Fiction · 06/17/2009

How I Started Going To Meetings

How I started going to meetings is something I never told you, because it happened a few years ago to a person who is less me, less the person I am now, this person who until recently you had strong feelings for.

Those are your words: Strong feelings.

Now I have decided that I want to tell you, because I do not want to run into you again weeks or months or years from now, with her on your arm, and have this story still untold between us, because this is a story about what happened to us even though you’re not in it.

Does the fact that I have never told you shock you? Does it make me seem unreliable?

More unreliable, that is, than you already believe me to be?

I remind you of two points: First, while I am not the person I was then, I never said that the person I am now is better.

Second, while I did often have a drink when we went out, there were many times that I did not. I was quitting and starting up and quitting again all the time. One of the things about me was that I didn’t always bother you with every little thing that was happening to me.

+

How I started going to meetings was that I used to be a copy editor at a women’s magazine named FASCION, a name that was supposed to sound European but looked fascist instead. While there, I proofread artless articles on high heeled shoes, on pregnancy tests, on how if you ever got an abortion you should never tell your man because he might think you’re less sexy and leave you, and then you’d be down both a baby and a boyfriend.

I swear: All I did was make sure the commas were in the right places.

The men in these articles, they were never husbands or fiancées, always boyfriends or catches or studs. Always your man, never the father of your children. Our readers did not have children, or if they did, then they were not the kind of women who saw their children as a reason to stop wearing sweatpants with the word SEXY written across the ass. In fact, we often ran ads for a company that made matching mother/infant sweat suits that said just that.

What I’m trying to say is, I often went to work depressed and came home worse.

What happened was that one day, I went to work upset, sure, but also drunk on a café latte laced with three shots of espresso and ten shots of bourbon.

The kind of places that have mugs big enough for this, they don’t sell café lattes. You have to make more than one stop. Plus the liquor store. Drinking a drink like this, it requires effort, and I put in the effort.

Back then, I was hardworking in all the wrong ways.

I want to tell you that I got fired for finally making a strong, feminist objection to yet another article on which scent of tampon is best, or where, exactly, the nose job capital of the world is located.

I want to tell you that, but I can’t.

+

How I got fired was this: I stood up in a staff meeting because my guts were boiling, but when I opened my mouth to excuse myself, all that came out was the twenty-five ounces or so of my liquid breakfast. All that espresso and bourbon and bile, it completely covered the layout pages, obscuring the airbrushed photos of another teen celebrity finally old enough to pose half-naked for us, wiping out seven hundred words on footwear as torture implements, nine hundred on why it’s okay to call your girlfriends whores.

They waited to fire me until after I’d cleaned the runny, dark brown vomit off the conference table and the chairs. It was too late to save the carpet, but I scrubbed anyway. There would always be a stain there, and I wondered what kind of rug they would put down, how they would rearrange the furniture to hide what had happened. FASCION was less about making yourself better and more about making your flaws harder to see. It was the only part of our mission statement I understood.

+

Yes, I did have a boyfriend then, who you have heard of before, since he was someone I slept with.

That was another thing about me: I never gave you any more than you knew to ask for. You only knew my friends that I forced you to meet, only knew the family I invited over for holidays. The only other men you know about were never friends, only lovers, because the names and quantity of lovers was all you ever asked me to reveal. As if only men who’ve seen me naked are important. As if only men who’ve fucked me could change me, could make claims on me that you would have to compete against.

This was Richard, the accountant. When you asked me whether he was better than you, I told you no, he wasn’t, and as a token of good faith, I will say it again. You were a better lover than Richard, for whatever that’s worth. He wasn’t good at very much, if I am being totally honest, but he has almost nothing to do with this so it doesn’t really matter. I mention him only for you, so that you might put these events in context of the history of the me you always thought you knew.

+++

Matt Bell is the author of two chapbooks, The Collectors and How the Broken Lead the Blind, and a short story collection titled How They Were Found (forthcoming from Keyhole in 2010). His fiction has been published or is upcoming in Conjunctions, Gulf Coast, Meridian, Caketrain, and many other magazines. He is also the editor of The Collagist and a member of the Dzanc Writers in Residence Program.