Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
of us have had our lives touched in some way by the disease of
addiction. Be it a loved one, friend, family member or even ourselves
no one is immune to the impact of this devastating illness. This story
is dedicated to all of those people, especially the ones who have found
recovery through the 12 step fellowship.
"Worried about that kid, he don't look good," Ted said as he brought the cup to his lips and sipped.
"Don't try to change the subject," Stew said, folding his arms at him.
Ted sighed and put the cup down. "He don't want to talk to me."
"You don't know unless you try."
Ted looked around the room, watching the family just coming in from church being seated by a smiling waitress as the counter-sitters gathered their coats to clear out before the rush started. "Change of shift," he smirked.
"Talk to me," Stew said, and tapped his finger on the table in an accusatory manner. "This is the work, Ted. You know you don't get a pass on this."
"Ok, geez," Ted grumbled, and shifted in the seat. "Isn't there a loophole to this one? That whole 'unless it would hurt them' or some shit?"
"It's 'except when to do so would injure them or others', yeah- but that's not what this is."
"You're a regular encyclopedia, aren't you?"
"It's the big book, not the encyclopedia and you know it just as well as I do." Stew gave him a stern look and waited.
Ted tore up the empty sugar packet he'd been turning over in his fingers and threw it on the plate with drying ketchup and half-finished hash browns. He opened his mouth to speak, another protest making its way out and then stopped, sighing.
"He's your son. He needs you," Stew added, gently.
"Needed, past tense. It does him no goddamned good for me to be there now. What the hell would I even say, anyway? 'Hey, it's your dad. Sorry I been a fall-down drunk your whole life but I stopped shoving booze down my throat and I thought we could, oh, I-don't-know, hang out'? Yeah." His voice had an almost sing-song quality to it which made the whole announcement that much more acrid.
"Anger's good. Anger'll push you where you need to be pushed. You just gotta use it," Stew said. "Be pissed at yourself for getting here and use it to get yourself out."
"You say it like it's so goddamned simple," Ted said, and leaned his head into his hand, rubbing his temples.
"Simple? You want me to tell you about my ex-wife again?" he asked, raising a bushy eyebrow at him.
"No, no- I get it." He leaned back against the bench and watched the family that had come in. A young boy with skinny arms was holding a glass of milk with his two hands, blowing bubbles with the straw. The knobby elbows on the table were his, but the action was all too familiar.
Suddenly the memory hit him like a blow. Life-times ago when he was still spending most of his days at the bottom of a bottle. He'd heard the bubble pop and lashed out, his hangover-induced migraine making the sound grind in his ear drums.
"Knock it off," he'd yelled, and swung an arm at the glass. It flew out of the small hands and slid off the table, the glass shattering on the floor.
Cole- only a child then- had looked at him with wide, frightened eyes, stunned by the sudden attack.
Ted had watched as the tears started to form. He hated himself too much to give in, so he'd yelled some more, demanding he clean it up. Cole had slid off the chair and knelt over the mess, his tiny fingers gripping the piece of glass and cradling it in his hands as he tiptoed to the garbage. He'd sat there, watching him and hating him for looking so much like his mother as he moved.
"Where'd you go?" Stew asked, jarring him out of it. He looked into his eyes with that earnest gaze of his and Ted wilted.
"I don't see how he can possibly forgive me," Ted said, his voice soft and tired.
"You're not asking for forgiveness. You're offering an apology. There's a difference." Stew stopped, noticing the growing din as more people filed in. "We better go."
He dug out his wallet and threw another bill on the table. "Just call him," he said, giving his best directive depth of tone.
Ted nodded at him.