A Tale of Susannah — Desperately Seeking Sanity


At 31 Susannah had it all.  She was beautiful, a tall woman with long naturally curly auburn hair, beautiful wide-set eyes, and a smile that immediately engaged anyone towards whom it was directed.  She had graduated from Wellesley College magna cum laude and at the delicate age of 20.  From there she continued her education within the ivy covered walls of Harvard University.  She was not contented with being good.  At Harvard she had become editor of the law review after a summer clerking for a justice at the Massachusetts Supreme Court.  And at the age of 23, on a particular hot day in early June, she joined 6500 other students in the Harvard Yard to receive her doctor of jurisprudence.  And that, a day that should have been the culmination of her greatest success, seemed, at least to Susannah, a sad day, if not a failure of a day.

That early Thursday morning as she and her fellow law students gathered in one of the law buildings, started as a grand day for Susannah.  Her mother had promised to phone her as soon as she and her father found their seats with the other 10,000 guests who crowded the college’s gates at 7 that morning.  It was just before 8 and her mother had no yet called so Susannah called her.  After her mother answered, and when they had briefly chatted, Susannah had asked her mother to put “daddy” on.  Her mother went quiet, mumbled a bit, and then told Susannah that her father had “not been able to make it.”

It was at that moment Susannah questioned her entire life up to that moment.  She had spent her entire life thus far desperately trying to please her father.  He had always said how proud he was of her.  She thought back to how he had seldom been able to attend her basketball games when she was in high school, how he had been suddenly “called away” when she had graduated from both high school and Wellesley, and now this.  Her first instinct was to say “screw this” and leave the ceremony even before it started.   But she did love her mother and even as angry as she was with her father, she would not spoil the day for her mother.

But at that moment Susannah took mental leave from the morning’s ceremonies.  She did not hear Harvard’s president’s message or that of any of the other speakers of the day.  Instead she formulated a plan for her immediate future.  She had been offered, and accepted, a position as an associate at the 2nd largest law firm in New York.  Before 9 that morning she not only no longer wanted the position, she despised the idea of working for corporate America at any level.  But at her father’s insistence she had considered her future using that track and her personal doubts not withstanding, she knew she could succeed in that culture.  But it had not been what she wanted.  It was what her father wanted, and now all that was counterfeit.

It was Thursday, that graduation day, and Susannah promised herself that by the end of the next day she would not only resign her position in New York, but she would find a suitable replacement in Boston.  She decided that the suitable replacement job would be at the public defender’s office.  And that is exactly what she did.  The woman who ran the PD’s office, after a quick review of Susannah’s credentials and the incredulity she felt about Susannah’s seriousness for wanting the job, took her on, happily.

Her first year in the practice of law saw her succeed far beyond what her employer could have hoped.  In the process, Susannah had ingratiated herself to all she came in contact with.  Her boss had on any number of occasions suggested she talk to the partners who visited the sparse PD’s office seeking to hire Susannah away.  But she rebuffed all advances, never accepting a single interview, and seldom even seeing the partner who had ventured to see her.  She claimed, though her boss assured her she was wrong, that the hours for the PD’s office were far friendlier than any could expect at a top law firm.  And certainly there was far less pressure in the job.  Susannah obstinanancy became legendary in both her office and the legal community.  And not just because of her resisting being recruited, but her dogged determination before the bar.  She was oft heard to say that failure was unacceptable, never allowing that it was in fact inevitable.

On this morning, some eight years later, as Susannah awoke in her bed, and after she noticed the throbbing headache, she wondered, for the millionth time, why she was not happy.  She came from a well-to-do family that, at least on the outside, looked like they had it all.  She knew she was a pretty woman, although she doubted any man who described her as gorgeous, which she found curious at the regularity that such compliments happened.  She had long ago decided that such men wanted one thing and one thing only.  She knew they did not desire her for her mind.  And to that end, she had long ago decided that the only men she would go out with would be the ones she chose and never ones who chose her.

At that moment it hit her.  She needed a job, and that was the plan for the day, to find a new position.  She remembered how her job at the PD’s office had ended badly when she had failed to show at a 9AM bail hearing.  The defendant, a man who her boss felt had a strong case, had been remanded to jail and denied bail.  Susannah had apologized profusely to her boss explaining that an emergency the night before had kept her up quite late and she had slept through her alarm.  It was not a true story, but it was the best she could come up with at the moment.  Her boss, however, having heard one too many such excuses over the years, asked Susannah that she clean out her office that day.

Susannah had recovered well from that setback, she thought, as she landed a new job that same day at a fairly large law firm that specialized in tort claims.  When friends heard of this new job the questioned her working for an “ambulance chaser” but Susannah had vigorously defended the position noting that everyone was entitled to protection from unscrupulous insurance companies, companies who denied their employees worker’s compensation for disabilities incurred on the job.  She lasted there a little over two years and left, she always laughed to herself about this, when the firm refused to pay her disability after she had injured herself at the office one day, and tore her ACL in the process which kept her laid up for over a month.  The firm had let her go “for cause,” they said.   And while Susannah had admitted to having had a drink with her lunch that day, she categorically denied that she had been gone for nearly two hours and had returned to the office drunk.  But upon the advice of “her attorney,” she did not press or pursue the issue.

