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A Portrayed Image

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Joanne sat at the glistening, cherry wood kitchen table reading the daily paper. Disasters of terrorism and robbery unraveled around her as she drank her morning coffee out of her purple Northwestern mug. She savored each sip, praying her nauseating hangover would disappear before anyone was to notice. The room was silent, but her ears wouldn’t stop ringing. She slipped a shot of Bailey’s into her mug, hoping a buzz would replenish her normal self. She heard a loud pounding coming down the stairs.

“Bye, Mom. I’m leaving. Can I take the BMW to school today, please?” Kellie, her daughter, asked her.

“Fine, leave the keys to your Jeep,” Joanne whispered. As she stared at her college bound genius of a daughter, she wondered where she went right. Kellie kissed her on the cheek as she ran out of the door.

On her way to school, Kellie picked up her boyfriend, Jimmy. He seemed to be the male version of her, and everyone thought they were perfect for each other, even their parents. They were both going to Northwestern in the fall, and her life with him was already planned out. He was the best thing she had going.

“Hey, Sweetie.” He went to kiss her as he entered the car, but she pulled away.

“What’s wrong?” he asked her.

“Mom’s drunk again?”

“When are you ever going to confront her?” he questioned, being the supportive boyfriend he always was.

“Wasn’t ever planning on it.” She turned the radio on, basting an overplayed song she hated. The annoying pitches of the radio drowned out the thought of her poor excuse for a mother.

Lying in her empty bed, Joanne tossed and turned. The afternoon sun was setting, and she was expecting her husband, Mark, and Kellie to be home soon. She struggled to get herself out of bed, and was eventually successful. She strolled into her closet, and put on the brand new Chanel blouse she had recently purchased. Sitting in front of her vanity mirror, she started at the woman she didn’t recognize. The woman on the other side was a mess with bloodshot eyes and bags under them. That woman repulsed her. She covered that side of her up with makeup and slipped on her black Monolo pumps, hoping this image she was portraying would finally give Mark the urge to come to bed with her, something he had done in months.

“Hey Mom, I’m home,” Kellie yelled upstairs, reminding Joanne how hung-over she still was. She walked downstairs to greet her daughter.

“Hi. I’m going to make meatloaf for dinner. It will be ready in about an hour,” Joanne told her.

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I ate dinner at Jimmy’s before I came home.”

“I’ll make it for your father then. Eat it if you wish.” She was overwhelmed with disappointment as her one accomplishment walked away from her.

Joanne pulled the ingredients out of her stainless steel refrigerator and resentfully made the meatloaf. Just as she was finishing, the phone rang. Assuming it was one of her husband’s clients or a telemarketer, she left it for the machine. She listened vigilantly to hear who it was as the obnoxious beep sounded.

“Hi, honey. It’s Mark. Just wanted to let you know that something came up at work and I won’t make it home from dinner. Sorry. Don’t wait up for me.” Each word he spoke dug deeper into her stomach. She took the useless meatloaf out of the over and threw it in the trash. She pulled out a bottle of wine from the fridge, brought it to her room, and drank the entirety of it. She contemplated a second bottle. The pain she felt was gut wrenching, and all she could think of was the secretary or bartender that her husband had chosen to seduce that night. She went downstairs, grabbed the second bottle, and finished ever last drop of it, leading her to pass out on the kitchen floor.

“Joanne? Please get up. Are you drunk?” Mark pulled up her drunken wife off the floor, smelled her breath, and carried her up the stars. Joanne was slightly conscious at this point, and the stench of another woman’s perfume on her husband caused her to vomit all over him. She lied awake all night drunk and sobbing, while Mark ignored her, carelessly.

The next night, Joanne was to attend a dinner for Mark’s work. This was her chance to show him that she was still as young and attractive as the other women he was sleeping with. Kellie spent the day fixing her mother into the beautiful young girl she was the day Mark married her. Kellie pulled through the knots of the damaged, frizzy, blonde hair. She took each ratty curl and straightened it until her hair was so smooth that the light reflected off of it. She filed and painted her chipped, broken nails a luscious red color. Kellie covered up each wrinkle and blemish with makeup, and outlined her mother’ icy blue eyes with eyeliner. Joanne slipped on a simple, black Vera Wang cocktail dress and a pair of classic, but still stylish black heels. She had not looked this stunning since her early thirties, when Mark was still madly in love with her. She walked slowly down the stairs while Mark looked up at her in amazement. It was something straight out of a cheesy 80’s prom movie.

As they drove to the event, Mark began to unwrap his hidden life to Joanne. He talked the entire ride there of work cases and clients. He told her every little piece of his life, and as boring as it all was to her, she couldn’t have been happier. This was a side to him she hadn’t seen in years, and it was then that she realized how much she still loved him.

They walked into the ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton hotel looking like a thousand bucks. As beautiful as all of the young wives there were, she still outshone them all. The ballroom was beautiful and elegant, just like Joanne that night. Sparkling crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, each one more beautiful than the last. Tables covered in fine linen were spread out all over the room. Candles were displayed around the perimeter. The room itself was enough to make Joanne feel like she was a princess living in the fairytale that she didn’t think existed beyond storybooks.

