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.
Ted gripped the edge of the seat, literally white-knucking it. He reminded himself to play the tape all the way through and remember the self hatred and sickness and disgust that would inevitably follow the tumble back down the rabbit hole. But his body betrayed him. His stomach rumbled audibly with an all-too-familiar thirst. His taste buds watered so strongly that saliva dripped from the corner of his mouth. And his had swam with the heady scent of that grainey brew. It was the worst craving he could remember and it was agonizing.
But they say that no door ever closes without a window opening and for the second time that day, god's timing was miraculous. No sooner had the calming, enticing thought entered his mind than Stew entered his sight- coming in through the same door that Cole had walked through not moments before.
He made his way over to the booth, sat down across from him and said "It went that well, huh?"
Ted didn't look at him, but kept his hands glued to the seat. "I want a drink."
"I know," Stew said simply.
"That really hurt," Ted said.
"I know," he said again. "Good news is, though- that's the worst of it. It gets easier from here."
"How so?" Ted mustered.
"First meeting is always the hardest, second one's easier, by the third he might actually start to tolerate you."
"What the hell makes you assume there's ever going to be another meeting?"
"He wouldn't have come otherwise," Stew said.
This made Ted look up and stare at his friend sideways. "That makes no sense at all. The kid comes in here, tells me he hates me, that nothing I can ever do can make up for the fact that I wasn't a father to him, and storms off. Does that sound like the start of a joyful reconciliation to you?"
"Did he tell you never to call him again?" Stew asked.
"What? No, he-"
"And did he tell you he would never speak to you again?"
"He said I haven't earned the right to be his father," Ted said, his tone as acrid as he could replicate.
"Ah-hah," Stew said, as if it proved a point.
"What the hell are you ah-hah-ing about?"
"That means you can earn the right- it's an opening," Stew said, and now he was smiling.
Ted just stared at him in disbelief, astounded at his complete and utter failure to understand the situation. The sudden buzz from his phone in his pocket startled him, jolting him upright.
"It's him," Stew said, folding his arms in confidence.
"You are truly delusional- it's Eric or Mike making sure I'm not standing on a bridge," Ted said as he fumbled in his pocket. He unlocked the screen and then froze.
The top of the screen had the word Cole in deceptively simple type, as if it were commonplace and the white space of the empty conversation was filled by a single line of text in green: "Congratulations on your coin, btw."
Ted stared at it as if at any moment the screen would blink and be replaced by something real, something that could actually exist.
"It is him, isn't it?" Stew was smiling now.
"Yuh- I" Ted stammered, unable to believe what he was seeing.
Stew snatched the phone out of his hand and read the message, then smiled and placed the phone back in Ted's frozen palm. "Like I said, second meeting will be easier."
It took a while, but Ted seemed to return to himself. "I'm so confused- what just happened?"
"You did what you had to do- you pursued redemption with zeal. You keep at it, you'll get it. That's how it works. All those promises? They're not lies."
Ted thumbed the big book on the bench next to him, flipping the pages with his finger. He noticed that sick feeling in his stomach was gone, replaced by an almost overwhelming desire for pancakes.
"I'm hungry," he said.
Stew waved to his favorite waitress who'd been hanging back out of an innate sense that the situation required as much.
"Hey sweetie," she said, and smiled a big toothy, grin. "What'll ya have?"
"I'll take a waffle on this lovely Sunday afternoon and I'm guessing my friend here'll have some pancakes," he asked with an eyebrow raise at Ted.
Ted nodded with a growing smile and observed the flirtatious wink Alice gave Stew in reply before she walked back to the kitchen, swaying her hips as she went.
"That's it- what the hell is going on here?" Ted asked, pointing an accusatory finger at Stew.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," he said, doing a poor job of hiding his smile.
"Bullshit- you're dating!" Ted accused.
"Those promises aren't lies," Stew said. "You're starting to see that now."
Ted looked at him with a grin spreading from ear to ear and nodded.
If you're interested in the promises of the program please go here- it's amazing when you see this stuff in action. Thank you to everyone who read this story, any part of it. It's been a hell of a journey for me and I am grateful to everyone who shared in it.