There were defections. I knew there would be but it still was startling, like a lover moving on, and you had hoped and known she would, but when she does it is like it comes out of the ether.
An early defector was a chubby young girl who seemed violently unhappy, but kept saying everything was fine, a girl whose face was twisted in a grimace often and whose overweight body sometimes seemed nubile but sometimes it was like the sagging body of someone old and defeated. And when she talked, and she talked at length, it was always about how pretty she was, though her moments of seeming pretty were fleeting. She was a friend of the very alive and actually pretty young girl who was back in Lenox, Mass. I ran into the chubby girl one day on the subway. She said she was finished with ACOA, all these people who had nothing do to but complain. She was moving on as, she implied, she always knew she would. Goodbye you little people who can’t get your lives together.
Over on the East Side there was a sweating man in twisted middle age who said people should realize he was really with the CIA, and was gearing up to go on one last mission. And he said not to feel insulted if he did not recognize any of us for he had something in his brain that made it impossible to identify faces.
An older girl or woman who could really let go in meetings disappeared too. She had not claimed to be pretty. She had often spoken of being passionate about sexual attraction to and from women, and she would say that what made her really angry was that the men wanted to keep all the women to themselves. She was the one who when the Reaganites bombed unprotected people in Libya, and Reagan’s Defense Secretary was leaping up and down on television in apparent sexual arousal, came to a meeting angry at the French for, she said, we must all think the worst thing was that the French would not let our bombers fly over their country. And now I ran into her in the subway too. She said I may have noticed that she had not been around. She had had enough, she said, echoing an AA thing about “getting off the pity pot.’”
And there was a well-groomed, soft-spoken, clean-cut man who had been coming for years but now sent a letter around to everyone in Manhattan ACOA whose addresses he could find telling them he had moved on to another stage, and now would go only to a meeting in Brooklyn Heights where people held in their anger. A nice people’s meeting.
And some who stayed were defecting in other ways. A taut woman, who looked like someone who would carry a clipboard, announced what she called the good news that ACOA was getting a national organization, to be based in California. Worse than a defection, this could mean the end to the sorts of tough life-giving things that were happening with people in non-scripted, non-pious Manhattan ACOA. I had seen the vague California version on my last trip out there, the self flagellators, the pious followers of pious versions the 12 steps that we mostly ignored in Manhattan – the Californians’ penchant for cutting off what I thought of as healthy anger, to closing everything down in the name of harmony, whereas in Manhattan there were no rules, no hierarchy. In Manhattan, anything was allowed short of racial bigotry or necrophilia.
And something else was changing too. The really smart people, including the sympathetic therapist who had finally turned her attention to herself and her history, and also my frightening stalker Abigail, had gravitated to each other. We really smart people. And now there was a new intellectual named Harry who had just appeared and it seemed he was “one of us,” the therapist told me happily, “one of us” meaning, to her, that he was a solid atheist who would work to keep any soft and silly AA piety, or any other sort of piety, out of ACOA. She almost forgave him for showing up quite drunk at a couple of our meetings that had expanded to get the goods on all abusers but were originally formed to get the goods on abusing boozers. I certainly was not religious. An author’s directory had me as correctly atheist/agnostic. But this year would not have been this year if I had not become open to alternative versions of reality. I thought of those churches in Vermont. And now for the first time I could see that between my new allies and me there could be a chasm as great as the divide between me and the Poole dynasty of the White Mountains.
And I was finding that I was spending as much time in the museums as in ACOA meetings. I talked with Julia, a tall sweet, sometimes tortured girl in ACOA whose parents had been Cuban before they became American State Department people. She was an artist and understood what I as doing. And she was enrolled at Parsons.
I thought of an open and delicately sculptured girl named Trish, who was more vulnerable than I had realized and whom I had been with a number of times when I was with other girls too way back in the late fifties. She gave me a book of love poetry. It felt wonderful. I could not find her again three years later in a time of darkness after foreign adventures. Had she changed her name?
Trish had been studying fashion design at Parsons. Two parts of my inner and outer worlds coming together, my attraction to appealing visual art and my attraction of appealing women. Visual art, not writing. I had taken Trish on an expense account for something silly to Chicago for a weekend when I was 25. I knew Chicago from when I was 21 and was having what now seemed like serial epiphanies in the Art Institute. Something else in the past to consider in this year 1986 in which so much was coming to me visually, not verbally.