She sat and enjoyed her lovely steak dinner, while she laughed and talked with the most beautiful man in the room. A smile overtook her face the entire night. It was more perfect than their first date, and more loving than their wedding night. Never once did she question what made him into this perfect angel she never saw, and was afraid to ask.

“Oh my goodness! Is that Markypoo?” an annoying high pitched ditzy voice asked. They both turned around and standing there was his sexual receptionist. Her dress was inappropriately short and low-cut. She may as well have just not worn anything at all.

“Oh, Hi Vanessa,” he responded nervously. Vanessa kissed him on the cheek that was so improper given the situation, yet Mark didn’t resist.

“Thanks for last night,” she whispered seductively in his ear, loud enough for Joanne to accidently hear it. Joanne stormed out of the room, not even looking back. Mark didn’t even try to follow her.

Mark ignored the fact that his wife had been gone an hour, assuming she found alternative way home.

While her parents were out, Kellie called Jimmy to come over. He laid in her bed, close to her, and holding her. He could feel his heartbeat against her body, and slowly she kissed him as if it were the first time. He ran his hands through her hair, pulling through each little knot. His mind was set on making love to this beautiful girl next to him. It had crossed her mind, and she felt that she was finally ready. She loved him, and tonight seemed like the perfect time, so she figured she should do it. She was about to allow him into her, and the phone rang. Normally she would ignore it, but something in her told her to answer it, a cliché voice in her head.

“Hello?” She answered.

“Kellie, its dad. Don’t worry too much, but Mom is in the hospital,” Mark told her.

“Oh my goodness. Is she okay? What happened?” She began to panic.

“She is fine. She had a little too much to drink and passed out in the bathroom. They pumped her stomach, and she is stable now. I promise she is going to be just fine. Go to bed and you can come here in the morning.”

“Okay, bye. Wait, dad?”

“Yes?”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.” He hung up the phone, and Kellie just sat there paralyzed. The phone fell slowly out of her hands and slammed against the ground. She began to cry, and Jimmy, still naked, held her close to his body, comforting her and rubbing her back. He never asked what happened. He just held her.

“Hi. I’m looking for Joanne Gibson’s room?” Kellie asked the receptionist at the front desk of the hospital.

“Last room on the left,” the nurse told her.

Kellie stood outside her mother’s room pacing, afraid to go in. Jimmy was at her side, holding her hand, as she squeezed his so hard that it became numb.

“You can do this,” Jimmy told her. She took a deep breath, and walked in the room, She never spent much time in a hospital, and the room made her uncomfortable. The walls were bare. Not even a painting hung on the walls to warm it up. There was a small television screen in the corner, amongst all the machines that overwhelmed the room. Not a single balloon or bouquet of flowers sat at her mother’s bedside. Her mother just lied there, pale and asleep. The machine next to her made a beeping noise for each of her irregular heartbeats. Kellie felt so helpless looking at the woman she was supposed to call her mom, just lie there, so small and hopeless.

“Can I have a minute alone?” she asked Jimmy.

“Yeah. I can go look for your dad.” He kissed her softly on the forehead and left quietly through the doorway.

Kellie sat in the only chair in the room. She remained silent for a few moments, and finally found a bit of courage to speak to her unconscious mom.

“Hi, mom. It’s Kellie. I know you probably can’t hear me, but I need to tell you this. I’ve held it in too long already. I do love you, but you need to stop doing this to yourself. I know you can’t seem to help it, but you need to fix this. You are killing yourself. I am embarrassed to tell anyone that we are related, especially when you show up to my soccer games or to PTO meetings wasted out of your mind. I know that dad has no excuse to hurt you like he does, but you are hurting me. Most days, I wish,” she paused and started crying.

“I wish g-d had given me a different mom sometimes.” A single tear ran down Joanne’s face. Noticing this and realizing her mom had heard everything, she grabbed her mom’s hand, and they sat in silence, crying together.

“I love you, mom. I wouldn’t say this to you if I didn’t,” Kellie told her, finally breaking the silence.

“I know. I love you too,” Joanne told her. Listening to her daughter, she was at a loss of breath embarrassed of her actions.

“Can I come in?” Jimmy knocked on the door.

“Yes,” Kellie told him. He entered the room with his head down, nervous to invade the discussion.

“I couldn’t find your dad,” he told her.

“I doubt he’s here,” Joanne said to him.

“Why wouldn’t he be here? Where is he?” Kellie asked.

“I don’t know, but I told him as soon as I’m out of here, I’m filing for a divorce.” Kellie hugged her mom so hard, she was afraid she would break her. She was proud of her mom, even if it left her with a broken family.

“I am going to give you a better life, Kellie. I promise,” Joanne told her as they both sobbed.

A week had gone by since Joanne was released from the hospital, and she sat in the middle of a church classroom in a circle surrounded by some familiar faces, and some new ones. Each person sitting in the circle seemed no different than her. They were businessmen, high school students, avid church goers, doctors, veterans, and to her surprise, mothers. Each story connected with her personally, and brought hope to her.

He legs were shaking and she couldn’t breathe, but she felt powerful. She wobbly stood up, took a deep breath, and spoke.

“Hi. My name is Joanne Gibson, and I am an alcoholic.”

“Hi Joanne,” they all responded, there for her.





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