Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel



Speaking at AA was like jumping off the ten-meter diving board when he was a kid in Brisbane. When you looked down, you were riveted by sheer terror. Then, once you did the thing you’d climbed the ladder to do, it was a mix of relief and sheer exhilaration.

“This is my first meeting here in Melbourne; my first meeting in about three days. This is because I’ve been stuck in a plane for thirty hours straight. And I had to sit around at the airport in Singapore, which is clean but not much else.” A lady in the first row smiled.

“I haven’t been attending AA for long, but I’ve been a practising alcoholic since I was a teenager, really, which is about half my life. I’ve only been facing up to it for the last six months or so.

“It’s a really long story how I came to be here, and there’s a few different phases. I’ve had to swap one set of chemicals for another – one doctor told me I had to stop drinking because my organs were packing up one by one, and then the doctor in the hospital,” he temporarily winced at his choice of word, feeling it the way you feel a pothole in a car when driving at speed, “gave me another set that he told me I wouldn’t be able to live without.”

He looked down at the lectern and let momentum carry him forward. Talking is just like falling – thankfully, once you start, you can’t stop.

“I was living in London. I went over there on a working holiday,” said Pat slowly, grounding his talk in the basic facts of where and why. “I left Australia where I wasn’t doing much, other than drinking and fighting.

“My mates were smoking a lot of dope, but that wasn’t for me. It didn’t do for me what alcohol did. And I guess that’s a big part of being an alcoholic; you start drinking and it just takes you over. Possesses you.” He raised his head to directly address his listeners for the first time.

“Some people think you drink because you’ve got problems, but that’s only part of it. Alcohol does something to you that it doesn’t do to other people.” He heard murmured assent and scattered laughter of the rueful kind. Draga nodded and smiled.

“I had a pretty nasty moment of clarity,” he began again, finding the momentum to speak. “There had been plenty of warnings, but I managed to ignore all of those. Once,” he began, laughing a little, “I blacked out in London and woke up in Devon, wandering around the train station.

“It’s pretty weird to think there are parts of your life that you weren’t there for,” he said. “At least when you’re in a coma, your body’s lying in a bed with people watching it, under supervision. When you black out, Christ knows what you’re doing with yourself.”

Hearty laughter this time, from everybody.

“You know, this is how bad it got. I used to go around at closing time and skoll the pints that people had left over. Warm beer that had been sitting there, for hours. I used to go around with a glass and pour whatever was left into it. It’d be this warm, frothy mess, but I didn’t care. I drank it anyway.

“I came down with a terrible cold. I went to the doctor, told him what I was doing there – I was a hundred and forty kilos, like a big, fat walrus – and he immediately asked how old I was. He listened to my chest, took a blood test and told me to come back a few days later.

“When I went back, he folded his hands on the desk, frowned at me and said, ‘Your organs are packing up, one by one. If you keep drinking like this, you’re going to be dead in nine months to a year.’ As I remember, I thought that was pretty scary. So I went back to the pub and got drunk.”

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