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ADELAIDE Independent Bimonthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Bimensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE HOLY FACE MEDAL
By Sevasti Iyama

 

 

 

 

I park my old T-bird in front of Wendy’s. Puffs of smoke pour out of my car, which coughs like it’s in the final stage of COPD.  A mechanic told me that I need a new catalytic converter, and there is no way in hell that my car is going to pass smog next year but that’s 12 months away.

One day at a time.

I learned in AA that’s how to deal with life.

I have to believe that, or else I will go crazy.

I also have to be of service to fellow alcoholics and addicts who are still suffering, or so my sponsor Mitch tells me. This whole crazy idea of my sponsoring this 40-year old rich ex housewife was his idea.

I walk by a row of cars, and spot Colleen’s brand new white luxury Cadillac Escalade EXT crew cab.
I brace myself, and approach Starbucks, clutching my stupid Big Book, like a religious zealot clutching a Bible.

She sits outside on the patio. Her back is faced to me, and I can see her long blonde hair cascading over her shoulders. Colleen is a dowdy, plump woman, and yet somehow she manages to get all the guys in AA to drool all over her. Maybe its because she is a newcomer or maybe its because she always wears tight little spaghetti dresses with hems that go way up over her knees, revealing suntanned legs. And she always wears sandals that show off a fresh new pedicure.

Today she looks like she is hanging out at a country club, waiting for a waiter to bring her a pina colada with a plastic cocktail umbrella propped in the glass.


There is no else sitting outside at this Starbucks, which thanks to globalization, looks like a thousand other Starbucks all around the world.

This particular Starbucks is located in the Antelope Valley desert. How the hell did I end up in the AV?  Oh that’s right, I moved up here in a blackout ten years ago, with a fiancé who walked out on me the day our electricity got shut off, due to nonpayment. Seems like he had some younger woman waiting for him, in some candle lit villa somewhere in Albuquerque.

Up ahead, a woman driving a black BMW is passing through the drive-through. She has sunglasses and dyed red hair. I hear the barista ask, over the speaker,
“Hello, welcome to Starbucks. What can I get started for you?”

The woman’s face scrunches up like a walnut and she bleats out of a grape lipstick colored mouth, “Caramel macchiato with low fat soy.”

Colleen turns, as if she has sensed that I am standing behind her. Her face breaks out into a wide grin, and her long teeth are as white as her new truck. Her lip-gloss shines, and she has makeup on, highlighting her big blue eyes. Today she boasts a bright red pedicure, and matching manicure. She wears a short blue dress that has pink hyacinth and blue bird prints. Around her neck, she wears a gold medal, hanging from a thick gold chain.

“Hi,” she says, and gets up to give me a crushing hug. I smell perfume, shampoo and wine. The medal catches onto my knit blouse, and for a moment Colleen and I become Siamese Twins, connected at the chest.

“I am sorry,” she laughs, and then bumps her forehead against mine, like we are two bulls in a rodeo.

“I am sorry!” she says, again.

“Stop moving, I got it,” I say.

I disentangle the pendant, and get a good look. It’s a holy face medal, showing an image of Christ on the shroud of Turin. Honestly, Christ’s face reminds me of a 19th century post-mortem photograph.

Finally, I am free of Colleen and her medal. She collapses on a chair and guffaws, like a shopping mall Santa Claus.

I stare down at the table. She has a brand new copy of the Big Book, a notebook, pens, the 12 and 12, and a compass. Why the hell does she have a compass? Does she think that we are going to be drawing circles and studying Euclidean geometry? She also has a pack of Marlboro Lights, that she has not opened, and a brand new green lighter.

“I bought a pack of my own cigarettes,” she says. “This way I don’t have to keep bumming off yours.”

Does she really smell of booze or am I just imagining things? Should I say something or just let her admit the truth to me? What the hell do I do?

“This morning I got a 30-day chip,” she says, and pulls it out of a Michael Kors handbag.

I want to call her bluff, but I don’t.

She is too excited about the damn white chip that is hanging off her key chain.

