She took a deep breath and began, “I am an alcoholic, have been for the past five years. My story must be like many of us here …that is to say, I don’t even know when I started drinking heavily and it spiraled out of control……but I knew I needed help when I forgot my way home. But I am getting ahead of my story …let me begin from the beginning…,” so saying Juanita looked around. Faces stared at her with empathy, eyes reflecting the same sadness and awareness as her’s; some smiling at her encouragingly, some as if saying you will overcome this, don’t despair! Just don’t give up, however tough the journey is! You have begun it, now see it through….
Juanita came from the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak. Impoverished childhood, a drug addict father and, a near alcoholic mother had added to their woes— her’s and her two siblings. Barely finishing school, she had to start working to feed the family. Her mother was totally wasted by then, and they had no clue where their father was; he had disappeared one night long ago, never to be seen again.
Her job as a sales girl in the local beauty store ensured food on the table and some normalcy to their family life. Her younger brother and sister went back to school, albeit after losing two years of education; but the important thing was that they had regained the control of their lives. Their mother too had cleaned up her act a bit and did not pass her days in a drunken haze. Things were finally looking up.
Life cruised along. There was laughter and cheer at home. It was gratifying to see happy faces around. Her sincerity paid off and she was promoted to work in the back office of the store. Two years passed in tranquillity.
One day, she met a boy Steve while at work. His jovial nature was an instant attraction and she fell in love. Steve was an assembly line worker in the nearby automobile factory. By this time, her brother too had finished school and was apprenticing with a local tradesman. He was paid by the hour and made decent money. Her younger sister too joined a salon and was learning on the job.
They were sitting on a nearby park bench one Sunday morning, sharing a sandwich when to her utter surprise (and irrepressible joy), Steve went down on his knee and broke into a sweetest poem she had ever heard-
I know you can get much better suitors than me,
But I doubt whether they will love you as much as me?
Bungalows, big cars and trinkets I may not be able to give,
But I do promise to cherish you as long as I live!”
She could not stop smiling at him.
“Jaunita, my love, will you marry me and make me the happiest person in the world?”
“YES, yes , yes” she replied her heart overflowing with love.
And so they were married.
She could pinpoint exactly when things took a downturn. The day she received that fateful call from Steve’s boss!
“Jaunita? I am Dennis, Steve’s production manager. Steve’s had an accident at work today. Unfortunately, his hand got caught in the machinery and he has been rushed to St. Theresa hospital. Pease come as soon as you can.”
“Whaaat? How bad is it? “she had asked, horrified.
“The doctors are with him now, we will come to know soon. See you at the hospital,” so saying, Dennis disconnected the phone.
Jaunita had rushed to the hospital. Steve was in surgery. The situation was grim. His hand till the elbow had got completely crushed. She was told to wait in the lounge. Restless and filled with dread, she prayed with all her might.
“Mrs. Smith? I am Dr. Robert Black. I am so sorry but we had to amputate Steve’s right arm. His hand was badly damaged and beyond saving. He has lost a lot of blood but will be fine. He is young. He is in the recovery, you can see him soon,” he said, patting her gently on her back.
Steve came home after a month in the hospital, absolutely broken. He was bitter and dejected. They had assured him that he would be fitted with an artificial arm after his physiotherapy was over. She tried her best to keep his spirits up. But it was an uphill task. He would sit on the couch in their small room, staring into nothing. She tried to coax him to eat by making food that he enjoyed but he would pick at it morosely, cursing his fate and their life.
It dawned on her that he was envious of her able-bodied ness. His eyes would follow her accusingly, as if it was somehow her fault that she had both her hands and he had lost one. No amount of talk, sympathy, rationalisation, coercion, anger or even shouting worked. It was as if Steve had got exchanged in the hospital. This was not the Steve she knew. Where was his positivity? His effervescence? She could not recognise the Steve he had become.
He started drinking. Initially to keep him company and to make him rouse out of the stupor he had fallen into, she also started sharing a glass with him. Then it slowly turned into two… three…and soon they would be drinking the better part of the night.
Life had come a full circle. The very thing that she had abhorred in her mother, ironically now, she had fallen prey to it too. Her drinking increased, she started drinking during the day on the sly. She would drink with her breakfast to down her despair and continue the whole day. Her work suffered and it was not long before she was politely told to leave.
Now, after almost losing everything that she held dear, she was standing in the church hall, in front of unknown people, sharing her story. She found herself spreading her arms for divine help; as if begging God for alms, for some intervention. She prayed for deliverance from her addiction and help from the almighty to get her life back!
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