Page 10 of 13Tuesday night meetings became a habit for Claudia. They felt like the beginning of a new life rather than the end of her old one. This was the feeling she got from dinner parties or wine-and-cheese gallery openings. These nights felt like elegies for her drinking days, though she knew they were only mourning something she'd retrospectively created: a past that had never really happened, a false memory of herself and her own ease. At one meeting Glory talked about the vanishing horizon point of liquor. We kept looking for the perfect drunk out there, she said. We never found it. At first Claudia imagined an actual person, a perfect drunk, some regal angel flying in a sweeping haze of sweet intoxication, but it quickly became clear Glory meant a state of being: the perfect drunk. Her words made Claudia want to go back out and keep searching.
There was a double-layered quality to Claudia's relationships with people from the group. They knew one part of her better than anyone else did, but they didn't know the rest of her at all. As for her, she felt genuine sadness for their troubles and glad for their minor triumphs. She couldn't remember the last time she'd felt concerned this way about anyone but Chris—and those times of putting his emotions above her own had grown increasingly less frequent near the end of their relationship. Sobriety was supposed to bring this back, the ability to think and feel beyond herself, but so far being sober had seemed more like a set of shackles that commanded her complete attention. It was only at meetings that she could feel like a good person, alive to the lives of others.
She learned Jack was doing a residency in oral surgery. She marveled at this: A doctor with a lip ring! Not a full doctor yet, he corrected. Here she'd been thinking he was a musician, dirt-poor and rich in groupies, but in truth he was just terribly, terribly studious and shy. His manner seemed oddly proper beneath his dark clothes and pierced skin. His drinking years hadn't been spent womanizing, he said. He'd been married, for starters. He'd spent a lot of time drinking alone. In meetings he talked about needing relief, but it wasn't clear what he needed relief from. One time he said: "It's been a couple years since I was going through all that," the closest he'd come to admitting an epicenter to his pain. Claudia kept trying to get a better view of his tattoo. She sensed it held the answer. But the weather was finally getting cooler and he was wearing long-sleeved shirts more often.
Louisa spoke in a way that made sobriety seem fairy-dusted. The quality of sunlight was purer to her sober eyes, she insisted—sweeter, glossier, more buttery. She got a delicious taste in her mouth sometimes that she couldn't explain, partway between lemon and shortbread. She'd never gotten it during her drinking days. Glory spoke about the perils of replacing one addiction with another. Everyone spoke about the perils of replacing one addiction with another. For Glory the replacement addiction was work, with some help from reality television. It turned out she was forty-six, which would've seemed old to Claudia when she was younger, but didn't seem old now that she was twenty-eight. Her own mother was already sixty-three. Sixty-three and still weeping for the daughter she'd had when she was thirty-five—and the other child too, of course, the one she hadn't had so many years before.