Janice had never been asked what her priorities were but this did not stop her from bleating them out as often as she could.
2. Knitoholics Anonymous
3. God again
But the list was deceptive, suggesting as it did a complete separation of those two things. The reality was that for Janice the collection of fellow knitoholics she deemed her second family were an extension of God made flesh and polyester. Their words to her, when genuinely spoken from the Spirit within, were nothing less than the voice of God speaking at last in a language she could understand.
“Another meeting?” asked her son, with a half-smile curling his lips.
Janice noticed his expression and tone, read the cynicism in both, and got pissed off. She was so sick of Evan acting all superior and not taking any of this seriously. One year of film studies with a minor in Buddhist psychology and the little fucker thought he knew everything.
Serenity, she reminded herself.
She took a deep breath and as calmly as she could told him about God, Knitoholics Anonymous and recovery. The meetings, she added, were like her insulin.
“Seems a tad extreme.”
And she lost it a little. “I have an ALLERGY Evan! It could be fatal! An allergy and an obsession of the mind.”
“So, what does that mean? Like you’re allergic to wool?”
“Well…yes. Sort of. No, not sort of. Actually. Actually allergic in the sense that I have an abnormal reaction to it. Not so much the wool itself but the act of knitting. If I have just a little taste that’s it for me. All bets are off. One stitch is too many and a thousand are never enough. I develop the phenomenon of craving and I’m powerless to stop.”
Evan burst out laughing. “Hate to break it to you, Mom, but I think you’ve been brainwashed by a cult.”
Janice had to turn away lest her very intense emotions overflow and lead to regret and yet another damn inventory regarding her part in things. She shoved her fist against her mouth and bit down on her curled up index finger. Better. She removed her hand and took three deep breaths. There were many things she could say but all of them would have only escalated the conflict. So, she did what the old Janice never could have done.
She walked away.
She said, “Goodbye Evan. Have a nice evening.”
And she drove to her meeting.
As Janice remotely locked her Subaru and walked towards the church’s rear entrance, she experienced a sudden surge of gratitude. Outdoor, all-weather sconces lit her path and rarely had she felt so spiritual. It was surely God sending comfort after that especially trying conversation with Evan and perhaps even a cosmic thumbs up for how well she had handled it. She paused and took in the moment. Here was a place on earth where the Divine could truly be felt. She closed her eyes and lifted her face to the night air, almost as if hoping for a kiss from some towering suitor. Here at last was a peace no vicissitude could shake, a deep-seated calm –
“You ok Janice?” called a voice from the shadows. Janice flinched and reflexively looked towards the source of the sound. She noticed an orange-glowing mouth-height ember and then Tony stepped forward, smoking where he shouldn’t.
Janice smiled. “Hi Tony. Yes, I’m fine thanks.”
Tony walked towards her. He was a stocky fellow, stuffed somewhat incompletely into a pair of stone-washed 501 jeans and a green windbreaker. His hair was very dark brown and worn mid-parted, softly feathered, and halfway over his ears. He seemed to be cultivating handlebars to his erstwhile more typical moustache, which Janice thought was something of a mistake. He was otherwise unshaven and smoked the same wincing way that Clint Eastwood did in spaghetti westerns.
Janice wondered about the machismo. Was it unconscious, natural even or was it affected in an attempt to compensate for having fallen ill with the slightly-less-than-traditionally-masculine disease of knitting addiction?
She’d never ask. Instead she just smiled. “Ever feel like bashing your kids?”
“Only when I look at them. When I told them ‘just be yourselves’ that had to be dumbest fucking thing I ever said.”
Tony offered Janice his pack of cigarettes. At first Janice waved him away and then changed her mind. Seconds later she was leaning in while Tony lit her cigarette with a lighter in the shape of a woman’s torso. Janice was about to elaborate as to the source of that evening’s angst when a car pulled up. The passenger side faced them and through the window Tony and Janice could see a weeping woman, clutching a rosary. A man got out from behind the wheel and hurried around to the other side of the car. He opened the door.
“Enough of this,” he said, his tone halfway between wheedling and incensed. “You promised. I can’t take it anymore. You’re going to this damn meeting if I have to drag you in there.”