“Would you like a coffee?” I notice that she has not ordered, and I figure that hey, I should be nice and get her something. Besides, maybe the coffee will sober her up.

“I would love a hibiscus iced tea.” She reaches for her bag again.

“It’s okay, I got it,” I said, and walk inside the Starbucks. Suddenly, I feel like running back to my crappy old T bird, and driving off, letting white exhaust pollute the air. The Native Americans used smoke signals for communication. Three puffs mean something is wrong. Maybe if my stupid car emits three puffs of white smoke, the universe will reach out and help me.

An hour later, after I have drunk two iced Americanos, and I watch Colleen chain smoke her Marlboros and chomp on the melting ice cubes from her pink colored iced tea, I have heard so much about her life. We have done everything except talk about the steps, which honestly seems like a moot point. How can I take her through the steps if she is drinking? She got a DUI six months ago, which is why she is in AA. Some judge in Santa Clarita mandated her to go to 12-step meetings, but she was able to get her license back, since it was a first time offense. She is newly divorced, and just moved back home with her mother.  During the week, her daughters live with her ex, because of the DUI, but she has the girls on the weekends. Then, she tells me she works for the FBI and that she walks around with a Glock 43.

“Where’s the gun?” I ask.

“It’s on my upper thigh,” she says.

I peek at the hem of her bird and flower-covered dress, which is way above her thigh, revealing too much skin and nothing that looks like a weapon.

“Listen, don’t tell anybody else I work for the FBI. That’s classified information.”

“I won’t tell a soul,” I say.

I stare at the medal around her neck.

“That’s very pretty,” I lie. The medal gives me the creeps.

“My mom gave it to me, when I moved back home. I’m Catholic.”

“I am Greek Orthodox,” I say. “But right now I like to think of myself as spiritual.”

Colleen nervously lights a cigarette and fingers her medal. I don’t think she is listening. 

“What do you think of Stan?” she asks.

“Stan?”

“From AA. Blonde Stan,” she says.

“He is a nice guy. He used to date my friend Amanda,” I say.

“She died,” Colleen says.

“Yes, she hit her head on a coffee table one night in her living room and fell over dead. They think it was a stroke. She just lived alone with her cat.”

“Stan misses her,” Colleen says.

“Well, she was my hairdresser. Now I just go to Supercuts.”

Colleen lights another cigarette and says, “He asked me out, I mean, Stan did.”

“He is a nice guy,” I say, and stare off into space.

I refrain from telling her that he had broken Amanda’s heart, and had dumped her several months before she died. This is because she had started using again, and people in AA told him to leave her to fend for herself. After she died, Stan seemed interested in asking me out. One night, he wanted to have dinner, but I told him I was writing a PowerPoint presentation on Diane Arbus for a History of Photography class. At that time, I was working towards my Associates in photography, and I was a full-time student at Antelope Valley Community College.

Stan expressed interest in Arbus, so I sent him the presentation, which included many of her photos. He said her photography was way too weird, specifically the photo of the Boy with the Hand Grenade. He said that I looked like Arbus, with my short hair. After I told him Arbus killed herself and sometimes I entertained suicidal thoughts, but would not kill myself because I had too many pit bulls, and God only knew animal control would confiscate them if I croaked, he backed off.

I seem to have an unsettling effect on men.

Honestly, the thought of being in a relationship makes me feel numb. I’d rather be independent and pay my bills, and make sure the electricity is always on. I don’t like the dark.

The next time we meet, she can’t stop crying. It is a cool overcast day in October, and she wears a jean mini skirt and a tight white t-shirt. I have cowboy boots on and she wears sandals, revealing a black pedicure.

Her red fingernails are chipped, and she is not wearing the holy face medal.

“I am not drunk,” she says. “But I don’t know if I can do this. Work these steps. I don’t believe in God. My mom and I had a big fight, because I lost the medal. I have no idea where it is. But I am not drunk.”

I stare at her. She does not smell of booze or perfume.

“You don’t have to believe in God to work the steps,” I say. “Just a power greater than yourself.”

“Does that mean I should collect crystals, and meditate in front of a Better Home and Gardens rock fountain?” she asks. “I have no idea what you are talking about! Besides, I’m Catholic!”

