She was the first person I got to know well in AA who had come from a violent, criminal background.
When I was new she had probably 8 or 9 years sober, and when she told her story it was riveting -- hilarious and terrifying by turns. Miss Bobbie loved AA and had earned her seat in spades. Alcohol, heroin, mental institutions -- when she took a birthday cake she used to crow "No more paper slippers!" and laugh and laugh. (Someone had to explain to me that paper slippers were what they wore at the mental hospital where she used to stay. Hmmm ... "stay" makes it sound like a Bed and Breakfast. How about ... "reside." Though "be incarcerated" is actually the most accurate I suppose.)
When she spoke about the depths to which alcoholism dragged her, living practically like an animal, actually looking forward to stints in prison so she could get a little rest, she would go on to talk about how the 12 Steps and sobriety had given her dignity, (it sounded italicized when she said it) and her head would come up a little, and you never saw a woman more grand, in the best sense of the word. Later in my first year, when a man got up to share, his face covered in Kaposi's Sarcoma sores (this was the mid '80's, when it was very bad, and about to get worse), he talked about having to take the bus back and forth to his doctor's appointments, and how he would remember Bobbie speaking of having dignity, when he walked down the aisle of the bus, and people shied away, understandably afraid, and how thinking of her share gave him the courage to get on the bus every day, head high. It was one of the first times I witnessed how honestly sharing what it was like, what happened, and what it's like now can connect us in a vast network of healing and inspiration found in no other place I know of.
When I was new, Bobbie didn't have a car, and my sponsor was very big on me getting into service right away (smart man) and so I wound up giving Bobbie rides to AA meetings.
The first time I pulled up in front of her apartment, I sat and considered what kind of music I should tune the radio to so that I could impress her. That was a regular shtick of mine -- before turning the car off I would change the station to something I thought would make you think better of me, so when we got back in the car and I started the engine it sounded as though that's what I had been listening to when I pulled up. Such a sad, frightened fraud of a boy I was... sometimes I think having untreated alcoholism is like being a bonsai tree -- sure, you still grow -- life happens, after all -- but you grow with terrible, implacable things binding you, so that your growth is twisted and dwarfed. At the time falsehood and subterfuge was my best thinking on how to make a good impression.
At first, driving Miss Bobbie was terrifying. Literally larger than life (she was a woman of healthy appetites, in every regard. She liked to share that she loved men with, as she put it, "Great. Big. Belt buckles!" and out would come that enormous laugh, so tickled by herself she was) here was a woman who regularly stood up and told the truth! In front of a room full of people! And then usually shared some kind of solution from what AA suggested! I didn't even know what was going on with me half the time, let alone have the ability to articulate it ... and share a solution? Beyond beyond me.
So I was nervous and intimidated by this sober Force of Nature sitting in the car next to me (it dipped a little when she got in -- healthy appetites). Naturally, because of my nerves and my newness, I filled the air with chatter, and of course, it was all chatter about myself:
"Oh, Miss Bobbie, I just love when you share, you know, I've heard you talk about some food stuff, maybe I should go to OA, and, you know, that book 'Co-Dependant No More' just came out, and maybe, you know, I should check that out, and then, you know, I have stuff with ... and then there's ... but I also ..."
She was kind, and let me go on for quite a bit. Finally, though she must have had enough, and cut through all my nattering with advice that may well have saved my life.
AA is not founded on advice, but on the sharing of experience. At the same time, every so often I have found the Universe gives you your cue, and that night, in that car, Miss Bobbie must have heard hers, and I'll always be grateful she took it.
"HONEY," she said, quite forcefully, to stem the flood of my babble, "Honey ... let me ask you," and she moved her hair up and away from her face, like she always did, "what Program aren't you qualified for?"
Well that was a bit of a shocker, I didn't have an answer to that one. She went on.
"Why don't you get through all 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous -- you make AA your number one and only -- and then, when you're through all 12 Steps, with one foot firmly planted in AA you can go off and explore all these other programs and issues and get whatever other help you might need -- but all that other stuff won't do spit for you if you're drunk."
Sometimes, you just need someone to give a hard yank on the rope, ya know?
We became close, over the years, and I marveled at her journey and her recovery, as many pitfalls as any of us, some by her own hand, some just a rough toss of the dice.
And she remained sober, and lived with dignity, till the end of her days, and I will always be grateful for that strong, smart simple direction she gave me on the way to the meeting that night.
A great, grand, bawdy, sober broad.