From the author: Julian Pepper finds herself in an odd predicament after thinking an older gentleman wants to take her under his wing.
When Julian had a good twenty-one days of sobriety under her belt and was becoming more engulfed in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, she decided to take the advice she’d been hearing. She wanted to make friends, learn from her fellows, look for the similarities instead of the differences, and above all, she wanted to be a Yes Man. She’d spent enough time drinking alone both in and out of the closet, both before and while driving; basically, she’d had enough and she wanted to change. Who better than to teach her the secrets of sobriety than Dwight?
Dwight; 115 pounds soaking wet, snow white hair combed over the forehead that continued to elongate in age, walked with a slight hunch, blue veins mapped the liver spots on his papery hands. Dwight; filled with knowledge from the last century, who’d been a meth head during the days of Woodstock, who’d gotten sober five years before Julian was even born. Dwight; slave to his 95 year old mother, never had a ring on his finger nor put one on a lucky lady’s, drove a bright orange convertible BMW, sat cross-legged at meetings like a dandy–which could be attributed to age or may just be a byproduct of being a weird guy. Dwight; non-threatening, because he smelled like mothballs and sucked on hard candies and reminded Julian of her grandpa right before he died from complications of Parkinson’s and dementia.
Dwight hadn’t had a drink or a drug in thirty-five years. Julian respected that. Julian gawked in amazement at that. So when Dwight approached her in front of several other people, placed a Bengay-lathered hand on her shoulder and asked if she would like to go watch a play with him, she put on her big girl pants.
“Sure, that sounds great, Dwight,” she responded, even though deep down inside she had no desire to do anything, with anyone, ever.
“How about we grab a bite to eat first?” he asked.
“Yeah, why not?” Julian said. Is there any excuse I can use to get out of this? She wondered. Then, the Voice of Reason emerged from way within her soul and said, Julian, just do it. Be a Yes Man. These people are nice. They want to help you like they helped each other. You can learn from this guy. Just take advantage of the offer. She responded to the Voice, Ok, fine. You’re probably right. You’re always right.
“Here’s my phone number so you can text me if there are any changes,” Julian scribbled her number on a slip of paper and passed it to Dwight. He smiled a kind old man smile, and winked.
Julian went on through her week like she normally would. She went to work, she went home, she fed her children and her husband, she went to sleep. Some time over the course of this week, she mentioned to her husband that she was going to go on an outing with Dwight. “Ben,” she said, “on Saturday, I am going to go to the Yard House and watch a play with this little old man from AA. It shouldn’t take long. Probably three hours or so. Is that ok with you?”
“You’re going on a date with an old man?” Ben replied.
“What? No! That’s fricken gross. It’s not even like that.”
“That’s what it sounds like to me.”
“Well, you’re wrong. People aren’t like that in AA. These are the nicest, most genuine people I’ve ever met. They care about each other and they want to help each other. This guy is old enough to be my grandpa, seriously, and I think he is just trying to take me under his wing. He has no family. Maybe he’s just lonely and he sees himself in me.”
“Oh yeah!” Ben laughed. “I think he definitely sees himself in you!”
“Oh my God. That’s disgusting. Please don’t say things like that. There’s no way this is a date. That’s ludicrous to even suggest. He’s 45 years older than I am. Just stop because you are really tarnishing the experience for me,” Julian said, and then rolled over and went to sleep. Not easily, I might add.
When Saturday came, Julian put on her least attractive clothing and met Dwight at the Yard House. He had been there at a table on the patio for a few minutes already, and was waiting with a newspaper and an iced tea. Everything was going well for the first half hour, other than the waiter giving Julian disapproving, bemused looks every time he spoke to her, and other than Dwight injecting himself with insulin at the table to prepare himself to eat a salad.
“I’m so impressed that you’ve been clean for thirty-five years. How did you do it? I can learn so much from you,” Julian said.
Dwight shrugged, brushed it off like it wasn’t all that interesting or important. “So how long have you been divorced?” He asked.
Her stomach dropped. “I’m not divorced.”
“Oh. Well then I feel bad. I’d hate to make another man jealous.”
“My husband knows that I’m here,” she said as she felt her grilled cheese begin to churn.
“Oh my. Do you do this a lot, then?” he asked as he wrapped his ancient fingers around her elbow.
“Do… what?” Eyes wide, Julian was in the midst of a catharsis.
“Go out with other men,” Dwight gazed at her, smiling, lettuce in his dentures.
“Oh my God. Do… do you think this is a date?” She asked, mortified.
“Yes,” he smiled bigger, revealing more lettuce and a chunk of pepper.
“Oh no. I thought we were just going out as friends. I didn’t think you were trying to date me. Wow.”
“Well, we don’t have to date. We could just have some fun if you want.” His button up patterned shirt flapped in a breeze around his skeletal figure. Julian’s nose scrunched involuntarily and she could taste the sandwich coming back up, with a zesty hint of bile.
“I don’t think my husband would like that. That would be really disrespectful to him.” She turned her body to face the other direction and everything inside of her shut off, like someone flipped a light switch. It was all black. All off.
Because Julian is the type of alcoholic who is a people-pleaser with a hard time saying no due to intermittent lapses of confidence, she overcame her initial nausea, took pity on Dwight, and followed him to the Red Rock outdoor amphitheatre to watch the play. Much to her delight, Dwight stayed only a short time, and then stated that he had to go home and go to bed because he wakes up unnecessarily at 2:22 a.m. every day, like most elderly people do for no reason. I hope he didn’t waste a boner pill on this, she thought, first in humor, then in terror.
Dwight placed a Ricola onto the inner bend of Julia’s upper left thigh and then saw himself out into the dark of the parking lot. Julian waited, relieved, taking in the breath of his empty chair. As light and emotion began to bleed back into her, she found herself dazed and walking to her own car, like she was awakening from a roofie trip.
In the rearview mirror, she saw Red Rock’s silhouette bold in the night. Massive, embracing. She pulled the car over and climbed up onto the top of that Ford Fiesta, where she sat, staring for a long time.
“Do I think this is funny?” she yelled at the mountains. “Do you think this is funny, God? Do we think this is funny?” She threw her fists out, chest pointing to the heavens, head tossed back. And for the first time in her life, she felt a presence. She laid on the roof of the car, laughing into the clear abyss, her voice chiming with the stars. She felt like she was with her best friend, taking in the shock of what had happened. And by letting her pink-cloud floatin’ ass be tricked into naively going on a date with the oldest person she’d talked to besides her grandparents, Julian ended the night by finding her Higher Power.
This story originally appeared in Beautiful Losers.