“Well the truth is I have a hard time wrapping my mind around a higher power. Being Greek Orthodox has really installed the idea of a Jesus who looks like a terrorist, ok? When I first got sober, I took an astronomy class, and just knowing that the galaxy was eternal made me visualize something greater than myself. Anyway, surrendering to a higher power is in the third step. We have time to talk about that. But lets work on step one,” I say.      
             
“Ok,” she says.

After she admits that she is powerless over alcohol, and that her life is a total mess, I ask, “What’s this whole thing with the FBI?”

“I am a school teacher,” she says. “Working for the FBI sounds better, don’t you think? The truth is, I don’t even own a gun.”

We look at each other and laugh.

“I have something for you. You said you were studying photography, so maybe you can use this,” she says.

She hands me a bulky camera bag.

“It was my father’s,” she says. “He’s been gone for almost 20 years.”

I zip open the bag, and there is a Minolta film X-570 SLR, along with a huge telephoto lens, inside a black tube and a few other lenses, and a flash.  Everything is so neatly arranged, and the camera has a brand new strap.

“I know it was a long time ago, but I miss him.”

She looks up at me. Her eyes are full of tears.

“It feels like yesterday that he died. Anyway, I found the camera. It’s yours.”

A few days later, I see her at the Palmdale hall. She is outside, while the meeting is going on. Stan and a few other men circle her. I walk towards the hall, and she sees me. She breaks out into a large grin. As usual, she wears a little mini skirt. I look terrible. She has a fresh new manicure, and her high-heeled sandals reveal an equally fresh pedicure. I look at my hands. There are remnants of duct tape and dirt underneath my nails. This morning I was served with a three-day notice, which I ripped off my gate like a crazed animal. I didn’t want the neighbors to see it. The papers were taped with duct tape all over the gate. Even though I have washed my hands ten times this morning, scrubbing them over and over like Lady Macbeth trying to rub blood off her hands, they still feel dirty.

A month ago, I had a job an hour away in Lake Hughes, where I worked as a kennel assistant at a dog rescue. And then I started having serious problems with my car, and a local mechanic warned me not to drive long distance. I couldn’t get to work because this place was miles away and so I got fired, and couldn’t pay my rent this month.

Colleen hugs me. I smell the booze, and I flinch.

“Stan and I went on a date. He is so wonderful! I love you!”

“Ditto,” I say.

During the break, I pull Stan aside, and I said, “Is she drinking again?”

He nervously combs his fingers through his long brown hair. Stan is tall, and looks like George Washington without wooden teeth.

“That’s her choice. All I can do is take her to meetings, and maybe she will catch on. When I was with Amanda, too many people had too much to say, and I was stupid to listen.”

His face turns red, from anger or from guilt, I can’t tell.

“It’s your life, Stan.”

“Thanks for being her sponsor, “ he said.

Her sponsor? The way he said that made me feel like I was some kind of hospice nurse, and Colleen was my terminally ill patient.  

The next time, we are supposed to meet, she is there, waiting for me at Starbucks, and I have overslept and I have stood her up. It’s two in the afternoon, and I huddle under the covers, shaking. I was served with an unlawful detainer the day before. That means I have to go to court and respond within five days, or else my dogs and I will be out in the streets. And today is the second day and I haven’t done jack shit.

Prior to meeting Colleen, I had planned to be at the darkroom at the college, where this semester I am taking one film photo class because that is all I can afford. Over the weekend, I had used the Minolta, and had taken some black and white shots of a Joshua tree. It was a simple depth of field assignment. I shot the same damn tree on different F-stops. In one pocket of the camera bag, I found a Fuji color roll that had been shot yet not developed. It probably belonged to Colleens’ dad, and he never got a chance to develop it.

I mean to call Colleen but I fall asleep again, and I am walking through the desert. The sky is yellow, the way I imagine Hiroshima to have been after the Atomic bomb. There is a man up ahead, wearing a white robe and sandals. He kneels down and prays. Up ahead is Colleen, and she has a Polaroid camera. She takes a picture of the man. Then she hurls the photo on the desert ground, and I run and pick the print up. I wait for an image to develop and I hear her up ahead laughing and I can’t see the man anymore, he is gone. 

