“Could you come with me?”

“Where?”

“A meeting?”

“Why me?”

“I don’t want to go alone and you’ve always been very nice.”

Yes, it was a strange request from a woman I barely knew, who I did talk with on a friendly basis when she came for coffee, but mainly because she had perfect softness and the most inviting smile of any middle-aged woman I had encountered. She was a classic natural beauty, and did not seem to realize her gift.

“Sure,” I answered without consideration, tempting myself with the possibilities of being alone with her softness.

“You’re so nice. Thank you.”

“What kind of meeting?” I asked, realizing I answered before gathering important details.

“Al-Anon.”

“Al Anon? Who’s that?”

“Not sure. I’ve never been, but my therapist said it would be good for me.”

Life is about experience.

“Should I pick you up here? Around 6:30?”

“Sounds fine.”

“You don’t have to come.”

“No, I don’t mind...Tina. It is Tina, right?”

“Yes. Okay, I’ll see you around 6:30.”

“Till then.”

Asking around, I learn that Al Anon was a what, not a who. I was given insight into what a meeting was about, and those that seemed to know the most were carrying their baggage markedly.

At about 6:45, a shiny luxury sports car pulled up in front, of my empty place of employ. A window rolled down and the beautiful woman looked at me and smiled. I am not sure what it is about her, but there is a chemical connection. Nothing had to be said. I walked over to the car and took my place in the passenger’s seat.

“Nice car,” I offered as polite verbal interaction.

“It’s comfortable.”

“Very.”

“Want to drive?”

“No, thank you.”

“I really appreciate you coming with me. I am sure it was an unusual request, but I feel comfortable around you, for some reason.”

“It’s the dashing smile, I’m sure. Thank you.”

Ding? Yes, I heard a ding. There was the chance she might be a 12 on a 1 to 10 crazy scale, so I kept watch on the words I let escape my lips — there has been the occasional woman who has decided we were in a permanent relationship because of a few shared words of kindness.

It did not take long for us to arrive at a small, rundown church. We parked and found our way to the drab room where the meeting was held. Immediately, I was swallowed by the room’s sadness.

There were less than a dozen people sitting around an array of folding chairs pushed together. They used only their first name and tried to make us feel welcome. They told their stories of sufferance of a spouse or child that was an addict, usually an alcoholic, though some were committed addicts, not limiting themselves to alcohol or any single intoxicant. They asked me to share, and though I felt like a bit of a fraud, a thieving voyeur, I was not going to belittle them by telling them I was there for the experience, so simply offered a “No, thank you.” They then invited Tina to share.

Years of practice in non-response allowed my expression to remain unchanged as she detailed the experiences of her childhood as the offspring of two full-time, functioning alcoholics. As she told the stories, her face hardened to try and hold back the escaping tears, you could not help but hate the monsters she called mom and dad. The incredible natural beauty emanated by this woman hid the carnage that worked to destroy her from within. Listening to the horror of abuse all forms, I was unable to restrain all tears. The fact that this woman functioned at all made her my hero, and diminished the obstacles I thought I had encountered. And then, memories.

Her honest and open sharing of experiences brought a flood of memories I had locked away in the vault of isolation. Her experience touched home because I shared many, and when she was done speaking I decided to vomit my experience to the group. The vault was a tad full, so I spewed enough to make room for the present, leaving the horrors of the past in that room, on that array of tables, where they belonged.

When the meeting was over, we were on our way out of the door and a man chased me down.

“I just want you to know how much I appreciate you coming. If you want, there’s a men only meeting on Thursdays, and you’re more than welcome to come. It’s over by the old Circuit City building. Do you know where that is?”

“Yes. Thank you,” I offered, unable to confess I was here to support my escort, my beautiful acquaintance.

“I think you’d like it.”

“Thank you.”

“Well, thank you for caring. 8 Thursdays, if you are interested.”

“Thank you,” was offered one last time, as we walked away. I could see he longed for something I could not give him, but felt I possessed. “I’m sorry about your son.”

“I’ve accepted it’s his choice, but thank you. Thank you very much.” He clenched my hand firmly, desperately.

When Tina and I finally returned to the car and were on the road, I felt a lightness, a sense of unburdening with everything I had left on the table. My escort seemed withdrawn, hardened, upset about the memories she had unearthed.

“Thank you for taking me. It was an experience.”

“You’re welcome,” was her subdued retort.

“Are you going again?”

“I don’t think so. What’s the point? Dragging up the memories of my shitty parents doesn’t change anything. I was giving it a chance because my therapist suggested it. You seemed to enjoy it, though. You should keep going.”

Her words seemed bitter, as she withdrew further. She now seemed angry...at me. Perhaps I saw too much, or showed too much. Silence prevailed the remainder of the trip.

Tina dropped me off, thanked me, leaving quickly with her demons...without offering a tasty treat of chewy, gooey, goodness, which seemed to be souring with every moment. I stood, looking around at the bustle of the relentless world.

How can we know what is in another when we have such difficulty knowing what is within our self? Yet, we have to go forth with the belief that we know both.

The great illusion of life is that it is not an illusion.