That had been her last job as a lawyer, and that had been almost two years ago.  She told her friends that the bad economy affected lawyers just like any other field, and that she was actively pursuing a promising job at a prestigious firm.  The truth was, there was no firm.  There were not even any prospects.  She was at present employed as a waitress at the Four Seasons Hotel restaurant in Boston’s posh Back Bay., and that had been almost two years ago.  She told her friends that the bad economy affected lawyers just like any other field, and that she was actively pursuing a promising job at a prestigious firm.  The truth was, there was no firm.  There were not even any prospects.  She was at present employed as a waitress at the Four Seasons Hotel restaurant in Boston’s posh Back Bay.  When her friends question her about this job, she claimed that she was seriously considering a job as a chef, and that it was something she had long considered doing.  But she had also told them she had long considered becoming a legal consultant, a software developer for law firms, and fifteen other jobs all of which were plausible, given her intelligence and education, but none of which had ever been something she had truly considered, or even wanted.

As these and other thoughts raced through her mind, her headache racked mind that morning, she tried to remember her plan for the day.  And when nothing came immediately to mind she rolled over to stroke her cat who invariably slept with her, only to find a man occupying the space her cat should have been in.  For a moment she could not for the life of her think of who this man was, and then she remember the night before, and in that memory came the reason for the horrendous headache.  She remembered the bar, the crush of other young people just like her, who were fully enjoying themselves.  She remembered going to the ladies room where she was startled to see a woman snorting a line of coke.  It had briefly shocked her, but she had not moved, and when the other woman took notice of her, had offered her a line of coke.  Susannah had never done cocaine but she had said to herself “what the hell” and tried it.  The tipsiness she had been feeling was immediately transformed into an alertness she loved.  And she had returned to the bar and renewed her effort to enjoy the evening and join in everyone’s festivities.  But she could not remember this man at that bar, or for that matter, ever having left the bar and what had happened afterward.

The thought immediately went through her mind, “never again!”  She promised herself right there and then that she would not drink that day and that she would hence force control her drinking so that incidents such as she was presently experiencing, would never again happen.  This was not the first time she had awakened next to such a man, nor the second or even the third, but she promised herself it absolutely would be the last.  She knew she was more than smart enough to overcome her present condition and all she had to do was resolve to herself to never drink like that again.  Or at least never touch cocaine again because, after all, that had been the agent that had allowed her to drink more than even she thought she could.

Susannah poked the man next to her.  She desperately wanted him out of her apartment.  He had been lying there with his back to her and when he turned towards her, she saw a man who was easily her father’s age.  At that moment she thought, “Oh God, not again.”  But her greatest surprise was yet to come.  When she asked the man to leave so she could start her day, he had informed her that she was in his apartment and any leaving that must be done would be on her part.  And that was followed by the information that not only was she not in Boston, but she was actually in one of the remote suburbs and the man had said he could not possibly take her back into town as he had to get to work himself.

It took seven phone calls to various friends before she found someone who was willing, though not happy, to retrieve her from her inconvenience.  On the drive home her friend, Sarah, had suggested to Susannah that she might have a drinking problem and that she might consider attending a 12 step meeting.  But Susannah had assured Sarah that she did not have any sort of a drinking problem, that she could stop anytime she wanted, and besides, she was just 31 years old and everyone knew you cannot be an alcoholic at so tender an age.

As soon as she got home Susannah surveyed her apartment.  Sure it was a studio apartment in Boston’s South End but it was “nice.”  What is lacked for direct sun light it more than made up for in character.  After she had showered she decided to make a plan to find a job that day, or within the week at least, that was worthy of her extensive talents.  Yes, she told herself, she did have extensive talents and any company would be lucky to have her.

As the morning turned to afternoon, a Susannah considered her lunch options as he looked over her refrigerator, she noted the half-full bottle of wine sitting next to the milk.

This time when Susannah woke up she immediately knew by the hardness of the bed that she was not in her apartment.  But when she turned over her relief that she was alone in the bed was immediately replaced by the stark realization of where she was, in a hospital bed.  It was at that moment that a nurse entered her room and said how nice it was that Susannah was awake as she had a number of questions for her.  It was the first question that most unnerved Susannah, however.  The nurse had inquired as to her name.  Noting Susannah confusion, the nurse explained that she had been brought into the emergency room without any sort of identification on her person.  She had wandered into the ER and had promptly collapsed.  She had remained unconscious since.

But then Susannah noted she was attached to an i.v. and a heart monitor and queried the nurse why this had been necessary.  The nurse related, to Susannah’s horror, that she had suffered heart failure.  She told Susannah, in an extremely matter-of-fact tone, that such things happened to alcoholics, even young ones.  Susannah responded by denying that she had any sort of an alcohol problem.  The nurse simply replied by telling Susannah to rest.

About an hour later the attending physician stopped by Susannah’s room to see how she was doing.  She suggested to Susannah that she might do well to go to a detox upon her discharge from the hospital.  This time when Susannah informed the doctor that she did not have a drinking problem she heard the doctor say words she found hard to believe.  The doctor, a woman about her own age, and certainly very good looking, informed Susannah that she was an alcoholic.  Susannah had responded by questioning how a young and obviously very successful doctor could possibly be an alcoholic.

The doctor had given, in Susannah’s mind, a most unacceptable response by saying that how she would be an alcoholic was irrelevant.  What was relevant was the fact that she could not drink in safety.  That when she took a single drink she never knew where that drink would lead.  But it was the final admission by the doctor that most surprised her.  The doctor related that not only had she suffered through a failed marriage because of her drinking, but that her license to practice medicine had been temporarily suspended and she had lost custody of her two children.

For Susannah, this was just the beginning but unfortunately it was not the end.

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