Wendy Blackburn
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Buy *Beachglass* by Wendy Blackburn online

Wendy Blackburn
St. Martin's Press
336 pages
May 2006
rated 5 of 5 possible stars
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Delia's best friend Timothy is dying of AIDS, so she knows she must fly to West Hollywood to be with him. It was almost ten years ago when they made that first "no matter what" pact at the rehab center - no matter what happened, they would always be there for each other.

It has been over ten years since Delia last used drugs and alcohol. Now she is a thirty-year-old mother and a wife, living a sensible life in Seattle. But Timothy was her first soulmate, part of her "homeland," so back she must go to Los Angeles "where brown filth choked the earth and stunted its growth with a film of polluted dust and stillness."

Everything Delia has experienced in life has prepared and strengthened, even toughened her for Timothy's final goodbye. Yet when she arrives and sees her friend ravaged by disease, she feels as though there is a tug-of-war going on inside of her: "although my body lays along side Timothy's, my inner compass points north to my husband Simon and my daughter Clara."

Delia spends her days attending to Timothy's needs, the routine of pills and the efforts to bathe him. She even reconnects with her old flame James from her Alcoholics Anonymous days. But the encounter re-ignites subversive passions, and she begins to reflect on those early days of addiction and recovery, those first few years of sobriety where "everything had been stripped away."

Delia first met Timothy when her parents packed her off to the drug and alcohol unit of the local hospital. Timothy's lover had just died of AIDS, while Delia had been using one chemical or another since she was eleven years old. Perhaps she learned it from her alcoholic father, or perhaps she felt responsible for the early death of her twin brother.

Whatever the case, Delia had grown into a hard, devious and sullen teenager, a girl who was "bitter and fragile and calloused all at once." Through her friendship with Timothy, Delia learned to change and grow, to learn about faith and rebuild her spirit; their closeness is the core and the foundation, the "time and place we became inextricably welded together."

Delia's first weeks of sobriety are recounted in vivid detail - the family meetings, the self-assertion courses, and the realization that this group of strong-minded emotionally brittle people are all addicts. Delia feels a mixture of relief and terror at her discovery, but as AA becomes her anchor she achieves a type of divine clarity that comes with retrospection.

Delia's journey of sobriety is constantly threatened to become undone. She always fights the temptation, the persistent voice talking into her ear, encouraging her to use again: the "anesthesia would be lovely" and "no one would know." But she knows that there is no curveball that life can throw her; she must go through those things sober, resolute that there is nothing she can't handle.

Delia is forced into the necessary changes to get her life back on track, and she ends up questioning her most basic assumptions and motives, the true nature of her addictions and the capacity to forgive and heal the pain. The irony is that as an addict she receives all kinds of gifts - liberation, gratitude, fellowship, responsibility, courage, love, and many new friends who end up orbiting her life.

Drawing upon her experiences as a dependency councilor, author Wendy Blackburn writes a compelling account of those afflicted with the disease of drug and alcohol addiction. Delia's growth and emotional restoration is flawlessly engraved in time; her passage of memory is captured in stunning images and deeply effective symbolism.

Beachglass is the bits of tumbled glass you find in the sand - so easily considered trash jewelry - yet just like the drunks that Blackburn writes of, beachglass is always salvageable, sometimes even transcendent.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2006

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