It never occured to methat creating a international Zoom class during Covid would improve my life immeasurably. But each and every person has brought something unique and inspiring to Storytelling Lab and given me an opportunity to look at the world through a new lens. One of those people is Stacey Cook, who authored the piece below.
There's a quote that I stole from somebody...possibly Paul Schrader, though I think he stole it from somebody else. To paraphrase...a writer is somebody who must become comfortable with their own embarrasment. It's SO fucking true!
The rain moved everyone inside. Such a pity as the views from the house go on for days and not another house in sight.
The main room was brimming, people gathered close together milling in and about, zigzagging across from one corner to the next. Barbecued pork simmered in a silver banquet dish on the counter, next to it beans that could have won any chili cookoff in the next two counties, and mounds of coleslaw and macaroni salad in oversized glass mason jars.
I said to Finn, “I know this is your high school graduation, but it feels like my high school reunion.” Finn, whose parents gleamed when they talked about him graduating, since all he ever did was complain about school, simply grinned and said, “Alright, not sure what that means, but ok,” and continued on his way through the crowd.
I hadn’t seen Adam for nearly twenty years and couldn’t pick his wife out in a crowd. Clay was there too. Luckily, I had seen him in more recent times and definitely knew his wife, not because we were friendly, but because she has a disease where you lose your hair, I’m not sure it’s Alopecia, I think it’s something else, but in any regard, for better or worse, she is beyond a doubt recognizable in her wig.
“Jim Gaellgos,” I shout across the room. “I haven’t seen you, since I don’t know, high school?” He looked back at me with this big smile, walked up to me and said, “Wendy!”
“Wendy,” I say back, “Who is Wendy?” “Wendy Rogers”, he exclaims and finally says “Stacey, that’s right, I know, Stacey.” We have a big laugh and I warmly remember Wendy Rogers from days in our high school hallways.
I pop open the cava, pour myself a glass and start to mingle.
Adam and I talk about his dad’s recent death from dementia and about my mother and her current state of dementia, and pretty much the current state of the world and its dementia.
His wife Lori comes over and we chit chat about how maybe we met each other a long time ago at that thing that one time. She looks familiar enough where it could have been true.
We laugh, we talk, we share. Lori says to me, “I wish we were staying longer, but I’m not feeling great today, we had this dinner party last night and I don’t know what happened, but I ended up getting sick.” Adam chimes in, “Grey Goose is what happened to you.” Lori gently pushes him in response. “Well, that’s true”, she says with her head cocked to the side nodding in agreement.
The thing is, she starts to regale, we were at this dinner party where everyone was talking about their kids and where they were going to school, Stanford this, honor roll that, Georgetown, Princeton, Valedictorian, blah blah blah blah, blah.
“Where does your son go again?” I ask. “Montana Tech”, she says with pride, but no one has ever heard of Montana Tech and no one really cares either. “And your other son?” “He’s going to OU”, Adam says with conviction. “OU, I exclaim back, “How did he pick OU?”
“I don’t know, he liked it, he likes it. And everyone who goes there loves it. So that’s what I say when people ask, why OU.”
Now Adam was a straight A student, one of the smartest in our school, he went to Colorado School of Mines, one of the top engineering schools in the country and has made a fortune in the petroleum industry. He could care less what school his son goes to, as long as he’s happy. He also knows, school does not make a person nor is it a sign of intelligence.
I chime in, “I met a lot of dummies who went to Harvard.” “Exactly,” Adam says in agreement.
“I don’t know that dinner party just made me crazy, so I drank. I just kept drinking. And all of sudden I thought, if we don’t leave right now, I’m going to puke in that bush.”
“You should have! Would have showed them!” I exclaimed. We all laugh, and on that note, they make their exit.
As the party winded down, the rain let up, and those of us left convened out on the deck. One woman says to me, holding the bottle in one hand, “Would you like another?”
“Oh no, thank you, I’m driving,” I say. “So am I, but it’s only down the road,” she laughs.
And then out of the blue, I say, “Well, I got a DUI when I was living in LA, right before I moved, what a send-off that was.” And everyone just kind of looked at me.
Is this not appropriate party talk I think to myself. The quietness after I said those three words, D. U. I.
But I’m not ashamed. I’m proud. I’m proud of how I handled my DUI.
For years I didn’t want to tell anyone, I only told the people who I knew wouldn’t judge me, but we all judge don’t we, if not a lot, at least a little.
I continued on, “I was actually very lucky when I got my DUI. I didn’t get into an accident, I didn’t hurt or kill anyone or myself, and I will never drink and drive again. In essence, it saved my life and others. And this is what getting a DUI is supposed to do. I surrendered to it. I didn’t make any excuses, I took responsibility and actually learned from the experience.”
I talked about how lucky I had been, how I was brought to the Beverly Hills Jail, how clean it was, there was only one other person in the cell next to mine. I have a few friends who got DUI’s, and friends of friends who have, their stories in LA County or Ventura jail. They talk how they’re still reeling from the experience, half joking they have PTSD from their time spent there.
I learned the original DUI classes back in the day were only six hours and a slap on the wrist. Not a conviction of three, six, or twelve-month classes ordered by the court. People would go to the bar during break in class or the liquor store to buy a six pack. The problem wasn’t only drinking and driving, the real problem was addiction. And this is true today. I saw it in my first class when the girl sitting in front of me was slouched over in her chair. I turned to the guy next to me, “Is she ok?” “Oh, yah she’s always like this,” he said. Realizations come quickly once you are in the system.
Another realization is what separates you from the people who haven’t had a DUI is mostly luck.
For anyone can get one, two beers at a party, leave before ten DUI. A broken taillight leaving the fancy restaurant after a sophisticated meal and expensive wine DUI. A blow out fight with your partner after only two margaritas, a drive will cool you off DUI. I’ve had too much to drink to drive home, but I’d love some ice cream before I check into this hotel DUI.
And then there are other DUI’s.
This is my third DUI and I’m going to jail DUI. I lost my license and right to drive, so I drove my tractor on the frontage road, written up in the paper DUI. Last day of my nine-month DUI class, show up drunk after my office party, get arrested in class, have to start my sentence over with more time and more punishment DUI.
And just like sexuality, DUI’s lie on the spectrum.
I left the party. Was it ok I talked about my DUI? Should I feel embarrassed or ashamed that I shared what is considered shameful? On one end of the party talk spectrum, Lori told me how she felt ashamed and embarrassed and couldn’t stop drinking at her party the night before, and here I was, twenty-four hours later, I stopped drinking and told my shameful, embarrassing story to friends and strangers.
The next day, life showed up and validated life. On the podcast We Can Do Hard Things, with Glennon Doyle, the guest was Jenny Lawson. A writer I wasn’t aware of before and am forever grateful I am now. She’s written many celebrated books about her mental illness and awkwardness with humor and honesty and I thought, thank goodness for you. She spoke about how she eats pimento cheese toast every day and all the time she goes to toast the toast, and toast is already toasted in the toaster. She can’t do yoga because she farts and no one else farts! Why doesn’t anyone else fart she asks? Ok, her stories aren’t about breaking the law and having too many drinks and an emotional day that almost brought me to my knees, but it was still stuff she didn’t want to feel embarrassed about. She gave it a home to feel like itself.
Normalizing the embarrassing stuff and taking the shame out of it. It made me turn and think, how refreshing and necessary it is to talk about the embarrassing stuff.
It’s freeing. It’s contagious. It’s party talk.