrated to piss me off. Dev needs to eat. You need to get home before dinner curfew or you’re grounded.
It’s funny, she says, how everybody else is traffic, huh?…
Just as traffic starts to ease up, the car’s engine light goes on. A mile or so later, steam starts pouring from the hood. I steer to the far lane, cars whooshing past in snow. Dev wakes up blinking and crimson-cheeked in his down jacket, really hungry.
Stepping out of the car, I land ankle-deep in slush an start swearing under my breath.
But no sooner do I pop the hood than a vehicle pulls alongside. Joe and Sam (two friends from AA) happen to be driving a borrowed tow truck that has — another stroke of fortune — jugs of blue engine coolant. From a paper bag on the dash, Joe’s massive mitt draws out a glazed donut for Dev. He says, Here you guy, tough guy.
We all stand on the side of the road in the blue dusk, Dev snug in big Joe’s arm and gnawing the pastry as Sam doctors the radiator. For an instant, I can feel the gratitude seep up from my damp footsoles — one of my first pure instances of it. Back in the car, I announce it to Chris.
Say thanks, then, she says.
I just did. Joe wouldn’t even let me pay for the antifreeze.
I meant, she says, say thanks to your higher power.
I look at her round girlish face. She still has a few snowflakes in her dark lashes.
Thanks, H.P., I say, but it actually shames me, for some reason, to say such a dumb thing.
(A year later, Chris would flee the house to stick up a bank with a machine gun. She’d cop heroin and overdose in a park. I last saw her in a public hospital, where she was blind, HIV-positive, and pregnant with a baby who died — I believe — around the time Chris did. She didn’t make it to twenty-one. Thanks, Chris T., for hauling my ass into the light that day, and still.)