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.
When they arrived in the diner the sounds were startling. The distinct din of conversation, clinking dinnerware and the general bustle of people was absent and had been replaced by the sound of a vacuum cleaner being run. It drowned out the noise of the jukebox, still recycling old songs even though clearly no one could hear it above the mechanical whir.
No one bothered to check if the usual table was empty but rather collapsed into the first booth closest to the door. The benches squeaked and groaned underneath the bulky, clumsy movement as Ted made his way in, lifting himself and sliding with the grace of an arthritic octogenarian. Stew slid in to sit next to him and laid his hands on the table, feeling the solid structure and being grateful for its consistency- nothing else tonight had been.
The waitress came by and dropped off menus without stopping to ask for a drink order and she moved the way one would expect a waitress in a 24hour diner to move- with sloth-like enthusiasm. No one said anything, or made any move to pick up a menu. It seemed for the moment that it was enough just to be there, and no one wanted to disturb the solace with talk.
Finally, as if speaking to himself, Jim said "What the hell happened?"
"It was that Ryan kid," Jared argued, still carrying the tone of anger from his heated conversation with Scott's dad. "He never should have been hanging out with him."
"Shouldn't you have, oh, I don't know- told him that?" Ted asked, and he didn't bother to keep the derision out of his voice.
"You think I didn't? I told him not to hang out with him, I told him he was too green, I told him to stick to the old timers- what? You think I caused this? You think this is my fault?" His eyes were wide and a vein in his temple was beginning to throb visibly.
Ted went to speak but a hand on his arm made him stop. He shot his head around to glare at Stew who just looked at him with the same tired expression he'd had since the hospital and shook his head. Ted stifled the comment but looked away in bitterness.
"He's safe now, ok? Let's just focus on that. No matter how he got here he's safe now- and we all know that wasn't a guarantee."
Nobody argued with that and once again the table fell into a dense holding pattern.
Jim looked around for the waitress who had disappeared despite the lack of other patrons. He craned his neck but finding no signs of her leaned back against the bench seat again and sank into slumped defeat.
"How you doing on waiting for the next response?' Stew asked Ted, more to change the subject than anything else.
"Huh?" Ted asked, coming out of a dazed stare. He saw Stew's expectant face and shook himself. "Oh, uh- good, good."
Stew continued to look at him, begging a longer respnse to distract the men from the night's events.
Ted sighed, but then took a long inhale. It steadied him, made him feel more real. "I, uh- I haven't really had time to think about it."
"Well, what do you think, now that do?"
Ted thought. On the surface he felt sheer exhaustion. It wasn't physical, even though that was there, it was more emotional, mental. The feeling of just being done. He had the stark realization that it was exactly the kind of feeling he'd avoided for years by drinking. Now, in the midst of chaos and anger and fear it hadn't even occurred to him- not once.
"Huh," he exhaled.
"What?" Jim asked.
"I was just thinking- all this shit is exactly the kind of thing I used to think I couldn't deal with. The chaos and the... just the stuff. I used to say "I can't", you know? And I just realized I did. I got through all of it, the whole thing, and never once thought about taking a drink. It's weird, you know?"
"I don't know about that," Stew said after a beat. "I think there's a word for that."
"What's that?" Ted asked, genuinely intrigued.
"They call it serenity," he announced.