The Walk of Shame From The Other Side

By Kristen McGuiness 12/05/14

Walking my dog, I saw the all too real ghost of the girl I used to be . . . .

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It’s a Sunday morning when I see her—9:30am. It’s unusually warm for a Sunday morning in October, but I still wear a sweatshirt to walk my dog, Peter. We are alone on the streets as my sleepy gentrifying neighborhood begins to rise. I don’t live in a party neighborhood. I am nowhere near a bar or a club or any other place that the kids would consider cool these days. Most of my neighbors are retired or working class or first-time homeowners, which is perhaps what makes her appearance so startling.

I know that shame is a dish best eaten alone.

She is a good 50 feet in front of me when she emerges from a non-descript home on the less gentrified street of our little enclave. She is wearing a black sleeveless shirt and short black hot pants with cherry red Doc Martens. She is carrying a black evening bag. I can tell by her short asymmetrical hair cut and her darting eyes that she is not a hooker. No, she is a party girl in her late twenties doing the walk of shame.

Peter stops to pee and I watch as she scurries down the street, trying to figure out her location. Her cellphone is probably dead by now, no GPS to guide, and we are nowhere near a payphone or bus stop or even a donut shop strip mall for her to get her bearings. She looks back and sees me, sensing someone behind her. I want to call to her but she grips her bag tighter and moves faster away, perhaps afraid that I might offer to help (which I would) or afraid that I am going to steal her bag (the less likely of probabilities).

She moves down the block, and though I wish I was closer to home to get in my car and go find her, I know that it would make it worse. I know the feeling of waking up in a strange bed in a strange house in a strange neighborhood with no car or phone. And I know that shame is a dish best eaten alone.

The girl is gone now but her memory lingers, because she wasn’t just any girl, she was me. Only ten years ago, I too was scurrying down streets clutching last night’s bag, wondering why I kept ending up in places I didn’t belong. I wondered why I couldn’t just go to the bar like everyone else and get silly, happy drunk, and head home with my friends to get jalapeño poppers from Jack in the Box along the way. Why couldn’t I wake up in my own bed with a slight hangover and the desire for brunch rather that utter demoralization? Why couldn’t I just be normal?

As Peter and I turn the corner towards home, it hits me how far away I am now from that girl. Though my husband and I might still retain the memories and survival skills from far rougher days, for all intents and purposes, we couldn’t be more normal…or at least, normal-ish. We are both fully-employed, we live in a three-bedroom house, our cars are both registered and insured, we are both registered and insured, we’re pregnant, and we have a dog. In fact, we have a lab, which pretty much balances out any weird quirks that extend from our questionable sanities.

But we are the daytime transformations of our once nighttime selves. I don’t go for walks of shame anymore, I go for walks with my dog. And my heart breaks for the pain of that poor girl who I know is now continuing to wander through Eagle Rock in search of some sign of home.

Ten years ago, I found that sign. A therapist (finally) recognized that I might have a problem. She suggested I go to meetings for this problem. And because I was going through a breakup, and she was the last living being on the planet who wasn’t tired of hearing about him yet, I agreed.

And in that first meeting, I sat down and realized, holy shit, I am not normal. But I also realized I was home. It took me a bit longer to entirely surrender, and I remember one of those last nights of wreckage, albeit one where I managed to stick with my friends and wake up on a familiar couch and not in an unfamiliar bed. My friend Trevor explained it best to me, “Kristen, we’re okay with this life. It fits us. But you want more than this, I know you do, and you will never get it as long as you keep partying.”

With that, we went back to the drinking and drugging, but his words weren’t lost in the never-ending night. I wanted this life, the one I have now. I wanted the husband and the house and the dog and the daughter. Because the mornings of dragging my weary body down strange streets weren’t a fit at all. That wasn’t who I was. It was the consequence of a disease that I was just beginning to realize I had.

Not long after that night, I got sober for the first time in March 2005. Our baby Ella is due this March 2015, 10 years after her mother decided that she didn’t want to be the girl doing the walk of shame. She wanted to be the woman walking her dog.

There are days when my husband and I still feel like we’ve emerged from a blackout. Where the people we were feel like they're out of someone else’s story and not directly connected to our own, but then you go for a walk with your Labrador Retriever on a sunny Sunday morning and the reflection is clear. This is who you were and this is who you’ve become, and the willingness and the surrender and the dark moments of wondering whether any of it was worth it become overwhelming.

I hope that girl got home okay that day. I’m sure she did. We usually do. She took a long, hot shower, and ordered a pizza and crawled into bed to watch House Hunters International. And maybe the next weekend, she followed her friends home for fast food and a safer night, but it probably won’t be long before another rough weekend appears. Before she wakes up in a strange neighborhood, gripping her bag, and hustling away from the clean and friendly woman taking her dog for a walk. I hope she sees her reflection, knowing that’s the life she deserves, and tries to figure out how to get it.

I can only hope that she does.

Kristen McGuiness has been a regular contributor to The Fix since 2011. She last wrote about ten addiction movies you have never seenShe is the author of 51/50: The Magical Adventures of a Single Life

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