Validation

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validation after drug and alcohol rehabilitation

There I am on the side of my bed, hunched over my legs, as my fingers twist and pull. I stand up to get a full view, complete with my new shoes. I wonder, “Will she notice the shoes?” No, it’s probably just me who stares at the ground all the time. Face-to-face is hard to face sometimes.

I hadn’t been this nervous since I last entered detox; yet, to my own surprise, I made the plans with minimal awkwardness or stuttering. It happened a couple days ago, when I ran into her at the grocery store for the second time in a week. I was able to successfully connect my thoughts to words, and use them in sentences. I had learned that she, too, was in recovery.

I grab my keys and check the mirror on my way out. I wink at my reflection. It is the twilight transition from day to night, and the mood feels mellow. I glance in the rearview mirror to verify that I look good. I adjust the mirror back to the traffic and turn onto her street. Approaching her door, I see a doorbell, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve used one. I like to be certain, so I thump on the wood with a couple firm knocks. The door opens.

“Hi, you must be Emily’s roommate,” I greet. “Yes, I am Samantha. Come on in.”

I step in, looking down at my shoes one last time before I remind myself that eye contact is more important than surveying the ground. They have a very nice, clean house, I think to myself, and then recite the comment aloud, remembering that compliments are important for first impressions.

The roommate thanks me and offers me something to drink. I think for a bit too long on the decision. Simple, trivial things like this always put me at crossroads of what looks best or is the politest to choose and if any offense might be taken if I say “no, thanks.” I decide on water and sit on the couch.

Emily appears from the hallway. I get up and greet her with a hug. She looks very attractive and seems excited. This combination hits my nerves and motivates me to continue to try to impress.

“Give me one minute; I’m almost ready,” she says, heading back down the hallway.

I daydream a little of being allowed down that same hallway at the tail end of the date. She allows me into her room, and I take off these damn shoes while she helps with the rest. I curb these thoughts and return back to the present with a sip of water and a deep, stomach-rising breath.

I do well relating with her roommate on small talk topics like Mexican food and trying to find work we would love. Emily returns from her room shortly thereafter. I help her with the front door, and a few moments later I open the passenger car door for her. She thanks me and smiles, and I close the door with gentle force. While walking around to the driver’s side, I praise myself for remembering chivalry.

‘Just be yourself.’ I’m nervous, but I honestly believe this phrase. The idea of “myself” has had its doubts in the past, but I am more comfortable with that “self” now, so I continue with it.  Soon, my nerves are settling and the conversation flows.

We arrive at the high-end movie theatre a good half an hour before the movie begins. I find the parking lot, and we walk together, close and at a slow, getting-to-know-each-other type of pace. I’ve been working on this, as I have the habit of walking at a fast, nonsocial pace, a trait I surely picked up from my dad. As kids, he used to leave my brothers and me in the dust.

Once inside, I pay for the tickets and work on racking up more brownie points. The smell of buttered popcorn and the sound of CO2 dispensing sodas remind me to offer my date a snack. She orders a soda and some sour candy; I order a soda as well and some popcorn. I’m not a fan of popcorn, but I don’t want to seem weird.

We comment on the beer selection behind the counter as I pay for our snacks. Beer served in a movie theater is interesting to us. Or maybe it caught our attention because at a nervous time like this, at least for me, a cold one sure would be nice. I shake the thought.

We talk a little during the Coca Cola and dentist advertisement previews to the previews. I can tell she likes me, but I need further validation. I shoot for it. I tease her about her teeth being horribly yellow, timing it well with the local dentistry advertisement on the screen. She “oh my Gods” me in an embarrassed, high pitch voice and follows that with a pretty hard slap on my shoulder. I see her pretty, white smile as she looks away. The movie sucks, and I mean it is no thumbs, no stars, absolutely terrible. Toward the predictable end, I begin to worry that the quality of the movie will reflect on the quality of our date.

Roll credits. Thank you, God!  I think.

She grips my arm. “Oh, my God, wasn’t that a great movie!”

“Oh, goodness, wasn’t it!?” I thankfully respond. She coils her arm through mine as we leave the theatre. The gesture has me feeling gentlemanly and positive. I quickly forget about the horrible movie. Walking, feeling smooth, Emily on my arm, I feel inside my pocket, remembering next to my movie ticket stub was a crisp parking slip in need of validation. This process is particularly rare for me in that I have not been authorized to operate a motor vehicle for quite some time. I seek the usher for the validation.

I take the validated parking slip back, and walk hurriedly away, feeling a surge of excitement and pleasure. My shoes stand out more than ever. I immediately assume Emily didn’t know how to comment on them because they are so unfitting for the rest of my attire and the occasion in general. Why had I not worn my old Vans? I also begin to think I need validation beyond a $3 parking fee waiver.

I slow my thinking and register the idea that, since going through treatment and being newly in recovery, some words will always seem strange. I also realize at this point that I have stopped walking and am standing in the middle of the theatre thinking about this. I snap out of it, and Emily comes back into focus.

“Sorry, had to validate the parking,” I explain. She nods with a bit of confusion and we head back to the car. As we approach the car, she stops and examines my car. She steps back and crosses her arms,
“Well . . .  you did park absolutely perfectly here.” I smile at her comment with seriousness. She laughs as I head over to open the passenger side door for her.

Todd Hirt grew up in Salinas, California, and moved two years ago to Prescott, Arizona, to seek help for substance abuse where he now works for an addiction treatment facility. Writing has become an essential tool in sustaining his recovery.
Thathirt@gmail.com

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