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.
Again Ted found himself sitting in the booth and again he felt uneasy. 'I should go for a walk outside, just get moving. I shouldn't drink so much coffee, makes me jittery. I should read chapter six again. I should take a damned vacation and just get the hell out of here...' his mind raced, jumping from thought to thought like a television on the fritz.
His hands followed suit, folding and tearing the empty sugar packets until a small pile of paper shavings amassed in front of his mug. When he'd exhausted the paper he turned to stacking the empty creamer cups, spreading droplets of white liquid and sugar crystals across the table.
"You need a refill, hon?" a horse voice asked him.
"Huh?" he startled, not knowing at first what had interrupted his frenzied mess-making.
"Your coffee- you need a refill?" she asked, waving the pot she held towards the mug in front of him.
"Wuh- uh, yeah- yeah, sure," he stammered, then tried to clean up the mess in front of him, embarrassed. He cupped a hand just under the lip of the table and began to sweep the sugar into it, apologizing as he did.
"Oh, don't worry about that- we'll get that," she said, shooing him away with her hand.
He paused and looked up at her, a sheepish grin on his face. She caught his eye and winked at him, not in a flirty way but just an expression kindness. He took her in fully for the first time. She had brown hair that had greyed at the temples and deep crows feet in her eyes from smiling so much. The name tag said 'Alice' and he found himself imagining a back story for her based on nothing more than the way she held the coffee pot. A single mom, with more strength than most. A stubborn independent. The kind of woman who'd shoot you down with a compliment that called you out on your deepest insecurity and laugh.
He could've sat there all day studying the lines of her face and assigning meaning to every gesture but the sound of the door opening distracted her and she looked up to watch the next patron come in. He followed her gaze and saw Stew on the other side of the glass door.
His hand slid off the handle as the door hit his shoe and bounced back. He saw rather than heard him curse through the glass and reach again, yanking the door open with a loud 'whooshing' sound. He slipped in, scanned the booths along the side, spotted Ted in his usual spot and stepped forward. The tie of his trench coat caught in the gap as it closed and stuck, pulling him backward with a jolt. He turned and yanked at the tie, cursing as he did and growing more furious in his movements. The plastic buckle caught on the other side and he grew so frustrated in his futile movements that he threw his entire body sideways into the door, knocking it open and pulling the tie inside. He jumped back into the diner, pulling his coat in with a wave and a loud, exasperated 'ugh'.
As he turned to Ted his face held a scowl and a look of rage so full it eclipsed his face in red.
"You ok, there?' Alice asked, raising an eyebrow at him as he approached.
Stew said nothing but threw himself down on the bench seat across from Ted. "Coffee," he growled.
She left to retrieve a mug and Ted inserted himself into the wait.
"Oh, thank God you're having a bad day- I would've lost my shit if you came in here all zen recovery master."
"Why the hell are we sitting here?" Stew asked, shooting Ted a look that would have drained the life out of him if he'd held it too long.
"What do you mean?" Ted asked, cocking his head to the side in question.
"I mean you sit here every friggin time- right in the middle of everything. There's too many goddamned people around," Stew emphasized the words with a wave at the patrons sitting at the long counter across with them.
"Here you go, sweetie," Alice said, returning with a mug full of the hot brown gold. "Take a load off and I'll be back to take your order in a sec, ok?"
"I don't want to sit here," Stew said after she'd retreated again. Rather than waiting for Ted to respond he picked up his mug, stood and walked away, heading to the back of the large room.
Ted looked after him, shocked for a second, then sighed and followed with his own mug in tow.
"What the heck was that all about?" Ted asked as he re-seated himself across from Stew in a new booth at the back of the restaurant. He looked around at the new layout and immediately disliked it. Back here, adjacent from the bathrooms and out of site of the long line of windows he felt uneasy, cold and irritated. "I don't like it back here."
"Tough shit, this is where we're sitting," Stew spat at him, angrily ripping off his coat and throwing it on the bench next to him. "I want to talk, not teach and if we sit at the windows we gotta teach. Scott or Jess or Nicky will show up askin' questions and I don't have that shit in me today."
"Ok," Ted said, taking the hint and shutting up.
Stew readied his coffee, pouring a creamer in and stirring. Ted let him sip and watched some of the tension drain from his shoulders as he swallowed. He waited until he leaned back against the bench seat in a decidedly less aggressive manner and then ventured an opening line.
"So, I'm guessing this isn't just a first year-thing since you've got a long while on me."
"What's not a first-year thing?" Stew asked without looking at him.
"Homicide-what? Oh, you mean the hissy fit. No, no it's not."
"So me wanting to kill everyone isn't a deeply rooted character defect that I missed in my inventory?"
"Nope, 'fraid not," he answered, taking another sip of the warm, calming liquid and closing his eyes in exaggerated bliss.
"Why afraid?" Ted asked.
"Cause if it was something in your inventory you'd be working on it, maybe be able to change it. But this? Losing your freakin' mind just from the sheer weight of living? That shit doesn't go away, no matter how long you stay sober. Or so Lou tells me," Stew said, shrugging at him.
"Oh. Well, that does suck."
"Yup." And this time Stew smiled at him, but in a decidedly wry manner.