A secret addiction

X-ray of broken finger 

You know how it is when you are waiting with your child to see his doctor. You look around at the other children in the waiting room and you thank God that your child’s ailments are relatively minor, all things considered.

That was the situation today while I was sitting with my son at Columbia-Presbyterian Babies Hospital. He had an appointment with an orthopedist to make sure that the bone of his left middle finger was healing properly. It wasn’t, but compared to the two adolescents with atrophied legs and the various infants with as-yet undisclosed orthopedic conditions, his problem is the type that, I hope, physical therapy or outpatient surgery can correct.

One of the physician assistants called out my son’s name and two other younger boys responded too. Suddenly, a freemasonry of sorts sprang up among the three mothers who had named their sons Max. One of the women in particular — the one not chasing after two stroller-aged children — began chatting with me. As is the wont of some women in hospital waiting rooms, we soon were talking about our domestic and working lives.

She wanted to know where I worked and for whom, where I lived and if Max was my only child. It didn’t take long for her to discover that I had begun raising Max alone when he was thirteen months old.

“I may be getting divorced soon too,” she said in a whisper. “Is your son close to his father?”

Very close, I said. I asked what her circumstances were.

She is married to a lovely guy, as sweet and kind as they come. She lifted an eyebrow and I thought she meant he was gay.

“He has a chronic addiction that makes it impossible for me to see a future with him,” she said.

When my son got up to see the doctor, the woman mentioned her husband’s addiction again.

“I can’t go into it because of him,” she said. She nodded in the direction of her four-and-a-half year old Max.

“Can you say what substance he’s abusing?” I asked.

“It’s not a substance,” she said.

“Does he gamble?”


“Ah,” I said.

She nodded.

“He e-mails me off and on all day. He says he wants to because he’s always thinking about me. But then, from noon to twelve-thirty — he hires women.”

In case I didn’t understand, she said in a hushed voice, “For sex.”

“Can he get help?”

“I’m not sure he wants help,” she said. “Sometimes I think I’ll just adapt to the situation. Maybe if I take off this weight — ”

She made a sweeping motion with her hand toward her chubby waistline.

“You’d never believe that I studied acting in college,” she said. “I used to be thin.”

Somehow I don’t think the loss of thirty pounds is going to wean the guy off his erotic interlude.

One more hurried question: “Did you ever meet anyone?” she asked.

I told her I didn’t. I shared my scarcity theory with her.

“The man I might have married didn’t get born,” I said. “The children of my parents’ generation were killed, so the children that should have been born to them simply weren’t.” She looked despondent, so I said the demographics for women in her generation — late thirties — were better.

“He and my son are close too,” she said.

“You can get an apartment near his,” I said. “It doesn’t have to be acrimonious.”

While we were talking, the waiting room had begun to empty out. Now it began filling up again with parents and patients leaving their appointments with prescriptions and referrals in hand. The mothers, one Italian-American, the other from the islands, stood beside the adolescent boys with the atrophied legs and promised to stay in touch. A much younger and fiercer child, five or six at the most, wheeled himself like a Special Olympics athlete to the elevator bank before his mother could grab hold of his wheelchair. A ruddy faced man, who seemed at first to distance himself from a large, ungainly girl in a wheelchair, put his arms around her and kissed her. An Indian girl with braces on both legs somehow managed to leap like a sprite and wished everyone goodbye. The able-bodied all held onto the books and water bottles that their children couldn’t carry and ushered them back to lives where deformity is protected and cherished.

My nineteen-and-a-half year old Max shook the hand of the four-year-old Max. I couldn’t see anything wrong with either one of them.


Create a word cloud of my text.



  1. Janet said

    I like hearing about your day in this way Barbara. I totally get it.

  2. Diane said

    Brook, I really enjoy reading your blog posts! Hope Max’s finger is ok.


  3. Dark Prince said

    I missed it — what was his secret?

  4. Carol said

    Just like a certain governor of New York? Thanks for a good read, Barbara!

  5. Amy said

    Really really great, Barbara! THanks!

  6. Edie said

    Another thoughtful and well written essay, Brook. It seems unfair to call it a blog.

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