Susurrus reading and fear

su-sur-rus: a soft murmuring or rustling sound; a whisper. It's also the name of Sacramento City College's literary magazine.

I should have figured there would be trouble last Saturday when the 4:24 p.m. Regional Transit bus number 21 from Sunrise Mall to Mather Field light rail station was late. It was more than late. It never showed up. There was a group of young men sitting on abandoned, overturned shopping carts at the bus stop when I arrived. They seemed to be so casual and unconcerned that I assumed they were just hanging out. After forty minutes, I was getting anxious. Where was the bus? I searched Coloma Road once again for any sign of a dark blue and bright yellow bus, then turned to the boys.

"Are you all waiting for the bus?"

"Yes, ma'am."

If I wasn't so upset about the bus, I would have been surprised. Five young black men wearing baggy jeans, sweat jackets and tennis shoes referring to me as "ma'am"? Either I look old enough to qualify for the honorific or that group had some serious old school home training.

"How long you've been waiting?"

"'Bout an hour."

That was not good. I was supposed to be at Sacramento City College's little auditorium by 6 pm, and it takes at least an hour to get there by bus and light rail. I pushed aside the gloomy thought that the lack of efficient bus service was analogous to an unfavorable portent for the evening, and called my friend Mari, who picked me up within ten minutes. There was still no bus in sight. The young men in the baggy pants looked like they had fallen asleep on the shopping carts. At least they weren't stressing out over the inefficiency of Regional Transit's bus lines.

"You saved my life AGAIN," I said as I climbed into Mari's car.

"No problem; I was required to learn lifesaving techniques before I became a credentialed teacher."

Friends, where would I be without them?

Due to prior commitments, Mari couldn't stay for the reading. But she told me I was going to be fine, and off she went. I felt like calling her on my cell to come back and pick me up. My stomach was churning and twisting in very unhealthy ways.

I can't deal with this right now. I haven't been around anyone but family, friends, Baha'is and my recovery fellows for almost two months. I must've been temporarily insane when I said would do this!

I couldn't see how it would be possible to read a creative non-fiction story about my family living in the Philippines during the 60s in front of an auditorium filled with people I didn't know. Hyperventilation makes reading out loud quite difficult.

I sat down on a bench, and tried some deep breathing exercises. It helped considerably, and I ate the abstinent dinner that I brought with me. At least that's over, I told myself. I don't have to worry about getting hungry and wanting to eat something that will trigger my addiction.

I forgot that I don't have to be hungry to have the addiction start screaming the words "FEED ME!" into my brain. All it took was the sight of platters pastries with pastries (croissaints, even), a huge chocolate sheet cake, pizza, bagels, teriyaki drummettes, cookies, tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole, brownies...mercy! Anyway, I panicked. Big time. The show wasn't going to start for another hour, and couldn't sit there staring at that food with all the other authors as they blithely chatted and joked around. I excused myself, and went into the ladies room to calm down.

I emerged a half hour later, strengthened by desperate outreach calls to my understanding recovery friends. Following their advice, I went straight into the auditorium, sat down near the front and went into a meditative healing trance. I don't know how many minutes went by, but after a while I felt a strong tap on my shoulder. It was my daughter Chenelle, fresh from a "how to become a clown" class. She brought three of her friends with her, and all of them were wearing those bright red clown noses. I laughed as I hugged all of them. It was better than what the doctor ordered. They were joined by my sister, my daughter Clarissa and my grandson Xavier. My sense of relief was immediate.

I can't remember much of the reading, except my family and Chenelle's friends made an awful lot of noise with all the yelling and various clown noisemakers.

"You did good, Mommy!" Chenelle gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek before she took off with her friends to do some more clowning in downtown Sacramento. "You didn't look nervous at all."

If she had seen me earlier, she would have known better. But I didn't say anything. I enjoyed the rest of the readings, and took off with Clarissa, Xavier and Tam as soon as the event was over. On our way to the Clarissa's car, someone yelled out, "Angela, you need to get some of this cake!"

I just smiled and kept walking. Maybe later, after I have a lot more time in recovery, I'll know how to be sociable and maintain my abstinence around tempting food. But not now. I know when to fold 'em.

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