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.
As the early morning light crept in through the blinds across the window they bathed the booth in a warm glow. Ted tried to breathe it in, to be present and calm. But his mind would have none of it and continued on with its relentless cascade of images and words not yet spoken but seemingly inevitable.
He'd tried to distract himself with food but the knot in his stomach prevented any real chance of ingestion and confined him to taking small sips of coffee. The table was already littered with the tell-tale shredded sugar packets and tiny cups of creamer which had been stacked and re-stacked multiple times already, even though he'd only been there for an hour.
"Get a hold of yourself, man!" he chastised himself and almost reminded himself of how long he'd be waiting there before Cole came, assuming he came, but then dismissed the thought before it could take hold and instill panic yet again.
He grabbed for his big book and turned to the bookmark- a folded up receipt from the very establishment he was in. He started reading, latching onto the reassuring guidance. He read for a long time, blissfully unaware of the clock ticking past the proposed time of their meeting and the change of customers and waitresses ending their shifts. The words kept him sane.
He stuck on something, a line. "We must not shrink at anything." He repeated it to himself and it soon became a mantra. "We must not shrink at anything. We must not shrink at anything."
It was the first word, 'we', that really grounded him. He wasn't in this alone. Had not Stew sat across from a table like this collapsing under the glare of his ex-wife? Didn't Eric endure countless nights of his wife reminding him, again and again, of his failures? And wasn't Greg still in the thick of things with him, trying to track down all the people he'd wronged while fighting off his own demons?
And Scott- sitting there in that large room, surrounded by other weak and decrepit forms, trying to conceive of starting again. And in that moment he took note of another wise phrase from the book- not to pray for himself. So he prayed for Scott. He asked god to give him the strength to get through the day and to be stronger for having gotten through yesterday.
He prayed for Stew, for so many things that he deserved in his life, even if he couldn't innumerate them. He prayed for Eric and for Greg and for Jim and for all the others he'd met along his journey. He prayed for his poor wife, as he often did, but his desperation in the moment lent fervor to his words in his mind. And finally, he prayed for Cole. He asked god to guide him to where he needed to be and expressed willingness to believe, however much he did not want to, that he might not need to be there with him. "I will accept that, if that is what he needs. I will," he told himself.
And again the words repeated: "We must not shrink from anything."
It had happened to him before, and if fact was largely why he still toiled to make progress day after day in spite of seemingly insurmountable shortcomings, that he saw god. Not as a booming voice that electrifies the eardrums and shakes the core. Not as a face in the heavens that shines holy light down upon the penitent- but in the simple things. The road closure en route to the liquor store. The exact words you need to hear from the mouth of someone in the rooms. The phone call when you've concluded that you're alone.
And so it wasn't necessarily that surprising that Cole would walk in right then, right when he was preparing to give him up forever.