“Fuck you,” spat the woman.
Janice glanced at Tony. Both wanted to help but it seemed to them that any attempt to insert themselves in this domestic drama would only make matters worse. The man turned to them, his eyes wide with desperation. He took a step towards them.
“Are you from the church?” he asked.
Janice shook her head. “No. We’re here for the meeting too. What’s your wife’s name?”
But before the man was able answer the weeping woman dashed from the car and began sprinting across the parking lot.
“Hettie!” the man called. He turned back to Janice. “Can you please go after her? I have really bad gout.”
Tony looked ready to run. Janice stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Better let a woman do it.”
She set off in pursuit of Hettie. Fortunately the woman was in heels, flailing more than running and Janice caught up with her easily.
“Hettie! Please stop! I know you don’t know me but believe me when I say I know exactly what you’re going through.”
Hettie stopped short and turned with a cynical laugh. “Oh you do, do you?”
“Yes! I was so scared of my first meeting that I nearly shit myself. Literally. Although that was probably also the withdrawals.”
Hettie hesitated. The rosary was still clutched in her hands. Janice pointed towards it.
“You got the right idea there,” she said.
A fat tear rolled down Hettie’s cheek. “I’ve always believed in God. But I think He’s stopped believing in me.”
Janice smiled and gently shook her head. She reached for the other woman’s arm and held it just firm enough to indicate a deep-reaching empathy. “Just doesn’t happen. Those are the delusions of a disease run rampant. But you’re in the right place now. You’ve found the oasis. Come join us and begin again.”
Now Hettie smiled. It was a wavering thing, as if really wanting to appear but waiting for permission to do so. Janice touched Hettie’s other arm as a preliminary to a hug and when the woman didn’t resist, Janice hugged her like they were long-lost sisters reunited at the top of a mountain.
“God bless you,” whispered Hettie.
Janice drew back and said with a laugh. “Come inside. We’ve got cookies.”
Halfway through the meeting Janice had a revelation. She turned to Hettie, who was sat beside her listening with rapt attention, and her mouth dropped open slightly. Not once since Hettie had appeared had she thought of Evan. The resentment that might have formed had vanished in the act of giving to this other woman. It was as the original Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book had promised. A design for living. Nothing provided such immunity against another drink – or stitch in her case – as work with another knitoholic.
During a break in the sharing, Janice reached over and squeezed Hettie’s hand. “I’m so very glad you’re here,” Janice whispered in her ear and meant it.
Hettie turned with a smile. Her face was clear now. She was sitting upright.
“I’m going to be okay, thanks to you people.”
Her eyes watered and she smiled that much more broadly.
Janice snapped open her purse and fetched a plastic-wrapped pack of tissues. She took one for herself, dabbed the tears from her eyes, and passed the pack to Hettie, who accepted it with a sniffle and a nod of her head.
Janice drove home later. Her and a couple of the other ladies had spent considerable time after the meeting speaking with Hettie. She had all their phone numbers now and had received much advice on surviving the first few days. She’d been urged to see her doctor, come clean, and get a complete physical. Knitting took a toll on the body, a veteran had told her, and she might be sicker than she realized.
At last they parted. Janice got behind the wheel of her car and whispered a prayer of thanksgiving and also a plea for Hettie’s abstinence.
She pulled into the garage humming. She was riding the natural high of her sweet religion whose focus was always the other. If Evan was up, she was ready to give him a big hug. She needn’t argue her position; she need merely show him through her changed attitude and behaviour that she was a new woman. That indeed would be the best advertisement for God and Knitoholics Anonymous. Words meant nothing.
Actions were louder than shouting.
Janice entered the house via the interior door to the garage and made her way up a short flight of stairs to the living room. First thing she noticed was that the lights were turned down low. There was a smell in the air, instantly familiar. Her nostrils dilated, her heart raced and she rushed towards the couch where Evan still sat. Even if she had not been able to see the needles in his hands and half a two row repeat pebble rib scarf dangling from them, she would have known from the guilty and panicked look on his face as he whirled round to look at her that her son had been knitting.
She reached for a nearby chair to keep from falling. It did no good.
The world fell instead.