At the height of my photography career, when most of my social interactions were with people in the fashion and entertainment industries, I'd get calls about three times a year that started with the phrase, “I've quit drinking, we need to talk.”
It was an honor to be included in such a personal journey, but it was also mildly confusing. These calls weren't coming from close friends, they were from acquaintances I barely knew. Nevertheless, I made their atonement list, so I settled in and listened to their confession.
One person, I'll call him Reed, apologized for letting a year go by without sending a check he promised for an urgent headshot I photographed that he needed for a TV audition. Reed, in a new found state of total honesty, told me I wasn’t getting that check anytime soon because his extra cash was going to recovery.
Another person, I'll call him Chuck, apologized for not covering his portion of a hefty West Hollywood bar tab two years ago. Chuck darted outside to “take a call” just as the check arrived, and never came back. I figured an emergency came up, and it would all work out the next time we got together.
I thanked Chuck for remembering and told him he could treat me to breakfast. We could catch up over coffee and pancakes. He responded saying that all his extra cash was going to his recovery, and his extra time nowadays was spent at a strip mall church somewhere on La Cienega Boulevard. He wished me and my heathen lifestyle well.
As these calls of contrition came my way I thought it best to emulate the demeanor of the Catholic priests from my parochial school upbringing who sat the other side of the confessional screen: Listen silently and nod every once in a while (even though the conversations were by phone).
The transgressions never struck me as particularly criminal. All the instances had been long forgotten by me. But to the person on the path to sobriety, atonements are important steps to move forward. I respected them. That is until I got a call from an ex-girlfriend.
It started the same: “Hi there. I've stopped drinking, we need to talk.”
We had broken up ten years earlier after only nine months together. The biggest challenge was living 200 miles from each other. So it was love, but not one that could endure a three hour commute. During the past decade we had probably seen each other in person twice and maybe talked once every other year on the phone.
I lauded her decision to stop drinking and settled in to listen. She proceeded to tell me that while we were dating–but apart in our respective cities–she would get drunk at a her local bar and make out with other men.
I could have gone my whole life never knowing that.
The conversation left me preoccupied for months: was I exceedingly naïve or ridiculously blind. She called me a year later wondering if we could get together for lunch. I told her my extra cash was going to therapy and I was considering joining a strip mall church on La Cienega Boulevard.