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.
The higher the number of days and months Ted could count since his last drink the more he noticed a strange phenomenon about those days: they seemed to pass. No matter what did or didn't happen in his life, no matter how closely he watched or how oblivious he might have been to its passing, it did. Day after day.
He did his best not to notice too much, especially when he had reason to notice. He tried to do what the program told him to do and focus only on the 24 hours directly in front of him. But he failed miserably at this task more often than not. And so when he received a reply to his letter a mere 17 days after he sent it he was, needless to say, a bit shocked.
"How long has it been?" Scott asked.
"17 days," Ted replied, staring at the envelope as if an elongated blink might make it vanish.
"And how long until you open the thing?" Eric asked, eyeing Ted with his eyebrows raised.
"I'm waiting for Stew," he said, and put the letter down. He put his mug on top of it in an attempt to keep his hands off but every second that passed without him running it through his hands made him more anxious and he gave up, grabbing the thing angrily and then holding his breath as he smoothed out the wrinkle he'd made.
"You're a mess," Eric laughed, and grabbed the staw suspended in his coke with his teeth.
"I know," he said, staring down at the paper in his hands with an expression of abject misery. "Someone distract me. Scott- say something."
"I don't know- you're normally a chatterbox, just talk."
Scott covered a yawn with his hand. "Ahw- I'm sorry. Just so tired."
"Why?" Eric asked, scratching his beard.
"Up talking to Ryan," he said.
"He still sober?" Ted asked, still running the letter through his fingers.
"On and off. He's got real bad cravings. I'm trying to get him to as many meetings as I can."
"You know that's not your job, right?" Eric asked, a concerned expression clouding his features.
"I know..."Scott said, but it was a dismissive agreement and it troubled both the older men.
"What does Jared think about all this?" Ted asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I can't imagine he's thrilled with you hanging out that much with somebody struggling that much. I mean- yo," and he sighed, exacerbated with his failure to form a coherent sentence. "You know what I mean."
"Why ain't he here, anyway?" Eric said, chewing on the straw as he listened.
"Working- they've been giving him a lot of overtime lately," Scott said, and stifled another yawn.
The conversation was working to distract Ted from the letter, but not in the way he wanted. Now instead of obsessing over the contents of the envelop he was worrying about his young friend. He'd seen too many people go out not to know where this path was headed and he opened his mouth to say as much when Scott interupted the thought.
Ted turned his head and followed his gaze to the door where Stew had just come in. He scanned the room quickly, found them, and started over. Ted found himself shrinking in upon himself, embarrassed and fearful of what Stew would say about the ridiculousness of his panicked phone calls and begging him to meet him.
"Over," Stew said to Eric as he neared and without waiting for a response shoved himself into the booth next to the big man. Eric made an 'oomph' sound as he moved, protesting Stew's shove but Stew ignored him. "Where is it?"
Ted hesitated, scared now that the moment was upon him, but opened his hands to Stew showing the worn envelope. His sweaty hands running over the paper time and again had smudged the ink, leaving lines of faded black down the length of it.
Before he could react Stew snatched the paper from his hands and tore into it, ripping the crease with a ferocity that stole the protest from Ted's mouth before he could make it. He held his breath as he waited for judgement and was confused by what proceeded.
Stew's face which had held an annoyed expression changed as he looked into the envelope. First he squinted, then the lowered eyebrows raised as his expression turned to one of surprise and then finally settled into confusion. It was like watching a kaleidoscope turn over and it sent his heart pounding against the inside of his chest.
"Well, what the heck does it say, already?" Eric asked, his tone letting everyone know that Ted wasn't the only one rapt with anticipation.
Stew opened his mouth to say something but stopped, and began to turn the envelop over. He watched the contents inside move and then proceeded to dump them out on the table. What appeared to be shavings of metal came out: small, sharp pieces of some thin, shiny material split into geometric shapes with pointy edges. Ted watched the pile settle and leaned forward to get a better look at what he quickly recognized but couldn't allow himself to acknowledge. He lingered there in that space of disbelief for a moment, unable to move or breathe or think. And then reality smashed into him with the full force of the realization and he fell backwards against the bench, defeated.