Close by I see a rattlesnake. Colleen yells out, “How did you find me here?”

The snake has approached me, and if I get up, it will bite. An image develops on the print, and before I see it, I hear, “How the hell did you find me?”  
                               
Colleen told me later that she had waited for me at Starbucks for two hours.      
                         
“There was this nutty red headed lady in a BMW. She was such a bitch,” Colleen says. “She went through the drive through. After she ordered her stupid drink, it was a caramel macchiato with low fat soy. I mean what the hell is low fat soy? Isn’t soy already low fat? Anyway, she told the guy that I was smoking on the patio, and didn’t they have some new law that prohibited smoking on the patio?”

Colleen slurs her words.

“So I told the bitch to fuck off, and they threw me out of there. Guess we have to find another Starbucks.”

“Colleen, you are still drinking.”

“I had a slip,” she says.

“I can’t help you if you are still drinking.”

“What are you telling me? You don’t want to be my sponsor anymore?”

“No,” I said. “I can’t.”

She bursts into tears, and wails like Andromache, when her child was thrown off the walls of Troy.

              After I was evicted, my dogs and I lived with a guy who I had met at an AA meeting years ago. He said he was sober, but I found empty bottles of Vodka hidden under piles of sweaty clothing and dirty socks in the living room. Thankfully, we had our own room, and my pit bull Zeus safeguarded me from this guy, the way the Sphinx guarded the city of Thebes from travellers, unless they could solve her famous riddle. Zeus had no riddle, he just barked. We lasted there for a tortuous month, and then I found a small trailer up in the Mojave.

              We have been here a year. The desert landscape that was in my dream surrounds me in real life. I wonder if the Mojave is purgatory, and I am paying for past transgressions.

Guilt compels me to call Colleen’s cell. A Hispanic male picks up. He doesn’t speak English. I suppose she has another cell phone number, but I have no idea how to find her. She is not on Facebook or any other social media sites. I connect the cell phone to the charger, which is in the bathroom, which is as claustrophobic as an aircraft lavatory.

I feed the dogs, warm up a slice of pizza, and watch House of Cards. I am so tired, but I have to brush my teeth. Inside the bathroom, I notice that there is a text. It’s from my sponsor, Mitch.

“Stan said last night at the meeting that they were supposed to take Colleen off life support yesterday at 4. She drank herself to death I guess.”

              The camera and the lens are all tucked away inside the bag, safe and sound. I find the Fuji color roll that belonged to Colleen’s father. The next day, I drive down to Lancaster and drop the roll off at the one-hour photo department. I am not sure what I am hoping to find.

              After I pick up the photos, I skim through them. Most of the prints are a brownish black, like mud after a rainy day. I find an overexposed print, and I see a grainy image of a man’s face. His eyes are shut. While Pope Benedict XVI once said, that in the shroud of Turin, we see a reflection of our suffering in the suffering of Christ, all I see in this man’s face is stillness. This is what I imagine for Colleen. Inside her coffin, which will shelter her like a cocoon made of metal, she will be sealed away forever, buried six feet under, but she will be safe, and protected from a world that only gave her torment.  Perhaps the suffering that I see in this image is not Colleen’s, but rather my own anguish.

For Shannon

 

 

 

About the Author:

Sevasti

Sevasti Iyama is the blog writer for Cycles of Change Recovery Services. She has written for RehabReviews.com, the Antelope Valley Press and the Kern Valley Sun.  She’s also the co-author of How I got Sober, 10 Alcoholics and Addicts Tell their Personal Stories. Presently, she is working on a novel called, The Pomegranate Cowboy, which is loosely based on the myth of Persephone and Hades. She is pursuing a Masters Degree in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. Sevasti is from the Bronx, and Los Angeles. She lives in the small town of Lake Isabella, California but being a city girl at heart, she plans to go back to New York City, in the not too distant future.

 

 

 

 

 

     
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