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Alt Gratitude List: What Might Have Been If I Had Never Left Chicago

I would be a lawyer on my fourth marriage, or maybe my fourth divorce.
I would be a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I would have a three-year sobriety chip.
Actually, I would have 296 three-day chips.
Every three days, I would throw a new chip into the shoebox under my bed.
Or, the chips would fill the cookie jar I repurposed after joining Overeaters Anonymous.
I would try to date Stu T. because he seems stable.
I would find out that Stu T. isn’t at all stable.
I would find this out at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.
Stu T. would be the keynote speaker.
We would all say “hi Stu,” and I’d mutter “asshole” under my breath.
He would share his story of hitting bottom.
He would recount:

1) his painful divorce
2) the sordid depths to which he went seeking solace
3) his most drug-addled sexual encounter ever

I would be the unnamed main character in his heartfelt ‘hitting bottom’ story.
Women in the audience would cry.
They would want to date Stu T. because he seems like a nice guy.
Those who suspected my role in Stu T’s story would:

– glare at me and whisper “asshole”
– shake their heads
– recall the “emotional spelunking” they’d done to feel something when they couldn’t feel anything.

They would actually use the phrase “emotional spelunking.”
After the Narcotics Anonymous meeting, I would go to a bar.
Drinking isn’t as bad as drugging, I would tell myself.
It’s more difficult to overdose, I would reason.
It would be late Tuesday evening.
At 1 a.m. on Wednesday morning, I would park my car beside an automated toll booth off Interstate 88.
With the engine running, I would crouch on the pavement beside my car and collect quarters and dimes left by other late-night drunks – those who had missed the basket and kept tossing change until the gate opened.
What careless drunks, I would mutter. I deserve my success, I would add.
Briefly, I would question my obsession with collecting change from gum-crusted pavement. But I wouldn’t leave a single dime behind.
I would tell myself I’m not manic. Or obsessive-compulsive. Just resourceful.
I would have $14.85 in change, after all.
I would not mention my change collection in the gratitude list I presented to my AA sponsor the next day.
She would be my sixth AA sponsor. (My first five sponsors would have relapsed after overseeing my fourth-step “moral inventory.”)
She would also ask me to conduct a searching and fearless moral inventory of the wrongs I had committed while under the influence.
She would be dumbfounded by my forty-page list of:

a) personal slights
b) physical altercations
c) unpaid fines
d) offended parties

She would never have imagined such depraved acts as those listed in my moral inventory.
My most egregious offenses would be things I had done to my first five sponsors.
My sponsor would encourage me to make amends to those I had hurt.
She would be horrified by my bungled attempts to make amends.
The night she quit being my AA sponsor, I would again stop at the toll booth on I-88.
Gin and tonics have gotten expensive, I would tell myself. I need to make up the margins. To keep up appearances. That isn’t easy to do on a corporate lawyer’s salary.
I would actually believe this.
At 1:45 a.m., I would dump a handful of change into the ashtray of my dented Lexus.
No, the ashtray would be overflowing with ground-out Benson & Hedges.
I would put the change into a plastic baggie in my purse.
At home, I would drink wine before bed.
I would drink straight from the bottle.
I would do this for environmental reasons, thinking of the soap and water I was saving by not dirtying a wine glass.
I would drink myself to sleep and dream of where I am now. I would dream of:

~ night-blooming cacti
~ coyote prowling in littered alleyways
~ dust storms sweeping through dry riverbeds
~ rattle snakes napping in the shade of cottonwood trees
~ a house with a roof that leaked during monsoons

I would dream of the man now snoring softly beside me.
At 5:45, my alarm would wrest me from sleep.
I would rub my eyes and try to recapture something of a dream quickly fading.
I would peel plastic from a dry-cleaned suit and pull a pair of frayed nylons from an overflowing laundry basket.
I would sweat gin and the scent of dirty money.
In the elevator at work, a bright young law clerk would ask me what perfume I was wearing.
I would answer Juniper No. 3.
She wouldn’t know any better.
I hadn’t.



A native of Chicago, Alice Hatcher is a recovering academic who now works as a freelance grant writer in Tucson, AZ, though her main source of income remains heavily frequented toll booths where careless drivers drop quarters. More of her work can be viewed at www.alice-hatcher.com.