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.
"So why are you homicidal?" Stew asked, eyes still closed.
"Oh, I don't know. Could be the weather, could be the fact that I've been calling my son for a month now and still haven't heard his voice, could be just a Thursday- who knows?"
"You're feeling trapped, I get it," Stew said, rolling his head forward and eyeing him slanted.
"Yeah, that's a good way of puttin it. Trapped, kind-of squirrelly."
"Well, that means it's time for plan B," Stew said, taking another swig of coffee and gulping it down.
"There's a plan B? Why the hell didn't we try that a month ago?" Ted asked, indignant at the knowledge that he could've stopped the infuriating activity sooner.
"Oh, shit," Stew said, looking over his shoulder. He slipped down in the bench, his shirt making a squeaking noise as it rubbed against the plastic upholstery, and ducked his head.
Ted strained his neck to see what caused him to want to hide, then sighed a tired sound.
Across the restaurant Scott had come in with two peers in tow. He had spotted them after searching the periphery and was now waving excitedly, his shirt raising above his belt and revealing the soft belly underneath.
Ted watched with pain growing behind his eyes as Scott approached and brought his mug to his lips to occupy his mouth and prevent it from saying the things he was thinking.
"Hey guys- see, I told you they'd be here," Scott said, waving a hand towards the two of them as if showing them as part of a tour. The two men behind him looked as if they might be on a tour what with the level of detached, easily distractible observation. One of them had the unmistakable pallor of someone who had spent a long time in bed without the benefit of sunlight. He had a death grip on his elbows and the fingers grasping each limb were bony, the knuckles white. Ted guessed he couldn't be more than 20 years old and for a moment forgot about how angry he was at the interruption and instead felt sad.
The other must have been close to Ted's age and showed the normal wear and tear from a longer time in the trenches- the swelled gut, the nearly purple nose, the perpetual scowl forcing his brow to shadow the rest of his face. He looked around the restaurant as if scanning for a escape and Ted got the impression he might turn on a heel and leave at any second. He disliked him instantaneously for reminding him of himself.
"Jim, Ryan- this is Ted and his sponsor Stew. Guys, this is Jim and Ryan," he waved his arms back and forth in a gesture of offering and then without waiting for an invitation sat down next to Ted, shoving him over.
Ted had to resist the urge to shove him right back and couldn't help but tense as he slid further in and situated himself against the wall there.
"So, to what do we owe this unexpected visit?" Stew asked, failing to keep the irked tone out of his voice.
"Nothing, I just wanted them to meet the crew," Scott said, smiling a smile that made Stew want to smack him. "Sit down, shove Stew over, he won't mind."
The one he'd introduced as Ryan perched himself on the edge of the bench next to Stew but so little of his body was actually in the booth that the space Stew had made sliding over looked silly. He settled himself with his back against the edge of the chair and hand on the bench itself, wilting into position. Tthe entire gesture seemed like one made more from exhaustion than social script.
Jim for his part just showed his hands into his pockets and waited, looking like the unwilling sentinel.
"The crew?" Ted asked, a dubious eyebrow raised at him.
"Yeah, you guys are my crew," Scott laughed, and again the over-exaggerated smile made an appearance.
Stew ignored it and instead turned to Ryan next to him. "You come from the clubhouse?"
The boy looked at Scott with a gaze that screamed uncertainty and Scott jumped in to save him. "Yeah, we all just hit the nooner, right?"
Ryan nodded, relieved at the response provided, but didn't say anything. Stew waited for an actual word to escape the kid's mouth but nothing came.
"Jim introduced himself, which was good," Scott said, nodding towards the large man. "And Ryan's still sort-of detoxing so he's working on it."
"You just get out of rehab?" Ted asked, nodding towards him.
"I- eh" Ryan started, then interrupted himself with a cough. The sound was dry, gritty. He cleared his throat and tried again. "I just did the 5 day thing, not the rehab part."
Stew resisted the urge to pat him on the shoulder in congratulations at forming a coherent sentence, his fatherly instincts coming out. "That's good, it's good that you got to the meetings now."
Ryan turned his head to look at the man and a tiny, almost imperceptible smile curled the corner of his dry lips and then vanished, replaced by the haunted expression he wore when he came in.
"What were you guys talking about?" Scott asked, missing the entire exchange.
Because he was so irritated already, and because Scott was playing rescuer to someone who needed genuine help, and because he was just unwilling to put the effort into not being an ass about it Ted gave the tart, sarcastic response: "Jail."