Officer Thad Wallace pulled his 1993 Toyota Tercel around the rear of the Axton Village Playhouse and Campground, put it in park, and slumped down in his seat. Weary from his new job on the police force, Wallace wasn’t excited to be here, but, since moving to Axton Village two years ago, he had fulfilled his promise to his mother to run a self-help group for recovering addicts. His mother, Bertha, had been addicted to QVC shopping and suffocated when she became trapped under her hoard of microfiber pillows. At least she went comfortably, he told himself.
He might have been a little more enthusiastic about the evening’s gathering had it been anywhere but the Axton Village Playhouse, or the AVP to locals. In Axton Village, the Playhouse was the height of culture and sophistication, and that was the problem. The Playhouse’s director, Elmore Schmidt, insisted that all productions be altered to be “relatable” to the people of Axton Village. Last season’s “42nd Street” was changed to “3rd Avenue.” The production of “Ten Little Indians” wasn’t bad, but it definitely lost something when re-titled and re-cast as “Six Insurance Salesmen and a Yogurt Shop Owner.” Two years ago, the production of “South Pacific” was simply cancelled when Mr. Schmidt couldn’t think of a suitable local body of water to serve as inspiration.
Officer Wallace got out of his car and trudged across the vast asphalt plane of the AVP parking lot towards the meeting hall. To the west, the campground extended for several miles. Axton Village’s most intrepid residents spent weekends hiking the trails, camping in the woods, and fishing in Hammer Lake. He was pretty certain the activities were all just excuses to drink Axton Ale, Axton’s finest beer, brewed locally and enjoyed by all residents 11 and up.
He jostled open the door to the meeting house and passed the wall of flyers advertising the upcoming season of plays and musicals. He noted with some interest that a season pass now allowed patrons access to the Axton Village Stockyards, where nature’s dramatics played out everyday. Whatever gets ’em in the door, he thought.
Wallace turned the corner and encountered two of the participants in his regular recovery group meetings: the Sasser sisters, Lucille and Francille. Identical twins, the Sasser sisters were stunningly beautiful, regal almost, but to the great disappointment of many men in Axton Village (and not just a few of the women at the stockyards), the Sasser sisters had eyes for only themselves. Yes, the Sasser sisters were entirely devoted to each other, not in an incestuous way, but in an odd, unhealthy, only twins would understand way. In their late 60s, the Sasser sisters had never married and had never lived apart. It was true that no one in Axton Village had ever seen the ladies apart from each other.
The Sasser sisters’ codependency was debilitating, and Wallace had come upon a prime example in the hallway. Lucille and Francille stood in front of the door to the meeting room, both looking at the door and then the other.
“After you, Lucille,” Francille invited.
“I wouldn’t dare, Francille,” Lucille responded. “You first.”
“O’ come now sister. The fairest first,” Francille countered.
“I wouldn’t dream,” was Lucille’s retort.
“Ladies,” Wallace interrupted, “how many times have we talked through this scenario?”
Officer Wallace was met with the stare of a hive mind.
“Ladies, I appreciate the fact that you want to put your sister first, but one of you must walk through the door first. It’s not a slight toward the other. It’s called ‘going into a room.'”
Lucille and Francille looked at the officer and each other and still couldn’t decide what to do.
“Well, Officer Wallace, I just can’t bare the thought of making my sister upset,” Lucille explained.
“I feel the exact same way,” Francille added, with a laugh, enjoying for the millionth time a subtle allusion to their twin-ness. The ladies joined hands and cooed at each other.
“Here, allow me,” Officer Wallace offered, as he pushed past the twins lost in their own world, open the door to the meeting room, and said, “Go in at the same time so we can get started.”
“How nice!” was the response, in unison, as Lucille and Francille grabbed their matching bags, embroidered with pictures of the other sister, and strolled into the room under the gaze of the other waiting participants.
Officer Wallace walked in and noted a pretty full house. There was Bobby Jo McCusker, recovering from an addiction to huffing Elmer’s Glue at local craft stores. A once up-and-coming feather artist, Bobby Jo’s career had gone down in flames once her fingers had become permanently fused together due to her glue-sniffing habit. Now, all Bobby Jo could do for her art was scoop feathers into nests with her fused hands. Luckily, wealthy New Yorkers still ate it up as avant-garde modern art, allowing Bobby Jo a nice, relaxed lifestyle on her chicken farm outside of town.
Seated next to her, was Blaine Blinzon, a suntanned 40-something addicted to plastic surgery. You name it, Blaine had it snipped, tucked, buffed, smoothed, plumped, raised, lowered, lengthened, shortened, sculpted, sanded, stretched, bleached, colored, replaced, and refined. Sadly, not only did Blaine now resemble a Ken doll, he moved with the dexterity of a Ken doll.
