ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: The Writer, His Wife, and their Afterlife
Book One, Part Two, Chapter 151: Looking for Ernie
It’s two days before Thanksgiving.
I intend to attend a Twelve-Step meeting tonight but first I stop by the cafe — it’s its next-to-last day of operation — for the spinach lasagna. But the lasagna is bathed in white sauce, and I like red. This throws off my plans. I walk back home, eat ice cream — my staple food these days — drink a cup of cocoa, and stretch out on the rug.
Time passes. I let it pass. I’ll skip the meeting, I tell myself. It’s not a requirement. It’s not a job. I don’t have to show up. Why show up? I’ll take a nap.
More time passes. The meeting has started.
It’s not that I mind going to the meeting by myself. I do almost everything by myself. I just feel so . . . raw. I never thought I’d be in this predicament. Even in my semi-conscious state I knew I’d be without Ernie one day, but I didn’t know I’d feel so unsure of myself. So indecisive. I didn’t know I wouldn’t know my next best step.
I didn’t know myself very well, did I? I want Ernie. I need Ernie. I need to find Ernie. I can’t do this by myself.
I need to get off this floor. I can’t just lie here. You wouldn’t do that, Ernie. You’d do something.
I get up. I put on Ernie’s leather oxfords. I wear them these days, in this cooler weather, in the hope that wearing his shoes will point me in the right direction.
Ernie, you went to A.A. meetings for five straight years. A.A. helped you. Maybe I need these Al-Anon meetings. I am needy, and I need something I can’t give myself, that others can give me.
With quickening steps, I head to the meeting. I’ve checked out three other Al-Anon groups, but this group is the one I feel most at home with. It’s the smallest group — maybe twelve of us. And I like where it meets — just a twenty-minute walk away.
I’m at its side entrance now. A pink paper is taped to the door. Is the meeting cancelled because it’s Thanksgiving week? Jesus, I hope not. Al-Anon Tonight, the sign reads. Good. I feel saved.
I open the door as quietly as I can and take a seat. The man next to me is talking. I put down my head, hide my face, and listen.
I’m learning to listen. Ernie called me a good listener, but I realize now I’m not. A good listener absorbs what is being said and then responds. Ernie’s words — the important words — floated in the air above me. I never grabbed them — neither his spoken words nor his written ones. He must have felt he was speaking to a deaf-mute. Maybe this is the truth I don’t want to face. Maybe this is why I resisted this meeting. What else have I resisted? That I don’t know? That I need to know?
The meeting is over, and the time of fellowship begins. I’m standing by myself, feeling uncomfortable but not wanting to go back to a place that doesn’t feel like home. Someone comes up to me, a cap shielding his forehead. He smiles, and his eyes crinkle at their edges. “Welcome back,” he says.
“I’m looking for Ernie,” I tell him.
“You’ll find him when you find yourself,” he tells me.