Photo: © Stefan Hengst. All rights reserved.

Black plastic Jesus’ legs end just below his knees. Most of his waist is marred by bite marks. The rest of him is splintered up somewhere in my stomach. My mouth is always occupied: everything is a pacifier. But this is something they don’t have meetings for, something that can’t be prayed into submission. You’re just supposed to smoke a million cigarettes a day, like everyone else, which I do; that and coffee, drink a lot of coffee, chew on the red plastic stirrer. Coffee and cigarettes are famous for going together well, but everyone knows booze and cigarettes are even better. You know it, I know it, black plastic Jesus knows it. That’s a joke. Black plastic Jesus doesn’t know anything.

He’s the big hoorah at the end of the rosary, a string necklace with black plastic beads that are supposed to be fingered and muttered over in prayer. I used to wear it to meetings because I thought it might make me look more sincere. Eventually I realized that sitting in the back and slobbering all over a crucifix probably didn’t make me look any more sincere, but what the hell. I wasn’t going to stop wearing it just because of sincerity or lack thereof. Maybe when the string finally snaps, which doesn’t look like it will take long. I can’t imagine I’ll want to put in the effort to fix it. It’s a piece of trash.

At Monday meetings in the church basement there’s a husband and wife who met in the rooms. They married at the altar above our heads and probably held their reception right here, with all the guests unstacking cheap church chairs to sit on and then stacking them again once it was over. Someone bringing donuts. A few serenity prayers thrown in for good measure. I’m being mean because the husband and wife don’t seem at all lonely. Tonight’s speaker is the wife, and she’s talking about repetition. She says there are two types of repetition: a bird stabbing open your stomach and eating your liver every day, or going to meetings. She says everyone gets to choose which kind of repetition they want, as though choosing one cancels out the other. Do you like repetition? Do you want to hear more about Jesus?

My boyfriend and I were wandering around a town we didn’t live in with a bottle of whiskey that we couldn’t legally possess because we were both seventeen. A handsome young vagrant stopped us on the street to give me a flower. One thing led to another and soon I was trading a kazoo for black plastic Jesus. For a red velvet bandana that was usually used to tie my wrists together, my boyfriend got broken toe-nail clippers that once belonged to Frank Sinatra, Jr.

The vagrant only spoke in fragments: I imagined his words coming out of his mouth in sloppy childhood script. He had a face of angles and eyes like black buttons beneath yarny brows. There was a woman with him who didn’t speak and who the vagrant referred to alternatively as his sister and his girlfriend. He had plans to hike to Colorado. We had plans to be drunk forever.

We shared the bottle of whiskey, which sister-girlfriend studied at length every time it got passed to her. Every minute it was in her hands was a minute it wasn’t in mine. We sat on a porch plastered in concert posters, looking out at the main street. The porch belonged to a very old southern hippie who belonged to a music shop and who thought I was just about the most picturesque thing he’d ever seen with my little green dress and flower in my hair and black plastic Jesus around my neck. He came out from around back where sunflowers were growing like crazy and pretended to be furious that there were teenagers and ropers on his porch. We passed him the bottle. At some point, sister-girlfriend passed out and fell into a bush. Later, when the whiskey and some other things were gone, my boyfriend and I crept back to my parent’s car and fell asleep. I could live that day over forever. Nearly nothing bad happened, if you can believe it.

Six years later I made ninety meetings in ninety days. I found a sponsor I wouldn’t have to talk to, mostly because people are so eager to be someone’s sponsor and I can’t stand their enthusiasm, or turning them down. The meetings go on and on and on, hour-long increments of the rest of my life. Tonight, the room is full of people I know, people who are mostly nicer than me. The mom whose daughter is headed down the same bad path. The three old men whose years of sobriety haven’t been enough to fully restore their speech or equilibrium. The girl who pronounces DWI like “deewee” and reminds me of a puppy, always wanting to bond over shitty boyfriends and absent fathers. I haven’t had a boyfriend in forever. My father is still here. That’s not my problem.

Usually, the things I have to say about the past involve apologies. Sorry, I did not intend to throw up Manischewitz in your bed while you were away. Sorry, I did not mean to steal your pants and wallet and run away because of things the coke made me think. For drinking all your rum, then your vodka, then your rum again. For saying it felt like rape when you touched me, which was not true. For taking money from your smiley-face piggy bank. For telling you how I really felt even when I knew it would hurt you. For showing up at your apartment and screaming, four in the morning and your brother was sleeping. For making your dad drive me home when I couldn’t walk. Sorry for Geneseo, also for New Paltz. For telling your boyfriend you cheated on him. For pissing the bed on New Year’s Eve. For showing you my tits. For sleeping with Scotty. For being mean to you on the fire escape. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

I had a pretty good friend when I started coming to meetings, so I chewed the fat more than black plastic Jesus, but a few weeks went by where I didn’t hear from her and then I heard she was dead. The last time we fellowshipped she was saying she didn’t like needing a higher power, felt like they were trying to sell her something she wasn’t buying. I was raised Catholic and used to it. She was barely raised at all, never mind trained in one religion or another. I told her I agreed, but that wasn’t enough to stop coming. It doesn’t cost anything to listen to bullshit, if everything else keeps you sober. She thought that was easy for me to say, because I came into it with faith. “That’s what that rosary’s for, right?”

They warn you to never leave the rooms: you just can’t ever leave, no one ever makes it out there. Everyone comes back, or dies. A point I guess my dead friend proved. So I do it, I keep coming back. Not like I have less things to apologize for these days, but at least I know why I do the shit that needs to be apologized for. I hope the vagrant is in Colorado. I hope that sister-girlfriend is still alive. I don’t know where Frank Sinatra Jr.’s toe-nail clippers are now, or that boyfriend. I certainly don’t know where the red velvet bandana is. Probably disintegrated into the soil of an empty lot somewhere. Most everything from then is trash by now.

But black plastic Jesus is right here in my hand. I’m not thinking of anything. I don’t want to worry about anything besides my dwindling supply of cigarettes. Many ways to go about pacifying yourself, and this one is fine for now. I go around in a circle, every bead leads to another bead, and I wind up back with black plastic Jesus on his cross, his head lowered as though looking at the mess I have made of his legs.

I’ve made a mess out of everything, Jesus. What makes you so fucking special? I put the beads around my neck and him back where he belongs.

It’s time to get up now, and hold everyone’s hand for the Serenity Prayer. I wind up holding the hand of the electrician who ran over his own dog. It’s hardened like one big callous. On the other side, someone I don’t know, a big guy with a widow’s peak and a striped, collared shirt. He’s sweaty and holding his hand is difficult, it makes me want to drink, this strange wet hand squeezing mine. When I open my mouth to speak, Jesus pops out and falls down to my chest, sharp end gunning for my heart.

Margie Sarsfield lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Hippocampus and Quarter After Eight.

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