“Good evening, everyone. I’m Officer Thad Wallace. Welcome to our weekly recovery support group meeting. Tonight, I’d like to talk about…” Officer Wallace paused, as he looked at Martha de Van de waving her hand wildly. He tried to continue, “I’d like to talk about acknowledging pain and its part in….” Now, he could not continue. Martha de Van de was waving both hands wildly and kicking her feet up alternately. “Yes, Martha?”
“Officer Wallace, I want….” Martha began.
“Martha, how do we start talking in recovery meetings?” Officer Wallace cautioned.
“I’m sorry,” Martha self-corrected. She stood and said, “Hello, my name is Martha. I am recovering from an addiction to collecting Beanie Babies.”
“Hi Martha!” the group intoned.
Martha began, “Officer Wallace, before the meeting tonight, several of us were talking, and we are tired of being treated like second-class addicts.”
“Excuse me?” Office Wallace questioned.
Martha continued, “We want to know why our addictions aren’t respected. We know they aren’t sexy like crystal meth or cocaine, but I lost everything — my husband, my home, my children, my retirement — because of my addiction to collecting Beanie Babies stuffed animals. So, why do we have to meet here at the Playhouse, when all the other addicts get to meet at the church downtown?”
Blaine Blinzon slowly and stiffly raised his hand.
“Yes, Blaine, please, go ahead,” Officer Wallace instructed.
Blaine stood gingerly. “Hewo. My nam is Blaine, and I am recoverin from an diction to pwastic surgury.”
It never ceased to amaze Officer Wallace. Blaine’s mouth barely moved, barely could move. The man was frozen in his body.
“I gree with Martha.”
And, then, like always, Blaine ran out of strength to talk. It was just too much effort. Was Blaine Botoxing his tongue again? Blaine sat down. Officer Wallace wondered if his inability to talk bothered Blaine, but, of course, one could not tell by the expression on his face.
Officer Wallace looked around to lots of shaking heads, not counting Blaine’s. It seemed everyone felt aggrieved, although young Tommy Zurskle had been silent since he walked in the room and was now looking at the floor.
“Tommy, would you like to share how meeting in the playhouse and not the church makes you feel?” Officer Wallace questioned.
“I just don’t understand,” Tommy began.
“Ahh, Tommy, remember what I said to Martha.” Officer Wallace interrupted.
“Sorry. My name is Tommy, and I’m addicted to sex.”
“I just don’t understand why I have to come to these meetings,” Tommy complained.
“Tommy, we’ve been over this before,” Officer Wallace started to explain.
Tommy fired back, “I’m 23, and I like sex. What is wrong with that? I just don’t understand.”
Officer Wallace paused, knowing Tommy wasn’t being fully honest with the group. Tommy Zurskle did like sex, but what he wasn’t saying was that he had been arrested numerous times hanging out at the stockyards, attempting to film animals having sex for his hornyheffers.com website.
Officer Wallace calmly responded, “Tommy, what happens in these meetings is confidential, and that confidentiality is meant to foster openness and honesty. Complete honesty. That’s how we reach and maintain recovery. Until you are ready to accept those terms, you won’t be able to move forward.”
“You mean like them?” Tommy asked, motioning to Lucille and Francille, holding hands and staring into each other’s eyes.
“Lucille! Francille! Listen, there are no minor league recovery groups, okay. It’s not about where you meet. That has nothing to do with it. It’s not about the place, it’s about the meeting itself. The sharing. The learning. The communication. You’re all focusing on the wrong things.”
“I think it’s a cover up,” Martha de Van de retorted.
“Yeah!” Blaine achingly yawned.
“God, this is so stupid,” Tommy muttered.
“Okay, everybody be quiet!” cried Collin Collins, Axton Village’s district attorney, resident ballroom dance instructor, and weekend nudist. Word on the street was to avoid his Saturday classes, Officer Wallace thought. “Can we get to talking about our pain?” Collin asked.
“Yes, Collin. That’s a great idea. In the future, we can discuss meeting at a different location if it’s more convenient for folks in the group, but we aren’t changing the location out of some misplaced attempt to earn respect from the ‘cool addicts.’ Is that clear?” Officer Wallace was showing his mettle, taking charge.
Martha and Blaine sulked. Lucille and Francille weren’t paying attention, and Tommy was dreaming of goats. Bobby Jo was thinking of her chickens, looking at her fused hands, and wondering what might have been.
Officer Wallace continued, “Victoria, would you like to start? Last meeting, you were talking about your addiction to recovery support groups.”
Victoria Belcher responded, “Oh, I finished that story in another support group. I could talk about my addiction to stealing frisbees from the general store, if that would help.”
“Perfect.” Officer Wallace sat down and gave up.